Results tagged ‘ White Sox ’

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.

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.

Maddux, Glavine & Thomas Elected to Hall of Fame

For the first time since 1971, there will be six living Hall of Fame inductees enshrined in Cooperstown on July 27th, in this the 75th anniversary of the museum. It was announced on Wednesday that Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas would be joining Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre, who were elected in December, as part of the 2014 Major League Baseball Hall of Fame class.

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Maddux, Glavine and Thomas – the first player elected to have played the majority of their games as a designated hitter – all received above 80 percent of the vote, and each were elected on their first time on the ballot. This marks the first time since 1999 that three first-ballot nominees (Nolan Ryan, George Brett and Robin Yount) were elected, and just the second time in history.

Maddux saw the most votes, earning 97.2 percent of the 571 voters’ approval, making him the eighth highest vote getter in Hall of Fame voting history, behind Tony Gwynn (97.61), Hank Aaron (97.83), George Brett (98.19), Ty Cobb (98.23), Cal Ripken Jr.(98.53), Nolan Ryan (98.79) and Tom Seaver (98.84).

All three players were extremely deserving, no doubt about it, but many people feel that a couple of players who were just as “deserving” didn’t get enough recognition.

None more so than Craig Biggio, who received 74.8 percent of the vote, falling a mere two votes shy of the 75 percent necessary for induction. Biggio becomes the third player to miss getting in by two or fewer votes, joining Pie Traynor and Nellie Fox, who both eventually made it into the Hall of Fame.

Mike Piazza is another player that didn’t earn enough of the vote to be elected, but could’ve easily been elected in. Piazza’s percentage, as with Biggio, was likely hurt by the great amount of talent on this year’s ballot, but it’s still surprising to me that he didn’t come a bit closer.

Nonetheless, both Biggio and Piazza will likely be voted in next year.

Players who may not ever be elected, however, include Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, who all saw drops in percentages from last year, and are all linked in one way or another to performance enhancing drugs (PED’s). Clemens was the top vote getter of them all, but received just 35.4 percent of the vote, down from 37.6 percent in 2013 — no where near the percentage needed. Rafael Palmeiro, who is also associated to PED’s, didn’t even receive the necessary 5 percent to remain on the ballot for next year, getting just 4.4 percent.

Palmeiro is one of 16 players from this year who will not be on the ballot for next year. Those players include the likes of Eric Gagne and Kenny Rogers, among others, who were good players but not good enough for the Hall of Fame. Jack Morris will also not be returning next year, as although he received 61.5 percent of the vote, this was his 15th and final year of eligibility.

Looking forward to the 2015 Hall of Fame ballot, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Gary Sheffield and Nomar Garciaparra will all be making their first appearance, and that could make it tough for really good players such as Mike Mussina and Jeff Kent, who received 20.3 percent and 15.2 percent of the vote this year, respectively, to make much progress. Only time will tell how the voters decide.

But one thing is for sure: Next year’s Hall of Fame class has the potential to be even more exciting than this one. And that’s truly saying a lot after the memorable class of 2014.

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

Torre, LaRussa and Cox Elected to the Hall of Fame

With around a month remaining until the players’ portion of the 2014 Hall of Fame class is announced on January 8th, there’s still plenty of time left to debate which players deserve to make it in this time around. (I’ll give my take a few days before.)

But while we don’t yet know the players who will be elected in 2014, the baseball world found out on Monday that Joe Torre, Tony LaRussa and Bobby Cox will be among those inducted as part of the 2014 class.

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Voted in by a unanimous vote of the Expansion Era Committee, Torre, LaRussa and Cox are all very deserving — each winning over 2,000 games in their managerial careers — but that doesn’t stop controversy from surrounding the vote. Not controversy that the three shouldn’t have gotten in, but that another name or two on the ballot should’ve been voted in.

The ballot, consisting of twelve of the games’ great players, managers, and other baseball figures, included Tommy John, Ted Simmons, Dave Parker, Dave Concepcion, Steve Garvey, Dan Quisenberry, George Steinbrenner, Marvin Miller and Billy Martin, as other candidates for the Hall of Fame besides Torre, LaRussa and Cox. But no one besides the three elected received more than six votes. (The necessary number for election is twelve.)

In my opinion, Marvin Miller and George Steinbrenner should’ve been elected, as they did a lot for the game of baseball, and were important figures of their time, but in the end, it is what it is. While I disagree with them not getting the votes to be elected, I’m not going to talk about them that much, because I want to spend time discussing the three managers that made it in.

Joe Torre managed a total of 29 seasons, spending time with the Mets, Braves, Cardinals and Dodgers, however, his most memorable years came with the New York Yankees. With the Yankees, Torre led his team to four World Series championships — three straight from 1998-2000. Torre was named Manager of the Year twice in his career, and finishes fifth all time in terms of wins, with 2,326.

Tony La Russa shared his time between the White Sox, Athletic’s and Cardinals, managing for a total of 33 seasons. LaRussa was voted Manager of the Year four times, leading his teams to three World Series titles — one with the A’s and two with the Cardinals. Winning 100 or more games in a season four times, LaRussa sits third all time in wins, with 2,728.

Bobby Cox managed for 29 seasons, between the Braves and Blue Jays. Cox took the Braves to 14 straight playoff seasons — the one thing that stands out most in my mind — and was a player favorite. Four-time Manager of the Year, Cox led the Braves to a 1995 World Series title — the only one of his career — and finished fourth all time in victories, with 2,504.

I was fortunate enough to have seen two of the three Hall of Fame mangers, manage — Bobby Cox four times, and Joe Torre twice. Though I never witnessed a game that Tony LaRussa managed, I saw him on the field during the 2012 All-Star workouts, before the Home Run Derby, in Kansas City, Missouri. Nearly everyone took the time to talk with LaRussa, who had retired the previous season, and it was an impressive sight to witness, with the obvious respect they had for him.

All three managers are well respected, and are deserving of the Hall of Fame.

Joe Torre, Tony LaRussa and Bobby Cox will be inducted on July 27th, in Cooperstown, NY.

Recapping My 2013 MiLB & MLB Baseball Season

Now that the 2013 Minor League Baseball season is over, and with no shot at attending any more MLB games this year, I can finally post a blog entry recapping my season out at the ballpark.

I managed to make it to 16 baseball games this season. Two of those were major league games — one up in Baltimore and one in Seattle — with the remaining fourteen being minor league games. In those minor league games, I saw numerous top prospects, as well as future Hall of Famer, Chipper Jones, on August 20th, at his number retirement ceremony in Durham. It was a great season, full of fun, and I thought I’d take the time to recap it all:

April 5th – Carolina Mudcats Vs. Winston Salem Dash

I went into this game looking forward to seeing Indians’ top prospect, Francisco Lindor, and White Sox’ top prospect, Courtney Hawkins. Both are sure to be future MLB stars, and both are exciting players to keep an eye on. I didn’t get an autograph from Lindor at this particular game, but I did receive the bat that Hawkins cracked during his second at-bat of the game, in which he got a bloop-single:

DSCN5713(The bat is signed, but the auto is around the other side. It was done very hastily.)

April 9th – Durham Bulls Vs. Gwinnett Braves

Having one of the best opening day Bulls lineups ever — including Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Chris Archer, and Hak-Ju Lee — I was excited to attend this game. I didn’t get Myers, but I ended up with an autograph from both Lee and Brandon Guyer….:

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….as well as a game home run ball hit by the Braves’ Ernesto Mejia:

DSCN5554(This was my first ever home run ball.)

April 24th – Durham Bulls Vs. Toledo Mud Hens

I was hoping to get an autograph from Wil Myers at this game, since I was unsuccessful the last time, but I failed, once again. I did, however, get an auto from Mike Fontenot….:

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….as well as a game homer from Tigers’ number one prospect, Nick Castellanos:

DSCN5602(Castellanos was a September call-up by the Tigers.)

May 9th – Durham Bulls Vs. Syracuse Chiefs

Not much to say about this game. Just that I finally got Wil Myers to sign for me; once on a program, and once on a card:

DSCN5845(Myers is a top candidate for 2013 American League Rookie of the Year.)

May 14th – Carolina Mudcats Vs. Salem Red Sox

I didn’t have the chance to get an autograph from Indians’ top prospects, Francisco Lindor and Tyler Naquin, as I was too busy getting autos from all the Red Sox’ top prospects. Salem was loaded with great players when I saw them in May, and I ended up getting an auto from Garin Cecchini, Blake Swihart and Brandon Jacobs:

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Then, after the game, I picked up a game used, unbroken bat from Deven Marrero:

DSCN5719(Great guy — actually took the time to sign nicely, unlike Hawkins.)

May 30th – Carolina Mudcats Vs. Wilmington Blue Rocks

I was able to get an autograph from Cheslor Cuthbert, however, due to a mistake on my part, I missed out on Royals’ top prospect, Kyle Zimmer. Although, I did manage to finally get an autograph from Francisco Lindor and Tyler Naquin after the game — both are super-nice guys. I was happy to finally get those:

DSCN5847(Lindor would go on to take part in the 2013 Futures game, up in New York City.)

June 3rd – Durham Bulls Vs. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders

I was really hoping to get an autograph from Chien-Ming Wang, but I never saw him in the dugout before the game, so I figured he wasn’t there. But after the game, I ended up running into him on my way out of the ballpark. Turns out, Wang had been in the stands, charting the game. So I was thankfully able to get him:

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I also got a game home run ball hit by Ronnier Mustelier:

BL2j594CIAI5CH_(Chasing down home run balls never gets old.)

June 15th – Durham Bulls Vs. Indianapolis Indians

With the great year he was having, I was looking to get an autograph from Vince Belnome, since I had finally gotten his card. Not only did I get Belnome, but I also got Jake Odorizzi; as well as Wil Myers, for the third time:

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(Little did I know that this would be the last time I’d ever see Myers with the Bulls, as he was called up the next day.)

June 17th – Durham Bulls Vs. Louisville Bats

I had been planning on attending this game since before the season even started. The record holder for most stolen bases in a single season, with 155, Billy Hamilton, was set to be there, and I was looking to get his autograph. I was able to get it, as well as an auto from Reds’ prospect Henry Rodriguez:

DSCN5850(Two things: Hamilton is now in the majors, and Rodriguez needs to work on his auto.)

June 25th – Carolina Mudcats Vs. Frederick Keys

I didn’t think I’d be going to this game, but I got an offer from Orioles’ prospect, Nick Delmonico, for free tickets, and I couldn’t pass it up. I was able to thank him in person, as well as get him to sign a card, making it a great time:

DSCN5851(Delmonico is now part of the Brewers’ organization.)

June 29th – Baltimore Orioles Vs. New York Yankees

Didn’t get any autographs, but had a great time.

Check out my recap HERE.

July 26th – Seattle Mariners Vs. Minnesota Twins

As with the Baltimore game, nothing too exciting.

Check out my recap HERE.

August 20th – Durham Bulls Vs. Charlotte Knights

Third straight game without an auto, but Chipper Jones was there, so it was fun anyway.

Check out my recap HERE.

August 24th – Durham Bulls Vs. Norfolk Tides

This game turned out to be the most successful game of the season; as I got four out of the five guys I wanted an autograph from to sign for me. Those players include Orioles’ top prospects, Kevin Gausman and Jonathan Schoop, as well as Alex Liddi and Eric Thames. All were extremely nice about it, and I was surprised with the number of autos I got:

DSCN6936(As with Rodriguez, some of these autographs need work.)

September 3rd – Durham Bulls Vs. Indianapolis Indians

As if this game wasn’t exciting enough, being a playoff game, I was able to get autos from Pirates’ number one and two prospects, Jameson Taillon and Gregory Polanco:

DSCN6938(Both are expected to do big things in the majors as soon as next season.)

September 10th – Durham Bulls Vs. Pawtucket Red Sox

Didn’t get any autographs or home run balls — bad way to end the season.

But what a season it was.

I can’t wait for next year; when the auto collecting, home run chasing, and prospect scouting can start all over again.

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By the Numbers

Though you could take the time for yourself to add it all up, I figured I’d make things a bit easier. Here’s a numbers recap of my 2013 MiLB & MLB season:

Games attended: 16

Win-loss record for the home team: 12-4

Total runs scored (Home Team-Visitor): 102-44

Top 100 prospects seen in person: 16

Autographs from top 100 prospects: 8

Total autographs: 26

Game used gear: 2 bats (Courtney Hawkins & Deven Marrero — both signed.)

Game homers: 3 (Ernesto Mejia, Nick Castellanos & Ronnier Mustelier)

Total miles traveled to & from games: 7,740 (Including Baltimore & Seattle)

Durham Bulls to Retire Chipper Jones’ Number

Twenty-one years since playing for the Bulls, Chipper Jones is returning to Durham.

Jones is set to join Crash Davis, Joe Morgan and Bill Evers as the only players to ever have their number retired by the Bulls, in a chipper28retirement ceremony on Tuesday. Morgan currently holds the distinction of being the only Bull to go on to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, but that’s likely to change, once Chipper becomes eligible a few years down the road.

Jones played with the Bulls for a total of 70 games during the 1992 season, in which he batted .277 with four home runs and 31 RBIs. This coming back when the Bulls were the Class-A affiliate of the Braves, Jones would go on to become an eight-time All-Star, playing for the Braves his entire career.

Jones’ career MLB stats of 468 home runs and 1,623 RBI’s, coming over 2,726 hits, will go down as one of the best careers of anyone to ever don a Bulls uniform.

The uniform number retirement ceremony for Chipper Jones is set to take place at around 7:00, before tomorrow night’s Bulls game. And I’m planning to be there.

Gates are set to open at 5:30, and I’m hoping to be one of the first inside. This will more than likely be my last time seeing Chipper, and I’m optimistic that I’ll be able to get his autograph. (I’m going to try to get it on a 2012 All-Star baseball, that I won last year in a Twitter contest.) But no matter what happens, it’s sure to be an exciting night, and I’ll be sure to blog about it all on Wednesday.

But as if that’s not enough baseball excitement for one week, I’m also planning to attend Saturday’s Bulls game, versus the Norfolk Tides (AAA affiliate of the Orioles).

The Tides are loaded with great players and prospects, with the most notable being Orioles number one and number five prospects, Kevin Gausman and Jonathan Schoop, who have both been having great seasons. I’m hoping to pick up an autograph from both. (Eric Thames, Zach Britton, Danny Valencia and Freddy Garcia being the other players I’m after for an auto.)

I haven’t yet decided whether or not I’ll be blogging about Saturday’s game, but you never know. It really depends on if anything out of the ordinary occurs, and how much else is going on around the rest of the baseball world. So, stay tuned….

My First Two MiLB Games of the 2013 Season

Opening Day for Major League Baseball took place on Monday, however, Opening Day for the Carolina Mudcats (A+ affiliates of the Indians), of hawkinsthe Carolina League, is taking place later tonight. For the second season in a row, I’m attending tonight’s game, once again versus the Winston Salem Dash (A+ affiliates of the White Sox), and I’m extremely excited. This year’s Opening Day game is packed with top notch talent.

For the Carolina Mudcats, while their pitching staff isn’t too fantastic, their position players include the organization’s number one prospect, Francisco Lindor, 2012 1st round draft pick, Tyler Naquin, along with top prospect, Tony Wolters, who is making the transition this season from short stop to catcher. Wolters played with the Mudcats last season, and I really enjoyed watching him play. I’m looking forward to seeing how the move to behind the plate plays out.

As far as the Dash go, the highlight of the team is undoubtedly Courtney Hawkins, who was drafted 13th overall in last year’s draft; doing a backflip afterwards. Though Hawkins won’t be doing any backflips (as far as I know), I’m looking forward to seeing the White Sox’ number one prospect in action–maybe he’ll even blast a home run. If nothing else, I’m certainly going to try for his autograph, as I’m also planning to do from the Mudcats’ Francisco Lindor and Tyler Naquin.

But when it comes to autograph collecting, no other game throughout the entire rest of the season will have more highly ranked prospects than 579585_10151513541113908_2023782346_nthe April 9th Durham Bulls game I’m planning to attend. Having been traded from the Royals’ organization to the Rays, in the 2012 offseason, the number four prospect in all of baseball, Wil Myers, will be there and is sure to draw a huge crowd, so autographs may be hard to come by. I’ll just have wait and see how it goes.

A few other Bulls’ players worth mentioning, that I’m hoping to get autographs from on Tuesday night, include Jake Odorizzi, Chris Archer and Hak-Ju Lee, who are the Rays’ third, fourth and fifth ranked prospects, respectively. In all, the Bulls are beginning the season with 7 of the top 20 prospects in the organization. I can’t think of a team in all of minor league baseball with more talent, which is why I’m going to be blogging about the game. It will likely be posted on Wednesday afternoon.

So that’s the basic plan for my first two minor league games of the year. I’m not sure when, or where, the rest of the year will have me going to games; the only game set in stone is the June 3rd Bulls day game, when they take on the Red Barons (Yankees affiliate). But one of the games during the series when Billy Hamilton comes to Durham with Louisville is almost a sure bet, as well. Other than that, I don’t know.

American League Predictions for 2013

Last year was the first time I ever made actual predictions as to how the MLB standings would look at the end of the regular season. To say I did poorly would be an understatement, but this is a new year, and with it comes a new shot at getting the predictions right. So I’m up for the challenge once again.

Unlike 2012, when I posted both my American League and National League predictions in the same blog entry, this year I’m doing separate posts for each league. As the title states, I’m giving my 2013 American League standings predictions today, starting with the AL East:

EAST

1. Rays

2. Yankees

3. Orioles

4. Blue Jays

5. Red Sox

With the Yankees’ season uncertain, I see this as the year the Rays need to make their move. With the lineup they have, the Rays have the ability to win their division, but it’s going to come down to if their starting pitching begins and ends with David Price, or if their potential superstar pitchers in Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson can get things going. That’s the deciding factor, for me.

Although the Yankees’ season is up in the air, I still have them finishing second in the AL East. Why? Because they’re the Yankees; a team that seems to be able to always find a way to win. But it’s going to come down to Derek Jeter, in my opinion. If he misses a large chunk of the season, at any point, it could send my predictions way off course. Right now, I’m not too worried about him missing the first few games; but that could change.

The Orioles surprised everyone last season with the way they were able to put things together, however, I still think it’ll be 2014 before they stand a good chance of winning the division. Their phenom prospects are still far from ready, with top prospect Dylan Bundy beginning the season in AA Bowie, and I just don’t see everything clicking together in their favor this season.

I’m hesitant to place the Blue Jays all the way down in fourth, with so many people seeing them finishing near the top, but it’s the way I foresee their season panning out. Even with the offseason additions of R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, etc., I don’t see the Jays putting together a season much over .500. You just can’t buy chemistry, and with so many new faces, I don’t see them gelling from the start of the season.

What can I say about the Red Sox? They were once major competitors in the division, but after a couple of horrible seasons, by their standards, I don’t see this year being any better. They didn’t do much to improve their team in the offseason, and it’s going to show once the season starts up. I’m looking down the road, when their key prospects such as Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts arrive, before I can see them getting things going in the right direction again.

CENTRAL

1. Tigers

2. Indians

3. White Sox

4. Royals

5. Twins

There’s truly no reason the Tigers shouldn’t run away with things in the AL Central division. With one of the best lineups in all of baseball, including sluggers Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, along with newcomer Victor Martinez, their lineup should be there. The only question mark is their pitching. Justin Verlander is going to dominate–that’s a given–but the remainder of the rotation is a bit uncertain. But all in all, I think they’ll be just fine.

Coming in second, I have the Indians, as they did a great job of signing guys in the offseason to fill key spots they were missing last year, and I feel it’s bound to pay off in the coming season. The only concern would be their starting pitching. Without a true Ace, you don’t know who to look to for to carry the team throughout the season. It’s definitely something worth watching, however, they should be able to have enough decent pitching to make things very interesting in the division.

It was really a toss up between me placing the Indians or White Sox in third place (with the other in second) but I decided to have the Sox finishing third in the division. The Sox have a future Cy Young winner, in Chris Sale, but with the remainder of the pitching, as well as the lineup, a question mark, I can’t see them winning too many games over .500 in the 2013 season. They still have too many holes to fill.

I’m still questioning the Royals’ decision to trade away their phenom prospect, Wil Myers, along with a few other prospects, to the Rays, in exchange for a couple of middle of the rotation starting pitchers, on most teams, in James Shields and Wade Davis, but it is what it is. I see the move doing more harm than good. The Royals certainly needed starting pitching, but to trade away your top prospect is a poor choice, in my opinion, which is why I have them finishing next to last in the division.

The Twins are a team that have the potential to be very good a year or two down the road, but for right now, I see them having to endure another last place season, in their division. They just don’t have enough top notch guys, both in their pitching rotation and lineup, to make any sort of a run this season, as far as I can see.

WEST

1. Angels

2. Athletics

3. Rangers

4. Mariners

5. Astros

For the Angels, the AL West division is theirs to lose. With the addition of Josh Hamilton in the offseason, along with their already potent lineup of Albert Pujols and Mike Trout, there is no reason the Angels shouldn’t dominate the division. Although they lost Zack Greinke to the Dodgers, their rotation is still really good, and it should all combine to be enough to lead them to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

The Athletics were one of the big surprises of last season, but I don’t feel it was a fluke. They’ve put together a really great team out in Oakland, and with the majority of the other teams in the division (with the exception of the Angels) still trying to figure things out in the coming season, the Athletics stand a good shot of making the playoffs for the second straight year.

With the loss of Josh Hamilton during the offseason, I don’t see the Rangers doing much of anything this year. While they have a few big bats in their lineup that can change the outcome of a game with one swing, I don’t see their rotation as being strong enough to overcome the uphill climb they face. It’ll be interesting to watch unfold, but I don’t like their chances in 2013.

The Mariners are one of the most interesting teams to keep track of. While I don’t see them having all that impressive of an upcoming season, with all of the talent they have knocking on the door of the big leagues, I feel they’ll be major contenders as early as next season. They don’t have all of the necessary pieces, just yet, to put together a playoff run, but starting in 2014, keep a lookout for the Mariners to do big things in the AL West division.

Last season was flat out ugly for the Astros, as they finished in dead last, with a league leading 107 losses. Being that they’re making the transition from the National League to the American League this year, I don’t see things being any better for them; but when you lose over 100 games in a season, it can’t really get all that much worse.

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

Click HERE to be taken to my National League predictions for 2013.

Q and A With Courtney Hawkins

Courtney Hawkins was drafted out of high school by the Chicago White Sox in the 1st round of the 2012 draft. Initially catching the attention of baseball fans everywhere after performing his “signature” backflip on draft night, Hawkins was able to make a name for himself this past season.

In Hawkins’ first (partial) season as a pro ballplayer, he put up some impressive numbers. Combined between three different teams/levels (Rk, A and A+), Hawkins posted a batting average of .284 to go along with 8 home runs and 33 RBI’s, over the course of 59 games; Certainly living up to the expectations that come with being a first round draft pick.

If Courtney Hawkins can continue to post the same type of numbers, it shouldn’t be too terribly long before he’s big league ready–he’s truly that good. Hawkins’ showed signs of his above average power this past season, and will be well worth watching in 2013 and beyond.

Courtney Hawkins–number 2 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?

Age 4, but my dad wouldn’t let me play until I learned the basics of baseball. So I started at the age of 5.

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

Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds [and] Frank Thomas, because I felt these guys had it all; the ability to hit and play defense. And definitely Griffey, because I try to play like him. Just balls to the walls, full tilt the whole game!

3.) You’re known for the backflip you did after being drafted by the White Sox on draft night, but that wasn’t the first time you’d ever done one. When did you first master the skill, and where did the inspiration come from?

Haha. I was asked to do a high school pep rally skit and I was at practice one day, playing around doing front flips, and the instructor came over and said try this; and 30 minutes later I was doing flips, and didn’t stop until after draft night.

4.) This was your first (partial) season of professional baseball. What did you take from it, in terms of how it differs from any level of ball you’d ever played in before?

Basically just playing every single day and throwing every single day–it’s a grind. It was fun when I first started; then I got tired; then I was good again. I found my routine, and it was good.

5.) What do you feel went well in 2012? What do you feel you need to work on for 2013?

I feel everything went well, but [I] could always be better. I feel I have to work on every thing because I’m not in the bigs yet, and even then I will still have to work on stuff.

6.) What does your average day consist of at the moment?

Just working out twice a day and traveling. That’s it.

7.) Is there any one player that you model your game after?

Like I said, I try to play like Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Bonds. Just balls to the wall everyday. Grinding, battling and trying to produce in the field, at the plate and on the bases.

8.) Favorite food?

Any seafood or southern Cajun–country food.

9.) Favorite TV show?

MLB Network [and] ‘Walking Dead’.

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

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something; or you won’t; or that you’re not good enough. If you set your mind to it, you can do it.

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Big thanks to Courtney Hawkins for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on twitter: @CHawkins10

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