Results tagged ‘ Minor League baseball ’

My First Games of 2016 Taking Place This Week

If you’ve been following this blog for any extended period of time, or if you’ve simply taken the time to peruse through the hundreds of posts I’ve written, you know that one of the many things I enjoy doing during any given baseball season is going out to the ballpark and getting autographs from some of baseball’s up-and-coming top talent.

This season, I’m planning to be much more selective than I have been in the past with which games I go to (due to a number of factors), but I still plan on making it out to my fair share of games in 2016.

ProspectsTuesday kicks off my baseball season, as I’m heading out to watch the Mudcats take on the Salem Red Sox. The top three prospects of the Red Sox farm system — Yoan Moncada, Rafael Devers and Andrew Benintendi — are all apart of the current Salem team, so I’m really looking forward to attending this game.

On the other side of things, the Mudcats have their top prospect, Dansby Swanson, as well as 2014 first round draft pick, Braxton Davidson. With so much talent, I’ll either leave the game very elated — having gotten an autograph from most if not all of them — or very disappointed.

But while that game features four of the top 25 prospects in all of baseball, making it one of the best minor league games I’ve ever been to (talent-wise) in my life, the next game on the docket for me isn’t far behind.

On the following Sunday, April 24th, I’m planning on heading out to Durham to see them take on the visiting Indianapolis Indians — the Pirate’s Triple-A affiliate. I’d been looking forward to seeing this team since last season, when I projected so many good players to be apart of their roster. Three of their top four prospects makeup this team, in Tyler Glasnow, Josh Bell and Jameson Taillon, in addition to Alen Hanson, their number ten prospect. Thus, it should turn out to be a great game.

All in all, this coming week, I’m planning to see eight of the top 53 prospects in person (including Blake Snell for the Bulls). With this season so uncertain as to how often I’ll be out at the ballpark, it’s nice to get off to such a great start to the year. No matter how the season winds up panning out for me autograph-wise over the next five months, I’m still planning to blog about it all (as I have in the past) after I’ve attended my last game sometime in September.

Q and A With Josh Hader

Josh Hader was drafted by the Orioles in the 19th round of the 2012 draft, after going 10-0 with a 0.39 ERA and 125 strikeouts his senior year at Old Mill High School in Maryland.

HaderSince the draft, Hader has switched organizations twice, going to the Astros in 2013 and being traded once again to the Brewers this past season. However, all the transitioning has seemingly had little impact on Hader and his ability to post stellar stats. In 2015 alone, Hader recorded a 3.03 ERA with 119 strikeouts over 104 innings pitched and held batters to a mere .224 batting average.

Due to his consistently good numbers, Hader has seen a steady climb in the overall prospect rankings, winding up all the way at number 61 in all of baseball heading into this season.

With a fastball in the mid-to-upper nineties, an above average slider and a work in progress changeup, Hader could be seeing time at the major league level in the very near future if everything continues to go as planned.

Josh Hader — top prospect in the Brewers’ organization — took the time recently to answer some of my questions:

1.) At what age did you first become interested in baseball? Who was your biggest baseball influence growing up?

I started playing baseball at the age of 3. My father got me interested in the game, and I fell in love with it.

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

I loved Randy Johnson — watching him on the mound and attacking hitters.

3.) You were drafted by the Orioles in the 12th 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 wild experience — a lot of emotion going through the process. I was actually headed to Camden Yards for the high school senior All-Star ceremony, and I got a call saying I had been chosen by the Orioles in the 19th round. Everything kind of stopped. I definitely felt like my truck was floating in the air. The next day I played at Camden Yards for the All-Star game and was able to throw in front of Buck [Showalter].

4.) When you were in high school, your fastball sat in the upper 80’s, but after being drafted you saw a jump to the mid 90’s. What do you attribute to such a rapid burst in your overall velocity?

That’s one of the most asked questions I get. All I can think of is being on a set program long tossing, keeping my upper body loose and throwing everyday. Having me grow into my body also helped. I started to gain more weight and was on a set weight program which helped me build leg strength.

5.) Back in 2013, you were traded from the Orioles to the Astros organization, and in 2015 you were sent to the Brewers. Being traded midseason each time, what overall impact did the swap have on your mentality and effectiveness for the remainder of each particular season?

Being traded the first time, it was different, but very easy for me because the guys at the time from the Astros were very welcoming and helped me transition easier. We were a winning team and had one thing in mind, and that was to win games. Being traded the second time with guys I knew helped out because you at least know some guys. If anything, being traded midseason helped, because you get the couple of extra days rest, so it gets your arm a little more amp.

6.) After a great 2015 season, you were sent to the Arizona Fall League where you had a terrific showing, winning the ERA title with a mere 0.56 ERA. What was the overall experience of the Arizona Fall League like? What type of things did you work on most during your time out there?

Going to the AFL helped me out a lot, being able to get some extra time to work on my changeup and slider. The slider — I changed the grip midseason, so it was a whole new feel. In the AFL the slider became one of the bigger pitches for me. Being able to pitch against the best of the best there also helped me because I knew 1-9, everyone could do damage. It helped me be able to work hitters and made me throw offspeeds behind in the count, and made me keep the hitters off balance.

7.) When you began your career, you were used solely as a relief pitcher, but were switched to a full time starter in 2013 before being used as both a starter and reliever again over each of the past two seasons. How do you go about making an effective transition between starting and relieving throughout the season? 

The biggest thing is the warm up before the game as a starter you have a routine you go through and you have time to get ready, but as a reliever you don’t have that luxury of the pre game warm up. No matter the role the job still stays the same, doesn’t matter if it’s the 1st or last inning, you have to get hitters out and keep the game in our team’s favor.

8.) What do you feel went well in 2015? What are your goals for 2016?

Changing where I stood on the mound and my slider grip was the best thing for me in 2015. It made all of my pitches become much better and easier for me to command. My goal for 2016 is to be in the big leagues and to keep the same momentum going into this year.

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

Spaghetti would have to my favorite food hands down. [For TV show], any hunting show on the outdoor channel. 

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

To never give up on the game; to always work hard, because you never know who is watching you play. Never take the game for granted because it goes by so fast. Always have fun playing. It’s a kid’s game no matter how old you get.  

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Big thanks to Josh Hader for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @jhader17

Recapping My 2015 MiLB Baseball Season

Last year I did a post at the end of the 20 games I spent out at a baseball park recapping my 2014 MiLB and MLB season. Unfortunately, this time around, I wasn’t able to make it to any MLB games, however, with the 2015 MiLB season now over for me, I wanted to post an overview of the games and of the autographs I received this year, nonetheless. In all, I managed to make it to 16 baseball games this season. It was a great year, full of fun, and I thought I’d take the time to recap it all:

April 3rd — Greensboro Grasshoppers Vs. Miami Marlins

I went into this game looking forward to the opportunity to get autographs from the likes of Giancarlo Stanton and Ichiro Suzuki, but things didn’t go as I had hoped. Both Ichiro and Stanton signed for a few people, but I wasn’t able to get either one. Even so, I still managed to get Brett Butler and Donovan Solano to sign a couple of cards each, with Steven Cishek and Tom Koehler signing a card for me as well:

DSCN7765April 10th — Myrtle Beach Pelicans Vs. Wilmington Blue Rocks

Myrtle Beach has one of my favorite ballparks that I’ve ever visited, and the last time I was there they had a roster that included Joey Gallo, Jorge Alfaro and Nick Williams. This time around, their team wasn’t quite as good, but I still managed to get autos from some of their standouts, including Tayler Scott on my ticket, Duane Underwood on a couple of cards, and Billy McKinney and Shawon Dunston Jr. on a card:

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April 24th — Carolina Mudcats Vs. Salem Red Sox

I was hoping that the Red Sox would have their top prospect, Yoan Moncada, as part of their lineup at this game, but he hadn’t yet been promoted. Instead, I settled for Sam Travis, and a couple of autos from Wendell Rijo. So all in all, it was an okay night:

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May 2nd — Carolina Mudcats Vs. Frederick Keys

With Hunter Harvey, Chance Sisco and Josh Hart all on the disabled list, this wasn’t the best of teams, but I had already planned on going out to the game and decided to keep my plans. I was able to get a card signed by Adrian Marin, as well as a 4×6 photo signed by Drew Dosch, so it wasn’t a complete loss:

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May 5th — Carolina Mudcats Vs. Lynchburg Hillcats

This turned out to be the first good game of the year for me. Lynchburg possessed the Indians’ number one overall draft pick from the 2013 as well as the 2014 draft, and I was looking forward to seeing them both. In the end, I got three autographs from Clint Frazier, two from Bradley Zimmer, two from Nelson Rodriguez and one from Mike Papi:

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May 14th — Durham Bulls Vs. Scranton/Wilkes Barre Railriders

The game started off fairly poorly for me, with me only getting Rob Segedin and Jacob Lindgren before the game, but I made up for it by getting Slade Heathcott, Jose Ramirez, Tyler Austin (on three cards) and Bryan Mitchell outside after the game:

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May 31st — Durham Bulls Vs. Syracuse Chiefs

I was looking to get A.J. Cole at this game, but apparently he wasn’t there for whatever reason, and Jose Valverde absolutely refused to sign for anyone. Other than that, I did alright, getting most of who I wanted. I ended up with two autos from Bob Milacki, and one from Ian Stewart, Tony Gwynn Jr., Jason Martinson, Cutter Dykstra and Matt den Dekker:

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June 8th — Carolina Mudcats Vs. Potomac Nationals

There was basically only one reason I was attending this game: Luas Giolito. As the number five prospect in baseball at the time, I was really looking forward at trying to get his autograph. Not only did I get Giolito (a total of three times), but I also got Drew Ward, Chris Bostick and Jake Johansen on two cards each, and Reynaldo Lopez on a 4×6 photo:

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As brief side notes, the “Go Nats” inscription from Jake Johansen was done without asking, and Lopez signed the photo sideways. Interesting, to say the least.

June 10th — Durham Bulls Vs. Lehigh Valley Ironpigs 

I’ve always liked day games, and this was the third straight year I had attended one in Durham. I was looking to get autographs from players in Lehigh Valley, but it just wasn’t my day. For the first time in my memory, I didn’t get a single autograph at a minor league baseball game — not one. I could’ve, and really should’ve, but there was a combination of players ignoring me, people blocking my view, or whatever. But it’s all okay. My next game was going to be a big one, and I was determined to redeem myself.

June 20th — Durham Bulls Vs. Columbus Clippers

I had been looking forward to seeing Francisco Lindor again for the third time in three years, but he was called up a week before the game. Still, Columbus had a good enough team. I ended up getting autos from Jose Ramirez, Carlos Marmol, Tyler Naquin and James Ramsey on the Columbus side, and Richie Shaffer and J.P. Arencibia on the Bulls side:

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June 24th — Durham Bulls Vs. Toledo Mud Hens

The second day game of the season for me, I was looking forward to this game a lot. Not only did I enjoy day games (as mentioned earlier), but Toledo had a really good team that included Steven Moya. Unfortunately, Moya didn’t sign, and all I walked away with was an auto from Mike Hessman, Leon Durham and Corey Jones:

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June 30th — Hickory Crawdads Vs. Greenville Drive

This was the last Single-A or higher minor league ballpark in North Carolina that I had never visited, and I was excited to finally make the trip. The visiting team happened to have Red Sox uber prospect, Yoan Moncada, as well as several other of their top prospects. I ended up getting autos from Michael Chavis, Rafael Devers, Joseph Monge, Bryan Hudson and Yoan Moncada from the Red Sox, and Jairo Beras from the Rangers:

DSCN7781August 1st — Durham Bulls Vs. Gwinnett Braves

With Gwinnett not being that great of a team, with the exception of their starting pitcher, Tyrell Jenkins, I went for the Bulls’ side instead. I ended up getting Luke Maile, Corey Brown, Richie Shaffer, Taylor Motter and Blake Snell to sign a card (or two), as well as a rehabbing Desmond Jennings:

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August 9th — Durham Bulls Vs. Louisville Bats

This turned out to be the best game of the entire season for me. I was able to get Ted Power, Delino DeShields, Donn Roach, Brennan Boesch, John Lamb, Robert Stephenson, Kyle Waldrop, Brandon Finnegan, Sam LeCure, Tony Cingrani and Matt Moore to all sign a card or two:

DSCN7790August 20th — Carolina Mudcats Vs. Salem Red Sox

There was really no point in me attending this game, as I had seen a good Salem team earlier in the year, but I decided to go out anyway. With me not needing much of anyone, I ended up getting just one auto, from Teddy Stankiewicz:

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August 30th – Durham Bulls Vs. Charlotte Knights

This was the last game of the year for me, and I did alright. I ended up getting an autographed card from Rob Brantly, Dayan Viciedo (the rain caused it to smear a bit at the end), Blake Smith, Onelki Garcia, Micah Johnson, Tyler Colvin and Kyle Drabek, as well as an autographed 4×6 photo from Jason Coats:

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By the Numbers

Though you could take the time for yourself to add it all up, I figured I’d make things a bit easier. Here’s a numbers recap of my 2015 MiLB season:

Games attended: 16

Win-loss record for the home team: 8-8

Total runs scored (Home Team-Visitor): 72-70

Top 100 prospects seen in person: 10

Autographs from top 100 prospects: 9

Total autographs: 102

Total miles traveled to & from games: 2,140

Cubs Could Be Better Than Many People Think

It’s been quite awhile since people have whole heartedly believed in the Cubs.

CubsBut let’s face it. They haven’t had a reason to believe for the past several years. With the Cubs having failed to even make the postseason since 2008, not having made a World Series appearance since 1945, and currently holding a 107-year World Championship drought, the Cubs’ fan base has been nothing but disappointed for a long time.

The Cubs, however, have finally put together what could prove to be a formidable team that fans could actually get behind. In fact, many Cubs fans are getting so behind this year’s roster that they have visions of a World Series title to round out the coming season. While I like their optimism, and wouldn’t be too stunned if it happened, I don’t think it will necessarily occur in 2015. I think it will be 2016 at the earliest before the World Series becomes a possibility.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t think the Cubs will have an amazing team this year. Although a lot of people are saying that the Cubs are extremely overhyped and stand little chance of doing much of anything this season, I actually believe in the club they have.

First off, their new manager, Joe Maddon, has proven to be one of the best in baseball — not necessarily for his winning records but for his ability to get the most out of each and every one of his players. His addition to the club house will have an immeasurable impact on the Cubs in my mind.

As far as the players themselves are concerned, it’s a talented group of characters the Cubs are going to be putting on the field throughout the season.

The one weakness a lot of people foresee, however, is their pitching staff, consisting of guys like Travis Wood, Tsuyoshi Wada and Kyle Hendricks. While those players aren’t the worst pitchers in baseball, they aren’t Cy Young candidates either. But the Cubs do in fact have a Cy Young caliber pitcher they snatched up this offseason, set CubsRizzoto lead the staff every fifth day. Jon Lester, who came over to the Cubs on a 155 million dollar contract, is sure to instantly make the Cubs pitching staff relevant (with their bullpen being decent enough).

Beyond that, the Cubs’ lineup is fairly good as well. Admittedly, it consists of a lot of young, unproven talent, but it’s a good group, nonetheless. Having Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and newly added catcher, Miguel Montero, slotted in the Cubs’ lineup is sure to lead to runs being scored. But it’s the youth of the Cubs that could ultimately lead to a lot of wins in 2015.

With Jorge Soler, Tommy La Stella, Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez looking to have breakout seasons — along with uber prospect Kris Bryant, who should be called up shortly into the year — the Cubs’ team is going to be one to reckon with.

However, it’s that very youth and inexperience in a great number of the players that has a lot of people remaining cautious from hopping aboard the Cubs’ bandwagon. After getting their hopes up in the past only to see things come crashing down, many people from around the baseball world refuse to believe that the Cubs stand a chance at making much ground in a division that includes the Cardinals, Reds, Pirates and Brewers.

But it’s not stopping me from predicting the Cubs to have success in 2015.

Maybe the 2015 Cubs aren’t the team that will break the “Curse of the Billy Goat”. Maybe they aren’t even the team that will dominate their division for the better part of the season. But I feel that the Cubs are in fact the team that will surprise the most people this season as they make a run toward the second wild card spot in the National League.

2015 Top 100 Prospects List Released

The annual top 100 prospects list was revealed on Friday night to the baseball world, providing everyone the first glimpse at which minor league players are worth keeping a very close eye on throughout the coming 2015 season.

I’m not sure what it is about prospects that intrigues me so much, but I absolutely love studying over, and basically memorizing, the top 100 prospects list — the stars of tomorrow. I didn’t really get into it until 2012, as that’s when I began to get serious about autograph collecting, and I had to keep up with the prospects to know when a particularly talented player was coming to town. I suppose that’s why I love it so much, as I can’t get autographs from MLB players all that often — living 250 miles from the nearest MLB team — so I have to get them on their way up.

In this blog post, I’m going to tackle the prospects list in chunks (10 prospects at a time), but I’m not going to be talking about them all. That would take far too long, and besides, not every player of the top 100 is going to make an impact at the Major League level in 2015. Therefore, I’m only going to cover the prospects who will likely make it to the big leagues this year; including those who don’t make it out of Spring Training but have a chance of a call up later in the season.

Keep in mind, I’m by no means guaranteeing the players I discuss below will make the major leagues this year; they could get delayed for whatever reason. In addition, there might end up being a few players I don’t mention that end up making it to the big leagues this season. I’m merely giving my own personal opinions as to which players I feel will make it to the bigs in 2015. With that said, let the debating begin:

Prospects 100-91

Steven Moya (100), Manuel Margot (99),  Touki Toussaint (98), Alex Gonzalez (97),

Rafael Devers (96), Grant Holmes (95), Lucas Sims (94), Christian Bethancourt (93),

Alen Hanson (92) and Francelis Montas (91).

After seeing some time at the major league level in 2014, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Steven Moya make a return once again right out of the gates in 2015. Given, it’s likely he’ll begin the season in Triple-A, but a mid-to-late-season return is a near guarantee. That also stands as the case for Christian Bethancourt, who made his debut with the Braves last season but struggled a bit in his short time there. With his previous competition, Evan Gattis, now traded away to the Astros, I expect Bethancourt to make a quick return to Atlanta, if he isn’t placed there on Opening Day.

For all the other players on the list, it will likely be a year or two before they arrive on the big stage. While anything is possible — with some players making the jump from Single-A to the majors in one season — a big league debut doesn’t seem imminent in 2015 for the other eight players besides Moya and Bethancourt.

Prospects 90-81

Stephen Piscotty (90), Eduardo Rodriguez (89), Orlando Arcia (88), Jeff Hoffman (87),

Vincent Velasquez (86), Franklin Barreto (85), Miguel Almonte (84), Jake Thompson (83),

Michael Conforto (82) and Aaron Blair (81).

Unlike the last ten prospects, none of these prospects have made it all the way to the majors to this point in their careers. But that’s pretty much guaranteed to change for a few of them, namely Stephen Piscotty and Eduardo Rodriguez. For Piscotty, he very well had a case to make it to the majors in 2014, but he wound up remaining at the Triple-A level all year long. For Rodriguez, while he spent most of 2014 in Double-A, pitching just the playoffs in Triple-A, he has quickly become one of the fastest rising young pitchers in the game today and should see a promotion at some point.

Prospects 80-71

Jake Lamb (80), Kyle Crick (79), Mike Foltynewicz (78), Willy Adames (77),

Tim Anderson (76), Brandon Finnegan (75), Nick Kingham (74), Matt Olson (73),

Brandon Nimmo (72) and Domingo Santana (71).

Jake Lamb played a total of 37 games with the Diamondbacks last season to round out the year, and that’s where he should begin 2015. Likewise, while they won’t start 2015 with their major league clubs, Mike Foltynewicz, Brandon Finnegan and Domingo Santana should spend a great deal of time in the bigs as well, getting the opportunity to show their organizations what they’re capable of. Nick Kingham could potentially make it to the majors as a September callup, but that remains to be seen. It will all depend on how he performs throughout the year.

Prospects 70-61

J.T. Realmuto (70), Matthew Wisler (69), Aaron Judge (68), Sean Newcomb (67),

Steven Matz (66), Daniel Robertson (65), Reese McGuire (64), Kevin Plawecki (63),

Trea Turner (62) and Justin O’Conner (61).

J.T. Realmuto is the only player of the ten that saw major league time last season, and he stands as the only player that could see more big league time to begin the year in 2015. Even so, it’s more likely the case that Realmuto, along with Matthew Wisler and Kevin Plawecki on the list, will begin the season in the minors, with a late season big league call up always being a possibility for each of them.

Prospects 60-51

Kyle Freeland (60), David Dahl (59), Kyle Zimmer (58), Albert Almora (57),

Sean Manaea (56), Maikel Franco (55), Nomar Mazara (54), Clint Frazier (53),

A.J. Cole (52) and Austin Hedges (51).

Following a decent season at the Triple-A level, Maikel Franco was promoted to the Phillies to end out the year, but didn’t perform all that well. Nonetheless, he stands a good shot at seeing a lot of playing time with them this year. Another player who could get a good amount of seasoning with their big league team is A.J. Cole. However, being a pitcher, he’ll likely have to serve at a bullpen capacity with the loaded starting rotation the Nationals now possess.

Prospects 50-41

D.J. Peterson (50), Kyle Schwarber (49), Hunter Renfroe (48), C.J. Edwards (47),

Austin Meadows (46), Jorge Alfaro (45), Aaron Sanchez (44), Dalton Pompey (43),

Michael Taylor (42) and Hunter Harvey (41).

The number 44-42 prospects on this list all saw time in the majors this past season, with Aaron Sanchez being the only one to post above average numbers upon their callup. But while Dalton Pompey and Michael Taylor underperformed for their clubs, they should each see themselves back up in the majors at some point. D.J. Peterson also stands a chance at a September call up spot, after the great season he had in 2014. It should be interesting to see if he makes the jump.

Prospects 40-31

Raul Mondesi (40), Braden Shipley (39), Jose Peraza (38), Aaron Nola (37),

Kohl Stewart (36), Eddie Butler (35), Josh Bell (34), Nick Gordon (33),

Jose Berrios (32) and Jameson Taillon (31).

Eddie Butler is the only one of these prospects to have played a single moment at the majors, but a few others will be added to that list in 2015. Braden Shipley, Jose Peraza, Aaron Nola, Jose Berrios and Jameson Taillon should all make their debuts at various points throughout the coming season. They all bring something different to the table, and are all very talented. They’re the type of players that make big impacts for years and years to come.

Prospects 30-21

Mark Appel (30), Alex Meyer (29), Alex Jackson (28), Tyler Kolek (27),

Jesse Winker (26), Andrew Heaney (25), Robert Stephenson (24), Luis Severino (23),

Jorge Soler (22) and J.P. Crawford (21).

Virtually, all but a couple of players from this portion of the list could make the major leagues in 2015, but the most likely are Mark Appel, Alex Meyer, Andrew Heaney, Robert Stephenson and Jorge Soler. Heaney and Soler both spent time in the major leagues in 2014, with both likely starting the year back where they left off. For Appel, Meyer and Stephenson, their major league careers will likely kick off towards the end of the season.

Prospects 20-11

Dylan Bundy (20), Henry Owens (19), Blake Swihart (18), Daniel Norris (17),

Jon Gray (16), Archie Bradley (15), Carlos Rodon (14), Joc Pederson (13),

Tyler Glasnow (12) and Miguel Sano (11).

Talk about a loaded list. Getting down closer to the number one spot brings better and better talent (obviously), with all of these players standing a shot at big league time this year. Though Jon Gray and Tyler Glasnow are long shots, Dylan Bundy, Henry Owens, Daniel Norris, Archie Bradley, Carlos Rodon, Joc Pederson and Miguel Sano will see the big leagues this year, barring injury, with their arrival time differing from player to player.

 Prospects 10-1

Noah Syndergaard (10), Joey Gallo (9), Julio Urias (8), Corey Seager (7),

Lucas Giolito (6), Addison Russell (5), Francisco Lindor (4), Carlos Correa (3),

Kris Bryant (2) and Byron Buxton (1).

With the exception of Lucas Giolito and Carlos Correa (and likely Byron Buxton), each one of these players could potentially see big league games this year. From Noah Syndergaard to Corey Seager and all the way down to Kris Bryant (who should’ve been number one, in my opinion), the future of baseball looks to be bright, with some amazingly talented prospects on the not so distant horizon.

Four-Year Anniversary of ‘The Unbiased MLB Fan’

It’s hard to believe, but today marks exactly four years since I first sat down and created ‘The Unbiased MLB Fan’. In some ways, it feels as if I’ve been blogging forever, as it has truly become a large part of my life. But in other ways, though, it seems like just yesterday that I began writing what has now developed into hundreds of posts. Time certainly has a way of flying along.

Creating a blog about baseball was something I never envisioned myself doing. When I first started writing this blog, it wasn’t really because I wanted to share my opinions of baseball with the world — I didn’t know a lot about it at the time, so I didn’t have very strong opinions — but mostly because I knew several people who had a blog, and I wanted one too. That was the driving force behind its creation.

But through writing this blog over the years, I feel that I have grown as a writer, a person, and — more than anything — a baseball fan. By blogging about the sport, I have turned into one of the most passionate baseball fans I know, constantly following the latest story lines and various baseball topics. I may not write about every single one, but odds are that if it’s a major baseball story, I’ve heard about it (including the 7-year, 210 million dollar contract Max Scherzer was given by the Nationals on Monday).

Initially, I was sporadically writing about various topics from around baseball, but none of the posts really focused too heavily on actually facts and statistics. They revolved around my favorite players, my favorite moments from the week, etc. Nothing that would really grab people’s attention all that much. But as time passed, I slowly turned this blog into an outlet with two main purposes: to inform the reader about the latest baseball news, and to provide myself with a place to give my opinions to whoever cared to hear them. I feel that is what this blog has become for the most part.

Each of the past two years, I’ve thrown together a list of posts on January 20th (this blog’s anniversary date) with a link and brief description regarding what the post was about and why I felt it was important. This year, however, I didn’t want to do exactly the same thing. So instead of a list, I decided to put together a brief discussion of the past four years, with most of my effort being put into the most recent blogging year (2014).

Kicking off with January 20, 2011, when I published my first post, I wrote about who I was and what this blog was planned to be about. If you take the time to read it you’ll likely notice that my first post was terrible. While I still make writing mistakes to this day (I’m sure there are several in this particular blog post), I like to think that I’ve come a long way from that first post. I sure hope I have. But even with my inexperience with blogging “way” back then, I still managed to come out as the 35th most viewed MLBlog from 2011, which was pretty remarkable to me at the time.

When the 2012 blogging year rolled around, I began an attempt to improve my blog posts as much as I could from the previous year. I was just beginning to become an avid baseball fan, and wanted to put some of my newly found knowledge into each and every post. It must have worked, because not only did I finish out the year ranking 17th overall in terms of blog views for the year, but in July of that year, I received an all expense paid trip to the 2012 State Farm Home Run Derby in Kansas City. That by far is the greatest perk I’ve ever received from this blog, and nothing will likely ever top it. But, I suppose, you never know.

The following year, in 2013, I made a list of resolutions for the first time that I was going to try to keep throughout the blogging year (I posted the same type of entry a couple weeks ago) and was able to stick to most of them — including one of getting more views than the previous year. By doing so, I was able to make it my most successful blogging year to that point, making a jump in the year end rankings up to 8th overall for views.

But despite the large jump in ranking, I still felt I could do better. After amassing just over 75,000 views, I set out to get more than that in 2014, and I was once again able to reach my goal. Recording a few hundred views over 80,000 for the year — including over 1,200 on a single day back in May, the most ever in a single day for me — 2014 was my best year to this point as far as views go. However, I also feel it was my best year to date in terms of blog content, as I wrote about a lot of interesting things throughout the year.

First of all, back in February, I posted one of my favorite interviews I’ve every conducted. Being on 2013 first overall draft pick, Mark Appel, the interview was the highest drafted player I’ve every interviewed, and it was truly amazing to get such fantastic answers from a player of Appel’s caliber.

But things didn’t stop there in terms of good blog content and a fun year. In July of 2014, I had the privilege of attending Minor League Baseball’s biggest events: the 2014 Triple-A Home Run Derby and All-Star game. I blogged about both, but the one I did on the All-Star game was the one I enjoyed writing the most, and therefore the one I linked.

As far as other baseball news topics are concerned from my most recent year, one of my favorite posts to put together in 2014 was the entry I wrote about Derek Jeter’s final home game, and the miraculous events that surrounded it. With Jeter being one of my favorite players of all time, seeing him finish out his final game in New York with such amazing fashion was incredible.

Rounding out my blogging year, I posted an entry on the first day of December regarding my then recent trip to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. As I discussed in the post, it was the second time I had ever traveled to Cooperstown, but the first time I ever made it inside the Hall of Fame. To say I was impressed with my time there would be an understatement. It’s truly a place everyone should visit at least once.

In conclusion, I don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep this blog going — my overall schedule is busier this year than it has been in the history of this blog — but I’m going to do my best to make it last as long as possible. It’s something that I don’t want to give up (or plan to give up) until I absolutely have to.

‘The Unbiased MLB Fan’ Fast Facts

  • Total number of words written to this point: 294,116
  • Total number of posts: 459
  • Average number of words per post: 641

My Final Baseball Game of 2014

On Thursday, for the 20th and final time of 2014, I’m heading out to a baseball game.

More specifically, a minor league playoff game, which just so happens to be a rematch of last year’s International League finals, with the hometown Durham Bulls set to take on the visiting Pawtucket Red Sox. Both teams are very evenly matched in numerous ways, however, while I’ll surely be rooting for the Bulls to win the game, and subsequently take three of the five games against Pawtucket to head to the Triple-A National Championship like they did last season, I’m going to be attempting to snag a few autographs from the Red Sox.

Although I saw the Red Sox earlier in the year, back in June, they’re an even better team than they were then, which is truly saying something. While they’re now without Mookie Betts, Allen Webster and Matt Barnes, who were with the team back when I previously saw them, the Red Sox now have six of their organization’s top ten prospects on the team, with Garin Cecchini being the only one who was with the team in June.

The biggest addition to the team since I last saw them is their top pitching prospect, Henry Owens. Going 17-5 with a 2.94 ERA in the regular season, Owens looks to be a big part of the Red Sox’ future down the road, and is at the top of my list for players I want an autograph of.

Other additions to the team that I’m looking to get an auto from include Eduardo Rodriguez and Edwin Escobar, both of which came over as part of a trade from another team; Cuban phenom Rusney Castillo, who signed a record breaking contract with the Red Sox earlier this year; and Blake Swihart, Brian Johnson and Deven Marrero, who are also a few top prospects who look to be headed for bright big league futures.

As I did last season, I’m planning to post a recap of my year out at the ballpark sometime in the week following Thursday’s game, so be sure to check back for that. With all of the talent that’s going to be there on Thursday, it’s sure to make for an exciting conclusion to an amazing minor league season.

Blogging Plans for Remainder of 2014 Regular Season

We’re quickly approaching the final month of the 2014 Major League Baseball regular season, and that means that the playoffs are just around the corner. With only a few dozen more days until the end of the season on September 28th, I figured I’d do a blog post — as I do from time to time — covering what I’m planning to write about over the course of the next month or so.

First up, on August 28th, I’m going to be publishing an entry on the top five story lines worth keeping an eye on in the final month. There are several dozen potential points of interest that people around the baseball world will be keeping an eye on throughout September, but I’ll do my best to narrow it down to a mere five topics.

Once that’s up, I’ll, obviously, post an entry on the first day of September with the latest statistical leaders (something I’ve done every first day of the month throughout this season) from around baseball, and will likely do the same toward the end of September, or, perhaps, on the first day of October. I haven’t decided yet.

Either way, around a week or two into the month, after the Minor League Baseball season has ended, I’m going to be publishing a recap of sorts from my time spent this past season out at local minor league ballparks. I did the same things last year, going over each game briefly and displaying the autographs/game used items I picked up, but I did remarkably better this time around, so I’m looking forward to publishing that.

When the playoff teams have been finalized at the end of the season, I’ll be giving my postseason predictions, starting with the Wild Card games and working my way all the way down to the World Series. Though I was extremely far off yet again this year with my preseason predictions, I was able to successfully pick the World Series matchup in 2013 — unfortunately, I had the Cardinals winning instead of the Red Sox — so hopefully I’ll be able to do it again.

Other than that, it’s all up in the air.

Red Sox Down, But Not For Long

No matter how you look at it, the Boston Red Sox are having a poor season. Despite a great deal of anticipation surrounding the team for 2014 after winning the World Series last year, the Sox currently hold the last place position in the American League East division. With a better win-loss record (13 games under .500) than only the Astros and the Rangers in all of the American League, the Red Sox have lost all their hope for the 2014 season being a memorable one — memorable in a good way, that is.Red Sox

Any remaining hope that the Sox did have was diminished last week just before the trade deadline when they made several trades that sent some of their key players off to other teams. Most significantly, Jon Lester being sent out to Oakland in exchange for Yoenis Cespedes, who should provide some pop to a struggling Red Sox outfield, was a big blow to the team.

While Cespedes is a fantastic player, and will undoubtedly help the Sox moving forward, Lester was an ace, and aces are extremely valuable. A team simply isn’t the same after loosing such a valuable asset, and it will certainly show.

But Lester wasn’t the only Red Sox pitcher who changed uniforms. Also getting sent packing were John Lackey and Jake Peavy, who brought back Allen Craig and Joe Kelly, and a couple of minor league prospects, respectively.

Though David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli, and breakout Brock Holt, have been big parts to the Red Sox team this year, coming through big in games, there have been too many injuries to have the Sox make any sort of run towards making the playoffs. Last season everything seemed to go right every single day of the year, but this season things are just the opposite, with players not being able to get on a roll.

With a mere 51 games left to their season, the Red Sox are beginning to look to the future for signs of better things to come. And, fortunately for them, they have an unbelievable amount of young talent set to contribute to the Sox as soon as the 2015 season, leading many to envision big things for them next year.

Consisting of Mookie Betts, Henry Owens, Blake Swihart, Garin Cecchini, Allen Webster, Anthony Ranaudo and Christian Vazquez, all of which are age 24 or younger, the Sox have seven of their top ten prospects currently at Triple-A or in the major leagues, leaving them with numerous options to help improve their ball club shortly down the road.

Two of those multiple options were just recently promoted to Triple-A, in Henry Owens and Blake Swihart, however, they are arguably the most talented of any players in the Red Sox farm system.

052414_6847-MOwens holds a 15-4 record between Double-A and Triple-A this year, with an ERA of 2.47, after an outstanding Triple-A debut on Monday night. Swihart is hitting an even .300, with a career high 12 home runs and 55 RBI’s to this point in the season.

Though it isn’t likely that either one will be a September call up, seeing that the Red Sox are out of things, both could play huge roles in a resurgence for the Red Sox in 2015.

As far as Mookie Betts, Garin Cecchini, and the remaining, previously mentioned prospects go, all have seen some major league time at some point this season, and while none of them blew people away by posting amazing stats, they each are expected to have bright big league futures.

Once the Red Sox’ top prospects begin to reach the big league level and stick, combining their talents with the likes of the always consistent David Ortiz, newcomer Yoenis Cespedes, and star second baseman, Dustin Pedroia, the Sox should begin to see things turn around.

With there being rumors that the Red Sox could potentially resign Jon Lester this coming offseason to a deal for 2015 and beyond, despite 2014 being a down year, next year could wind up being the year the Red Sox begin to see that expected major turn around to their overall team. If all goes as predicted (given, that hardly ever happens), 2015 could turn out to be a very special season.

2014 Triple-A All-Star Game

While Monday night’s Triple-A Home Run derby was extremely exciting, with Minor League Baseball’s top sluggers putting on a home run hitting show, Wednesday’s Triple-A All-Star game was the event that everyone had been waiting for. With the stars of tomorrow from both the Pacific Coast League and the International League set to take on each other in what was sure to be a thrilling game, many people (myself included) showed up to the ballpark fairly early.

Normally I’d be getting to the ballpark early because I was going to try for autographs. But thanks to an autograph session that was held at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park on Tuesday afternoon, I was able to get an auto from every player that I wanted, and thus, it wasn’t a top priority at this game. Even so, I still arrived to the ballpark right before the gates opened, getting inside in time to watch the last portion of the Pacific Coast League’s batting practice:

DSCN7230Down on the field (as seen in the picture) was Stephen Piscotty (in the batting cage), Andrew Susac and Max Stassi, among others, with numerous players in the outfield shagging balls. With me not trying that hard for autographs, I wasn’t down near the dugout at this point, but after seeing arguably the best player of both teams, Joc Pederson, gesturing that he’d sign autographs after he came back out of the clubhouse, I decided to head down to the field anyway.

Despite having gotten Pederson’s autograph the day before, with him being listed as the number 30 prospect in all of baseball by MLB.com, it was worth another shot. Unfortunately, although he kept his promise of signing autographs once he came back out, Pederson signed for everyone but me. Skipping over me twice, apparently he remembered me from the day before; at least, that’s all I can think of. But that was okay.

Although I would’ve liked to have gotten his auto again, seeing the future Dodgers’ star outfielder (assuming they can figure their outfield situation) up close was cool in itself:

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After failing to get an autograph from Pederson, I made my way to my ticketed seat (the same one I had for the home run derby) to watch the pre game introductions. While every player seemed thrilled to be there and honored to have been selected to participate, no other player seemed quite as happy to be taking part in the All-Star game as the Clippers’ first baseman, Jesus Aguilar:

DSCN7256If that’s not pure excitement by Aguilar, I don’t know what is.

Shortly after all of the players had been introduced from both the Pacific Coast League and the International League, and after a flyover during the National Anthem, . . . . :

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. . . . the 2014 Triple-A All-Star game got underway.

The starting pitcher for the International League, Liam Hendriks, had been fantastic heading into Wednesday’s game. Having gone 7-1 with a 2.19 ERA so far this season for the Buffalo Bisons (Triple-A affiliate of the Blue Jays), Hendriks picked up right where he left off, keeping the Pacific Coast League off the board in the top of the first inning.

On the mound for the opposing Pacific Coast League was Elih Villanueva, who didn’t fare nearly as well. In the bottom half of the first inning, Wilson Betemit drove in a pair of runs, taking the score up to a quick 2-0 International League lead. Then, in the very next inning of swings for the International League, Jhonatan Solano (with a man on base) blasted an impressive shot over the left field blue monster, bringing the score up to 4-0:

DSCN7277Not surprisingly, that’s as far as Villanueva was allowed to go, being replaced by Spencer Patton after 1.2 innings pitched:

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Patton would finish out the inning, with the Pacific Coast League once again bringing in another pitcher for the third, in Kyle Hendricks, who was finally able to keep the International League off the board, after they had scored a couple of runs in each of the previous two innings.

Neither team would score for the next few innings, with the first run of the game for the Pacific Coast League, and the first run of the game since the bottom of the second inning, coming in the top of the sixth inning thanks to a Joc Pederson home run. Pederson, who had struck out in his first two at-bats of the game, took out some of his frustration, absolutely demolishing a ball deep into the right field stands:

Having attended dozens of Bulls games, I’ve never seen a ball hit that well to right field. For that matter, I’m not sure any of the participants in the home run derby a couple of nights prior hit a ball quite that deep. Though I’d heard a lot about the extreme power that Pederson possesses, I was still amazed at how far the ball traveled.

Getting back to the All-Star game, which, on a side note, was being broadcasted live on MLB Network with Darryl Hamilton and Paul Severino doing the play-by-play, . . . . :

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. . . . despite Pederson finally getting the Pacific Coast League on the board and bringing the score to within three runs, the International League would ultimately put the game out of reach in the bottom of the sixth. A two-run triple by Felix Perez, followed by a double from Steven Souza Jr. that scored Perez from third, took the score up to 7-1 in favor of the International League.

Though the Pacific Coast League would attempt a comeback, scoring a run in the top of the eighth as well as the top of the ninth, Merrill Kelly was able to record the final out of the game to secure the 7-3 win for the International League, which has now won seven of the last ten Triple-A All-Star games:

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For their contributions to the game, Liam Hendriks of the International League and Chris Taylor of the Pacific Coast League were named the “top stars” of the game. Hendriks’ two shutout, one hit innings, in which he struck out four, got the International League off to a great start, which they were able to continue. Taylor, going 3-4 with a couple of doubles, was one of the few bright spots for the Pacific Coast League (other than Joc Pederson), being one of only three players from either side (Jose Pirela and Ivan De Jesus were the others) to record more than one hit.

Though I’ve never attended a Triple-A All-Star game at any other ballpark, it’s hard to imagine that it could’ve been done any better than the one on Wednesday in Durham, North Carolina. The entire week — from the home run derby, to the autograph session, to the All-Star game itself — seemed as though it was planned out specifically with the fans in mind. While it will likely be a long time before Durham ever hosts these events again, after the experience from this week, whenever it returns to the Bull City, I’ll certainly be sure to make the trip.

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