Thrilling Wild Card Race Finishes Setting Up

One of the best things ever done for Major League Baseball in recent history, in my opinion, was the implementation of the second Wild Card back in 2012. Since then, a number of teams have been given at least a shot at postseason glory that would have missed the cut completely in season’s past. This year is looking to be another great example of that.

With just over fifty games still to be played over the course of the 2016 season, there are eleven teams around baseball within five games of a Wild Card spot, giving them hope of a magical season. It’s the prospect that any team can now make he postseason that’s making things all that more exciting.

Two of the most surprising teams vying for a spot in the playoffs this season are the Marlins and the Rockies. The Marlins currently hold a Wild Card spot, with Colorado just four games back of their own. Neither team was really expected to do all that much when the season began, so for them to be in such a place this late in the season is remarkable.

However, there is still a lot of season left where anything can potentially happen. It will all come down to the wire, making for a terrific finish to the regular season over the next couple of months.

Trevor Story Wasting No Time Setting Records

Any time a baseball player makes their MLB debut, it’s bound to be a special day for them. When it happens on Opening Day, it makes it all that more thrilling. But Trevor Story has taken things a step further, not only doing both of the aforementioned things this season, but also exploding onto the scene with the Rockies.  Story

In his brief, three-game MLB career, Story has already accomplished something that no other player in baseball history has ever been able to do. Over the course of his first few games in the bigs, Story has proceeded to launch four home runs (one of which was off 2015 NL Cy Young winner, Zack Greinke), hitting at least one in every single game he’s played, and becoming the first player to ever do so in three straight games to lead off their career.

After a strong Spring Training showing, the Rockies felt confident that Story could be brought up to the majors to fill the void left by Jose Reyes during his absence from the team, but no one could have anticipated Story performing the way he has to this point.

Story is now batting .286 on the season (his only four hits have been home runs) with 4 home runs and 7 RBI’s over the course of three games, and has gone from an under the radar prospect in the Rockies farm system to a star overnight. While I’ll be the first to admit that Story inevitably won’t be able to keep up this historic pace, currently hitting a home run every 3.5 at-bats, it’s still amazing to watch while it lasts.

But while Story will ultimately not reach his on-pace number of 200+ home runs for the season, all signs point to him continuing to produce quality number for the Rockies, likely for years to come. While Corey Seager was the heavy favorite to win the National League Rookie of the Year award after his terrific stint with the Dodgers towards the end of last season, it appears that Story is going to give Seager a run for his money.

Although this is baseball, where guys can go from being red hot to ice cold in the matter of a single game, Story is well on his way to breaking his career high of 20 home runs set last season in the minors between Double-A and Triple-A. After all, Story is yet to play a single game at home in Coors Field, where the ball is known to fly out of the park.

It’s crazy to think, but Trevor Story might be just getting started.

Takeaways as Spring Training Winds Down

As history has shown us, Spring Training virtually means nothing when it comes to projecting how any given team or player will fare when the regular season actually rolls around. Spring

In season’s past, teams that “won” their leagues in the Spring wound up finishing in last place when the games actually mattered, with the opposite holding true for other teams that had poor Spring Trainings. The same applies to players, some of which vastly underperform or overperform in the Spring but return to their expected selves when April begins. For that reason, looking at the standings and stats is useless.

But that doesn’t stop me from checking them out anyhow. With Spring Training nearly over, and regular season games set to begin on April 3rd, I figured I’d share some of the things I took away from a quick glimpse at the standings and stats of teams and players around the baseball world.

The Mets and Cardinals are expected to do big things in their given divisions in 2016, but you wouldn’t reach that conclusion from peering at their Spring record. Each is well below .500, despite individual players on both teams shining at times. But that will inevitably change when the year actually begins.

On the flip side of things, the Phillies have a great record in the Grapefruit League, with the Rockies and Brewers doing well in the Cactus League side of things. But although they are outplaying other teams to this point, none of them are expected to do much of anything this season, with a last place division finish possible for each of them when all is said and done.

Individually, player’s stats can also be somewhat misleading.

PeraltaDavid Peralta and Christian Yelich — each of which were terrific in 2015 and have the ability to hit for a very high average — are ice cold thus far in Spring Training. However, they should easily turn things around when the true games begin. Likewise, as far as pitchers are concerned, veterans Jake Peavy and Jeff Samardzija haven’t faired much better than Peralta or Yelich, as each is doing horrible this Spring. But fortunately for them, the likelihood that all of these players continue to perform at such a low level is extremely low.

So if your favorite team or player is having a terrible Spring Training, don’t panic — at least not just yet. Theses things always seem to find a way of working out. But all the same, don’t set your hopes too high on a player or team who is putting up stellar numbers but is expected to do poorly this year. It likely won’t be able to last over the long 162-game year.

But then again, that’s why the games are played. Anything is truly possible from one year to the next.

Bautista & Tulowitzki Select Their Derby Teammates

The players who are planning to blast long balls in the 2014 home run derby were fully announced on Thursday, and, for the most part, I’m not extremely shocked with any of them. My original picks only included three of the selected players I wanted to see in the derby, but the new format for the home run derby (ten players instead of eight) threw me off when it came to making my selections.

My initial list included eight players, being Nelson Cruz, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Abreu and Yoenis Cespedes (Jose Bautista hadn’t yet been announced as the captain) for the American League, with Giancarlo Stanton, Evan Gattis, Carlos Gomez and Yasiel Puig (Troy Tulowitzki hadn’t yet been announced as the captain) for the National League.

In the end, American League captain, Bautista, selected Brian Dozier, Adam Jones, Josh Donaldson, and defending derby champion, Yoenis Cespedes. On the National League side of things, their captain, Tulowitzki, added Yasiel Puig, Todd Frazier, Giancarlo Stanton and Justin Morneau to the mix.

All in all, a very solid group of players; though I would’ve liked to have seen rookie phenom, Jose Abreu, compete (he expressed that he wasn’t interested in participating).

As stated, the home run derby is set to see a major change in rules for the first time since match play was first introduced back in 2000. Therefore, I wanted to give a brief overview for those of you who may not have heard about the changes. The new rules are as follows:

Round 1: Five players from the American League and five players from National League compete to see who can hit the most home runs, receiving seven outs instead of the previous ten (they receive the same number of outs in every following round). The top slugging player from each individual league receives a bye, jumping automatically ahead to the third round, and subsequently giving them added rest that they’ve never been rewarded with before. The second and third place hitters in the round from each league will then move onto round two, with the bottom two pairs of players being eliminated (four total).

Round 2: With the top home run hitter from the American League and the top player from the National League in the first round skipping round two, this round sees two American League hitters and two National League hitters (the second and third place finishers from round one) squaring off. The two winners will subsequently move on to round three to take on the round one winners.

Round 3: The sole winner from the American League and National League in round two of the derby is set to take on their respective league’s winner from the first round. The player from the AL who hits the most home runs in this round will move on to the final round where they will compete against the round winner from the NL.

Round 4: For the first time ever, there is going to be a round four added to the mix. This round will see the winners from round three (one from the AL and one from the NL) going head-to-head for the title of 2014 MLB Home Run Derby champion. With the number of great power hitters that are always in the mix at this point in every derby, it’s sure to be an entertaining round.

Overall, I like the changes to the derby format. Allowing the winners from the first round to skip the following round finally gives them an advantage and motivation to try and put on a show. In the past, a lot of players have hit their stride in a round (Josh Hamilton slugged a record 28 home runs in the first round back in 2008 only to tire out and lose the derby) that ended up costing them the derby due to fatigue. A break to give them a chance to regain their energy should make things more entertaining for the players and the fans.

With the field for the home run derby set with its full slate of ten players, and with the new format for this year’s derby fully explained, I wanted to take a second to give my thoughts on how I feel the derby will go.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Round one is going to be a very interesting round. Basically being unpredictable, just about any of the players on the American League side of things has the ability to get hot and win the round. With that said, however, I feel that it’s most likely going to be Jose Bautista. Though he doesn’t have the most power of the group, he has a good combination of an ability to hit for power and total homers to do well. Coming in second and third I see it being Yoenis Cespedes and Adam Jones, meaning Josh Donaldson and Brian Dozier would be eliminated.

With Jose Bautista having won round one in my mind, this round would have Yoenis Cespedes going up against Adam Jones. Though Adam Jones can hit with the best of them, I’m sticking with last year’s winner, Yoenis Cespedes. Next to Giancarlo Stanton in the National League, Cespedes has arguably the best power in the derby, and should be able to make it to round three, with Jones getting knocked out.

The final round for the American League portion of the derby would then see Yoenis Cespedes hitting off against round one winner Jose Bautista. Though somewhat difficult to predict, between these two, I’d have to move Cespedes to the championship round, just beating out Bautista.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Likely to be the more impressive round one show between the two leagues is the National League. With Giancarlo Stanton in the mix, I truly don’t see anyone as having a chance at beating him out in this round. That leaves Troy Tulowitzki, Yasiel Puig, Todd Frazier and Justin Morneau, and I feel that of those, Tulowitzki and Frazier stand the best shot at advancing, even with the always entertaining Yasiel Puig in the running. That would leave Puig and Morneau as the players to be out hit in the first round.

With there a good chance that Giancarlo Stanton will have destroyed the completion in the initial round, the second round would include NL captain, Troy Tulowitzki, taking on Todd Frazier. Though Frazier has hit his share of tape measure home runs over the course of his career, I don’t think he will have enough to overtake Tulo. And thus, it’s likely that Tulowitzki will move on to face Stanton in the next round.

After skipping the second round, Giancarlo Stanton would be taking on the previous round’s winner, Troy Tulowitzki. While anything can happen in a home run derby, and certainly has in the past numerous years, I don’t think Stanton will stumble in his quest for the championship round.

Final Round

If the final, championship round of this year’s home run derby is in fact Yoenis Cespedes and Giancarlo Stanton squaring off, it’s sure to be one of the best final rounds ever. Both Cespedes and Stanton have unbelievable power, and both have the strength and ability to put on long, amazing displays of power. Honestly, the final round could easily go either way, but to stick with my gut, your 2014 Major League Baseball home run derby champion will be Giancarlo Stanton, as many are already predicting.

Previewing the 2014 Major League Baseball Draft

The 2014 Major League Baseball First-Year Player draft is now less than two weeks away.

Set to air live on MLB Network on June 5th, and continuing through June 7th on MLB.com, the draft has become a bigger focus each and every year as time has gone by. With teams now counting on their first few picks to make it to the big leagues within a couple of years and have an immediate impact, choosing the right player for your organization has become a huge deal. 2014-Draft

While none of last year’s first round draft picks have made the major leagues as of yet, currently, four of the 2012 first round picks have made the majors for at least a brief period of time, being Kevin Gausman and Marcus Stroman, in addition to Mike Zunino and Michael Wacha who have made the biggest impacts.

With this year’s draft being pitcher heavy, a lot of teams are going to be picking up a possible future ace of their rotation as their first pick. Though there are some good position players in the mix as well, overall, pitchers are the dominant presence, making up seven of the top ten ranked draft prospects who will go quickly come draft day.

As I did last year, I’m planning to blog about the results of the draft, along with a few of my thoughts, the day after the first round takes place. With the first five picks going to the Astros, Marlins, White Sox, Cubs and Twins, it should be interesting to see how teams play things, depending on their overall biggest needs that they need to fill for the future.

Though I’m not going to give any predictions for the order in which the players are chosen (I’m by no means a draft expert) I do want to talk a bit about the “experts'” picks for who will likely be some of the first off the board.

For the number one overall pick, no one can seem to agree who it will be, however, nearly everyone is predicting that it will be one of two left-handed pitchers: Brady Aiken or Carlos Rodon. Untitled

Aiken is one of four high school players ranked in the top ten draft prospects, and is expected to go in the top two, if not number one overall. Possessing some of the best stuff seen out of a high school pitcher in quite a while — set to be the first high school lefty to go in the top five since 2002 — Aiken is one of the younger players in the draft, currently age 17, but he could possibly be one of the most talented.

With a good fastball, as well as a great curveball and changeup, it will be up to the Astros if they want to take a chance on the young pitcher.

Or they could go with Rodon, who began the year as the clear cut first overall pick, but due to a somewhat down year by his standards — he still managed to post a 2.01 ERA despite poor run support leading to a 6-7 record — his stock has fallen a bit.

But with that said, he still has everything you want and expect to see in the number one pick. With a good, hard fastball, a really good slider, and a work in progress change up, Rodon may not be the highest ranked draft prospect, but he may have the most upside.

On the position player side of things, high school catcher Alex Jackson appears to be the favorite to be the first non-pitcher off the board. While not too many of the game’s top catchers produce big time stats at the big league level, many people feel that Jackson has the ability to do just that.

With a cannon for an arm behind the plate, as well as a real power swing that should yield a good deal of power in addition to hitting for average, Jackson will likely become one of the brightest catching prospects in baseball after June 5th.

And therefore, with so much fantastic talent, from pitchers to position players, the 2014 draft could turn out to be one of the best in years.

Nolan Arenado Sets New Rockies Hit Streak Record

Tallying yet another hit on Thursday night against the Rangers, Nolan Arenado pushed his average for the season up to .322, but more importantly extended his league-leading hitting streak up to a respectable 28 straight games. That puts him first in Rockies’ history in terms of fantasy_g_arenado01jr_200consecutive games with a hit, surpassing Michael Cuddyer’s mark of 27 games, which he set last season.

Sitting halfway from Joe DiMaggio’s all-time hitting streak record of 56 games, it’s far too early to begin talking about Arenado charging past, arguably, the most impressive baseball record of them all — one that many people believe will never be beaten. (If it were to happen, Arenado’s 57th straight game with a hit would come on June 11th in Atlanta).

Nonetheless, what Arenado has been able to do over the past month or so — getting at least one hit in every game since April 9th — has been nothing short of remarkable.

But hitting streak aside, at just 23 years old, Arenado is quickly earning the recognition and respect that he deserves as one of the top young players in the game today.

After becoming just the tenth rookie to ever win a Gold Glove award, for his defense at third base in 2013 that rivals nearly every other infielder in all of baseball, Arenado is on his way to becoming a full on superstar.

And therefore, if you aren’t familiar with Nolan Arenado — perhaps you hadn’t ever heard of him until reading this post? — start paying close attention. Arenado is an extremely exciting player, and from what he’s been able to accomplish so far in his young career, the future would appear to be bright for Arenado (and the resurging Colorado Rockies) moving forward.

Ballot Released for the 2014 MLB All-Star Game

On Friday, the ballot for the 2014 Major League Baseball All-Star game, set to take place up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, at Target Field on July, 15th, was released, giving baseball fans all across the country the ability to pick which players they’d like to see in the starting lineups of Untitledthe midsummer classic.

With more and more attention being given to the All-Star game as years pass (a record 40.2 million ballots were cast in 2012), and with there being so many top quality candidates to choose from, the voting has become extremely intriguing.

To cast your vote, you can head down to your local ballpark and pick up a ballot, or, the easiest of ways, just head to MLB.com and fill out an online ballot with the player you feel most deserves the honor for each position. You have up to 25 votes (35 if you’re a registered member with MLB.com) that you can use.

Voting doesn’t end until July 3rd, but I’m not waiting (at least not completely).

I went ahead and cast half of my eligible 35 votes today for the players who I feel would deserve to make the All-Star team if it were being played tomorrow, with a plan for my remaining picks to be cast much closer to time. A lot of things can change, and therefore, my picks will subsequently change as well. However, for the sole purpose of this blog post, I figured I’d reveal the players I voted for, with the reasoning behind my picks:

FIRST BASE: Albert Pujols (AL), Paul Goldschmidt (NL)

With the great start he’s had so far this season, picking Albert Pujols was an easy choice. Though there are several other great candidates, including Miguel Cabrera, who just recently moved back over to first, and rookie phenom, Jose Abreu, who’s off to a fast start to his major league career, it was Pujols who had the overall package, posting a solid campaign for comeback player of the year.

For the National League side of the vote, it was a bit more difficult, with even more great candidates. From Brandon Belt’s fantastic, breakout start, to the always consistent Freddie Freeman, it was hard to settle with the decision I came to of picking Paul Goldschmidt. However, after the breakout season he had in 2013, and the fact that he isn’t letting up, he’s done enough to earn him my vote.

SECOND BASE: Robinson Cano (AL), Neil Walker (NL)

Though his power numbers have yet to show up so far this season, as many predicted with his move to the Mariners, I voted for Robinson Cano to start at second for the All-Star game. He’s still been fairly consistent at the plate this season, and his defensive skills are always fun to watch. While both Jason Kipnis and Dustin Pedroia were considered, Cano, in my mind, is the best choice at the moment.

I never thought I’d cast a vote for Neil Walker over the walking web gem that is Brandon Phillips, but that’s exactly what I did. Walker is off to a fantastic start to the year, and while Phillips hasn’t slowed down with his glove handiwork, he’s been a bit slow at the plate thus far. If he can pick it up offensively, he’ll likely earn the fan’s vote, but for now, I’m sticking with the Pirates’ Walker.

SHORTSTOP: Derek Jeter (AL), Troy Tulowitzki (NL)

Statistically, Alexei Ramirez probably deserves the starting shortstop role more than Derek Jeter, having one of the fastest starts of anyone in baseball, and the best kickoff to his career. However, with this being his final season (and Jeter being my favorite player), I had to vote for Jeter. The model of consistency, Jeter in all likelihood will be making his final All-Star start come July.

Troy Tulowitzki has always had the potential to be one of the top players in all of baseball, however, health has played a big role in hindering that caliber player from showing up. But with Tulo fully healthy, he’s begun to show signs of his full potential, and has been doing fantastic so far for the Rockies. While Andrelton Simmons and Hanley Ramirez would be great picks, mine goes to Tulowitzki.

THIRD BASE: Evan Longoria (AL), David Wright (NL)

In voting for the American League third baseman, though Josh Donaldson has, arguably, gotten off to the best start of any third baseman in baseball, I went with Evan Longoria. While Donaldson could definitely earn the All-Star spot should he continue his great play, Longoria has always been able to be consistent for the Rays. He should be able to do enough to earn the honor yet again.

Pedro Alvarez and Nolan Arenado have both begun the 2014 season on a high note, however, with David Wright having a good year as well so far, and factoring in his track record, my ballot saw Wright as the pick for third base. Wright always seems to have the numbers to warrant an All-Star selection, and I feel he’ll likely make the cut this time around as well.

CATCHER: Matt Wieters (AL), Yadier Molina (NL)

With Brian McCann heading from the NL to the AL this offseason, many felt he would be an immense impact as he has been over the years. But while he certainly has been great, he hasn’t had the fastest start to the season among catchers. Matt Wieters has had a career season so far, really producing well for the Orioles, and if he can keep it up, he very well could overtake McCann in the voting.

When it comes to picking the National League catcher, it truly is a tough choice. There are several great ones to pick from, many of which have been All-Stars before, and the great seasons so far by those players makes it nearly impossible to say which one player stands above the rest. With that said, however, I went with Yadier Molina, who does nearly everything well on the field, and deserves another selection.

DESIGNATED HITTER: Nelson Cruz

Being just an American League category, there weren’t too many players to pick from, so it came down to David Ortiz and Nelson Cruz for me. While David Ortiz is usually the obvious choice, Cruz is having a career season so far, and he might receive the All-Star votes needed if he can keep up his hot start. However, don’t count out Ortiz, as he could heat up as July continues to approach.

OUTFIELD

It’s never easy to narrow down 90 players to just six (three for each league), especially when you could make a strong case for a dozen of the outfield choices for each league, but it’s a requirement when casting a ballot. So, while I voted for the players who I felt were All-Star caliber players at the moment, there are a few more I would’ve liked to vote for, but couldn’t. Keep that in mind when reading the outfielders I selected for the American League and National League:

Mike Trout, Carlos Beltran, Jose Bautista (AL)

All three of these players are off to tremendous starts to the season, with all three standing a good shot at making the All-Star team this year. Mike Trout is, arguably, the best player in the game today, constantly making great plays and showing off his power at the plate, with Carlos Beltran and Jose Bautista possessing some of the best power baseball has to offer. Everything together, they all deserve consideration.

Ryan Braun, Giancarlo Stanton, Andrew McCutchen (NL)

As with most categories, the National League has more players overall that have an argument each season to be an All-Star. For this season, I voted for Ryan Braun (unfortunately), Giancarlo Stanton and Andrew McCutchen, as while I’m against Braun for his PED use, he’s still a good player. But with that said, I felt a lot better about choosing Stanton and McCutchen than I did Braun.

Do you agree or disagree with my picks? Leave a comment below.