Jeter's secret? His confidence.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
I covered the Yankees for the New York Times at the time Derek Jeter was invited to host "Saturday Night Live," and I can remember thinking that he would be pretty awful in that role.
Jeter's instinct when speaking into cameras or microphones had always been to keep it short, to give an answer without really saying anything. Like the way he pulled in his hands and punched the ball to right field, his ability to veer his way through interviews was almost an art -- downplaying, dodging, parrying, staying out of the corner.
Last summer, we were about to tape an interview on ESPN and I told him that young players often asked me about the way Jeter answers questions.
"What do you tell them?" he asked.
"I tell them you are as boring as possible," I replied.
He laughed, in mild protest -- "I wouldn't say boring," he said -- and I acknowledged that over the years, he has loosened up with his answers somewhat.
And I added that I always thought Jeter's strategy was to make sure that nothing he said to reporters would distract from what he did out there -- and I pointed to the shortstop position. He agreed with that part.
But Jeter on "Saturday Night Live"? I thought his habit for verbally downshifting would dull him down.
But through his reticence with the media, I had missed the forest: The man has always loved center stage, in a way that few do. He has belonged there -- only eight players in major league history have accumulated more hits, after all -- but he also wanted to be there, and assumed he would thrive there.
I've always thought Jeter's reputation as a clubhouse leader has been overstated, because unlike players such as Adrian Beltre, Dustin Pedroia or Chris Carpenter -- main bodies within their team's interaction -- Jeter seemed more like a tributary personality. His primary contributions to teammates have always been his performance and his reliability, playing through injuries that would've sidelined a lot of his peers, and the leadership he provided has always been much less about well-chosen words than about his confidence. There's not really a way to weigh this personality trait, but let's put it this way: If you could assess confidence like OPS, his lifetime number would be about 1.500. His confidence WAR would be at about 12.0 every season.
Jeter's play in the postseason is often dismissed by observers who say he really wasn't that much better than anybody else, but rather, he just had a lot more chances. That kind of criticism greatly amused a lot of rival evaluators and players, who saw in Jeter's October play an uncommon calm. Anxiety is inherent in postseason games, when the pressure is at its greatest, and even stars can struggle with the adrenaline, from Roger Clemens seemingly losing his mind in a start in the 1990 ALCS to Miguel Cabrera uncharacteristically hacking at everything by the end of the 2012 World Series.
But Jeter just seemed to play the same way -- aggressive at the plate, sure-handed in the field, completely at ease. I never thought he raised his play in October; rather, he never seemed diminished by the postseason pressure in any way, and this is what distinguished him. His at-bats were the same, the steadiness of his defense was intact, so he seemed to emotionally handle an at-bat in the first World Series moments played in November as he did playing an exhibition game in March. Jeter has a .828 OPS in the regular season in his career. In the postseason, with its bright lights and higher caliber of play: .838.
The Red Sox front office under Theo Epstein was generally in awe of this aspect of Jeter's play, and revered him. One Boston official said to me that when he heard folks say that Jeter was overrated as a postseason performer, he'd laugh and think: I'm sorry that you missed a great show.
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
Derek Jeter enters the 2014 season with 3,316 career hits.
Jeter would return to the dugout after his first at-bat and regardless of whether the pitcher was throwing 88 mph or 98 mph, he would say out loud to teammates, in so many words: "This guy doesn't have anything." You could construe that as someone trying to prop himself up, longtime teammate David Cone once said, but in Cone's estimation, this was never empty talk for Jeter. No, the shortstop was utterly convinced he would find a way to prevail.
A baseball lifer named Hal Newhouser saw that when Derek was in high school. Newhouser had been the AL MVP in 1944 and 1945, as a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, and in retirement, he worked as an area scout in Michigan for the Houston Astros. He was a dignified, understated man who wrote in clear block lettering, and was always well-dressed; his nickname as a player was Prince Hal.
The Astros had the No. 1 overall pick in the 1992 draft, and Newhouser spent that spring following Jeter, who was said to be strongly considering attending the University of Michigan. As Houston prepared to make its selection, Newhouser told the Astros that he believed that Jeter would be the centerpiece of championship teams, and implored them to take the shortstop.
Houston drafted Phil Nevin instead, and years later, Beryl Newhouser, the scout's wife, told me how upset her husband was at the decision. He decided that if he could not convince the Astros to take someone as special as Jeter, he would never be able to convince anybody of anything. And so he quit, after more than a half-century in the game.
In Jeter's 11th grade British literature class, he had been asked to create a personal coat of arms, and Jeter -- 16 years old -- drew himself as the shortstop of the New York Yankees. Sure enough, they drafted him at No. 6 overall. It was as if Jeter knew.
So too last spring, when Jeter seemed to acknowledge for the first time the relentlessness of time and his own physical vulnerabilities. As he tried to come back from his terrible ankle injury, he got a hit in his first exhibition at-bat, pulling a single through the left side -- and limped to first base.
Jeter had led the majors in hits in 2012, with 216, but was limited to 73 plate appearances in 2013, and struggled in those. Perhaps that confidence had finally been breached. This is part of Jeter's statement:
Last year was a tough one for me. As I suffered through a bunch of injuries, I realized that some of the things that always came easily to me and were always fun had started to become a struggle. The one thing I always said to myself was that when baseball started to feel more like a job, it would be time to move forward.
So really it was months ago when I realized that this season would likely be my last. As I came to this conclusion and shared it with my friends and family, they all told me to hold off saying anything until I was absolutely 100 percent sure.
He never let any of the outside stuff -- the media, the talk about his personal life, the inevitable crossfire that occurs for a two-decade star in New York -- affect what he did out there.
So how did he do on "Saturday Night Live"? He was really, really good, in his Taco Hole, as an Iglesias brother, in teaching little kids, in his monologue. He killed it, in fact, like he probably has always believed.
Jeter is going out the way he deserves, writes Tyler Kepner. He drew on a natural confidence, writes John Harper. Joel Sherman explains how Jeter survived 20 years of New York. Jeter has set up the perfect ending to a stellar career, writes Bob Klapisch.
Chris Matcovich of TiqIQ sent this along about the incredible movement in the secondary ticket market in the aftermath of Jeter's announcement:
• The current average ticket price for Jeter's last game is $1,112.93, which is up 265.05 percent since the time of the announcement ($304.87).
• The current get-in price is $306 which is up 1,076.92 percent since the time of the announcement ($26).
• In the same time period above the Yankees' home average ticket price increased from $206.97 to $236.48
• Single game presale begins Feb. 18.
• By about 2:55 p.m. Wednesday most tickets had been bought or pulled down by brokers and have since been relisted at higher prices.
Below is the price movement for the last game of the Yankees' regular season in Boston, which might be the final game of his career:
• The current average ticket price is $650.80, which is up 160.69 percent since the time of announcement ($249.65).
• The current get-in price is $298, which is up 192.16 percent since announcement ($102).
Around the league
• The Mariners have already lost a significant player for a lot of spring training. This is an early body blow to Seattle, which doesn't seem to be working with a lot of margin for error, anyway.
• Meanwhile: The Barnicle Brothers finished their 30 for 30 on the Alex Rodriguez trade that almost happened for the Red Sox.
• The Dodgers, who have had growing infield concerns this winter, signed a shortstop from Cuba. Big picture, long term -- beyond 2014 -- the Dodgers would love for Erisbel Arruebarruena to establish himself at shortstop, enabling them to move Hanley Ramirez to third base.
• Michael Cuddyer will likely hit second for the Rockies. Within this Troy Renck story, Walt Weiss says he has ruled out Carlos Gonzalez in the leadoff spot.
The No. 1 factor for lineup-building should be: Get the most number of at-bats for the best hitters. In light of that, this is the top six of the Rockies' order that'd be fun to see:
SS Troy Tulowitzki
1B Justin Morneau
C Wilin Rosario
3B Nolan Arenado
I love the idea of coming out firing punches from the top of the lineup, and the Rockies have players other than Gonzalez -- such as Tulowitzki -- to hit in the middle of the order.
Either way, the work of the Rockies has flown under the radar this winter, especially in a season after they won just 74 games. But the Rockies should have more depth than last year, more tools for Weiss. "We should have a lot of competition" in camp, said Dan O'Dowd.
Weiss has been more involved, more direct with his input, and it could be that the Rockies will follow the same path taken by Oakland last year, with a lot of time-sharing and a lot of maximizing of matchups.
Second baseman DJ LeMahieu hit .280 in 109 games last season, but will have to beat out Josh Rutledge for playing time. The Rockies added Drew Stubbs -- who had a .718 OPS against left-handers last season -- and Brandon Barnes to a cast of outfielders that already includes Gonzalez, Cuddyer and Charlie Blackmon (who had an .824 OPS vs. right-handers last season). Morneau was signed to play first base, but on some days -- against some left-handers -- Cuddyer could start there. (Morneau had an .819 OPS against right-handers, .525 versus left-handers).
The Rockies have better pitching depth, as well. Stay tuned.
• The wells of money have all but dried up, and the prices on free-agent pitchers such as Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez, Bronson Arroyo and others have been dropping for weeks. Which is why it's astonishing that the Phillies agreed to pay A.J. Burnett $16 million on a one-year deal -- a salary that ranks as the highest (along with Hiroki Kuroda) for any free-agent pitcher not named Masahiro Tanaka doled out this winter.
To review: Burnett is 37 years old, and struggled enough down the stretch last season that the Pirates chose to start rookie Gerrit Cole in place of Burnett in Game 5 of the NLDS against St. Louis.
His salary is high enough that even if the Phillies floundered and decided to weigh offers for Burnett in midseason, they would either have to eat a lot of the money owed to him in order to get even a third-tier prospect, or they would have to all but give him away.
The Phillies have a lot of TV money, so this deal won't dent their bottom line. But spending those kind of dollars at this stage of the winter, when there are so many questions about whether the Phillies can contend, is confusing. The Phillies' baseline strategy seems to be: overpay.
The Phillies obviously felt the need was there, given the concerns about Cole Hamels.
The Pirates weren't comfortable giving Burnett a qualifying offer.
• Kolten Wong has a big ol' chip on his shoulder. I haven't heard one evaluator say this winter that he thinks Wong won't succeed, but hey, the me-against-the-world thing is a proven path of success.
• The Indians continue to evaluate the possible shift of Carlos Santana to third base.
Dings and dents
1. Jurickson Profar has some tendinitis in his right shoulder.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Catcher Ronny Paulino was busted again.
2. Greg Holland settled his arbitration case.
3. The Reds made a roster move.
4. The Twins added to their 40-man roster.
5. Brandon Belt and the Giants have time to negotiate.
6. The Rays are continuing trade talk with the Nationals, writes Marc Topkin.
7. The Orioles may have signed a pitcher from Korea, as Dan Connelly writes. Some teams say they view him as a back end of the rotation, 4-A type starter.
The best shape of his life!
1. Bruce Rondon dropped a lot of weight over the winter, writes John Lowe.
• Jacob Turner will have to prove himself.
• Carlos Marmol will be the setup man.
• Matt Carpenter is going back to third base.
• The young kids are taking over for the Cardinals.
• Bronson Arroyo joined the Diamondbacks.
• Hanley Ramirez wants to be a Dodger for life.
• There is reason for optimism this spring for the Padres, writes Nick Canepa.
• The Jays have a lot of familiar names, writes Richard Griffin.
• There are questions of depth about the Rays, writes Roger Mooney.
• Jackie Bradley Jr. knows he must be himself.
• David Dombrowski doesn't seem to be sweating the Max Scherzer contract situation, writes Drew Sharp.
• Phil Coke is under a lot of pressure.
• The Astros are unfazed by the perception of their spending.
The plight of 'The Draft Pick Five'.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
TAMPA, Fla. -- An AL executive drew an analogy the other day between the situation facing "The Draft Pick Five" free agents -- Nelson Cruz, Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez, Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales -- and the sale of a house.
“If the price on the house is set and it just sits there and nobody's buying at that price,” the executive said, “isn’t there a time when the reality of the market sets in and the price comes down?”
Players are reporting to spring training all over the baseball landscape, and those five players -- five veterans tied to draft-pick compensation -- remain unsigned, fueling the most-asked question in the industry these days: Where will those players land?
It’s hard to know, because representatives for the players want to get their clients paid appropriately, and their interpretation of what that means is very different from what a lot of teams believe. Some teams and agents seem to be searching for comparable situations, and some teams have simply moved on and are indicating privately that they are not interested in spending any more money this winter. Mets GM Sandy Alderson is doing it more overtly, tamping down expectations that the Mets would sign Stephen Drew. Again.
Kyle Lohse, in a similar situation last spring, waited and waited, before agreeing to a three-year, $33 million deal with the Milwaukee Brewers. His deal might be looked at as a possible road map for Santana and Jimenez, in particular, but some club officials note that this contract wasn't actually executed by the team's general manager. Brewers owner Mark Attanasio was the driving force behind that deal, which a lot of rival GMs panned privately because Milwaukee, an organization largely dependent on the draft for its access to talent, had to give up its first-round pick, at a time when it didn't appear that Lohse could turn the team into a contender.
This situation might have been a little easier for Lohse to cope with than for others, because Lohse is generally very relaxed, the type of personality who chats genially with others before his starts. A lot of other players who are in the box that the Draft Pick Five find themselves might be a lot more anxious.
It could be that the waiting will go on for many more weeks, because at this stage, with the qualifying offers of $14.1 million rejected long ago, waiting might be the best play for some. Like Drew.
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
Scott Boras has been in no hurry with Stephen Drew.
Scott Boras represents Drew and according to officials throughout baseball, Boras is doing what he always does in this situation, relentlessly pushing for what he believes to be appropriate opportunities, texting and emailing and calling. The fact is, there doesn't appear to be a lot of need for Drew in the current landscape. Even though the Yankees know Derek Jeter plans to walk away after this season, they appear disinclined to consider Drew, given all the money they've spent in the winter, and the Cardinals long ago invested in Jhonny Peralta instead of Drew. Some teams are concerned about the medical evaluations of Drew, who suffered a devastating ankle injury when he was with the Diamondbacks.
But all it takes is one injury to change need. This is how Alex Rodriguez wound up with the Yankees, after Aaron Boone famously hurt his knee playing pickup basketball, and how Prince Fielder signed with the Tigers after Victor Martinez was injured on a treadmill.
The Dodgers intend to retain their draft pick for 2014, but if the oft-injured Hanley Ramirez were to suffer an injury in spring training, maybe Drew would become more attractive. The Red Sox have held a firm line in their interest on Drew, but if anything happened with Xander Bogaerts, that could always shift perspective. What Drew needs -- what each of the Draft Pick Five needs, in fact -- is for injuries to manifest, so opportunities arise.
Dan Szymborski wrote a really interesting piece the other day on the true value of draft picks. But for a small handful of teams -- the Mets, Yankees, Blue Jays (whose picks are protected) and Mariners -- the draft implications won’t matter as much. The Mariners have a lot invested in the upcoming season, and they’ve already surrendered their first-round pick to sign Robinson Cano. Could the recent injury to Hisashi Iwakuma make them more inclined to go after Santana, whose tendency to surrender fly balls would make him a good fit for Safeco Field? Would the Mariners consider Jimenez, who is regarded as less of a health risk than Santana but bears a history of inconsistency?
There will probably have to be some type of give, however. When the offseason began, Santana's asking price for teams was over $100 million. The Rangers considered signing Cruz to a two-year deal, but didn’t want to go to three, and instead locked up Shin-Soo Choo. The Mariners were unable to sign Morales last summer. Jimenez's asking price is said by some executives to continue to be for a four-year deal.
Something has to change. Maybe it'll be through injury, or, inevitably, compromise on the price tags. Because baseball players need to play baseball to get paid.
You'd walk into a press room in spring training in Florida before the start of an exhibition, and if you saw a group of scouts bunched together at a table, it figured that Jim Fregosi would be in the middle of that scrum -- cajoling, opining, teasing, in the loudest voice.
AP Photo/Reinhold Matay
Jim Fregosi in 2013.
If he caught your eye, Fregosi would pepper you with rhetorical questions, like a teacher leading a class with the Socratic method. What do you think about the Yankees’ rotation? How is A-Rod looking? What do you hear about that managerial situation across the state? You knew he wouldn’t ask the question if he didn’t have strong feelings, or strong information.
For fans of the Angels and Mets, Fregosi, who passed early Friday morning, will be remembered for his days as a player, but he is mostly considered property of the Philadelphia fans, because he was the leader of one of the most fun teams in history, the ’93 Phillies, National League champions.
My own thoughts of Fregosi go back to those press-room exchanges, the knowing glances. Last spring, when there were so many questions about Roy Halladay, Fregosi attended a start in Clearwater, Fla. Halladay looked like he was laboring badly in the first inning, and after he finished, I ran down to the scouts' section to ask about what they had seen.
Fregosi saw me coming down the aisle, and slyly placed his right hand on his left shoulder, with four fingers extended. As in: 84 mph. And Fregosi raised his eyebrows, with emphasis. As in: This is a big problem.
I haven't known him as well as others, but those who did have revered him, cared for him, and the press rooms and scout sections in Florida will not be the same without him.
Billy Owens, a scout for the Oakland Athletics, sent these thoughts about Fregosi:
"His career was unparalleled in Major League Baseball. He performed at a high level on the field for 18 years. He skippered for 15 years including the 1993 World Series. After his illustrious field career culminated he dove tailed into a high level scouting position for one of the most successful franchises in MLB. Besides that, his gregarious personality was enviable while also being generous with his time to every facet in and out of the game. Truly a unique individual. His success on the diamond in all aspects has been regal in numerous ways. John Wayne of baseball."
• The Rays are opening spring training and David Price is still part of the team.
• The Angels are negotiating a massive extension with Mike Trout, writes Mike DiGiovanna.
I wrote a couple of pieces in the fall about what the scope of this deal could be, given his unprecedented production in the first two years of his career. One estimate: 12 years, $400 million, especially in light of his one-year value.
• Prince Fielder revealed his workout regimen to Richard Durrett, and he looks great.
• A consensus among a lot of rival officials and evaluators is that the Pirates made a mistake in not tendering a qualifying offer to A.J. Burnett last November. "He's the perfect candidate for a qualifying offer," one executive said. "If you get him on a one-year deal, at that age, you feel good about it, and his production merited an offer."
Said another: "If you are willing to pay him $10 million to $12 million on a one-year deal, it's not a stretch -- even for a small-market team -- to pay him $14 million, especially early in the offseason. They would've left [Burnett] with two choices: pitch for the Pirates at that rate, or retire, because no team would give up a draft pick to sign someone at that age."
Burnett's decision surprised some of his teammates. There's that house analogy.
Dings and dents
1. Miguel Cabrera is feeling a lot better now.
2. Franklin Gutierrez has been lost for the season.
3. Taijuan Walker is dealing with some shoulder soreness.
4. Gavin Floyd and Jonny Venters are looking to be back in May.
5. The Astros’ Alex White is focused on his health.
6. Jake Arrieta is dealing with a shoulder issue.
7. Ruben Amaro downplayed the Cole Hamels issue.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Rays swapped Jose Lobaton for pitcher Nate Karns. Advanced metrics indicate Lobaton is a really good defensive catcher.
2. The Yankees and Marlins are going to play two exhibition games in Panama.
3. The Brewers are looking to sign a prospect.
4. The Orioles signed a pitcher.
The fight for jobs
1. Rick Renteria says Jose Veras will be his closer.
2. Brad Ziegler is trying to hold onto the D-backs' closer job.
Best shape of his life
Trevor Plouffe has bulked up, and Vance Worley slimmed down.
• The talented Athletics are facing skeptics, writes Susan Slusser.
• The Royals are preparing to open camp, writes Andy McCullough.
• Drew Smyly is preparing for his shift to the Detroit rotation, as Tom Gage writes.
• The Indians believe in Michael Brantley, writes Paul Hoynes.
• Here are concerns about the Blue Jays, from Ken Fidlin.
• The Red Sox can learn from the Dodgers' experience with extra starting pitching.
• Felix Doubront arrived in better condition.
• Brett Anderson is ready for a role in the Rockies' rotation.
• Here are Henry Schulman's five questions facing the Giants.
• The Dodgers' bullpen is loaded, as Dylan Hernandez writes.
• A Padres prospect is eager to ditch an innings cap, writes Jeff Sanders.
• The Cubs can't seem to escape the doom and gloom, writes Gordon Wittenmyer.
• Yadier Molina thinks he can do better.
• Bryan Price offers a fresh perspective, writes John Fay.
• Matt Williams has spring training all planned out.
• David O’Brien writes about the comparison between Chipper and Freddie Freeman.
• The Phillies' chemistry faces an early test.
Phillies flounder with A.J. Burnett deal.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Without context, the signing of A.J. Burnett looks like a coup for the Phillies. They signed one of the top dozen starters in the National League from 2013 to a one-year deal that, at $16 million, doesn't overpay based on his recent standard of production. Burnett is 37 years old and has had injury problems earlier in his career as well as a reputation for an unwillingness to play through pain or discomfort that he has disproved in the past few seasons. He was worth 4 Wins Above Replacement in 2013 (using Fangraphs' version, which normalizes BABIP), 3 the year before, and even at that level would represent good value at $16 million.
Context is everything, of course, and the Phillies aren't the right team to hand a 37-year-old pitcher a one-year deal unless it is with the idea of flipping him for long-term assets at some point during the season. The Phillies aren't contenders as constructed; even before Cole Hamels revealed his shoulder bothered him this offseason and he won't be ready for Opening Day, they looked like a sub-.500 team. Adding Burnett might have pushed them to 81 wins but not more. Now he looks more like Hamels' replacement for at least part of the season, and if Hamels' injury is serious and not just temporary soreness, the Phillies would be more likely to end up around 75 wins even with Burnett taking the ball 33 times.
Burnett is also an exceptionally poor fit for the Phillies' roster. Since arriving in Pittsburgh and working with Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage, Burnett has become a ground ball machine (remarkably without losing his ability to miss bats) and relied on the Pirates' ability to position defenders well to get more outs. The Phillies have a poor defensive left side of their infield -- Jimmy Rollins has declined to below average, and Cody Asche hasn't shown anything to make me think he'll be an average defender this year -- and they don't use the kind of analytics that Pittsburgh used to become one of the majors' most efficient defenses last year. A healthy Chase Utley is an asset with the glove, but Ryan Howard is a huge liability at first. Burnett is going to find the ground balls he generates have better vision than they did in 2013.
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Howard's won't be a boon for Burnett.
If the Phillies signed Burnett to make 20 starts and then become trade bait in July, that's a much better plan, as they could use another high-level prospect or two to bridge the gap until the wave of teenage prospects in their system gets another two years closer to the majors. Burnett, however, was willing to sign with only a limited number of teams this winter -- Pittsburgh, Philly and Baltimore among them -- and I expect we'll hear the Phillies had to give Burnett at least limited no-trade protection to get him to sign a one-year deal. The more restrictive the no-trade clause, the worse it is for the Phillies.
Meanwhile, the losers in this are the Pirates, who get the shaft from a collective bargaining agreement that, in theory, was supposed to help lower-revenue teams remain competitive. The Pirates didn't make Burnett a qualifying offer for fear he would accept it and saddle them with a $14 million starter who takes up 15 to 20 percent of their payroll, a rational move with the inevitable outcome we have, where they get squat for losing Burnett to free agency.
Tying draft pick compensation to free agency was always stupid -- the original reason was to try to put a drag on free-agent salaries back when deals of seven figures got owners and media all hot and bothered -- but it has completely failed low-revenue teams. If the Pirates can't get a pick for losing Burnett, then the system needs to be scrapped because that's one more bit of evidence that it's not working.
Rookies I can't wait to scout this spring.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Every year at spring training there is a lot of focus on the star players who switched teams, with Robinson Cano being a prime example this year. However, what I am most excited about for this spring is the chance to scout some of the game's top rookies.
It’s fun to watch young players develop in real time, and to see if they can do enough to convince their managers and GMs to take them up north. It’s a time when the game’s best evaluators get a taste of just how good some young players can be.
So here are 10 rookies I am looking forward to scouting during spring training. And trust me, just getting the list down to 10 was not easy. Note: This is not a ranking, as some of the game’s best prospects -- such as the Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Carlos Correa -- are not on the list simply because I've seen them so much over the past year.
1. Javier Baez | SS | Chicago Cubs | R/R | 6-0, 190 | Age: 21
In my opinion, Baez has the best bat speed of any prospect in baseball. It's so impressive most evaluators compare it to Gary Sheffield. His bat is so quick that in his preliminary movement, he actually wraps his bat as a timing mechanism.
He will have to cut down on that as well as his strikeouts as he nears the big leagues. Baez must also reduce his physical errors on defense; I wonder if he should stay at shortstop or move to second base.
2. Oscar Taveras | RF | St. Louis Cardinals | L/L | 6-2, 210 | Age: 21
Taveras is the best left-handed hitting prospect in baseball. The Cardinals’ plan is to start him in Triple A with Allen Craig starting in right and Matt Adams starting at first base.
But the fact is the Cardinals will have a better team when Taveras is the everyday right fielder. He battled ankle injuries last season, but after surgery in August he is expected to be 100 percent by Opening Day.
3. Nick Castellanos | 3B | Detroit Tigers | R/R | 6-4, 215 | Age: 21
The Tigers traded Prince Fielder this offseason due in part to the team's desire to move Miguel Cabrera to first base and open up third base for Castellanos. I was wowed by Castellanos at the 2012 Futures Game when he took home the MVP award.
His swing path, bat speed and ability to hit caught my attention. He showed 20-homer power but is a below-average runner and just a solid defender.
4. Billy Hamilton | CF | Cincinnati Reds | B/R | 6-0, 160 | Age: 23
Hamilton made a huge big league debut in September, challenging the best arms the majors had to offer and went 13-of-14 in stolen base attempts. But can he get on base? The key for him will be to attempt to bunt at least once a game and just slap the ball for infield hits. But most impressive is how well he adjusted to playing center field after beginning his minor league career at shortstop. His arm is much stronger than it used to be thanks to a steady diet of long toss.
5. Taijuan Walker | RHP | Seattle Mariners | R/R | 6-4, 215 | Age: 21
On the 20-80 scouting scale, with 80 being the highest grade possible, Walker grades out as an 80 in makeup and character, and his fastball, curve and changeup all rate above average. He also throws a slider/cutter that should improve in time. But his command and control will determine how dominant he becomes.
He showed flashes during a cup of coffee in September, striking out 12 and walking just four in 15 innings. Walker was a two-sport athlete in high school (he also played basketball) with all the raw talents to develop into a star.
6. Archie Bradley | RHP | Arizona Diamondbacks | R/R | 6-4, 225 | Age: 21
Arizona's signing of Bronson Arroyo virtually assured Bradley will remain in the minors until at least late June. It’s a business decision designed to preserve service time, but I don't blame them, because Bradley is the best pitching prospect in baseball.
He profiles as a No. 1 starter with a fastball is in the mid- to high-90s, and I would argue that his 12-to-6 curveball is as good as any prospect's in baseball. He has great downward plane that results in high ground-ball rates. But the pitch to watch is his developing changeup. Bradley's statistical numbers were as staggering, including a 1.84 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and a .215 batting average against in a combined 26 starts between Class A and Double-A last season.
7. Addison Russell | SS | Oakland Athletics | R/R | 6-0, 195 | Age: 20
The next class of shortstop prospects is probably the best in a long time based on Keith Law's top 100 prospects rankings, in which five shortstops made the top 10. No. 3 is Russell.
He is a good, athletic defensive shortstop with soft hands, above-average range and solid arm strength. If he has a solid season in Double-A, don't be surprised if he makes it to the big leagues by September or at the latest in 2015.
8. George Springer | OF | Houston Astros | R/R | 6-3, 205 | Age: 24
As a prospect, Springer has never been given the respect he deserves. Why? Some think he has a long swing and the Astros have been slow to promote him. However, his time has come and I expect him to finally start in the outfield for the Astros either in left or right field come Opening Day.
Last year, he became just the third minor league player in 40 years to hit 30 home runs and steal 40 bases. He also drove in 108 runs, hitting .303/.411/.600 across Double- and Triple-A. He struck out 161 times in 590 plate appearances, which is a red flag, but I think he can make the necessary adjustments to be an impact player.
9. Matt Wisler | RHP | San Diego Padres | R/R | 6-3, 190 | Age: 21
Wisler is one of those under-the-radar prospects who could be a difference-maker for the Padres as early as this season. Last season, he started in high Class A and was promoted after dominating in six starts. At Double-A, Wisler posted a 3.00 ERA with 103 strikeouts in 105 innings.
His fastball is in the mid-90s with late life, his slider is hard and nasty, and he mixes in a curve and changeup, as well. He pitches ahead by pounding the strike zone on both sides of the plate, walking just two batters per nine innings.
10. Michael Choice | OF/DH | Texas Rangers | R/R | 6-0, 215 | Age: 24
With all the heists Oakland GM Billy Beane made this offseason, trading Choice is the one deal I think he’ll regret in the long term. I expect Choice to develop into an outfielder capable of hitting 15-20 home runs. The only question is when he will get his chance. With a full outfield of Alex Rios, Leonys Martin and Shin-Soo Choo in Texas, Choice will either platoon with Mitch Moreland at DH or more likely be sent to Triple-A.
Choice’s .390 OBP in Triple-A last season is an indicator of his offensive potential and I expect him to be a solid contributor for years to come.
Top 20 impact prospects for 2014.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
My top 100 prospects ranking from late January focused on long-term career value, which meant the list included many teenaged prospects who easily could be five years from producing any positive value for a major league team. If we're looking just at this upcoming season, however, the rankings are very different, and I've produced my ranking of the top 20 impact prospects for 2014.
Law's prospect rankings
Farm system rankings
HOU No. 1 | MIN close | Luhnow
Top 100 prospects
No. 1-50 | 51-100 | Law chat
AL top 10s by team
East | Central | West
NL top 10s by team
East | Central | West
Breakout prospects: AL | NL
After those 20, I've listed a number of other players who could come up this season and be above replacement-level if they get the chance.
I do not rank players with experience in a foreign major league as prospects, though those players are still officially considered rookies in MLB when they debut here.
If I included them on my rankings, Masahiro Tanaka and Jose Abreu would be 1-2 on this list; both are older, more experienced players than the kids ranked in this top 20, and I think both will have an immediate impact in the majors, making the AL Rookie of the Year competition this year extremely fierce.
With that said, here are my top 20 prospects based on the impact they will have in 2014.
1. Nick Castellanos, 3B | Detroit Tigers
Castellanos tops the list because he has a full-time gig waiting for him, little internal competition, and plenty of ability to make an impact in the near term. His defense might not be ready for prime time, but his glove already is a real improvement over the one he's replacing, and I think he's got rookie of the year potential if neither Tanaka nor Abreu runs away with it.
2. Xander Bogaerts, SS | Boston Red Sox
Bogaerts was my No. 2 overall prospect this winter and appears to have the shortstop job to himself unless the team brings back Stephen Drew. Bogaerts' game is more balanced than Castellanos', with more value on defense and better ability to get on base, but he's a little less physically mature than Castellanos and may have a longer growth period until he's an impact hitter.
3. Jackie Bradley Jr., CF | Boston Red Sox
Like Bogaerts, Bradley appears to have a job nailed down, and unlike Bogaerts there isn't a veteran free agent lurking out there to steal playing time for a year. Bradley's glove is ready now -- it was ready last spring -- but he was overmatched in April once pitchers started trying to get him out rather than just tuning up in early March (small sample size caveats apply). He's more prepared now, and should post a solid mid-.300s OBP with 8-10 homers and plus-plus defense.
4. Erik Johnson, RHP | Chicago White Sox
Maybe more a workhorse than a future ace, Johnson has made a ton of progress since the White Sox drafted him two years ago out of Cal, and he has a couple of potential out pitches in his arsenal, along with the build for 200-plus innings a year. He could easily be Chicago's third-most valuable starting pitcher in 2014.
5. Travis d'Arnaud, C | New York Mets
The archetypal GWH player -- Good When Healthy. D'Arnaud can catch, throw, and hit for power, but has to stay on the field. The Mets don't have a heavy-use backup on the 40-man, so they're counting on d'Arnaud to catch 120 games this year, which should mean 15-20 homers and excellent defense if he can stay out of the trainers' room.
6. Jake Marisnick, CF | Miami Marlins
In an ideal organization, Marisnick would have finished last year in the minors and would start 2014 in Triple-A, working on his approach and recognition of off-speed stuff before reaching the majors in the middle of this year. Instead, he's in the majors now, ready on defense, likely to hit 20-plus homers if he gets 500 at-bats, but also a fair bet to post a sub-.300 OBP if he can't make some quick adjustments.
7. Billy Hamilton, CF | Cincinnati Reds
The Reds are giving professional baseball's fastest man the center field job -- there's no proper backup on the roster, as Skip Schumaker can't handle center on more than an emergency basis -- and we're about to find out whether Hamilton can hit.
His total lack of power has become a problem, especially from the left side, as pitchers crowd him in to prevent him from slapping the ball the other way and beating out every ground ball. If he holds the job all year, he could still swipe 50-60 bases even with a low (think .300ish) OBP, and I think he'll save 10 runs a year on defense.
8. George Springer, OF, Houston Astros
Springer is the first player on my list who doesn't appear to have a full-time job already, but he could come up at any point in the first half of the season, and I think his impact will be immediate -- power, speed, along with good defense anywhere he plays. He'd be higher if he had the job from day one, but I don't think the Astros have any rational reason to do that when they can save his service time in a season in which they won't contend.
9. Kolten Wong, 2b | St. Louis Cardinals
What you saw last fall doesn't reflect Wong's skill set, between the small sample and the irregular playing time. He's the regular second basemen for the NL champs, and capable of posting a .280/.340/.380 line with neutral defense this year.
10. Matt Davidson, 3B | Chicago White Sox
Davidson has some competition for the regular third-base job, both in March or if he should scuffle in April/May, but he's the best option on their 40-man roster and a good bet to hit .250/.330/.425 or so if he gets regular playing time, with average or just below-average defense.
11. Taijuan Walker, RHP | Seattle Mariners
Walker and lefty James Paxton both have shots at breaking camp with the Mariners this April, with slight competition for the last two rotation spots. Walker has better stuff, with a possible swing-and-miss cutter, but a tendency to leave the fastball up because of his upright finish. I think he'll miss a lot of bats right out of the chute, but keeping the ball down and in the park will be key for him to be even league-average this year.
12. Oscar Taveras, RF | St. Louis Cardinals
Taveras likely would have been the Cardinals' starting right fielder on Opening Day had he not missed nearly all of 2013 with an ankle injury. He's expected to be 100 percent when he reports to spring training and I don't think Matt Adams and Allen Craig are long-term obstacles to Taveras' playing time. When Taveras, who reminds me a lot of Vlad Guerrero but from the left side, shows he's healthy and can rake against Triple-A pitching, he'll be in St. Louis, forcing Adams to part-time duty.
13. Marcus Semien, IF | Chicago White Sox
Semien could play any of three spots for Chicago -- short, second, or third -- or he could just play a lot of each of them as a true "super-utility" player, getting 400-450 at bats while spelling all three starters. Second baseman Gordon Beckham hasn't sniffed a .330 OBP or a .400 SLG since his rookie year, and he's a fringe defender at best. Semien could end up taking over that job by midseason and forcing a trade or non-tender of Beckham before 2015.
14. Chris Owings, SS | Arizona Diamondbacks
One of Arizona's best moves this offseason was a non-move, keeping both Owings and shortstop Didi Gregorius and allowing the surplus to play itself out before rushing to trade one of the two players. Gregorius is the incumbent but was a non-factor at the plate after his first 10 games in the majors. Owings is almost as good a defender, but has far better bat speed and gap power. He should be the starter coming out of spring training, with Gregorius heading to Triple-A to try to shorten up his swing and improve his approach against southpaws.
15. Kevin Gausman, RHP | Baltimore Orioles
Gausman was filthy in relief at the end of 2013, but he's still a starter in my eyes and in Baltimore's as well, a horse with a chance for three plus pitches if the slider we saw in September can come with him to a starting role this year. If you're looking for a guy in the 11-20 range on this list who, by year-end, will clearly have belonged in the top five, this is the best bet. He's a volatile asset but with huge upside if that slider clicks.
16. Jake Odorizzi, RHP | Tampa Bay Rays
Jeremy Hellickson's injury pushes Odorizzi, a very similar pitcher, into the team's Opening Day rotation, where he'll get lots of help from his team's stellar defense and should be above replacement-level, thanks to his ability to throw four pitches for strikes. I don't think he'll miss enough bats to be average, but could end up getting 30 or so starts for Tampa Bay, which doesn't have a lot of rotation depth heading into this season.
17. Marcus Stroman, RHP | Toronto Blue Jays
Stroman could help the Jays in two ways this year, even if he doesn't make the team out of spring training. He might be one of the five best starting options in the organization today -- the Jays' main choices after their front three are guys coming off injuries (such as J.A. Happ and Drew Hutchison) and pitchers who have proven they're not major league starters (such as Esmil Rogers).
But Stroman also would be lights-out in a relief role, and not limited to 10-15 pitch outings, which might matter because no one the Jays have in the bullpen behind Casey Janssen is any kind of lock. One way or another, Stroman should spend most of the year with the big league club.
18. Josmil Pinto, C | Minnesota Twins
Pinto is probably the heir apparent to Joe Mauer in Minnesota. His bat is ready to play, but his glove isn't, and he'll likely always be an offense-first catcher. The Twins will face a tough decision this year on how to work Pinto into the major league lineup; he needs to catch every day to improve his receiving -- and he'd probably be better off doing that in Triple-A -- but he's also their best candidate to give them some offense behind the plate.
19. Archie Bradley, RHP | Arizona Diamondbacks
The Snakes just handed their fifth starter's job -- and an enormous pile of money -- to Bronson Arroyo, which fills their rotation on paper for now and leaves Bradley waiting for an injury or other opportunity to make his major league debut. That'll come at some point this year, likely in June or so.
His stuff is ready, but his command isn't, although the latter has been improving the past two years. Even if he only gets 15-18 starts in the majors in 2014, he'll be among the NL's best rookie starters.
20. Jameson Taillon, RHP | Pittsburgh Pirates
Like Bradley, Taillon is more poised to be an impact call-up than a full-season big leaguer in 2014. And like Bradley, Taillon has better present stuff than he does command. Bradley has the better overall package of pitches and feel, but Taillon has just as much velocity and he will get a lot of chases on his slider, at least from right-handed hitters.
His system-mate, Nick Kingham, is more polished and could also get an early call-up, but Taillon brings bigger upside for the long term and I'd bet he gets the first shot when there's an opportunity.
Other position players to watch: Michael Choice, OF, Texas Rangers; Max Stassi, C, Houston Astros; Kevin Pillar, OF, Toronto Blue Jays; Alex Guerrero, 2B, Los Angeles Dodgers
Other starting pitchers to watch: Allen Webster, RHP, Boston Red Sox; Rafael Montero, RHP, New York Mets; Trevor Bauer, RHP, Cleveland Indians; Tim Cooney, LHP, St. Louis Cardinals; Matt Wisler, RHP, San Diego Padres; Yordano Ventura, RHP, Kansas City Royals; Brian Flynn, LHP, Miami Marlins; Mike Wright, RHP, Baltimore
Potential impact call-ups for the second half: Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians; Addison Russell, SS, Oakland Athletics; Jonathan Singleton, 1B, Houston Astros; Cesar Puello, RF, New York Mets; Eddie Butler, RHP, Colorado Rockies; Jonathan Gray, RHP, Colorado Rockies; Mark Appel, RHP, Houston Astros; Gregory Polanco, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Real cost of the qualifying offer.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
If you're like me, thoughts of spring seem far away as you shovel a foot of snow from your driveway, wondering if your back or heart will be the first to quit. But for major leaguers, spring is an imminent thing, with all teams having their full complement of players reporting in the next week or so.
That doesn't go for all major leaguers, however, as a large number of players remain unsigned. The most notable among them are the six players on Keith Law's top-rated free agents list who haven't signed yet, with five of them -- Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana, Stephen Drew, Nelson Cruz and Kendrys Morales -- finding the markets less receptive to their desired salaries than they had hoped, at least partially due to draft picks they will cost the team that signs them as a result of the qualifying offer they received from their former teams.
The market has been so slow for these players that it's fair to ask if teams are being too protective of their draft picks. But upon further inspection, it appears GMs are acting rationally. Allow me to explain.
Whether a team loses a first-, second- or later-round pick, those picks have real value. When looking at the value of draft picks before last year's draft, I developed a model of expected WAR value from each pick. (Remember: We can't just use the average value of each pick, or Albert Pujols would make one think the 402nd pick is valuable, which it is not.)
The No. 20 pick came out with an expected value of 5.6 WAR, the No. 45 pick at 2.9 WAR and the No. 75 pick at around 1.6 WAR. (I'm using these as proxies for the types of picks that would be given up for teams that sign these players.) Even when you take into consideration that the players aren't free, especially toward the end of arbitration, for those three picks I get an estimated surplus value of 4.2 WAR, 2.2 WAR and 1.2 WAR, respectively.
Those WAR figures for a typical draft pick may not be exciting, but in a world where Phil Hughes makes $8 million per season, those numbers are significant. With teams paying roughly $5.45 million in the free-agent market for a win (my current estimate based on existing contracts), the loss of the 20th pick in the draft comes out to $23 million. You might eat that when you're signing a superstar, but it's a painful price to add in for a second- or third-tier free agent. The numbers are less for our theoretical 45th and 75th picks, but $12 million and $7 million, respectively, are still significant chunks of cash.
For each of the "qualifying offer five," I've run down the ZiPS contract projection for each one (in a neutral park/league) along with how they should be priced when you factor in first- or second-round compensation. I gave them a year on the contract for each season they project to exceed 2 WAR, with a minimum of a two-year deal.
Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP
ZiPS projected contract: Four years, $75 million
First-round compensation: Four years, $52 million
Second-round compensation: Four years, $63 million
Jimenez is probably in the best position of the "qualifying offer five," providing enough value that he's worth signing to a contract of a significant length, which makes the loss of draft-pick value manageable. The Blue Jays in particular have two protected first-round picks, and given Jimenez's upside -- he was unstoppable in the second half -- he has a good shot at finding a home (if not in Toronto, then with another second-tier contender).
The Indians remain a good home for Jimenez, but they would want to factor in the price of not getting a compensation sandwich pick, a pick in the mid-30s having around $15 million in surplus value.
Ervin Santana, RHP
ZiPS projected contract: Four years, $50 million
First-round compensation: Four years, $27 million
Second-round compensation: Four years, $38 million
Here we really see the impact of the lost pick. There's absolutely no way Santana would sign for $27 million over four years, but that's essentially what it would take to make the loss of a typical first-round pick a fair trade. Even the 30th pick in the draft has a $17 million expected value, so that essentially cuts off two-thirds of teams except for the ones that are feeling a bit of desperation.
Complicating matters is that some of the teams still looking for pitching (Baltimore, Toronto) play in homer-friendly parks that aren't great fits for the gopher-ball-friendly Santana.
Stephen Drew, SS
ZiPS projected contract: Two years, $20 million
First-round compensation: Two years, $-3 million
Second-round compensation: Two years, $8 million
Considering Drew is already in his 30s and has a significant injury history, it's hard to justify a long-term deal, and the draft-pick compensation doesn't change if you sign a one-year contract rather than a five-year deal. It's quite logical that the Mets -- who have a protected first-rounder and gave up their second-rounder for Curtis Granderson -- would be one of the teams most interested in Drew, as the third-round compensation drops his value to two years, $13 million.
While the Mets may be willing to exceed that number, Drew's reported desire for an opt-out clause after one year makes it a bad idea. Limiting the upside the Mets can get from a Drew contract just makes Ruben Tejada more appealing.
Kendrys Morales, 1B
ZiPS projected contract: Two years, $24 million
First-round compensation: Two years, $1 million
Second-round compensation: Two years, $12 million
Nelson Cruz, OF
ZiPS projected contract: Two years, $18 million
First-round compensation: Two years, $-5 million
Second-round compensation: Two years, $6 million
Morales and Cruz are in the same boat since they both have a similar problem, in that there's almost no scenario in which losing a first-round pick becomes a good idea. Morales stayed healthy in 2013 and was quite solid for the Mariners, but he's also on the wrong side of 30 and provides little defensive value. A team that desperately needs offense and owns a protected first-rounder may sign Morales, but his market is limited.
Cruz is even older than Morales, more one-dimensional and is coming off a PED suspension, none of which will help him on the open market. If there ever truly was a five-year, $75 million offer on the table from a team, Cruz turning it down was a mistake of epic proportions, similar to that of Jody Reed (who once turned down three years, $7.8 million and ended up getting one year, $350,000) or Juan Gonzalez (who turned down eight years, $140 million before 2000; made $39 million in remaining five years of his career). Like Drew, Cruz is actually worth negative dollars when you factor in a first-round pick.
The Mariners remain the best fit for Cruz (and he has been linked to Seattle all winter) as a team that really wants to spend money and always thinks it's just a mediocre DH away from a 90-win season.
Rumors.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Bauer hopes change is good
February, 14, 2014
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com
On Thursday, Jordan Bastian of MLB.com reported that Cleveland Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer was "testing out his new delivery" in a bullpen session. The hope is that a new approach on the mound could lead to Bauer becoming part of the Indians rotation in 2014.
ESPN Insider Alex Speier explains the adjustment, and offers up the reason Bauer needed to change in the first place. "He reduced his stride in 2013, but in doing so, he gave up some of the Lincecum-like tilt in his hips and shoulders that had been a defining element of his delivery at his most effective. Not only did his control suffer, but his stuff flattened out," Speier writes.
"This offseason, Bauer found what Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway characterized as a happy medium -- a reduced stride length to reduce the likelihood of injury while restoring the body angle that allowed him to have outrageous stuff in college. When Callaway saw Bauer throw a side session recently, the results were eye-opening."
Who replaces Jeter in 2015?
February, 14, 2014
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com
As the accolades continue to rain down on New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter in the wake of his announcement that the 2014 season will be his last, one can't help but ask who might end up with the unenviable task of following in Jeter's very big footsteps come 2015.
By way of trying to answer that big question, let's take an admittedly early look into the crystal ball, and see if we can't come up with a few potential candidates who might be up to the challenge:
Stephen Drew: With the New York Mets and Boston Red Sox both unwilling to give Drew the contract terms he's looking for, perhaps the Yankees will now jump at the chance to steal the shortstop away. As George A. King III of the New York Post writes, "Drew could play third and second base and provide a strong fill-in for Jeter this season" before ultimately taking over for good in 2015.
Hanley Ramirez: Yes, Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times reported that Ramirez said Wednesday he wanted to be a "Dodger for life." Of course, just after being traded to Los Angeles in 2012, Ramirez was stunned to have left the team he called "my family, the only one I had in baseball." If he makes it to free agency before working out an extension, odds are his attitude towards the Dodgers could easily change.
J.J. Hardy: Similar to Ramirez, Hardy might not be going anywhere after this season. As Roch Kubatko of MASN Sports reported last week, the Baltimore Orioles are hoping to work out extension with the shortstop before Opening Day comes around. However, that's easier said than done, and once October rolls around, Hardy may figure out that the Yankees might be willing to give him a lot of money in 2015.
Other potential free agents after the 2014 season that may end up finding their way to pinstripes include Asdrubal Cabrera, Jed Lowrie and also Ben Zobrist -- if Tampa Bay decides not to exercise a team option. The Yankees could also end up making a big offer to Cuban defector Aledmys Diaz who could spend the season at Triple-A to prepare for the huge task of following Jeter at shortstop in the Bronx.
Tags:Asdrubal Cabrera, Jed Lowrie, J.J. Hardy, Ben Zobrist, Aledmys Diaz, Hanley Ramirez, Stephen Drew
Cards hoping Taveras will be ready
February, 13, 2014
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com
The St. Louis Cardinals are hoping that outfield prospect Oscar Taveras will be a part of their organization for many years to come. However, even as the youngster arrived in camp from the Dominican Republic a full week earlier than required, the team was optimistic, but by no means certain, that he will be ready to play from the get-go.
Last season, Taveras was only able to play 46 games at Triple-A, as his season came to a premature end due to an ankle injury that ultimately required surgery. As Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports, Taveras has not yet been cleared to run at full speed.
"He's here early to continue his recovery and ramp up toward full-speed running so that he's on track for when full-squad workouts begin next week. The Cardinals said he may ease into the workouts because there's no need to push him. They believe he'll be ready for games," Goold writes.
"The Cardinals are open to the possibility that he could hit this spring and hit his way into the majors, though (general manager) John Mozeliak has said recently that Taveras' development and need for everyday playing time would be the tiebreaker if he was just going to be on the bench in the majors."
Jim Bowden of ESPN.com lists Taveras among his rookies he can't wait to scout this spring. "Taveras is the best left-handed hitting prospect in baseball," Bowden writes. "The Cardinals’ plan is to start him in Triple-A with Allen Craig starting in right and Matt Adams starting at first base. But the fact is the Cardinals will have a better team when Taveras is the everyday right fielder."
Will Iwakuma's injury alter Seattle's plans?
February, 13, 2014
By Joe Kaiser | ESPN.com
The Seattle Mariners announced Wednesday that they will likely be without their No. 2 starting pitcher, Hisashi Iwakuma, during the early part of the season due to a strained tendon in the middle finger of his right throwing hand. Does that raise the likelihood of Seattle going after, and perhaps landing, one of the few big-name starters that's available, like Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana?
It's certainly possible, especially when you consider how this is a make-or-break season for Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik, but at least one media member in Seattle believes it shouldn't change the team's plans.
Jason Churchill of CBS' 1090 The Fan addressed this today.
"... The club’s need for another proven, healthy starting pitcher has been there all along, and missing Iwakuma for what appears to be 2-5 starts doesn’t change that, or make the need any more pressing," he writes. "Changing their stance on dollars and years for a free agent such as Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez, or in terms of what they are willing to sacrifice to land a trade target such as Jeff Samardzija greatly decreases the chance GM Jack Zduriencik gets good value in any transaction."
Anyway you look at it, the prospect of the Mariners being without Iwakuma for any length of time is a crushing blow. However, reacting to the news by overpaying for a free agent would only compound the problem.
And that's exactly what a player agent told Churchill.
“That’s negotiating 101, really," the agent said. "Show weakness or any sense of desperation and my bottom line is going to change. It’s a supply and demand business, but when one potential buyer has a tell, so to speak, nine times out of 10 it gets exploited."
Until Iwakuma returns, look for Seattle to make due behind Felix Hernandez with a group that could includes Taijuan Walker and James Paxton as well as Erasmo Ramirez. Training camp invites Scott Baker, Randy Wolf and/or Zach Miner could also leave camp with the big club and carve out a role in the M's rotation.
Tags:Seattle Mariners, Hisashi Iwakuma
Stanton could stay in Miami
February, 13, 2014
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com
Perhaps there won't be a steady stream of rumors this season about a potential trade of Giancarlo Stanton away from the Miami Marlins after the outfielder recently agreed to a $6.5 million deal to avoid arbitration.
Although Stanton is not able to declare free agency until after the 2016 season due to his service time, and also not expecting to discuss any contract extensions until after the 2014 season, at the earliest, the concept of remaining with the Marlins is not something to which the slugger is opposed -- if the team starts winning.
According to Joe Frisaro of MLB.com, "Miami officials have repeatedly said publicly they would like to sign Stanton to a multi-year deal. But the two sides agreed early in the offseason to hammer out a contract for 2014 and then wait and see."
"In order for the team to have security, that doesn't happen in two seconds," Stanton said. "That happens over a season or over two seasons. You show me that, and we can get something going."
Position battle: Rockies' closer
February, 13, 2014
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com
When the Colorado Rockies signed free agent LaTroy Hawkins to a one-year $2.5 million deal with an option for 2015, the assumption was that he would, at that price, be taking over ninth-inning duties for the team's bullpen. However, his ultimate role with the Rockies is far from set in stone.
LaTroy Hawkins, age 41, throws right
Rex Brothers, age 26, throws left
Hawkins: Debuted just two years after the Rockies became a franchise. His 13 saves as an emergency closer for the New York Mets last season were his most since 2004.
Brothers: Recorded 19 saves in 2013 after an injury to Rafael Betancourt forced the team to move him from his more-familiar set-up role with the club.
Latest update: Rockies owner **** Monfort was asked recently if he truly trusted Hawkins to close out games this year. His response, according to Troy Renck of the Denver Post, was that while Hawkins still throws 94 mph, has excellent control, and was a leader on and off the field, he's not an everyday closer.
Current leader: Hawkins, by a slim margin. At the very least, barring a spring collapse by either pitcher, this situation looks to be one that starts the season with a situational approach. As long as Hawkins holds up his end of the tag-team tandem, he should expect to get save opportunities, but if Brothers "looks the part" better, he may end up wresting the job away on a full-time basis.
'Fixing' Trevor Bauer.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
There are players about whom industry consensus quickly forms, whose abilities inspire clear scouting comparables that point to a decisive projection moving forward. Trevor Bauer is not among them.
Just two and a half years removed from being taken as the No. 3 overall pick in the 2011 draft, Bauer is now viewed almost as a bust. After ranking as high as 21st in Keith Law's top prospect rankings in 2012, he fell completely outside of the top 100 this year, a tumble likely accelerated by his defiance of convention.
Law's prospect rankings
Farm system rankings
HOU No. 1 | MIN close | Luhnow
Top 100 prospects
No. 1-50 | 51-100 | Law chat
AL top 10s by team
East | Central | West
NL top 10s by team
East | Central | West
Breakout prospects: AL | NL
Bauer's success as an amateur -- he led Division I in strikeouts as a sophomore and junior at UCLA, with a 1.25 ERA as a 20-year-old in the latter campaign -- featured anything but the prototypical pitcher's build (6-foot-1 and 190 pounds), delivery (the tilt of his head and hips offered echoes of Tim Lincecum) and routine (long-tossing from 350 feet before starts while incorporating numerous atypical exercises). Still, his arsenal of a mid-90s fastball and a diverse array of secondary pitches was enough to dominate in college, but not enough to suppress questions about the sustainability of his performance.
"Every year there are a half dozen players in the draft who are freakish. They break stereotypes -- stuff so good from bodies so small, they produce great power without a big frame, they're 80 runners or have ridiculous hand-eye coordination. They're guys who break the mold and there aren't really good comps for them," explained one NL executive. "Those players usually cement themselves as either stud prospects with bright futures early or it goes the other direction and they lose value more quickly than traditional prospects.
"[Bauer]," continued the executive, "certainly has tremendously decreased value [since the draft]."
Most of the industry would agree.The Arizona Diamondbacks, who drafted Bauer and signed him to a four-year major league deal, dealt him away to the Indians after his first full pro season, with team managing partner Ken Kendrick publicly challenging the pitcher's willingness to "make adjustments to satisfy the needs of his employer."
Around baseball, the conversation around Bauer shifted from the top-of-the-rotation potential that made him an elite prospect to questions about whether he is uncoachable, too willful and intelligent for his own good, too infatuated with the notion of getting hitters to chase his many secondary offerings (curveball, slider, change, screwball-like reverse slider) rather than simply forcing hitters into a defensive posture by throwing fastballs for strikes.
Not so fast
Although Bauer's velocity held steady in 2013, he got hitters to swing and miss on only 3 of the 168 fastballs the threw in MLB last year.
Fastball 2013 2012
Usage (%) 45 51.7
Velocity 92.7 92.4
Strike % 57.7 63.4
Swing/miss % 1.8 5.9
The criticisms gained volume during a 2013 season in which Bauer's performance both in the majors (1-2, 5.29 ERA, 11 strikeouts, 16 walks in 17 innings) and minors (6-7, 4.15 ERA, 7.9 K/9, 5.4 BB/9) disappointed. He struggled to command his fastball, his walk rate soared and he became heavily reliant on his secondary arsenal.
Some evaluators saw a pitcher whose probability of reaching his ceiling in the big leagues had dropped; others suggested that his ceiling itself had been lowered from a potential ace to a mid-rotation pitcher. In some ways, his struggles harbor similarities to those of Daisuke Matsuzaka -- a pitcher criticized at times for being on his own program with an overly broad arsenal but a lack of faith in his fastball.
"He's a power guy pitching like a finesse guy would and trying to fool and trick everyone," said one American League evaluator. "Just blow it by them. You have the stuff to do it."
The Indians, however, had a different view of 2013.
"We could not be more encouraged about what makes Trevor tick and what motivates him, what drives him," said Indians VP of player development Ross Atkins. "He is internally driven, extremely focused, extremely thoughtful about his craft and about being great. So the transition to our organization went extremely well."
Atkins described Bauer as being receptive and eager for feedback and information, with Atkins saying that after an introductory season of "[building] a vision and goal together," the relationship between the pitcher and team is now a collaborative one.
The struggles on the mound, the Indians felt, related not to coachability but to mechanical alterations Bauer tried to implement to avoid putting too much stress on his back leg, particularly after a groin injury affected him for much of 2012 in Arizona's system.
If the right-hander proves that 2013 was merely an aberration driven by mechanical struggles, then his tumble in prospect circles will represent a blip. If that happens, his intelligence and conditioning program will be interpreted again as assets instead of detriments.
He reduced his stride in 2013, but in doing so, he gave up some of the Lincecum-like tilt in his hips and shoulders that had been a defining element of his delivery at his most effective. Not only did his control suffer, but his stuff flattened out.
This offseason, Bauer found what Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway characterized as a happy medium -- a reduced stride length to reduce the likelihood of injury while restoring the body angle that allowed him to have outrageous stuff in college. When Callaway saw Bauer throw a side session recently, the results were eye-opening.
"He never felt comfortable with his mechanics [in 2013]. He never felt they were repeatable. It led to command issues. He just couldn't throw the ball where he wanted to," Callaway said of 2013. "He got that tilt back. He's using his body the right way. His stuff was better than I saw it throughout the season last year. Even this early, before spring training starts, his stuff is back, and that's really what we wanted to see, and his command was really good.
"His fastball was tracking the mitt well. He was throwing the ball over the plate. With his kind of stuff, all you've got to do is throw the ball over the plate and you're going to get outs."
What Callaway saw was a reminder of the ceiling that proved so tantalizing when the Indians acquired Bauer in a three-way deal with the Diamondbacks and Reds that cost them Shin-Soo Choo. If the right-hander proves that 2013 was merely an aberration driven by mechanical struggles, then his tumble in prospect circles will represent a blip. If that happens, his intelligence and conditioning program will be interpreted again as assets instead of detriments.
But until he proves he can command his pitches in games, and until he demonstrates an ability to throw strikes on a consistent basis, it's hard to say that Bauer has left his struggles behind or that he can emerge as a cornerstone of the Indians' rotation in 2014.
"It would be probably a reach for me to say, look, here's what Trevor's going to do in the major leagues next year," Atkins acknowledged.
Accordingly, the right-hander is competing for a rotation spot rather than being penned into such a responsibility. But if he can resemble the pitcher at 23 that he was as a 20-year-old amateur, the effect on the Indians could be enormous.
Cleveland thus seems intent on proceeding patiently in order to see if he can use his early-career struggles as a platform for success.
"His stuff is very special. His ability to be able to spin the ball, manipulate the ball to make it move, and then his ability to throw the fastball with the velocity and tight spin it has on it, it's really special," Callaway said. "When you have both of them, you have guys like [Justin] Verlander and guys like that who are pretty special. He's kind of in that rank as far as his stuff goes.
"This is not dissimilar to what Cliff Lee went through, to what Roy Halladay went through," Callaway added, alluding to the struggles of two eventual Cy Young winners. "Stuff changes, you struggle, you figure out how to fix it, and I think Trevor is now on the way back to where he wants to be."
Will that faith be rewarded? In Bauer's case, there is no consensus, making him a wild card with equal measures of potential upside and disappointment.