Early observations from spring training.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- This is the time of spring training when a player can redefine himself with a first impression, good or bad. You could be Jesus Montero walking into the Seattle Mariners' camp 40 pounds overweight, or maybe Masahiro Tanaka, cutting up the strike zone with seven different pitches in his first outing. (Tanaka was the real deal, writes Bob Klapisch.)
Those first impressions aren’t always lasting, but they can be meaningful, and help a player lose or win a job, and alter perceptions and decisions.
Some of the first early impressions from around MLB camps.
Atlanta Braves: Dan Uggla is one of the highest-paid Braves and will get a shot to rebuild his swing, and the early signs are good, as I wrote the other day. But Tommy La Stella has caught the attention of evaluators early on. He’s 25 years old, so his .343 average in Double-A last year has to be put into that context, but his history is that he hits everywhere he goes. La Stella has been fine in the field, as well.
If Uggla doesn’t bounce back, La Stella could be an option at second base down the road. Carroll Rogers has more on La Stella.
Kansas City Royals: Mike Moustakas has impressed those around him with his condition and an evolution in his attitude; he had a nice start to spring training on Friday. In addition, Norichika Aoki has opened eyes in his first year in the Royals' camp with his intensity, and how he goes hard after everything.
St. Louis Cardinals: Outfielder Randal Grichuk, acquired in the David Freese trade, is opening some eyes, writes Derrick Goold. From his piece:
Grichuk (pronounced Gri-chuk with the “gri” from “grip”) tripled in his first at-bat of the Cardinals’ exhibition loss Saturday, and later he had a potential home run pushed foul by the wind and a potential double speared by the third baseman. Grichuk extended to drive a two-strike pitch to deep center field and then sped for the RBI triple. The strong showing came a few days after he hit two home runs -- one to left, the other to right -- in a scrimmage pitched by a Cardinals coach. He’s arrived at camp with a jolt.
Officials have described him as one of the “most impressive” young bats in camp. He’s slated to go to Class AAA as a starter in the outfield, though a righthanded bat with his pop may earn a look for the major-league bench. He could force that discussion.
Minnesota Twins: Alex Meyer, the pitching prospect acquired from the Nationals in the Denard Span trade, is throwing well early, and the internal projections for him are high. Meyer had 13 starts in Double-A last year and will presumably start the year in the minors, but he could be a midseason candidate to break through.
Cleveland Indians: Last year, the Indians were impressed by Yan Gomes from the outset, and he wound up winning the job as their everyday catcher. This season, Tony Wolters is working to transition from the middle infield to catcher, and he has looked excellent early on. There is real hope that Wolters, who will play in the minors this year, could develop into an option down the road.
Washington Nationals: Taylor Jordan, 25, has continued to throw his heavy sinker and feed hope that he could be really good and what he showed last year (a 3.66 ERA in nine starts) is a sign of things to come.
New York Yankees: Last year, catcher Gary Sanchez arrived in spring training at less than his best physical condition. This year, he came to Tampa in outstanding condition. He is likely headed to Double-A Trenton this year.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Gregory Polanco, the star prospect who reached Triple-A last year, continues to demonstrate why there are such high projections for him. He is listed at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, and looks as if he dropped right out of the Dave Parker mold.
Boston Red Sox: Felix Doubront was overweight when he arrived in camp last year, and all season it seemed as if he was trying to catch up. This year, he is in much better condition, and the Red Sox staff has sensed that he is intensely focused and working with greater purpose.
Around the leagues
• Ryan Madson is 33 years old and a free agent, and he worked out for teams last month. The perception of some was that he threw fine. But some clubs backed away from Madson’s request for a major league contract, given the right-hander’s extensive injury history. He hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2011.
“He might help,” said one evaluator, “but for us, he needs to get into a camp and show he is healthy.”
• The Phillies have to hope that Miguel Gonzalez is a work in progress, after a rough Grapefruit League debut. His fastball velocity was about 90-91 mph, evaluators say, but his command was a problem.
• Lloyd McClendon acknowledged that neither Hisashi Iwakuma nor Taijuan Walker is likely to be ready for the start of the upcoming season.
• Top prospect Miguel Sano will miss the entire season, writes Phil Miller.
• Mike Trout’s next deal could provide a lot of risk and happiness, writes Mike DiGiovanna.
• CC Sabathia's velocity was at 88 mph Saturday.
• The Rangers are looking for rotation help, and so Robbie Ross is getting another shot.
• One evaluator on the early feedback on the Dodgers’ Alex Guerrero, who signed for $28 million: “They could get him through outright waivers right now if they need a roster spot.” Guerrero is trying to transition to second base, and the early perception within some corners of the organization is that he is a work in progress.
• With a couple of big-market, high-expectation teams going into the season with some questions in the infield -- the Dodgers, as well as the Yankees -- you wonder if the Nationals could get some play for Danny Espinosa, who had early success in his career before being sent to the minors last season. A complicating factor for Washington is that if the Nationals swapped Espinosa now, other teams might be looking to buy low after his really, really rough offensive showing (.465 OPS in 167 plate appearances for the Nats, .566 OPS in 313 plate appearances in Triple-A).
• David Price took a small step in the Rays’ preseason, but it was a meaningful step, Gary Shelton writes.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The shortstop battle motivates Arizona’s Chris Owings, writes Nick Piecoro.
2. Mark Trumbo may bat in the lower half of the Arizona lineup, says Piecoro.
3. Tim Hudson is in line to pitch the Giants’ home opener, writes Henry Schulman.
The fight for jobs
1. Tommy Milone wants to be part of the Oakand rotation, according to Susan Slusser.
2. Bob Elliott provides odds on certain pitchers making the Toronto rotation.
Dings and dents
1. Bobby Parnell took a positive first step, writes Tim Rohan.
2. Steve Dilbeck writes that Matt Kemp is improving, but isn’t likely to be ready for the opener.
3. Mike Leake is dealing with an abdominal issue, as mentioned in this John Fay piece.
4. The Indians are being careful with Danny Salazar, writes Paul Hoynes.
5. Jenn Menendez notes that Wandy Rodriguez looked good in his spring debut.
1. Dan Haren made his spring debut for the Dodgers.
2. Ian Kennedy had a scoreless debut.
3. John Danks got his work in.
4. Julio Teheran is throwing more comfortably.
The Marlins are looking for Nathan Eovaldi to improve his secondary stuff.
Giancarlo Stanton still might not see many pitches to hit, writes Clark Spencer.
Stephen Strasburg is set to start.
David Buchanan may be a roster option for the Phillies, writes Matt Gelb.
Francisco Rodriguez arrived at the Brewers’ camp.
Rick Renteria is a student of all phases of the game, writes Mark Gonzales.
The Reds won’t blow up their franchise, says their owner.
Jhonny Peralta is adjusting to the Cardinal way, writes Bernie Miklasz.
The outfield that the Pirates are putting together could be one of the best ever in Pittsburgh, writes Rob Biertempfel.
Eddie Butler is a prospect, not a suspect, writes Woody Paige.
The Giants’ pitchers want to be better at the plate this year.
LaTroy Hawkins wants to pitch in game No. 1,000.
Clay Buchholz has altered his diet, writes Scott Lauber.
Here are some good early signs from the Red Sox, writes Michael Silverman.
Dustin Pedroia has become a great fielder, Brian MacPherson details.
Peter Schmuck writes that the Orioles are not happy with something Brian Cashman said.
The Rays make bold moves, Marc Topkin writes.
Tanaka was really cool, writes Mike Vaccaro.
Byron Buxton is growing up fast, writes Jim Souhan.
Ned Yost is adjusting to a younger generation of players, writes Andy McCullough.
Jerry DiPoto is in a must-win situation, writes Bill Shaikin.
Ryan Divish writes about Danny Hultzen's long road back from shoulder surgery.
George Springer is in the swing of things, writes Evan Drellich.
It’s time for Neftali Feliz to step up and earn his keep, Gil LeBreton writes.
The return of Matt Kemp’s swing.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
GLENDALE, Ariz. – Mark McGwire joined the Dodgers as hitting coach more than a year after Matt Kemp nearly won the Most Valuable Player Award in 2011, and the swing McGwire saw last year was very different from the powerful and unusually high finish McGwire recalled from the past.
McGwire explains it this way: A right-handed hitter drives with his left arm -- his lead arm – and steers with his right. When Kemp was at his best, he had been able to lift and drive the ball to right-center field. But last year, Kemp still seemed to be recovering from the shoulder surgery he had in the fall of 2012, and McGwire never really saw that classic Kemp finish. Rather, his front arm was noticeably lower in his follow-through, and, instead of lifting the ball, he tended to hit looping liners without much carry, a lingering sign that his repaired shoulder was not yet operating at 100 percent.
On Friday morning, before the Dodgers’ exhibition against the White Sox, McGwire saw that old swing again.
It appeared on a nearly empty practice field behind the Dodgers’ facility here. Kemp hit the ball hard in regular batting practice, and then, when some pitchers arrived to throw live batting practice, including Brandon League, Kemp continued to wreck the ball, mashing drive after drive to right-center field. Blasts from the past.
As Kemp finished his session and began collecting his bats, John Valentin -- the Dodgers’ assistant hitting coach -- walked over to where McGwire stood with a reporter and lifted his eyebrows as if to communicate “wow.”
“That was great,” Valentin said.
“Best I’ve seen,” McGwire responded.
Kemp, carrying his equipment, strolled over, smiling broadly. “That,” McGwire said to Kemp, “was awesome.”
“I told you, I’m a beast,” Kemp said. He looked at the reporter and pointed a finger -- like a good-natured reminder -- and said, “Don’t forget that.”
His swing has reappeared, but, because of his troublesome left ankle, there is still the not-so-small matter of the center fielder getting clearance to run outside. Kemp was scheduled to have an MRI Friday, as a checkup, and the Dodgers’ hope is that Kemp will be OK to run soon, to begin the process of rebuilding his legs -- in the way that he is seemingly rebuilding a devastating swing.
Don’t forget that.
Around the league
• On the most recent podcast, Jerry Crasnick and I kicked around the notion that the Mets can win 90 games -- as GM Sandy Alderson reportedly stated at a recent staff meeting -- as well as why someone would leak details from the meeting.
The Mets’ camp feels like "Groundhog Day" to Joel Sherman.
• The Tigers’ Jose Iglesias is dealing with some shin splits, and it’s not good.
• The Mariners are having major rotation problems just as the Rangers are: Hisashi Iwakuma won’t be able to throw for at least three more weeks, and Taijuan Walker can’t throw for another week.
It’s really early, and maybe Iwakuma and Walker will be OK. Plus, maybe Derek Holland and Matt Harrison will bounce back quickly to help out. But it seems as if the AL West is opening up for the Angels, as well as the two-time defending division champs, the Oakland Athletics.
• Alexi Ogando had a rough first outing, and the Rangers’ pitching was generally hit hard.
• Meanwhile, Mike Trout drove in five runs.
• Miguel Sano’s elbow injury might be serious, as Mike Berardino writes.
• Zack Greinke probably won’t pitch in Australia after a mild calf strain, and if you have a conspiracy theory about it, well, my guess is you’re probably right. In the big picture, it’ll be better that Greinke doesn’t go to Australia and become a distraction if he answers honestly about his feeling regarding the trip. And Zack either answers honestly or doesn’t answer. He had no comment on his injury.
• McGwire chatted Friday about elite hitters, about what they see and what they do, the adjustments they make -- and he raved about Hanley Ramirez and his ability to understand what the pitcher is trying to do to get hitters out.
Dings and dents
1. Drew Stubbs is out with an esophagus ailment.
2. Ross Stripling, who threw great early in the Dodgers’ camp, is out with an elbow injury.
3. Jon Niese is rehabbing his shoulder.
4. The Cardinals shouldn’t count on Jaime Garcia, writes Bernie Miklasz.
5. Jack Hannahan had surgery.
Moves, deals and decisions
• J.J. Putz’s future with the D-Backs seems unclear after 2014.
The fight for jobs
• A Giants prospect is a bullpen contender who posted some remarkable numbers: 45 strikeouts, one walk.
• Nyjer Morgan has caught the eye of his manager.
1. A couple of Giants prospects had a good day.
2. Jarrod Parker struggled.
3. Andrew Cashner had a scoreless spring debut.
4. A Red Sox prospect dominated the Twins.
5. Brian McCann homered.
6. Jose Fernandez brought a killer instinct to work on Friday, writes Clark Spencer.
7. Erik Bedard and Heath Bell struggled.
• Masahiro’s splitter will be on display, writes Bob Klapisch.
• Mike Napoli’s approach works.
• Xander Bogaerts is looking to fill a tall order.
• The Yankees are starting slow with Michael Pineda.
• Melky Cabrera talked about his fear over a cancer scare.
• The Jays need a lot to go their way to make the playoffs, writes Bob Elliott.
• Mike Moustakas is trying to find success in the big leagues, writes Andy McCullough.
• Garth Brooks might be dropped from the Royals’ playlist.
• Jose Abreu got his first taste of big league pitching.
• Chris Sale’s confidence is soaring.
• The Rangers’ new bench coach will help Ron Washington, writes Gil LeBreton.
• Scott Feldman has been thrust into a leadership role.
• Jayson Werth has a strong preference for where he will hit in the lineup, writes Brian McNally.
• David Wright beat Eric Sogard in the face of baseball voting.
• So far, so good for Dan Uggla.
• Matt Williams had his managerial debut, and Washington staffers and players were impressed, writes James Wagner.
• Ruben Amaro is not concerned about the Phillies’ rotation.
• The Phillies were not one of the teams that attended the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.
• Tony Cingrani is intense, writes C. Trent Rosecrans.
• Juan Francisco can make a big noise with his bat, writes Tom Haudricourt.
• Scooter Gennett is next in line in trying to win the leadoff spot.
• Pedro Alvarez wants to get better.
• Gerrit Cole wants to get “the feel” back.
• The Diamondbacks’ new hitting coach has won over the team.
• Predictions of another last-place finish has the Rockies in a state, writes Patrick Saunders.
• Dave Roberts has the right stuff for the Padres, writes Kevin Acee.
Monica Barlow, the Orioles’ public relations director, passed away from cancer at age 36. Monica was resolute and stoic about the onset of her cancer, about the treatments and about her prognosis. She is about the same age as my youngest sister, Amelia Lincoln, who was diagnosed with leukemia four years ago and had a cord-blood transplant in the summer of 2012. And while Monica’s cancer was different than Amelia’s, we talked about the challenges that both of them faced.
I didn’t know Monica as well as Peter Schmuck, Roch Kubatko, Brittany Ghiroli or Ken Rosenthal, who did this interview with her.
But I thought she was as tough as any person I’ve met covering sports, and her loss just hurts.
Players, teams in need of strong springs.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Eduardo Perez spoke on the podcast Thursday about how his perspective on spring training changed after Tino Martinez joined the Cardinals in 2002. The numbers don’t count, the wins and losses evaporate once the regular-season starts, but what Perez took away from his time with Martinez was the importance of competing and striving to succeed in every opportunity, regardless of whether any of the results appear in a record book.
Any time you hear that spring training is meaningless, remember that hundreds and hundreds of decisions are being made based on what happens in Florida and Arizona over the next four weeks. Scouts are filling the seats behind home plate and jotting down observations as they prepare for possible acquisitions. Team staffers meet regularly to talk about who looks good and who doesn't. A fringe major leaguer who has a great spring can push his way into the conversation about who makes the team, and a fringe major leaguer who looks awful can find himself in the minor league camp by the middle of March.
New pitches and new swings are tried, and often they’re ditched; sometimes they’re not. Trevor Hoffman discovered his Hall of Fame changeup in a spring training game.
For some players and teams, spring training results could be especially important this year -- not because of the numbers, of course, but because of the direction they indicate. Here are some folks who could use a good spring:
Jayson Stark wrote a piece about how Howard is fully aware of the conversation about him possibly sitting against left-handed pitchers, and he’s not thrilled about it.
Think of Ryne Sandberg in this way: He’s like the auditor who has dropped in to evaluate the performance of the company, unconcerned about history or past varsity letters or awards. His approach has been to identify problem areas and then address them, and the fact is that the Phillies have a right-handed hitting alternative to Howard in Darin Ruf, and Howard is now 34 years old -- not 24. It would be reasonable for Sandberg to decide that some of Howard's troubles against left-handed pitchers are age-related, and to look for other ways to make the Phillies better.
It'll be important, then, for Howard to change the perception of what he can do against lefties -- and do it sooner, rather than later.
You can make a strong case that no young player is under greater pressure than Hamilton right now, given all that he means to the Reds' lineup and offense. He is replacing Shin-Soo Choo at the top of their batting order at a time when evaluators still wonder if Hamilton can be effective hitting from the left side of the plate. Oh, sure, there are young players breaking in all over the place this spring, but Hamilton is not only trying to establish himself in the big leagues, but also bat first in the lineup for a playoff team that has high expectations coming into the season.
If Hamilton hits well this spring, it won't count … but it'll go a long way toward easing some of the concern about him. If he struggles, well, the pressure on him will only increase, perhaps from the inside.
Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton
They were awful last season for the Braves, struggling so badly that both were benched at various times down the stretch. But hitting coach Greg Walker said Wednesday that he is greatly encouraged by the adjustments both have made during the offseason. Uggla has worked to get his legs back under his swing, to keep his weight back and his head from moving so much. Upton also has worked on staying back, and driving down and through the ball.
Success in March for Uggla and Upton will reward them for the alterations, and reinforce the work they’ve done on the mechanics. Repeated failure, on the other hand, has the potential for spinning them off in a tough mental cycle, given what happened last summer.
Texas starting pitchers besides Yu Darvish and Martin Perez
The Rangers are hurting, having lost Derek Holland for a good chunk of 2014 to his knee injury, and Matt Harrison had some back pain early in camp. Maybe Harrison will be OK, and maybe Colby Lewis can bounce back. Maybe Tommy Hanson surprises.
The Rangers need progress among their rotation candidates this month, regardless of who it is. They need positive solutions.
Lewis recently had a good day. The sense of urgency is higher for the Rangers, writes Evan Grant.
He was once the third player taken in the draft, and was an important piece acquired by the Cleveland Indians. And while his struggles make that seem like ancient history, remember, he just turned 23 last month. Bauer has been remaking his mechanics, and while he probably is headed back to the minor leagues, he could probably use a few zeros on the scoreboard to provide some peace of mind that he's moving in the right direction.
He still needs a lot of work, writes Terry Pluto.
He is the most important player on the White Sox other than Chris Sale, given the $68 million the team invested in him during the winter, and everything you hear about him is great, so far: the power, the work ethic, the intensity, the collegiality.
But just keep in mind that he is being asked to climb onto the highest caliber of baseball he’s ever played, and 2014 could be all about adjustments, with some significant struggles. Abreu is said to be really serious about his work, and he certainly understands his importance to the franchise. Some March extra-base hits could relieve some internal strain for a player new to the culture, as well as for the team.
Toronto Blue Jays
They were a deep disappointment in 2013, and beyond the addition of catcher Dioner Navarro, there hasn’t been a lot of winter change to the roster. Mostly, it’s the same group, brought back in the hope that Jose Reyes, Jose Bautista and others can stay healthy. Nothing can really be won in March, but it will be important that the Jays at least play well -- and in particular, pitch well -- to help convince them that they can catch up to the other four teams in the AL East.
Around the league
• Joe Maddon sees value in spring training, as Marc Topkin writes.
• Zack Greinke made an early exit, and as Mark Saxon writes, it seems unlikely he will pitch in Australia.
"We'll see," Greinke said.
At some point soon, the Dodgers figure to announce that Clayton Kershaw will not pitch in Australia.
• More from the podcast: Jayson Stark had some interesting thoughts on the Mike Trout negotiations and what the length of the deal could signal about his future.
• Justin Masterson is optimistic about a multiyear deal with the Indians.
• Ryan Braun clubbed a monster home run in his first at-bat.
• Cliff Lee has plenty left in the tank, writes Bob Brookover.
• Neil Walker has no plans to change from switch-hitting this year.
Dings and dents
1. The Diamondbacks are using caution in the return of Cody Ross.
2. Mike Adams threw off a mound.
3. Shane Victorino says he’ll be ready when it counts, writes Gordon Edes.
4. Gerald Laird had some back spasms.
5. There are no major issues with Jon Niese’s shoulder.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Pirates were thinking about Plan B when they claimed a third baseman on waivers.
2. Travis Sawchik writes about what a lifetime deal for Andrew McCutchen would cost.
3. The Mets need Noah Syndergaard, writes John Harper.
4. Edwin Encarnacion says he's fine playing first base.
5. Carl Pavano retired.
6. Darwin Barney is not surprised that he might be traded. When I saw the rumors about the Yankees perhaps looking at Barney, my first instinct was that Barney isn't really the Yankees' type of player, given his offensive numbers; they like hitters who get on base at a higher clip -- Barney had a .266 OBP last season -- and work the count. On the other hand, former Cubs GM Jim Hendry works for the Yankees, and knows Barney as well as anyone.
1. The Rockies' Jon Gray worked through some butterflies.
2. Derek Jeter returned to game action.
3. David Phelps had a nice outing.
4. Grady Sizemore was back on the field.
5. Kris Medlen kept Miguel Cabrera in the ballpark.
6. Jose Bautista is swinging a hot bat.
7. Rick Porcello is looking to take a step forward this spring.
8. Danny Duffy wasn’t very efficient.
The fight for jobs
1. The competition at first base for the Mets is unusual, writes Tim Rohan.
2. The Rays have limited competition.
3. Here are five Toronto jobs up for grabs, from Brendan Kennedy.
4. Chris Heisey is vying for another opportunity.
• New Oakland closer Jim Johnson has the right stuff, writes Susan Slusser.
• Stephen Vogt will be a welcome sight behind home plate, writes John Hickey.
• An Astros hitter is working on getting more lift.
• A Rangers pitcher suffered from the yips last season.
• Phil Hughes will rely on his curveball, writes La Velle Neal.
• The Tigers have better speed and defense, writes Lynn Henning.
• Jose Quintana is likable, and bankable.
• The Yankees need a memorable farewell tour from Derek Jeter, writes Ken Davidoff.
• Nelson Cruz wants to be in the fire right away.
• Henry Owens may be Boston's best young arm, writes Steve Buckley.
• Martin Prado seeks offensive consistency.
• Justin Morneau is fielding praise, writes Patrick Saunders.
• Cameron Maybin is getting his feet under him.
• Charlie Morton is savoring his new status with the Pirates.
• The Cubs are aiming to win soon, writes Tyler Kepner.
• Jeff Samardzija has a nice big chip on his shoulder.
• Carlos Martinez brings a wow factor, writes Derrick Goold.
• The Nationals are ready to learn, writes Thomas Boswell.
• Derek Dietrich is looking for a different kind of camp, writes Manny Navarro.
• Carlos Marmol is looking for a better mix.
The Dodgers' second base solution.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
It's no secret that the Los Angeles Dodgers think they are the favorites to win the World Series, and with their star-studded roster it's hard to disagree. There's only one problem: They don't have a second baseman.
Yes, they signed Alex Guerrero to a four-year, $28 million deal last fall, but the 27-year-old Cuban hasn't proved himself in spring training, and manager Don Mattingly told me the position is "up in the air." I was in Dodgers camp Friday, and multiple evaluators told me that Guerrero needs extensive time at Triple-A to refine his skills at second base (he played shortstop in Cuba) and regain his timing after not playing at all last year.
The club loves his work ethic and thinks he will be a contributor down the line, but signs point to him beginning the season in Albuquerque. Assuming that's true, the Dodgers need a second baseman. Let's break down the possible alternatives to Guerrero both inside and outside of the organization.
Dee Gordon: He's gained about 20 pounds of strength in his upper body and is trying to prove he can barrel the ball up with authority. He's still a little careless in the field, but if he can cut down on his errors and hit .250 with 30 stolen bases, he would be playable. The club will also give him some reps in center field to increase his versatility down the line.
Chone Figgins: Don't laugh -- there are a lot of people in Dodgers camp rooting for Figgins to be a comeback story. But he is 36 years old, and hasn't been an impact player since 2009. If he makes the club, it will more likely be as a utility guy who can fill in at second, third and left.
Justin Turner: He posted a respectable .275/.319/.388 line over the last two years as a bench player with the Mets, but even though second base is his natural position, the Dodgers think he will be exposed with an everyday job and is more likely to take over the bench role occupied by the departed Nick Punto.
Brendan Harris: He's a decent right-handed hitter but has below-average range at second and third. Similar to Turner, but probably not as good at this point in his career.
If the Dodgers decide that their in-house replacements can't hack it, there are some alternatives outside the organization. Brandon Phillips makes the most sense if the Dodgers were willing to eat his big contract, but I don't think they want to do that. Here are some more realistic possibilities:
Stephen Drew, free agent: He is still on the market, and despite sincere interest from the Mets and a few other teams, a deal has not been reached yet. The Dodgers could probably get him for a one-year deal in the $10 million range, but don't want to give up the draft pick to get him. Furthermore, he has never played second base in the majors and would need some time to adjust. That said, I think he has the baseball acumen to pick up the position quickly and might be the easiest fix.
Nick Franklin, Seattle Mariners: Seattle has been talking to several clubs, including the Rays, Mets, Yankees and Blue Jays, about a possible deal involving Franklin. With Robinson Cano signed for 10 years and Brad Miller the better defender at short, Franklin is available for outfield or bullpen help, and the Dodgers can certainly provide the latter. Franklin and Gordon could certainly at the very least share the position until Guerrero is ready, and Franklin's power would blend nicely with Gordon's speed.
Darwin Barney, Chicago Cubs: In some ways, Barney is the best strategic fit for the Dodgers since defense is his calling card and the Dodgers don't have any elite defenders up the middle. He's expendable in Chicago because the Cubs have a plethora of infield prospects on the horizon -- including Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara -- and he is not a long-term fit there.
The Cubs would need to get a starting pitcher in return, but the Dodgers have some depth in the minors and could certainly find a match.
Scooter Gennett or Rickie Weeks, Milwaukee Brewers: Brewers GM Doug Melvin told me there is a strong possibility that one of these guys is traded by Opening Day. Gennett would be the better fit for the Dodgers because he's a better defender than Weeks.
However, the Brewers control Gennett for a few more years while Weeks has only one year left on his deal (with an $11.5 million vesting option for 2015 if he gets 600 plate appearances), which makes it more likely the Brewers move him. Weeks' power is still there, and he's the kind of guy who could benefit from a change of scenery.
Daniel Murphy, New York Mets: He would be an offensive upgrade, and the presence of Wilmer Flores might make the Mets willing to deal him, but he would further weaken the Dodgers' up-the-middle defense.
Gordon Beckham, Chicago White Sox: Scouts have finally accepted that he is not going to be the star many predicted, and if you can forget about the fact that he was once an elite prospect, he could still be a solid player who could also benefit from getting away from a team and fan base that views him as a disappointment.
Danny Espinosa, Washington Nationals: He lost his everyday job to Anthony Rendon and struck out at an alarming rate in both the majors and minors last year. On the flip side, he wouldn't cost much and has shown he can contribute in the majors, slugging 21 homers in 2011.
If I had to bet, I'd wager that Gordon ends up getting the job on Opening Day since he is the best internal option. If I was in GM Ned Colletti's shoes, I'd be working hard to trade for Franklin, offering up a package leading with Chris Withrow and also including another pitcher (Javi Guerra?), or perhaps a low-level outfield prospect.
Indians should go with Lindor.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Cleveland Indians enter spring training with a classic situation of an incumbent player being pushed by a top prospect. Asdrubal Cabrera is a former All-Star who has been the team's starting shortstop for the past five seasons. Francisco Lindor is a top prospect -- the No. 6 prospect in baseball, according to ESPN's Keith Law -- but is just 20 years old and has played only 21 games above Class A. The plan for Lindor will probably be to give him a half-season of playing time in the minors before even thinking about promoting him to the major league level. But there are more than a few reasons why pushing him to the big leagues for Opening Day and trading Cabrera is the right move for Cleveland.
Most prospects need plenty of seasoning to mature, but Lindor profiles as a player who is capable of making a rapid ascension.
First, he already plays major league quality defense. Projections vary but concur that he will be an asset. That is important, particularly given the plan to convert Carlos Santana to third base. Lindor is also the type of hitter who won't rely on power to succeed. While his power may show up at a later date, Lindor has a good enough batting eye that he should be able to grind out good at-bats in the majors right now. In his minor league career, he has walked 111 times against just 129 strikeouts, and last season he walked more times (49) than he struck out (46). That's kind of a big deal. For reference, just four qualified hitters did that at the major league level last season.
And while Lindor's projections are modest -- his three projections on FanGraphs range from 78-89 wRC+ -- those are actually right about league average. Last season, major league shortstops averaged just an 85 wRC+, with American League shortstops being a tick under that at 84. Combine league average offensive production with plus defense, and you essentially have Elvis Andrus, who has been at least a two-win player in each of his five seasons in The Show. And if Lindor can hit as he is projected to, he will have the chance to be a four-win player right out of the gate.
There is always the chance that he won't hit right out of the gate, but in Terry Francona, Lindor would have a sympathetic manager, as Francona has found himself in this situation before.
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Terry Francona has shown a deft hand with rookies before.
In 2007, the Red Sox were trying to get back to the postseason after the 2006 campaign left them with a sour taste in their mouths. The team was installing highly touted rookie Dustin Pedroia at second base, and he got off to the slowest of slow starts. By the end of April, he was hitting .182 AVG/.308 OBP/.236 SLG, and the calls for Pedroia's removal came often. Francona stuck with Pedroia, though, and he went on to hit .333/.389/.467 for the remainder of the season, win Rookie of the Year, and help the Red Sox win their second World Series trophy in four years. This isn't a prediction for some similar situation involving Lindor, but the point is that Francona has the steady hand to help guide a young player through slumps.
Slumping is what Cabrera did for most of the 2013 season. From 2009 to 2012, Cabrera posted a 110 wRC+ that was fifth-best among qualified shortstops. His numbers might have been better if a fractured forearm hadn't thrown his 2010 season off-kilter. But last season his numbers took a sharp southward turn. He posted just a 95 wRC+, and there is little reason to think that he'll get back to the career-best 119 wRC+ that he posted in 2011.
The first reason: his plate discipline stats. His swing percentages have risen in recent years, to the point that he swings at an above-average number of pitches. That was fine when he was able to make contact at an above-average rate, but last year his contact percentage dropped by more than 4 percent, to the point that it was essentially league average. He was an equal-opportunity misser, as his contact rate dropped on both balls inside and outside the strike zone, and his Z-Contact% (contact percentage for balls in the strike zone) was slightly below average last season.
The offensive decline would be fine if he was contributing positively in other areas, but he isn't. Cabrera has declined as a baserunner. His BsR has declined in each of the past five seasons, from 3.4 in 2009 to minus-2.6 last season. And Cabrera has never been a plus defender. Over the past three seasons, he ranks as the third-worst shortstop by DRS (defensive runs saved), and the absolute worst shortstop by UZR/150 (ultimate zone rate per 150 games). The latter, UZR/150, really puts into perspective just how bad Cabrera has been. It isn't a cumulative measure, but rather is scaled to a 150-game season, and by that measure, Cabrera is by far the worst defensive shortstop -- more than seven runs worse than the second-to-worst.
Infield defense will be especially important for the Indians this season for a couple of reasons. First, their starting pitchers behind Justin Masterson present a variety of question marks, and Masterson himself is a ground ball-inducing dynamo. The Indians will need a steady SS hand defensively, and only Lindor is capable of providing it. Furthermore, as above, the Indians are carrying out a plan to convert catcher Santana into a third baseman. Santana probably won't spend the majority of his time there, but even 50 games where the left side of the infield is a former catcher and an absolute butcher could produce nightmarish sequences.
Santana's transition to the hot corner would go a lot more smoothly if he had Lindor covering for him in the hole.
Finally, Cabrera is set to become a free agent at the end of the season, and there is very little chance that the Indians will re-sign him. They might have the luxury of waiting until the non-waiver trade deadline to move him, but if he tanks out of the gate, they may end up having to cut him and call it a day. Right now, he still has a solid track record, which fuels projections of a bounce-back campaign. If he is traded, there is the risk that he could bounce back and have a good season, but as a small-market team, the Indians need to be aggressive about jettisoning players before they reach their expiration date. And trading him is a move that is made that much easier by the fact that they have a top prospect waiting in the wings. Teams like the Dodgers, Mets and Yankees all have middle-infield concerns, and may be willing to part with a B-level prospect in exchange for Cabrera. And with Cabrera's $10 million salary off the books, the Indians would have the flexibility to upgrade their rotation come midseason if they don't catch lightning in a bottle with one of their fifth-starter candidates -- and they probably won't.
It is never easy to deal an incumbent player, but Cabrera's days are numbered in Cleveland, and Lindor is basically major league-ready. Trading Cabrera and installing Lindor would bring payroll flexibility and improve the team's defense drastically, and the offensive drop-off compared to last season would likely be minimal. Law summed it up succinctly in his profile of Lindor this winter: "I'm not sure what remains for Lindor to learn before he's ready to take over the position in Cleveland."
It takes an aggressive organization to make such a move, but the small-market Indians need to be aggressive if they hope to get back to the postseason.
Tyler Beede on track to be top-five pick.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
I've seen Tyler Beede pitch at least a half a dozen times dating back to the summer before his junior year of high school, and while he's always been good, he'd never put together the single dominating performance where he'd show both stuff and command that would make me feel he was a clear top-10 or top-five pick. He did that on Friday night, an outing against a good lineup (Stanford) that had area scouts walking away saying the same thing: That's the Tyler Beede we've all been waiting for.
Beede has had some ups and downs over his long career as a top amateur prospect; in high school he had average velocity, a good changeup and good feel for his age, with an easy delivery, but in 2013 he started throwing harder with much worse command. Friday night, he had it all, with good downhill plane on a 92-95 mph fastball, holding his velocity throughout his outing. His changeup was once again his out pitch, 80-83 with downward fade to left-handers, but with a little cut to it when he threw it to right-handers, demonstrating a precocious ability to manipulate the baseball. His curveball was his least consistent pitch, but the majority were above-average or better, 80-81 mph with tight rotation and an 11-to-5 break. He stayed ahead of hitters almost the whole night, and his fastball command was the best it's been in years.
Beede works with a full windup and a high leg kick, staying tall and strong over the rubber before his stride forward. He barely rotates his hips, so a lot of that power is coming from his upper body relative to what he gets from his lower half. It's a healthy stride and he finishes really well over his front side, unsurprising for a good overall athlete who showed he can field his position well, too.
Toronto drafted Beede in the first round in 2011, but didn't sign him as the two sides disagreed over several aspects of the negotiations, only one part of which was the money. A reader commented to me that he wished the Jays had ponied up for Beede, but that criticism is unfair, as the Jays did offer more than $2 million (well over slot) to him, a very reasonable sum given the kind of prospect he was at that time. He's going to make more than that in June, however, as it's hard for me to imagine that he's not a top-five pick, with only Carlos Rodon and Tyler Kolek clearly ahead of him at this point, assuming (and hoping) everyone stays healthy. Beede should be in every team's mix from pick No. 3 on, in the same decision set as East Carolina's Jeff Hoffman, whom I saw last week, and UNLV's Erick Fedde, who has come out very strongly this spring.
• The other first-rounder in the Vandy-Stanford series was Cardinal third baseman Alex Blandino, who might be the best pure hitter in the college position player class (not the stiffest competition, I admit). Blandino has a great approach and a simple, clean swing with incredible balance throughout. He has quick, strong hands, rotates his hips well, takes a solid stride while keeping enough of his weight back to drive the ball and has loft in his finish for above-average future power. He had several impressive at-bats, but the long single off the left field wall where he turned around 95 mph like it was a batting practice fastball got everyone's attention. He's got a plus arm at third base, but I've talked to many scouts who think he's a better fit in pro ball at second base because of the scarcity at the latter position; his hands and actions at third were tremendous in both games I saw, but he's a below-average runner and I'd worry about him getting clobbered at second or just lacking enough lateral range to be as valuable a fielder there as he is at third. Given what I know so far of the college bats, he should be a top-15 pick.
• Vanderbilt's Saturday starter, lefty Jared Miller, raised his stock last weekend when he started hitting 93 mph after he was only in the mid-80s last summer on the Cape. I saw some of that velocity, as Miller was 88-92 and showed he can reach back and get 92 when he wants to finish a hitter off, but there's no way Miller is a starter in pro ball with that delivery. He says he has just one breaking ball, but at 74-75 mph it played more like a curveball and at 77-82 it was a true slider, and far more effective in the second category. It's death to lefties, but actually sharp enough that he might get some right-handed hitters by hitting the outside corner. He has a changeup, but barely used it. His delivery is so inconsistent and requires so much effort from his upper half that he won't be able to command anything well enough to work as a starter, although it only takes one team to believe he can start for him to go off the board in the second round.
• Commodores reliever Adam Ravenelle was the better relief prospect, with an above-average fastball/slider combo that should play very well in pro ball against right-handed batters. Ravenelle, from the western suburbs of Boston like Beede, was hitting 93-94 mph, lacking life but getting it in on hitters quickly, while his slider was short and sharp at 84-86, a better weapon right now against left-handed hitters than his straight, too-firm mid-80s changeup. I'd be curious to see if he could start, but the downside is an above-average short reliever.
• We also had an A.J. Vanegas sighting for Stanford, and a good one at that. In 2010, Vanegas turned down money similar to what Beede turned down, but Vanegas' junior year was ruined by a back injury and he redshirted. He was hitting 90-93 mph on Saturday, a little down from his midweek relief outing, and threw just one slider, a dirty 79 mph pitch down and in to strike out a right-handed hitter. The industry remembers him very well from high school, so if he can gradually regain his stuff and stay healthy all year, he'll go pretty high to a team that wants to try to return him to starting.
• Stanford's Austin Slater won't go as high as the other guys I've mentioned here, but he had a couple of hard-hit balls off Beede and does have the raw materials to be a solid prospect as a hitter, with two knocks: His hands leak badly at the plate, which makes the plus power he showed in BP more impressive but means it's not going to show up a lot in games, and he doesn't have a clear position. He was also fighting a sore hamstring, so he DH'd on Friday and didn't play on Saturday. A little work keeping his hands back could reap a nice reward for someone; maybe just for Stanford, as new hitting coach Ryan Garko has overhauled their whole approach to teaching hitting, letting kids pull the ball, even encouraging it, and focusing on the mental side of hitting rather than preaching uniform mechanics.
• I also caught a scrimmage from Vanderbilt recruit Justus Sheffield, a left-handed pitcher whose brother, right-hander Jordan Sheffield, is a freshman at Vanderbilt now (and was nearly a member of the Red Sox), recovering from Tommy John surgery. Sheffield was fair, in preseason form rather than midseason form, 88-91 with average life, showing better command to his arm side than his glove side. His 76-80 mph changeup had good arm speed and a ton of action; his 75-79 mph curveball had two-plane break with tight rotation, but looked slower than its actual velocity. He's more physically mature now than Jordan was at this time last year. His arm also works better than Jordan's thanks to a really long stride. His velocity might improve as he continues to get stretched out for the regular season -- he was limited to just three innings on Saturday -- and could be a solid second-rounder.
Rumors.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Pirates, Brewers kick tires on Carp
March, 3, 2014
By Doug Mittler | ESPN.com
The Pirates and Brewers, two teams in need of an upgrade at first base, are scouting Boston’s Mike Carp this spring.
Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe says the Red Sox could be looking to convince those teams that Carp is capable of being a full-time first baseman after having a big year off the bench. The 27-year-old Carp posted a .296/.362/.523 slash line with nine homers for the Red Sox in 2013.
Carp has never had more than 290 at-bats in a season and could be a platoon in Pittsburgh with the righty-hitting Gaby Sanchez.
As for the Brewers, they have the light-hitting Juan Francisco penciled in that the position, but Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay also are in camp. Milwaukee first basemen hit an MLB-worst .206 last season, so they should be willing to try anything.
Tags:Pittsburgh Pirates, Milwaukee Brewers, Mike Carp
Padres options without Maybin
March, 3, 2014
By Doug Mittler | ESPN.com
The San Diego Padres may be forced to deal with another extended absence involving center fielder Cameron Maybin.
Maybin, who missed all but 14 games in 2013, suffered an injury to his left shoulder making a diving catch in Sunday’s Cactus League game against the Dodgers. He will have an MRI Monday morning, though the initial diagnosis suggests a serious injury, reports MLB.com's Corey Brock.
Will Venable appeared in 80 games in center field last season in place of Maybin and would be the leading candidate to fill in again if the injury is a significant one. Venable would move over from right field, presumably opening up at-bats for Chris Denorfia and/or Seth Smith.
The free agent market for center fielders has dried up, but the Padres could look for a reasonably-priced option to become available later in spring training when teams make cuts. Perhaps the Padres make a stop-gap move and inquire about Sam Fuld, who signed a minor league deal with Oakland but is no guarantee of earning a roster spot.
The Padres so far have little to show for the five-year, $25 million extension they gave to Maybin in March 2012. He has just a .235 BA and .300 OBP in 161 games since the deal.
Tags:San Diego Padres, Cameron Maybin
Future pitching plans in Cincinnati
March, 3, 2014
By Doug Mittler | ESPN.com
Despite their relatively small season ticket base, the Cincinnati Reds have not shied away from giving big contracts to core players, the latest being a six-year, $105 million deal with Homer Bailey at the start of spring training.
The Reds have $382 million in committed money to Bailey, Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips.
Bailey was a year away from free agency when he signed his deal, the same situation that Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Johnny Cueto will have in spring training 2015. The Reds seem open to the prospect to keeping all three, at least publicly. “We’re going to try to sign all these guys,” Castellini tells Jon Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer. “Whether we can or not, I don’t know."
At this point, it makes sense to see how 2014 unfolds for Latos, Leake and Cueto before making any decision on a long-term deal. The Reds are not afraid to let a veteran pitcher walk, as we saw this winter with Bronson Arroyo.
Tags:Cincinnati Reds, Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake
Taveras to open in Triple-A?
March, 3, 2014
By Doug Mittler | ESPN.com
There seems to be a growing suspicion that Oscar Taveras will not end up as an Opening Day outfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals and will instead start the season in the minors.
Taveras, who missed much of last season with a right ankle injury that required surgery, has yet to appear in a Grapefruit League game. “Not gonna do it,” manager Mike Matheny told the Post-Dispatch. “Not until he’s 100 percent and not holding back.”
Taveras is just 21 and was limited to 188 plate appearances last season, so it seems highly unlikely he would come north with the club if he does not get his share of spring training at-bats.
If Taveras does end up in Triple-A, Allen Craig would likely play right field with Matt Adams handling first base. With Taveras in St. Louis, Craig probably moves to first and Adams spends more time on the bench.
If the Cardinals play it safe with Taveras, it could also open a roster spot for prospect Randal Grichuk, who came to St. Louis from the Angels as part of the David Freese deal. Rumor Central’s AJ Mass discussed Grichuk’s chances on Sunday.
Tags:St. Louis Cardinals, Oscar Taveras
Which way do Blue Jays go at SP?
March, 2, 2014
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com
Not a lot seems to be concrete at the back end of the Toronto Blue Jays rotation. This very well could be a case where the pitcher (or pitchers) who perform the best in spring training end up forcing the hand of manager John Gibbons.
According to Gregor Chisholm of MLB.com, Gibbons said prior to Saturday afternoon's game against the Orioles that Drew Hutchison has an "outside shot" at the No. 5 job behind R.A. Dickey, Brandon Morrow, Mark Buehrle and J.A. Happ.
While by no means a vote of confidence, Gibbons statement is a big step forward for Hutchinson's chances. About two weeks ago, Gibbons had said that "it would be ideal if both Hutchison and Kyle Drabek started the season in the minor leagues after not pitching much at all in 2013 following Tommy John surgery."
There are other options the Blue Jays could go with in the rotation. As Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes, "Toronto will have choices to make with veteran righthanders Esmil Rogers and Todd Redmond, starters on the outside looking in... If Drabek falls back to the minors, Rogers or Redmond has a shot."
Then there's the forgotten man in the mix, Ricky Romero. According to Ken Fidlin of the Toronto Sun, "of all the candidates looking to earn a spot in Toronto’s starting rotation, the name you have heard the least is Romero’s. That's how far off the baseball map he has fallen." However, Gibbons appears to be pulling for Romero, "Everybody wants to see him succeed. It would be big for us and big for himself if he is able to pull it off."
Tags:Mark Buehrle, J.A. Happ, R.A. Dickey, Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Drew Hutchison, Kyle Drabek, Esmil Rogers, Todd Redmond
Lester prepared to extend Boston stay?
March, 2, 2014
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com
According to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, the Boston Red Sox and Jon Lester's agents "have already engaged in at least two conversations concerning an extension for the lefty."
As Cafardo writes, "the feeling among GMs is something will get done since (Lester's agents) are gaining the reputation of persuading clients to take under-market-value contracts if they're happy where they are."
So, is Lester happy where he is? As Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston quoted Lester as saying in January, "These guys are my No. 1 priority. I want to be here 'til they rip this jersey off my back."
Position battle: Dodgers 2B
March, 2, 2014
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com
When the Los Angeles Dodgers signed Alex Guerrero to a four-year, $28 million contract, it was assumed that he would be the everyday second baseman for the defending National League West champs. However, the Cuban import has yet to impress enough this spring, and there's even an outside chance Guerrero won't start the season with the major league team.
Alex Guerrero, age 27, bats right
Dee Gordon, age 25, bats left
Guerrero: Rusty from a year's lay-off due to issues surrounding his defection and transition to a new position from his natural shortstop spot in the infield, he hit .290 with 21 homers in his final season in Cuba before fleeing the country.
Gordon: Though he's hit only .227 in limited at-bats over the last two seasons, his base-running prowess (66 career steals) could provide the Dodgers with a reason to keep him in the lineup, assuming he gets on base enough to add to that total in 2014.
Latest update: ESPN.com's Jim Bowden reports that manager Don Mattingly told him the position is up in the air. "I was in Dodgers camp Friday," Bowden writes, "and multiple evaluators told me that Guerrero needs extensive time at Triple-A to refine his skills at second base -- he played shortstop in Cuba -- and regain his timing after not playing at all last year."
Current leader: Clearly it's Gordon, who has already stolen three bases in three attempts this spring. Given how much Guerrero's contract is worth, in the long run, he'll surely find his way onto the Dodgers' roster eventually, but that might take a while. Also on the roster are Chone Figgins, Justin Turner and Brendan Harris, but all three of those players are better suited to bench roles.
Tags:Dee Gordon, MLB position battle, Alex Guerrero
Cardinals OF prospect could stick
March, 2, 2014
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com
Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes Sunday about a young prospect in the St. Louis Cardinals organization that is beginning to turn some heads this spring. However, his name is not Oscar Taveras -- it's Randal Grichuk.
"Officials have described him as one of the 'most impressive' young bats in camp," Goold says of Grichuk. "He's slated to go to (Triple A) as a starter in the outfield, though a right-handed bat with his pop may earn a look for the major-league bench. He could force that discussion."
Grichuk, 22, came to the Cardinals from the Angels as part of the David Freese deal, and has already made an impression on manager Mike Matheny. "He's showing a reason a lot of people have been excited about him. Watching how he moves, how he works, the way he carries himself, consistently taking nice approaches, at-bats — he's a baseball player. He's got some real talent."
Meanwhile, there seems to be a growing feeling that Oscar Taveras might end up starting the season in the minors rather than in the Cardinals outfield. As Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote earlier this week, "Taveras will be a big-league Cardinal in 2014. The question is timing. First, he's coming back from ankle surgery and must show that he's fully functioning.
"Second, it probably makes sense to let him start off at Triple A Memphis. Taveras was supposed to spend much of last season in Triple A but that was ruined by his ankle injury. So yes, a little extra experience would be beneficial."
If Taveras does start the year in the minors, Allen Craig would likely play right field with Matt Adams handling first base. With Taveras in St. Louis, Craig probably moves to first and Adams sees his time severely slashed.
Tags:Oscar Taveras, Randal Grichuk
Who catches for Braves in future?
March, 2, 2014
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com
After losing catcher Brian McCann to free agency, the Atlanta Braves are prepared to go into the 2014 season with Evan Gattis handling the majority of duties behind the plate. However, the organization is making sure they have other options available to them, just in case things don't quite work out as planned.
As Jayson Stark wrote on February 17, "the Braves' tentative plan (manager Fredi Gonzalez said) is for Gattis to catch 110 games or so, and for backup Gerald Laird to catch most of the remaining 50-ish games." And Ryan Doumit's presence on the roster gives the team a lot of flexibility on a game-by-game basis.
However, according to Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com, the Braves are in the process of "finalizing a minor league deal with Cuban catching prospect Yenier Bello. The agreement includes a signing bonus and an invite to spring training."
Interest was very high in the 29-year-old Bello, as the Padres, Mets, Dodgers, Cubs and Blue Jays were all believed to be looking at the prospect, who hit .274 with 13 homers in 2011 before "retiring" following his passport being revoked after a failed defection attempt. Bello eventually was able to leave the country, and worked out for teams in Mexico in November.
The Braves already have catcher Christian Bethancourt, ranked No. 90 in Keith Law's list of the top 100 prospects in baseball, at Double-A. "His calling card is his defense -- perhaps the best in the minors right now -- which is good enough to challenge Yadier Molina's for the best in MLB when the time comes," Law writes.
"At the plate, Bethancourt has plus power, but he's a relentless hacker, with just 78 walks in 1,824 career plate appearances (4.2 percent, if you didn't want to bust out Excel for that), and that lack of patience has held back his ability to get pitches he can drive."
Early observations from spring training
"Dan Uggla is one of the highest-paid Braves and he will get a shot to rebuild his swing, and the early signs are good, as I wrote the other day. But Tommy La Stella has caught the attention of evaluators early on. He’s 25 years old, so his .343 average in Class AA last year has to be put into that context, but his history is that he hits everywhere he goes. La Stella has been fine in the field, as well. If Uggla doesn’t bounce back, La Stella could be an option at second base down the road."
Tags:Atlanta Braves, Ryan Doumit, Christian Bethancourt, Gerald Laird, Evan Gattis, Yenier Bello
Will Guerrero win Dodgers' 2B job?
March, 1, 2014
By Joe Kaiser | ESPN.com
It's only the start of Spring Training, but already there are doubts that Cuban infielder Alex Guerrero will be the Dodgers' Opening Day second baseman.
A three-time All-Star in his native country, the former shortstop was signed to a four-year, $28 million deal and is now being asked to learn a new position on the fly.
Ken Gurnick of MLB.com wrote Friday that Guerrero hasn't exactly separated himself from the field.
"Plan A hasn't worked out to perfection, as a rusty Guerrero has struggled making the defensive conversion," he wrote. "When a winter ball crash course for Guerrero was derailed by hamstring issues, the Dodgers scrambled and signed experienced Minor League free agents Brandon Harris, Chone Figgins, Justin Turner and Miguel Rojas in what has become a full-blown tryout camp with the season rapidly approaching."
Guerrero's main competition could come in the form of another former shortstop, Dee Gordon.
"Guerrero and Gordon figure to be the preferred choices because they are already on the Major League roster and they're young (27 and 24, respectively)," Gurnick explained. "That doesn't mean one or more of the non-roster invitees won't make the club as a starter or utilityman, only that they would require another player coming off the 40-man roster."
Remember, too, that the Dodgers begin the season early with two games against Arizona in Australia on March 22. Guerrero's chances of winning the job will come down to how much he can improve defensively over the next couple weeks. If he shows promise and makes strides, he'll probably get it. If not, he may start the season at Triple-A Albuquerque.
Tags:Los Angeles Dodgers, Dee Gordon, MLB, Insider, Alex Guerrero
Who leads off in Milwaukee?
March, 1, 2014
By Joe Kaiser | ESPN.com
Who'll lead off for Milwaukee in 2014? Fernando Vina isn't walking through that door, Brewers fans. But luckily, there are plenty of options to work with as the team looks for a replacement for Norichika Aoki.
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke told the Associated Press Friday that he'd take a look at Rickie Weeks, Scooter Gennett and Jean Segura in the leadoff spot this spring, and perhaps Carlos Gomez once in a while.
Gennett led off Friday against San Francisco, and has to be considered the early favorite along with Segura. Neither strikeout as much as Weeks and Gomez, or possess quite as much power. What Segura has that Gennett doesn't, though, is the ability to steal a base; his 44 steals were fourth-best in all of baseball last season, while Gennett had just two.
Gomez figures to be one of the team's biggest run producers along with Ryan Braun, and therefore must be viewed as a serious longshot.
Weeks, meanwhile, has proven to have serious difficulties in the leadoff spot. He batted just .197 (13-66) as the Brewers' leadoff hitter last season and .176 (10-91) in 2012, and he's probably suited for the 8-hole whenever he's in the lineup.
Tags:Milwaukee Brewers, MLB, Insider
Added pressure on Plouffe?
March, 1, 2014
By Joe Kaiser | ESPN.com
Following the news Saturday morning that top Minnesota prospect Miguel Sano will need season-ending Tommy John surgery, the safety net is gone for Trevor Plouffe, who is coming off a poor 2013 season.
Plouffe raised his average from .235 to .254 last season, but it came at a cost. His power numbers fell considerably, going from 24 home runs in 2012 to 14.
“I think this is a big year for [Plouffe],” Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony told the Star Tribune before the extent of Sano's injury was known. “Defensively, he has shown flashes. Defensively, he’s improved some. I think he still has room to improve. He works at it every day. I think he wants it, and I think he’s starting to learn how to become a good major league player.
“He knows Sano is behind him. That’s fine, because Miguel has some things he needs to work on, and this is an opportunity for Trevor to establish himself. If he proves he’s a good major league player we will find a spot for him. If Sano is ready to come, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for Trevor and Sano. This is a big year for Trevor, and he’s an important part of this lineup because he has the ability to drive in runs and keep the chains moving. We need that.”
One thing to watch: Plouffe is reportedly bulked up this spring, which may actually be detrimental to his defense. Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune wrote earlier this week: "... If he wants to have a big-league career, he needs to become quicker and more alert at third base. He doesn't anticipate well and he lacks initial quickness, which is why so many seemingly catchable balls fly by him."
Tags:MLB, Insider, Tyler Plouffe
Green light for Goins?
March, 1, 2014
By Joe Kaiser | ESPN.com
How much of a competition will there be for the starting job at second base for Toronto this spring?
Not much of one, it turns out.
It will go to 26-year-old Ryan Goins over veteran Maicer Izturis, according to Jays manager John Gibbons.
"Goins is our guy right now," Gibbons said on Friday, per Gregor Chisholm of MLB.com. "We want to see him do his thing. There's always a chance. Opening Day is [Tampa Bay's] David Price so maybe you'd rather have a righty facing him, that could always be a possibility. But we're giving Goins every opportunity to be the guy."
The left-handed hitting Goins is known more for his steady glove than his bat, and will likely bat ninth. Izturis will fill the role of utility infielder, capable of backing up at second base, third base or shortstop.
All this is subject to change, of course, and according to ESPN Insider Keith Law's assessment of Goins over the winter, it very well could. In his breakdown of the Jays' farm system back in late January, Law described Goins as a player who "may stick as a utility infielder."
For now, though, second base is his.
Tags:MLB, Insider, Ryan Goins
Is Nick Franklin helping his trade value?
March, 1, 2014
By Joe Kaiser | ESPN.com
They say Spring Training stats don't matter, and while that may very well be true, they might matter when it comes to Nick Franklin and his future.
Franklin, one of Seattle's top hitting prospects over the last several years, lost his second base job to Robinson Cano over the winter, and with Brad Miller being the superior defender at shortstop, recent speculation has the Mariner entertaining offers for Franklin. The Tampa Bay Rays and New York Mets are among the rumored suitors.
But after Franklin belted a pair of home runs in recent days (one in an intrasquad game), the question is rapidly becoming whether it's getting easier -- or harder -- for the M's to part with their first round pick in the 2009 draft.
It certainly can't hurt his trade value. A power-hitting middle-infielder who hits from both sides of the plate is not easy to come by, and Franklin could be the solution to another team's problem.
But Franklin's bat could also end up being too much to keep out of Seattle's lineup, particularly if Miller struggles or Dustin Ackley doesn't show more pop in left field. To this point, it appears that the outfield isn't a serious option, but one must wonder if that could be Franklin's best fit in Seattle.
If Seattle does ultimately trade Franklin, it's important that they receive something of equal value back in return, with outfield and starting pitching being two areas of need. Jason A. Churchill of CBS's 1090 The Fan in Seattle recently provided an excellent breakdown of some of the rumored players the M's may be targeting, including OF Juan Lagares, RHP Rafael Montero and 1B/3B Wilmer Flores of the Mets and RHP Jeremy Hellickson, RHP Alex Colome and CF Desmond Jennings of the Rays.