Shohei Ohtani

Patience is key for Shohei Ohtani

Opening Day is coming up this week, and teams are finalizing their rosters for the beginning of the season. One of the largest stories of the winter was Shohei Ohtani’s decision to play in the United States for the Los Angeles Angels. With his top-end ability on the mound plus his bat, the Japanese rookie has a shot at making a splash in California.

Let us not forget though who Ohtani will be playing against. He is just 23 years old and has grown up playing in the NPB, which is quite different than Major League Baseball. Although spring training is just training, it may be a sign that shows Ohtani is not quite ready to make the impact he is capable of.

Weak spring

Shohei Ohtani

Ohtani has struggled in spring training with the Angels. (Photo from DailyNews)

Ohtani did not get the amount of opportunities to play this spring that we might have liked to see. He only amassed 28 at-bats along with 2.2 innings pitched. In the 28 at-bats, Ohtani managed just three hits. In those 2.2 innings he pitched, he allowed three home runs, which led to eight total earned runs.

While this small sample size may not be indicative of his potential, it may show that the Angels should be patient with their young star.

Los Angeles did send Ohtani out to play against the Angels affiliates. While they wanted him to hit the 85-pitch mark, he could not even get up to 50. Seeing that he couldn’t even reach that point, there is not much hope in Ohtani making a start early in this season.

We will see how the Angels work Ohtani into the league, but it may not be as soon as we would like to see.

Could Triple-A be a solution?

Ohtani does have half a decade worth of experience against professional baseball players in Japan. He may not be ready for the major league level in baseball yet though.

A viable option would be to send Ohtani to the Triple-A Salt Lake Bees. This would give Ohtani more game time against what is still one of the best baseball leagues in the world, while not putting the same kind of pressure on him to be an All-Star quite yet.

While this may not be the most exciting path for baseball fans who are anxious to see what this kid can do, it may be what is in the Angels’ best interest in order to capitalize on their potential. With the Angels having the core of their roster in tact for the coming years, they can afford to let Ohtani develop in a smaller stage.

What to expect for 2018

Shohei Ohtani

With Trout expected to play the full season, the Angels can stir the pot in the AL. (Photo from USA Today)

The wise move for the Angles would be to send Ohtani down to the minors for the time being. Even if it means just seven or eight starts at the lower level, it could still have a significant impact on his growth as a player.

While it may not be a popular move for the Angels to avoid showcasing the young star, it may be necessary. Who knows if the hype around this kid will actually die down, even if his debut is delayed.

It would be very reasonable to see Ohtani making his debut closer to the All-Star break. It may depend largely on whether or not the Angels are in a pennant race with the Astros and Yankees. With the bevy of moves they have made this past year, it would not be that outlandish to think the Angels have some sort of shock. The issue for them at the moment is their pitching, and if Ohtani begins to prove himself in Salt Lake, it could make sense for him to be brought back up for that race.

For the time being though, it would be wise on the Angels’ part to send Ohtani down to Triple-A.

 

Featured image from SportMax

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Arizona Fall League season awards

Arizona Fall League season awards

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

Arizona Fall League season awards

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.

AFL Cy Young, LHP Max Fried

AFL Season pitching line: (3-1) 1.73 ERA, 26 IP, 32 K’s, 0.88 WHIP

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.

Arizona Fall League season awards

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.

 

(feature photo courtesy of: sportsnewsinstant.com)

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Prospect Max Fried’s 2018 season outlook

Prospect Max Fried’s 2018 season outlook

The Arizona Fall League will name a champion on Nov. 18, and Braves prospect Max Fried could have a key role to play. The southpaw has fully overcome Tommy John surgery to reestablish himself as a top prospect in MLB.

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.

The injury

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.

The comeback

Prospect Max Fried’s 2018 season outlook

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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Las Vegas Raiders: Just Sin, Baby

Las Vegas Raiders: Just Sin, Baby

“Just Win, Baby” is the famous Raider slogan created by former owner Al Davis. Today that slogan can be modified to “Just Sin, Baby”. The Raiders are singing Viva, Las Vegas, the song made famous by the legendary Elvis Presley. Las Vegas, the entertainment capital of the world, is the talk of the sporting world as the Oakland Raiders were approved for relocation.

For a franchise to be approved for relocation they need 24 votes. The Raiders relocation vote was 31-1, with the Dolphins as the only team to vote against the move. The Raiders will play the 2017 season and most likely the 2018 season, in Oakland while the stadium in Las Vegas is being built. The 2019 season would be the first in Vegas.

Las Vegas has a population of just over 600,000 and is the 30th largest city in the United States. The market is larger than 13 other NFL markets. Vegas will be considered a big market and will attract free agents due to no state income tax.

Sports in Vegas

Las Vegas Raiders: Just Sin, Baby

(Photo Credit: Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Recently, the NHL paved the way for a major professional sports league to call Vegas home. Las Vegas was officially awarded an expansion team named the Las Vegas Golden Knights. The inaugural season is set to start later this year in October for the 2017-2018 season. This move by the NHL gave the NFL the confidence and courage to relocate to Las Vegas.

The NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB have never tried to move to Vegas before this year but there have been semi-pro and minor league teams that have competed in Sin City.

Currently, Vegas is home to the minor league baseball team, the Las Vegas 51’s. The 51’s are the Triple-A affiliate of the New York Mets and have been in the Pacific Coast League since 1983. The 51’s had the sixth highest attendance in the PCL with an average of 4,882 and a total of 331,999 fans attended games in 2016.

Throughout Las Vegas’s history, there have been many other leagues to try franchises in Vegas. Most notably, the Arena Football League (Las Vegas Gladiators), the United Football League (Las Vegas Locomotives), the Xtreme Football League (Las Vegas Outlaws), and EHL, minor league hockey, (Las Vegas Wranglers). These teams all left Las Vegas for various reasons but the citizens have always craved professional sports.

Aside from professional sports, Las Vegas is home to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The UNLV Runnin Rebels basketball team has always been a must-see show. Their arena, The Thomas & Mack Center, holds just over 18,000 people and when the Rebels are decent they easily sell it out. In the Tarkanian glory years of the late 80’s and early 90’s it was impossible to get a ticket.

Las Vegas sports fans are blue collar and have been waiting for a team for a long time. Many people supported the teams when they were here and just like any team they are heavily supported when the team is winning. The city of Las Vegas has deserved this for a long time and now the city of sin will have two major professional sports franchises.

Support For the Raiders?

One of the biggest debates happening in the city is how to manage the support of current teams. Fans are asking do I support the Raiders? Do I stop supporting the team I have been rooting for my entire life? Is it okay to support two teams? Should the fans in Oakland continue to support the Raiders? Here are some of what fans have been saying.

Las Vegas Raiders: Just Sin, Baby

Las Vegas Raiders: Just Sin, Baby

(Photo Credit: http://www.hotelmanagement.net/)

There is a lot of mixed emotions involved with the Raiders relocation to Las Vegas. Some fans will bleed silver and black and support the Raiders no matter where they are located. Some will have sour grapes and move on to other teams. Fans of other teams who live in Las Vegas will drop their team and become fans of the Raiders and others will stay loyal to the team they have always supported.

Las Vegas has been long known as the city of sin. The city of bright lights where gambling is legal. A city that never sleeps and what happens there stays there.

The Raiders organization has always been known to be brash and in the 70’s did whatever they wanted. They drank, they smoked and they were head hunters. Everybody hated the Raiders and most of the league considered them dirty. The Raiders were the outcasts of the NFL. Everything the Raiders history is and everything the Raiders have been known for is everything Las Vegas is. Sin City and the Raiders are a match made in heaven. Las Vegas Raiders: Just Sin, Baby.

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