Results tagged ‘ Pitching ’

American League Predictions 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’ll be posting my predictions for the National League in the next few days, but for now, I’m going to give my predictions for the American League (along with my reasoning), starting with the American League East:

EAST

1. Red Sox

2. Yankees

3. Rays

4. Orioles

5. Blue Jays

Originally, I had the Yankees winning the division, but the more I thought about it the more I second-guessed the choice. The Red Sox are far too good of a team to ignore, and should have just enough to beat out every other team in the American League East. What really puts them over the Yankees when it comes to deciding first and second place is their pitching depth. Not just their starting rotation, but their bullpen as well. From Jon Lester, Jake Peavy and John Lackey, to a top of the line closer in Koji Uehara, there is a ton of talent to keep the opposing teams from scoring runs. As far as their own lineup goes, it’s one of the best in the division, with a good mix of veterans — David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, A.J. Pierzynski — as well as young future stars — Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Will Middlebrooks. And therefore, they should be able to win the division, yet again.

The Yankees did a lot of things right this past offseason, and I really feel confident in them for the coming year, but I can’t quite see them placing first. They lost their All-Star closer, Mariano Rivera, and didn’t really address that by signing another closer to take his place. On the topic of pitching, their starting pitching improved a bit with the addition of Masahiro Tanaka, but it will take a bounce back year from C.C. Sabathia, and the rest of their rotation, for the Yankees to pitch themselves to a lot of wins. But what they lack in pitching, they more than make up for in their lineup. Newcomers Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann will go a long way in helping the offense score runs. Even without their star second baseman, Robinson Cano, to provide a major power threat, the Yankees still have a chance to go far, in this Derek Jeter’s farewell season.

There were a lot of rumors this offseason that the Rays’ 2012 Cy Young winner, David Price, was going to be traded. But that didn’t happen, which is what will help them barely beat out the Orioles, in my opinion. If Price can return to form, combined with Chris Archer, Matt Moore and the remaining players of their entire pitching staff, including newly acquired Grant Balfour to fill their closer role they lost when Fernando Rodney left, the Rays will be good to go. Their lineup is decent, with Evan Longoria and Wil Myers being the standouts, and with James Loney and Ben Zobrist likely being good yet again, their overall lineup should be good enough to compete. Towards the end of the 2013 season, the Rays went on a run, and if they can do that at the right times throughout this year, they could surprise some people.

The Orioles have the ability to beat out the Rays for third, but I don’t think they’ll be quite good enough to get there. I have them finishing next to last, as despite adding Nelson Cruz to go along with Manny Machado, Adam Jones and Chris Davis as the big impact players in their lineup, they don’t have the best pitching. Signing Ubaldo Jimenez will go a long way in making them a good team if he is able to have a breakout year, but losing their All-Star closer, Jim Johnson, to the Athletics, will hurt them at the end of games, as they have no true replacement for him. If everyone up and down the lineup and all throughout the bullpen can get going, the Orioles could move up the division ranks, and make a push. But I don’t see that happening until their top prospects Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy are full time members sometime next season.

Last season after signing so many impact players in the winter months, many had the Blue Jays making the playoffs, with some going as far as to predict a World Series championship for Toronto. I thought those predictions were a little far fetched, and I predicted a fourth place finish for them, despite having some veteran proven pitchers such as R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle. After they disappointed many by finishing dead last in the AL East last season, I’m putting the Blue Jays last again. They didn’t do a whole lot this offseason, and if anything they got a little worse by losing some players to free agency. It would take a near perfect and injury free season by their star players Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Reyes and Brett Lawrie, as well as perfect years by all of their starting pitchers, for them to compete in their division. To me, that’s an awful lot to ask out of the Jays.

CENTRAL

1. Tigers

2. Royals

3. Indians

4. White Sox

5. Twins

There’s no reason why the Tigers shouldn’t run away with things in the American League Central. Although they lost one of the biggest bats in the game, Prince Fielder, trading him away for Ian Kinsler, who will play second, freed up their options. Meaning 2012 Triple Crown winner, Miguel Cabrera, will now move back to first, with top prospect, Nick Castellanos, taking over his spot at third base. With Jose Iglesias at shortstop, who could pick up a Gold Glove this season, there really aren’t any holes in their infield, or anywhere in their entire lineup for that matter. And that continues with their pitching staff. The Tigers have a superb starting rotation, with Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez, and strengthened the back end of their bullpen by signing proven closer, Joe Nathan. Everything combined together, the Tigers could have a magical season.

This is finally the year for the Royals, in my mind. They made a strong push towards the end of last season, with their first baseman, Eric Hosmer, beginning to play like many predicted he was capable of, but they came up just short. This season, however, the Royals have enough to finish second if they can get everything to come together. Their starting rotation won’t dominate, but it will do fairly well, from James Shields to rookie Yordano Ventura. They have one of the best, under the radar, closers, Greg Holland, and he should have a great year again. In addition, their consistent players such as Billy Butler and Alex Gordon will continue to perform, but it will take production from players like Norichika Aoki, Omar Infante and Mike Moustakas (he has something to prove this season) for the Royals to make any sort of a deep playoff push.

The Indians made the playoffs last season via the Wild Card, quickly being eliminated, but I don’t see them getting back this year. I have them finishing third, but a down year by the Royals could see them moving up a spot. Their rotation has the potential to be good, with Justin Masterson and Danny Salazar leading the way, but they lost Scott Kazmir, and need Trevor Bauer to finally come through for them more than ever. As far as their lineup goes, it’s pretty good. Yan Gomes will likely be their catcher, with Carlos Santana transitioning to third, and Asdrubal Cabrera, Michael Bourn and Jason Kipnis will contribute both offensively and defensively, along with Jason Giambi providing the Indians some pop. Francisco Lindor, their top prospect, could see major league time towards the end of the season, but it likely won’t be enough to push them over the edge.

While the White Sox probably won’t do much this season, finishing next to last in my book, they will have a slightly better season than the one they had last year. Chris Sale, one of the best players on the team, will be the leader of their starting rotation, which is good but no where near great. Another spot where they have a ton of holes is their lineup, however, Jose Abreu is set to be the next big, power hitter out of Cuba, so it will be interesting to see how he does. If he can perform well, along with Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko, who have been known for years for their power, the Sox should have a decent year. One of the biggest things that will hurt them is the loss of their overpowering closer, Addison Reed, who was great at finishing out games for them. With so many question marks and missing pieces, it will take a lot for the White Sox to finish any better than fourth.

I have the Twins finishing last again, but it will likely be the final year for awhile. They have numerous top prospects coming up in the next few years, including Alex Meyer, Trevor May, Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton, and those players will definitely have an incredible impact. But with the players they have for this season, they will likely have a subpar year. With a rotation of Scott Diamond, Kyle Gibson, and Phil Hughes, among others, the Twins don’t have a true ace of their pitching staff like a lot of teams do. They also no longer have Justin Morneau at first base, losing him in the second half of last year, and the rest of their infield is a question mark. One of their stronger points is their outfield, with Aaron Hicks and Josh Willingham, as well as newly signed catcher, Kurt Suzuki, but those players alone won’t be enough to win the Twins many games in 2014.

WEST

1. Rangers

2. Athletics

3. Mariners

4. Angels

5. Astros

Trading away Ian Kinsler in exchange for Prince Fielder will really go a long way in helping the Rangers beat out the Athletics for the number one spot in the AL West. Adding Fielder to an already great infield of Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar, will give the Rangers their first production from first base since Mark Teixeira left in 2007. The only thing that could hurt the Rangers is their pitching, as Derek Holland will miss the first portion of the season, along with a few other of their key pieces. Yu Darvish will be dominant again, and Tommy Hanson, Martin Perez and Robbie Ross will help a bit, but the loss of their closer, Joe Nathan, will have somewhat of an effect. If newcomer Shin-Soo Choo can produce from the leadoff spot the same as he was able to do in 2013, the Rangers, and several players on their team, could have an amazing year.

As far as the Athletics go, although they’ve won the division the past two seasons and made some fairly good moves this offseason as they seem to always do, they don’t have the lineup threats that the Rangers do. They do, however, have an overall better pitching staff (especially in the bullpen) with young stars Sonny Gray, Jarrod Parker and Dan Straily leading the rotation. A pickup of Scott Kazmir and closer Jim Johnson will have a great impact on their success throughout the coming season, as will Coco Crisp and Eric Sogard, who really broke out in 2013. But it will take great seasons from Josh Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick for the A’s to make a run at beating out the Rangers. With the seasons they’ve been able to put together without any superstars on the team, however, it wouldn’t be all that difficult for the Athletics to surprise me.

The Mariners, with all of the offseason moves they made, could potentially place better than third place, but I’m projecting them to disappoint a lot of people. The biggest signing they made was undeniably the top free agent of the offseason, Robinson Cano, for the next ten years. He will go a long way in turning the Mariners back around. But other than Cano, and possibly Corey Hart who they signed as well, there’s no major power threat in the lineup. Logan Morrison will add some average hitting, and young players such as Mike Zunino, Kyle Seager and Brad Miller will be decent. The one player that needs to produce is Dustin Ackley, but you never know with him. Their pitching should be excellent, with Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, etc., as well as new closer, Fernando Rodney, but if they don’t produce a ton offensively, it won’t do them much good.

After really disappointed a lot of people last season, the Angels could very well could do so again this year, finishing next to last in my opinion, as they didn’t do a lot to get much better this offseason. Their rotation doesn’t extend much past Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson, though they did pick up promising prospect Tyler Skaggs. While Mike Trout is going to be amazingly good, as he has proven he can be, and I feel Albert Pujols will have a bounce back year, Josh Hamilton isn’t really looking all that promising. Also, although they picked up David Freese this offseason, they lost a huge impact bat in Mark Trumbo, and really don’t have any other major impact players to place in their lineup. While they certainly have the pieces to surprise many people this year if everything goes right, I just don’t see it happening for the Angels.

It’s becoming routine for the Astros to finish dead last, and they will likely do so again this season, but on a brighter note, they could possibly finish with fewer than 100 losses, which they haven’t been able to do since 2010. The Astros don’t have any impact players to speak of for their rotation or lineup, but one of their top prospects, George Springer, if called up soon enough, could play a big role in the outfield. Jarred Cosart will likely be their best starting pitcher, with players such as Jose Altuve, Chris Carter and Matt Dominguez making some noise with their bats. However, it won’t be enough to do any better than fifth. But it shouldn’t be long until the Astros are moving up in their division, as they have several fantastic prospects coming up in the next year or two. From Mark Appel to Carlos Correa, the Astros could have a very formidable team in the very near future.

Leave a comment below with whether or not you agree with my predictions.

Ten Players Who Need to Have A Good 2014 Season

Spring Training is well underway, and many players are beginning to find their grooves that they hope will carry over into the coming regular season. With just over three weeks until Opening Day, on March 31st, there’s not too much time remaining for players who struggled last season to get things back on track for this year. With that said, some players certainly need to have a good year more than others.

While every player, obviously, wants to have a good, healthy season, there are numerous players who pretty much have to produce a good 2014 for one reason or another — whether it’s personal reasons, statistical reasons, or for team success as a whole. Although there are more players than those in my list below, here are the top ten players (in no particular order) that I feel need to have a really good 2014 season:

1.) Albert Pujols

After recording twelve straight seasons of 30 or more home runs (all but one of which included 100+ RBI’s) Albert Pujols faced the first bit of adversity of his career in 2013. Dealing with a nagging foot injury, Pujols only managed to post 17 home runs and 64 RBI’s, along with a .258 batting average — absolutely terrible by his standards — in 99 games played. With the down year coming as a shock to many people, especially after the acquisition of him led many to predict playoff pushes for the Angels, there will be many eyes on Pujols from his very first at-bat of the season to see if he can bounce back. I personally feel that if Pujols is healthy, the numbers will be there, and he will be a top candidate for American League comeback player of the year, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

2.) Ryan Braun

mlb_u_ryan-braun_mb_400x600In January of 2013, a list was made public by the biogenesis clinic in Miami, Florida, connecting numerous players to performance enhancing drugs, including Ryan Braun. After being connected to PED’s back in 2011, the list raised many red flags, but Braun denied any drug use, yet again. But finally, after a 65-game suspension by Major League Baseball, Braun came clean and admitted to having used PED’s, upsetting many people around the league. Therefore, unlike anyone else on my list, Braun (who had a good season, batting .298 with 9 homers and 38 RBI’s in 61 games) needs to have a good 2014 more for his personal image rather than his talent level image. Everyone knows he’s a great player, but it will take some time for fans to get over Braun’s consistent denial of PED use — and a great season would certainly help with that.

3.) Ryan Howard

Battling injuries over the course of the past two seasons, Ryan Howard needs to have a bounce back year for him to once again be considered the major power threat that he once was. Playing in only 80 games in 2013, Howard batted a mere .266 with 11 home runs and 43 RBI’s. Considering the fact that Howard hit 33 home runs just two years prior, making it the sixth 30+ home run season of his career, the Phillies’ former star first baseman really needs to show signs of his former self this season. If Howard can perform anywhere near his previous level by staying healthy and putting many a ball into the outfield seats, not only could he very well win the 2014 National League comeback player of the year award, but the Phillies could have a real shot at having a memorable year.

4.) Derek Jeter

Announcing that 2014 would be his final season playing Major League Baseball last month, Derek Jeter needs to have a good final season to top off an already incredible career. In 2013, Jeter struggled with injury after injury, managing to play in only 17 games, and posting a .190 batting average, to go along with a single homer and 7 runs batted in. After accumulating over 3,300 hits in the big leagues over the course of his career, Jeter doesn’t need to have a good final season to be remembered as one of the best players of all-time — he’s already on that list for many people — but rather to finish out his career in Jeter fashion, going out on top of his game. I truly hope he can have a great 2014 season, and I feel he will do just that.

1vysec_AuSt_695.) David Price

When David Price won the 2012 American League Cy Young award, recording 20 wins and posting a 2.56 ERA, many (myself included) felt he had a good chance at doing the same again last season. But instead, Price was faced with a midseason injury that caused his numbers to take a tumble. Posting a win-loss record of 10-8 with a 3.33 ERA — not too terrible, but somewhat disappointing for him — Price needs to bounce back in 2014 for both his sake and the sake of the Rays. Price truly can be the key for the Rays, who always seem to be on the brink of playoff baseball every season. With an improved American League East division for the coming year, Price’s season could be the difference maker for if the Rays are able to make the postseason or not.

6.) B.J. Upton

Arguably the biggest disappointment of the 2013 season, batting .184 with just 9 home runs and 26 RBI’s after a 2012 season of 28 homers and 78 runs driven in, B.J. Upton has to have a good season this year for him not to be considered a trade bust by the Braves. The Braves managed to win their division last season by a rather large margin without much production from Upton, and if they can get Upton back to his former self, the Braves could have an even better year. It will be interesting to see how B.J. Upton does in the coming year with so much negative criticism surrounding him from the 2013 season. If he can have another good season, the down year he experience will be a forgotten aspect of the past.

7.) Stephen Strasburg

There are some players that are tagged with a major amount of hype from their first appearance in the big leagues, and Stephen Strasburg is one of them. While he hasn’t disappointed for the most part, going 8-9 with a 3.00 ERA last season, Strasburg also hasn’t managed to blow everyone away and completely dominate like many believe he can. It’s been reported that Strasburg has added a new pitch to his arsenal and is throwing better than ever, and that could mean good things for both him and the Nationals. If Strasburg can find a way to tally even ten more wins than he did this past year, the Nat’s could find themselves in the running for the National League East division title, assuming everything else goes right for the rest of the team.

8.) Mike Moustakas628x471

Having the potential to be an All-Star third baseman season after season, Mike Moustakas has yet to post an exceptional season at the major league level. Batting only .233, with 12 homers and 42 RBI’s last season, Moustakas needs to have a good season this year for him to be seen as the above average player he can be moving forward. The Royals still have several holes in their lineup, but Moustakas performing well each year would go a long way in helping them move back into contention. He’s still fairly young, at just 25 years old, and therefore has time left to live out his former hype, but Moustakas could use a strong statistical season to prove to many that he’s one of the top third baseman in the game of baseball today.

9.) Matt Kemp

Although he’s still not fully healthy, Matt Kemp is already on the radar of many people who think he will have a good 2014 season. The only question mark being his health, playing in only 73 games last year. If healthy, as with many players on this list, the numbers will be there, as Kemp is one of the premier talents in the game today, possessing 40 home run, 40 stolen base ability (coming one home run shy of doing just that in 2011, when he placed second in MVP voting). Although there is great depth in the Dodgers’ current outfield, which includes players such as Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier and Yasiel Puig, if Kemp can show signs that he’s healthy, he will certainly get plenty of playing time in the coming season. He’s too good of a player to count out.

10.) Tim Lincecum

Once a Cy Young caliber pitcher, having won back-to-back awards in 2008 and 2009, Tim Lincecum has really fallen off as of late. Each of the past two seasons, Lincecum has posted an ERA over 4.00, and in addition had losing records. While the win-loss record isn’t the most important thing when evaluating a pitcher’s season, an ERA anywhere above 3.50 usually means they had a disappointing year. But with the talent that Lincecum has shown in the past, I’m not giving up on a turnaround just yet. He just really needs to have a good 2014 season — perhaps more than most of the players on this list — for him to become ‘The Freak’ pitcher he once was considered. I truly hope he can, because when Lincecum is on, he’s one of the most fun pitchers to watch in all of baseball.

JUST MISSES

There are a few players who need to have a good 2014 season who just barely missed my above list because their stats were slightly too good. One of those being Josh Hamilton, who was a major disappointment after signing with the Angles, but when you check the stats, he actually had a decent year, hitting 21 home runs and driving in 79 runs. Another example of that being Yoenis Cespedes, who had a down year average wise, hitting just .240, but posted 26 homers and 80 RBI’s. Not too bad of a season for most players.

Joining those two on the list of just misses are Giancarlo Stanton, who was injured in 2013 but still managed to hit 24 home runs and amass 62 RBI’s, along with Dan Uggla, whose .179 batting included 22 homers and 55 RBI’s, which really isn’t all that terrible. While all the players listed under the just missed category had down seasons by their standards, they managed to have somewhat decent years as far as the major league average goes. Even so, they could each use a good 2014 season to prove what they’re capable of.

Which player needs to have a good 2014 season the most? Leave a comment below.

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 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.

Yankees Get Tanaka On 7-Year, 155 Million Dollar Deal

Although I felt the Yankees would be better off using their money to sign other free agents to fill their bullpen and positional needs, the Yankees have decided to lock up Masahiro Tanaka for seven years, giving him a contract worth 155 million dollars. As many people around the baseball world are discussing, this is truly a lot of money for a pitcher who’s never played in the Major Leagues. 201311030731270873836-p5

Despite reportedly wanting to remain under the 189 million dollar luxury tax threshold, this deal to Tanaka blows right past that. The Yankees have now spent nearly 500 million dollars this offseason, with the biggest additions being Tanaka (155 million), Jacoby Ellsbury (153 million), Brian McCann (85 million) and Carlos Beltran (45 million). But even with all the money spent, they still have holes in their overall team.

The Yankees need at least one more good bullpen pitcher, preferably a solid closer, and have an average, at best, infield. With it uncertain how Derek Jeter will perform this season — coming of an injury plagued 2013 season — there are still a lot of questions surrounding the deal. (Now that the Yankees have passed the threshold, I suppose spending more money to acquire their needs isn’t that big of a concern.)

It’s been reported that the Dodgers, Angels, Cubs, White Sox, Astros and Diamondbacks all made runs at Tanaka, with at least one team possibly outbidding the Yankees. But ultimately, Tanaka chose the bigger stage of New York City, where he will likely begin as the second or third man in their starting rotation.

Tanaka becomes the receiver of the fifth largest contract for a pitcher in MLB history, just behind Clayton Kershaw’s 215 million over 7 years, Justin Verlander’s 180 million for 7 years, Felix Hernandez’s 7-year, 175 million dollar contract, and C.C. Sabathia’s 160 million for 8 years. That says a lot for the type of pitcher Tanaka is, but it’s somewhat risky, even for a pitcher who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last year in Japan, since, as stated earlier, he has never pitched a single MLB inning.

If everything works out as the Yankees planned, and are certainly hoping for, then the signing of Masahiro Tanaka could go a long way to helping them return to the playoffs in 2014 (many people are predicting just that). But if there are any bumps in the road, you could be seeing a lot of regret in New York.

As things look now, however, the future looks to be bright.

Dodgers Lock Up Clayton Kershaw With Record Deal

We all knew it was coming, it was just a matter of time.

After Felix Hernandez — a former perfect game winner — received a 7-year, 175 million dollar deal from the Mariners, and Justin Verlander — a former Most Valuable Player — received a 7-year, 180 million dollar deal from the Tigers, you had to figure that Clayton Kershaw — a two-time Cy Young award winner — was going to receive a massive deal.Clayton+Kershaw+Los+Angeles+Dodgers+v+San+d0VPZUHHq9Rl

However, I don’t think anyone quite predicted a deal of this magnitude.

The Los Angeles Dodgers and Clayton Kershaw have agreed to a 7-year deal worth 215 million dollars, coming out to 30.7 million dollars a year, and making Kershaw the highest annually paid player in Major League Baseball history.

The deal also sits second all-time in total contract amount, just behind Alex Rodriguez’s 10-year, 275 million dollar deal from the Yankees in 2007. (That deal didn’t go too well.)

But all this money poses a question — Is Kershaw worth the money? In my mind, absolutely.

Sure, it’s a ton of money, especially for a guy who only plays every fifth day. But when you’re looking to retain a player of Kershaw’s caliber, keeping him from becoming a free agent at the end of next season, you do what it takes — and it took a lot.

Although I’m normally not a fan of big contracts, by going 16-9 with a 1.83 ERA last season in which he won the 2013 National League Cy Young award (his second in three years), Kershaw has done more than enough to prove that he’s worth a contract of this size. He’s still young, at just 25 years old, and in addition to being durable, Kershaw holds a career ERA of 2.60, over nearly 1,200 innings pitched. He’s just the type of player that can go a long way to win a team a championship, as every team needs a true Ace.

A championship for the Dodgers is, obviously, the goal, as it is for every club. By signing Kershaw for the next seven years, it definitely gives them a good shot. But as history has shown, you can’t buy championships, nor can you predict how guys will play. It takes nearly a perfect year, where every player on the team plays to the best of their ability without very much injury, to have a magical season.

The only down side to the deal is that it makes Kershaw the fifth player owed 20 million dollars or more for 2014 season by the Dodgers, joining Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Zack Greinke. But that doesn’t seem to phase the Dodgers, as they are still reportedly in the running for Masahiro Tanaka, who certainly won’t come cheap.

As many have coined, the Dodgers would appear to be the “new Yankees” — with their seemingly endless amount of spending money.

Nonetheless, only time will tell how the Dodgers will perform in 2014. Should things play out the way many are predicting, they could have a really special season, and that also holds true for many seasons to come.

No matter what, when it comes to Clayton Kershaw, signing him was absolutely worth it.

Why the Yankees Shouldn’t Sign Masahiro Tanaka

There are multiple teams around Major League Baseball that are currently looking to sign another pitcher to add to their rotation, and there is no pitcher on the market better than Masahiro Tanaka. Going 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last season in the Japanese League, Tanaka is being sought after by numerous teams, and has until January 24th to make a decision.

tanaka

Though multiple organizations around the country are reportedly interested in Tanaka, the New York Yankees are the team that could use him the most, in the minds of many, of the teams that can actually afford to make the deal. The Yankees have made a few good moves so far this offseason, and signing Tanaka to add to their somewhat weak rotation would make an immediate impact for the 2014 season.

Joining a rotation of C.C. Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Hiroki Kuroda, among others, Tanaka would likely be the Yankees’ number two pitcher, behind Sabathia, and could potentially become their number one. Tanaka certainly has the talent, though there’s always the risk that he could fail in the Major Leagues, as has happened to multiple Japanese pitchers in the past. Most people, however, don’t see that occuring with Tanaka, as he has incredible stuff.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean signing Tanaka is the right thing to do.

While the Yankees are likely going to be able to use the money previously owed to Alex Rodriguez, who is going to miss all of the 2014 season, they need to look at the big picture, in my opinion. Yes, picking up Tanaka would make them a good team, but signing other players with the money would make them a really good team.

Tanaka is going to take a lot of money to sign — probably leading them to overspend to beat out the competition. To me, it would better serve the Yankees to use the A-Rod money to sign multiple, cheaper free agents to fill their needs, such as their closer role, as well as other starting pitching options.

The Yankees are rumored to be interested in Grant Balfour, who was picked up by the Orioles last month before having his deal canceled after failing their physical, reportedly due to knee and wrist issues. Assuming Balfour is actually healthy, the Yankees should be able to get him for a decent price, and, while he’s no Mariano Rivera, he would do a great job at closing out games for them, posting 38 saves with a 2.59 ERA last season.

As far as starting pitchers go, Ubaldo Jimenez would be a great alternate option for the Yankees, as I’ve felt for awhile. Though Jimenez has had his share of ups and downs over his career, he has the potential to be a good pitcher, showing that ability over the last half of the 2013 season in which he was tremendous. Should Jimenez have a bounce back year in 2014, he could easily be a steal by the Yankees.

All things considered, there are several options for the Yankees moving forward this offseason, many of which don’t include Japanese phenom Masahiro Tanaka.

Therefore, if I were the Yankees, I’d have to pass on Tanaka.

2014 Hall of Fame Ballot: If I Had A Vote

The 2014 Major League Baseball Hall of Fame ballot is loaded with stars. (There are 36 players in all, with 19 of them being first ballot players.) Whether the player has been on the ballot for numerous years or is a newcomer, there are far too many players for me to give my take on them all. Therefore, I’m only going to be discussing the players I’d vote for if I had a vote, and provide my reasoning for each.

The first player on my ballot would have to be Greg Maddux. 2499811_crop_650x440 Maddux, who will go down in history as one of the best pitchers the game of baseball has ever seen, racked up a total of 355 wins over the course of his 23-year career. As if that wasn’t enough to make him a first-ballot Hall of Famer, Maddux also put together a stat line of 3,371 strikeouts, to go along with an ERA of 3.16, and 4 straight Cy Young winning seasons. In addition, Maddux holds the record for most Gold Glove awards with 18, and should be one of the highest vote getters in Hall of Fame voting history.

The second vote on my ballot goes to Frank Thomas. 50825152_crop_650x440 Thomas put together an incredible career, and would be an automatic pick for the Hall of Fame if it wasn’t for the steroid era in which he played. But despite that, I feel Thomas will get in as a first ballot player, and rightfully so, seeing that he was never directly connected to PED’s. Blasting 521 home runs in his 19-year career, totaling 1,704 RBI’s, “The Big Hurt” has some of the best stats seen on the ballot in years (with the exception of Barry Bonds). With a .301 batting average to go along with his amazing numbers, and two career MVP’s, Thomas should receive the second most votes from the 2014 ballot, after Greg Maddux.

The next player I have is Tom Glavine. mlb_a_glavine_576 Glavine, as with Greg Maddux, is one of only 24 pitchers to have put together 300 or more career wins (305), done in his 22 seasons in the major leagues. Anytime a pitcher accomplishes this great feat, it’s almost a no brainer that they’re a Hall of Fame player, as a 300 game winner is nearly unheard of nowadays. Glavine also has two Cy Young awards and 2,607 strikeouts to go along with his other impressive numbers, and that, in my mind, should earn him a spot in Cooperstown.

The fourth player on my ballot is Mike Piazza. 345595_crop_650x440 Piazza doesn’t have the most impressive numbers of the players on this year’s ballot, however, the stats that he put together over his career, although not good enough for a first ballot vote, are good enough for the Hall of Fame, in this his second year on the ballot. In my mind, despite barely surpassing the 2,000 hit mark and sitting 90th all time in terms of RBI’s, Piazza put together one of the best ever careers for a catcher. He is fourth on the list of catchers in baseball history for most RBI’s and leads all catchers in home runs. When you combine it all together, it makes Piazza a Hall of Fame player.

The final player I would vote for from this year’s ballot is Craig Biggio. biggio Biggio was the top vote getter of the players on the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot, receiving 68.2 percent of the vote, which saw no players getting the necessary 75 percent to be elected. Biggio should get in this time around — many believe he should’ve been a first ballot Hall of Famer — as his 3,060 career hits put him on a list with just 27 other players who have compiled 3,000 or more hits. Biggio’s 291 career homers and 1,175 RBI’s are low for a Hall of Fame player, however, there is a very good case for making an exception for Biggio making it into the Hall.

Unfortunately, with all of the great players this year, I decided to leave off a few of the really good players from my ballot, including Jack Morris (who is in his last year of eligibility), Tim Raines, Don Mattingly, etc., even though I could’ve easily included them. I just didn’t think they were good enough to make the cut this year. In addition, I’ve excluded Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Rogers Clemens, among others traced to PED’s, not based solely on their PED use, but merely because I don’t feel they should get in this time around. Not yet. Maybe not even at all. I haven’t fully decided how I feel.

Though you may disagree with some of the players I feel are Hall of Fame worthy and with some of the players I left off my ballot, it’s just the way I feel and how I see things. Now, I want to hear from you. Of the players on the 2014 ballot, who do you want to see get elected along side of Bobby Cox, Joe Torre and Tony LaRussa in July? Cast your vote below for the number of players from the 2014 ballot that you would vote into the Hall of Fame, and feel free to leave your thoughts below.

Q and A With Chris Beck

Chris Beck was drafted by the White Sox in the 2nd round of the 2012 draft. Originally projected as a first round draft pick, a drop in velocity duringBeck his junior year of college led to a drop to late in the second round. But Beck has been able to prove his ability as a pitcher, posting good stats over his first two seasons of professional baseball.

After a good 2012, Beck had an even better 2013 season, going 13-10 with a 3.07 ERA in 26 starts. Beginning the year strong in High-A, Beck was selected to participate in the Carolina League/California League All-Star game, and was quickly promoted to Double-A afterwards, where he ended the year.

Beck is a player worth keeping a very close eye on. He should continue to post good stats, and could make it to the majors in the next year or two.

Chris Beck — top 10 prospect in the White Sox’ organization — took the time recently to answer some of my questions:

1.) At what age did you first become interested in baseball?

I’d say from the time I was able to walk. I always had my plastic ‘Fisher Price’ bat in my hands walking around the house.

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

Chipper Jones, hands down, because he was a Georgia boy right up the road in Atlanta.

3.) You were drafted by the White Sox in the 2nd round of the 2012 draft. What was that process like for you? Where were you when you first found out? Initial thoughts?

It was an amazing experience but stressful at the same time. I had upper first round buzz heading into my junior season, and I fell into the second round. So I had no idea when I was going to go, but [I'm] very lucky the White Sox took me when they did.

4.) Although you signed with the White Sox in 2012, you were originally drafted by the Indians in the 35th round of the 2009 draft. What made you decide to attend college instead of beginning your professional career?

Just my maturity situation. I had gone to a one-hallway high school in a small town, and [had] never really been away from home, ever. I knew I had some growing up to do before I could handle pro ball.

5.) You had a fairly successful first half to the year that earned you a spot in the 2013 Carolina League/California League All-Star game. What did it mean to you to be named to the team along with all the other great players in High-A baseball?

It was awesome just being able to be surrounded by that talent. You look now and most of the guys that played in the game moved to AA right after and continued their success. They could be in the big leagues at any point this next season, and that’ll be something cool to know I played beside them.

6.) After the All-Star game, you were promoted to Double-A. What kind of differences, if any, did you notice from the level of talent you began the first half of the year facing?

It’s just the margin of error is that much smaller. I’m very lucky that the Carolina league was loaded with great players and competition so I believe that helped with the transition. But back to AA, those guys are there for a reason and most are future or former big leaguers.

7.) Winning a World Series Championship is, obviously, every player’s dream, but while you haven’t yet had the opportunity to do so, you won the next best thing: The 2013 Southern League Championship, with the Birmingham Barons. What was that experience like, pitching in a Minor League playoff atmosphere? What did you take away from it?

I don’t think there’s one certain word that can describe that. It’s such a rush of emotions and adrenaline even when you’re not on the mound. You’re hanging on the rail during every pitch. And after playing for the love of the game, you play to win, and winning a championship is the ultimate prize.

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

2013 I gained loads of experience of it being my first full season. I learned a lot of how to treat your body (laying off Dunkin Donuts everyday) and when to push and when to let off in between starts. Staying healthy was my primary goal, and that happened. So into 2014 it’ll be a lot of the same — staying healthy and continuing to work on putting guys away. I walked a lot of guys in High-A this year and want to take what I did in AA into this coming Spring Training.

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

I really love ‘Duck Dynasty’ and, as mentioned before, donuts. Lol.

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

Biggest advice I could offer: Have fun! It’s a game, and it’s meant to be fun. When that stops happening something isn’t being done right, no matter what level you’re on.

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Big thanks to Chris Beck for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @WatchurBeck

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