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2016 MLB thread. THE CUBS HAVE BROKEN THE CURSE! Chicago Cubs are your 2016 World Series champions. - Page 174

post #5191 of 77297

 

What's 1.21 gigawatts to a McFly like me. Can you please remind me?
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What's 1.21 gigawatts to a McFly like me. Can you please remind me?
Reply
post #5192 of 77297

 

What's 1.21 gigawatts to a McFly like me. Can you please remind me?
Reply
What's 1.21 gigawatts to a McFly like me. Can you please remind me?
Reply
post #5193 of 77297
Quote:
Originally Posted by RaWeX05

laugh.gif @ the NL West has nothing.

Someone is obviously in bed by the time those games start.

I would not say that about any division just yet.


The Giants best hitter is probably Melky Cabrera at the moment they have no offense only have pitching

I completely forgot that the Dbacks won 94 games. 
post #5194 of 77297
Quote:
Originally Posted by RaWeX05

laugh.gif @ the NL West has nothing.

Someone is obviously in bed by the time those games start.

I would not say that about any division just yet.


The Giants best hitter is probably Melky Cabrera at the moment they have no offense only have pitching

I completely forgot that the Dbacks won 94 games. 
post #5195 of 77297
Quote:
Originally Posted by MFr3shM

Quote:
Originally Posted by RaWeX05

laugh.gif @ the NL West has nothing.

Someone is obviously in bed by the time those games start.

I would not say that about any division just yet.


The Giants best hitter is probably Melky Cabrera at the moment they have no offense only have pitching

I completely forgot that the Dbacks won 94 games. 

Yup.

Their offense is nothing that turns heads. But it will be much better than last year. On the simple logic that it can't get any worse.

Their best hitter is probably Buster Posey. Don't forget about Pablo Sandoval. You say all they have is pitching and that's ok. When you have pitching you don't need many runs.

NL West non-factor? Nah.

Dodgers might surprise people too.
What's 1.21 gigawatts to a McFly like me. Can you please remind me?
Reply
What's 1.21 gigawatts to a McFly like me. Can you please remind me?
Reply
post #5196 of 77297
Quote:
Originally Posted by MFr3shM

Quote:
Originally Posted by RaWeX05

laugh.gif @ the NL West has nothing.

Someone is obviously in bed by the time those games start.

I would not say that about any division just yet.


The Giants best hitter is probably Melky Cabrera at the moment they have no offense only have pitching

I completely forgot that the Dbacks won 94 games. 

Yup.

Their offense is nothing that turns heads. But it will be much better than last year. On the simple logic that it can't get any worse.

Their best hitter is probably Buster Posey. Don't forget about Pablo Sandoval. You say all they have is pitching and that's ok. When you have pitching you don't need many runs.

NL West non-factor? Nah.

Dodgers might surprise people too.
What's 1.21 gigawatts to a McFly like me. Can you please remind me?
Reply
What's 1.21 gigawatts to a McFly like me. Can you please remind me?
Reply
post #5197 of 77297
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by MFr3shM

Quote:
Originally Posted by RaWeX05

laugh.gif @ the NL West has nothing.

Someone is obviously in bed by the time those games start.

I would not say that about any division just yet.


The Giants best hitter is probably Melky Cabrera at the moment they have no offense only have pitching

I completely forgot that the Dbacks won 94 games. 


Whoa, forgetting about Sandoval?  They have an OK offense but I think Melky takes a step back this year.  Not as great as he was last year but he's not that terrible.  Posey back and (hopefully) Belt getting more AB's than Huff.  Not the best but OK.
post #5198 of 77297
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by MFr3shM

Quote:
Originally Posted by RaWeX05

laugh.gif @ the NL West has nothing.

Someone is obviously in bed by the time those games start.

I would not say that about any division just yet.


The Giants best hitter is probably Melky Cabrera at the moment they have no offense only have pitching

I completely forgot that the Dbacks won 94 games. 


Whoa, forgetting about Sandoval?  They have an OK offense but I think Melky takes a step back this year.  Not as great as he was last year but he's not that terrible.  Posey back and (hopefully) Belt getting more AB's than Huff.  Not the best but OK.
post #5199 of 77297
Draft night!!!!

pimp.gif
post #5200 of 77297
Draft night!!!!

pimp.gif
post #5201 of 77297
so Ready for Opening Day pimp.gif
post #5202 of 77297
so Ready for Opening Day pimp.gif
post #5203 of 77297
15 minutes away gentlemen. Lets go!
post #5204 of 77297
15 minutes away gentlemen. Lets go!
post #5205 of 77297
Quote:
Originally Posted by dland24

Draft night!!!!

pimp.gif

Verlander, Halladay, Stras, Garza, Rivera, Marmol, Bell. 

Starlin Castro, Joe Mauer. 


smiley: laughsmiley: laughsmiley: laughsmiley: laughsmiley: laugh  

I have literally zero offense, unless Ryan Howard somehow comes back quick. 

  
MIAMI DOLPHINS
LA LAKERS
CHICAGO CUBS
MIAMI HURRICANES
Reply
MIAMI DOLPHINS
LA LAKERS
CHICAGO CUBS
MIAMI HURRICANES
Reply
post #5206 of 77297
Quote:
Originally Posted by dland24

Draft night!!!!

pimp.gif

Verlander, Halladay, Stras, Garza, Rivera, Marmol, Bell. 

Starlin Castro, Joe Mauer. 


smiley: laughsmiley: laughsmiley: laughsmiley: laughsmiley: laugh  

I have literally zero offense, unless Ryan Howard somehow comes back quick. 

  
MIAMI DOLPHINS
LA LAKERS
CHICAGO CUBS
MIAMI HURRICANES
Reply
MIAMI DOLPHINS
LA LAKERS
CHICAGO CUBS
MIAMI HURRICANES
Reply
post #5207 of 77297
Did albert go first? lol
post #5208 of 77297
Did albert go first? lol
post #5209 of 77297
Thread Starter 
Nah, Miggy 1st then Pujols at 2.
post #5210 of 77297
Thread Starter 
Nah, Miggy 1st then Pujols at 2.
post #5211 of 77297
Quote:
Originally Posted by Proshares

Nah, Miggy 1st then Pujols at 2.



mustve been a cubs fan that picked 1stsmiley: laughsmiley: laughsmiley: laugh
post #5212 of 77297
Quote:
Originally Posted by Proshares

Nah, Miggy 1st then Pujols at 2.



mustve been a cubs fan that picked 1stsmiley: laughsmiley: laughsmiley: laugh
post #5213 of 77297
Thread Starter 
Nah, it was actually Champ.  There's a couple people I'd probably take ahead of Pujols, maybe Miggy and possibly Braun.  Strictly fantasy wise we're talking here.

Deciding on divisive fantasy players.

Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Spoiler [+]

Our fantasy department asked me if I'd answer a few questions about specific players they're hearing about often from readers this spring.

I picked a few where I felt I had reasonably strong opinions and have answered them here in a Q&A format.

What's the floor/ceiling this season for Pedro Alvarez?

I've been asked by a lot of readers if Alvarez is a "bust," but I don't like hanging that term on position players who haven't even reached age 27 (Alvarez plays at 25 this year). But the Pittsburgh Pirates didn't handle him well -- I always thought they rushed him up the minors, promoting him the moment he strung together a few good performances -- and adjustments he clearly needed to make coming out of college remain unmade. He doesn't have an ideal setup or swing, and his recognition of offspeed stuff has never been great -- far worse than that when the pitcher is left-handed.

I think he needs more time in Triple-A to work on those issues, if only because time in the majors this year he is likely to see more strikeout accumulation, although he could probably hit 25 home runs if the Pirates force 500 at-bats on him regardless of his OBP.

Thoughts on Michael Pineda and his "early struggles" this spring, or is this just the typical New York Yankees microscope on a player blowing things out of proportion?

With the caveat that I didn't see Pineda pitch while I was in Florida, I would say I'm concerned about Pineda but hardly panicking. He's not so far off his normal velocity that I'm silently thinking "torn labrum," but I saw Pineda last spring and he came into the month much stronger than he came into March this year. If his first regular-season start shows the same velocity, then I might think about panicking. If you're in a fantasy draft and have to make a decision on him now, I'd probably put about a 20-25 percent risk on him seriously underperforming his 2011 because of the velocity issue.

Houston Astros. What a wreck of a team. Do you like ANYTHING there? Is Brett Wallace just not who we thought he'd be? Is J.D. Martinez a legit middle-of-the-order bat?

I was a big Wallace fan until a scout pointed out to me in 2010 that Wallace couldn't turn on the ball inside. Unlike most left-handed hitters who hate facing left-handers, Wallace always seemed to hit them well because the left-hander's breaking ball moved away from him, not on the inner half. But this is not a question of approach but a physical limitation he can't surmount. Martinez is a fourth outfielder who won't hit or get on base enough to hit in the middle of the order, and he's a well below-average defender. Fans of really bad teams often overrate the least-bad performers on the roster, and Martinez looks like a classic example of that. I like Jordan Lyles as a long-term mid-rotation starter for Houston, but I don't think he's a high-strikeout guy for 2012. I don't see any of their top three prospects -- Jonathan Singleton, George Springer or Jarred Cosart -- impacting the big league club this year.

Thoughts on Leonys Martin?

Plus defensive center fielder and above-average runner with real swing issues even after the Texas Rangers tweaked his swing to drop his hands in his setup. Martin's dominance against Double-A pitchers was more a function of age and experience than of legitimate hitting ability. He's got a real soft front side and drops his back shoulder, producing a swing that's going to lead to a lot of ground balls. He's also not particularly patient, so I'm not sure how much the raw speed (again, above-average, but not plus) will lead to stolen bases if he's not getting on base that often.

Is Matt Moore really worthy of being drafted among the first 20 pitchers? David Price took a year to settle in, and that's the easy comp. Lazy analysis or legit concern?

[+] Enlarge
Asdrubal Cabrera
AP Photo/Mark DuncanDon't expect Asdrubal Cabrera to repeat his 2011 power surge.

Lazy analysis, like most comps are (which is why I try to avoid them unless they are so strong I can't resist). But I do think Moore could accidentally strike out 180 batters this year, even on an innings limit to try to keep him healthy for the long haul; he has three weapons with which to miss bats right now.

Why would I draft any Chicago Cubs player this season?

Self-loathing?

I admit that's not remotely fair. Matt Garza is good, so is Starlin Castro, not that you needed me to tell you either of those things. I'll reserve judgment on Jeff Samardzija until I see him in person, but reliable evaluators tell me he's a different guy this spring, with a better slider and just better overall command, both of which were real weaknesses for him in the past. Brett Jackson might be a 15 HR/15 SB guy if he gets the playing time, although I am concerned his average will be held down by chronic issues with contact.

Is Asdrubal Cabrera's power legit?

No, I don't think he comes close to repeating last year's 25-homer performance; he regressed in-season last year and wasn't close to the same guy after the All-Star break (.836 OPS before the break, .729 after). I do like his glove and think that he'll be a valuable player as a shortstop with some value on offense, but last year's All-Star performance looks like a peak to me, with 10-15 homers more realistic for 2012.

Howard Kendrick batting ahead of Albert Pujols; is there enough there to get really excited about? If not, who benefits most from the Pujols bump?

Nobody. Lineup protection is a terrible myth, one unsupported by any actual evidence I've seen. If you believe that Jose Bautista would have hit 15 more homers last year with Pujols hitting behind him, you probably also believe Bautista would have hit 15 more homers if Jupiter had been in Aquarius while he was at the plate. That said, if you're using context-dependent stats like runs scored or RBIs in your fantasy league, yes, Kendrick should score more runs with Pujols behind him.

Melky Cabrera was surprisingly good last season. Can he do it again (or even come close) playing for the San Francisco Giants?

No. And a good rule of thumb is that an older position player who had an out-of-character good season will give most of it back in the following year. Barring a major mechanical change that would justify the optimism after Year 1, I prefer to see a player repeat a new and unexpected level of performance for a second year before seeing it as a new base level. Plus, I've seen Melky swing at too many pitches at his eyes to believe he's more than a fourth outfielder.

We're asking ourselves the same question about Jacoby Ellsbury as we were asking about Jose Bautista's power surge: How legit is this guy as a power hitter now?

He started using his hips more last year to get rotational and get more loft in his swing, and he showed me several times he could drop the bat head and get to a ball on the inner half that would have tied him up a year or two earlier. That said, I'm expecting some regression in the power department, maybe to the 20-25 HR range.

Anyone light you up so far this spring?

I think Eric Hosmer ends up on MVP ballots this year. I'm not saying he's talented, but he can tell you an electron's position AND its momentum. I also have come around a bit late on Jemile Weeks as a hitter; if he gives back some average in 2012, he'll retain his value through more doubles and even double-digit homers. I saw Manny Machado in a split-squad major league game Sunday and I don't think he's as far away as I thought a month ago -- and that's referring to his offense and defense. I'm not advocating this by any means, but if the Baltimore Orioles decide to push him hard this year, I think he could see the majors by September. If you're in a deep keeper league, take note.



The price of promoting Harper.

Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Spoiler [+]

The Washington Nationals have already decided that Bryce Harper will begin the season in the minors, as they optioned him to Triple-A Syracuse on Sunday. However, they have another critical decision to make regarding their 19-year-old phenom, and how they decide to proceed will have a significant impact on the amount of money they'll be paying him over the next seven years.

By keeping Harper in the minors for the entire month of April, the Nationals will ensure that he will fall short of the necessary 172 days of service required for one full year of service, as defined by the collective bargaining agreement. Having Harper begin 2012 in the minors will allow the team to retain his rights for the 2018 season; had he begun the year in the majors and accrued six full seasons of service time by the end of the 2017 season, he would have been eligible for free agency then. Assuming Harper stays in the minors until May, the Nationals will also own his rights through 2018, which is his age 25 season.

The timing of his debut will also go a long way in determining his salaries from 2015 through 2018. If Harper is called up before July 1, he may be classified as a "Super Two" at the conclusion of 2014 -- the top 22 percent of players with two-plus years of service (but less than the full three needed to qualify for arbitration) are upgraded to early-entry arbitration. Instead of going through the process three times, they are granted four arbitration hearings, and can begin to escalate their salaries a year earlier than players with two years of service time who do not qualify as Super Twos.

The total cost differences can add up very quickly, and beyond just allowing Super Twos to receive a substantial paycheck a year earlier, the system of annual raises creates a compounding effect in which these players benefit from their status even after the initial trip through arbitration. For example, here are Hunter Pence's annual salaries during the first six years of his career:

2007: $380,000
2008: $396,000
2009: $439,000
2010: $3,500,000 (Super Two eligible)
2011: $6,900,000
2012: $10,400,000
Total: $22,015,000

Pence was called up to the majors on April 28, 2007, so he's just a bit short of having five full years of service. However, because he was a Super Two, he's already had three shots at arbitration, and his salaries have risen much faster than if he had been called up later in the season.

To see the magnitude of the difference, here is the same salary table for Jacoby Ellsbury, who was called up from the majors on June 30, 2007, and did not qualify as a Super Two.

2007: $380,000
2008: $406,000
2009: $449,500
2010: $497,000
2011: $2,400,000
2012: $8,050,000
Total: $11,802,000

Since getting called up, Pence has made twice as much as Ellsbury, even though they've been similarly productive players when on the field. Ellsbury's 2011 salary was held down a bit because he missed nearly all of the 2010 season due to injury, but you can see the effects of starting arbitration early in their 2012 salaries, as Ellsbury was still not able to earn a salary as large as Pence's even coming off his monster 2011 season, when he finished second in the AL MVP voting.

So, what does this mean for Harper? It's impossible to know exactly what he's going to be paid in future arbitration sessions considering that we don't know exactly how well he's going to perform, but we can make assumptions based on projections that have him ending up as one of the game's best players by the time he would be Super Two eligible after the 2014 season.

Here are some estimates of expected salaries for both situations, based on Harper developing into a star by the end of the 2014 season, and adjusting for normal inflation through the arbitration process. (Of course, this is assuming Harper doesn't sign a long-term deal in the next couple of years, which is a fair assumption since Scott Boras clients rarely do so before free agency.)

Called up May 1, Super Two eligible:

2012: $480,000
2013: $500,000
2014: $525,000
2015: $7,000,000
2016: $10,500,000
2017: $15,750,000
2018: $23,625,000
Total: $58,380,000

Called up July 1, not Super Two eligible

2012: $480,000
2013: $500,000
2014: $525,000
2015: $550,000
2016: $9,000,000
2017: $13,500,000
2018: $20,250,000
Total: $44,805,000

Harper's starting salary in arbitration is a bit higher in scenario No. 2 because, presumably, his numbers in 2015 will be even better than they were the year before, but you can see the significant cumulative effects that going to arbitration after the 2014 season can have on his salaries going forward. Just by reaching arbitration early, the total difference over the next seven years is close to $14 million.

That's a pretty expensive cost for giving Harper two extra months in the majors this season. If the Nats believe that he's going to be a drastic upgrade over their current set of outfielders and could push them toward playoff contention, it might be worth calling him up before July. But if Rick Ankiel is coming close to performing at an acceptable level for a major league regular, Washington should give Harper a couple of more months to hang out in Syracuse. The cost of bringing him up on May 1 compared to July 1 is substantial, and the Nationals should be sure that they're getting enough reward to justify giving Harper an early bite at arbitration.



Reality closing in on Utley, Phillies.

Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Spoiler [+]

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- When spring training begins, there is always time for the injured to heal. In February, Opening Day participation is never ruled out by wounded players or their managers. For everybody involved, the glass is always half full in February.

But in the middle of March, there is a collision with reality. In the middle of March, the veteran who has been living in the trainer's room hits the tipping point, when it becomes clear that injuries will be a factor.

This is the case for the Phillies' Chase Utley, whose future is in doubt because he apparently is not getting better. Utley is renowned within the Phillies' coaching staff for his toughness, for his ability to grind his way through nagging injuries. So while Utley didn't talk with the media Monday, it speaks volumes that Utley's knees -- not just his right knee, but both knees -- are both so uncomfortable that the second baseman is going to see a specialist rather than take the field.

All spring, Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel had expected that there would be a day when Utley would be able to do more than take batting practice; Manuel figured he was just saving bullets. But Utley's problem -- let's face it, his pain -- is apparently more than he can stand, and given the chronic nature of his injury, there is no telling when he can come back, no guarantee of anything. Maybe the specialist will help Utley's discomfort become more tolerable, but the injury itself is not going to get better.

Utley's situation is not that much different than that of Sandy Koufax, who was an All-Star while dealing with elbow pain until he finally decided he couldn't take it anymore.

Utley's career could be in jeopardy, writes David Murphy. Phil Sheridan asks: Did the Phillies misjudge Utley's chances of playing?

And now Freddy Galvis has an incredible opportunity, at age 22, to become the second baseman for a team that won 102 games a year ago. Talked to some scouts about Galvis, and the opinions were unanimous: The converted shortstop is capable of being a very good second baseman, maybe even a little better than that, if he's able to eliminate the simple mistakes caused by inexperience, but he will not provide a lot of offense for the Phillies.

Amaro said that Galvis has been the Phillies' best player this spring, Bob Brookover writes.

Rival evaluators said Monday there is a very short list of veteran middle infielders you could get in a trade now: Maicer Izturis of the Los Angeles Angels, perhaps, or Alberto Callaspo or Chris Getz of the Kansas City Royals or Blake DeWitt of the Chicago Cubs. But it's not clear if any of those players would represent a significant upgrade over Galvis in overall strengths.

This is what the Phillies' Opening Day lineup could look like, without Utley and Ryan Howard:

SS Jimmy Rollins
CF Shane Victorino
RF Hunter Pence
1B Ty Wigginton
LF John Mayberry
C Carlos Ruiz
3B Placido Polanco
2B Galvis

Run production may well be a major issue for the Phillies. As Amaro said, the Phillies will have to pitch it and catch it.

The Royals received the harshest reality check this spring, losing two critical members of their team to injury -- catcher Salvador Perez, who will be out months because of surgery, and now closer Joakim Soria, who is facing Tommy John surgery, Bob Dutton writes.

Dutton addressed what's next for the Royals in his story:

An injury to Soria, even last season, would have been a devastating blow, but the Royals believe they now have two viable alternatives to step in as their closer: Greg Holland and free-agent acquisition Jonathan Broxton.

Manager Ned Yost termed it "too early" to designate one as Soria's replacement.

"They both can handle it," Yost said. "We'll think through it. It wasn't a scenario I could foresee coming. So it's going to take some time to think through it. We might use them both in that spot."

Holland, 26, established himself last season as a potential closer by compiling a 1.80 ERA in 46 games. Broxton, 27, was an All-Star for the Dodgers in 2009 and 2010 but missed most of last season because of a sore elbow that required surgery in September.

"They've both looked great this spring," Yost said. "We'll give it time to play out. We could very well use both of them in that situation. I've got the confidence to use both of them."

The reality check for the Detroit Tigers may come in the form of relief: Miguel Cabrera got mashed near his right eye by a ground ball in an exhibition against the Phillies on Monday. But after his teammates came off the field, some believed that the cuts Cabrera suffered -- which immediately opened and bled profusely -- may have been caused by his sunglasses being pushed back into his face as he was struck by the ball. This may be a good thing. Cabrera will probably have an ugly black eye today, but he may have dodged a more serious injury.

(By the way: Any third baseman, whether a Gold Glover or a first baseman moving to third base, would have been hit in the same way as Cabrera was. The scorcher hit by Hunter Pence was crushed, and the gashes had nothing to do with Cabrera's ability to play the position.)

Here is a good picture of the cuts in the Detroit Free Press.

The reality for the Minnesota Twins is that Justin Morneau is on the field, but he's struggling to hit for power with his surgically repaired wrist, writes Joe Christensen. So far in spring training, Morneau is 3-for-30. From Joe's story:

"I'm trying to do the right amount of swinging," he said. "I have to swing to build the strength [in the wrist], but if I swing too much, it gets a little irritated, so it's kind of hard."

Doctors have assured Morneau that his swing won't damage the tendon he had stabilized in the wrist last October. In recent games, he's taken more vicious cuts.

"I think earlier I was a little afraid to kind of let it go, and I've built that confidence that it's not going to go back to where it was before I had the surgery," Morneau said. "The last few days I think I've just kind of let it fly and hit some balls hard. I guess that's a pretty good sign. Especially [Sunday]; I pulled the ball foul. I hadn't done that in a long time."

The reality for the Brewers' Corey Hart is that he could be ready by Opening Day.

The reality for Skip Schumaker is that he won't be ready for Opening Day after suffering a rib-cage tear, writes Derrick Goold.

And the reality for the Angels' Kendrys Morales appears to be very good: He is scheduled to make his first spring start in a big league game today, Marcia Smith writes. This will be his first big league game in 661 days.

Notables

Derek Holland has evolved as a pitcher, and he is on the verge of a five-year deal, writes Evan Grant.

• The Athletics' outfield alignment in Japan will be: Coco Crisp in left, Josh Reddick in right field and Yoenis Cespedes in center.

J.D. Martinez of the Houston Astros had a very interesting standard when hiring a personal trainer: vomit frequency.

• Some really wealthy people were reinstated in the bidding for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

• The New York Mets can at least have a clearer view of what their financial situation is going forward, after the $162 million settlement of the Madoff case. But that doesn't necessarily mean it's going to get better anytime soon. This isn't much help for Mets fans, writes Bob Klapisch.

In effect, the Madoff trustee and the Mets have become partners, writes Ken Belson. The Mets have repaid their $25 million loan they got from Major League Baseball.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Now that Tsuyoshi Nishioka has been demoted, a Twins prospect could have an opportunity, Joe Christensen writes. For Nishioka, the demotion is tough to swallow.

2. It appears that Brandon Phillips will hit leadoff for the Cincinnati Reds.

3. The Seattle Mariners released a veteran reliever, Larry LaRue writes.

4. Jarrod Parker was sent to the minors, Susan Slusser writes.

5. Jon Lester will get the ball on Opening Day.

6. Word among rival scouts is that the Phillies are looking for an upgrade at backup catcher.

Dings and dents

1. Logan Morrison and Giancarlo Stanton might not be healthy on Opening Day, but Ozzie Guillen says he's not losing sleep over that possibility.

2. Scott Baker was cleared to start.

3. Adam Dunn has a stiff neck, Daryl Van Schouwen writes.

4. Josh Collmenter says he hasn't felt any effects from the forearm tightness he had earlier in camp.

5. Michael Brantley of the Cleveland Indians tweaked a hamstring.

The fight for jobs

1. A non-roster invitee appears to have a real shot to be on the Marlins' Opening Day roster, writes Joe Capozzi.

2. Gregor Blanco has had a great camp for the San Francisco Giants.

3. Henderson Alvarez is getting a lot of attention in Jays camp, writes Richard Griffin.

4. Mike Aviles still looks like the Boston Red Sox's starting shortstop.

5. Raul Ibanez is fighting to show the New York Yankees they made the right choice.

Monday's games

1. Brian McCann mashed a home run.

2. Jeanmar Gomez was The Man for the Indians.

3. Old batterymates Clayton Kershaw and Carlos Santana faced each other.

4. Yu Darvish made his third start, Tim Cowlishaw writes.

5. Jeremy Hellickson worked on sharpening his pitches.

6. Jake Arrieta threw four innings. I've talked with some scouts who view him as Baltimore's best pitcher.



Sox shallow staff a problem.

Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Spoiler [+]

A starter on your favorite team's staff will get injured this year.

OK, sure, the odd staff stays healthy all year -- that's just the law of probabilities. But the percentages also say that it's more likely that the average staff suffers an injury or two before the season is over.

Jeff Zimmerman's research on FanGraphs shows that any starting pitcher who started a game last season has a 39 percent chance of hitting the disabled list this year. That number changes based on their health to date, and their age, but the lowest percentage likelihood in his projections still doesn't dip below 30 percent. The consequence of this reality is that teams use more than five starters -- last year, the average was 7.4 starting pitchers with more than 20 innings pitched per team.

Some teams are equipped for the inevitability of injury, and some aren't. Let's look at three contenders that could list rotation depth as a strength, and three that might find themselves reaching for antacid by the end of the season.

Depth as strength

atl.gif

Atlanta Braves
There might not be a better team to describe this phenomenon than the Braves. They could have two injuries to their starting staff before the season begins -- Tim Hudson, Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson have all had issues in the past six months, and more than one of them might not be ready for Opening Day.

And yet, even if that's the case, the Braves are more than ready to answer the call with multiple exciting young pitchers. Even if solid youngsters Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy are counted upon as starters in the rotation on day one, the Braves have decent pitchers down deep on their depth chart.

Randall Delgado may not have the upside of some of his fellow teammates, but he did show that he can take the ball without embarrassing the team in his 35 innings last season. Behind him is one of the most exciting pitching prospects in baseball -- Julio Teheran, who mixes mid-90s gas with developing secondary stuff, is still an elite prospect (ranked No. 18 in baseball by Keith Law) and should not be counted out despite a slow spring. Then there's Arodys Vizcaino (No. 14 on Law's list), who struck out a batter per inning with a 96 mph fastball and a killer curve in the Braves' 'pen last year. He could be an excellent swingman. We haven't even mentioned the returning Kris Medlen, who, before his Tommy John surgery, managed more than 100 innings with above-average swinging-strike stuff and elite control. Is he ninth on the rotation depth chart?


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Arizona Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks' core starters are all young and have been healthy so far in their careers. Daniel Hudson, Ian Kennedy and Trevor Cahill have enjoyed good health and are all on the correct side of 30. They might stay intact.

But even a good young rotation like Arizona's could see a hit. Josh Collmenter is young, but he's already had forearm soreness this spring. Joe Saunders has been healthy, but he's turning 31 this season. Who's coming up behind them?

Only two of the most highly regarded pitchers in minor league baseball. Trevor Bauer (No. 21 on Law's list) touches 95 mph with his fastball and has a plus-plus curveball as the best of his five breaking pitches. Once you stop drooling about Bauer, up next is a power lefty in Tyler Skaggs (No. 25). Barry Enright doesn't belong in this class, but his strong control alone makes him a decent eighth-best starter for the D-backs.


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Tampa Bay Rays
No rotation has been healthier than that of the Rays -- perhaps because they are so young. At 30 years old James Shields is the old man of the group, which featured four guys with more than 180 innings pitched last season. They might not need the depth as much as some teams, with Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson and Jeff Niemann all young and effective.

But they have depth. Matt Moore, Law's No. 3 prospect in baseball, could end the season as the team's best pitcher. His emergence probably means Wade Davis and his solid-but-unspectacular repertoire is headed for the bullpen. Davis was a former top prospect, and two full seasons into his career, he has more upside than your average sixth starter.

Behind Davis, the cupboard isn't bare. Chris Archer has a great slider and some control issues. Alex Cobb had eye-popping minor league strikeout-to-walk numbers in 2010 and 2011, but could end up in the 'pen in the majors. Still, for such a young rotation, these are not terrible choices for your seventh- and eighth-best starting pitchers.

Depth as weakness

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Detroit Tigers
Justin Verlander threw 251 fantastic innings in 2011, and Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello each topped 180 innings. Doug Fister, 28, has averaged more than 180 innings pitched over the past two seasons. Prospect Jacob Turner got his feet wet, and even at 20 years old, he was deemed ready to contribute at the back end. Looks good, right?

Well, now Turner has shoulder tendonitis and his chances for making the team are grim. And that word may describe the options behind Turner, as well.

Duane Below? Collin Balester? Phil Coke? It does look like Andy Oliver is the guy who will get the call, but the lefty has walked 104 batters in his last 173⅔ professional innings. That's more than a walk every two batters faced, a rate no qualified pitcher managed last year. Lefty Drew Smyly turned some heads in Double-A last year, but he didn't throw 50 innings at the level. He could use more time, and the Tigers could use better options at the bottom of their rotation. They're still heavy favorites in the AL Central, but the lack of starting pitching depth could be their undoing.


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Milwaukee Brewers
Sure, they still have Yovani Gallardo and Zack Greinke as excellent young anchors at the top of the rotation.

It's after those two that things start to get dicier. Shaun Marcum just turned 30, was considered a durability risk in Toronto, and had some issues down the stretch last year. Randy Wolf is 35 and pitched fewer than 160 innings combined in 2006 and 2007 -- it could happen again. Chris Narveson hasn't pitched much in the bigs, but he's already 30.

Wily Peralta (No. 39 on Law's list) is probably next in line, but he has had command and conditioning issues in the past, and is not the kind of guy who will hit the ground running in the bigs. Behind him is Manny Parra, he of the career 1.84 WHIP.


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Boston Red Sox
After their starting pitching fell apart last September, the Red Sox went out this winter and acquired … a bunch of relievers. They might have more depth issues in the rotation than any contender this year.

Jon Lester, 28, has had a fine bill of health since his early cancer scare, and he should be fine. He might be the only one the team can pencil in for a full 200 innings. Josh Beckett is 31 and though he pitched well last year, he's been known to miss time. Clay Buchholz is now the No. 3 starter, and injuries have limited him to an average of 19 starts over the past three seasons.

Now the team is trying 26-year-old fireballing setup man Daniel Bard in the fourth spot -- but how many innings can you depend on from someone who hasn't pitched 75 innings in a single season in his career? And there's another former reliever in the fifth spot in the rotation, Alfredo Aceves, whose best role is as a replacement swing or long man in the 'pen. Daisuke Matsuzaka could return from Tommy John surgery after June, but he'd probably just take over for Aceves if he proves himself healthy.

Behind that already-wobbling caboose stand the underwhelming options of Matt Albers, Andrew Miller, Franklin Morales and Clayton Mortensen. For Red Sox fans, the specter of too many starts from this collection of arms this coming season has to be at least a little upsetting.



Morales a source of Angels optimism.

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And on the seventh day, Kendrys Morales rested, after a busy week. He hit a lot, and when he hit he ran, scoring from first base on a double in a minor league game Saturday, and after he ran Morales felt like he could run some more.

The worst-case scenario for the Los Angeles Angels when spring training began was that Morales would continue to have problems stemming from his freak injury 22 months ago, and that he would not return to action.

But what the Angels are seeing is Morales' best-case scenario. "We are very, very optimistic at this point," Angels GM Jerry Dipoto said Sunday night.

What has been particularly encouraging for the Angels is how quickly Morales has regained his timing. He has been playing in minor league games, in situations designed to get him as much work as possible. Because teams can design their own rules in those minor league practice games, Morales has been leading off a lot of innings -- every inning, whenever the Angels have wanted -- to get him as much action as possible. There was a day, Dipoto said with a chuckle, that Morales was used in games going on simultaneously on different fields, so that he'd go from one field to another to get his swings.

"The intent throughout has been to get him to assume the DH duty as much as possible," Dipoto said. "He's done very well. His timing is good, and he's been very aggressive."

In particular, Dipoto noted, there are signs of progress in how quickly Morales has integrated the lower half of his body into his swing -- a great sign that he is not only using his hands and feeling for the ball. Rather, he's using his whole body, including his legs.

Dipoto didn't need to say how much of a difference-maker Morales could be in the Angels' lineup if he gets back to being an elite slugger. The Angels' lineup is very right-handed, and without Morales hitting behind Albert Pujols, opposing teams would probably pitch around Pujols regularly or, at the very least, constantly line up right-handed relievers in the later innings. Morales, a switch-hitter, might be the best hitter the Angels have to capitalize on those tactics, as Victor Martinez did in batting behind Miguel Cabrera last year with Detroit. In Morales' last full season, 2009, he hit 34 homers and had a .569 slugging percentage.

Morales' schedule has been to play for two straight days and then back off for a day, but that will probably change soon. There is a corollary benefit to using veterans in minor league games: If necessary, you can backdate any disabled stint as much as needed. But the Angels intend to use Morales in big league exhibition games soon, a plan that will be drawn out day by day, depending on how Morales is feeling. "It's the best way we can move forward," Dipoto said.

The Texas Rangers are getting a lot of positive answers in spring, too, as Gil LeBreton writes: Derek Holland and Matt Harrison have been dominant.

One last Angels-Rangers note: Mike Napoli will have to change his phone number.

Harper sent to minors

• When Bryce Harper was told Sunday that he was being sent to the minors, he took the news well. Maybe because he expected it. Harper is known to be intelligent and he probably understood, as this camp opened, that he would have to utterly dominate in order to have a chance to make the Washington Nationals out of spring training. He would have had to have been nearly perfect to force Washington's hand -- and even then, he still might not have made it, because he's 19 years old and there are good reasons for Washington to have him start the year in the minors.

And Harper did not dominate. He hurt his calf, and among some good days at the plate, he had some rough days. But Nationals manager Davey Johnson and GM Mike Rizzo indicated Sunday evening that they expect Harper to be in the big leagues sooner rather than later. "He's the real deal," Johnson said. "He doesn't need to work on anything."

Said Rizzo: "I think he took [the demotion] as the next challenge in his career. He's going to go down there and tear it up and make an impact when he comes back."

Harper has a history of struggling after being promoted into a new level, as Johnson explained, and the Nationals were concerned that if Harper got off to a slow start, those struggles might become distractions early in a season in which the team has high expectations. The Washington staff decided it would be better if Harper started at Triple-A and built some credentials at that level before moving up.

And the Nationals want him to get more comfortable playing in center field, where he would best fit with the team now, because of the presence of Michael Morse and Jayson Werth at the corners. "We're going to give him ample opportunities to track some balls in center field," said Rizzo.

Neither Johnson nor Rizzo mentioned this, but there is possible financial benefit to having Harper start the year in the minors. If the Nationals wait until May 1 to call him up, they delay his free agency until after the 2018 season, and if they wait until around June 1, they would probably delay his arbitration eligibility by a year.

But the Nationals are poised to be contenders this year, and if Harper had obliterated pitchers this spring, it's hard to imagine Washington would have sent him down. At the outset of the 1984 season, Dwight Gooden forced his way onto the Mets' roster, when Johnson managed that team, at age 19, the age that Harper is now.

"It didn't fit quite perfectly, like Dwight did," Johnson said.

Harper acknowledge he was disappointed.

Notables

• In its conversations with managers and club officials this spring, Major League Baseball has continued an effort -- started last spring -- to improve the communication between umpires and managers and players. In short, they are encouraging that there be a more civil discourse. "I don't think they mind us asking questions of the umpires, like 'Was that pitch outside?'" said one player. "I think what they don't want is any of us to get into questioning integrity."

There are no extra teeth behind this effort -- players are not subject to any more discipline than they have been in the past. Baseball just wants all parties to realize everybody benefits from better dialogue.

• Scouts are saying that Hanley Ramirez looks like a completely different hitter, with a swing much more compact than last year's very long one. "He's on a mission," said one NL talent evaluator Sunday morning.

Miami Marlins hitting coach Eduardo Perez says Ramirez is looking like MVP material, writes Manny Navarro.

Joakim Soria has a really sore elbow, and he's worried.

• The New York Yankees are open to the idea of trading a starting pitcher, and here's one possibility (and it's speculation, to be clear): Freddy Garcia would be a good fit with the Marlins. He has a very good relationship with Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen, and while the work of the Miami rotation has been excellent, there is a daunting history among the Marlins' starters. Garcia threw well for the Yankees last year, is set to earn $4 million this year with some makeable incentives, and the Marlins are one of the few teams with the kind of payroll flexibility to take on that kind of money.

• The Houston Astros are preparing for the No. 1 pick in the draft, writes Zachary Levine.

Ubaldo Jimenez was clocked at 89-91 mph this spring, a scout tells Sheldon Ocker.

• Charlie Manuel has some concerns, writes Jim Salisbury. The Philadelphia Phillies did seem to catch a break, in that Placido Polanco's finger is not fractured.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Kirk Gibson is thinking about some drastic alternatives with his lineup, writes Nick Piecoro.

2. Tim Beckham was among the Rays' cuts.

3. The Rangers haven't decided how to align the lefties in their rotation.

4. The Seattle Mariners will have to make a decision on a left-hander.

5. Mike Maddux denies he pulled out of the running for the Cubs' managerial job.

6. The Cincinnati Reds cut a bunch of guys.

7. The Cleveland Indians are not considering Johnny Damon for left field.

8. Starling Marte was sent to Double-A by the Pittsburgh Pirates after an impressive spring showing.

9. The Nationals signed Xavier Nady.

Dings and dents

1. Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter are making progress, as Rick Hummel writes.

2. For the first time, Gibson acknowledged Stephen Drew will open the season on the disabled list.

3. A couple of Oakland Athletics players will stay back to get treatment.

4. The San Francisco Giants acknowledge Freddy Sanchez probably won't be ready for the opener, writes Henry Schulman.

5. Randy Choate has a strain.

6. Jordan Schafer hurt his hand.

7. Shaun Marcum threw two innings without discomfort.

8. Robinson Cano is OK after being hit on the hand by a pitch.

9. Zach Britton was scratched from his minor league start.

The fight for jobs

1. Mike Minor has 14 straight scoreless innings and has all but locked up a job in the Atlanta Braves' rotation, writes David O'Brien.

2. With Casey Blake hurting, Chris Nelson has emerged as the front-runner to be the Rockies' third baseman.

3. Jake McGee is feeling like he belongs, writes Joe Smith.

4. A couple of pitchers are working to be part of the San Diego bullpen.

5. Kyle Blanks could be the guy who fills in for the injured Carlos Quentin.

6. Jeff Samardzija has all but won a spot in the Cubs' rotation, writes Paul Sullivan.

Sunday's games

1. Carlos Zambrano continues to look great, writes Ted Hutton within this notebook.

2. Matt Moore lost the strike zone.

3. Dan Haren was really good again, writes Marcia Smith.

4. Gavin Floyd threw in a simulated game.

5. Francisco Liriano had another great outing, as Ben Goessling writes.

6. Ivan Nova sort of criticized his catcher, and Joe Girardi defended his catcher.

7. Mike Pelfrey got pounded, as Anthony McCarron writes.



Dee Gordon's All Star potential.

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Dee Gordon asks a lot of questions, something that Barry Larkin noticed the first time he worked with the Dodgers shortstop in the offseason. Precise questions, about how you hold the glove in making a play at the second base bag, about how you make sure you hit the ball on the ground when you want to, about your mental approach.

This curiosity is part of the reason Larkin came away from his conversations with Gordon believing that the son of former relief pitcher Tom Gordon will become a good player -- a really good player. "He's got the ability to be an All-Star -- and a perennial All-Star," Larkin said over the phone Friday, from Arizona.

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Dee Gordon
Rick Scuteri/US PresswireDee Gordon's speed is a huge asset for the Dodgers.

As with all young players, there are flaws to be found in Gordon, who turns 24 in April. He hasn't drawn a high volume of walks in the minor leagues -- 40 in 133 games in 2010, for example. He hasn't hit for power, with seven homers in 1,814 plate appearances in the minors.

But what Gordon does have is game-changing speed -- he stole 24 bases in just 54 games with the Dodgers last year, and others in the Dodgers' organization will tell you Gordon has a very strong sense of who he is and what he must do to be successful. Play an efficient shortstop. Put the ball on the ground. Pressure the defense with his speed. Run.

And he asks all those questions, in his effort to get better. "I've always been that way," Gordon said. "I always felt like if I didn't know something, I'll ask. Just ask."

Gordon never had any precise instruction in base-stealing until he signed with the Dodgers, and early in his career, "I was kind of winging it," he said. But Crash McRay, a coach in the L.A. system, began to work with him, and over the last 14 months he's worked under the tutelage of Davey Lopes, who is regarded as arguably the best teacher of baserunning, and base-stealing, in the sport.

Lopes is intense in his manner of coaching -- so intense, Gordon said, "that he kind of scares you a little bit. ... But Davey's been one of the greatest at it."

So Gordon asks questions. A lot of questions. "I'm not perfect at base-stealing," he said. "It's not like I'm never getting caught. I need to get better in every category."

Larkin believes that Gordon's body will fill out and that he'll get stronger. "He's going to develop his man muscles," said Larkin, who is working with Cincinnati minor leaguers this spring. "Dee seems like a sponge -- a workaholic. I love his work ethic and attitude. He's passionate.

"He's really intuitive, and he's got great instincts -- and he's got athletic ability out the wazoo."

Notables

• In the aftermath of the Andy Pettitte signing, the Yankees won't really be forced into a decision about their rotation for weeks. Pettitte must first go through a full spring training, building up his arm and leg strength in preparing to pitch. If he comes through that healthy, and all other Yankees starters continue injury-free, then there will be a problem -- a glut of seven starters for five spots. The Yankees already are open to the idea of trading a starter, and the most likely candidate, because of his age, is Freddy Garcia, who had a good season last year, going 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA. He'll make $4 million this year, with some reasonably significant incentive clauses. There already are teams looking for starting pitching, the Baltimore Orioles among them, and if the Yankees have to make a deal happen, they'll be able to find one.

But history tells us you never have enough pitching. Time and again in George Steinbrenner's era, he would stockpile arms and in almost all cases, the surplus was needed after a series of injuries. Another example: Going into last season, the Red Sox were thought to be flush with starters, and by year's end, they were scrambling, trying to acquire Bruce Chen and others as fill-ins.

Pettitte is making one last visit to the mound, writes Bob Klapisch. This was a move that Steinbrenner would love, writes Joel Sherman. The Pettitte signing has its risks, writes Tyler Kepner.

I'd respectfully disagree with Kepner on that. To sign a left-hander with Pettitte's track record for a contract that will cost the Yankees less than the average salary in the big leagues is a coup. There isn't a team in the majors that wouldn't have jumped at that kind of opportunity.

Bobby Valentine had something to say about Pettitte's return.

• There continues to be great news in the recovery of Kendrys Morales, who played in his first game in almost two years, as Bill Shaikin writes.

• The news about Salvy Perez is not so good: The Royals catcher will miss 12-to-14 weeks. Maybe now, those who criticized Perez for signing his five-year deal will understand his perspective: While playing catcher, nothing is guaranteed, until it is.

• The Brewers are asking around about acquiring a middle infielder -- not a starter, but someone who can start in the event Alex Gonzalez or Rickie Weeks gets hurt.

Jason Heyward had another good day.

• Rival evaluators say that Twins infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka is really struggling this spring, at the plate and in the field.

Jeff Keppinger gives the Rays plenty of options, writes Joe Smith.

It'll be interesting to see how the Rays handle Carlos Pena, whose OPS against lefties was 298 points lower against left-handers than right-handers. From Mark Simon of ESPN Research, here are the greatest differentials in OPS splits when the hitter's performance was weaker against left-handers in 2011.

Lower OPS vs LHP
1. Andre Ethier -- 315 points
2. Eric Hosmer -- 301
3. Carlos Pena -- 298
4. Ryan Howard -- 287
5. Casey McGehee -- 276
6. Adrian Gonzalez -- 259
7. James Loney -- 255
8. Prince Fielder -- 224
9. Erick Aybar -- 200
10. Nick Markakis -- 181
11. Jimmy Rollins -- 170
12. Bobby Abreu -- 168
13. Adam Jones -- 164
14. Raul Ibanez -- 162
15. Dan Uggla -- 160
16. Alex Avila -- 160
17. Coco Crisp -- 148
18. Adam Lind -- 132
19. Freddie Freeman -- 130
20. John Buck -- 130

• There was a great note on the Rays' bulletin board, the day after 70 members of the organization got their heads shaved for the cause of fighting pediatric cancer. From Joe Smith's story:

In an effort to raise awareness for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation, the Rays showed off their newly shaven heads with no hats during batting practice. They'll do the same the next couple of days, as well as wear their "Fortune Favors the Bald" shirts. The most important item on the clubhouse bulletin board, highlighted in yellow, was: DO NOT FORGET TO APPLY SUNSCREEN

Dings and dents

1. Chris Carpenter threw pain-free, but, as Rick Hummel writes, another Cardinal was hurt.

2. Joey Devine is hurting, as Joe Stiglich writes.

3. Scott Baker may start the year on the disabled list, as Joe Christensen writes.

4. Brett Lawrie has a groin strain, writes John Lott.

5. Mike Stanton has knee inflammation.

The fight for jobs

1. John Jaso is trying first base.

2. Steve Lombardozzi is turning heads, writes Amanda Comak.

3. Russ Canzler is trying to win the left field job with the Indians, as Paul Hoynes writes.

4. Landon Powell has landed in Astros camp.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Jeremy Guthrie appears aligned for an Opening Day start, writes Troy Renck.

2. The last major hurdle has been cleared before the sale of the Dodgers.

3. Stephen Strasburg will get an extra day of rest, writes Dave Sheinin.

4. The Phillies cut Dontrelle Willis, as David Murphy writes.

5. Going forward, Ryan Braun will see more action.

Friday's games

1. An Oakland outfielder got on base in 11 straight plate appearances, as Susan Slusser writes.

2. Gio Gonzalez was irked by his own command issues.

3. John McDonald is working to keep his pitches down in the zone.

4. The Tigers had a great day, including Rick Porcello, who threw four scoreless innings.

5. Johnny Cueto showed some Opening Day form.

6. The Twins' Nick Blackburn continues to throw well.

7. Johan Santana continues to make progress.

8. Chris Tillman says this spring is a work in progress.

9. Jeff Niemann was pleased with his outing.

10. The Padres' Tim Stauffer is having a tough spring.



Toronto's coveted catching luxury.

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Last year, J.P. Arencibia hit 23 homers in his rookie season for the Toronto Blue Jays, in 443 at-bats. The only catchers who hit more homers than him were Mike Napoli, Carlos Santana and Brian McCann.

The highest-ranked catcher in the prospect rankings of colleague Keith Law is Travis d'Arnaud, who played last year for Toronto's Double-A affiliate in New Hampshire and hit .311 with 21 homers. Of the pieces the Blue Jays received in return for Roy Halladay, it appears d'Arnaud may be the best. Like Arencibia, d'Arnaud is a right-handed hitter.

Anticipating that the Blue Jays will be open to dealing one of them soon, other teams have asked about both in trade talks, because for decades, standard operating procedure for a team in Toronto's position has been that you trade one of the catchers.

But it's very possible -- and probably likely -- that the Blue Jays will keep both, unless they are completely overwhelmed by a need and an offer, partly because of the evolution of another position in baseball.

A couple of years ago, the Minnesota Twins were thought to be in a similar position. Joe Mauer was an All-Star and their every-day catcher and entrenched at the position. But the Twins' best position prospect, in the eyes of some rival evaluators, was a young catcher named Wilson Ramos. He reached Double-A that season, at the age of 21, hitting .317.

Some scouts had questions about his work habits, and in the spring of 2010, the Twins signed Mauer to a $184 million contract. Ramos' perceived value in the market immediately dipped -- because of the perception that Minnesota would have to eventually move him -- and Ramos didn't play well in the first half of that season, hitting .241 in 71 games in Double-A.

The Twins traded him at the deadline as part of a deal for Matt Capps.

And in less than a year, Minnesota found itself in need of a catcher exactly like Ramos. While Mauer missed a lot of the 2011 season, Ramos thrived for the Washington Nationals, hitting 15 homers, batting .267, throwing out a respectable 32 percent of would-be base-stealers. This season, Ramos will be 24 years old.

This past winter, the Twins signed veteran Ryan Doumit to serve in sort of a dual DH/C caddie position. Depending on how healthy Mauer is, how much he plays and how much rest he needs, Doumit will serve as a complement.

With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight: This is exactly what Ramos -- a better defensive catcher than Doumit -- could have been for the Twins in 2011 and '12.

More and more teams are using their designated hitter as a flex position; more and more, full-time DHs like David Ortiz are the exception. This is part of the reason Johnny Damon, Vladimir Guerrero and other veteran sluggers are jobless right now. Many evaluators believe they are unplayable in the field, and teams would prefer to use their DH spot to rotate in position players, to give them a day off, to help them cope with nagging injuries.

Right now, the Blue Jays are looking at a future with a coveted luxury at catcher. Arencibia and d'Arnaud can share a position for which nagging injuries are inherent, with both being properly rested. Catchers are to baseball what the running back position is to the NFL, and more and more, NFL teams have two or more backs share the playing time at the position.

When Arencibia catches, d'Arnaud can DH, or vice versa. Both can be properly rested, both can be given a chance to stay in the lineup and give minor injuries a chance to heal at the same time.

"These guys are special," said one AL evaluator, "and [the Blue Jays] would have to be blown away to trade one of them."

Toronto's future is currently planned around both of its young catchers.

Notables

• Seventy members of the Tampa Bay Rays organization joined to get their heads shaved for charity. Talked to some folks with other teams who are really impressed by this -- and some believe it really says something about the esprit de corps that the Rays have.

• There is no change in the contract negotiations of Matt Cain and Cole Hamels, who stand to be the most prominent free agents on the market next fall. Both are in similar positions: They can ask for top-of-the-market deals, like that signed by Johan Santana a few years ago, or they can wait eight months and see what interest they can generate from teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs, who appear to have money to spend.

• Cubs GM Theo Epstein has a bonus in his new contract that's similar to the conclusion bonus he had with the Boston Red Sox, according to sources, along with the standard incentive clauses for team success.

• The Kansas City Royals now have two guys locked down, with two more to go, writes Bob Dutton.

• Some of the guys bidding on the Dodgers are appealing the rejection of their offers.

Heard this from one very highly ranked executive: Steve Cohen, who is perceived to be one of the front-runners, made a really impressive presentation.

• The San Diego Padres sent top prospect Rymer Liriano to their minor league camp. San Diego officials love what they see in Liriano, who will eventually give the Padres a strong defensive presence in right field, alongside center fielder Cameron Maybin. If you look at the parks in the NL West, right field is a crucial defensive position because of the extra-large area of coverage in Colorado, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Arizona. Consider the numbers that Liriano -- who is compared to Raul Mondesi by one executive, for his multi-tool ability -- posted in the minors last year.

The Padres' system is stocked.

• Roy Halladay dismissed a report that his arm is hurting.

Chase Utley is focused on the regular season, writes Bob Brookover. This is the most telling quote of the spring from Charlie Manuel about Utley, which reflects the reality that the manager has been talking about: "His problem is not going away."

Think of Utley like a pitcher who has innings limitations. Manuel will work to preserve and protect the at-bats that Utley is physically able to provide rather than playing him into the ground.

Dings and dents

1. Chien-Ming Wang got hurt, as Adam Kilgore writes. This presumably will end all the trade talk involving John Lannan.

2. Logan Morrison is frustrated with swelling in his knee. Giancarlo Stanton is also battling a sore knee.

3. A Colorado Rockies pitcher is dealing with a blister.

4. Freddy Sanchez is coming along slowly, writes John Shea.

5. B.J. Upton is still hurting.

6. A New York Yankees infielder got hurt, as George King writes.

7. Ryan Madson is close to 100 percent, writes Tom Groeschen.

8. The Twins' Scott Baker has a tender elbow.

9. A top Atlanta Braves prospect has a meeting with Dr. James Andrews.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Arizona Diamondbacks are keeping their top pitching prospects in camp.

2. The Pittsburgh Pirates sent some guys to the minors.

3. The Royals are sifting through some trade alternatives at catcher.

4. Michael Brantley will fill some key roles for the Cleveland Indians.

5. Some Houston Astros prospects were sent out.

The fight for jobs

1. Injuries have fueled the competition for outfield jobs with the Miami Marlins.

2. Kevin Millwood had a really, really good day Wednesday, and continues to make his case to be part of the Seattle Mariners' rotation.

3. Larry Larue gives you an idea of what the Mariners' roster will look like.

4. Stephen Vogt is battling to be a catcher for the Rays.

5. Dustin McGowan continues to impress, as does Kyle Drabek, writes Bob Elliott.

6. Chris Heisey is fighting for a starting role.

7. Matt Thornton and Jesse Crain are the best closer options for the Chicago White Sox, writes Joe Cowley.

8. A Milwaukee Brewers outfielder has to make the switch from Japan to the big leagues.

Thursday's games

1. Jemile Weeks was The Man for the Oakland Athletics.

2. C.J. Wilson had a really good day.

3. Wade Davis had another rough day.

4. The New York Mets played against Jose Reyes.

5. Michael Pineda's fastball is still a work in progress, as Mark Feinsand writes.

6. Justin Masterson threw the ball well, as Sheldon Ocker writes.

7. Carlos Marmol had a steady outing.

8. Jair Jurrjens got knocked around but said he was encouraged.

9. Brian Matusz had a good outing against a good team.

10. Alfredo Aceves was The Man against the St. Louis Cardinals.



Debating baseball's best pitcher.

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Clayton Kershaw was dominant in his latest exhibition outing, and he seems poised for another overpowering year after ascending in his level of dominance last year.

Kershaw, who turns 24 in four days, reduced hitters' OPS against him from .615 to .554 from 2010 to 2011. Last season, the opposing batting average went from .215 in the first half to .196 in the second half. The OPS against him in the second half was .525, the best in the majors.

We mention all of this to set up a beer-over-the-bar debate: Who is the best pitcher on the planet?

The criterion has nothing to do with track record. It's about who is the best pitcher right now -- based on stuff, on dominance right now.

My own top three:

1. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

He's coming off one of the greatest seasons for any pitcher in the last quarter-century and was the first starting pitcher to win an MVP since 1986. He is Roger Clemens in the middle of his career -- Nolan Ryan with better command -- in how overpowering his stuff is, in how many innings he throws, and how he burns to get better. Teammates say he hasn't missed a step since the end of last season, in his preparation; he refused to let his offseason preparation be swallowed up by appearances.

And he pitches in the American League, so he gets points for degree of difficulty.

1a. Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

His second-half ERA was 1.31 last year, which was about a half-run better than any other pitcher. Like Verlander, he appears to have figured it all out: the conditioning, the preparation, the mental part of the game. His strikeout-to-walk ratio in the second half of the season was 5.32, which is crazy good for a power pitcher.

3. Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies

Among starting pitchers, he is viewed as the closest thing to a pitching god, for his consistency, for his precision, for his mound presence, for his dominance. My guess is that if you polled managers and pitching coaches on who they'd want to start Game 7 of the World Series, they picked Halladay, because they'd trust him above all others.

For the readers: Present and defend your top three pitchers on the planet.

Notables

• Scouts say that the challenge Jason Heyward faces is in integrating the upper and lower halves of his swing. The perception of rival evaluators is that Heyward, in working to combat the inside fastballs pitchers have thrown at him, has used his hands too much and his lower body too little. "He's got to use his lower half more," said one scout. "The problem for the Braves is that if Heyward isn't productive, then their outfield really isn't very good."

Michael Bourn, the leadoff hitter, is the center fielder, and a lot of Martin Prado's starts might actually occur at third base, depending on the availability of Chipper Jones. Heyward's efforts to improve his swing could be crucial.

On Wednesday, Heyward mashed his first homer of the spring, as David O'Brien writes, and shortstop Andrelton Simmons -- who may be moving into the lead for the every-day job -- put on a show.

The Braves got some great news about Tim Hudson.

• Yes, Michael Pineda has struggled to regain his velocity after arriving at spring training at about 280 pounds, or about 20 pounds heavier than he was when he reported to Seattle's camp a year ago. The New York Yankees have been pleased with how he has worked since spring training began and with the early development of his changeup, but they figure that since he probably is playing catch-up with his conditioning, it may be a while before he gets his fastball back to the mid-to-high 90s. Pineda is scheduled to start again today.

There has been speculation that Pineda could be sent to the minor leagues to open the year, and it may be that he will generate the worst results of spring training. But the Yankees figure to weigh heavily the potential of how a demotion would impact Pineda emotionally, as well as the additional pressure it would place on him as he worked his way back from Triple-A. The Yankees understand that to start Pineda in the minors would come off as punitive, which is not how they want their relationship with the pitcher to begin.

• During the last six months, Major League Baseball and the players' association have hammered out the details of the new labor agreement, wedged the 10-team format into the 2012 schedule and dealt with the Ryan Braun issue. In addition, MLB has had ownership issues with the Dodgers, New York Mets and San Diego Padres, as well as the Oakland territorial question. So it may be that the folks involved just ran out of time to settle on a suitable version of expanded instant replay. It'll happen next year.

• Wrote here yesterday that some evaluators are seeing really good things from Mariners second baseman Dustin Ackley. I asked Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik about what the M's are seeing, and he noted in an email that the season hasn't started yet. "But we all know he is going to be a good hitter," Zduriencik wrote. "He is showing developed strength, power, and he is very comfortable at second base, which he played well in 2011.

"It's just experience, confidence, maturation and natural development that young players gain as they age. He is very young, with only four months of Major League service to his credit. He has adapted well in all aspects of his game and he will continue to do so as he matures. He is a very confident but reserved kid."

Ackley has settled in at second base, writes Bob Condotta.

• Some executives in baseball view the Magic Johnson/Stan Kasten/Walter group as the front-runner to buy the Dodgers. Bob Nightengale reports that Steve Cohen intends to hire Tony La Russa if he wins the bidding.

In this story from December, Richard Sandomir writes that Cohen's firm is under investigation by the SEC.

If Major League Baseball could arrange its perfect world, Johnson's group might win the Dodgers -- and then Cohen's firm would be cleared of any wrongdoing, putting him in position to buy the Mets if and when that team's current ownership is forced to sell. But MLB isn't steering this process. So, we'll see.

The Mets' owners lost a key ruling.

Yu Darvish might be making illegal pitches, a situation easily fixed.

• Trevor Bauer's routine is drawing a lot of notice -- slices of it are detailed within this Nick Piecoro piece.

This reminds me of a pitcher I covered when he pitched for the Triple-A Nashville Sounds in 1989. Jack Armstrong was a tall right-hander, a former first-round pick, and he believed in throwing as much as possible -- including between innings. He'd finish throwing an inning and then he'd jog down to the bullpen, where he would continue throwing. Frank Lucchesi was the manager, Ray Rippelmeyer was the pitching coach, and their attitudes were that if it worked for Armstrong and he was having success, hey, leave him alone. And Armstrong had a strong season for the Sounds and was promoted to the big leagues.

But he struggled at the outset of his promotion to the majors, and somebody with the Cincinnati Reds -- I think it was manager Lou Piniella, if memory serves -- shut down that between-inning regimen. In 1990, Armstrong started the All-Star Game for the National League and wound up pitching in seven different seasons in the big leagues.

Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson is a results-oriented thinker, and general manager Kevin Towers is a former pitcher with an open mind. But my guess is that Bauer will be left alone as long as he has good results. If that starts to change, well, the folks who write the checks will be asking for adjustments.

Scott Rolen is shrugging off age.

Aroldis Chapman was dealing with family issues last year, Dusty Baker says. This was something heard off the record in the Reds' clubhouse last year; it's not retroactive whitewash.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Shelby Miller was assigned to the Cardinals' minor league camp.

2. Roberto Hernandez (i.e., Fausto) restructured his contract with the Cleveland Indians, as Paul Hoynes writes.

3. The Washington Nationals say they're not shopping pitcher John Lannan.

4. Neil Walker might hit cleanup for the Pittsburgh Pirates, as Dejan Kovacevic writes.

Dings and dents

1. The bad news for the Kansas City Royals is that Salvador Perez needs surgery. The good news is that he probably won't miss much of the season.

2. Jacob Turner has been shut down for a week with tendinitis. Remember, tendinitis is a symptom. This is no time to panic about Turner, writes Lynn Henning.

3. A couple of Tampa Bay Rays mashed into each other, as Roger Mooney writes.

4. Dallas Braden is a little behind the other folks on the Oakland staff, as Susan Slusser writes.

5. Josh Hamilton has a minor injury.

6. Nick Markakis made his spring debut, as Dan Connolly writes.

7. Bryce Harper is back.

8. The only thing certain about the Phillies, writes Phil Sheridan, is that there are every-day players out of the lineup. Ryan Howard is back in camp, writes Matt Gelb.

9. Paul Meek is regaining the feel for his pitches.

10. David Wright says he expects to be in the lineup for Opening Day. Based on recent history, I'd bet there isn't a single Mets fan who believes that will be the case.

11. Freddy Garcia had X-rays.

The fight for jobs

1. Donnie Murphy is in line to be the Marlins' utility guy.

2. Lance Lynn is being shifted into the rotation.

3. Mike Carp is shouldering a different load.

4. Matt Downs is in a different position this spring, as Steve Campbell writes.

5. The numbers are working against Kyle Blanks, but he's hoping to turn them.

6. Felix Doubront is in the running for the No. 5 spot in the Boston Red Sox rotation, as Scott Lauber writes.

Wednesday's games

1. Neftali Feliz struggled with his command. He is very important to the Texas staff, as Tim Cowlishaw writes.

2. Anibal Sanchez had a good day -- and Hanley Ramirez is hitting .467, after going 1-for-3.

3. Buster Posey hit his first home run of the spring.

4. Edwin Encarnacion mashed a couple of homers.

5. Albert Pujols killed the ball, as Marcia Smith writes.

6. Derek Lowe threw a bunch of sinkers.

7. Randy Wolf had a good outing.

8. Stephen Strasburg got knocked around a little bit and admitted to some immaturity.

9. Matt Harvey was really good, again.

post #5214 of 77297
Thread Starter 
Nah, it was actually Champ.  There's a couple people I'd probably take ahead of Pujols, maybe Miggy and possibly Braun.  Strictly fantasy wise we're talking here.

Deciding on divisive fantasy players.

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Our fantasy department asked me if I'd answer a few questions about specific players they're hearing about often from readers this spring.

I picked a few where I felt I had reasonably strong opinions and have answered them here in a Q&A format.

What's the floor/ceiling this season for Pedro Alvarez?

I've been asked by a lot of readers if Alvarez is a "bust," but I don't like hanging that term on position players who haven't even reached age 27 (Alvarez plays at 25 this year). But the Pittsburgh Pirates didn't handle him well -- I always thought they rushed him up the minors, promoting him the moment he strung together a few good performances -- and adjustments he clearly needed to make coming out of college remain unmade. He doesn't have an ideal setup or swing, and his recognition of offspeed stuff has never been great -- far worse than that when the pitcher is left-handed.

I think he needs more time in Triple-A to work on those issues, if only because time in the majors this year he is likely to see more strikeout accumulation, although he could probably hit 25 home runs if the Pirates force 500 at-bats on him regardless of his OBP.

Thoughts on Michael Pineda and his "early struggles" this spring, or is this just the typical New York Yankees microscope on a player blowing things out of proportion?

With the caveat that I didn't see Pineda pitch while I was in Florida, I would say I'm concerned about Pineda but hardly panicking. He's not so far off his normal velocity that I'm silently thinking "torn labrum," but I saw Pineda last spring and he came into the month much stronger than he came into March this year. If his first regular-season start shows the same velocity, then I might think about panicking. If you're in a fantasy draft and have to make a decision on him now, I'd probably put about a 20-25 percent risk on him seriously underperforming his 2011 because of the velocity issue.

Houston Astros. What a wreck of a team. Do you like ANYTHING there? Is Brett Wallace just not who we thought he'd be? Is J.D. Martinez a legit middle-of-the-order bat?

I was a big Wallace fan until a scout pointed out to me in 2010 that Wallace couldn't turn on the ball inside. Unlike most left-handed hitters who hate facing left-handers, Wallace always seemed to hit them well because the left-hander's breaking ball moved away from him, not on the inner half. But this is not a question of approach but a physical limitation he can't surmount. Martinez is a fourth outfielder who won't hit or get on base enough to hit in the middle of the order, and he's a well below-average defender. Fans of really bad teams often overrate the least-bad performers on the roster, and Martinez looks like a classic example of that. I like Jordan Lyles as a long-term mid-rotation starter for Houston, but I don't think he's a high-strikeout guy for 2012. I don't see any of their top three prospects -- Jonathan Singleton, George Springer or Jarred Cosart -- impacting the big league club this year.

Thoughts on Leonys Martin?

Plus defensive center fielder and above-average runner with real swing issues even after the Texas Rangers tweaked his swing to drop his hands in his setup. Martin's dominance against Double-A pitchers was more a function of age and experience than of legitimate hitting ability. He's got a real soft front side and drops his back shoulder, producing a swing that's going to lead to a lot of ground balls. He's also not particularly patient, so I'm not sure how much the raw speed (again, above-average, but not plus) will lead to stolen bases if he's not getting on base that often.

Is Matt Moore really worthy of being drafted among the first 20 pitchers? David Price took a year to settle in, and that's the easy comp. Lazy analysis or legit concern?

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Asdrubal Cabrera
AP Photo/Mark DuncanDon't expect Asdrubal Cabrera to repeat his 2011 power surge.

Lazy analysis, like most comps are (which is why I try to avoid them unless they are so strong I can't resist). But I do think Moore could accidentally strike out 180 batters this year, even on an innings limit to try to keep him healthy for the long haul; he has three weapons with which to miss bats right now.

Why would I draft any Chicago Cubs player this season?

Self-loathing?

I admit that's not remotely fair. Matt Garza is good, so is Starlin Castro, not that you needed me to tell you either of those things. I'll reserve judgment on Jeff Samardzija until I see him in person, but reliable evaluators tell me he's a different guy this spring, with a better slider and just better overall command, both of which were real weaknesses for him in the past. Brett Jackson might be a 15 HR/15 SB guy if he gets the playing time, although I am concerned his average will be held down by chronic issues with contact.

Is Asdrubal Cabrera's power legit?

No, I don't think he comes close to repeating last year's 25-homer performance; he regressed in-season last year and wasn't close to the same guy after the All-Star break (.836 OPS before the break, .729 after). I do like his glove and think that he'll be a valuable player as a shortstop with some value on offense, but last year's All-Star performance looks like a peak to me, with 10-15 homers more realistic for 2012.

Howard Kendrick batting ahead of Albert Pujols; is there enough there to get really excited about? If not, who benefits most from the Pujols bump?

Nobody. Lineup protection is a terrible myth, one unsupported by any actual evidence I've seen. If you believe that Jose Bautista would have hit 15 more homers last year with Pujols hitting behind him, you probably also believe Bautista would have hit 15 more homers if Jupiter had been in Aquarius while he was at the plate. That said, if you're using context-dependent stats like runs scored or RBIs in your fantasy league, yes, Kendrick should score more runs with Pujols behind him.

Melky Cabrera was surprisingly good last season. Can he do it again (or even come close) playing for the San Francisco Giants?

No. And a good rule of thumb is that an older position player who had an out-of-character good season will give most of it back in the following year. Barring a major mechanical change that would justify the optimism after Year 1, I prefer to see a player repeat a new and unexpected level of performance for a second year before seeing it as a new base level. Plus, I've seen Melky swing at too many pitches at his eyes to believe he's more than a fourth outfielder.

We're asking ourselves the same question about Jacoby Ellsbury as we were asking about Jose Bautista's power surge: How legit is this guy as a power hitter now?

He started using his hips more last year to get rotational and get more loft in his swing, and he showed me several times he could drop the bat head and get to a ball on the inner half that would have tied him up a year or two earlier. That said, I'm expecting some regression in the power department, maybe to the 20-25 HR range.

Anyone light you up so far this spring?

I think Eric Hosmer ends up on MVP ballots this year. I'm not saying he's talented, but he can tell you an electron's position AND its momentum. I also have come around a bit late on Jemile Weeks as a hitter; if he gives back some average in 2012, he'll retain his value through more doubles and even double-digit homers. I saw Manny Machado in a split-squad major league game Sunday and I don't think he's as far away as I thought a month ago -- and that's referring to his offense and defense. I'm not advocating this by any means, but if the Baltimore Orioles decide to push him hard this year, I think he could see the majors by September. If you're in a deep keeper league, take note.



The price of promoting Harper.

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The Washington Nationals have already decided that Bryce Harper will begin the season in the minors, as they optioned him to Triple-A Syracuse on Sunday. However, they have another critical decision to make regarding their 19-year-old phenom, and how they decide to proceed will have a significant impact on the amount of money they'll be paying him over the next seven years.

By keeping Harper in the minors for the entire month of April, the Nationals will ensure that he will fall short of the necessary 172 days of service required for one full year of service, as defined by the collective bargaining agreement. Having Harper begin 2012 in the minors will allow the team to retain his rights for the 2018 season; had he begun the year in the majors and accrued six full seasons of service time by the end of the 2017 season, he would have been eligible for free agency then. Assuming Harper stays in the minors until May, the Nationals will also own his rights through 2018, which is his age 25 season.

The timing of his debut will also go a long way in determining his salaries from 2015 through 2018. If Harper is called up before July 1, he may be classified as a "Super Two" at the conclusion of 2014 -- the top 22 percent of players with two-plus years of service (but less than the full three needed to qualify for arbitration) are upgraded to early-entry arbitration. Instead of going through the process three times, they are granted four arbitration hearings, and can begin to escalate their salaries a year earlier than players with two years of service time who do not qualify as Super Twos.

The total cost differences can add up very quickly, and beyond just allowing Super Twos to receive a substantial paycheck a year earlier, the system of annual raises creates a compounding effect in which these players benefit from their status even after the initial trip through arbitration. For example, here are Hunter Pence's annual salaries during the first six years of his career:

2007: $380,000
2008: $396,000
2009: $439,000
2010: $3,500,000 (Super Two eligible)
2011: $6,900,000
2012: $10,400,000
Total: $22,015,000

Pence was called up to the majors on April 28, 2007, so he's just a bit short of having five full years of service. However, because he was a Super Two, he's already had three shots at arbitration, and his salaries have risen much faster than if he had been called up later in the season.

To see the magnitude of the difference, here is the same salary table for Jacoby Ellsbury, who was called up from the majors on June 30, 2007, and did not qualify as a Super Two.

2007: $380,000
2008: $406,000
2009: $449,500
2010: $497,000
2011: $2,400,000
2012: $8,050,000
Total: $11,802,000

Since getting called up, Pence has made twice as much as Ellsbury, even though they've been similarly productive players when on the field. Ellsbury's 2011 salary was held down a bit because he missed nearly all of the 2010 season due to injury, but you can see the effects of starting arbitration early in their 2012 salaries, as Ellsbury was still not able to earn a salary as large as Pence's even coming off his monster 2011 season, when he finished second in the AL MVP voting.

So, what does this mean for Harper? It's impossible to know exactly what he's going to be paid in future arbitration sessions considering that we don't know exactly how well he's going to perform, but we can make assumptions based on projections that have him ending up as one of the game's best players by the time he would be Super Two eligible after the 2014 season.

Here are some estimates of expected salaries for both situations, based on Harper developing into a star by the end of the 2014 season, and adjusting for normal inflation through the arbitration process. (Of course, this is assuming Harper doesn't sign a long-term deal in the next couple of years, which is a fair assumption since Scott Boras clients rarely do so before free agency.)

Called up May 1, Super Two eligible:

2012: $480,000
2013: $500,000
2014: $525,000
2015: $7,000,000
2016: $10,500,000
2017: $15,750,000
2018: $23,625,000
Total: $58,380,000

Called up July 1, not Super Two eligible

2012: $480,000
2013: $500,000
2014: $525,000
2015: $550,000
2016: $9,000,000
2017: $13,500,000
2018: $20,250,000
Total: $44,805,000

Harper's starting salary in arbitration is a bit higher in scenario No. 2 because, presumably, his numbers in 2015 will be even better than they were the year before, but you can see the significant cumulative effects that going to arbitration after the 2014 season can have on his salaries going forward. Just by reaching arbitration early, the total difference over the next seven years is close to $14 million.

That's a pretty expensive cost for giving Harper two extra months in the majors this season. If the Nats believe that he's going to be a drastic upgrade over their current set of outfielders and could push them toward playoff contention, it might be worth calling him up before July. But if Rick Ankiel is coming close to performing at an acceptable level for a major league regular, Washington should give Harper a couple of more months to hang out in Syracuse. The cost of bringing him up on May 1 compared to July 1 is substantial, and the Nationals should be sure that they're getting enough reward to justify giving Harper an early bite at arbitration.



Reality closing in on Utley, Phillies.

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CLEARWATER, Fla. -- When spring training begins, there is always time for the injured to heal. In February, Opening Day participation is never ruled out by wounded players or their managers. For everybody involved, the glass is always half full in February.

But in the middle of March, there is a collision with reality. In the middle of March, the veteran who has been living in the trainer's room hits the tipping point, when it becomes clear that injuries will be a factor.

This is the case for the Phillies' Chase Utley, whose future is in doubt because he apparently is not getting better. Utley is renowned within the Phillies' coaching staff for his toughness, for his ability to grind his way through nagging injuries. So while Utley didn't talk with the media Monday, it speaks volumes that Utley's knees -- not just his right knee, but both knees -- are both so uncomfortable that the second baseman is going to see a specialist rather than take the field.

All spring, Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel had expected that there would be a day when Utley would be able to do more than take batting practice; Manuel figured he was just saving bullets. But Utley's problem -- let's face it, his pain -- is apparently more than he can stand, and given the chronic nature of his injury, there is no telling when he can come back, no guarantee of anything. Maybe the specialist will help Utley's discomfort become more tolerable, but the injury itself is not going to get better.

Utley's situation is not that much different than that of Sandy Koufax, who was an All-Star while dealing with elbow pain until he finally decided he couldn't take it anymore.

Utley's career could be in jeopardy, writes David Murphy. Phil Sheridan asks: Did the Phillies misjudge Utley's chances of playing?

And now Freddy Galvis has an incredible opportunity, at age 22, to become the second baseman for a team that won 102 games a year ago. Talked to some scouts about Galvis, and the opinions were unanimous: The converted shortstop is capable of being a very good second baseman, maybe even a little better than that, if he's able to eliminate the simple mistakes caused by inexperience, but he will not provide a lot of offense for the Phillies.

Amaro said that Galvis has been the Phillies' best player this spring, Bob Brookover writes.

Rival evaluators said Monday there is a very short list of veteran middle infielders you could get in a trade now: Maicer Izturis of the Los Angeles Angels, perhaps, or Alberto Callaspo or Chris Getz of the Kansas City Royals or Blake DeWitt of the Chicago Cubs. But it's not clear if any of those players would represent a significant upgrade over Galvis in overall strengths.

This is what the Phillies' Opening Day lineup could look like, without Utley and Ryan Howard:

SS Jimmy Rollins
CF Shane Victorino
RF Hunter Pence
1B Ty Wigginton
LF John Mayberry
C Carlos Ruiz
3B Placido Polanco
2B Galvis

Run production may well be a major issue for the Phillies. As Amaro said, the Phillies will have to pitch it and catch it.

The Royals received the harshest reality check this spring, losing two critical members of their team to injury -- catcher Salvador Perez, who will be out months because of surgery, and now closer Joakim Soria, who is facing Tommy John surgery, Bob Dutton writes.

Dutton addressed what's next for the Royals in his story:

An injury to Soria, even last season, would have been a devastating blow, but the Royals believe they now have two viable alternatives to step in as their closer: Greg Holland and free-agent acquisition Jonathan Broxton.

Manager Ned Yost termed it "too early" to designate one as Soria's replacement.

"They both can handle it," Yost said. "We'll think through it. It wasn't a scenario I could foresee coming. So it's going to take some time to think through it. We might use them both in that spot."

Holland, 26, established himself last season as a potential closer by compiling a 1.80 ERA in 46 games. Broxton, 27, was an All-Star for the Dodgers in 2009 and 2010 but missed most of last season because of a sore elbow that required surgery in September.

"They've both looked great this spring," Yost said. "We'll give it time to play out. We could very well use both of them in that situation. I've got the confidence to use both of them."

The reality check for the Detroit Tigers may come in the form of relief: Miguel Cabrera got mashed near his right eye by a ground ball in an exhibition against the Phillies on Monday. But after his teammates came off the field, some believed that the cuts Cabrera suffered -- which immediately opened and bled profusely -- may have been caused by his sunglasses being pushed back into his face as he was struck by the ball. This may be a good thing. Cabrera will probably have an ugly black eye today, but he may have dodged a more serious injury.

(By the way: Any third baseman, whether a Gold Glover or a first baseman moving to third base, would have been hit in the same way as Cabrera was. The scorcher hit by Hunter Pence was crushed, and the gashes had nothing to do with Cabrera's ability to play the position.)

Here is a good picture of the cuts in the Detroit Free Press.

The reality for the Minnesota Twins is that Justin Morneau is on the field, but he's struggling to hit for power with his surgically repaired wrist, writes Joe Christensen. So far in spring training, Morneau is 3-for-30. From Joe's story:

"I'm trying to do the right amount of swinging," he said. "I have to swing to build the strength [in the wrist], but if I swing too much, it gets a little irritated, so it's kind of hard."

Doctors have assured Morneau that his swing won't damage the tendon he had stabilized in the wrist last October. In recent games, he's taken more vicious cuts.

"I think earlier I was a little afraid to kind of let it go, and I've built that confidence that it's not going to go back to where it was before I had the surgery," Morneau said. "The last few days I think I've just kind of let it fly and hit some balls hard. I guess that's a pretty good sign. Especially [Sunday]; I pulled the ball foul. I hadn't done that in a long time."

The reality for the Brewers' Corey Hart is that he could be ready by Opening Day.

The reality for Skip Schumaker is that he won't be ready for Opening Day after suffering a rib-cage tear, writes Derrick Goold.

And the reality for the Angels' Kendrys Morales appears to be very good: He is scheduled to make his first spring start in a big league game today, Marcia Smith writes. This will be his first big league game in 661 days.

Notables

Derek Holland has evolved as a pitcher, and he is on the verge of a five-year deal, writes Evan Grant.

• The Athletics' outfield alignment in Japan will be: Coco Crisp in left, Josh Reddick in right field and Yoenis Cespedes in center.

J.D. Martinez of the Houston Astros had a very interesting standard when hiring a personal trainer: vomit frequency.

• Some really wealthy people were reinstated in the bidding for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

• The New York Mets can at least have a clearer view of what their financial situation is going forward, after the $162 million settlement of the Madoff case. But that doesn't necessarily mean it's going to get better anytime soon. This isn't much help for Mets fans, writes Bob Klapisch.

In effect, the Madoff trustee and the Mets have become partners, writes Ken Belson. The Mets have repaid their $25 million loan they got from Major League Baseball.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Now that Tsuyoshi Nishioka has been demoted, a Twins prospect could have an opportunity, Joe Christensen writes. For Nishioka, the demotion is tough to swallow.

2. It appears that Brandon Phillips will hit leadoff for the Cincinnati Reds.

3. The Seattle Mariners released a veteran reliever, Larry LaRue writes.

4. Jarrod Parker was sent to the minors, Susan Slusser writes.

5. Jon Lester will get the ball on Opening Day.

6. Word among rival scouts is that the Phillies are looking for an upgrade at backup catcher.

Dings and dents

1. Logan Morrison and Giancarlo Stanton might not be healthy on Opening Day, but Ozzie Guillen says he's not losing sleep over that possibility.

2. Scott Baker was cleared to start.

3. Adam Dunn has a stiff neck, Daryl Van Schouwen writes.

4. Josh Collmenter says he hasn't felt any effects from the forearm tightness he had earlier in camp.

5. Michael Brantley of the Cleveland Indians tweaked a hamstring.

The fight for jobs

1. A non-roster invitee appears to have a real shot to be on the Marlins' Opening Day roster, writes Joe Capozzi.

2. Gregor Blanco has had a great camp for the San Francisco Giants.

3. Henderson Alvarez is getting a lot of attention in Jays camp, writes Richard Griffin.

4. Mike Aviles still looks like the Boston Red Sox's starting shortstop.

5. Raul Ibanez is fighting to show the New York Yankees they made the right choice.

Monday's games

1. Brian McCann mashed a home run.

2. Jeanmar Gomez was The Man for the Indians.

3. Old batterymates Clayton Kershaw and Carlos Santana faced each other.

4. Yu Darvish made his third start, Tim Cowlishaw writes.

5. Jeremy Hellickson worked on sharpening his pitches.

6. Jake Arrieta threw four innings. I've talked with some scouts who view him as Baltimore's best pitcher.



Sox shallow staff a problem.

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A starter on your favorite team's staff will get injured this year.

OK, sure, the odd staff stays healthy all year -- that's just the law of probabilities. But the percentages also say that it's more likely that the average staff suffers an injury or two before the season is over.

Jeff Zimmerman's research on FanGraphs shows that any starting pitcher who started a game last season has a 39 percent chance of hitting the disabled list this year. That number changes based on their health to date, and their age, but the lowest percentage likelihood in his projections still doesn't dip below 30 percent. The consequence of this reality is that teams use more than five starters -- last year, the average was 7.4 starting pitchers with more than 20 innings pitched per team.

Some teams are equipped for the inevitability of injury, and some aren't. Let's look at three contenders that could list rotation depth as a strength, and three that might find themselves reaching for antacid by the end of the season.

Depth as strength

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Atlanta Braves
There might not be a better team to describe this phenomenon than the Braves. They could have two injuries to their starting staff before the season begins -- Tim Hudson, Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson have all had issues in the past six months, and more than one of them might not be ready for Opening Day.

And yet, even if that's the case, the Braves are more than ready to answer the call with multiple exciting young pitchers. Even if solid youngsters Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy are counted upon as starters in the rotation on day one, the Braves have decent pitchers down deep on their depth chart.

Randall Delgado may not have the upside of some of his fellow teammates, but he did show that he can take the ball without embarrassing the team in his 35 innings last season. Behind him is one of the most exciting pitching prospects in baseball -- Julio Teheran, who mixes mid-90s gas with developing secondary stuff, is still an elite prospect (ranked No. 18 in baseball by Keith Law) and should not be counted out despite a slow spring. Then there's Arodys Vizcaino (No. 14 on Law's list), who struck out a batter per inning with a 96 mph fastball and a killer curve in the Braves' 'pen last year. He could be an excellent swingman. We haven't even mentioned the returning Kris Medlen, who, before his Tommy John surgery, managed more than 100 innings with above-average swinging-strike stuff and elite control. Is he ninth on the rotation depth chart?


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Arizona Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks' core starters are all young and have been healthy so far in their careers. Daniel Hudson, Ian Kennedy and Trevor Cahill have enjoyed good health and are all on the correct side of 30. They might stay intact.

But even a good young rotation like Arizona's could see a hit. Josh Collmenter is young, but he's already had forearm soreness this spring. Joe Saunders has been healthy, but he's turning 31 this season. Who's coming up behind them?

Only two of the most highly regarded pitchers in minor league baseball. Trevor Bauer (No. 21 on Law's list) touches 95 mph with his fastball and has a plus-plus curveball as the best of his five breaking pitches. Once you stop drooling about Bauer, up next is a power lefty in Tyler Skaggs (No. 25). Barry Enright doesn't belong in this class, but his strong control alone makes him a decent eighth-best starter for the D-backs.


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Tampa Bay Rays
No rotation has been healthier than that of the Rays -- perhaps because they are so young. At 30 years old James Shields is the old man of the group, which featured four guys with more than 180 innings pitched last season. They might not need the depth as much as some teams, with Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson and Jeff Niemann all young and effective.

But they have depth. Matt Moore, Law's No. 3 prospect in baseball, could end the season as the team's best pitcher. His emergence probably means Wade Davis and his solid-but-unspectacular repertoire is headed for the bullpen. Davis was a former top prospect, and two full seasons into his career, he has more upside than your average sixth starter.

Behind Davis, the cupboard isn't bare. Chris Archer has a great slider and some control issues. Alex Cobb had eye-popping minor league strikeout-to-walk numbers in 2010 and 2011, but could end up in the 'pen in the majors. Still, for such a young rotation, these are not terrible choices for your seventh- and eighth-best starting pitchers.

Depth as weakness

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Detroit Tigers
Justin Verlander threw 251 fantastic innings in 2011, and Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello each topped 180 innings. Doug Fister, 28, has averaged more than 180 innings pitched over the past two seasons. Prospect Jacob Turner got his feet wet, and even at 20 years old, he was deemed ready to contribute at the back end. Looks good, right?

Well, now Turner has shoulder tendonitis and his chances for making the team are grim. And that word may describe the options behind Turner, as well.

Duane Below? Collin Balester? Phil Coke? It does look like Andy Oliver is the guy who will get the call, but the lefty has walked 104 batters in his last 173⅔ professional innings. That's more than a walk every two batters faced, a rate no qualified pitcher managed last year. Lefty Drew Smyly turned some heads in Double-A last year, but he didn't throw 50 innings at the level. He could use more time, and the Tigers could use better options at the bottom of their rotation. They're still heavy favorites in the AL Central, but the lack of starting pitching depth could be their undoing.


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Milwaukee Brewers
Sure, they still have Yovani Gallardo and Zack Greinke as excellent young anchors at the top of the rotation.

It's after those two that things start to get dicier. Shaun Marcum just turned 30, was considered a durability risk in Toronto, and had some issues down the stretch last year. Randy Wolf is 35 and pitched fewer than 160 innings combined in 2006 and 2007 -- it could happen again. Chris Narveson hasn't pitched much in the bigs, but he's already 30.

Wily Peralta (No. 39 on Law's list) is probably next in line, but he has had command and conditioning issues in the past, and is not the kind of guy who will hit the ground running in the bigs. Behind him is Manny Parra, he of the career 1.84 WHIP.


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Boston Red Sox
After their starting pitching fell apart last September, the Red Sox went out this winter and acquired … a bunch of relievers. They might have more depth issues in the rotation than any contender this year.

Jon Lester, 28, has had a fine bill of health since his early cancer scare, and he should be fine. He might be the only one the team can pencil in for a full 200 innings. Josh Beckett is 31 and though he pitched well last year, he's been known to miss time. Clay Buchholz is now the No. 3 starter, and injuries have limited him to an average of 19 starts over the past three seasons.

Now the team is trying 26-year-old fireballing setup man Daniel Bard in the fourth spot -- but how many innings can you depend on from someone who hasn't pitched 75 innings in a single season in his career? And there's another former reliever in the fifth spot in the rotation, Alfredo Aceves, whose best role is as a replacement swing or long man in the 'pen. Daisuke Matsuzaka could return from Tommy John surgery after June, but he'd probably just take over for Aceves if he proves himself healthy.

Behind that already-wobbling caboose stand the underwhelming options of Matt Albers, Andrew Miller, Franklin Morales and Clayton Mortensen. For Red Sox fans, the specter of too many starts from this collection of arms this coming season has to be at least a little upsetting.



Morales a source of Angels optimism.

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And on the seventh day, Kendrys Morales rested, after a busy week. He hit a lot, and when he hit he ran, scoring from first base on a double in a minor league game Saturday, and after he ran Morales felt like he could run some more.

The worst-case scenario for the Los Angeles Angels when spring training began was that Morales would continue to have problems stemming from his freak injury 22 months ago, and that he would not return to action.

But what the Angels are seeing is Morales' best-case scenario. "We are very, very optimistic at this point," Angels GM Jerry Dipoto said Sunday night.

What has been particularly encouraging for the Angels is how quickly Morales has regained his timing. He has been playing in minor league games, in situations designed to get him as much work as possible. Because teams can design their own rules in those minor league practice games, Morales has been leading off a lot of innings -- every inning, whenever the Angels have wanted -- to get him as much action as possible. There was a day, Dipoto said with a chuckle, that Morales was used in games going on simultaneously on different fields, so that he'd go from one field to another to get his swings.

"The intent throughout has been to get him to assume the DH duty as much as possible," Dipoto said. "He's done very well. His timing is good, and he's been very aggressive."

In particular, Dipoto noted, there are signs of progress in how quickly Morales has integrated the lower half of his body into his swing -- a great sign that he is not only using his hands and feeling for the ball. Rather, he's using his whole body, including his legs.

Dipoto didn't need to say how much of a difference-maker Morales could be in the Angels' lineup if he gets back to being an elite slugger. The Angels' lineup is very right-handed, and without Morales hitting behind Albert Pujols, opposing teams would probably pitch around Pujols regularly or, at the very least, constantly line up right-handed relievers in the later innings. Morales, a switch-hitter, might be the best hitter the Angels have to capitalize on those tactics, as Victor Martinez did in batting behind Miguel Cabrera last year with Detroit. In Morales' last full season, 2009, he hit 34 homers and had a .569 slugging percentage.

Morales' schedule has been to play for two straight days and then back off for a day, but that will probably change soon. There is a corollary benefit to using veterans in minor league games: If necessary, you can backdate any disabled stint as much as needed. But the Angels intend to use Morales in big league exhibition games soon, a plan that will be drawn out day by day, depending on how Morales is feeling. "It's the best way we can move forward," Dipoto said.

The Texas Rangers are getting a lot of positive answers in spring, too, as Gil LeBreton writes: Derek Holland and Matt Harrison have been dominant.

One last Angels-Rangers note: Mike Napoli will have to change his phone number.

Harper sent to minors

• When Bryce Harper was told Sunday that he was being sent to the minors, he took the news well. Maybe because he expected it. Harper is known to be intelligent and he probably understood, as this camp opened, that he would have to utterly dominate in order to have a chance to make the Washington Nationals out of spring training. He would have had to have been nearly perfect to force Washington's hand -- and even then, he still might not have made it, because he's 19 years old and there are good reasons for Washington to have him start the year in the minors.

And Harper did not dominate. He hurt his calf, and among some good days at the plate, he had some rough days. But Nationals manager Davey Johnson and GM Mike Rizzo indicated Sunday evening that they expect Harper to be in the big leagues sooner rather than later. "He's the real deal," Johnson said. "He doesn't need to work on anything."

Said Rizzo: "I think he took [the demotion] as the next challenge in his career. He's going to go down there and tear it up and make an impact when he comes back."

Harper has a history of struggling after being promoted into a new level, as Johnson explained, and the Nationals were concerned that if Harper got off to a slow start, those struggles might become distractions early in a season in which the team has high expectations. The Washington staff decided it would be better if Harper started at Triple-A and built some credentials at that level before moving up.

And the Nationals want him to get more comfortable playing in center field, where he would best fit with the team now, because of the presence of Michael Morse and Jayson Werth at the corners. "We're going to give him ample opportunities to track some balls in center field," said Rizzo.

Neither Johnson nor Rizzo mentioned this, but there is possible financial benefit to having Harper start the year in the minors. If the Nationals wait until May 1 to call him up, they delay his free agency until after the 2018 season, and if they wait until around June 1, they would probably delay his arbitration eligibility by a year.

But the Nationals are poised to be contenders this year, and if Harper had obliterated pitchers this spring, it's hard to imagine Washington would have sent him down. At the outset of the 1984 season, Dwight Gooden forced his way onto the Mets' roster, when Johnson managed that team, at age 19, the age that Harper is now.

"It didn't fit quite perfectly, like Dwight did," Johnson said.

Harper acknowledge he was disappointed.

Notables

• In its conversations with managers and club officials this spring, Major League Baseball has continued an effort -- started last spring -- to improve the communication between umpires and managers and players. In short, they are encouraging that there be a more civil discourse. "I don't think they mind us asking questions of the umpires, like 'Was that pitch outside?'" said one player. "I think what they don't want is any of us to get into questioning integrity."

There are no extra teeth behind this effort -- players are not subject to any more discipline than they have been in the past. Baseball just wants all parties to realize everybody benefits from better dialogue.

• Scouts are saying that Hanley Ramirez looks like a completely different hitter, with a swing much more compact than last year's very long one. "He's on a mission," said one NL talent evaluator Sunday morning.

Miami Marlins hitting coach Eduardo Perez says Ramirez is looking like MVP material, writes Manny Navarro.

Joakim Soria has a really sore elbow, and he's worried.

• The New York Yankees are open to the idea of trading a starting pitcher, and here's one possibility (and it's speculation, to be clear): Freddy Garcia would be a good fit with the Marlins. He has a very good relationship with Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen, and while the work of the Miami rotation has been excellent, there is a daunting history among the Marlins' starters. Garcia threw well for the Yankees last year, is set to earn $4 million this year with some makeable incentives, and the Marlins are one of the few teams with the kind of payroll flexibility to take on that kind of money.

• The Houston Astros are preparing for the No. 1 pick in the draft, writes Zachary Levine.

Ubaldo Jimenez was clocked at 89-91 mph this spring, a scout tells Sheldon Ocker.

• Charlie Manuel has some concerns, writes Jim Salisbury. The Philadelphia Phillies did seem to catch a break, in that Placido Polanco's finger is not fractured.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Kirk Gibson is thinking about some drastic alternatives with his lineup, writes Nick Piecoro.

2. Tim Beckham was among the Rays' cuts.

3. The Rangers haven't decided how to align the lefties in their rotation.

4. The Seattle Mariners will have to make a decision on a left-hander.

5. Mike Maddux denies he pulled out of the running for the Cubs' managerial job.

6. The Cincinnati Reds cut a bunch of guys.

7. The Cleveland Indians are not considering Johnny Damon for left field.

8. Starling Marte was sent to Double-A by the Pittsburgh Pirates after an impressive spring showing.

9. The Nationals signed Xavier Nady.

Dings and dents

1. Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter are making progress, as Rick Hummel writes.

2. For the first time, Gibson acknowledged Stephen Drew will open the season on the disabled list.

3. A couple of Oakland Athletics players will stay back to get treatment.

4. The San Francisco Giants acknowledge Freddy Sanchez probably won't be ready for the opener, writes Henry Schulman.

5. Randy Choate has a strain.

6. Jordan Schafer hurt his hand.

7. Shaun Marcum threw two innings without discomfort.

8. Robinson Cano is OK after being hit on the hand by a pitch.

9. Zach Britton was scratched from his minor league start.

The fight for jobs

1. Mike Minor has 14 straight scoreless innings and has all but locked up a job in the Atlanta Braves' rotation, writes David O'Brien.

2. With Casey Blake hurting, Chris Nelson has emerged as the front-runner to be the Rockies' third baseman.

3. Jake McGee is feeling like he belongs, writes Joe Smith.

4. A couple of pitchers are working to be part of the San Diego bullpen.

5. Kyle Blanks could be the guy who fills in for the injured Carlos Quentin.

6. Jeff Samardzija has all but won a spot in the Cubs' rotation, writes Paul Sullivan.

Sunday's games

1. Carlos Zambrano continues to look great, writes Ted Hutton within this notebook.

2. Matt Moore lost the strike zone.

3. Dan Haren was really good again, writes Marcia Smith.

4. Gavin Floyd threw in a simulated game.

5. Francisco Liriano had another great outing, as Ben Goessling writes.

6. Ivan Nova sort of criticized his catcher, and Joe Girardi defended his catcher.

7. Mike Pelfrey got pounded, as Anthony McCarron writes.



Dee Gordon's All Star potential.

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Dee Gordon asks a lot of questions, something that Barry Larkin noticed the first time he worked with the Dodgers shortstop in the offseason. Precise questions, about how you hold the glove in making a play at the second base bag, about how you make sure you hit the ball on the ground when you want to, about your mental approach.

This curiosity is part of the reason Larkin came away from his conversations with Gordon believing that the son of former relief pitcher Tom Gordon will become a good player -- a really good player. "He's got the ability to be an All-Star -- and a perennial All-Star," Larkin said over the phone Friday, from Arizona.

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Dee Gordon
Rick Scuteri/US PresswireDee Gordon's speed is a huge asset for the Dodgers.

As with all young players, there are flaws to be found in Gordon, who turns 24 in April. He hasn't drawn a high volume of walks in the minor leagues -- 40 in 133 games in 2010, for example. He hasn't hit for power, with seven homers in 1,814 plate appearances in the minors.

But what Gordon does have is game-changing speed -- he stole 24 bases in just 54 games with the Dodgers last year, and others in the Dodgers' organization will tell you Gordon has a very strong sense of who he is and what he must do to be successful. Play an efficient shortstop. Put the ball on the ground. Pressure the defense with his speed. Run.

And he asks all those questions, in his effort to get better. "I've always been that way," Gordon said. "I always felt like if I didn't know something, I'll ask. Just ask."

Gordon never had any precise instruction in base-stealing until he signed with the Dodgers, and early in his career, "I was kind of winging it," he said. But Crash McRay, a coach in the L.A. system, began to work with him, and over the last 14 months he's worked under the tutelage of Davey Lopes, who is regarded as arguably the best teacher of baserunning, and base-stealing, in the sport.

Lopes is intense in his manner of coaching -- so intense, Gordon said, "that he kind of scares you a little bit. ... But Davey's been one of the greatest at it."

So Gordon asks questions. A lot of questions. "I'm not perfect at base-stealing," he said. "It's not like I'm never getting caught. I need to get better in every category."

Larkin believes that Gordon's body will fill out and that he'll get stronger. "He's going to develop his man muscles," said Larkin, who is working with Cincinnati minor leaguers this spring. "Dee seems like a sponge -- a workaholic. I love his work ethic and attitude. He's passionate.

"He's really intuitive, and he's got great instincts -- and he's got athletic ability out the wazoo."

Notables

• In the aftermath of the Andy Pettitte signing, the Yankees won't really be forced into a decision about their rotation for weeks. Pettitte must first go through a full spring training, building up his arm and leg strength in preparing to pitch. If he comes through that healthy, and all other Yankees starters continue injury-free, then there will be a problem -- a glut of seven starters for five spots. The Yankees already are open to the idea of trading a starter, and the most likely candidate, because of his age, is Freddy Garcia, who had a good season last year, going 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA. He'll make $4 million this year, with some reasonably significant incentive clauses. There already are teams looking for starting pitching, the Baltimore Orioles among them, and if the Yankees have to make a deal happen, they'll be able to find one.

But history tells us you never have enough pitching. Time and again in George Steinbrenner's era, he would stockpile arms and in almost all cases, the surplus was needed after a series of injuries. Another example: Going into last season, the Red Sox were thought to be flush with starters, and by year's end, they were scrambling, trying to acquire Bruce Chen and others as fill-ins.

Pettitte is making one last visit to the mound, writes Bob Klapisch. This was a move that Steinbrenner would love, writes Joel Sherman. The Pettitte signing has its risks, writes Tyler Kepner.

I'd respectfully disagree with Kepner on that. To sign a left-hander with Pettitte's track record for a contract that will cost the Yankees less than the average salary in the big leagues is a coup. There isn't a team in the majors that wouldn't have jumped at that kind of opportunity.

Bobby Valentine had something to say about Pettitte's return.

• There continues to be great news in the recovery of Kendrys Morales, who played in his first game in almost two years, as Bill Shaikin writes.

• The news about Salvy Perez is not so good: The Royals catcher will miss 12-to-14 weeks. Maybe now, those who criticized Perez for signing his five-year deal will understand his perspective: While playing catcher, nothing is guaranteed, until it is.

• The Brewers are asking around about acquiring a middle infielder -- not a starter, but someone who can start in the event Alex Gonzalez or Rickie Weeks gets hurt.

Jason Heyward had another good day.

• Rival evaluators say that Twins infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka is really struggling this spring, at the plate and in the field.

Jeff Keppinger gives the Rays plenty of options, writes Joe Smith.

It'll be interesting to see how the Rays handle Carlos Pena, whose OPS against lefties was 298 points lower against left-handers than right-handers. From Mark Simon of ESPN Research, here are the greatest differentials in OPS splits when the hitter's performance was weaker against left-handers in 2011.

Lower OPS vs LHP
1. Andre Ethier -- 315 points
2. Eric Hosmer -- 301
3. Carlos Pena -- 298
4. Ryan Howard -- 287
5. Casey McGehee -- 276
6. Adrian Gonzalez -- 259
7. James Loney -- 255
8. Prince Fielder -- 224
9. Erick Aybar -- 200
10. Nick Markakis -- 181
11. Jimmy Rollins -- 170
12. Bobby Abreu -- 168
13. Adam Jones -- 164
14. Raul Ibanez -- 162
15. Dan Uggla -- 160
16. Alex Avila -- 160
17. Coco Crisp -- 148
18. Adam Lind -- 132
19. Freddie Freeman -- 130
20. John Buck -- 130

• There was a great note on the Rays' bulletin board, the day after 70 members of the organization got their heads shaved for the cause of fighting pediatric cancer. From Joe Smith's story:

In an effort to raise awareness for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation, the Rays showed off their newly shaven heads with no hats during batting practice. They'll do the same the next couple of days, as well as wear their "Fortune Favors the Bald" shirts. The most important item on the clubhouse bulletin board, highlighted in yellow, was: DO NOT FORGET TO APPLY SUNSCREEN

Dings and dents

1. Chris Carpenter threw pain-free, but, as Rick Hummel writes, another Cardinal was hurt.

2. Joey Devine is hurting, as Joe Stiglich writes.

3. Scott Baker may start the year on the disabled list, as Joe Christensen writes.

4. Brett Lawrie has a groin strain, writes John Lott.

5. Mike Stanton has knee inflammation.

The fight for jobs

1. John Jaso is trying first base.

2. Steve Lombardozzi is turning heads, writes Amanda Comak.

3. Russ Canzler is trying to win the left field job with the Indians, as Paul Hoynes writes.

4. Landon Powell has landed in Astros camp.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Jeremy Guthrie appears aligned for an Opening Day start, writes Troy Renck.

2. The last major hurdle has been cleared before the sale of the Dodgers.

3. Stephen Strasburg will get an extra day of rest, writes Dave Sheinin.

4. The Phillies cut Dontrelle Willis, as David Murphy writes.

5. Going forward, Ryan Braun will see more action.

Friday's games

1. An Oakland outfielder got on base in 11 straight plate appearances, as Susan Slusser writes.

2. Gio Gonzalez was irked by his own command issues.

3. John McDonald is working to keep his pitches down in the zone.

4. The Tigers had a great day, including Rick Porcello, who threw four scoreless innings.

5. Johnny Cueto showed some Opening Day form.

6. The Twins' Nick Blackburn continues to throw well.

7. Johan Santana continues to make progress.

8. Chris Tillman says this spring is a work in progress.

9. Jeff Niemann was pleased with his outing.

10. The Padres' Tim Stauffer is having a tough spring.



Toronto's coveted catching luxury.

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Last year, J.P. Arencibia hit 23 homers in his rookie season for the Toronto Blue Jays, in 443 at-bats. The only catchers who hit more homers than him were Mike Napoli, Carlos Santana and Brian McCann.

The highest-ranked catcher in the prospect rankings of colleague Keith Law is Travis d'Arnaud, who played last year for Toronto's Double-A affiliate in New Hampshire and hit .311 with 21 homers. Of the pieces the Blue Jays received in return for Roy Halladay, it appears d'Arnaud may be the best. Like Arencibia, d'Arnaud is a right-handed hitter.

Anticipating that the Blue Jays will be open to dealing one of them soon, other teams have asked about both in trade talks, because for decades, standard operating procedure for a team in Toronto's position has been that you trade one of the catchers.

But it's very possible -- and probably likely -- that the Blue Jays will keep both, unless they are completely overwhelmed by a need and an offer, partly because of the evolution of another position in baseball.

A couple of years ago, the Minnesota Twins were thought to be in a similar position. Joe Mauer was an All-Star and their every-day catcher and entrenched at the position. But the Twins' best position prospect, in the eyes of some rival evaluators, was a young catcher named Wilson Ramos. He reached Double-A that season, at the age of 21, hitting .317.

Some scouts had questions about his work habits, and in the spring of 2010, the Twins signed Mauer to a $184 million contract. Ramos' perceived value in the market immediately dipped -- because of the perception that Minnesota would have to eventually move him -- and Ramos didn't play well in the first half of that season, hitting .241 in 71 games in Double-A.

The Twins traded him at the deadline as part of a deal for Matt Capps.

And in less than a year, Minnesota found itself in need of a catcher exactly like Ramos. While Mauer missed a lot of the 2011 season, Ramos thrived for the Washington Nationals, hitting 15 homers, batting .267, throwing out a respectable 32 percent of would-be base-stealers. This season, Ramos will be 24 years old.

This past winter, the Twins signed veteran Ryan Doumit to serve in sort of a dual DH/C caddie position. Depending on how healthy Mauer is, how much he plays and how much rest he needs, Doumit will serve as a complement.

With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight: This is exactly what Ramos -- a better defensive catcher than Doumit -- could have been for the Twins in 2011 and '12.

More and more teams are using their designated hitter as a flex position; more and more, full-time DHs like David Ortiz are the exception. This is part of the reason Johnny Damon, Vladimir Guerrero and other veteran sluggers are jobless right now. Many evaluators believe they are unplayable in the field, and teams would prefer to use their DH spot to rotate in position players, to give them a day off, to help them cope with nagging injuries.

Right now, the Blue Jays are looking at a future with a coveted luxury at catcher. Arencibia and d'Arnaud can share a position for which nagging injuries are inherent, with both being properly rested. Catchers are to baseball what the running back position is to the NFL, and more and more, NFL teams have two or more backs share the playing time at the position.

When Arencibia catches, d'Arnaud can DH, or vice versa. Both can be properly rested, both can be given a chance to stay in the lineup and give minor injuries a chance to heal at the same time.

"These guys are special," said one AL evaluator, "and [the Blue Jays] would have to be blown away to trade one of them."

Toronto's future is currently planned around both of its young catchers.

Notables

• Seventy members of the Tampa Bay Rays organization joined to get their heads shaved for charity. Talked to some folks with other teams who are really impressed by this -- and some believe it really says something about the esprit de corps that the Rays have.

• There is no change in the contract negotiations of Matt Cain and Cole Hamels, who stand to be the most prominent free agents on the market next fall. Both are in similar positions: They can ask for top-of-the-market deals, like that signed by Johan Santana a few years ago, or they can wait eight months and see what interest they can generate from teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs, who appear to have money to spend.

• Cubs GM Theo Epstein has a bonus in his new contract that's similar to the conclusion bonus he had with the Boston Red Sox, according to sources, along with the standard incentive clauses for team success.

• The Kansas City Royals now have two guys locked down, with two more to go, writes Bob Dutton.

• Some of the guys bidding on the Dodgers are appealing the rejection of their offers.

Heard this from one very highly ranked executive: Steve Cohen, who is perceived to be one of the front-runners, made a really impressive presentation.

• The San Diego Padres sent top prospect Rymer Liriano to their minor league camp. San Diego officials love what they see in Liriano, who will eventually give the Padres a strong defensive presence in right field, alongside center fielder Cameron Maybin. If you look at the parks in the NL West, right field is a crucial defensive position because of the extra-large area of coverage in Colorado, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Arizona. Consider the numbers that Liriano -- who is compared to Raul Mondesi by one executive, for his multi-tool ability -- posted in the minors last year.

The Padres' system is stocked.

• Roy Halladay dismissed a report that his arm is hurting.

Chase Utley is focused on the regular season, writes Bob Brookover. This is the most telling quote of the spring from Charlie Manuel about Utley, which reflects the reality that the manager has been talking about: "His problem is not going away."

Think of Utley like a pitcher who has innings limitations. Manuel will work to preserve and protect the at-bats that Utley is physically able to provide rather than playing him into the ground.

Dings and dents

1. Chien-Ming Wang got hurt, as Adam Kilgore writes. This presumably will end all the trade talk involving John Lannan.

2. Logan Morrison is frustrated with swelling in his knee. Giancarlo Stanton is also battling a sore knee.

3. A Colorado Rockies pitcher is dealing with a blister.

4. Freddy Sanchez is coming along slowly, writes John Shea.

5. B.J. Upton is still hurting.

6. A New York Yankees infielder got hurt, as George King writes.

7. Ryan Madson is close to 100 percent, writes Tom Groeschen.

8. The Twins' Scott Baker has a tender elbow.

9. A top Atlanta Braves prospect has a meeting with Dr. James Andrews.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Arizona Diamondbacks are keeping their top pitching prospects in camp.

2. The Pittsburgh Pirates sent some guys to the minors.

3. The Royals are sifting through some trade alternatives at catcher.

4. Michael Brantley will fill some key roles for the Cleveland Indians.

5. Some Houston Astros prospects were sent out.

The fight for jobs

1. Injuries have fueled the competition for outfield jobs with the Miami Marlins.

2. Kevin Millwood had a really, really good day Wednesday, and continues to make his case to be part of the Seattle Mariners' rotation.

3. Larry Larue gives you an idea of what the Mariners' roster will look like.

4. Stephen Vogt is battling to be a catcher for the Rays.

5. Dustin McGowan continues to impress, as does Kyle Drabek, writes Bob Elliott.

6. Chris Heisey is fighting for a starting role.

7. Matt Thornton and Jesse Crain are the best closer options for the Chicago White Sox, writes Joe Cowley.

8. A Milwaukee Brewers outfielder has to make the switch from Japan to the big leagues.

Thursday's games

1. Jemile Weeks was The Man for the Oakland Athletics.

2. C.J. Wilson had a really good day.

3. Wade Davis had another rough day.

4. The New York Mets played against Jose Reyes.

5. Michael Pineda's fastball is still a work in progress, as Mark Feinsand writes.

6. Justin Masterson threw the ball well, as Sheldon Ocker writes.

7. Carlos Marmol had a steady outing.

8. Jair Jurrjens got knocked around but said he was encouraged.

9. Brian Matusz had a good outing against a good team.

10. Alfredo Aceves was The Man against the St. Louis Cardinals.



Debating baseball's best pitcher.

Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Spoiler [+]

Clayton Kershaw was dominant in his latest exhibition outing, and he seems poised for another overpowering year after ascending in his level of dominance last year.

Kershaw, who turns 24 in four days, reduced hitters' OPS against him from .615 to .554 from 2010 to 2011. Last season, the opposing batting average went from .215 in the first half to .196 in the second half. The OPS against him in the second half was .525, the best in the majors.

We mention all of this to set up a beer-over-the-bar debate: Who is the best pitcher on the planet?

The criterion has nothing to do with track record. It's about who is the best pitcher right now -- based on stuff, on dominance right now.

My own top three:

1. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

He's coming off one of the greatest seasons for any pitcher in the last quarter-century and was the first starting pitcher to win an MVP since 1986. He is Roger Clemens in the middle of his career -- Nolan Ryan with better command -- in how overpowering his stuff is, in how many innings he throws, and how he burns to get better. Teammates say he hasn't missed a step since the end of last season, in his preparation; he refused to let his offseason preparation be swallowed up by appearances.

And he pitches in the American League, so he gets points for degree of difficulty.

1a. Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

His second-half ERA was 1.31 last year, which was about a half-run better than any other pitcher. Like Verlander, he appears to have figured it all out: the conditioning, the preparation, the mental part of the game. His strikeout-to-walk ratio in the second half of the season was 5.32, which is crazy good for a power pitcher.

3. Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies

Among starting pitchers, he is viewed as the closest thing to a pitching god, for his consistency, for his precision, for his mound presence, for his dominance. My guess is that if you polled managers and pitching coaches on who they'd want to start Game 7 of the World Series, they picked Halladay, because they'd trust him above all others.

For the readers: Present and defend your top three pitchers on the planet.

Notables

• Scouts say that the challenge Jason Heyward faces is in integrating the upper and lower halves of his swing. The perception of rival evaluators is that Heyward, in working to combat the inside fastballs pitchers have thrown at him, has used his hands too much and his lower body too little. "He's got to use his lower half more," said one scout. "The problem for the Braves is that if Heyward isn't productive, then their outfield really isn't very good."

Michael Bourn, the leadoff hitter, is the center fielder, and a lot of Martin Prado's starts might actually occur at third base, depending on the availability of Chipper Jones. Heyward's efforts to improve his swing could be crucial.

On Wednesday, Heyward mashed his first homer of the spring, as David O'Brien writes, and shortstop Andrelton Simmons -- who may be moving into the lead for the every-day job -- put on a show.

The Braves got some great news about Tim Hudson.

• Yes, Michael Pineda has struggled to regain his velocity after arriving at spring training at about 280 pounds, or about 20 pounds heavier than he was when he reported to Seattle's camp a year ago. The New York Yankees have been pleased with how he has worked since spring training began and with the early development of his changeup, but they figure that since he probably is playing catch-up with his conditioning, it may be a while before he gets his fastball back to the mid-to-high 90s. Pineda is scheduled to start again today.

There has been speculation that Pineda could be sent to the minor leagues to open the year, and it may be that he will generate the worst results of spring training. But the Yankees figure to weigh heavily the potential of how a demotion would impact Pineda emotionally, as well as the additional pressure it would place on him as he worked his way back from Triple-A. The Yankees understand that to start Pineda in the minors would come off as punitive, which is not how they want their relationship with the pitcher to begin.

• During the last six months, Major League Baseball and the players' association have hammered out the details of the new labor agreement, wedged the 10-team format into the 2012 schedule and dealt with the Ryan Braun issue. In addition, MLB has had ownership issues with the Dodgers, New York Mets and San Diego Padres, as well as the Oakland territorial question. So it may be that the folks involved just ran out of time to settle on a suitable version of expanded instant replay. It'll happen next year.

• Wrote here yesterday that some evaluators are seeing really good things from Mariners second baseman Dustin Ackley. I asked Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik about what the M's are seeing, and he noted in an email that the season hasn't started yet. "But we all know he is going to be a good hitter," Zduriencik wrote. "He is showing developed strength, power, and he is very comfortable at second base, which he played well in 2011.

"It's just experience, confidence, maturation and natural development that young players gain as they age. He is very young, with only four months of Major League service to his credit. He has adapted well in all aspects of his game and he will continue to do so as he matures. He is a very confident but reserved kid."

Ackley has settled in at second base, writes Bob Condotta.

• Some executives in baseball view the Magic Johnson/Stan Kasten/Walter group as the front-runner to buy the Dodgers. Bob Nightengale reports that Steve Cohen intends to hire Tony La Russa if he wins the bidding.

In this story from December, Richard Sandomir writes that Cohen's firm is under investigation by the SEC.

If Major League Baseball could arrange its perfect world, Johnson's group might win the Dodgers -- and then Cohen's firm would be cleared of any wrongdoing, putting him in position to buy the Mets if and when that team's current ownership is forced to sell. But MLB isn't steering this process. So, we'll see.

The Mets' owners lost a key ruling.

Yu Darvish might be making illegal pitches, a situation easily fixed.

• Trevor Bauer's routine is drawing a lot of notice -- slices of it are detailed within this Nick Piecoro piece.

This reminds me of a pitcher I covered when he pitched for the Triple-A Nashville Sounds in 1989. Jack Armstrong was a tall right-hander, a former first-round pick, and he believed in throwing as much as possible -- including between innings. He'd finish throwing an inning and then he'd jog down to the bullpen, where he would continue throwing. Frank Lucchesi was the manager, Ray Rippelmeyer was the pitching coach, and their attitudes were that if it worked for Armstrong and he was having success, hey, leave him alone. And Armstrong had a strong season for the Sounds and was promoted to the big leagues.

But he struggled at the outset of his promotion to the majors, and somebody with the Cincinnati Reds -- I think it was manager Lou Piniella, if memory serves -- shut down that between-inning regimen. In 1990, Armstrong started the All-Star Game for the National League and wound up pitching in seven different seasons in the big leagues.

Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson is a results-oriented thinker, and general manager Kevin Towers is a former pitcher with an open mind. But my guess is that Bauer will be left alone as long as he has good results. If that starts to change, well, the folks who write the checks will be asking for adjustments.

Scott Rolen is shrugging off age.

Aroldis Chapman was dealing with family issues last year, Dusty Baker says. This was something heard off the record in the Reds' clubhouse last year; it's not retroactive whitewash.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Shelby Miller was assigned to the Cardinals' minor league camp.

2. Roberto Hernandez (i.e., Fausto) restructured his contract with the Cleveland Indians, as Paul Hoynes writes.

3. The Washington Nationals say they're not shopping pitcher John Lannan.

4. Neil Walker might hit cleanup for the Pittsburgh Pirates, as Dejan Kovacevic writes.

Dings and dents

1. The bad news for the Kansas City Royals is that Salvador Perez needs surgery. The good news is that he probably won't miss much of the season.

2. Jacob Turner has been shut down for a week with tendinitis. Remember, tendinitis is a symptom. This is no time to panic about Turner, writes Lynn Henning.

3. A couple of Tampa Bay Rays mashed into each other, as Roger Mooney writes.

4. Dallas Braden is a little behind the other folks on the Oakland staff, as Susan Slusser writes.

5. Josh Hamilton has a minor injury.

6. Nick Markakis made his spring debut, as Dan Connolly writes.

7. Bryce Harper is back.

8. The only thing certain about the Phillies, writes Phil Sheridan, is that there are every-day players out of the lineup. Ryan Howard is back in camp, writes Matt Gelb.

9. Paul Meek is regaining the feel for his pitches.

10. David Wright says he expects to be in the lineup for Opening Day. Based on recent history, I'd bet there isn't a single Mets fan who believes that will be the case.

11. Freddy Garcia had X-rays.

The fight for jobs

1. Donnie Murphy is in line to be the Marlins' utility guy.

2. Lance Lynn is being shifted into the rotation.

3. Mike Carp is shouldering a different load.

4. Matt Downs is in a different position this spring, as Steve Campbell writes.

5. The numbers are working against Kyle Blanks, but he's hoping to turn them.

6. Felix Doubront is in the running for the No. 5 spot in the Boston Red Sox rotation, as Scott Lauber writes.

Wednesday's games

1. Neftali Feliz struggled with his command. He is very important to the Texas staff, as Tim Cowlishaw writes.

2. Anibal Sanchez had a good day -- and Hanley Ramirez is hitting .467, after going 1-for-3.

3. Buster Posey hit his first home run of the spring.

4. Edwin Encarnacion mashed a couple of homers.

5. Albert Pujols killed the ball, as Marcia Smith writes.

6. Derek Lowe threw a bunch of sinkers.

7. Randy Wolf had a good outing.

8. Stephen Strasburg got knocked around a little bit and admitted to some immaturity.

9. Matt Harvey was really good, again.

post #5215 of 77297
Thread Starter 

Jered Weaver's favorite rockpile.

Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Spoiler [+]

One of the things we’re going to try to do more of at FanGraphs going forward is highlight good work from around the web. There’s a lot of good stuff out there, and if we can help more people see the work that’s being done, everyone wins. We’re still going to be doing our normal amount of original content, but we’ll add in some posts here and there that link out to pieces we think are worth reading. This is the first of those posts.

We’ve long known that Jered Weaver got a significant boost from pitching in Anaheim. It’s a park that significantly deflates home runs to right field, and Weaver gives up a ton of fly balls while facing a lot of left-handed hitters. The synergy between his skillset and his home park is one of the best in baseball.

Well, Jeff Sullivan pointed out this morning that there might be more to what’s going on than just a nice alignment of skills and outfield space.

I went through Weaver’s career game logs and identified 16 home starts made in the day time. One was at 3:30pm, and all the others were at or around 1:00pm. I assumed that the weather was always nice, the sun always bright.

That left 68 other home starts, almost all of which started around 7:00pm. The sample sizes here are different, but I think we have enough to make a comparison. When I put the numbers next to each other, my eyes opened wide. The numbers back up the anonymous Mariners player, and then some.

TimeInningsBattersERABB%K%HR%Contact%
Day1134441.516.5%28%1.1%71%
Night44418073.005.9%21%2.4%79%

The fact that the data lines up with what an opposing hitter noticed instinctively by facing him in a certain situation lends some credence to the belief that this isn’t just small sample noise. It could be, of course, but it could also be that Weaver’s specific arm angle and the position of the rock pile in Anaheim combine to make it very, very hard to see the ball coming out of his hand.

It’s something to keep an eye on going forward, especially if we notice that the Angels suddenly begin to lead the league in afternoon home games.



Conversion projects: From Sean Doolittle to Matt West.

Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Spoiler [+]

From Joe Nathan to Carlos Marmol to Sergio Santos, Major League Baseball pitching staffs are littered with conversion projects: players that took unusual routes to their big league careers by switching roles early in their careers from position players to pitchers.

The minor leagues will feature a number of interesting stories this season as a strong group of newly-minted pitchers attempt to realize their dreams of playing in The Show.

Kyler Burke | Chicago Cubs | CF to LHP

Burke teased clubs for years with his raw athleticism but he was never able to put it all together with the bat. His strong left arm finally convinced the Cubs organization to take a flyer on him as a pitcher. The former two-way player was originally a supplemental first round pick of the Padres back in 2006 out of a Tennessee high school as an outfielder. He was traded to the Cubs in ‘07 (along with Rob Bowen) for veteran catcher Michael Barrett. He hit just .244 in his five year position player career; he topped out at high-A ball where he hit just .212 with 131 strikeouts in 515 at-bats in 2010. Burke spent ‘11 in short-season ball while making the conversion to the mound and he allowed 36 hits and 18 walks in 44.0 innings of work. He struck out an impressive number of batters: 47. He features a two-pitch repertoire that features an 89-94 mph fastball and a solid curveball.

Sean Doolittle | Oakland A’s | 1B/LF to LHP

Taken with the 41st overall pick in the 2007 draft as a smooth-swinging first baseman out of the University of Virginia, Doolittle zoomed through the minors and reached triple-A in his second full season in pro ball. Unfortunately he played just 28 games in 2009 before injuries wiped out the rest of that season, as well as all of ’10 and ’11. In total he suffered two knee injuries and the right wrist injury that effectively ended his position playing days. Unlike a lot of hitter-to-pitcher conversions, though, Doolittle pitched at a high level as recently as ’07 as he spent his collegiate career performing as a two-way player. The southpaw features a low-90s fastball and a promising changeup. His third pitch is a slider that still needs a fair bit of work. Doolittle is in the right organization to move quickly in his new role. The A’s organization has very little left-handed pitching depth in the minors and its big league bullpen features a lot of question marks. Doolittle’s brother, Ryan Doolittle, also pitches in the A’s system.

Chris Hatcher | Miami Marlins | C to RHP

Hatcher actually showed enough during his conversion to the mound in 2011 that he made my Marlins Top 15 prospect list. You can read his writeup by clicking the link. Hatcher’s poor spring training likely means a trip back to triple-A where he’ll await an opening in the rotation.

Jason Lane | Arizona Diamondbacks | LF to LHP

Lane is definitely the most interesting name on this list. The former outfielder was drafted in the sixth round out of the University of Southern California by the Houston Astros in… 1999. Now 36 years old, the California native is attempting to reinvent himself as a pitcher. He appeared in almost 500 big league games as a hitter (and another 960 games in the minors). Lane hasn’t appeared in the Majors since 2007 and has spent the majority of the past three seasons in the Toronto Blue Jays system at triple-A Las Vegas. During that span he pitched in 11 mop-up games. He threw 13.0 innings in 2011 and struck out 12 batters with just two walks issued. This past off-season Lane announced that he intended to focus solely on pitching in 2012 and signed a minor league contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.

Robert Stock | St. Louis Cardinals | C to RHP

Stock was a highly-regarded amateur two-way player who actually enrolled in college early and was drafted out of the University of Southern California as a teenager. He pitched and caught for the Trojans and actually garnered more attention as a hurler but preferred to play everyday and the Cardinals obliged when they signed him to a contract for more than $500,000. In three years as a pro, the right-hander posted an OPS of just .667 and failed to get out of A-ball. In his college days, when he performed both as a starter and a reliever, Stock showcased a solid 88-92 mph fastball as well as an above-average changeup. His third pitch was a curveball.

Matt West | Texas Rangers | 3B to RHP

A former second round draft pick out of Texas, West was a talented prep prospect who could not get out of low-A ball after hitting just .241 in four minor league seasons. Moved to the mound in 2011, the right-hander immediately became a contender for the Rangers’ Top 15 prospects list after flashing mid-90s heat and an innate ability to control the ball. His success as a hurler in pro ball should come as no surprise when considering his Baseball America scouting report prior to the 2007 draft stated: “West was known mostly for his arm strength coming into 2007…

post #5216 of 77297
Thread Starter 

Jered Weaver's favorite rockpile.

Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Spoiler [+]

One of the things we’re going to try to do more of at FanGraphs going forward is highlight good work from around the web. There’s a lot of good stuff out there, and if we can help more people see the work that’s being done, everyone wins. We’re still going to be doing our normal amount of original content, but we’ll add in some posts here and there that link out to pieces we think are worth reading. This is the first of those posts.

We’ve long known that Jered Weaver got a significant boost from pitching in Anaheim. It’s a park that significantly deflates home runs to right field, and Weaver gives up a ton of fly balls while facing a lot of left-handed hitters. The synergy between his skillset and his home park is one of the best in baseball.

Well, Jeff Sullivan pointed out this morning that there might be more to what’s going on than just a nice alignment of skills and outfield space.

I went through Weaver’s career game logs and identified 16 home starts made in the day time. One was at 3:30pm, and all the others were at or around 1:00pm. I assumed that the weather was always nice, the sun always bright.

That left 68 other home starts, almost all of which started around 7:00pm. The sample sizes here are different, but I think we have enough to make a comparison. When I put the numbers next to each other, my eyes opened wide. The numbers back up the anonymous Mariners player, and then some.

TimeInningsBattersERABB%K%HR%Contact%
Day1134441.516.5%28%1.1%71%
Night44418073.005.9%21%2.4%79%

The fact that the data lines up with what an opposing hitter noticed instinctively by facing him in a certain situation lends some credence to the belief that this isn’t just small sample noise. It could be, of course, but it could also be that Weaver’s specific arm angle and the position of the rock pile in Anaheim combine to make it very, very hard to see the ball coming out of his hand.

It’s something to keep an eye on going forward, especially if we notice that the Angels suddenly begin to lead the league in afternoon home games.



Conversion projects: From Sean Doolittle to Matt West.

Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Spoiler [+]

From Joe Nathan to Carlos Marmol to Sergio Santos, Major League Baseball pitching staffs are littered with conversion projects: players that took unusual routes to their big league careers by switching roles early in their careers from position players to pitchers.

The minor leagues will feature a number of interesting stories this season as a strong group of newly-minted pitchers attempt to realize their dreams of playing in The Show.

Kyler Burke | Chicago Cubs | CF to LHP

Burke teased clubs for years with his raw athleticism but he was never able to put it all together with the bat. His strong left arm finally convinced the Cubs organization to take a flyer on him as a pitcher. The former two-way player was originally a supplemental first round pick of the Padres back in 2006 out of a Tennessee high school as an outfielder. He was traded to the Cubs in ‘07 (along with Rob Bowen) for veteran catcher Michael Barrett. He hit just .244 in his five year position player career; he topped out at high-A ball where he hit just .212 with 131 strikeouts in 515 at-bats in 2010. Burke spent ‘11 in short-season ball while making the conversion to the mound and he allowed 36 hits and 18 walks in 44.0 innings of work. He struck out an impressive number of batters: 47. He features a two-pitch repertoire that features an 89-94 mph fastball and a solid curveball.

Sean Doolittle | Oakland A’s | 1B/LF to LHP

Taken with the 41st overall pick in the 2007 draft as a smooth-swinging first baseman out of the University of Virginia, Doolittle zoomed through the minors and reached triple-A in his second full season in pro ball. Unfortunately he played just 28 games in 2009 before injuries wiped out the rest of that season, as well as all of ’10 and ’11. In total he suffered two knee injuries and the right wrist injury that effectively ended his position playing days. Unlike a lot of hitter-to-pitcher conversions, though, Doolittle pitched at a high level as recently as ’07 as he spent his collegiate career performing as a two-way player. The southpaw features a low-90s fastball and a promising changeup. His third pitch is a slider that still needs a fair bit of work. Doolittle is in the right organization to move quickly in his new role. The A’s organization has very little left-handed pitching depth in the minors and its big league bullpen features a lot of question marks. Doolittle’s brother, Ryan Doolittle, also pitches in the A’s system.

Chris Hatcher | Miami Marlins | C to RHP

Hatcher actually showed enough during his conversion to the mound in 2011 that he made my Marlins Top 15 prospect list. You can read his writeup by clicking the link. Hatcher’s poor spring training likely means a trip back to triple-A where he’ll await an opening in the rotation.

Jason Lane | Arizona Diamondbacks | LF to LHP

Lane is definitely the most interesting name on this list. The former outfielder was drafted in the sixth round out of the University of Southern California by the Houston Astros in… 1999. Now 36 years old, the California native is attempting to reinvent himself as a pitcher. He appeared in almost 500 big league games as a hitter (and another 960 games in the minors). Lane hasn’t appeared in the Majors since 2007 and has spent the majority of the past three seasons in the Toronto Blue Jays system at triple-A Las Vegas. During that span he pitched in 11 mop-up games. He threw 13.0 innings in 2011 and struck out 12 batters with just two walks issued. This past off-season Lane announced that he intended to focus solely on pitching in 2012 and signed a minor league contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.

Robert Stock | St. Louis Cardinals | C to RHP

Stock was a highly-regarded amateur two-way player who actually enrolled in college early and was drafted out of the University of Southern California as a teenager. He pitched and caught for the Trojans and actually garnered more attention as a hurler but preferred to play everyday and the Cardinals obliged when they signed him to a contract for more than $500,000. In three years as a pro, the right-hander posted an OPS of just .667 and failed to get out of A-ball. In his college days, when he performed both as a starter and a reliever, Stock showcased a solid 88-92 mph fastball as well as an above-average changeup. His third pitch was a curveball.

Matt West | Texas Rangers | 3B to RHP

A former second round draft pick out of Texas, West was a talented prep prospect who could not get out of low-A ball after hitting just .241 in four minor league seasons. Moved to the mound in 2011, the right-hander immediately became a contender for the Rangers’ Top 15 prospects list after flashing mid-90s heat and an innate ability to control the ball. His success as a hurler in pro ball should come as no surprise when considering his Baseball America scouting report prior to the 2007 draft stated: “West was known mostly for his arm strength coming into 2007…

post #5217 of 77297
Thread Starter 

A hot spring for Detroit hitters.

Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Spoiler [+]

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Ryan Raburn is hitting near the bottom of the Detroit Tigers' lineup, competing for at-bats at second base with Ramon Santiago, and has been arguably the best player in Florida this spring. The home run Raburn mashed off Atlanta Braves starter Jair Jurrjens here Tuesday was his sixth in the Grapefruit League, the most in the exhibition season.

Raburn is also tied with teammate Delmon Young for the major league spring lead in RBIs with 18, and he's hitting .462 with a 1.772 OPS. Before Tuesday's game, Raburn was asked if there is some kind of award for being the best player in spring training.

"If there is," Raburn said with a smile, "I don't want it."

Which is all you need to know about spring training statistics: Most players don't trust them. The most superstitious players actually believe in the karmic baseball world; spring training hits, they feel, draw from the reservoir of production that the baseball gods bestow upon each player. "Save 'em for the season" is a sentiment often heard among players in March.

Still: Hitting .462 this month might not mean anything -- but it is better than scuffling for hits, and Raburn and Young and the rest of the Detroit Tigers are killing the ball. We had the Tigers and Atlanta Braves on Tuesday's broadcast, and Brandon Inge said it's crazy how good Detroit's lineup appears to be. What the Tigers don't have a lot of is speed, but what they do have is a wealth of guys who can mash and get on base and take pitches and wear on starting pitchers.

Spring training numbers all get wiped away in two weeks, once the regular season starts. But in the case of the Tigers, they have reinforced what rival evaluators thought going into spring training and have continued to say: Detroit is going to score a ton of runs and should go into the season as a prohibitive favorite to win the AL Central.

The Tigers are averaging about 6.5 runs per game and have a team OPS of .851. They are first in homers with 26 and third in walks with 72.

Raburn is a straight shooter, writes Tom Gage.

I wonder if, eventually, Raburn may be moved into the leadoff spot and Austin Jackson moved down. Jackson has made changes with his swing, but some evaluators still wonder if he is struggling with his pitch recognition.

The Tigers aren't alone in having a strong spring. Andre Ethier continues to have a great spring for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Omar Vizquel is 8-for-20.

Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen has looked good at the plate.

Andy Oliver, competing for the No. 5 spot in Detroit's rotation, has your basic 0.00 ERA as he heads into his start today, writes John Lowe. You'd have to believe that Oliver is the front-runner for that job right now.

Miguel Cabrera update

As Miguel Cabrera walked into the back door of the Tigers' clubhouse on Tuesday morning, after having his vision tested, he needn't have said a word to convey just how great he was feeling about what doctors told him.

Cabrera, without sunglasses, had bruising and eight stitches under his right eye, in the spot where he had been mashed in the face by a hard grounder on Monday. But Cabrera was beaming -- grinning broadly. "I was lucky," Cabrera said.

Yes, he has a small fracture, he explained, and yes, they've asked him to come back for an evaluation in a week; his spring training is probably over. But Cabrera indicated he fully expects to be ready by Opening Day, which is something that didn't seem possible in the first moments after Hunter Pence's hard grounder smashed into Cabrera's face in Clearwater, Fla. Blood immediately poured down Cabrera's face, and when Brandon Inge came over from second base to check on him, Inge recalled, he could see the panic filling Cabrera's face.

Inge has kids, and from his experience as a dad, he knows you cannot betray worry on your face when you're checking somebody else's injury; the more you're concerned, the more they will panic. So while Inge saw the flap of skin open on Cabrera's cheekbone, he told Cabrera, "You're OK. It's just a cut."

Hours later, another infielder saw a replay of Cabrera's injury and understood immediately what had happened. On March 15, the Braves played at the Phillies' home park in Clearwater, Fla., and when Chipper Jones went to take ground balls, he found the surface to be rocket fast and erratic -- to the point that Jones walked off the position without taking his full complement of ground balls, feeling that he was at risk of getting hurt.

Cabrera talked with reporters about how his sunglasses saved him.

Braves notes

• Greg Walker, the Braves' new hitting coach, raved about the work that Jason Heyward has put in this spring as he has strived to better integrate the movement of his hands and lower body in his swing. "He's been a dream to work with," said Walker.

Some evaluators who have seen Heyward think he's gotten better this spring and view him as a work in progress. "To me, it looks like he's still thinking about his mechanics, rather than just reacting to the ball," said one evaluator.

• Scouts have said that Jair Jurrjens has really struggled with his fastball command, and that continued on Tuesday, when Jurrjens got pounded and really let his tough day affect his body language.

• The strong sense I got from talking with folks on Tuesday is that there's a split between Atlanta's front office and field staff over the choice of the Braves' shortstop. Tyler Pastornicky was cast as the likely shortstop before spring training began and is seen as the choice of the front office. But my sense is that folks in uniform believe that Andrelton Simmons, who has less experience than Pastornicky, is the better player and significantly better defensively.

By the way: This type of split is not unusual, not a sign of problems; it's just part of the process. Front offices often view these decisions with a big-picture lens, while the field staffs tend to think about what will help them the most today.

Notables

• The Kansas City Royals needed help, and they got it in a trade, as Bob Dutton writes. With Joakim Soria out, Aaron Crow is being shifted back to the bullpen.

• Kendrys Morales' return to the lineup was delayed by at least a couple of days.

• T.J. Simers wonders why Dodger fans aren't mad that the team didn't improve for this year.

In a parallel universe, folks weren't upset when Richard Nixon rode Air Force One back to California on the taxpayers' dime.

Dodgers fans are just happy Frank McCourt is leaving, and I don't think they really care what the window dressing is when that happens.

• A bidder for the Dodgers asked about naming rights. Not good.

• I don't know if I've heard of a pitcher doing this before: C.J. Wilson is running one to two miles before and after he pitches this spring.

Andy Pettitte got back into uniform and looked sharp, but check out the photo that accompanies this story: Ivan Nova and Joba Chamberlain watching Pettitte in his bullpen session. You don't see players do that ever; a great sign of respect.

Pettitte's competitiveness hasn't changed, writes Jeff Bradley.

• The Nationals' possible move to Fort Myers is gaining momentum, writes Adam Kilgore.

Derek Holland is getting paid.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Grant Balfour will be Oakland's closer, writes Susan Slusser.

2. Ryan Dempster is in line for an Opening Day start, Dave van Dyck writes.

3. There is not a spending spree in the Mets' future.

4. Kelly Johnson is headed back to the No. 2 spot in the Toronto lineup.

5. The Pirates' payroll fits their situation -- for now, writes Dejan Kovacevic.

6. Nick Hundley got an extension.

7. Another Philadelphia infielder got hurt; the Phillies need a veteran infielder, writes David Murphy.

8. The Baltimore Orioles have signed pitcher Dontrelle Willis.

Dings and dents

1. Braves reliever Arodys Vizcaino is out for the year. Kris Medlen is going to be in the Atlanta bullpen.

2. Carlos Marmol had a hand cramp.

3. Ian Stewart says he won't be stopped by his wrist issue.

4. As mentioned within this Henry Schulman notebook, Ryan Vogelsong is making progress.

5. Derek Jeter will be back in the lineup later in the week.

6. Daisuke Matsuzaka is progressing well in his rehab.

7. A couple of Cincinnati relievers appear to be making progress, says Dusty Baker.

8. Neftali Feliz had some shoulder stiffness.

9. Zach Britton is going to see Dr. Andrews.

The fight for jobs

1. Reid Brignac's bid to be the everyday shortstop has been hurt by injury.

2. Jamie Moyer is not stopping, writes Tyler Kepner.

3. Daniel Bard is not locked in as Boston's No. 4 starter. The identity of the No. 5 starter is still not known, as Brian MacPherson writes.

4. Brad Lincoln is making a pitch to start for the Pirates.

5. The Indians' Jeanmar Gomez has had an excellent spring, writes Sheldon Ocker.

6. Jose Veras is settling in with the Milwaukee Brewers.

7. A Rule 5 pick is working to make the Cardinals' roster.

Tuesday's games

1. Michael Pineda's velocity is building. While the focus has been on Pineda's fastball, the New York Yankees are thrilled with how well he's throwing his secondary pitches -- his slider and changeup.

2. The Toronto Blue Jays had a good day.

3. Dustin McGowan got knocked around.

4. Josh Johnson looks tremendous.

5. Stephen Strasburg looked great.

Other stuff

Lance Berkman ripped Bud Selig for the Astros' move to the AL.

Felix Hernandez is sold on the Seattle Mariners. From Bob Condotta's story, there is this about Felix's physical condition:

The first thing you notice about Seattle's ace this spring is that there's simply less of him. Though he's still listed at 230 pounds in the team's media guide, Hernandez says he lost 15 pounds during the offseason and now weighs 218.

He dropped the weight through improved workouts rather than diet changes.

Ask why he wanted to lose weight, and he smiles.

"To help my look," he replied.

There's also a difference on the field.

"I feel more athletic," he said. "I can get off the mound more quickly."

Eric Wedge has noticed a difference.

"He's in better shape," the Mariners manager said.

Adam Dunn is preparing to play the field.

• Chili Davis is back, writes John Shea.

• Moving Bryce Harper to center field makes sense, writes Thomas Boswell.

• The Minnesota Twins have one last piece from the Johan Santana trade.

Troy Tulowitzki has a personal goal that translates into teamwork.

• The D-backs are tough, writes Nick Piecoro.

• Paul Hoynes takes a wide-angle look at the Indians' spring training.

• Joe Maddon got to meet his childhood idol, writes Roger Mooney.

• The Cactus League is thriving, writes Dan Bickley.

Tony Gwynn is making progress, but he's not quite ready to return.

And today will be better than yesterday.



Draft notes.

Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Spoiler [+]

I saw Florida host Vanderbilt on Saturday under the broiler at McKetchan Field, and Florida's top three draft prospects for this year all played well, led by catcher Mike Zunino. He is one of the top two college position players in this draft, along with Arizona State shortstop Deven Marrero; both play premium positions in the middle of the field and project to stay there in pro ball while providing above-average offense for their positions.

Zunino's swing isn't entirely conventional, but it works. He has a slight drift but keeps his weight back enough to drive the ball; his real asset at the plate is his hands, strong and quick, giving him the ability to go to all fields, and, combined with good leverage from proper hip rotation, at least future-average power. Vanderbilt didn't have the baserunners to test Zunino's arm, but his throws in infield practice and warm-ups showed enough strength for him to stay behind the plate, and he had no trouble receiving the heavy diet of off-speed stuff served up by Brian Johnson. It also looked as if Zunino and Johnson were calling the game themselves -- Zunino didn't look into the dugout to get the signs -- which would be a positive for both players if correct. Zunino's approach is sound, and even if he ends up with average hit and power tools, that's an above-average major league regular behind the plate. He's a lock to go in the top five picks.

• Johnson, a two-way player for Florida, started and threw well, perhaps not as well as the linescore indicated but well enough to look like a first-rounder. The left-hander showed just an average fastball at 88-92 mph, sitting 89-90, but worked backward much of the day, throwing a ton of curves, sliders and changeups, with the true curveball his best pitch.

• Gators shortstop Nolan Fontana is a bit of a favorite of mine as a true shortstop with great instincts and plenty of arm, as well as a strong approach at the plate that has led to high on-base percentages both years at Florida. He bars his lead arm but is surprisingly strong, with a fairly linear swing that should produce doubles power to go with the high walk rates; the swing and eye remind me a little of Frank Catalanotto, although Fontana's a better runner.

In the field, Fontana is a clear long-term shortstop who gets great reads off the bat and has a strong, accurate arm. He's not Marrero, who has a superior hit tool, but Fontana's a better shortstop than Levi Michael, who was drafted late in the first round last year and would likely have gone top 20 if he hadn't had a leg injury that had him hobbling through the last month of North Carolina's season.

• Florida is loaded with underclass prospects, with Taylor Gushue, a first baseman who'll likely succeed Zunino behind the plate, as the most exciting. He has a simple, balanced swing with great rotation (just setting up his hands a little high) from both sides of the plate and showed a good eye in Saturday's game. Lefty Daniel Gibson threw in relief of Johnson, sitting 91-92 with a fringy slider but mediocre command. Senior Preston Tucker homered on a ball down from a left-hander; he's probably a fourth- or fifth-rounder on raw talent as a corner guy, probably a first baseman, with raw power but not the hit tool. However, the new collective bargaining agreement, which caps draft spending, could push him up to the third round when premium high school players start passing on the Reinsdorfian slot bonuses.

• Vanderbilt is at its weakest in ages, with both starter Drew VerHagen and reliever Sam Selman scuffling on Saturday. VerHagen was 90-93 with an 80-83 mph changeup but no breaking ball to speak of, and he only brought enough command to get him through about three innings, after which the changing-speeds trick stopped working. He's a relief prospect for after the third round. Selman was mostly 90-91 with a sloppy upper-70s slider, a herky-jerk delivery and no clue where it was going.

High school notes

• Hagerty H.S. right-hander Zach Eflin is establishing himself as a clear first-rounder with a good chance to go in the top 20. Eflin was 90-94 in a seven-inning complete game, mostly 92-94, and he got on top of the ball extremely well, working midthigh or below for much of the night. His changeup was plus at 78-79 and he had good feel for it, getting deception from arm speed with very mild fade. His knuckle-curve at 77-83 was very inconsistent -- it's a new pitch for him -- and better at 83, where it had some tilt like a hard slider but often lost its shape at the low end of its range. That's a nearly impossible pitch to command or throw consistently anywhere but in the dirt, and given his high three-quarters slot, I'd like to see what he can do with a traditional grip on the pitch.

Eflin stays over the rubber well with a high leg kick and moderate stride, finishing well over his front side with a clean, repeatable arm swing. He reminded me a lot of Shelby Miller, another top high school prospect who had all of the essential elements but just needed time and professional coaching. Miller threw a little harder with a better breaking ball, but Eflin has a much better changeup and better command than Miller did at this age, and he should add at least 10-15 pounds as he matures. He's committed to Central Florida, which is just a formality at this point because he's going too high in the draft to ever be a Knight.

• Olympia H.S. in Orlando has two top prospects in right-hander Walker Weickel and outfielder Jesse Winker, with Weickel the first-rounder and Winker more of a sandwich/second-round talent if you like the hit tool. Weickel wasn't great on Wednesday night, pitching at 87-91, a grade below his normal velocity, although the curveball had its normal sharp 12-to-6 break; he commanded the breaking ball better than he did the fastball, and even his control wasn't great on that night, particularly to his arm side. He showed good arm speed on a 79-91 mph changeup as well. Weickel's arm action is very easy; he's got a big -- dare I say Lincecum-esque? -- shoulder tilt, finishes well over his front side and appears to expend very little effort. He's an extreme projection guy -- you could easily see him picking up 3-4 mph as he fills out that frame -- and already has enough of a breaking ball and changeup to make him at least a strong first-round pick, likely to go top 15-20 and thus to never reach the University of Miami.

Winker also didn't show well in Olympia's game against Apopka (Zack Greinke's alma mater), failing to make a basic adjustment against a fellow left-hander who kept flipping breaking balls at him. Winker has good rotation and some natural power, but his front side is very soft, pulling his hands away from the ball and causing him to start to turn his wrists over too soon. Several scouts have praised his overall feel for the game, from fielding to baserunning, and he has a plus arm to handle right field in pro ball, but the bat may not be as advanced as advertised.



Finding the next Jose Bautista.

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The bottom 100 of ESPN's top 500 has been released, and as you might guess, there aren't a lot of stars. At least stars who aren't well into the twilight of their careers.

But all is not lost for the also-rans. If you ranked the top 500 going into the 2010 season, you might have found, among the lowest group, a journeyman role player with a little pop named Jose Bautista. Before the 2008 season, the stragglers would have included a former top prospect, demoted to Triple-A Buffalo halfway through his age-28 season thanks to a 6.29 ERA, named Cliff Lee.

Tomorrow's stars will be made up largely of today's future stars, but there's plenty of room for surprises ranging from mild to shocking. What would be truly shocking is if some of baseball's best over the next five to 10 years didn't come completely out of left field, excusing the terrible pun. Let's take a look at some of the second-tier prospects and youngish journeymen who sit in the 401-500 range who still have a chance of really surprising, much like Bautista did in 2010. We'll start from the bottom, with a guy who just happens to be Bautista's teammate.


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Travis Snider (No. 475), OF, Toronto Blue Jays

After hitting .301/.338/.466 during a cup-of-coffee stint at age 20 in 2008, 2009 was supposed to be Snider's big breakout. Then 2010. Then 2011. The calendar's turned yet again, and the Jays are still waiting for Snider to force his way into the heart of a solid Jays lineup. While there's a natural inclination to give up on Snider, he just turned 24. ZiPS, for one, has soured considerably on Snider, but on the upside, still thinks he can develop into a Kevin Mitchell-type hitter in the best-case scenario. Mitchell had a better first experience in the majors, but had setbacks of his own, such as repeating Triple-A after a rough season with the Tidewater Tides in 1984. And remember, Mitchell was National League MVP in 1989.


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Jerry Sands (No. 474), 1B/OF, Los Angeles Dodgers

Sands has never been the type who really impresses scouts, as his defense at any position could most kindly be described as awkward and his swing mechanics were thought to be too much of a mess for him to have success at higher levels. However, he continued to hit as he was promoted up the ladder, and while the .278/.344/.586 he posted last year for Triple-A Albuquerque isn't as impressive as it sounds, given that it was in a hitters' park in the very hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, the Dodgers could really use a player with tantalizing power.

ZiPS sees Sands' upside long-term as being in the Michael Cuddyer/Ryan Ludwick mode, and if he develops really well, Carlos Pena. His comps list has plenty of busts (Jason Botts, Brad Nelson, Josh Phelps), too, but Sands has certainly done enough at this point to merit a chance to prove his doubters wrong.


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Mat Gamel (No. 460), 1B, Milwaukee Brewers

Gamel's task of replacing Prince Fielder is a big one, but Gamel finally really broke out in the home run department for Triple-A Nashville last year (28 bombs), and while there will be a drop-off, it won't be crippling. Fielder was a star in Milwaukee, but not a 10-win player in the vein of vintage Alex Rodriguez. The X factor with Gamel is that he can now focus on hitting the ball rather than on Milwaukee's constant experiment to make him into an acceptable third baseman.

The drop-off at first base in Milwaukee will likely be smaller than expected (likely in the 2-3 WAR range), and when you factor in the Brewers' improving on a left side of the infield that was so wretched in 2011 it resembled high-concept art, Milwaukee may actually have an improved overall infield in 2012.


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Pedro Alvarez (No. 436), 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates

Alvarez's potential to become a star didn't seem like a stretch a year ago, given that he was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 draft and had a solid 2010 debut. Instead of leaping toward stardom, Alvarez spent 2011 (at least when not limping on a sore leg) swinging and missing at every curveball thrown to him. That may serve well if you're auditioning for the role of Pedro Cerrano in a remake of "Major League," but not so good against major league pitching.

The Pirates are still rebuilding and have every incentive to give Alvarez time to avenge his 2011 season. Alvarez certainly wouldn't be the first burly, power-hitting third-base prospect to hit stardom after an early rough patch -- 20 years ago, Jim Thome was in the same boat after starting his career hitting .228/.285/.330 in 235 plate appearances.


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Brad Peacock (No. 433), RHP, Oakland Athletics

The A's may not know how to build an acceptable offense, but they've shown a gift for snagging quality pitching from other teams. Peacock wasn't aggressively scouted as an amateur and was drafted in the 41st round by the Nats in 2006. After a so-so early professional career, he started appearing on prospects lists when he started striking out batters in 2010 and found himself playing in the Futures Game a year later. Oakland picked up Peacock in the Gio Gonzalez trade, and I think he'll live up to his newly acquired hype. Plus, like Mike Mussina, he throws a knuckle curve, which I find way cool for some reason.

The ZiPS projection system likes Peacock, as well. While his very top statistical comps at his age (Shawn Chacon, Octavio Dotel, Tim Redding) are hardly names to cause excitement, you don't have to go far down the list before you start seeing other, more exciting pitchers, such as Jack McDowell, Tim Hudson, Jason Schmidt, and John Smoltz, strongly suggesting there's a high ceiling for Peacock.


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Eduardo Sanchez (No. 422), RHP, St. Louis Cardinals

I've developed a serious crush on the Cardinals' bullpen (see below), but it's not hard to explain that when you consider that Sanchez, who hits the mid-90s and is coming off a rookie campaign in which he registered a 1.80 ERA and 10.5 K/9 ratio, is maybe only the third candidate to pick up saves. Whereas the guy next on this list might close for someone, I think Sanchez absolutely will.


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Marc Rzepczynski (No. 404), LHP, St. Louis Cardinals

Rzepczynski excelled after being converted from starter to reliever, and I think there's a solid chance that the man nicknamed "Scrabble," infringing on a number of trademarks, will get a shot to close someday for someone. Nobody will confuse his fastball with Billy Wagner's, but he clears 90 with his two-seamer and when he's on, that's like trying to hit a bowling ball with a Wiffle ball bat. And not only can he induce grounders, but he whiffed more than 11 men per nine last season. Plus, if a man named Rzepczynski can star in the majors, suddenly my last name might not be so hard for people to spell.

post #5218 of 77297
Thread Starter 

A hot spring for Detroit hitters.

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LAKELAND, Fla. -- Ryan Raburn is hitting near the bottom of the Detroit Tigers' lineup, competing for at-bats at second base with Ramon Santiago, and has been arguably the best player in Florida this spring. The home run Raburn mashed off Atlanta Braves starter Jair Jurrjens here Tuesday was his sixth in the Grapefruit League, the most in the exhibition season.

Raburn is also tied with teammate Delmon Young for the major league spring lead in RBIs with 18, and he's hitting .462 with a 1.772 OPS. Before Tuesday's game, Raburn was asked if there is some kind of award for being the best player in spring training.

"If there is," Raburn said with a smile, "I don't want it."

Which is all you need to know about spring training statistics: Most players don't trust them. The most superstitious players actually believe in the karmic baseball world; spring training hits, they feel, draw from the reservoir of production that the baseball gods bestow upon each player. "Save 'em for the season" is a sentiment often heard among players in March.

Still: Hitting .462 this month might not mean anything -- but it is better than scuffling for hits, and Raburn and Young and the rest of the Detroit Tigers are killing the ball. We had the Tigers and Atlanta Braves on Tuesday's broadcast, and Brandon Inge said it's crazy how good Detroit's lineup appears to be. What the Tigers don't have a lot of is speed, but what they do have is a wealth of guys who can mash and get on base and take pitches and wear on starting pitchers.

Spring training numbers all get wiped away in two weeks, once the regular season starts. But in the case of the Tigers, they have reinforced what rival evaluators thought going into spring training and have continued to say: Detroit is going to score a ton of runs and should go into the season as a prohibitive favorite to win the AL Central.

The Tigers are averaging about 6.5 runs per game and have a team OPS of .851. They are first in homers with 26 and third in walks with 72.

Raburn is a straight shooter, writes Tom Gage.

I wonder if, eventually, Raburn may be moved into the leadoff spot and Austin Jackson moved down. Jackson has made changes with his swing, but some evaluators still wonder if he is struggling with his pitch recognition.

The Tigers aren't alone in having a strong spring. Andre Ethier continues to have a great spring for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Omar Vizquel is 8-for-20.

Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen has looked good at the plate.

Andy Oliver, competing for the No. 5 spot in Detroit's rotation, has your basic 0.00 ERA as he heads into his start today, writes John Lowe. You'd have to believe that Oliver is the front-runner for that job right now.

Miguel Cabrera update

As Miguel Cabrera walked into the back door of the Tigers' clubhouse on Tuesday morning, after having his vision tested, he needn't have said a word to convey just how great he was feeling about what doctors told him.

Cabrera, without sunglasses, had bruising and eight stitches under his right eye, in the spot where he had been mashed in the face by a hard grounder on Monday. But Cabrera was beaming -- grinning broadly. "I was lucky," Cabrera said.

Yes, he has a small fracture, he explained, and yes, they've asked him to come back for an evaluation in a week; his spring training is probably over. But Cabrera indicated he fully expects to be ready by Opening Day, which is something that didn't seem possible in the first moments after Hunter Pence's hard grounder smashed into Cabrera's face in Clearwater, Fla. Blood immediately poured down Cabrera's face, and when Brandon Inge came over from second base to check on him, Inge recalled, he could see the panic filling Cabrera's face.

Inge has kids, and from his experience as a dad, he knows you cannot betray worry on your face when you're checking somebody else's injury; the more you're concerned, the more they will panic. So while Inge saw the flap of skin open on Cabrera's cheekbone, he told Cabrera, "You're OK. It's just a cut."

Hours later, another infielder saw a replay of Cabrera's injury and understood immediately what had happened. On March 15, the Braves played at the Phillies' home park in Clearwater, Fla., and when Chipper Jones went to take ground balls, he found the surface to be rocket fast and erratic -- to the point that Jones walked off the position without taking his full complement of ground balls, feeling that he was at risk of getting hurt.

Cabrera talked with reporters about how his sunglasses saved him.

Braves notes

• Greg Walker, the Braves' new hitting coach, raved about the work that Jason Heyward has put in this spring as he has strived to better integrate the movement of his hands and lower body in his swing. "He's been a dream to work with," said Walker.

Some evaluators who have seen Heyward think he's gotten better this spring and view him as a work in progress. "To me, it looks like he's still thinking about his mechanics, rather than just reacting to the ball," said one evaluator.

• Scouts have said that Jair Jurrjens has really struggled with his fastball command, and that continued on Tuesday, when Jurrjens got pounded and really let his tough day affect his body language.

• The strong sense I got from talking with folks on Tuesday is that there's a split between Atlanta's front office and field staff over the choice of the Braves' shortstop. Tyler Pastornicky was cast as the likely shortstop before spring training began and is seen as the choice of the front office. But my sense is that folks in uniform believe that Andrelton Simmons, who has less experience than Pastornicky, is the better player and significantly better defensively.

By the way: This type of split is not unusual, not a sign of problems; it's just part of the process. Front offices often view these decisions with a big-picture lens, while the field staffs tend to think about what will help them the most today.

Notables

• The Kansas City Royals needed help, and they got it in a trade, as Bob Dutton writes. With Joakim Soria out, Aaron Crow is being shifted back to the bullpen.

• Kendrys Morales' return to the lineup was delayed by at least a couple of days.

• T.J. Simers wonders why Dodger fans aren't mad that the team didn't improve for this year.

In a parallel universe, folks weren't upset when Richard Nixon rode Air Force One back to California on the taxpayers' dime.

Dodgers fans are just happy Frank McCourt is leaving, and I don't think they really care what the window dressing is when that happens.

• A bidder for the Dodgers asked about naming rights. Not good.

• I don't know if I've heard of a pitcher doing this before: C.J. Wilson is running one to two miles before and after he pitches this spring.

Andy Pettitte got back into uniform and looked sharp, but check out the photo that accompanies this story: Ivan Nova and Joba Chamberlain watching Pettitte in his bullpen session. You don't see players do that ever; a great sign of respect.

Pettitte's competitiveness hasn't changed, writes Jeff Bradley.

• The Nationals' possible move to Fort Myers is gaining momentum, writes Adam Kilgore.

Derek Holland is getting paid.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Grant Balfour will be Oakland's closer, writes Susan Slusser.

2. Ryan Dempster is in line for an Opening Day start, Dave van Dyck writes.

3. There is not a spending spree in the Mets' future.

4. Kelly Johnson is headed back to the No. 2 spot in the Toronto lineup.

5. The Pirates' payroll fits their situation -- for now, writes Dejan Kovacevic.

6. Nick Hundley got an extension.

7. Another Philadelphia infielder got hurt; the Phillies need a veteran infielder, writes David Murphy.

8. The Baltimore Orioles have signed pitcher Dontrelle Willis.

Dings and dents

1. Braves reliever Arodys Vizcaino is out for the year. Kris Medlen is going to be in the Atlanta bullpen.

2. Carlos Marmol had a hand cramp.

3. Ian Stewart says he won't be stopped by his wrist issue.

4. As mentioned within this Henry Schulman notebook, Ryan Vogelsong is making progress.

5. Derek Jeter will be back in the lineup later in the week.

6. Daisuke Matsuzaka is progressing well in his rehab.

7. A couple of Cincinnati relievers appear to be making progress, says Dusty Baker.

8. Neftali Feliz had some shoulder stiffness.

9. Zach Britton is going to see Dr. Andrews.

The fight for jobs

1. Reid Brignac's bid to be the everyday shortstop has been hurt by injury.

2. Jamie Moyer is not stopping, writes Tyler Kepner.

3. Daniel Bard is not locked in as Boston's No. 4 starter. The identity of the No. 5 starter is still not known, as Brian MacPherson writes.

4. Brad Lincoln is making a pitch to start for the Pirates.

5. The Indians' Jeanmar Gomez has had an excellent spring, writes Sheldon Ocker.

6. Jose Veras is settling in with the Milwaukee Brewers.

7. A Rule 5 pick is working to make the Cardinals' roster.

Tuesday's games

1. Michael Pineda's velocity is building. While the focus has been on Pineda's fastball, the New York Yankees are thrilled with how well he's throwing his secondary pitches -- his slider and changeup.

2. The Toronto Blue Jays had a good day.

3. Dustin McGowan got knocked around.

4. Josh Johnson looks tremendous.

5. Stephen Strasburg looked great.

Other stuff

Lance Berkman ripped Bud Selig for the Astros' move to the AL.

Felix Hernandez is sold on the Seattle Mariners. From Bob Condotta's story, there is this about Felix's physical condition:

The first thing you notice about Seattle's ace this spring is that there's simply less of him. Though he's still listed at 230 pounds in the team's media guide, Hernandez says he lost 15 pounds during the offseason and now weighs 218.

He dropped the weight through improved workouts rather than diet changes.

Ask why he wanted to lose weight, and he smiles.

"To help my look," he replied.

There's also a difference on the field.

"I feel more athletic," he said. "I can get off the mound more quickly."

Eric Wedge has noticed a difference.

"He's in better shape," the Mariners manager said.

Adam Dunn is preparing to play the field.

• Chili Davis is back, writes John Shea.

• Moving Bryce Harper to center field makes sense, writes Thomas Boswell.

• The Minnesota Twins have one last piece from the Johan Santana trade.

Troy Tulowitzki has a personal goal that translates into teamwork.

• The D-backs are tough, writes Nick Piecoro.

• Paul Hoynes takes a wide-angle look at the Indians' spring training.

• Joe Maddon got to meet his childhood idol, writes Roger Mooney.

• The Cactus League is thriving, writes Dan Bickley.

Tony Gwynn is making progress, but he's not quite ready to return.

And today will be better than yesterday.



Draft notes.

Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Spoiler [+]

I saw Florida host Vanderbilt on Saturday under the broiler at McKetchan Field, and Florida's top three draft prospects for this year all played well, led by catcher Mike Zunino. He is one of the top two college position players in this draft, along with Arizona State shortstop Deven Marrero; both play premium positions in the middle of the field and project to stay there in pro ball while providing above-average offense for their positions.

Zunino's swing isn't entirely conventional, but it works. He has a slight drift but keeps his weight back enough to drive the ball; his real asset at the plate is his hands, strong and quick, giving him the ability to go to all fields, and, combined with good leverage from proper hip rotation, at least future-average power. Vanderbilt didn't have the baserunners to test Zunino's arm, but his throws in infield practice and warm-ups showed enough strength for him to stay behind the plate, and he had no trouble receiving the heavy diet of off-speed stuff served up by Brian Johnson. It also looked as if Zunino and Johnson were calling the game themselves -- Zunino didn't look into the dugout to get the signs -- which would be a positive for both players if correct. Zunino's approach is sound, and even if he ends up with average hit and power tools, that's an above-average major league regular behind the plate. He's a lock to go in the top five picks.

• Johnson, a two-way player for Florida, started and threw well, perhaps not as well as the linescore indicated but well enough to look like a first-rounder. The left-hander showed just an average fastball at 88-92 mph, sitting 89-90, but worked backward much of the day, throwing a ton of curves, sliders and changeups, with the true curveball his best pitch.

• Gators shortstop Nolan Fontana is a bit of a favorite of mine as a true shortstop with great instincts and plenty of arm, as well as a strong approach at the plate that has led to high on-base percentages both years at Florida. He bars his lead arm but is surprisingly strong, with a fairly linear swing that should produce doubles power to go with the high walk rates; the swing and eye remind me a little of Frank Catalanotto, although Fontana's a better runner.

In the field, Fontana is a clear long-term shortstop who gets great reads off the bat and has a strong, accurate arm. He's not Marrero, who has a superior hit tool, but Fontana's a better shortstop than Levi Michael, who was drafted late in the first round last year and would likely have gone top 20 if he hadn't had a leg injury that had him hobbling through the last month of North Carolina's season.

• Florida is loaded with underclass prospects, with Taylor Gushue, a first baseman who'll likely succeed Zunino behind the plate, as the most exciting. He has a simple, balanced swing with great rotation (just setting up his hands a little high) from both sides of the plate and showed a good eye in Saturday's game. Lefty Daniel Gibson threw in relief of Johnson, sitting 91-92 with a fringy slider but mediocre command. Senior Preston Tucker homered on a ball down from a left-hander; he's probably a fourth- or fifth-rounder on raw talent as a corner guy, probably a first baseman, with raw power but not the hit tool. However, the new collective bargaining agreement, which caps draft spending, could push him up to the third round when premium high school players start passing on the Reinsdorfian slot bonuses.

• Vanderbilt is at its weakest in ages, with both starter Drew VerHagen and reliever Sam Selman scuffling on Saturday. VerHagen was 90-93 with an 80-83 mph changeup but no breaking ball to speak of, and he only brought enough command to get him through about three innings, after which the changing-speeds trick stopped working. He's a relief prospect for after the third round. Selman was mostly 90-91 with a sloppy upper-70s slider, a herky-jerk delivery and no clue where it was going.

High school notes

• Hagerty H.S. right-hander Zach Eflin is establishing himself as a clear first-rounder with a good chance to go in the top 20. Eflin was 90-94 in a seven-inning complete game, mostly 92-94, and he got on top of the ball extremely well, working midthigh or below for much of the night. His changeup was plus at 78-79 and he had good feel for it, getting deception from arm speed with very mild fade. His knuckle-curve at 77-83 was very inconsistent -- it's a new pitch for him -- and better at 83, where it had some tilt like a hard slider but often lost its shape at the low end of its range. That's a nearly impossible pitch to command or throw consistently anywhere but in the dirt, and given his high three-quarters slot, I'd like to see what he can do with a traditional grip on the pitch.

Eflin stays over the rubber well with a high leg kick and moderate stride, finishing well over his front side with a clean, repeatable arm swing. He reminded me a lot of Shelby Miller, another top high school prospect who had all of the essential elements but just needed time and professional coaching. Miller threw a little harder with a better breaking ball, but Eflin has a much better changeup and better command than Miller did at this age, and he should add at least 10-15 pounds as he matures. He's committed to Central Florida, which is just a formality at this point because he's going too high in the draft to ever be a Knight.

• Olympia H.S. in Orlando has two top prospects in right-hander Walker Weickel and outfielder Jesse Winker, with Weickel the first-rounder and Winker more of a sandwich/second-round talent if you like the hit tool. Weickel wasn't great on Wednesday night, pitching at 87-91, a grade below his normal velocity, although the curveball had its normal sharp 12-to-6 break; he commanded the breaking ball better than he did the fastball, and even his control wasn't great on that night, particularly to his arm side. He showed good arm speed on a 79-91 mph changeup as well. Weickel's arm action is very easy; he's got a big -- dare I say Lincecum-esque? -- shoulder tilt, finishes well over his front side and appears to expend very little effort. He's an extreme projection guy -- you could easily see him picking up 3-4 mph as he fills out that frame -- and already has enough of a breaking ball and changeup to make him at least a strong first-round pick, likely to go top 15-20 and thus to never reach the University of Miami.

Winker also didn't show well in Olympia's game against Apopka (Zack Greinke's alma mater), failing to make a basic adjustment against a fellow left-hander who kept flipping breaking balls at him. Winker has good rotation and some natural power, but his front side is very soft, pulling his hands away from the ball and causing him to start to turn his wrists over too soon. Several scouts have praised his overall feel for the game, from fielding to baserunning, and he has a plus arm to handle right field in pro ball, but the bat may not be as advanced as advertised.



Finding the next Jose Bautista.

Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Spoiler [+]

The bottom 100 of ESPN's top 500 has been released, and as you might guess, there aren't a lot of stars. At least stars who aren't well into the twilight of their careers.

But all is not lost for the also-rans. If you ranked the top 500 going into the 2010 season, you might have found, among the lowest group, a journeyman role player with a little pop named Jose Bautista. Before the 2008 season, the stragglers would have included a former top prospect, demoted to Triple-A Buffalo halfway through his age-28 season thanks to a 6.29 ERA, named Cliff Lee.

Tomorrow's stars will be made up largely of today's future stars, but there's plenty of room for surprises ranging from mild to shocking. What would be truly shocking is if some of baseball's best over the next five to 10 years didn't come completely out of left field, excusing the terrible pun. Let's take a look at some of the second-tier prospects and youngish journeymen who sit in the 401-500 range who still have a chance of really surprising, much like Bautista did in 2010. We'll start from the bottom, with a guy who just happens to be Bautista's teammate.


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Travis Snider (No. 475), OF, Toronto Blue Jays

After hitting .301/.338/.466 during a cup-of-coffee stint at age 20 in 2008, 2009 was supposed to be Snider's big breakout. Then 2010. Then 2011. The calendar's turned yet again, and the Jays are still waiting for Snider to force his way into the heart of a solid Jays lineup. While there's a natural inclination to give up on Snider, he just turned 24. ZiPS, for one, has soured considerably on Snider, but on the upside, still thinks he can develop into a Kevin Mitchell-type hitter in the best-case scenario. Mitchell had a better first experience in the majors, but had setbacks of his own, such as repeating Triple-A after a rough season with the Tidewater Tides in 1984. And remember, Mitchell was National League MVP in 1989.


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Jerry Sands (No. 474), 1B/OF, Los Angeles Dodgers

Sands has never been the type who really impresses scouts, as his defense at any position could most kindly be described as awkward and his swing mechanics were thought to be too much of a mess for him to have success at higher levels. However, he continued to hit as he was promoted up the ladder, and while the .278/.344/.586 he posted last year for Triple-A Albuquerque isn't as impressive as it sounds, given that it was in a hitters' park in the very hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, the Dodgers could really use a player with tantalizing power.

ZiPS sees Sands' upside long-term as being in the Michael Cuddyer/Ryan Ludwick mode, and if he develops really well, Carlos Pena. His comps list has plenty of busts (Jason Botts, Brad Nelson, Josh Phelps), too, but Sands has certainly done enough at this point to merit a chance to prove his doubters wrong.


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Mat Gamel (No. 460), 1B, Milwaukee Brewers

Gamel's task of replacing Prince Fielder is a big one, but Gamel finally really broke out in the home run department for Triple-A Nashville last year (28 bombs), and while there will be a drop-off, it won't be crippling. Fielder was a star in Milwaukee, but not a 10-win player in the vein of vintage Alex Rodriguez. The X factor with Gamel is that he can now focus on hitting the ball rather than on Milwaukee's constant experiment to make him into an acceptable third baseman.

The drop-off at first base in Milwaukee will likely be smaller than expected (likely in the 2-3 WAR range), and when you factor in the Brewers' improving on a left side of the infield that was so wretched in 2011 it resembled high-concept art, Milwaukee may actually have an improved overall infield in 2012.


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Pedro Alvarez (No. 436), 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates

Alvarez's potential to become a star didn't seem like a stretch a year ago, given that he was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 draft and had a solid 2010 debut. Instead of leaping toward stardom, Alvarez spent 2011 (at least when not limping on a sore leg) swinging and missing at every curveball thrown to him. That may serve well if you're auditioning for the role of Pedro Cerrano in a remake of "Major League," but not so good against major league pitching.

The Pirates are still rebuilding and have every incentive to give Alvarez time to avenge his 2011 season. Alvarez certainly wouldn't be the first burly, power-hitting third-base prospect to hit stardom after an early rough patch -- 20 years ago, Jim Thome was in the same boat after starting his career hitting .228/.285/.330 in 235 plate appearances.


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Brad Peacock (No. 433), RHP, Oakland Athletics

The A's may not know how to build an acceptable offense, but they've shown a gift for snagging quality pitching from other teams. Peacock wasn't aggressively scouted as an amateur and was drafted in the 41st round by the Nats in 2006. After a so-so early professional career, he started appearing on prospects lists when he started striking out batters in 2010 and found himself playing in the Futures Game a year later. Oakland picked up Peacock in the Gio Gonzalez trade, and I think he'll live up to his newly acquired hype. Plus, like Mike Mussina, he throws a knuckle curve, which I find way cool for some reason.

The ZiPS projection system likes Peacock, as well. While his very top statistical comps at his age (Shawn Chacon, Octavio Dotel, Tim Redding) are hardly names to cause excitement, you don't have to go far down the list before you start seeing other, more exciting pitchers, such as Jack McDowell, Tim Hudson, Jason Schmidt, and John Smoltz, strongly suggesting there's a high ceiling for Peacock.


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Eduardo Sanchez (No. 422), RHP, St. Louis Cardinals

I've developed a serious crush on the Cardinals' bullpen (see below), but it's not hard to explain that when you consider that Sanchez, who hits the mid-90s and is coming off a rookie campaign in which he registered a 1.80 ERA and 10.5 K/9 ratio, is maybe only the third candidate to pick up saves. Whereas the guy next on this list might close for someone, I think Sanchez absolutely will.


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Marc Rzepczynski (No. 404), LHP, St. Louis Cardinals

Rzepczynski excelled after being converted from starter to reliever, and I think there's a solid chance that the man nicknamed "Scrabble," infringing on a number of trademarks, will get a shot to close someday for someone. Nobody will confuse his fastball with Billy Wagner's, but he clears 90 with his two-seamer and when he's on, that's like trying to hit a bowling ball with a Wiffle ball bat. And not only can he induce grounders, but he whiffed more than 11 men per nine last season. Plus, if a man named Rzepczynski can star in the majors, suddenly my last name might not be so hard for people to spell.

post #5219 of 77297
Eduardo Sanchez is WAYYYYY too low to be honest with you.........dude should be top 250 at least.
post #5220 of 77297
Eduardo Sanchez is WAYYYYY too low to be honest with you.........dude should be top 250 at least.
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