Alex Reyes Looks Ready for the Show

Photo courtesy of MLB.com

Photo courtesy of MLB.com

Coming off a 50-game suspension, St Louis Cardinals prospect Alex Reyes is on the verge of forcing the Cardinals hand despite a rotation full of veterans.

Reyes, who was suspended 50 games for his second positive test for marijuana, has looked phenomenal in the minors upon his return.

Reyes dominated the New Orleans Zephyrs in his start Wednesday night. He struck out 11 batters across 6 innings while only walking 2. He did give up a 2-run HR in the first inning, but, that should not take away from his eye popping outing.

In his 3 starts since returning he has struck out an impressive 26 batters in 15 innings while posting a 1.80 ERA. This may be a small sample size at AAA, but, it showcases that his stuff is Major League ready.

2016 is not the first time Reyes’ numbers jumped off the page. Reyes looked like a possible candidate for the Cardinals opening day rotation in 2016 after striking out 151 batters in only 101.1 innings in 2015 across three minor league levels.

He was set to cap his season off with a run in the Arizona Fall League, where he was named the starting pitcher for AFL’s Fall Stars game before the news of his suspension came down.

It was a tough blow for Reyes and the Cardinals and, along with John Lackey’s departure, it may have led to the Cardinals giving inning-eater Mike Leake a 5-year 80 million dollar contract in the offseason.

The suspension may end up being a blessing in disguise though. It allowed the Cardinals to limit his innings in the season through the first two months of the seasons. Coming off a season in which he logged 116.1 innings (including the AFL innings), Reyes was a virtual lock to have his innings capped in 2016.

With the suspension he started his first regular season game of the season on May 22, almost two months after he would have started the season otherwise. This could allow Reyes to pitch deep into October for the Cardinals without topping 160 or so innings.

Having Reyes throughout September and October could be huge for the perennial pennant contending Cardinals, whether it be as a starter or a reliever.

Reyes possesses a fastball that regularly sits in the mid-90s and a knee-buckling power curveball. His changeup is still a work in progress, as it is for most 21-year-olds, but his stuff looks too good for Minor League hitters and Reyes looks ready for the show.

With the Cardinals rotation full with proven big-league commodities, the path for Reyes may in fact be the bullpen. This would allow him to use his changeup sparely and only use his plus fastball and curveball.

Reyes may boast the best pure stuff of any Cardinals starte. Although he struggles with his command at times, he has walked 4.7 batters per 9 innings across his career, there is no denying that he has tantalizing stuff that should play in a big league rotation.

If one of the Cardinals starting five where to go down, or if Michael Wacha continues to struggle, Reyes would appear to be first in line to be the replacement. OK, maybe it could be Tyler Lyons, but, I do not want to live in a world where Lyons keeps a rotation spot away from a talent like Reyes.

Whether it be in the rotation or out of the bullpen, Reyes looks poised to contribute for the Cardinals in 2016.

Royals Set to Showcase Impressive Depth Amid Injuries

Image Courtesy of MLB.com

Image Courtesy of MLB.com

On a 1-0 pitch from Luke Hochever to Melky Cabrera in the bottom of the 7th inning, the Kansas City Royals lost the contributions of two 2015 All-Stars from their lineup.

Mike Moustakas has been ruled out for the season (torn ACL) and Alex Gordon is expected to miss roughly a month with a fractured scaphoid bone in his wrist.

This collision is the type of thing that could ruin a season, but, the Royals have more depth than some in the national media are giving them credit for.

The Royals cannot possibly find another Moose or Gordo out of nowhere, but what they do have is several young players set to be given an opportunity to shine.

Starting at third base, the Royals have Cheslor Cuthbert, Hunter Dozier, and Whit Merrifield who could replace Moose in the lineup.

Cuthbert has received most of the reps at third so far and has been serviceable. His .254/.266/.349 slash line in 16 games so far is not particularly impressive, however, he has flashed a plus glove at the hot corner while holding his own against Major League pitching.

The other more tantalizing option is the possible arrival of the 8th pick in the 2013 MLB draft in Dozier. Dozier, who has struggled at times in his minor league career, looks to be putting it all together in 2016.

In 44 games so far this season in the minors Dozier has already hit 12 HR’s and driven in 36 runs while slashing .300/.367/.582.

Cuthbert rightfully will get the first opportunity at third base. If he fails to seize the job, or struggles at the plate, the Royals will pull the trigger on Dozier and give the youngster a chance to showcase his power at the Major League level.

Another option at 3rd base could be the super utility man Merrifield. In his first seven major league games Merrifield has hit an impressive .370 while logging starts at second, third, and in left field.

Merrifield made a strong push for a bench job out of spring training before falling short to Reymond Feuntes and Terrance Gore to start the season. Now given the chance to contribute at the major league level amid injuries, the 27-year-old rookie looks poised to make the most of his opportunity.

Dozier has the highest upside of the bunch, and if he continues to mash in Omaha he will certainly force the Royals hand. If that ends up being the case, Cuthbert and Merrifield could help take over the second base job where veteran Omar Infante’s contract continues to look like a mistake.

Moving on to shorter void that Alex Gordon’s injury has opened, the Royals also have several options at the corner outfield spots.

Currently on the big league roster Jarrod Dyson, Brett Eibner, Merrifield, and Paulo Orlando are all capable of playing both corners and should fill in well in Gordo’s absence.

Jorge Bonifacio and Fuentes are also producing well in AAA and even Dozier has logged 8 games in left field in 2016.

The former Brazilian track star Orlando has been destroying the baseball of late. Seen mostly as a role player, although this could just be a hot streak, Orlando is trying to prove he deserves and everyday job with his .390 batting average and solid defense in right field.

Dyson, who is also probably best suited as a role player, is a known quantity at this point. He provides elite speed on the base paths and elite defense in the outfield while providing zero pop with the bat. He may be best suited as a 4th outfielder, but he’s nothing to scoff at as an everyday player either because of those 2 elite tools.

Eibner, who went 1-3 in his major league debut with a run scored, has proven that he can hit AAA pitching with great numbers at the highest level of the minors over the past 2 seasons. Finally it was enough for the Royals to give him a chance, and should he harness his power, he could end up as the everyday right fielder even after Gordo’s return.

Looming in the minors is Bonifacio who was once regarded as one of the Royals better prospects. After several down years in the minors, Bonifacio looks to finally be putting in together with AAA Omaha this year.

Through 45 games he has crushed 9 HR’s and driven in 37, all while hitting .318. Much like Dozier at the hot corner, Bonifacio has the highest upside of the list of potential corner outfielders, and should he continue to hit in AAA, will be given the opportunity to showcase his skills in the Royals lineup.

The foul pop up off the bat of Cabrera could have been devastating for the Royals. Instead, because of the impressive depth that Dayton Moore has compiled, it is an opportunity to see what else the Royals have to offer.

With question marks at second base, third base, and in the corners of the outfield the Royals have plenty of options to find consistent production.

The infusion of new players could be exactly what the Royals, who are off to a sluggish start in their World Series defense, need. With several options at each key opening, someone should take reigns of the open big league jobs.

It’s matter of who will emerge, not a matter of if someone will emerge for the now crippled 2016 Royals.

NL Central Recap Week Three

Photo courtesy of sportingnews.com

Photo courtesy of sportingnews.com

The NL Central is holding steady so far, with the teams still in the same spot in the standings as they were a week ago.

The Chicago Cubs maintain one of the best records in baseball. The Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals are lurking around .500 and the Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers are staying in it.

There were plenty of story lines in week three for the Central including a special performance on the mound from perhaps the best pitcher in all of baseball. Let’s dive right into it and take a look at how each team fared this week.

Chicago Cubs: 14-5, 1st place in the NL Central (6-1 last week)

This just in, the Cubs and Jake Arrieta are really good. Over the past week the Cubbies swept their arch rival Cardinals in a 3 game set and took 3 of 4 from the Reds.

The 6-1 week improved what was already one of the best records in all of baseball coming into the week, and helped them stretch out a 4 game divisional lead in the early going.

Intriguing stat line of the week: Jake Arrieta’s no-hitter, 9.0 innings, 0 H’s, 0 R’s, 4 BB’s, and 6 SO’s. This was a pretty easy one. No-hitters only come around so often and Arrieta took care of the Reds with ease on Thursday while seeing his teammates give him 16 runs of support.

Player to watch: Jake Arrieta. Spotlighting the same player twice in this recap may be overkill, but, Arrieta’s historic start deserves it. Now with a 0.87 ERA on the young season, Arrieta is starting to look like the best pitcher in all of baseball. Clayton Kershaw might have something to say about that, but if Arrieta continues this trend he started in the 2nd half of last season, he may just have one of the best seasons by a starting pitcher ever.

St. Louis Cardinals: 10-8, 2nd place in the NL Central (2-4 last week)

The Cardinals ran into a freight train in the Cubs to start the week, getting swept in a 3 game set, before taking 2 of 3 from the San Diego Padres to cap off the week.

With the win over the weekend the Cardinals were able to finish the week above .500 and maintain their 2nd place status in the division.

Intriguing stat line of the week: Adam Wainwright 6.0 innings, 7 H’s, 3 ER’s, 1 BB, 2 SO’s. Coming off an Achilles injury last season, Wainwright is off to a tough start to the season. His quality start against the San Diego Padres is an improvement upon what he had done prior, but, it’s still not particularly impressive. If Wainwright can return to pre-injury form for the Red Birds it would be huge, it doesn’t look like he is there quite yet though.

Player to Watch: Jedd Gyorko. Gyorko once looked like a future star with the Padres, blasting 23 HR’s in his rookie season in 2013. Since then it has been mostly disappointment for the young infielder. Already with four HR’s on the young season to go with a stellar .289 batting average and .999 OPS, Gyorko may force his way into everyday at-bats if Kolten Wong continues to struggle at second base for the Cardinals.

Pittsburgh Pirates 10-9, 3rd place in the NL Central, (3-3 last week)

The Pirates failed to capitalize on an opportunity to beat up on the subpar San Diego Padres, losing 2 of 3 to them to start the week. They managed to bounce back over the weekend to take 2 of 3 from the D-Backs and remain over .500.

The Pirates have avoided the same slow start they had last season, and are set up in good position to make a run at some point and be right in playoff contention.

Intriguing stat line of the week: Jordy Mercer. 3 for 4, 1 HR, RBI’s, 1 BB, 2 R’s. Mercer has been given the opportunity to bat leadoff against lefties and he is making the most of his early season opportunities. His great game on Friday was a good showing that justified the Pirates batting him leadoff against lefties.

Player to Watch: Jung Ho Kang. After an impressive rookie season cut short by a gruesome injury, Kang is on the road to recovery playing in rehab games with AAA Indianapolis. Provided there aren’t any setbacks, Kang should rejoin the Pirates this week and presumably take David Freese’s spot in the lineup.

Cincinnati Reds 9-10, 4th place in the NL Central, (3-4 last week)

The Reds continue to lurk at the bottom of the division, keeping themselves within striking distance. They managed to take 2 of 3 from the Rockies to start the week. They even managed to snag 1 game in the 4 game set against the Cubs despite being outscored by a whopping 24 runs in the series.

Facing the Mets and Pirates in 3 game sets on the road this upcoming week will be a good test for the Reds. If they go 3-3 against these playoff teams from 2015, it might be time to start taking the Reds more seriously.

Intriguing stat line of the week: Robert Stephenson 7.0 innings, 3 H’s, 1 ER, 2 BB, 3 SO’s. In just his second big league start Stephenson dominated a power filled Rockies lineup. The 23 year-old rookie is looking solid so far through his first 2 big league starts and should be considered a part of the wave of young pitching talent set to contribute to the Reds in 2016.

Player to Watch: Eugenio Suarez. Suarez continues to look like one of the top breakout players in all of baseball in 2016. He’s currently slashing .300/.355/.529 to go along with five HR’s and three SB’s. Suarez makes the Reds lineup look much better if he can continue to be a productive bat.

Milwaukee Brewers 8-11, 5th place in the NL Central, (3-4 last week)

After splitting a four-game home and home series against an interleague opponent in the Minnesota Twins, the Brewers missed a chance to capitalize and have a winning week by losing a 3 game set to the Philadelphia Phillies.

They remain within striking distance, and despite the possibility of a full on rebuild later on in the season, the Brewers are doing enough currently to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.

Intriguing stat line of the week: Jeremy Jeffress 1.0 inning, 3 hits, 3 ER’s, 0 BB’s, 0 K’s. Tapped as the Brewers closer after an injury to Will Smith toward the end of Spring Training, Jeffress has been mostly fine so far. He came in on Saturday to hold a deficit at 1 for the bottom of the 9th and instead surrendered a 3-run HR to Odubel Herrera. The Brewers need Jeffress at the back end of the ‘Pen so hopefully this was just a mulligan of an outing

Player to Watch: Chris Carter. Carter is somehow managing to slash .295/.361/.689 with five HR’s and nine doubles to start the season. The power numbers aren’t surprising, but, the batting average is as he’s coming off a season where he hit below .200. His BABIP of .333 is a little high, but, nothing astronomical. So maybe Carter can continue to provide power while also managing to hit something more respectable like .240.

Why Dee Gordon is So Much Better Than Billy Hamilton

Photo courtesy of cincinnati.com

Photo courtesy of cincinnati.com

In 2015 only two players in all of baseball stole 50 bases. Dee Gordon swiped 58 for the Miami Marlins while leading the National League with a .333 batting average. Billy Hamilton managed to finish only one behind Gordon with 57 steals despite only hitting .226 and only playing in 114 games.

Both players’ top tool is without a doubt speed. Gordon and Hamilton are both former shortstops who moved from the position because of defensive concerns. Both players struggled to hit big league pitching early in their careers. Both players have virtually no power.

The difference between Gordon and Hamilton to this point is that Gordon has accepted his limited ability elsewhere and has decided to take advantage of his elite tool of speed.

Despite being a better base stealer and having more speed, Billy Hamilton has either failed to adapt or simply refuses to do so.

Hamilton actually walked in 6.2% of his plate appearances, while Gordon only walked 3.8% of the time. Neither of these numbers are particularly impressive, but, it does serve as an indicator that Gordon puts more of an emphasis on putting the ball in play.

Putting the ball in play is an obvious plus in any plate appearance for Gordon, who had a .383 BABIP in 2015. Gordon also struck out in only 13.9% of his PA’s while Hamilton struck out in 16.5% of his.

Perhaps most surprising was Hamilton’s BABIP of .264, a number that is alarmingly low considering his elite speed.

The biggest difference in the speedsters’ games is their propensity of hitting fly balls. In 2015 Hamilton posted a 37.8 fly ball percentage compared to Gordon’s 18.7%.

Having a tendency of hitting this many fly balls is a chief indicator in their differences in BABIP.  Gordon’s line drive percentage of 21.5 wasn’t much higher than Hamilton’s 19.6% so it would appear that Hamilton has the ability to do what Gordon did in 2015.

So the solution for Hamilton seems simple, put the ball in play on the ground. His speed will allow him to leg out more hits and his fly balls are not turning into extra base production anyway, as shown by his .289 slugging percentage last year.

If Hamilton could hit .275 his stolen base totals would be astronomical. In the minors in 2012 Hamilton stole 155 bases in a season in which he combined to hit over .300 across two levels. And last year he averaged a stolen base every other game despite only hitting .226.

If he changes his approach Hamilton could become a productive leadoff hitter and maybe even challenge Ricky Henderson’s single- season stolen base record of 130.

Instead, as things currently stand, he’s a number 9 hitter in a National League lineup who needs to prove he can hit above .230 or he might even lose his starting job.

If he does lose his starting gig though, look at the bright side, he would make one heck of a pinch runner.

NL Central Recap Week 2

rockies-cubs-baseball (1)

Photo Courtesy of  NY Daily News

Two weeks into the season, the NL Central is shaping up about how was expected, with the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, and Pittsburgh Pirates occupying the top three spots of the division, in that order.

In fact, outside of the Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers being flip flopped at the bottom, my preseason prediction is looking pretty on point so far. Standings two weeks into the season almost always hold up in a six month marathon, so, may as well chalk my predictions up as golden now.

All jokes aside, let’s take a brief look into how each team performed in the young seasons second week:

Chicago Cubs: 9-3, 1st place in the NL Central (4-2 last week)

The Cubs swept their first home series of the year against their division foe Reds before losing 2 of 3 to the Colorado Rockies over the weekend.

Overall it was a good week for arguably the most impressive team in baseball to date. Kris Bryant hit his first 2 HR’s of his 2016 sophomore campaign, the club got Javier Baez back from injury, and Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester combined for 3 quality starts (albeit only with 1 win).

Intriguing stat line of the week: Lester combined to go 1-2 at the plate with a double, he even drew a walk. The impressive week at the plate brings his career batting average to an above replacement level .050. The double was Lester’s first career, regular season, extra base hit.  

Player to Watch: With Kyle Schwarber now out for the season Jorge Soler logged starts in 5 of the Cubbies 6 games this week. He hit 2 HR’s and was even batted cleanup on Saturday against the Rockies.

St. Louis Cardinals: 7-5, 2nd place in the NL Central (4-2 last week)

After a rough start to the season that saw them get swept in their opening series against the Pirates, the Redbirds did what the top 3 teams in this division will do perceivably all season, beat up on the Brewers and the Reds.

The Cardinals managed to get 2 series wins against their divisional counterparts en route to finding their way back to familiar territory above the .500 mark.

Intriguing stat line of the week: Jaime Garcia logged a complete game, one-hit shutout against the Brewers on Thursday while racking up 13 K’s. The oft-injured Garcia is off to a great start to the season and could play huge if he manages to stay healthy.

Player to watch: With Jhonny Peralta currently on the shelf, Aledmys Diaz is making the most of his opportunities at SS. The 25 year old could be your classic Cardinal standout, with the chance to come seemingly out of nowhere and become a productive regular.

Pittsburgh Pirates: 7-6 3rd place in the NL Central (3-4 last week)

The Pirates had a rough go of it in a home and home series against the Detroit Tigers, winning the 1st of 4 only to lose the last three. Then the trend continued, as the superior teams in the division once again prevailed with the Pirates taking 2 of 3 from the Brewers over the weekend.

3-4 is not exactly a week that will stand out to you at the end of the season, but, treading water in stretches is important in the long baseball season. Even without a winning record it should be viewed as a solid week for the Bucs.

Intriguing stat line of the week: Josh Harrison swiped 3 bags this week without being caught. Last year Harrison only stole 10 bags, while being thrown out 8 times.  

Player to Watch: Hailed as Ray Searage’s next prodigy, Juan Nicasio struggled in his 2-start week, giving up 7 earned runs in 10 innings. The most alarming number for Nicasio was the 7 walks he issued, a problem he has battled his entire career.

Cincinnati Reds: 6-6, 4th place in the NL Central, (1-5 last week)

Coming off a promising 5-1 start to the season, the Reds mirrored that performance this week going 1-5 and falling back to .500 at 6-6. The Reds got swept by the Cubs before dropping 2 of 3 to the Cardinals.

With some veterans scattered across their lineup, if the Reds want to have some shot at contending in 2016 they are going to have to put up more of a fight against the Cubs and Cards.

Intriguing stat line of the week: Billy Hamilton hitting a HR against Jon Lester and the Cubs. This is part of the problem with Hamilton, he puts the ball in the air far too often when that isn’t the strength of his game. Hamilton’s disappointing start (.185 BA with only 1 SB) will keep him at the bottom of the Reds lineup and may even eventually cost him his starting job.

Player to watch: Devin Mesoraco was missing in action for almost all of 2015 and again missed time last week with a lower body injury. Despite it being his right leg keeping him out of action it is a situation worth monitoring as Mesoraco is struggling at the plate after returning from left hip surgery last season.

Milwaukee Brewers: 5-7, 5th place in the NL Central (2-4 last week)

Much like the Reds, the Brewers ran into trouble with the top 3 teams in the division, dropping 2 of 3 to both the Cardinals and the Pirates.

The Brewers have the look of a rebuilding team, and although anything can happen in baseball, the Brewers need to put up more of a fight in their inter-division games to have a shot.

Intriguing stat line of the week: Ryan Braun and his monstrous performance on Friday against the Pirates. The former NL MVP went 3-5 with 2 HR’s and 4 RBI’s

Player to Watch: Domingo Santana continue to hit atop the Brew Crew’s lineup and is proving serviceable so far with a .261/.370/.413 slash line. Perhaps most impressively he has drawn 8 walks through 12 games. The youngster acquired from the Astros last July flashed big power in the Major last year and could play huge for the Brewers in 2016.

Red Sox and Sandoval Need to Part Ways

Pablo Sandoval Yahoo Sports

Photo Courtesy of Yahoo Sports

The Boston Red Sox signing Pablo Sandoval to 5-year, $95 million deal before the 2015 season has looked like a mistake from the start. Sandoval was coming off a heroic postseason with the San Francisco Giants in which he collected his 3rd World Series ring at the young age of 27.

The Red Sox brought in Sandoval, along with another top free agent Hanley Ramirez, with the hope of adding to the Panda’s ring collection. Instead, a combination of weight issues and lack of production have led to Sandoval losing his starting job, and more recently, being placed on the DL with a “shoulder” injury.

The contract looked like a mistake seemingly before the ink dried when Sandoval, who earned the “Panda” nickname presumably in part because of his round physique, showed up to 2015 spring training out of shape.

It did not appear to be a huge deal at first. Sandoval had never looked particularly athletic, but, it didn’t matter because he could hit. Before joining the Red Sox, Sandoval was a career .294/.346/.465 hitter, with an impressive post season resume.

While his weight was sometimes a point of emphasis for the media, Sandoval got away with it for one simple reason; he produced at the plate.

That changed when he joined the Red Sox though. In 2015, his first season in Boston, Sandoval posted career lows in BA, OBP%, and SLG%. It was by far the worst season of Sandoval’s career.

Somehow, even with all of the disappointment of 2015, Sandoval is off to an even worse start in 2016. He lost his starting 3rd base job in spring training to Travis Shaw. Through the first week and a half of the regular season Sandoval logged a mere 7 plate appearances, drawing a lone walk and striking out 4 times.

The only AB he had of note was when his swing caused him to break his belt, in a moment that perfectly mirrors his time with the Red Sox so far; embarrassing, and even a tad bit sad.

Sandoval and the Red Sox are at the point where they are better off without each other. To the Red Sox, Sandoval can be DFA’d, subsequently released, and deemed a mulligan. A situation that would cripple some team’s payroll flexibility, is something that the Red Sox can afford to do given their market.

It will rid them of a punchline for the headlines and of a wasted bench spot as Travis Shaw and sometimes Brock Holt have proved to be better options at the hot corner than Sandoval. Even the organization thinks they are better off without Sandoval on the 25-man roster, as they seemingly made up a shoulder injury in order to stash him on the DL.

It will most likely be impossible for the Red Sox to trade Sandoval as is, and it would be foolish for another team to claim him on waivers and take on his contract, but it shouldn’t matter to the Red Sox because they are simply better without him.

Sandoval also appears to be better off without the Red Sox. He could find himself a starting gig on a lesser team on a 1-year deal and do what it appears he wants to do, play his way into shape. Maybe he could strike lighting and regain form with a new club, something that won’t happen with an organization willing to hide him on the DL.

The Sandoval era in Boston needs to come to an end, so both player and team can move one and be better off.

Scherzer and Strasburg: 2016’s Greinke and Kershaw

Photo Courtesy of the Washington Post

Photo Courtesy of the Washington Post

In 2015 Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw combined for 455.1 innings, a 1.90 ERA, and 501 SO’s for the 92 win Los Angeles Dodgers, finishing 2nd and 3rd in the NL CY Young voting.

Across the country in the NL East, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg are poised to have a similar impact in 2016 for the Washington Nationals.

Scherzer is an obvious CY Young candidate. He is coming off a season in which he logged 2 no-hitters and struck out 276 batters in route to a 2.79 ERA.

Since arriving in the big leagues in 2010 there has been little doubt that Strasburg had the stuff of a future CY Young award winner. In a walk year in 2016 he will make good on that potential.

Coming off a disappointing campaign that saw him miss time with injuries to his neck, shoulder, and oblique one might think that expecting an elite season from Strasburg would be a stretch.

None of the injuries where severe though, and Strasburg still posted and impressive 11 K/9 in 2015 and his 2.81 FIP was actually lower than the figure he posted when he led the league with 242 SO’s in 2014.

If Strasburg stays healthy and posts a season similar to his 2014 campaign and Scherzer can repeat his 2015 performance, the Nationals duo should surpass Greinke and Kershaw’s 501 K output from 2015.

Of course strike outs aren’t the only measure of a pitchers performance. Greinke’s strike out output specifically doesn’t compare to Kershaw, Scherzer, or Strasburg, but Greinke is still one of the best pitchers in all of baseball.

Full seasons from Scherzer and Strasburg could result in more than the 501 K’s from the Dodgers tandem in 2015, but, even if that’s the case they would have a hard time meeting the sub 2 ERA run prevention numbers from Greinke and Kershaw last year.

In fact Scherzer has only posted a sub 3 ERA in his career twice and Strasburg has never done it in a season where he has made 20 or more starts. So the Nats top two arms would be doing well to post a combined ERA under 3.00, let alone 2.00.

Even if meeting their run prevention stats is unlikely, Scherzer and Strasburg will still take hold of the top 1, 2 punch a top a major league rotation with Greinke signing with the D-Backs in the offseason.

The Nationals pair will benefit from playing in a division that includes the lowly Atlanta Braves and the Philadelphia Phillies.

Scherzer will continue to make good on the 7 year, $210 million dollar contract he signed before the start of last season, and Strasburg will reach finally put it all together and earn himself his own $30 million a year salary when he becomes a free agent after 2016.

Scherzer and Stasburg will both finish in the top 5 of the NL CY Young voting and they will help lead the Nationals to the 2016 NL East crown.

NL Central Preview

Photo Courtesy of Yahoo Sports

Photo Courtesy of Yahoo Sports

The Chicago Cubs won 97 games last year, good for only 3rd place in the National League Central. The Cubbies’ 97 wins was not only the 3rd highest total in the NL Central, it was also the 3rd highest win total in all of MLB.

The NL Central was without a doubt the best division in all of baseball last year. With the St. Louis Cardinals, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the aforementioned Cubs all making the playoffs.

With a big offseason for the Cubs, the Pirates relatively standing pat, and the Cardinals being the Cardinals, the NL Central is once again set to be one of the better divisions in all of baseball.

Here’s how this interesting division will shake up, with a player to watch for each club included.

1st Place: Chicago Cubs 100-62

The Cubs are looking for their first World Series title in over a century and are coming over an impact offseason. With sabermetric superstar Jason Heyward and the dependable and versatile Ben Zobrist infused into a lineup already dripping with young talent, the north siders look poised to have one of the better lineups in the NL. Manager Joe Madden will be able to keep the clubhouse together and help the team live up to expectations, something winners of the offseason have had trouble doing in recent years.

Player to Watch: John Lackey

With all the young talent oozing from the Cubs roster it seems odd to pick a 37 year old right handed starting pitcher who isn’t even the ace of the staff. However, if Lackey can fight off father time in 2016 and repeat his 2015 season that saw him post a 2.77 ERA in 218 innings, it could result in the Cubs having the best starting rotation in the NL Central.

2nd Place: St. Louis Cardinals 95-67, 1st NL Wild Card Spot

On paper the Cardinals got worse over the offseason, losing Heyward and Lackey to their division foes. Still, the Cardinals will find a way in 2016 as they always do. Mike Leake was brought in to solidify a strong and deep rotation. Trevor Rosenthal and Kevin Siegrist anchor a bullpen that is the best in the division. An injury to everyday shortstop Jhonny Peralta in spring training definitely hurts, but, the Cardinals still have a good mix of dependable veteran performers and high upside youngsters rounding out their lineup.

Player to Watch: Randal Grichuk

Grichuk is slotted to be the Cardinals every day center fielder in 2016. In 2015 he posted one of the highest average exit velocities in all of baseball in 2015 at 92.2 mph, a testament to how often he makes hard contact. If Grichuk can continue this trend and be a respected top or middle of the lineup bat, it would go a long way toward the Cardinals having one of the better lineup in the National League to go along with their always solid pitching.

3rd Place: Pittsburgh Pirates 88-74, miss the playoffs

The Pirates will fight for a playoff spot all season long, but, come up just short in the end due to stiffened competition across the National League. Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, and Gregory Polanco make up the most athletically talented outfield in all of baseball. Meanwhile, Fransisco Liriano and Gerit Cole anchor a rotation that is good enough to keep the Pirates contending. At the end of the day the talent of the Cardinals and the Cubs along with an improvement from the NL East and West will result in the Pirates coming up just short of another trip to the NL Wild Card game.

Player to Watch: Tyler Glasnow

Glasnow could be the piece that puts the Pirates over the top and into the playoffs. His 6’8’’, 225 lb frame is hard to miss and his upper 90’s fastball jumps off the page at you. Best case scenario: Glasnow harnesses his potential in the Major Leagues early and joins Cole among the elite young starters in the game. If that’s the case it would give the Pirates an impressive trio atop the rotation. Glasnow could also possibly join Mark Melancon and Tony Watson in the bullpen to form a terrific back end of the ‘Pen.

4th Place: Milwaukee Brewers 70-92

While the top of the NL Central is talented, the bottom two teams in the division are more likely to be contenders for the no. 1 overall pick next June than a playoff spot. The Brewers get a slight edge over the Reds in this prediction because of a better bullpen and a more experienced starting rotation. Jeremy Jeffress and Will Smith form a nice duo at the back of a bullpen that will be better than your typical 90 loss team. Meanwhile Ryan Braun will be his regular self and Jonathan Lucroy will return to form after an inconsistent showing in 2015.

Player to Watch: Orlando Arcia

As anyone who has ever followed a rebuilding team knows, sometimes tracking the minor league box scores can provide more excitement than actually watching the Major League club. Jonathan Villar is around to keep SS warm until the organization deems Arcia ready (or until after the club delays his service clock another year). Arcia is the brightest prospect in the Brewers system and the 21 year old should be the Brewers’ everyday shortstop sooner rather than later.

5th place: Cincinnati Reds 65-97

The Reds should be fun for their fans to watch this year, but, it won’t result in much on field success. They will have plenty of young talent in the rotation, but, the young arms will most likely come with supreme inconsistency. Devin Mesoraco will look to rebound from a hip injury that kept him out the majority of the 2015 season and fan favorite Joey Votto will remain the anchor of what has become a feeble looking lineup.

Player to Watch: Rasiel Iglesias

The Reds will have plenty of young guns in the rotation that will be fun to watch grow as a group. Of the bunch, Rasiel Iglesias appears to be the most likely to be successful in the 2016 campaign. The 26 year old Cuban native posted 9.8 K/9 over the course of 18 appearances (16 starts) last year to go along with a 3.55 FIP. The Reds will entrust Iglesias with the Opening Day start and hope he hits the ground running as the staff ace in 2016.

Carlos Correa: The Chance at an Unsullied A-Rod

Correa

Photo courtesy of the Houston Chronicle

After bursting onto the Major League scene in 2015, Carlos Correa is set to give the baseball world something it deserved all along; an untainted Alex Rodriguez.

Correa exceeded even the loftiest of expectations for the young Houston Astros shortstop in his first cameo in the Major Leagues in 2015. He is already poised to be the first-class shortstop in all of baseball entering only his age 21 season in 2016.

Enter the Alex Rodriguez comps. The comparison is made with the same ease in which Correa covers his position.

Both Correa and A-Rod were 1st overall picks. At the start of their big league careers, both were tall, lengthy, yet sneakily powerful shortstops early on in their Major League careers. Both had the type of athleticism and intangibles that left you with little doubt that they would be future superstars.

As any baseball fan knows A-Rod’s legacy has been polluted by confirmed performance enhancing drug allegations. The type of allegations that, even when only suspected, have kept all-time greats like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens out of the Hall of Fame.

This is where Correa comes in, with the steroid era in MLB’s rear view mirror it is time for new, unblemished, Hall of Fame legacies to be built. Correa has a chance to have an A-Rod type of career without a colossal asterisk next to his statistics.

In only 432 plate appearances, spanning 99 regular season games in 2015, Correa mashed 22 tatters, drove in 68 runs, stole 14 bases, and won the American League Rookie of the Year award.

Correa averaged a HR once per 17.6 at bats in his age 20 season. In Alex Rodriguez’ age 20 season, 1996, he averaged a HR per 16.7 at bats, only a slightly more impressive number. A-Rod also finished second in the MVP voting in his age 20 season.

alex-rodriguez-mariners

Photo Courtesy of Sportress of Blogitude

In 1996 A-Rod also posted a stunning .358/.414/.631 slash line compared to Correa’s .279/.345/.512, which is still substantial, just not close to what A-Rod did in 1996.

This comparison alone seems slanted toward A-Rod. It is important to remember that A-Rod already had big league exposure entering that season though, with 208 career regular season plate appearances. He also played a full seasons worth of games, while Correa only played 99 games, which makes up some of the difference in the MVP voting (Correa finished 24th in the AL MVP balloting in 2015).

A-Rod obviously earned that big league exposure in the two seasons prior to 1996, but there was also more incentive for the Mariners to push A-Rod through the farm, especially in 1995 when the Seattle Mariners were serious contenders.

Meanwhile Correa’s Astros lost 111 games in 2013 and 92 games in 2014, making it easier for them to be a little bit more patient with Correa. Correa’s ascension to the Majors was also slowed when he broke his fibula in June of 2014 and missed the rest of the season.

Had it not been for that injury, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that Correa would have made it to the Majors even sooner than he did.

Even as it stands, it seems trivial to discount Correa for reaching the Majors at the comically old-age of 20. To take it a step further, let’s consider the 208 plate appearances A-Rod had before age 20, to be easily made up by not missing an entire season for testing positive for PED’s.

Had it not been for an epic collapse in the 8th inning of game 4 of the 2015 ALDS the budding narrative of Correa may be even more impressive. Correa misplayed a key grounder off the bat of Kendrys Morales that should have resulted in a double play in a 5-run top of the 8th inning that completely changed the course of the game.

Before that crucial top of the 8th inning Correa looked destined to start his playoff career off with an exclamation point. In what would have been a series clinching game for the Astros, Correa went 4 for 4 with 2 HR’s and 4 RBI’s, it truly was on the verge of being a game that people would look back after his career as one of the climactic points of his career.

Even accounting for the costly error, it’s still a performance worthy of acclaim. Although the error came at a bad time, Correa should not be looked at as the goat of the situation. The Astros bullpen had a 4 run lead entering the inning, a lead due in large part to Correa’s performance, and the ‘Pen simply blew it. Plain and simple.

Instead of looking at this game as a failure, it should be looked at as a sign of things to come for Correa. With his explosive offensive performance during game 4, Correa showcased the kind of poise and capability that leaves you salivating for what is to come.

Throughout his big league career A-Rod has amassed 687 HR’s, or one every roughly 15 at bats. Correa may never develop quite that type of power, or hit 50 HR’s in a big league season like A-Rod did in 2001, 2002, and 2007, but, Correa has the makings of a regular member of the 30 HR club, with a chance to break the 40 mark more than once.

He also has the speed on the basepaths and baseball aptitude to join Rodriguez as a member of the 40 HR-40 SB club (1998). Correa should match A-Rod’s accomplishment of joining the 3,000 hit club, provided he stay healthy

The most important distinction between Correa and Rodriguez, is simply the ability to have a clean legacy. With regular PED testing across MLB, it is almost guaranteed that Correa will stay clean.

At only 21 Correa is poised to give the baseball world something that it needs and deserves: A look at what A-Rod’s career could have been without a black cloud over his plaque in Cooperstown.

Why Raul Mondesi will play 2B for the Royals in the 2016 playoffs

Courtesy of, www.todaysknuckleball.com

Courtesy of, www.todaysknuckleball.com

Dayton Moore believes in his guys. It’s one of the most impressive things about his tenure with the Kansas City Royals. When everyone else wants to doubt his guys, he believes in them, and it paid huge dividends in 2014 and 2015.

His commitment to his guys is set to pay off big in 2016, with a few key prospects who have a chance to help the big league club in 2016. Among these prospects is the first ever player to make his Major League Debut in the World Series, Raul Mondesi.

Mondesi has been one of Moore’s guys since the day he signed Mondesi on his 16th birthday for $2 million dollars in 2011. Mondesi has been aggressively pushed through the Royals farm system and Moore believes in Mondesi despite his subpar minor league numbers.

Owner of a .246/.293/.658 slash line throughout his minor league career, Mondesi may look on paper like someone who may need to spend 2016 predominately in the minor leagues, and this may be true to a certain extent.

Mondesi probably needs to start the season in the minor leagues. Barring a huge spring training, Mondesi will most likely start the season at AA NWA. Even with a huge ST, the best Mondesi could probably do is earn himself a spot at AAA Omaha instead of NWA come opening day.

This isn’t about who the Royals opening day 2nd baseman will be though. This is about who will be starting at 2nd base for the Royals come October 2016.

There are already early indications that Mondesi might be given a chance with the big league club at some point in 2016.

In an interview with 610 sports insider Josh Vernier in late January, Moore had high praise for the young Mondesi. From Moore “I’m not saying Mondesi can be our Lindor, or our Correa in some aspect in 2016, but he’s certainly talented enough.”

Later on in the same interview, “He (Mondesi) will shine in the major leagues. He will play better in the major leagues than he did in the minor leagues.”

I think the idea around the Royals staff is that Mondesi’s production will only catch up to his talent once he reaches the Major Leagues. This praise from Moore, along with Moore’s track record mean there is a chance that Mondesi will help the Royals in 2016.

Much like Moore did with Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez, he will push Mondesi through the upper levels of the minor leagues if he believes that he can help the big league club win in 2016. By throwing around Correa and Lindor comps, I think it’s apparent that Moore believes Mondesi can help the team at the Major League level in 2016.

The obvious avenue for Mondesi to start in the Major Leagues is at 2nd base. He has the profile of an everyday SS, potentially even a gold glover, but, it’s hard to see him supplanting Alcides Escobar as the team’s everyday SS.

There is already a question as to who the opening day second baseman will be, with Omar Infante and Christian Colon set to duke it out for the positon during spring training.

Infante will most likely be given the nod on opening day, manager Ned Yost loves his defense, and with the money Infante is being paid over the next two seasons it makes sense for Infante to get one more chance to prove that he can be the team’s everyday second baseman.

If Infante struggles through the first portion of the season, postseason hero Christian Colon will most likely get a chance at 2nd base before Mondesi would.

However the organization seems to look at Colon as more of a utility infielder based on the way they have handled him over the past several years. So Colon may not get a very large sample size to prove that he can be the starting second baseman, especially not with Mondesi lurking in the minor leagues.

So let’s say Infante is the everyday 2nd baseman until June, when he is then replaced due to underperformance by Colon. It stands to reason that if Colon doesn’t produce, Mondesi will be given a chance at the job.

Despite being a natural SS, Mondesi has received playing time at 2B over the course of his career. This even includes playing 2B briefly in the 2015 Futures Game. He is the most talented of the trio of potential options at 2B, and he has by far the highest ceiling.

The Royals have been rewarded for believing in their guys the past 2 seasons. 2016 will be no different, only this time they will be rewarded for their belief in a young guy like Mondesi.

Mondesi will not only take over 2B for the Royals by September 1, 2016, he will do so with grace and production. He might not hit .300, but he could bat .250 with gold glove caliber defense and game changing speed on the base paths.

After making his Major League debut in the 2015 World Series, Mondesi may find himself at the starting 2nd baseman in game 1 of the 2016 World Series.

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