2014 Final MLB Standings Predictions

We’re quickly approaching the opening-series of the 2014 Major League Baseball season, down in Australia on March 22nd, and so begins the predictions of where each team will finish in the coming year. Most of the time there’s a team or two that comes along and completely throws off your predictions, but that’s what makes it fun.

I’m going to be doing a separate couple of blog posts on my predictions for how I feel each team will fare this season sometime in the next week or two, but for now, I want to hear what you all think. Cast your vote below for which team you feel is most likely to win each division in 2014:

Voting ends on March 22nd.

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.

Best Players Going Into 2014 — By Age

Coming off an exciting 2013 Major League Baseball season and heading into what’s sure to be another fun year of baseball, things are beginning to heat up again. Spring Training camps have seen all their respective pitchers and catchers report, with the remaining players reporting over the course of this week.

With the arrival of baseball comes the annual rankings of teams and subsequent predictions of how they will perform. While my predictions for each team, and numerous players from around the league, won’t be posted until sometime next month, I wanted to take the time to post a “top players” list, of sorts.

But instead of making my own version of a top 10 list as many are doing, I decided, as I did last year, to make a list of the top player for each year of age throughout Major League Baseball. Meaning, of the 20 year olds in Major League Baseball, I’ll list the player I feel is the best of them all; with the same holding true for the players age 21, 22, 23, 24, and so on.

The range of ages this season runs from 20 years old, with Jose Fernandez, among others, all the way up to age 43, with Jason Giambi — excluding age 42, which has no players this season. Just so you know, before I reveal my list, I’m going by the age each player will be to start the season. Therefore, a few players will be listed a year older than they currently are, due to them having a birthday between now and March 22nd.

Also, with there being SO many names, I’m not going to be listing my reasoning behind each pick. I’m just giving a general list of the player (either a hitter or a pitcher) I feel is the best for their age category:

20 years old: Jose Fernandez

21 years old: Manny Machado

22 years old: Mike Trout

23 years old: Yasiel Puig

24 years old: Giancarlo Stanton

25 years old: Craig Kimbrel

26 years old: Clayton Kershaw

27 years old: Andrew McCutchen

28 years old: Evan Longoria

29 years old: Max Scherzer

30 years old: Miguel Cabrera

31 years old: Robinson Cano

32 years old: Brandon Phillips

33 years old: C.C. Sabathia

34 years old: Albert Pujols

35 years old: Cliff Lee

36 years old: Carlos Beltran

37 years old: A.J. Burnett

38 years old: David Ortiz

39 years old: Derek Jeter

40 years old: Ichiro Suzuki

41 years old: LaTroy Hawkins

42 years old: No Players

43 years old: Jason Giambi

So, there you have it. The best players by age, in my opinion, from 20 through 43, going into the 2014 season. Do you agree with my picks? If not, who would you pick to replace the name(s) you disagree with? Let me know in the comments section below.

Major League Baseball Ballparks I’ve Been to

After hours of searching the internet (mainly MLB.com) for topics to discuss in a blog post, I couldn’t really come up with anything all that worthwhile. Although there are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of potential things to write about, nothing caught my attention enough to publish something on. (Thank goodness Spring Training games start soon.)

Therefore, I decided to type up a post on the MLB ballparks I’ve been to in my life — in chronological order — and tell a little about my time spent at each one. While that may not be all that exciting to read about (sorry?), I figured it might appeal to some. Living in North Carolina, I can’t make it to MLB games too often, and thus, I’ve been to nine major league ballparks in my life — some more than once — with them being:

Turner Field — Home of the Atlanta Braves

One of only two ballparks I’ve been to more than once, I first visited Turner Field way back in 2002. It was my first ever baseball game, and I didn’t know who was playing (the Cubs), nor the basic rules of the game. All that I knew was that there was some sort of sport going on. A lot has certainly changed since then — I’m a huge baseball fan now — but this game was the first professional baseball action of my life, and will subsequently always be a special memory.

My second visit to see the Braves play came in 2009, against the Yankees . . . . :

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. . . . followed by another visit the following year for a couple of games against the Mets and the Giants (seen below):

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The Yankees would go on to win the 2009 World Series, with the Giants going on to win the 2010 World Series. So, I guess you could say I bring teams long-term luck at Turner Field — just not the Braves.

Citizens Bank Park — Home of the Philadelphia Phillies

In what would turn out to be their final year of existence, my first game in Philadelphia saw the Phillies taking on the Montreal Expos, back in 2004. I don’t have any pictures from the game, but I remember it fairly vividly; except for the fact that the manager of the Expos was Hall of Famer Frank Robinson. That I don’t remember, but it’s neat to look back and say, at least, that I saw him. (Or, I think I did.)

Comerica Park — Home of the Detroit Tigers

Yet another game against the Yankees, this game was took place back in 2005, and included the likes of Gary Sheffield, Derek Jeter, Magglio Ordonez and Ivan Rodriguez. Though I remember the game, I still didn’t care about baseball all that much. That is, until Bernie Williams hit a game-winning homer in the ninth inning, which is the one moment from the game that sticks out in my mind, and really began my baseball obsession. (I even wrote a blog post on it.)

PNC Park — Home of the Pittsburgh Pirates

PNC Park was the first ballpark I can recall saying “wow” at. Not in reaction to a miraculous play made in the game, but as response to the beauty of the stadium itself. It’s truly one of the most scenic parks I’ve been to, and although this was the only time I’ve ever been (July 2, 2006, against the Tigers), I have no doubt that I’ll be back one day. Especially now, with the Pirates finally having a team worth seeing; making the playoffs for the first time in my life last year.

Fenway Park — Home of the Boston Red Sox

Beautiful in its own way, Fenway Park is my favorite ballpark I’ve ever visited — hands down. The historic aspect to the park is enough to make it number one on my list of stadiums visited, as not too many places can you say that players such as Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski have played on the same field at one point in time. This particular game was in 2008, against the Diamondbacks, and despite a Red Sox loss, it was an all around amazing time.

Great American Ballpark — Home of the Cincinnati Reds

After a first attempt to visit this ballpark in 2011 resulted in a rainout, 2012 brought my first ever game at Great American Ballpark:

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It turned out to be Reds’ Hall of Fame induction day, and although it wasn’t planned that way, it was an extremely full day of baseball fun. Starting early in the morning, with a meet and greet with former Reds greats — including Eric Davis and the 2012 inductees Dan Driessen and Sean Casey — and ending with a great Reds win, this was one of the more entertaining MLB games I’ve ever been to.

Kauffman Stadium — Home of the Kansas City Royals

I’m counting this as a ballpark I’ve been to, as although I’m yet to see a “game” here, I went inside the park and witnessed an MLB event, in this case, the 2012 Home Run Derby at Kauffman Stadium:

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This wouldn’t even be on the list if it wasn’t for State Farm. As you may recall if you’ve been following my blog for awhile, I received an all expense paid trip to the 2012 derby in Kansas City, which I attended with my grandpa. Prince Fielder ended up taking home his second derby title, and I was able to add another ballpark to my list.

Camden Yards — Home of the Baltimore Orioles

One of the most recent ballparks I’ve visited, just last year, Camden Yards could very well be the most amazing MLB park in all of baseball when you combine everything together. (Though, I can’t make a fair conclusion, since I’m still far from having been to them all.) The fans are electric, the park itself is perfectly designed, and it certainly was a fun time:

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With the help of a couple of Chris Davis homers, the Orioles cruised to an easy 11-3 win against the Yankees in this particular game.

Safeco Field — Home of the Seattle Mariners

The last ballpark I’ve visited up to this point in time — I attended the Mariners-Twins game on July 26, 2013 — Safeco Field wasn’t my favorite ballpark I’ve ever been to (don’t get me wrong, it was incredible) but the city views were definitely better than any I’ve witnessed at an MLB stadium:

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Felix Hernandez pitched a gem of a game, but would go on to get a no decision in a tough Mariners’ loss. Nonetheless, this made the ninth ballpark I’ve been to, and I don’t plan on stopping until I’ve been to all thirty. Hopefully that won’t take too terribly long.

While that concludes the ballparks I’ve been inside, I’ve seen five other stadiums in passing which I thought I should include anyway. I won’t spend very long discussing them, since there isn’t really a great story behind the encounter, but I do want to mention them anyway.

Back in 2006, on a family vacation to New York City, I was lucky enough to see the exterior of the Old Yankee Stadium, which has since been torn down. Unfortunately, tickets were sold out to the games during our trip, which led to having to settle with a game in Pittsburgh (as described above).

The final four ballparks I’ve “seen” include U.S. Cellular Field (White Sox’ park), Nationals Park, Busch Stadium (Cardinals’ park) and Chase Field (Diamondbacks’ park). My distant views of the parks came from an airplane, for U.S. Cellular Field, and the highway, for Nationals Park, Bush Stadium and Chase Field.

As you’d probably agree, all of the parks listed after Safeco Field don’t officially count.

But I have no doubt I’ll see games in them some day.

Pitchers & Catchers Report; 2014 Autograph Requests

Due to the Dodgers’ and Diamondbacks’ opening-series that’s set to take place on March 22nd and 23rd in Australia, Spring Training action is beginning a bit earlier than usual this year. The Diamondbacks have their pitchers and catchers reporting today, with the UntitledDodgers’ pitchers and catchers reporting on Saturday. Therefore, for the first time since the Red Sox won the 2013 World Series over three months ago, baseball is finally back.

But while the Dodgers and Diamondbacks are getting started this week, the remainder of the teams won’t begin reporting until next week, anywhere from the 11th to the 17th: The Indians report date is set for Tuesday; the Cardinals and Mariners will begin on Wednesday; the Braves, Orioles, Phillies, Pirates, Nationals, Angels and Padres report Thursday; the Tigers, Yankees, Rays, Cubs, Reds, Royals and Athletics arrive on Friday; the Red Sox, Astros, Mets, White Sox, Rockies, Brewers and Giants on Saturday; the Marlins, Twins and Rangers report on Sunday; and the Blue Jays begin on Monday. (The rest of the players for all the teams will report anywhere from 3 to 7 days after their respective pitchers and catchers.)

Once all of the pitchers and catchers have reported to Spring Training on February 17th, there will be a mere 33 days until the 2014 Major League Baseball season gets underway in Australia. I, for one, can’t wait.

But I’m not quite ready to jump ahead to the start of the regular season just yet, as I still have a lot I want to talk about in the coming weeks. Therefore, for the time being, I’d like to take a minute to discuss something I love to do this time of year (besides watch Spring Training games on TV.) Every Spring Training, for the past two or three years, I’ve sent out a handful of through the mail (TTM) autograph requests to different players around the league. This year, I’m going to be sending out a dozen, or so, TTM’s, with the best player being Clayton Kershaw.

201303271540564290038-p2While that might seem like a long shot — and it very well may be — Kershaw, surprisingly, has been known to sign through the mail over the past few years; the only downside being that it takes over a year for him to return it to you.

Though his recent record breaking contract, and second Cy Young award, may lead to him getting even more fan mail, causing a subsequent stop of him signing for fans that write to him, Kershaw is good enough for me to take a chance on. Even if I don’t get anything back, at least I tried.

Other MLB players I’m sending to include Taijuan Walker (who made his MLB debut in 2013), David Robertson, Kolten Wong, Cody Asche, Mike Napoli and Jake Marisnick. All of these players have been known to be decent TTM signers, with Walker and Robertson being nearly automatic over the past couple years. Asche told me that he tries to sign everything that gets sent his way, so I’m fairly confident I’ll get that one back at least.

I’m also sending to several Minor League players who were invited to Major League Spring Training this year — some for the first time ever. Those players include Archie Bradley, Kyle Zimmer, Mark Appel, Kris Bryant and Albert Almora. All five of these players will be in the majors at some point over the next few years, with Bradley likely making his big league debut this season. Bradley, Zimmer and Appel have all told me that they sign TTM, so I feel like I’ll get those back. Almora has been hit and miss recently, and I doubt Bryant will, but I’m sending to both of them anyway, because you never know.

Last year I sent off eleven autograph requests to Spring Training and received back six of them, from Jason Motte, Danny Hultzen, Stephen Romero, Sonny Gray, Tyler Skaggs and Casey Kelly. That’s pretty good as far as TTM’s go. If I get back five or six of the dozen I’m sending off this year — which is what I expect to receive — I’ll be happy.

I’m planning to post a blog entry every time I receive back a couple autographs from the players I’m sending TTM requests to during Spring Training, just as I did last year. Hopefully it won’t be all that terribly long before I start getting them back (maybe a few weeks?). So be sure to check back for that over the course of the next couple months.

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 . . . .