Giants Mota Suspended for 100 Games. Smh
@ his representative saying it was cough medicine that contributed to a positive test.
One again...Lord Stanley Resides In The Windy City.
One again...Lord Stanley Resides In The Windy City.
With the Rule 4 draft now just under four weeks away, I'm expanding my rankings of the best prospects in this year's draft class to 100 names, including some pretty significant changes within the top 100. As always, these rankings are based on my evaluations of players and those of my colleague Kiley McDaniel and of conversations with evaluators from MLB clubs over the past several months. I'll update the rankings one more time before the draft to reflect late changes (such as injuries).
These rankings are not a projection of who's going to be drafted where. They reflect my opinion of who the best players are, in order. My first projection of the first round -- matching players to teams -- will appear here on Tuesday, May 15. For the curious, if I had to produce such a list today, I'd have Byron Buxton going first overall to Houston, Kyle Zimmer second to Minnesota and Mike Zunino third to Seattle.
Click on the player's name for a full scouting report. Those reports will be updated regularly, so be sure to check back for updates.
High school: Appling H.S., Baxley, Ga.
Analysis: He's still on top of most scouts' individual preferred lists, with game-altering speed, an incredibly athletic body, a plus arm and a swing that produces a lot of contact and should lead to future power, although he has just one home run this spring. He's risky and no lock to go first overall, but a player who earns comparisons to Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, Josh Hamilton and other superstars has to be a strong consideration up top.
Previous ranking: 1 | 1
High school: Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Santa Isabel, P.R.
Analysis: A strong showing at last week's Tournament of Excellence helped Correa's cause, as does the fact he's a true 17-year-old with big power potential who should have no trouble staying in the infield.
Previous ranking: 5 | 6
Analysis: I could make a case for Gausman, Mark Appel or Kyle Zimmer as the top college arm, but Gausman is flashing two plus secondary pitches now and getting ground balls and has the velocity to match the other guys, not to mention better results as a sophomore in the nation's best conference.
Previous ranking: 6 | 5
Analysis: He's still the best college bat in this draft, but that he's hitting .244 AVG/.314 OBP/.456 SLG in the SEC (and doesn't have to face his staff) isn't helping his case.
Previous ranking: 2 | 7
High school: Harvard-Westlake, Santa Monica, Calif.
Analysis: Scouts love this guy -- more than one national guy has told me he'd consider Fried at No. 1 overall. Highly projectable, athletic lefty who can really spin a breaking ball.
Previous ranking: 9 | 8
Analysis: For various small reasons, industry sentiment on Appel seems to have cooled slightly, and I don't think it's a coincidence that it started the week after he threw 149 pitches against Oregon on April 13.
Previous ranking: 3 | 3
Analysis: He missed his last start with a hamstring strain; didn't have the same plus velocity the three starts before that. One to watch when he returns, as he could move up or down quickly.
Previous ranking: 4 | 18
High school: Harvard-Westlake, Santa Monica, Calif.
Analysis: He's missed most of the season with a minor elbow injury. If the medicals check out, and early indications are that his elbow is as "fine" as can be under the circumstances, I think he'll go off the board pretty high. A fully healthy Giolito probably would have been atop this list.
Previous ranking: 11 | 2
High school: Carroll H.S., Corpus Christi, Texas
Analysis: There have been consistent reports that Hawkins has improved as a hitter this spring, particularly in his approach. I see some risk and some aspects of the swing to try to smooth out or quiet down, but there's explosiveness here that only Buxton can match.
Previous ranking: 18 | 25
Analysis: Shaffer is the second-best college bat, behind Zunino. He actually has more offensive upside than Zunino, but at third base rather than behind the plate. He needed to improve his game this year and has done so.
Previous ranking: 12 | NR
Analysis: The best college lefty in the draft could go in the single digits; he's not that physical but otherwise checks all the boxes, including outstanding results with 109 strikeouts and just 19 walks in 93 innings in the strong Big 12 this year.
Previous ranking: 19 | NR
Analysis: His swing mechanics are way off from last year, but he can still play short, and I think the makeup questions are somewhat overblown; you don't go from great makeup as a sophomore to iffy makeup as a junior. A shortstop who can hit a little is a valuable thing.
Previous ranking: 7 | 4
High school: Hagerty, H.S., Oviedo, Fla.
Analysis: He missed time with a triceps strain, but told me via Twitter that he will be taking the mound on Tuesday night. Assuming the medicals check out, this is what a high school righty should look like.
Previous ranking: 15 | 23
Analysis: He hasn't produced the power scouts wanted to see, but much of that is because of Stanford's coaching staff preaching a rigid hitting style, not any lack of ability.
Previous ranking: 13 | 11
Analysis: A relatively "safe" college starter with an out pitch changeup; his breaking ball hasn't developed to the point he'd be a top-10 pick on talent, although he could go there anyway because of his high probability.
Previous ranking: 16 | 10
Analysis: There is a lot of industry speculation on Stroman going in the top half of the round and reaching the majors later this year as a three-pitch reliever who'd likely be a huge fan favorite -- but I'd still love to see him get a chance to start.
Previous ranking: 23 | 36
High school: Barbe H.S., Lake Charles, La.
Analysis: He's the younger brother of Red Sox third-base prospect Garin Cecchini and is a better fielder and a better hitting prospect, likely to go in the 11-20 range in a draft that doesn't have many strong middle-infield prospects.
Previous ranking: 14 | 13
High school: Pace H.S., Pensacola, Fla.
Analysis: He looks sharp, with a trimmed-down body that plays today at shortstop, although it may have cost him some present power. I still see a power-hitting third baseman with great hands as his body matures, with some slight star potential.
Previous ranking: 20 | 26
High school: Oak Mountain H.S., Birmingham, Ala.
Analysis: His up-and-down spring ended up on a slight up note, although his team missed the playoffs, ending his season on the early side. His solid set of tools points to an above-average regular but not a star.
Previous ranking: 29 | 16
High school: Northwest Carrabus H.S., Concord, N.C.
Analysis: Kyle's younger brother is already bigger and stronger than his major league sibling; he'll move to third in pro ball but the bat clearly profiles there, as does the defensive package.
Previous ranking: 35 | 35
Analysis: He leads the SEC in strikeouts with 74; Gausman has 70, and no other pitcher has more than 48. Stratton does it easy with a knockout slider but will have to show he can pitch more off his fastball in pro ball.
Previous ranking: 25 | NR
High school: Bishop Gorman H.S., Las Vegas
Analysis: He has the best raw power in the draft with some questions about his ability to make enough contact to get to it. (That is, you have to hit first to hit for power.) Would go higher if he was willing to pitch, but he's not, so maybe we should stop talking about it.
Previous ranking: 22 | 12
High school: Acadiana H.S., Lafayette, La.
Analysis: His performance hasn't been great this year, particularly in receiving, but it's a strong set of tools offering the upside of a solid-average defender behind the plate whose offense would profile at many other positions.
Previous ranking: 21 | 15
High school: Jesuit H.S., Tampa
Analysis: Improvements to his delivery have resulted in substantially better command this spring, to the point scouts see a 25-60 percent chance (depending on who you ask) of him remaining a starter in pro ball -- a percentage that was pretty much zero when the season began.
Previous ranking: 41 | NR
As clubs continue to move names around their draft boards, those names are jockeying for position, including those expected to be selected in the first round. Whether or not the Houston Astros, owners of the No. 1 overall pick, ultimately call the name of a college starting pitchers or a prep player with superstar upside will remain unclear until the moment it is announced, but there appear to be some battles under way amongst the college bats.
Florida catcher Mike Zunino, despite some recent struggles, remains the No. 1 college position player in the class and is by far the No. 1 catcher available. Prep backstops Stryker Trahan (Acadania High School, La.) and Calallen High School (Texas) star Wyatt Mathieson are next in line, but at the college level, the drop-off is quite large.
Senior Peter O'Brien, a third-round pick last June, has had a big year at the plate -- .354/.465/.677 with 18 homers and a plus-two walk-to-strikeout ratio -- but questions remain whether the Miami Hurricane can stick behind the dish.
Buffalo's Tom Murphy has plus power but scouts wonder if he could hit for enough average to warrant playing every day. He's sitting at .316/.404/.586 with 27 extra-base hits. "His swing has length to it that I'm just not convinced would hold up against pro arms," opined an American League area scout.
TCU's Josh Elander began the year as a catcher among the top 100 talents, but not many believe he'll catch at the next level, despite some improvements this spring. Kennesaw State's Ronnie Freeman, Purdue's Kevin Plawecki and NAIA star Dane Phillips from Oklahoma City College join Elander, Murphy and O'Brien as second-day picks.
One lingering question with Zunino is his struggles in conference play, suggesting he's put most of his numbers up versus non-conference foes. He went 1-for-11 at Kentucky this past weekend, dropping to .320/.376/.629 for the year. In conference play Zunino enters next weekend's series versus Mississippi State batting .244/.314/.456 against the SEC, which on the surface might be telling. A deeper look, however, suggests Zunino has fared just fine against the best of competition.
• One fun race is the two top college bats after Zunino; Clemson's Richie Shaffer and Stanford's Stephen Piscotty. Shaffer has the advantage in performance and he has a shot to stick at third base. Most scouts see Piscotty moving to left field -- which is where he has played lately for the Cardinal -- but they love his strength and ability to let pitches get deep before he unleashes.
"For me," one national crosschecker explained, "Stephen has the [slightly better] bat going forward. He's strong, goes the other way and projects a bit more than Shaffer. Shaffer I can see as the better overall player, though. He's looked better at third base. Let's put it this way -- I've seen worse on big league clubs."
Both players are expected to be first round selections.
Versus "Friday" starters or those generally expected to be selected in the first two rounds or so come June 4-5, Zunino is batting .327/.389/.551, and that includes games facing LSU's Kevin Gausman, Georgia's Alex Wood and Arkansas' Ryne Stanek and D.J. Baxendale.
Conversations centered on Zunino almost always include the words "strength," "leadership" and "makeup," which probably keeps him in the top 5 regardless of his performance.
• It doesn't appear Florida's Nolan Fontana has any shot to catch Arizona State's Deven Marrero as the top college shortstop in the class. Neither player had a good weekend at the plate, but while Fontana has an advantage in 2012 performance, two crosscheckers hinted recently that the two players aren't all that close in talent.
On the mound
• The college arms race continues with the "big three" -- Stanford's Mark Appel, LSU's Kevin Gausman and San Francisco's Kyle Zimmer all failing to wow scouts in attendance Friday night, but pitching well enough to hold serve. The second tier, potentially led by Texas A&M right-hander Michael Wacha, is where more movement could take place.
Mississippi State's Chris Stratton tossed seven shutout innings at Alabama, striking out six and allowing seven hits without a base on balls. Oklahoma State Andrew Heaney went the distance versus Oklahoma, yielding three hits and a walk while fanning seven, The southpaw was efficient, too, needing just 106 pitches -- 74 strikes -- to put away the Sooners.
Heaney lacks the projectable body of Wacha and even Stratton as he measures at 6-foot-2 and 175 pounds. His present stuff, however, suggests a No. 2 or 3 starter, and he's likely a first-round pick. At this stage, Wacha looks like the fourth best college starter, followed by Heaney and then a combination of Stratton, Duke's Marcus Stroman, Florida's Brian Johnson and Georgia's Alex Wood. Missouri State's Pierce Johnson returned to the mound late in April and started Sunday, lasting six innings. He was out for three-plus weeks with a sore forearm but is back on the map and could threaten the first round.
The buzz on the prep scene is that Harvard-Westlake right-hander Lucas Giolito, who started a throwing program last week, may be able to pitch from a mound for clubs prior to the draft and that the results of those sessions could catapult the flamethrower back into the conversation for the top five or six picks& There is one club in the National League that appears to prefer Giolito's teammate Max Fried over the top three college pitchers, and was among those impressed by the showing of infielder Carlos Correa in Puerto Rico last week. "Honestly, we don't know what we're doing," said the club's assistant GM. "We're going to let out [scouts] continue to compile information for us and then we'll come up with something by draft day. It's a long process and we're all looking forward to the final meetings."
At the end of last year, the Detroit Tigers had finished a healthy 15 games ahead of the second-place Cleveland Indians, but that race wasn't without some nail-biting in Detroit. Despite a strong 95-67 final record, the Tigers spent the first half of the season hovering just above .500 and didn't wake up in the morning in first place until the middle of June.
Detroit was heavily favored to repeat going into the season (and justifiably so), but the American League Central's looking like a real race rather than an extended warm-up for October. While winning the division seemed a real uphill climb for the Indians or Chicago White Sox back in March, several things that needed to happen to give the division's best also-rans a shot have started to come together.
So what made Detroit so vulnerable?
Dunn and Chicago seemed a match made in heaven, with Dunn a perfect defensive player for designated hitter and U.S. Cellular Field a comfortable home for power hitters. While Dunn's low batting average, lots of walks and power profile suggested that he wouldn't age well, at 31 his decline should have still been a few years off. Instead, he had arguably the biggest drop-off year in baseball history (it was the biggest drop from two-year OPS going back to 1900), finishing the season slugging .277.
Rios had a similar stinker of a season, hitting .227 AVG/.265 OBP/.348 SLG and escaping notoriety only because of being overshadowed by Dunn's worse season.
All told, Dunn and Rios combined to finish five wins below replacement in 2011. Replacement level is set at the level of freely available players, meaning that plugging a couple minor league non-prospects in the lineup instead would have been enough to push the Sox from 79 to 84 wins last year.
If Dunn and Rios could simply play like league-average players in 2012, that would represent a nine-game swing from last season's performances and a solid jolt to Chicago's chances. (A league-average WAR is right around 2.0.) Thanks to Dunn's nine home runs, the pair has already combined for almost a win already, with 80 percent of the season to go, which means they are on their way.
After making his first All-Star Game and nabbing his first Silver Slugger a season ago, Asdrubal Cabrera has kept right on hitting in 2012. He's probably not going to end the season hitting .333/.411/.548, though the .342 batting average on balls in play that is fueling that line isn't outlandish.
Cabrera's projection going into the season, .275/.333/.422, has been recalculated by the ZiPS projection system at .280/.343/.432 the rest of the way, practically identical to his 2011 season. Signed through 2014 at a total of just $21 million, the Indians have the best shortstop in the division at pennies on the dollar.
The back of Detroit's rotation was one of the team's bugaboos for most of the first half last year, and even with Drew Smyly's amazing 1.61 ERA after five major league starts and a strikeout rate even better than Justin Verlander's, it's still an issue going forward. Rick Porcello still hasn't taken that step forward that's been predicted for years; Jacob Turner is coming off shoulder issues; and Andy Oliver has been walking batters by the dozen.
Doug Fister and, more importantly, Fister's changeup are back in Detroit, and Max Scherzer's 3.85 FIP is much lower than his 6.32 ERA, which suggests he has been the victim of some bad luck. But bad things happen to pitchers, and Detroit is walking a very fine line. Keith Law had the Tigers as the 24th-ranked farm system, so pulling out a miracle acquisition in July will be tough.
The only consolation here is that the Indians' and White Sox's farm systems ranked even worse.
This is perhaps a more intangible factor, but Kenny Williams' position as general manager in Chicago looks more precarious than ever, and the departure of former manager Ozzie Guillen was, in some respects, Williams' last "Get Out of Jail Free" card. Williams has always been an aggressive GM when the opportunity has presented itself -- with mixed results -- and if the Sox remain in striking distance in a couple months, he's not going to pass up an interesting transaction.
Not many teams would have been audacious enough to bring in Manny Ramirez after nobody wanted him or been willing to take a chance on Rios' entire contract. These moves frequently don't work out, but the Tigers won't be able to count on Chicago playing passive.
The Gambler's Fallacy is the name assigned to the tendency of some gamblers to believe that luck mystically balances out good fortune with an extra bit of bad fortune just to keep the odds even. It's a little like believing in the Tooth Fairy, though the Tooth Fairy at least pays off in currency (I once received a Nintendo game).
After a 2.24 ERA in 2011 and 49-for-49 in save opportunities, Jose Valverde has already blown two saves and sports an ERA just on the good side of 6. With a FIP of 5.32, he's really pitching that poorly, walking nearly six batters a game.
Valverde's velocity isn't down, but he's just been too darn hittable, with batters making contact on 81 percent of swings and only 9 percent of his pitches resulting in swinging strikes, both career-worsts for the Tigers' closer.
When Sergio Santos went to the Toronto Blue Jays and Chris Sale went to the rotation, the Pale Hose pen was a little on the light side. But with Addison Reed's early performance (no runs and 12 strikeouts in nine innings) and scattered contributions from Zach Stewart and Nate Jones, the bullpen has been better than it had any right to be.
Sale's return to the bullpen is one my least favorite moves of the year, but he's a significant upgrade at closer compared to Hector Santiago, who has been serially unable to keep the ball down this year. Dylan Axelrod was moved to the rotation to replace Sale, but he was optioned to Triple-A Charlotte after turning in a "meh" start for the White Sox last Sunday. Before that start, Axelrod struck out 26 batters and walked four in 25 innings at Charlotte.
Detroit's lineup was supposed to make up for any pitching shortcomings, but at ninth in the AL in runs the Tigers are not a 90-win team. Even if Prince Fielder can repeat his 2011 in a rather dismal park for a plodding slugger, the lineup has a number of holes (second base, left field, right field) dragging down some good starts by most of the front-line hitters.
Brennan Boesch has been completely lost at the plate, and Delmon Young has done a better job hitting people than baseballs this year. What makes it all worse is the team can't really absorb a loss because of injury by any of its starters, with so little depth that the team already resorted to experimenting with 31-year-old journeyman Brad Eldred before April was out.
Having finished ninth in the AL in runs in 2011, Cleveland really needed to add one more bat to last year's lineup. The Tribe was hoping that Grady Sizemore would get healthy or Shin-Soo Choo would bounce back or Casey Kotchman would repeat his surprising 2011. Instead, the key to the Indians' early-season surge has been Jason Kipnis ' continual power development.
From moderate power in the minors, Kipnis has now hit 12 homers in 275 MLB plate appearances, a 26-homer pace (per 600 PA). ZiPS projects Kipnis to finish the season at .266/.333/.442 with 20 homers, terrific production for a second baseman who can handle the position, and it would live up to the team's expectations after drafting him in the second round in 2009.
Projecting the rest of the season using ZiPS, Detroit remains the favorite, with odds of winning the division right at 50/50, which is down from its preseason odds of 71 percent.
The Tigers still have plenty of time to put everything together and the benefit of having Verlander pitch every fifth game, but the playoffs are no longer a given, as they have allowed the White Sox and Indians to hang around and be real contenders in the division race.
Solving The Middlebrooks-Youkilis Dilemma.
Will Middlebrooks is making Kevin Youkilis easy to forget. The 23-year-old top prospect has taken the world by storm as Youkilis’s injury replacement. Even in taking an 0-for-4 in Wednesday’s loss to the Royals, Middlebrooks owns a .520 wOBA on the back of four doubles and three home runs in six games. It has been an incredibly exciting debut for Boston and fans of young players in general, one that of course raises the question: what happens when Kevin Youkilis returns?
Ben Cherington has already shot down one popular solution: moving Middlebrooks to the outfield. With Carl Crawford out much longer than expected, there will be a bit of shallowness to the Red Sox outfield even upon Jacoby Ellsbury‘s return. Playing Middlebrooks in a corner would allow the Sox to platoon Cody Ross and Ryan Sweeney in the other, which was the likely plan for the duo heading into the season. If Middlebrooks’s bat is real at all, it’s quite likely an improvement on running Darnell McDonald or Marlon Byrd (and his -1 wRC+) out there on daily basis. Middlebrooks is projected for a .251/.286/.420 line (.309 wOBA) by ZiPS, and his fast start between Triple-A and MLB could be reason to believe he can do even better. Byrd and McDonald are each projected for .306 wOBAs, but McDonald hasn’t played that well since 2010 and Byrd, again, has a -1 wRC+ this season.
Middlebrooks should be able to outhit both of them. He would, however, need time to learn the position — he’s never played it professionally — a potential detriment to his development as a hitter. Considering this and the fact that McDonald and Byrd would likely be superior defenders, the gain seems minimal. The Red Sox apparently agree, and that leaves us back at square one: who plays third base upon Middlebrooks’s return?
The option of keeping both on the roster is unrealistic. At just 23 and in the midst of his fifth professional season (fourth full), Middlebrooks needs consistent at-bats regardless of the level he is assigned. Similarly, keeping Youkilis and his $12 million contract on the roster as a bench bat isn’t a plausible solution either, both due to the money and that Youkilis, despite his early season slump, is probably still a better hitter than Middlebrooks. Even in last year’s down campaign, Youkilis managed a 126 wRC+ and hasn’t been worse than 124 since 2006. Middlebrooks could be a good hitter already this season, but asking him to put up a 125 wRC+ as a 23-year-old rookie with just 100 PAs at Triple-A is a tall order. Just seven third basemen have hit that well at 23 or younger since 2000: Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Troy Glaus, Pablo Sandoval, David Wright, Evan Longoria and Eric Chavez.
Still, if the Red Sox could get average to above-average third base production out of Middlebrooks, they’d be well served to shop Youkilis, as his contract should fetch value. Beyond the $12 million this season, the Red Sox also hold an extremely attractive $13 million club option with just a $1 million buyout. With a low-risk shot at holding Youkilis for two years, Boston could conceivably bring in pieces for both the present and future. Specifically, the Sox could use another corner outfielder or any sort of useful pitching arm — most likely in the bullpen unless they are bent on replacing Clay Buchholz, Feilx Doubront or Dan Bard (or decide to move one of them to the pen).
Of potential playoff contenders in need of a corner infielder, Cleveland, Milwaukee, the Dodgers and the White Sox immediately come to mind, and perhaps Philadelphia depending on Ryan Howard‘s progression or willingness to move Placido Polanco to second base. More suitors could easily crop up in the next few weeks as well.
Given the drama already forming between Bobby Valentine and Kevin Youkilis, a trade may have been inevitable. However, the presence of Middlebrooks as a legitimate option at third base gives the Red Sox an excellent opportunity to turn this negative into a positive and fill gaps at areas of greater need. Boston should consider themselves lucky — the injury to Youkilis, opening the door for Middlebrooks, may lead to an even better Red Sox team in 2012 and beyond.
Jed Lowrie has arrived. After four injury riddled seasons with the Boston Red Sox, the 28-year-old shortstop is experiencing a breakout year with the Houston Astros. Lowrie’s performance makes him one of the most exciting players on a Houston team devoid of talent. While health has always been an issue, Lowrie is proving that he’s a player the team may want to build around.
In his brief moments of health, Lowrie has shown some impressive skills. He has always shown patience at the plate, and he managed to cut his strikeout rate in his past two seasons with the Red Sox. Even though his .338 BABIP is due for some regression, there’s reason to believe Lowrie is still on his way to a career-best season.
So far, Lowrie is walking more (12.9% to 10.0%) and striking out less (15.8% to 18.5%) often. When he has made contact, Lowrie is spraying line drives all over the field. While his 22.4% line drive rate seems high, Lowrie’s career performance in the category is 19.4%. His ground ball and fly ball rates have also remained somewhat similar to his career rates.
Those small changes may not explain why Lowrie has experienced success this season, but a look at his PITCHf/x plate discipline numbers is encouraging. Lowrie has taken a much more patient approach at the plate this season, as all of his swing percentages are down this year. But Lowrie isn’t coming up to the plate looking for a walk, either. He seems to be waiting for a pitch he can hit — a strategy that seems to be working out well early on.
Because while Lowrie’s swing percentages may be down, all of his contact rates are up. So while he’s being pickier, he’s making solid contact with the pitches he swings at. And as his 6.1 SwStr% shows, he’s whiffing at fewer pitches this season. This strategy could be part of the reason for Lowrie’s strong line-drive rate.
There’s been a little bit of luck involved too, as Lowrie’s F-Strike% is down quite a bit this season. Since pitchers are throwing him fewer first-pitch strikes, there’s a good chance he’s getting in more hitters counts than usual and he’s taking advantage of them. Since there’s no reason for pitchers to avoid throwing Lowrie strikes, it might be something he’ll have to adjust to as the season goes on.
The problem is, we can’t be sure how long this will last. Lowrie has never received more than 341 plate appearances in the majors, due to injuries. Between a broken wrist, mononucleosis and a separated shoulder, Lowrie can’t seem to shake the injury bug.
Injuries have also made it difficult to judge Lowrie as a defensive player. Lowrie has received mixed results, according to UZR over his career. While he rated well in his first two seasons at the position — compiling a 10.0 UZR — he dropped to below-average during his past two. Lowrie’s gotten off to a great start defensively, compiling a 3.4 UZR already, but he cannot depend on that as an accurate reading right now.
ZiPS is well aware of Lowrie’s injury issues, forecasting only 282 more plate appearances for him for the rest of the year. But even if he plays average defense going forward, ZiPS projects that he’ll finish the season with 3.3 WAR — a figure that would have made him the Astros’ best hitter last season.
While trading for a player with such an extensive injury history is a risk, the Astros saw Lowrie’s true talent. For a team desperate for impact players, taking a shot on a low-risk, high-reward player like Lowrie was a smart decision.
After suffering through an abysmal 2011 season, White Sox designated hitter Adam Dunn is off to a fantastic start this year.
Last season, the 31-year-old Dunn put up a career-low .266 weighted on-base average (wOBA), or 59 wRC+, in nearly 500 plate appearances. His on-base percentage — which normally was a strength for the slugger — was .292, or 62 points below his previous career low when he was 23. Most disturbing was the sudden disappearance of his power. Dunn has always been a high-strikeout, high-walk, high-slugging player. But last year, Dunn posted an isolated power of only .118. To put that into perspective, consider this: Dunn’s ISO was only two points higher than Nyjer Morgan’s (.116). Dunn also saw his HR/FB ratio drop to 9.6% in a hitter- and home-run-friendly park. His previous career-low was 17.8%, all the way back in 2002.
But now? Well, we’re seeing the old Adam Dunn. Through May 7, he has managed a .394 wOBA, which is fueled by a .364 OBP, .321 ISO and a 28.1% HR/FB. And both the ISO and HR/FB numbers are better than his career highs. The obvious question is whether these numbers are sustainable. Given how quickly outcomes like BB% and HR/FB stabilize, there’s a good chance that Dunn’s end-of-season numbers could be similar to what they are today. The question I have is what is Dunn doing differently? To get a better handle on this, I took a look at Dunn’s performance on specific pitches in different locations.
With a methodology that I’ve used previously, I compared Dunn’s 2011 and 2012 performance by calculating the wOBA per pitch in different locations using PitchFx data. The chart below compared Dunn’s overall performances for those two seasons:
Even without producing a chart that shows the wOBA/pitch differential in each quadrant, it’s obvious where the biggest change has occurred. Dunn is absolutely crushing balls down the middle of the plate. Remember, taking a strike is comparable to making an out when calculating wOBA in this way — and pitches down the middle are rarely called balls. So the positive run values that Dunn is creating in this zone is solely attributable to making pitcher’s pay for throwing pitches in the fat part of the zone.
Dunn isn’t seeing more pitches in this zone (actually .4% fewer than 2011), but he’s attacking these pitches at a higher rate. Last year, Dunn took more than 30% of the pitches thrown down the middle. This year? He has dropped his take percentage by 10%.
Dunn also is making the most of fastballs he sees in this zone. In 2011, Dunn seemingly lost the ability to handle fastballs and posted a wOBA per fastball of .104. That’s compared to .152 so far in 2012. The biggest difference? Once again, it’s in the heart of the strike zone:
What accounts for the change? I’m not sure. Late last season, in an interview with David Laurila, Dunn suggested that his problems may have been due to adjusting to the new league:
“I’ve been using a lot more [scouting reports and data] because this is my first time in the American League. I have to rely on stuff like that. I didn’t much before, because I knew the pitchers. And if I didn’t know the pitcher, I kind of knew the team’s philosophy on how they wanted to pitch me. That made it a little easier.
What Red Sox fans wanted to see after the last day of last season, after the September collapse, were broken-hearted Red Sox players. They wanted to see Josh Beckett laid out in despair, like Ralph Branca was after allowing Bobby Thomson's legendary homer. They wanted to see that the players cared as much as they did.
Beckett didn't give them this.
When the story about the chicken and beer broke, they wanted to hear Beckett throw himself on the mercy of Red Sox Nation. They wanted to hear an unqualified apology, and unqualified accountability, rather than griping about snitches.
Beckett didn't give them this.
When word broke this week that Beckett played golf while theoretically nursing an injury behind his pitching shoulder, what Red Sox fans wanted -- first and foremost -- was for Beckett to step up and shut down the Indians and provide a tourniquet for a team hemorrhaging games in the standings. And if that wasn't possible, they wanted an explanation from Beckett as to why it might have made sense for him to be golfing while being unavailable to pitch -- in the same way that an employer might wonder why someone calling in sick was seen partying on television at a ballgame.
Beckett didn't give them this.
From Gordon Edes' column, Beckett's postgame question-and-answer session, after the questions turned to the golf outing:
Beckett wouldn't relent; he is the embodiment of stubbornness, and he's pitching badly, as well.
There is a disconnect between the Red Sox fans and Beckett, reflected in the boos he heard as he came off the mound -- and even in the Boston front office, the question of whether he has irreconcilable differences with the team for which he pitches should probably be asked. The Red Sox should probably begin exploring trade avenues. Moving him might not be easy, short of giving him away, and even if a trade partner could be found, Beckett maintains 10-and-5 rights, and thus the ability to veto any deal.
Beckett is in year two of a four-year, $68 million extension. He is owed $15.75 million this year -- meaning that he is owed about $12.5 million for the remainder of 2012 -- and he has salaries of $15.75 million in 2013 and 2014. Boston's obligation to him, then, is about $44 million.
But his recent performance would be as much of an impediment to the Red Sox trading him as his salary. Beckett posted a 5.78 ERA in 21 starts in 2010, allowing 20 homers in 127.2 innings. After pitching very well early in 2011, he flamed out famously at the end of the season, throwing up a 5.48 ERA in the month of September. What he has shown early in this season is right in line with what he had in 2010: very flat stuff, with hitters taking big, aggressive swings against him. Beckett already has allowed nine homers in 34.2 innings, and he's got a 5.97 ERA.
Beckett's résumé contains some spectacular moments of brilliance, like shutting down the Yankees on short rest in Game 6 of the 2003 ALCS, and winning all four of his starts in the 2007 postseason. There will be a day in the future when the Red Sox invite all the members of the '07 championship team back to Fenway, and Beckett will be cheered.
But rival general managers won't care much about that history. All they will care about are the black-and-white numbers for Beckett since the start of the 2010 season. He's made 57 starts, thrown 355.1 innings, allowed 50 homers and has a 4.22 ERA. Since Sept. 1 of last year, he has a 7.33 ERA; he's just not a very good pitcher right now.
Would someone take him? Sure. But they would want the Red Sox to eat a huge portion of the money owed to the pitcher, or they would want Boston to take on an ugly contract in return, like that of Alfonso Soriano, or Barry Zito. Beckett just doesn't have a lot of trade value.
But the Red Sox have a hard decision to make, because the team cannot move forward with the status quo. Beckett is a leader on this team, no matter how the fans feel. The culture of the clubhouse cannot change unless he helps change it, or unless he is moved out. And Beckett demonstrated again Thursday that he isn't changing for anybody.
From ESPN Stats & Information, why Beckett was so bad:
A) Reached a two-strike count in eight plate appearances, but five of those hitters reached base with a double, two HRs and two walks.
B) Indians hitters were 4-for-6 in at-bats ending with an off-speed pitch, including three extra-base hits.
C) Left 22 of 56 pitches over the middle of the plate vertically, Indians hitters were 4-for-5 with three extra-base hits in at-bats ending with a pitch in that location.
• Albert Pujols hasn't drawn a walk since April 25, and he has six walks for this season. He is on a pace to draw 30 walks for this season. To put that in perspective, Pujols drew 103 walks in 2010, in what was his third consecutive season drawing more than 100 walks.
• Chris Sale's treatment is a concern to his agent, writes Mark Gonzales.
A) Induced 20 swing-and-misses; the most in a start in his career.
B) Strasburg had 7 strikeouts with his fastball, tied for the most with the pitch in his career.
C) Pirates hitters were 1-for-8 in at-bats ending with an off-speed pitch, including six strikeouts (3 curveball, 3 changeup).
D) Threw 54 of 103 pitches (52.4 percent) on the outside part of the plate; Pirates hitters were 0-for-6 with 5 strikeouts in at-bats ending with a pitch away.
But he added, if things don't turn around, he could look to subtract talent, not add. "July is so far ahead," Amaro said. "We just have to get on track. But if July comes and we're playing like this, we'll be sellers. How we play now will determine whether we'll be buyers or sellers in July."
It's hard to know exactly what Amaro was aiming to do with these remarks. Was he trying to motivate the players? Was this a warning to them? Was he just being frank?
Either way, Amaro's comments are very unusual, because most general managers will run in the other direction from any perception that their team's standing as a contender could be comprised. Rather, as a business strategy designed to fuel ticket sales, they'd prefer to foster the perception that their team will be in it to win it -- right up until the moment they announce strip-down trades.
If the Phillies actually did look to make moves in midseason, Cole Hamels obviously would have significant trade value. Amaro could get something decent for Shane Victorino, who is eligible for free agency this fall, or for Hunter Pence, who could be a free agent after 2013. Beyond that, they don't have a lot of marketable players.
Amaro is making roster changes today, as Bob Brookover writes.
2. The Yankees are trying to decide whether to go with Rafael Soriano or David Robertson as closer, writes John Harper. Steve Karsay knows what it means to step into Rivera's shoes, as Joel Sherman writes.
4. The Jays signed Vlad Guerrero.
5. The Royals are going with a second-base platoon.
2. An arrest has complicated a potential call-up for the Padres.
A) 55 of 119 pitches were off-speed (46.2 percent), his highest off-speed pitch percentage this season. Rays hitters were 1-for-11 with seven strikeouts in at-bats ending with an off-speed pitch, including six strikeouts versus the slider.
B) Threw 67 of 119 pitches (56.3 percent) down in the zone or below, his highest percentage in that location in a start in the past four seasons. Rays hitters were 2-for-14 with six strikeouts in at-bats ending with a pitch down.
C) The Rays chased 27 pitches out of the zone, the second most by Sabathia in a start in the last four seasons. The Rays chased 42.2 percent of Sabathia's pitches out of the strike zone; in his 13 previous starts against Tampa since 2009 the Rays chased an average of 28.8 percent of pitches out of the zone.
3. The Orioles experienced some highs and lows in their doubleheader split, as Eduardo Encina writes.
8. You can't stop the Indians, you can only hope to contain them.
3: Stephen Strasburg has hit as many doubles (3) as he's allowed as a pitcher this season (3).
5: Orioles total hits -- all home runs -- allowed by Rangers starter Colby Lewis on Thursday.
12: Batters Rangers starter Colby Lewis struck out (career high).
16: The number of team games it took Curtis Granderson to reach 10 home runs at home; fewest in Yankees history.
The 2012 Texas Rangers are the archetype of a winning team. They've scored the most runs in the American League, even away from their hitter-friendly home park. They've allowed the fewest runs in the American League, even in their hitter-friendly home park. No one can score against them, and no one can keep them from scoring. Whether they're in the field or at the plate, they look like a first-place team.
Even among the league's leading clubs, though, the well-rounded Rangers -- and the St. Louis Cardinals, who boast an even better run differential -- are the exception. Most first-place teams are flawed.
Take the two teams tied atop the National League East, the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves. On Wednesday night, the Nationals scored two runs in a loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Nationals haven't done a lot of losing this season, but they haven't done much scoring, either. In a third of their games, they've scored two or fewer runs, and half of their games -- tied for the highest percentage in the majors -- have been decided by a margin of one run. Pitching has made Washington's success possible. The Nats are tied with the Petco-repressed San Diego Padres for the second fewest runs scored in the National League, but they've also allowed the fewest runs in the league.
Atlanta's season has been the opposite story. The Braves have piled up runs, including seven in their Wednesday win against the Colorado Rockies. Only the Cardinals have scored more often among NL teams. However, the Braves have struggled to keep opposing teams off the scoreboard, allowing more runs than all but four other NL teams (two of whom, the Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks, play in hitter havens).
So far, the uneven attacks of the Nationals and Braves have served the two teams well. The same can't be said for the Boston Red Sox, who've scored more runs than any AL team except the Rangers but allowed the most runs in the league. Which is more typical of a lopsided team, the last-place Red Sox or the first-place Nats? If you can't be the best at both run scoring and run prevention, like the Rangers are, is it better to be balanced and average at both or one of the best at one and one of the worst at the other? And can Washington keep winning with baseball's lowest-scoring lineup?
To answer those questions, I examined the run-scoring and run-preventing performance of every NL team since the most recent round of expansion in 1998. Because raw run totals can be skewed by the park a team plays in, I used park-adjusted true average (TAv) to assess each club's actual strength. An elite offensive team will have a high TAv, and a team with elite pitching and defense will limit its opponents to a low TAv. By ranking each team's TAv and opponent TAv within its league and comparing the difference between ranks -- including only NL teams to keep the number of teams in the league consistent -- we can determine which teams were balanced and which were far better on one side of the ball.
In the past 14 seasons, there was a minus-.004 correlation -- in other words, no correlation at all -- between team winning percentage and team lopsidedness (as measured by the difference between league rank in run scoring and league rank in run prevention). The most unbalanced team to appear in the playoffs was the 2005 Astros, a club that finished 11th in TAv and first in TAv against. Several teams with identical ranks in both categories made it into October.
On the whole, though, balanced teams were not more likely to succeed than unbalanced ones. That result might seem surprising -- being balanced sounds better -- but it probably shouldn't. A run scored is roughly equally as valuable as a run prevented. What matters isn't how many runs you score, but how many more runs you score than the opponents you're playing. Whether you allow a lot of runs but score even more, or score few runs but allow even fewer, doesn't matter much as long as your run differential is in the black at the end of the season.
To some extent, that's good news for the Nationals, who have scored 11 more runs than their opponents overall despite their inability to score. No team has made the playoffs since 1998 with a TAv as low as the Nats' current .247 mark. However, the Nats aren't necessarily doomed to drop out of the race just because their hitters can't keep pace with their pitchers. Not only does the extra wild card make it easier to reach October now than it was from 1998 to 2011, but none of the teams that failed to make the playoffs with lineups worse than Washington's had pitching as good as theirs.
The problem is that the Nats' pitchers probably can't keep this pace, either. If they were to sustain their current 2.69 ERA over a full season, it would be the lowest any team has recorded since 1968. Offense is down across the league, but it's not down by that much. As talented as they are, the Nats' pitchers aren't this good.
To stay in contention, the Nats will have to improve at the plate to counter the inevitable regression from their arms. Bryce Harper has helped so far, but like first overall picks Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez before him, he has a lot of learning left to do at age 19. The return of Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche to the lineup on Tuesday plugged two gaping holes, but with Jayson Werth and Michael Morse out indefinitely, more remain. Left field, temporarily occupied by a rotating cast of characters featuring Roger Bernadina and Xavier Nady, will be a particular problem until the big bats get back.
If the Nats were to improve significantly on offense or continue to get otherworldly pitching, they could avoid a rest-of-the-season swoon. Unfortunately for their fans, the odds that they'll do either or both of those things are low enough that our playoff odds give them only a 12.0 percent chance to qualify for postseason play. If they don't make the playoffs, some obituaries for their season will pin the blame on their lopsided roster. In that event, though, it will be just as accurate to say they weren't lopsided enough.
Among those that could be "sold," so to speak, include left-hander Cole Hamels, right-hander Joe Blanton and perhaps even outfielders Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence. Pence is arbitration eligible one final time after this season before he hits free agency and is making more than $10 million this season. Both Hamels and Victorino are set to become free agents at season's end.
There's word from FoxSports.com's Ken Rosenthal that if the Phils do go the trade route later in the year, the Blue Jays are likely to be in play for either Hamels and/or Victorino.
ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney writes Thursday how Utley's return may not save the Phillies:
- Jason A. Churchill
"When Utley comes back, he will supplant rookie Freddy Galvis, who is a spectacular defensive player but who struggles at the plate. If you assume Utley's offensive production would be close to what it was last year, this is what the Phillies have lost, according to Justin Havens of ESPN Research: 'Galvis' WAR (wins above replacement) is currently minus-0.1. He's receiving a significant amount of credit for his D, but his offensive production is bad. Utley was worth 3.7 WAR in 103 games last season. If you prorate Utley's 2011 contribution over 31 games (the number Galvis has played entering today) you get a gap of about one win. In other words, assuming Utley was to repeat his performance from last year, the Phillies have lost one win through the first 30-plus games by having Galvis over Utley.' So maybe Utley shouldn't necessarily be viewed as the cavalry riding in to save Philadelphia's season."
A debate has raged in baseball over whether Josh Hamilton of the Rangers or Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp is the best player in the game right now. Take your pick - either player has a legitimate claim.
Kemp remains the face of the Dodgers after recently agreeing to an new eight-year, $160 million. Hamilton is a free agent after this season and the questions surrounding his future will only intensify in volume after his epic four-homer performance Tuesday night in Baltimore, writes ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick.
Given that Albert Pujols signed for 10 years and $250 million with the Angels and Joey Votto just landed 10 years and $225 million from Cincinnati. Hamilton will undoubtedly asked to be paid in the same financial ballpark. But Hamilton has been injury prone and his well-publicized alcohol relapse in February rekindled doubts about whether he was worth a mega deal.
Despite Hamilton's star status, the Rangers haven't committed more than two seasons at a time to him during his arbitration years. There may be fears that his years of drug use left his body especially susceptible to injuries, writes Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports. Passan, however, reports the two sides have reopened talks on an extension.
There has been ample talk that Hamilton may feel the need to stay in Texas because the club has established an effective support group to help him deal with his substance abuse past. But there are reports that Hamilton isn't likely to give a discount to the Rangers.
"Would I love to stay in Texas? Absolutely. But if I don't, I'm going to be OK," Hamilton told Tom Verducci before Wednesday's game with the Orioles was rained out.
- Doug Mittler
Cespedes, the team leader in RBIs with 21, had X-rays Wednesday morning, and was diagnosed with a strained muscle on the back of the hand.
The San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser reports that manager Bob Melvin is eyeing Saturday as a possible return date for Cespedes.
Coco Crisp would have been the first option in center if Cespedes was sidelined, but he is on the disabled list with a lingering ear infection.
If Cespedes had been out for an extended period of time, the A's would have had a greater need for Manny Ramirez, who is eligible to be activated May 30 after a 50-game suspension.
- Doug Mittler
Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times reports it will stay that way for the immediate future as the Angels seem committed to giving an extended look to Trout, who plays left field and centerfield, which had been Bourjos' primary spot.
The Halos also have opted to play left fielder Vernon Wells, who is hitting .231 with 4 homers, compared to .192 and 1 for Bourjos. Fortunes can change quickly, but Bourjos seems limited to pinch-running duties with an occasional start for now.
Bourjos had been linked to the Nationals in spring training trade rumors, and that idea appears to have returned, according to FoxSports.com's Jon Morosi, who reports that the Angels and Nats have discussed Bourjos. Apparently, the Royals, Diamondbacks and Blue Jays have also hinted at their interest, Morosi writes.
Given the Angels' bullpen issues -- former closer Jordan Walden is struggling, while Scott Downs and LaTroy Hawkins were injured recently -- the club might consider dealing from their outfield surplus to improve the relief corps.
- Doug Mittler and Jason Catania
Plenty of conflicting signs are emerging on Chicago's South Side regarding Chris Sale.
Sale was one of the American League's more effective starters with a 3-1 record and 2.81 ERA before elbow tenderness led to the team's announcement that the lefty would be moving to the closer role last week. His first stint out of the bullpen was Tuesday, when he gave up an unearned run and blew the save in a 5-3 win over the Cleveland Indians.
Sale had an MRI Thursday to see if his elbow soreness is serious, news that raises all kinds of red flags and potentially leaves rookie manager Robin Ventura without a very valuable arm.
Veteran writer Joe Cowley of the Sun-Times says the Sale saga "reeks of mismanagement," calling into question exactly who is in charge.
Additionally, Sale's agent BB Abbott has called into question how the club is handling his client.
- Doug Mittler
Eric Patterson, 2B -- Detroit Tigers
Patterson, 29, is batting .286/.433/.327 in 28 games for Triple-A Toldeo and is catching fire the past week and a half. Over the past 10 games, the left-handed batting second baseman is up to .323/.475/.387 with nine walks and a pair of stolen bases.
The Tigers are having massive problems offensively at second base with Ryan Raburn posting a .127/.192/.169 triple-slash and reserve Ramon Santiago not faring any better. General manager Dave Dombrowski could check the trade market or wait until the San Diego Padres set free Orlando Hudson and/or Jason Bartlett, but Patterson could be the nest internal option, at least versus right-handed pitching.
Anthony Slama, RHP -- Minnesota Twins
The Twins may switch into full rebuild mode soon which could mean any and all young talents with a chance to help the big league for the future will start to get consideration for the 25-man roster. Slama is missing bats and has experience in the big leagues and could replace either right-hander Anthony Swarzak or southpaw Matt Maloney in the 'pen.
If the Twins field calls for closer Matt Capps, Slama is likely to be on the short list to fill in, perhaps at the top.
Castellanos, 25, is currently out of action with a hamstring injury that's not considered serious, but he had been lighting up the Pacific Coast League to the tune of a .366/.477/.746 line, including 15 extra-base hits and 12 bases on balls. Since acquiring him from the Cardinals for Rafael Furcal last year, the Dodgers have transitioned Castellanos from outfield to infield, and he's seen most of his time this year at second base.
His offensive numbers are inflated due to the hitter-friendly environments in the southern cities of the PCL, but he's clearly making solid hard contact regularly. Castellanos is already 25 years of age, but it wouldn't take much for him to be an upgrade over Uribe at this stage. Ultimately, the Dodgers could check the trade slab for help, but it's early May and could be too early for such a venture.
Travis Snider, RF -- Toronto Blue Jays
We've discussed Snider here at Rumor Central at great length since the spring, especially since he performed well during spring training yet still was optioned to Triple-A to start the year.
Snider started the season red hot in Las Vegas before being sidelined with a wrist injury. He's still not ready to come off the disabled list, but once he does -- likely this week -- he could see the big leagues quite quickly thanks to the subpar showings of Eric Thames and especially Adam Lind.
Thames beat out Snider for the left field job in March but has just 8 hits in his last 33 at-bats with 10 strikeouts and is looking more and more like a fourth outfielder.
Meanwhile, Lind, the club's first baseman, is batting under .200 and is 2-for-22 with nine strikeouts in recent games.
Trevor Bauer, RHP | Tyler Skaggs, LHP -- Arizona Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks finally pulled the plug on Josh Collmenter as a starter, at least for now, but called upon Patrick Corbin rather than Bauer or Skaggs.
Bauer has had regular bouts with his control -- issuing three or more bases on balls in six of his seven starts this season and may remain in Double-A Mobile until he finds the strike zone. Skaggs, on the other hand, has issued but seven walks in 32 1/3 innings and did not allow an earned run in his last start.
Corbin could be replaced by Skagg in the coming weeks -- or Bauer, if he straightens things out by then. It appears Joe Saunders is safe for the time being.
Glenallen Hill was a journeyman outfielder who played for seven teams over 13 major league seasons, hitting a respectable .271 with 186 homers. He also owns the unique distinction of being the first-ever National League designated hitter in a non-World Series game.
We are fast approaching the 15th anniversary of the inaugural regular season interleague contest, a 4-3 win for the San Francisco Giants over the Texas Rangers on June 12, 1997. Hill was the DH for the Giants that night in Arlington, going 0-for-3 with a sacrifice fly.
The first installment of interleague play for 2012 takes place next weekend, including six series at American League parks where NL clubs will be able to give a hitter some extra hacks. In honor of Hill, Rumor Central predicts who might get some additional swings without having to pick up a glove:
Greg Dobbs is baseball's active leader in pinch hits with 78, and that is his primary role, but manager Ozzie Guillen could use the series as a way to get him some regular swings, either as a DH or in the outfield. There was talk earlier this year that Giancarlo Stanton might be bothered by knee soreness all season, and the DH role could reduce some of the wear and tear.
Lefty-swinging Nate McLouth is hitting just above the Mendoza Line, so maybe a weekend of regular at-bats will help break out of their funk, especially since the Tigers are likely to start three righties. But one of those pitchers will be Justin Verlander, someone you would hate to face in a slump. Manager Clint Hurdle also could use the other half of the first base platoon of Casey McGehee and Garrett Jones at DH.
Manager Dusty Baker needs a new candidate after using the now-departed Jonny Gomes in this role last May and June. Chris Heisey is a strong option, especially in a game started by southpaw Andy Pettitte. Miguel Cairo also is no stranger to the Bronx, playing 2 1/2 seasons with the Yankees, one of nine teams on his resume.
Daniel Murphy would be a prime candidate to be a full-time DH if he played in the American League. Manager Terry Collins could give him a day or two off at second base and insert Justin Turner, but Collins is thin in the middle infield due to an injury to Ruben Tejada. Right fielder Lucas Duda, still finding his way with the glove, could move to DH with Scott Hairston taking over in the field.
One way to get some extra mileage out of the Chipper Jones retirement tour is to give the 40-year-old a day or two off from the field. Manager Fredi Gonzalez also could give Brian McCann a one-day breather from catching duties. That could mean some at-bats for third baseman Juan Francisco and catcher David Ross.
This could hinge on center fielder Chris Young, who continues to rehab a right shoulder contusion that landed him on the 15-day disabled list on April 18. A return against the Royals is not out of the question, and skipper Kirk Gibson could ease him back in the DH role. If Young is back in the field, Gerardo Parra could DH. There also is the slumping Ryan Roberts, who has lost playing time at third base to Cody Ransom.
- Doug Mittler
Mike Trout and Bryce Harper have already been summoned to the big leagues and Matt Moore started the year there. Those were the top three prospects on Keith Law's Top 100 prior to the start of the 2012 season. Jesus Montero -- No. 9 -- and Devin Mesoraco -- No. 8 -- also started the year in the show. There are, however, several remaining in the minors.
The top prospect on the list yet to make his big-league debut is Baltimore Orioles shortstop Manny Machado, followed by St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Shelby Miller, Toronto Blue Jays catcher Travis d'Arnaud and Texas Rangers shortstop Jurickson Profar. All ranked in the top 10.
Machado and Profar are likely to spend most, if not all, of 2012 in the minors, but d'Arnaud and Miller could see the bigs at some point. The Jays' catcher was off to a slow start at the plate in Triple-A but has been hot of late. His ultimate presence in Toronto could eventually push J.P. Arencibia out the door.
O's right-hander Dylan Bundy has made six pro starts and has allowed just two hits and an unearned run in 20 frames. He's struck out 33 and walked just two and may be on the fast track to the big leagues. His arrival will certainly be impacted by workload concerns at such a young age, but it's going to be tough to keep him in the minors long. Bundy is certain to a promotion from Class-A Delmarva in the South Atlantic League fairly soon, and his MLB ETA could be this time next year, despite scouts seeing big-league ability right now.
- Jason A. Churchill
Zach Britton (shoulder) tossed three innings -- 45 pitches -- in an extended spring training game Thursday, tweets Britt Ghiroli, who notes that the lefty threw mostly fastballs but mixed in some changeups.
Britton is slated to go again on May 15, at which time he may add the breaking ball to his agenda and could ramp up to around 60 pitches.
The O's rotation has been a pleasant surprise this far which may allow them to give Britton more time to get right, just to be sure he's ready to come back. His ETA remains unknown, but early June sounds about right.
- Jason A. Churchill
The Minnesota Twins have sent lefty Francisco Liriano to the bullpen, tweets Rhett Bollinger, and taking the southpaw's place in the rotation is P.J. Walters, who owns a 7.24 ERA in 51 career innings. Needless to say, the Twins have significant issues with their starting rotation.
On top of Liriano's struggles, Carl Pavanao has been inconsistent at best, and the same can be said for Jason Marquis. Nick Blackburn has allowed five earned runs in three of his five outings and rookie Liam Hendriks has served up five homers, 30 total hits and 18 earned runs in 18 frames. The worst part is there is no help on the way in the form of organizational depth.
Kyle Gibson, a former first round pick, is on the shelf for the year and Alex Wimmers, another former first rounder, is on the 7-day disabled list in Double-A New Britain.
The Twins don't appear to be in a position to make an impact trade, either, unless it involves Denard Span. The club has the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 Draft and could opt for the best college pitchers in the class. Stanford's Mark Appel and LSU's Kevin Gausman may be in the team's sights.
- Jason A. Churchill
Crawford (wrist, elbow) is nearing a point where he is expected to swing a bat, manager Bobby Valentine said, and Ellsbury (shoulder), reports the Boston Globe, is close to taking on some weight bearing activities.
Neither player is on the brink of returning and the club is very likely to be cautious in terms of each outfielder's time table, but the pair should return this summer.
In the meantime, Cody Ross, Ryan Sweeney, Marlon Byrd and Darnell McDonald are holding down the fort. One the two all-stars return, McDonald is likely to shipped out, but the second move is not nearly as obvious. Any of the three could be traded as part of the roster solution.
- Jason A. Churchill
The Colorado Rockies may get a boost to their starting rotation by June.
Jorge De La Rosa, who is on the recovery track from Tommy John surgery, pitched his first minor-league rehab outing last Wednesday for Class-A Modesto. The lefty threw three scoreless innings, allowing two hits and one walk while whiffing four.
He struggled Monday but hit 94 mph on the gun and the club was happy with the outing. De La Rosa will go again Saturday and could ramp up to as many as five or six innings, setting him up for a potential return to The Show in early June.
It's a bit early to worry about who will be bumped from the rotation when De La Rosa is ready to return, but the Denver Post's Troy Renck mentioned that one candidate to be demoted could be Jhoulys Chacin, who has pitched very poorly in the early going. The right-hander, though, was optioned earlier this month, so perhaps veteran Jamie Moyer or rookies Alex White and Christian Friedrich should be on watch.
- Jason A. Churchill
The righthander, on the big league 15-day disabled list with a strained right elbow, breezed through seven innings Wednesday night in his final rehab start with Class A Lake Elsinore.
Stauffer could rejoin the Padres and start either Monday or Tuesday against the Nationals, and it will not be a minute too soon for manager Bud Black, who confirmed right-hander Joe Wieland will be placed on the disabled list with tightness in his right elbow. Wieland joins three other Padres starting pitchers on the DL: Stauffer, Cory Luebke and Dustin Moseley.
Wieland's scheduled start was Saturday. Instead, Edinson Volquez will make Saturday's start on regular rest instead of pitching Sunday.
- Doug Mittler
The Royals placed struggling left-hander Jonathan Sanchez on the 15-day disabled list Wednesday because of biceps tendinitis, which club officials believe is the cause for his diminished velocity.
Sanchez is 1-2 with a 6.75 ERA in six starts, including a rocky outing Monday against Boston in which he could not last past the third inning.
With a day off Thursday, the Royals don't need a replacement until next Tuesday at Texas, giving Ned Yost time to make a decision.
- Doug Mittler
There have been rumblings that the All-Star Game is headed to Cincinnati sometime this decade, but chief operating officer Phil Castellini warns it is not a done deal.
"I wish I had something to announce," Castellini tells John Fay of the Enquirer. . "The National League gets it every other year. We've applied for '15, '17, '19. It's one of those hurry-up-and-wait things."
Cincinnati has hosted the game four times, but not since 1988 at Riverfront Stadium. While nothing is official, the 2013 Game is believed to be headed to Citi Field in New York.
- Doug Mittler
Cedeno played nine innings in an extended spring training game Wednesday, but Terry Collins would not commit to a roster move, claiming that he wants Cedeno to compete against higher-level pitching.
That would mean a minor league rehab stint for Cedeno, who is expected to move right into the starting lineup at shortstop with Ruben Tejada on the disabled list. Jordany Valdespin is likely headed back to the minors when Cedeno is ready.
- Doug Mittler
The Minnesota Twins, owners of the worst record in the major leagues at 8-22, need all the positive news they can get. There is at least some cause for optimism regarding Justin Morneau, who had his left wrist examined Tuesday at the Cleveland Clinic.
Morneau will try to swing a bat Saturday and the Twins are hopeful he will be able to return to the starting lineup when he's eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list next Wednesday, reports La Velle Neal of the Star Tribune.
Morneau, used primarily as a DH this season, was in a 5-for-31 slum before landing on the DL.
- Doug Mittler
Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports Matsui will make a salary of about $900,000 if called up to the majors, well below his previous earnings. He made $4.25 million last season with Oakland, the lowest salary of his career.
While at Triple-A Durham, he will make $10,000 a month, low for a veteran in the minors. Matsui went 2-for-4 with two singles and an RBI on Wednesday in his first extended spring training game and is expected to be added to the Durham roster in the next few days.
- Doug Mittler
Miguel Montero figures to be at or near the top of available free agent catchers next winter and he reportedly is interested in a deal similar to the four-year, $50 million deal Victor Martinez has with the Detroit Tigers.
Montero and the Diamondbacks talked during spring training, but progress appeared to stall and they agreed to hold off negotiations until after the season. Now comes word from Steve Gilbert and Tyler Emerick of MLB.com that talks could restart during the season. CBSsports.com's Jon Heyman reported Wednesday that negotiations could begin soon.
"We agreed with Miggy and his agent that we'd give it until the end of spring training, and if nothing happened then, we're certainly open throughout the season if he feels like he's comfortable," GM Kevin Towers said.
Montero is hitting .277, but his .366 slugging percentage is down noticeably from last season (.469).
- Doug Mittler
Piggybacking the suggestion by ESPNBoston.com's Gordon Edes and the fact that the Boston Red Sox have no plans to move Will Middlebrooks to render such a suggestion moot, let's discuss further the potential fits should the club shop the veteran.
It's worth noting that Youkilis, 33, is owed a total of $12 million for 2012 with a club option at $13 million for next season, which could have an impact in one manner or another, how much interest the clubs listed to the right may ultimately have. It'd also be nice if he came off the DL and got back to hitting the ball well.
The Tigers may prefer to spend their assets on more pitching help and they may get Victor Martinez back late this season, but Youkilis is an upgrade to Miguel Cabrera defensively and adds another bat to the lineup.
The two L.A. clubs can use the offense -- both have a need at third base and the Dodgers could use an upgrade to James Loney at first base for the future.
The Cubs, whose experiment with Ian Stewart at the hot corner has not gone well thus far, could offer a package including right-hander Matt Garza, though the young players, including Brett Jackson and Anthony Rizzo, are likely off the table as Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer rebuild the franchise.
The Phillies might need Youkilis the most as their offense is scuffling and who knows what they will get from Ryan Howard and Chase Utley once they return from the disabled list. Trevor May, Domonic Brown and Sebastian Valle could serve as trade bait for the Phillies.
- Jason A. Churchill