The Peoria Javelinas claimed the Arizona Fall League title on Nov. 18. Powered by league MVP and Braves top prospect, Ronald Acuna, Peoria dispatched the Mesa Solar Sox 8-2 in the season finale. For the Javelinas, this marks their sixth AFL title since the league was founded in 1992. But while the AFL recognizes a league MVP, there are no Cy Young award equivalents for the league’s best pitcher. If there were such an award, it would have most likely been a clean sweep for the Braves in the Arizona Fall League season awards in 2017.
League MVP, CF Ronald Acuna
AFL Season slash line: .325/.414/.639/1.053
Seattle prospect Eric Filia won the AFL batting title, but lost out to Ronald Acuna in the MVP race. (Photo: Baseball America)
Much has been written about the season that Ronald Acuna posted in 2017. At 19 years of age, soon to be 20 in December, Acuna has risen through the Braves system this year like a man on fire. Starting the season in Advanced-A with the Florida Fire Frogs, Acuna would reach the Braves’ Triple-A affiliate, the Gwinnett Braves, by season’s end. What’s more, his numbers got better at each level he played at this year.
The young Venezuelan native played at three levels this year, four if you include his inclusion in the AFL. And, quite frankly, it is reasonable to consider the AFL “another level” on the prospect ladder, to be fair. It is, after all, the proving ground for elite talent in MLB’s prospect pipeline. And Acuna wasn’t just good he was dominant in Arizona this fall, leading Peoria to the AFL championship.
Though Acuna didn’t lead the league in batting, on-base percentage, slugging, or even OPS for that matter, he was the league’s best player when you look at the sum of the whole. This young center fielder finished second in OPS, 12th in batting, second in slugging and sixth in on-base percentage, respectively.
This future star was a league leader though, make no mistake about it. Acuna led the AFL in home runs with seven, and total bases with 53. On top of that, he drove in 16 runs, good enough for fifth in the AFL in 2017.
There is no way this kid doesn’t break camp with the big club next spring. Acuna has absolutely nothing left to prove in the minors. He’s ready for his call to the big leagues right now.
The AFL’s “Cy Young” award, if one were given out, would’ve been a trickier call than league MVP. Four pitchers could’ve easily walked away with this award. In no certain order, the New York Yankees’ Cody Carroll, Pittsburgh’s Mitch Keller, Philadelphia’s J.D. Hammer and Atlanta’s Max Fried all pitched well enough to be considered the best pitcher in Arizona this fall.
Max Fried was the best pitcher in the AFL in 2017. (Photo courtesy of: Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports)
At the end of the day, however, only one can player can take top honors. And this year, Atlanta’s Max Fried would have to be the guy to get the nod. Over his six starts for eventual AFL champions, Peoria, Fried was as dominant as they come. The Braves’ young southpaw was second among all starting pitchers in WHIP (0.88), only bested Yankee’s prospect Justus Sheffield (0.84).
Fried was also the AFL’s strikeout champion for 2017 as well. He finished with 32 strikeouts in his 26 innings of work, good enough for an outstanding ratio of 11 K’s per nine innings. Making Fried’s case even better, he also showed good control walking only 2.77 batters per nine innings. Even though Fried wasn’t as efficient as Mitch Keller in this category (1.9 BB/per 9), he outpaced Keller’s (4.9 K/per 9).
In the cases of Hammer and Carroll, however, both pitchers were closers. This isn’t to slight these two future big leaguers, but generally it’s a rarity that a reliever will win an award for league’s best pitcher. It’s happened only nine times at baseball’s top level, with the last occurrence being Eric Gagne’s 2003 Cy Young season. While Hammer and Carroll both had outstanding seasons in Arizona, the volume of work by Fried must be the deciding factor here.
Based on his body of work, Fried is the AFL’s best pitcher of 2017.
Atlanta’s prospects ready to contribute
Both Fried and Acuna progressed along the prospect ladder in leaps this year. The Braves have moved these young men up the ladder quickly, and they have responded by showing a maturity beyond their years. There is little doubt that both players will more than likely be on the opening day roster come 2018.
It is worth noting that Fried has already made the jump to MLB in 2017. His performance in the AFL this year should solidify his place in next year’s Braves rotation. Especially when you look at his performance in his limited exposure at the major league level. While it is a very small sample, it is apparent that the lights aren’t too bright for this future staff ace.
Moving onto Acuna, now, here’s a player that has absolutely no need to take another swing in the minor leagues. The Braves’ top prospect, and fifth ranked prospect in all of MLB, has shown he’s ready for the call. When the Braves break camp next spring, Acuna should be the man roaming center field in Atlanta every day.
This young man, at 20 years old, will most likely become the youngest player in the majors in 2018 and it’s exciting to speculate how he will handle the jump to MLB. If 2017 is anything to go by, we might be talking about the NL Rookie of the Year here. He will almost certainly be a training camp favorite for the award, no doubt about it.
For the Braves, Fried’s rise couldn’t have come at a better time. With many prospects like the much heralded Ronald Acuna ready to make the major league jump, Max Fried has tasted MLB, and is ready to take the ball every fifth day in Atlanta. This is prospect Max Fried’s 2018 season outlook.
Entering 2014, Fried was one of the hottest left-handed pitching prospects in baseball. Drafted with the seventh overall pick in 2012, the San Diego Padres were sure they had an “ace of the future” waiting in the wings. They might have been right, had Fried not injured that prized left arm of his.
At just 20 years old, in 2014, Fried was the third ranked prospect in San Diego’s farm system as rated by Baseball America. Everything seemed to be going according to plan, until early in the spring months, Fried began feeling soreness in his left forearm.
As a result, the Padres medical staff shut down all throwing activities for the young hurler. He wouldn’t see live action again in 2014 until mid-July. However, he didn’t last long. In his third start after his return, he began to complain of soreness in his arm, this time in his elbow. And this time, it would require surgery to repair. Tommy John surgery and the resulting rehab would cost Fried nearly two years of his career, and he wouldn’t again pitch until 2016.
Max Fried as a fresh-faced draft pick of the San Diego Padres. (Photo courtesy of: AP/Alex Gallardo)
Although Max Fried would lose nearly two years of his development to rehab after undergoing Tommy John, he remained committed to the cause. However, when he resumed pitching he would no longer be doing it for the team that drafted him. During December of 2014, Fried was part of a trade that sent Braves’ outfielder Justin Upton to San Diego in return for a load of top-end prospects. Fried was one of them.
In 2016, Fried would break camp with Low-A Rome in the Braves system. While he started slowly, the surgically repaired elbow stood up to the test of live action. By season’s end, Fried would be firmly entrenched as one of the most dominant pitchers in the Sally League.
In 21 games (20 starts) Fried pitched 103 innings, striking out 112 batters, and posted a 3.93 ERA for the year. Excellent work for a young pitcher coming back from the vaunted Tommy John surgery.
Building off a strong 2016, the Braves decided to challenge Fried by jumping him two levels to Double-A. In 19 starts for Mississippi, Fried pitched to a 5.92 ERA and won two while losing 11. However, the strikeouts were still there. He fanned 85 over 86.2 innings of work. This would suggest that his pitches were taking time to find their bite at an advanced level.
If that were all there was to go on, you might think of Fried as a ho-hum type of prospect, but he buckled down when the Braves moved him to Triple-A Gwinnett. In two starts at Gwinnett, spanning six innings of work, the youngster only surrendered one hit, walking two and striking out six. It was on the back of this performance that Fried earned his first big league call-up. And he didn’t disappoint.
For Atlanta, their eighth ranked prospect, fared well in his first taste of MLB. In nine appearances (four starts), Fried went 1-1 with a 3.81 ERA striking out 22 and walking 12 in 26 innings of work.
For Fried, the road back has been long, but his outlook for 2018 is bright.
Prospect Max Fried’s 2018 season outlook
Max Fried fires one to home as a member of the Atlanta Braves. (Photo courtesy of: Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
As it stands now, into the last week of the Arizona Fall League’s schedule, Fried has arguably been the best pitcher in the league. What Fried has done in Arizona, considering his past injury, has been remarkable. His line this fall 3-1 with a 1.73 ERA has shown that this young man is ready for the big-time. Fried has tested himself in Arizona against baseball’s most elite prospects, and has come through in fine style.
The strikeouts are still there as well. In 26 innings of work for the Peoria Javelinas, Fried has struck out 32 batters, while only walking eight. Mitch Keller and Justus Sheffield are the only other starting pitchers in Arizona with a better WHIP than Max Fried. Neither of those two pitchers, however, has posted as many innings of work as Fried has this fall.
Based on the late season call-up to Atlanta, and the success he had there, it would be inconceivable to see Fried start anywhere but Atlanta. It’s a bonus for the Braves’ front office personnel that Fried has dominated in Arizona like he has.
The kid is ready. Give him the ball.
(feature photo courtesy of: David Banks/Getty Images)
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Veteran’s Day is upon us once more, so it is only fitting to honor baseball’s military veterans today. From the Civil War, our nation’s greatest struggle, to the rice paddies of Vietnam, there have been dozens of baseball men that have fought alongside the “common Joe”.
Some of the names of the men who’ve served our nation in its greatest time of need you will know, others you will not. The list of names is too exhaustive to name them all, but we tip our caps all the same. Here are five men who’ve served with distinction.
Morgan Bulkeley – Civil War
First president of the NL and Civil War veteran, Morgan Bulkeley. (Photo courtesy of: National Baseball Hall of Fame)
Morgan Bulkeley never played in a game, but the Hartford-based businessman was the first president of the National League. Bulkeley would only hold the National League’s presidency for one season in 1876. Not wanting to make baseball his life’s work, he walked away from the post.
In 1937, Bulkeley was enshrined in the Hall of Fame with Ban Johnson, the first president of the American League.
Bulkeley has the distinction of being the only Baseball Hall of Fame member to serve during the American Civil War. Even though he came from money, Morgan Bulkeley and his brother Charles both enlisted in the Union Army in 1861. An unusual choice given these were the sons of Aetna Insurance co-founder, Eliphalet Bulkeley.
For those that aren’t up to date on their Civil War history, the unusual nature of the Bulkeley boys’ enlistment lies in money. During the Civil War, a person could buy their way out of the draft and pay for another person to serve in their place. The Bulkeley boys choosing to enlist was the exception to the rule, make no doubts about it. For Morgan Bulkeley’s brother Charles, this decision would seal his fate. He would not survive the war.
For Morgan Bulkeley though, he spent his time under the command of Gen. George McClellan in the 13th New York Regiment. It must have been a shock to go from a life of extravagance, to marching around the dirty, dusty countryside in pursuit of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. This is exactly the life Bulkeley lived from the years 1861-1865.
Grover Alexander – WWI
Alexander is a name that rests among the greatest names in the history of pitching. What you might not have known, however, is Alexander also saw live combat in World War I.
Prior to the war, Grover Alexander broke into the big leagues in 1911 with Philadelphia. From that time on, he was one of the most dominant pitchers in the National League. He led the NL in wins five times between the years 1911-1917, posting three consecutive 30+ win seasons from 1915-1917. On top of those 30-win seasons, he also posted sub 2.00 ERA in each of those three years as well. He did all of this while war threatened to consume the entire world.
The United States had managed to keep a “veneer” of neutrality for most of WWI, but in the spring of 1917, peacetime was over. The U.S. was now on a war footing with Germany, and with an army that had been drastically reduced in strength over time, needed fresh recruits.
In 1917, and for the first time since the Civil War, the nation’s men were subject to conscription into the armed forces. This is the avenue by which Grover Alexander found his way into the Army.
Three games into the 1918 season, Alexander, at the rank of Sergeant found himself among the killing fields in France. A member of the 342nd Field Artillery Battalion. It was at his post, while under an enemy artillery barrage, that Alexander suffered severe hearing damage from a nearby shell explosion. This explosion also left Alexander with epilepsy.
It was 99 years ago today, that peace was reached between the belligerents of WWI, and by the spring of 1919 Alexander was back at his old post. On the hill, toeing the rubber as a member of the Chicago Cubs.
Warren Spahn – WWII
All of Warren Spahn’s 363 career wins came after he won the Purple Heart in WWII. (Photo courtesy of: Dailydsports.com)
Spahn, a fresh-faced rookie in 1942, got his first taste of big league ball with the Boston Braves. He made two starts over four appearances in 1942, and by December he would be finding himself in Army green.
Spahn was one of the “luckier” baseball players of his generation in that his career was interrupted at the beginning, rather than during his prime years. Ted Williams, Bob Feller and Joe DiMaggio are just a few players that lost some of their peak years.
It was in December of 1944 that Warren Spahn would find himself fighting for his life during the Battle of the Bulge. This was the last gasp offensive of by the German war machine. Spahn, a combat engineer, was part of the under-equipped troops that were left to face the onslaught.
Spahn did several interviews after the war, in which he would recall the bitter cold and terrible conditions in which they fought. He has also recounted how fierce the fighting was while his unit tried to break free from the German forces that had surrounded them.
When the 1944 German winter offensive was stopped cold, Spahn’s unit was sent to Remagen. It was here, while working on the Ludendorff Bridge in March 1945, Spahn would get hit in the foot with shrapnel. This would be the end of the line for his time at the front.
It earned him a Purple Heart, but it was an incredible twist of good fortune for Spahn. The following day, the entire bridge collapsed into the river below taking over 30 men to their untimely demise. For his actions at Remagen, Spahn earned a battle-field commission of 2nd Lieutenant.
Ted Williams – Korean War
Ted Williams is all legend. This man was the game’s best hitter when he was called away to service during WWII like so many others.
Williams was drafted into service in 1941, but was exempted due to having a dependent mother, but he would later enlist in the Marines in 1942. After completion of his triple-crown season in ’42, Williams was off to training. It was during the years 1943-1945 that Williams would earn his pilot’s wings. The war would end before he would see any active combat.
However, the 1950’s brought with it a new fight. The Korean War.
Of the 1.8 million soldiers that fought in Korea, Ted Williams was one. Immediately Williams was back at flight school learning the controls of the F9F Grumman jet fighter. His involvement in the conflict would consume the majority of his 1952 and 1953 season’s.
In Korea, Williams was the wing man of future space traveler, John Glenn. In Glenn’s estimation, the pair flew together on about half of Williams’ 39 combat flights. Glenn would later recall that Williams was a very active pilot, and an excellent one at that.
Ted Williams was right in the line of fire taking on enemies in the air, and he almost was a goner on a few occasions. On one of those occasions, Williams’ plane was on fire after being badly hit. The landing gear on his smoking wreck was inoperable. The only option left was to attempt a belly landing. In true Ted Williams fashion, he did what he always did. He stayed calm, and he stuck the landing. Williams escaped the cockpit just moments before his mangled plane was engulfed in flames.
Al Bumbry – Vietnam War
Al Bumbry never lost a man during his time leading troops in Vietnam. (Photo courtesy of: Getty Images)
Bumbry has the distinction of being one of only 10 major league players to fight in the Vietnam War. He would win the Bronze Star for his actions under fire as a platoon commander.
The most remarkable thing about Bumbry’s time in combat, is that he never lost a man under his command. This takes on even more significance when you realize the amount of responsibility on the young lieutenant’s plate. In an interview with The Washington Times, Bumbry said, “I was a tank platoon leader in Vietnam for a year. It was all very stressful. I had nine vehicles and 45 men in my platoon, and I was responsible for all of our activities.”
Bumbry, like the millions of others like him, returned home a changed man. He also returned a better ballplayer, to which he credits an accelerated maturing process forged in the fires of Vietnam. Though Bumbry floundered in his first 35 minor league games before being called to active duty in the Army, when he finally returned, he went on a tear through the minor leagues.
In 1972, Al Bumbry was called up to the big club in Baltimore where he played in nine games. The following year, 1973, Bumbry would solidify a spot in the Orioles lineup, and win the AL Rookie of the Year award.
Following his RoY campaign in 1973, Bumbry would firmly entrench himself as the everyday center fielder in Baltimore. From the years 1973-1985, Al Bumbry would put together a respectable career in MLB. He was a 1980 All-Star, a (.281) lifetime hitter and a key member of the Orioles’ 1983 World Series championship team.
(feature photo courtesy of: fadeawaypodcast.com)
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With the World Series having been settled, Houstonians prepare to honor their championship winning team. For the fans in Houston, all the talk will be on the greatness that this season has produced. For the rest of us it’s time to warm ourselves around the hot stove, and talk about all things past, present and future. Yes, now’s the time to talk about why Ted Simmons deserves Cooperstown.
As we move forever into the future, it’s hard to look back sometimes at those “less glamorous” items from the past. Catcher Ted Simmons is just one of those items that seems to have lost its shine through the years. How sad. The former Cardinals, Brewers and Braves player deserves to stand on that stage in Cooperstown and talk about what it means to be a Hall of Famer.
There has been much written about the likes of Alan Trammell, one of the greatest Detroit Tigers to don the uniform, but Ted Simmons is probably one of the greatest players you don’t realize was great. Simmons’ numbers hold up to this day, nearly 30 years after he played his last professional game. His numbers aren’t just good, they’re great. I would say, they are Hall of Fame great.
The BBWA has made a huge mistake by not admitting Simmons to the Hall when they had their chance. In fact, I wonder how it could possibly be that Simmons only garnered 3.7 percent of the vote in his bellwether year on the ballot. It’s quite mind boggling to be frankly honest. Especially when considering all his peers are in the Hall of Fame.
For Simmons, affectionately known to his fans as Simba, being frozen out of the Hall of Fame is a nightmare that needs to end.
Simmons’ WAR and JAWS ratings
Ted Simmons putting on his Cardinal red jacket while be formally inducted into the St. Louis Cardinals team Hall of Fame. (Photo courtesy of: CBS St. Louis/Bill Greenblatt/UPI)
As someone who was brought up in the pre-money ball era, it has taken time to adjust to the advanced metrics of modern day analysis. I see their usefulness, but there isn’t a ton to be gleaned from them that you can’t glean from a comprehensive analysis of the traditional stats, but I digress.
The WAR rating system is just a quicker way to get to the nuts and bolts of a player’s value. Instead of pouring over stat line after stat line of data, it is much faster to take the numbers and plug them into a handy formula that weights each category appropriately. Much to the credit of Jamesian statistics, these types of stats have made it easier to gauge a player’s individual worth compared to his positional peers.
In the case of Ted Simmons his WAR, 7-year peak WAR and JAWS ratings stand him in good stead. It’s also the jumping off point for arguing that Simmons should be enshrined in Cooperstown. So, where does Simmons rate?
In WAR, Ted Simmons ranks 12th among all catchers with a solid (50.1) rating. Take into consideration that the average HoF catcher has a (53.4) career WAR, and it seems like splitting hairs to say that Simmons’ career WAR isn’t good enough. We’re talking about a difference of (3.3) Wins Above Replacement over the length of a career.
Considering that Simmons is one of only 12 catchers with a WAR rating over (50), it makes little sense that he’s not already enshrined in Cooperstown. All other catchers that amassed a 50+ career WAR rating are in the Hall of Fame, except for the still active Joe Mauer.
But it gets even better for Simmons’ case when accounting for both his 7-year peak WAR, and his JAWS ratings. Starting with Simba’s 7-year peak WAR (34.6), he’s slightly above the average HoF catcher in that category. The average 7-year peak WAR for all HoF catchers is (34.4), making Simmons just your average HoF caliber catcher. Nothing more, nothing less.
Simmons’ JAWS rating of (42.9), which is a combination of both a player’s WAR and 7-year peak WAR, sits just off the average of all HoF catchers (43.9). So, regardless of how you view Ted Simmons, what you can’t argue with is the notion that he’s one of the all-time greats behind the plate.
It’s a crime against baseball that a player that ranks 12th in WAR, 12th in 7-year peak WAR and 11th in JAWS at his position all-time, doesn’t have a bust in Cooperstown. Simmons resides at, or very near, the average HoF numbers in each of these three categories.
Simmons at the plate
If advanced metrics aren’t your thing, that’s ok. A comprehensive look at the traditional state lines will tell you that Simmons is still worthy of the Hall call.
Let’s just start with games played. Simmons to this day, still ranks third in games played all-time. He also ranks third in both plate appearances (9,685) and at-bats (8,680). This shows that Simmons was a guy you could count on to be healthy, and ready to rock and roll every day, for the better part of 20 years.
Ted Simmons as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers. (Photo courtesy of: Rich Pilling/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
Simmons also ranks sixth in runs scored (1,074), making him one of only 10 catchers to surpass (1,000) runs scored for a career. Jason Kendall is the only other catcher in this category that isn’t in the Hall of Fame. Everyone else that achieved this feat is included in Cooperstown.
Now we get into the real meat and potatoes of the matter. In hits, Simmons, still ranks second all-time (2,472), behind only Ivan Rodriquez’s (2,844). That means, when Simmons retired after the 1988 season, he was the all-time hits leader for catchers. A record that stood for 19 years until Rodriquez bested Simmons’ in hits during the 2007 season.
If that doesn’t do it for you, then let’s talk about doubles. Simmons was the first catcher ever to hit over 400 career doubles. He finished with a whopping (483) two-baggers in his 21-season career. Simmons remained the all-time doubles champion for catchers, until again bested by Rodriquez in 2007. Keep in mind that when Simmons retired in ’88, Carlton Fisk was the next closest to him in doubles at (346). It wasn’t until the 1991 season that Fisk finally joined Ted Simmons in the 400-double club.
Simmons was also a (.285) career hitter, which is identical to Yogi Berra’s career average at the plate. However, very few catchers can boast a prolific strike out ratio like Simmons’. He struck out an average of once every 12.5 at-bats for his career, which is phenomenal. Simmons also walked 1.23 times to every time he struck out. This is the hallmark of a HoF caliber hitter folks.
If all this isn’t enough for you to digest, Simmons still ranks second in RBI for a catcher with (1,389). Who’s better than Simmons in this category? Only Yogi Berra, and his (1,430) RBI’s are better than Simmons’ mark. Surprisingly, Simmons knocked in more runs than the legendary Johnny Bench’s (1,376). That’s some exclusive company if I do say so myself.
Simmons’ bat alone should have been enough to get him into Cooperstown. Especially when you realize that when he retired in 1988, he was the all-time leader in games played, plate appearance, at-bats, hits and doubles.
Ted Simmons deserves Cooperstown
It’s hard to say where we go in the case of Ted Simmons from this point. Thus far, there isn’t exactly a fire here. Certainly, the Veterans Committee will debate Alan Trammell’s case long before they will Ted Simmons’ case.
Ted Simmons putting in work behind the plate, this man deserves a better historical fate. (Photo courtesy of: bestsportsphotos.com)
One of the bugaboos about Ted Simmons is that he didn’t win a gold glove at catcher. However, there can be only one winner each season. Going up against the Red’s 10-time Gold Glove winning catcher, Johnny Bench, Ted Simmons was probably never going to win that award. To Simmons’ credit though, he had an arguable case for the award in 1976. Johnny Bench edged out Simmons for a Gold Glove in ’76 by the slimmest of margins.
Simmons was a competent defender. He was good, but not great, a point that I will readily concede. But the facts remain, Simmons’ bat should have been enough to catapult him into baseball immortality.
Let’s face it, Simmons was a Mike Piazza style of catcher long before Piazza even came around. Although Simmons does have a superior dWAR (4.7) to Piazza’s (1.0). It’s for this reason, that Simmons gets dogged by the BBWA, because it surely isn’t his bat. Simmons’ bat is sound and worthy of all the pomp and circumstance that comes along with being a Hall of Famer.
It’s time for baseball fans to band together to fix this injustice. In Ted Simmons’ case, the Veterans Committee remains his only lifeline to the Hall. However, they don’t vote players in every year.
It’s time to apply the pressure folks.
(feature photo courtesy of: Sports Illustrated)
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When the first pitch of the 2017 World Series is thrown out Oct. 24 at Dodger Stadium, it will mark the 113th installment of baseball’s fall classic. Only one World Series, however, can be dubbed the greatest World Series ever played.
For the fans in Houston and Los Angeles, their focus won’t be on this series being an all-time classic. Their primary focus for the immediate future will be on winning at least four of the possible seven games that remain. Right now, the glory of a championship is first and foremost.
The rest of baseball’s fandom is just looking to be enthralled. We’re looking for hotly contested games that remain up for grabs into the final innings. We’re looking for immaculate pitching, we’re looking for clutch two-out hits and we’re looking for spectacular game saving glove work in the field. In short, we’re looking for the proverbial barn burner.
With 112 World Series already on record, there have been some wild match-ups throughout time. Perhaps no match-up has offered more excitement to baseball fans of all stripes than 1991’s World Series, pitting the Atlanta Braves against the Minnesota Twins.
Minnesotans will remember 1991 for two distinct reasons. First, on Oct. 27, 1991 they saw their Minnesota Twins lift the World Series title after seven games. Second, just four days later, the Twin Cities were buried under almost two-feet of snow from an epic Halloween blizzard.
In Atlanta though, 1991 will always be remembered with mixed emotions. The 1991 Braves improved from last place in 1990, to first in 1991. This was also the first year that a World Series was played in Atlanta since the Braves moved from Milwaukee at the end of 1965.
How they arrived
Braves legend, Tom Glavine, tries to channel a little rally hat magic on the road in Minneapolis. (Photo courtesy of: Getty Images)
Speaking of the Braves’ remarkable turnaround, Minnesota also accomplished the same feat. They too finished the season in last place in 1990, only to become AL champions in 1991. It was the first time in MLB history that any team went from “worst to first” let alone having two teams do it in the same season.
For Minnesota, 1991 was the year of the bat. This isn’t to say they couldn’t pitch, but their offense was magnificent. They led the majors in average (.280) and on-base percentage (.344) that year. They also finished second in both slugging (.420) and OPS (.764) making them one of the toughest lineups for opposing pitchers to navigate.
Atlanta’s forte though, was undoubtedly their pitching. The Braves’ pitching was phenomenal in 1991. Tom Glavine, 1991’s NL Cy Young award winner, was the unquestioned leader of the young Atlanta staff. This Braves rotation was young, hungry and devastatingly good.
For the season, Atlanta finished third in team ERA (3.49), third in fewest hits given up and fourth in total runs surrendered. Any fan can plainly see, scratching runs across the plate against this pitching staff was no small task.
The 1991 World Series was more than just excellent pitching versus excellent hitting. This series was a classic match-up of two evenly matched ball clubs. Something had to give, because we all know there can only be one team left standing. That team left standing, in the end, would be the Minnesota Twins.
Minnesota didn’t get to the summit of baseball’s highest mountain without a fight though, and what a fight it was. Atlanta and Minnesota put together a performance for the ages. Culminating in arguably the greatest World Series ever played. This was a World Series filled with spectacular pitching, clutch hitting and wild defensive plays.
The greatest world series ever played
In the pantheon of World Series match-ups, there are several that stand out. For instance, 1960’s classic Pirates and Yankees showdown featured the only walk-off Game 7 homer ever, by the Pirate’s Bill Mazeroski. Braves versus Twins in 1991 rates right up there with the lot of them.
Bill Mazeroski sinks the Yankees with his dramatic walk-off Game 7 World Series home run. (Photo courtesy of: ESPN)
The 1991 World Series offered something for everyone, including one of the most bizarre plays in World Series history. Of course this is referring to Kent Herbek pulling Ron Gant off the bag in the third inning of Game 2. For fans of a certain age in Atlanta, this certainly must still be a sore subject.
The Twins and Braves only played two games decided by more than a single run, Game 1 and 5. Minnesota took Game 1 by a score of 5-2 and Atlanta took Game 5, blowing away the Twins 14-5. All other games in the series were one-run affairs.
Extra innings was also a common thread that tied this series together as well. Game 6 and the pivotal Game 7 were two of the three extra inning games. Minnesota would find themselves on the winning side in both of the aforementioned games. The Twins’ only extra inning loss came on a Mark Lemke 12th inning RBI single in Game 3.
For the Twins, legendary Kirby Puckett was the man of Game 6. Puckett’s glove, and then his bat, cemented the win for Minnesota and pushed the series to Game 7.
Puckett seemed to defy the laws of physics, jumping at the wall in left-center to rob Gant of extra bases. Then, in the bottom of the 11th inning, Puckett sent a Charlie Leibrandt offering into the seats for a solo homer. His clutch hit won the game for Minnesota in walk-off fashion, making Game 7 a necessity.
The deciding game of the 1991 World Series pitted two excellent pitchers at opposite spectrums of their careers. For the Twins, it was 15-year veteran and 1984 World Series champion, Jack Morris. The Braves countered with a future Hall of Famer, 24-year-old, John Smoltz.
1991 World Series MVP and Game 7 winner, Jack Morris, rushes to greet Dan Gladden at home plate. (Photo courtesy of: Pioneer Press/Jean Pieri)
All these two did was lock horns to produce one of the best pitched games in World Series history. Smoltz pitched excellent in Game 7, but wily veteran Jack Morris pitched a magical Game 7. With Morris in command of all his pitches, he put together one of the greatest World Series starts this side of Don Larsen’s perfect game in 1956. Morris went the distance, all 10 innings, to pitch a complete game shutout under immense pressure.
Jack Morris, for his part, swallowed that pressure deep down and used it to breathe fire at the Braves lineup. He gave up seven hits and walked only two hitters in his 10-inning masterpiece. On the back of Morris’ Game 7 exploits, coupled with his Game 1 win and his hard luck no-decision in Game 4, he walked away as World Series MVP.
When Gene Larkin laced a one-out single to left-center in the bottom of the 10th inning, bringing Dan Gladden in for the winning run, it was only fitting that Morris was the first player to welcome him home.
If the showdown between Los Angeles and Houston is half as good as 1991’s World Series, we are in for a treat. Play ball, boys.
(feature photo courtesy of: twinkietown.com)
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The Arizona Fall League is a rite of passage for the very best of the best MLB prospects. Especially for those “kids” down on the farm.
This veritable “proving ground” for major league talent is one of the true gems of the prospect-to-pro pipeline. Every year, each of the 30 teams that make up Major League Baseball send a handful of their brightest up and comers to the desert for closer inspection versus a higher standard of opponent. So without further ado, I would like to introduce you to the youngest stars of the Arizona Fall League. You may not know them now, but you soon will!
Glendale Desert Dogs
Feeder Clubs: White Sox, Indians, Dodgers, Phillies, Pirates
Mitch Keller has moved three levels in two seasons in the Pirates organization. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)
The No. 6 RHP prospect in baseball, Mitch Keller, will be turning out for Glendale this fall in Arizona. He boasts above average control as well as three projectable major league pitches in his fastball, curveball and changeup. Keller spent most his time this season (15 games) taking the hill for the Bradenton Marauders of the Florida State League. Over 15 starts he struck out over three batters for every one that he walked. His numbers only improved after getting called up to (AA) Altoona for his final six starts. Keller uses a blistering fastball that sits low-to-mid-90s with nasty sinking action, and above average 11-5 curve to make hitters look foolish.
Promoted to (AA) Altoona to finish out the season, this 21-year-old is mature beyond his years. Judging by the caliber of his well-advanced arsenal of three plus-pitches, this kid should continue rising through the Pirates system at break neck speed. Thus far, Keller has done all that’s been asked of him at every level and he will be looking to impress again in Arizona. For 2018, Keller should be start the season with (AA) Altoona, but he may not be there long. Should this young man continue to miss an epic number of bats at (AA) level, I would expect Keller to end 2018 in (AAA). He’s getting close Pirates fans!
2017 Finishing Level: Clearwater Thrashers (Advanced A)
Randolph, age 20, will be looking to develop his fielding skills even further this fall in Arizona. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)
Phillies left fielding prospect Cornelius Randolph is not the biggest of players. What Randolph lacks in size however, he makes up with a good eye at the plate working a (.338) OBP in 122 games at (Advanced A) Clearwater. Randolph is a converted infielder who worked tirelessly in 2017 to improve his fielding ability in left field. Because his focus was on improving as a defender, his batting metrics may have taken a hit, yet he still posted a respectable (.250/.338/.402) for the season.
The key to Randolph making the majors is his bat, without question. Many scouts believe his average defensive ability will be overshadowed by a bat that wants to hit, and hit a ton. Touted as the best pure high school hitter in the 2015 MLB Draft, Randolph has done little to disappoint. His 2016 was largely a throwaway season while he battled injuries that kept him from really capitalizing on an inspiring 2015. However, in his latest campaign he mashed his way to a tie for fifth most homers in the Florida State League.
Considering the tender age of the Phillies’ No. 12 prospect, it is not likely that he will be rushed up the ladder. He could possibly open the season at (AA) Reading depending on how the Phillies see him defensively. He already has a bat good enough for the level.
Feeder Clubs: Braves, Red Sox, Padres, Mariners, Blue Jays
Do not be fooled by the baby-faced Andres Munoz, he wants nothing more than to blow you away with the heater. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)
Born in 1999, Munoz is easily the youngest player headed to the Arizona Fall League this October. At just 18 years of age, striking out hitters is not the issue for Munoz. No, hitting the strike zone consistently is. Blessed with electric stuff well beyond what is expect from a teenager, he has had a heck of a time reigning in his pitches and throwing consistent strikes. At 18 though, time is smiling on this young hurler.
With a clean easy motion to the plate, Munoz just needs to find his rhythm and learn to repeat his delivery time after time. Munoz has easy gas, with his fastball exploding out of his hand toward the plate with seemingly little effort. If this kid can iron out the kinks in his game, he could become a dominant pitcher in the majors sooner than later. Munoz is the youngest player on any Arizona Fall League roster in 2017 and after watching him throw you can understand why he’s there. Expect Andres to be toeing the rubber for (Low A) Fort Wayne in the Midwest League come spring 2018.
If you don’t yet know about Ronald Acuna, you will very soon. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)
Oh, hot dog! Do I even need to talk about Acuna? I mean, really? Everyone knows this guy by now, right? Look, just the fact he’s on this list should have pitchers everywhere soiling themselves.
Ok, so considering that many of the top ten prospects have mostly graduated to the big leagues (that were ahead of Acuna), this kid should be at the top of the heap come 2018. The No. 5 prospect in all of baseball did everything in his power to make the jump to the majors in 2017. At 19 years of age and with his parent club struggling to win games, the Braves decided to halt his progression at (AAA) Gwinnett. It was a smart move, especially if you regularly attend Gwinnett Braves games. All he did there in 54 games is put up an insane (.344/.393/.548) line, sending baseballs into orbit at a regular pace.
Acuna is just latest Venezuelan to take MLB by storm, well the minors anyway. Acuna’s measurables are out of sight. This is a true 5-tool player by every sense of the word with his blazing speed, howitzer arm, and big bat. Exciting times are afoot in Hot-lanta folks! I mean, this kid did nothing but perform at each level he was at this year. What’s more is that his numbers improved at every stop along the way. Next stop for Acuna in 2018? The Show.
Justus Sheffield is not related to Gary Sheffield. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)
The first of two LHP on the list of youngest Arizona Fall League stars, Justus Sheffield is also the No. 6 rated prospect down on the farm. Sheffield is another fireballer on this list that can reach back and grab a 96-mph comet, but will usually sit around the 92-93 mph range. Boasting a curbeball and changeup that are projectable big league pitches, the short in stature Sheffield is certainly long on talent. However, he does have work to do in Arizona. This future Yankee needs to learn to consistently get his above average repertoire over the plate for strikes. If he can master his control, the sky’s the limit for Justus.
Sheffield spent the bulk of 2017 in (AA) with the Trenton Thunder except for two rehab starts in (A) ball. In 17 starts for Trenton, the young hurler went 7-6 with a 3.18 ERA over 93.1 innings of ball. His strike out tally is fantastic at 82, and his walks, while still at 3.1 BB/9, have come down dramatically from seasons past. If Sheffield continues to progress, he should arrive in the majors before the turn of the next decade. For now though, he’ll most likely break camp as a member of the (AAA) rotation in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Estevan Florial may strike out a ton, but he’ll happily take you yard in return. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)
Florial is an intriguing 19-year-old signed from the island nation of Haiti in 2015. This kid could be the center fielder of the future for New York, and it might not be much longer before he stakes his claim to a position once held by Mantle and DiMaggio. Now, this isn’t to say Estevan Florial is in the same mold as those two legendary players, but his talent is undeniable.
At the plate Florial seemingly has all the tools to be an excellent major leaguer. He’s fast, he’s got pop, and he’s not afraid to take a walk. In his first season of Class A baseball, Florial posted a (.298/.372/.479) line across both high and lower levels. While his sample size from (Advanced A) is small at only 19 games, he sported an (.855) OPS over 91 games for (Low A) Charleston. He has some holes in his swing and does whiff a lot, but he also walks a lot (once every 8.4 AB) suggesting that, as he develops, the K’s will come down. At any rate, this young slugging center fielder is poised to start 2018 at (AA) Trenton. Only time will tell if he can grasp the strike zone better as he gets a little older.
Nolan Blackwood shuts the light off when he leaves. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)
Nolan Blackwood is a stopper. I mean, this kid can slam a door. Unlike most of the other pitchers on this list, Blackwood is one thing, a harbinger of death to your team’s chances to win. The 2016 14th round draft selection out of Memphis has a scary frame at 6-foot-5 with plenty of room left to fill it out. Oakland always seems to have a top-notch pitcher or two working their way through the farm, and Blackwood is no exception.
Blackwood spent all of 2017 in (Advanced A) ball, shutting down games for the Stockton Ports. Sure, he had a 1-5 record. Sure, he had a 3.00 ERA, but it’s what he did with the game on the line that matters most. In 20 chances to turn out the lights on the opposition, he did so successfully 19 times. As he learns more and puts on more lean muscle, his K/9 should reflect that, although his 7.58 K/9 in 2017 are nothing to sneeze at. Neither is his 1.05 WHIP. Blackwood is slated to begin 2018 at (AA) Midland, in the Texas League.
2017 Finishing Level: Buies Creek Astros (Advanced A)
Yordan Alvarez, monstrous young left-handed hitter with jaw dropping pop. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)
Yordan Alvarez arrived in the Houston farm system via trade with the Dodgers in 2016. Alvarez is a slugger that translates to either left field or first base. While not exceptional with the leather, Alvarez does possess a very good arm in the field. He has been playing in left for much of 2017, but in the Arizona Fall League, he’s penciled in to man first base. At 6-foot-5 225 lbs. the left-handed slugger seems to be destined to play first in the majors.
Alvarez, Houston’s No. 26 ranked prospect has explosive raw power at the plate as shown by his first 32 games at the (Low A) level. Playing for the Quad Cities River Bandits, he mashed (.360/.468/.658) over 111 AB. With nothing left to prove, Houston promoted him to (Advanced A) Buies Creek where his numbers came back to earth with the step up in pitching. Despite only being 20 years old, Alvarez still managed to hack out a (.277/.329/.393) line. Not bad for a player as young as Yordan. Look for Alvarez to be back in the lineup for the Buies Creek Astros at the start of the 2018 campaign.
“If you blink, you will miss it.” Is what the baseball cornfield gods say about Akin’s heater. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)
Keegan Akin is one half of Baltimore’s contribution to the youngest players in the Arizona Fall League. Ryan Mountcastle is the other, but more on him in just a minute.
Akin is a LHP blessed with a fastball that looks more like a vapor trail than it does a ball. The 22-year-old was a second-round pick by Baltimore in 2016 and is coming off his first full professional season at (Advanced A) Frederick. While his numbers might not jump off the page at you right away, there is still a lot to look at. First and foremost being his beastly 10 K/9 stuff. His electric fastball lit up opposing batters while his slider and changeup are both major league projectable pitches. Known for his ability to get nasty, he peppers the strike zone with ease leaving little doubts that the Orioles see him as a starting pitcher for the future.
Baltimore’s No. 8 ranked prospect is not far off getting the call to the show if he continues to improve his secondary pitches. His inability to fully harness his secondary stuff led to a 4.1 BB/9 rate, but as he learns how to pitch to better hitters his walk totals should begin to come back to earth. Orioles fans should be anxiously awaiting the arrival of this left-handed cannon. What level Akin might start at in 2018 is anyone’s guess, it could depend on how he does in the Arizona Fall League. Frederick or (AA) Bowie are his likely landing spots after camp breaks in March 2018.
Baltimore’s 2015 first-round pick, Ryan Mountcastle, has had a meteoric rise through the minors so far. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)
Mountcastle is currently the No. 3 prospect in Baltimore’s farm system. At the moment, Baltimore is still holding out hope that this young man can overcome his below average arm strength and stick at short stop. While questions remain about Mountcastle in the field, there are little doubts in the scouting community that he will hit for both power and average at the big-league level. Ryan is a tall prospect with room left on his frame for further growth. And that is scary news for American League pitchers.
In 88 games of (Advanced A) baseball he posted an impressive (.314/.343/.542) line, while smashing 15 round trippers along the way. It was precisely this type of production that ultimately won him promotion to (AA) Bowie, finishing the season against much older competition. Though Mountcastle struggled to come to terms with Double-A pitching in his first 39 games for the Bay Sox (.222/.239/.366), he will almost certainly start 2018 there. This kid is truly one for the future. Get out there to the Arizona Fall League games and take a peek.
Hicks has eye popping velocity, and a heavy sinking action on his fastball. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)
At just 21, Jordan Hicks already has a fastball that would likely leave an exit hole the size of Pluto if it hit you.On top of a fastball that sits in the lower 90’s (but can ramp up to 98 mph), this young fireballer also has an above average curveball that has a chance to be a plus pitch for him in the bigs. Jordan started 2017 with the Peoria Chiefs of the Midwest League taking the mound in 14 games and posting a healthy 8-2 record while fanning 63 batters along the way.
He has some control issues to sort out, but upon his promotion to (Advanced A) Palm Beach he saw his BB/9 shrink from (4.5) in Peoria to a respectable (2) in his first 27 innings of Florida State League ball. Though the sample is small, this youngster seems to have found another gear with his step up in competition. The Card’s No. 14 prospect posted 32 strike outs and only 21 hits in eight appearances at the (Advanced A) level. On the back of that performance the Cardinals promoted young Jordan to (AA) Springfield in August, though he didn’t log any innings due to late season injury. Expect Hicks to be a key component to Springfield’s rotation in 2018.
2017 Finishing Level: Charlotte Stone Crabs (Advanced A)
Kevin Padlo is rated as Tampa Bay’s No. 28 prospect. (photo courtesty of: MiLB.com)
Kevin was originally a fifth-round selection of the Colorado Rockies in 2014, the organization he played for in his first two minor league seasons. By January 2016 however, he found himself part of the deal that sent LF Corey Dickerson to Tampa in exchange for pitchers Jake McGee and German Marquez. Though Padlo struggled some at the plate this year posting (.215/.321/.380) across two levels of minor league ball, there is a lot to like about this young man.
While his batting average might seem low, his (.321) OBP suggests a keen eye, that with more experience should translate to a solid average and 20-homer power. At only 21 years of age, the Rays’ No. 28 prospect already possesses a defensive tool set at the hot corner you would normally expect to find on a player much older. Where he could start 2018 might depend on what he does in Arizona this fall, but as it stands now all signs point to another season in Charlotte.
(feature photo courtesy of: Colorado Rockies)
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