Thursday, February 28, 2013

2013 Preview: Oakland Athletics

Oakland Athletics
(2012: 94-68, 1st Place AL West)
(2013: FC Prediction: 3rd place AL West)

The A's surprised everyone when they passed both the Angels and the Rangers and won 94 games on route to an AL West crown.  The A's rode impressive performances from their young pitchers and strong power numbers from some surprising sources all year long and were able to hold off the heavily favored divisional opponents.

Perhaps the best story from 2012 for the A's was the performance of Yoenis Cespedes.  Despite battling some nagging injuries all season long, Cespedes put up some big numbers in his first season in the US to solidify the A's lineup.

The A's should continue to succeed due to strong pitching and timely hitting, but they will again face strong opposition from their divisional opponents.  The Rangers and Angels are both primed for big years, and the AL West will be an absolute dog fight down to the end.

Let's examine the A's roster a little to take a look at their chances:

The A's pitching staff is very young, but incredibly talented, even with the loss of Brandon McCarthy.  Brett Anderson will be the ace of the staff and the lefty has the stuff to be a top of the rotation starter if he can stay healthy.  Bartolo Colon will miss the first 5 games of the year due to a PED suspension, which amounts to no more than a start.  The rest of the rotation will be rounded out by youngsters Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, A.J. Griffin, and Dan Straily.  All four should struggle a bit with consistency, but should keep the A's in contention.

The bullpen is a strong point for the A's.  Closer Grant Balfour is a stud at the back end when healthy and should close out a fair amount of games in 2013.  2012 All-Star Ryan Cook should repeat his success from 2012 due to a power fastball and strong breaking ball.  Guys like Jerry Blevins and Jordan Norberto are quality middle relief guys.  Middle reliever Pat Neshek, perhaps one of the best guys in baseball is fun to watch because of his goofy motion and his ability to get hitters out.

The A's have graduated quite a few good prospects to the big leagues in the last couple years, leaving Sonny Gray as the best prospect down in the farm.  The A's 2011 first round pick should be ready by 2014, but because he was a college pitcher, he might be able to step in and help if called upon this year.

Brandon Moss will play first this year for the A's, and should get his share of homers, but won't hit for a high average.  Second base will be a battle between Jemile Weeks and Park Ridge native and Maine South grad Adam Rosales.  Personally, due to his speed, I think Weeks will step up his hitting a bit and take the job.  Hiroyuki Nakajima will play short, and while mostly being known for his defense, should enjoy a decent first season in the big leagues.  The third base job is between Josh Donaldson and Jed Lowrie.  If Lowrie can stay healthy, it's his job to lose, as he has much more talent than Donaldson.

The catching duties will be split between John Jaso and Derek Norris.  Both are only average defensive back stops, but both should be able to stick a bit.  The designated hitter role will be interesting, with Daric Barton, Seth Smith, and Chris Young all getting their chances, but I see a platoon between Smith (against righties), and Young (against lefties).  Young will get a chance to resurrect his career in a new city after struggling the last few years in Arizona.

Across the outfield the A's have Yoenis Cespedes in left, Coco Crisp (Do the Bernie Lean!!) in center, and Josh Reddick in right.  This is one of the most underrated outfield in baseball.  Reddick has enormous power and one of the best arms in baseball.  Crisp is a high on base guy who can steal bases and play excellent defense in center.  Cespedes is the definition of a five tool player, and should only get better in his second season in the Major Leagues.

The A's have some solid positional prospects that could be on the way.  Shortstop Addison Russell is by far their best prospect, but he probably won't be ready until 2015.  Outfielder Michael Choice is a stud power hitter, but he still might be a year away.  Considering second base isn't a strong position for the A's, the guy with the best shot of being with the club this year is Grant Green.  Green doesn't have a ton of power, but he can hit for average and is extremely athletic.

A bunch of the prospects will be with the team in the Spring, but Hideki Okajima is probably the guy with the best shot to make the team.  A solid lefty is always a need, especially in the pen.  If Okajima can stay healthy, he has a decent shot to make the team, as he is a deceptive and crafty lefty.

I love this A's team, I really do.  It just so happens that they are my favorite AL team.  I just can't get myself to pick them this year though, due to the division that they play in.  In a lot of other divisions, I would probably pick the A's to make the playoffs, but the Rangers and Angels are both very strong teams.  The A's will surely be able to compete with them, and hopefully some of the magic they had last year will carry over, but I just don't see that happening.  To make yourself feel better A's fans, ignore my pick and do the Bernie Lean.

With Brandon McCarthy gone, this is a very tough choice.  Probably the funniest guy to follow is Brett Anderson, @BrettAnderson49 but I never pass at the opportunity to give one of my favorite guys in baseball, Pat Neshek, some love, so follow him @PatNeshek With the heartache he went through last year, he deserves all the attention in the world.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

2013 Preview: Philadelphia Phillies

Philadelphia Phillies
(2012: 81-81, 3rd Place NL East)
(2013: FC Prediction: 3rd place NL East)

The Phillies are similar to the Yankees in terms of the fact that their stars are aging, and some of them are often injured.  As it has been the past couple of years, the Phillies go as their three aces go.  Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Cliff Lee are all top of the rotation level starters, and despite Lee and Halladay not being their best in 2012, they should all be fine in 2013.

The Phillies lineup is once again led by Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Chase Utley.  Injuries have been a problem for these three lately, but all of them still definitely have something left in the tank.

Jonathan Papelbon has recently come out and said that he hasn't seen much leadership in the Phillies clubhouse.  This is a very interesting statement given the veteran presence in there.  This shouldn't be a problem at all, and maybe Papelbon just isn't used to way that things are done in Philly.

Now let's take a look at this veteran ballclub:

As mentioned earlier, this staff lives and dies by the performances of Halladay, Lee, and Hamels.  Beyond those three, the Phils have Kyle Kendrick and John Lannan.  Lannan replaces the departed Vance Worley and if these two can put up decent numbers at the back end of the rotation, the Phillies have a good chance to be successful this year.

Jonathan Papelbon leads the bullpen, both in vocality as well as talent.  He should enjoy another quality season as a big league closer.  The Phillies are deep behind Papelbon, with guys like Antonio Bastardo, Mike Adams, and Michael Stutes.  Adams is an elite setup man, while Bastardo is an effective lefty and Stutes is a quality swing man.  

In the prospect pipeline, the Phillies two quality prospects.  Lefty Jesse Biddle has three plus pitches and has the ability to become a very quality starter in the big leagues.  Ethan Martin is also a quality prospect.  He has a power fastball and a nasty slider, and should be able to translate that into a decent career.  Neither will probably contribute much in 2013, but both could be ready for full time duty by 2014.

The Phils have a very veteran infield, but an infield with some very distinguished players.  Ryan Howard is the first baseman, with Chase Utley at second, Jimmy Rollins at short, and newly acquired Michael Young at third base.  All should enjoy success, but will they be able to keep up the kind of production that they have throughout their careers?  Young already began to regress last year and the others have all shown signs of slowing down. One guy who probably won't slow down is catcher Carlos Ruiz.  Ruiz is a flat out stud who can smack the ball all over the field.

In the outfield, the Phillies look drastically different from the outfield that started in 2012.  Former top prospect Domonic Brown looks to prove that he can produce at the big league level.  Center Fielder Ben Revere came at a steep price, costing the Phillies pitchers Trevor May and Vance Worley, but Revere plays great defense and can hit for average and steal plenty of bases.  Right field will be manned by former Tiger Delmon Young.  Young is a liability on defense, but he proved in last years playoffs that he can still hit.

Prospect wise, the Phillies have catcher Tommy Joseph.  Joseph has an absolute cannon behind the plate, and his awesome power, but his contact rate will need to improve in order for him to make it to the big leagues, especially with Chooch Ruiz blocking him at the Major League level.

Joe Mather and Michael Martinez are both quality bench players that could make this team, but the guy I look at here is Aaron Cook.  The Phils aren't deep in the rotation behind their three headed monster, so if Cook has a nice Spring, he might be able to crack the rotation over a guy like John Lannan.

The Phillies are a quality team with a very strong veteran presence and some star players, but the NL East is very top heavy.  The Nationals and Braves were both awesome last year, and both look just as strong, if not stronger this year.  The Phillies have a great chance to improve upon their win total of last year, but I just don't see them having the fire power to compete with the top dogs in this division, even with all of the star players that they have.  They are much better than the Mets or Marlins, but they're not on the same level as the Braves or Nats.

The nod here has to go to Jimmy Rollins, simply because he is the most energetic and entertaining player of the bunch.  Follow him @JimmyRollins11

Monday, February 25, 2013

2013 Preview: New York Yankees

New York Yankees
(2012: 95-67, 1st Place AL East)
(2013: FC Prediction, 3rd place AL East)

The Yankees in 3rd place??? Are you guys freaking nuts???  The Yankees are a great franchise, but the fact of the matter is that this team is aging, injured, and just didn't do much to improve in the off-season, while the rest of the division got better.  The AL East will be a dog fight in 2013 and any one of these 5 teams could probably win this division.  

Perhaps the biggest story surrounding this team is what is going on with Alex Rodriguez.  Rodriguez had hip surgery and will be out a couple of months, but the off the field issues with more allegations of performance enhancing drugs might add to the distraction.  It is hard to think that A-Rod will be very effective if and when he does return to the Yankee lineup.  Derek Jeter coming off is ankle injury is also a big issue.  Jeter hopes to be ready by the start of the season, but how close to 100% will he be?

Let's take a closer look at why we think the Yanks will miss the playoffs in 2013:

The Yankees have some solid starting pitching, but they are definitely aging.  Ace C.C. Sabathia should be the one constant here.  He is an innings eater and is among the most reliable starting pitchers in the big leagues.  Andy Pettite and Hiroki Kuroda were both effective last year, but Pettitte is now 40 and Kuroda is 38.  I expect a bit of regression from these two in 2013.  Behind them are Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova.  Both have the stuff to be quality big league pitchers, but both have had command issues in the past.  I look for Hughes to take a step and to be a very quality starter in 2013.

The Yankees bullpen loses Rafael Soriano, but returns the greatest closer in the history of the game Mariano Rivera.  The question here is how much does Rivera have left?  With the movement on his cutter, I don't think it matters, as he will most likely return his usual self.  The bullpen also returns guys like David Robertson, Boone Logan, and Joba Chamberlain.  All have been quality relievers the past couple of years for the Yanks and should continue this trend.

When it comes to Yankees pitching prospects, all you have to do is look at last years top prospects Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances to see how far they have fallen behind.  Last season, they were the Yankees 1 and 2 ranked prospects.  This year, they are 5 and 19 among Yankees prospects.  This season will be very important for both, especially Banuelos, who will need to cut down on the walks if he wants to make it to the big leagues.  

Like the pitching staff, the lineup is full of veterans.  Power hitting first baseman Mark Teixeira returns and should be his usual self, hitting 30 home runs and driving in close to 100, with an average in the .250 to .275 range.  Second baseman Robinson Cano is one of the best hitters in the game and there is no question he will produce.  The new Yankee third baseman is Kevin Youkilis, made Red Sox fans everywhere cringe when he decided to put on the pinstripes.  Youk is getting up there in age, but he still can stick a bit and play average defense at third.  Shortstop Derek Jeter is coming off a serious injury, so he should be slow to start, but his bat should be ok, even if his defense takes a bit of a hit.

After losing Russell Martin behind the plate, the Yankees decided not to upgrade at the position.  I think this was a huge mistake.  While Francisco Cervelli is a decent catcher, I just don't feel that is a consistent Major League starter behind the dish.  The new designated hitter will be former Indian Travis Hafner.  Hafner will need to stay healthy, but if he can, he should put able to put up some decent power numbers with the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees across the outfield will have Brett Gardner in left, Curtis Granderson in center, and Ichiro in right.  If Gardner can avoid injury, he should be able to get on base and cause some havoc on the base paths.  Granderson will do what he always does, hit home runs, mostly against righties.  Ichiro is getting up there in age, but still has a little bit left, as he proved after coming to the Yankees later in 2012.  Ichiro will look to end his career on a high note with a World Series champion.

The Yankees have some very high quality hitting prospects, but their best ones aren't quite ready.  Catcher Gary Sanchez and outfielder Mason Williams both have promising careers ahead of them, but you most likely won't see them in pinstripes until 2015.  They should look to fill in nicely once the Yankee veterans start to get up there in age.

There aren't many quality names being invited to Yankees camp, but Jayson Nix probably has the best chance to stick with the team.  He can backup at third, second, and short and might get a fair amount of reps at short if Derek Jeter has a set back with his recovery.  Nix definitely has the best shot to make this team and might even be a virtual lock to make the club out of Spring Training.

The Yankees could very easily prove us wrong and win this division, but the AL East is an extremely tough division with five teams that will compete day in and day out.  To me, the Yankees are just getting up there in age and I don't know if they'll be able to compete with the Blue Jays and Rays.  The Yankees will score a fair amount of runs, but I don't know if they'll be able to hold their opponents.  Outside of Sabathia, there are a lot of question marks in this rotation and I don't think they match-up great with the rest of the teams in the division.

The Yanks have some players with a very high number of followers, but the main guy that I like to check in on is CC Sabathia.  He is a very entertaining guy and an overall great follow so go check him out @CC_Sabathia

Friday, February 22, 2013

2013 Preview: New York Mets

New York Mets

(2012: 74-88, 4th Place NL East)
(2013: FC Prediction: 4th Place NL East)

To say that the Mets are in a rebuilding phase would be an understatement.  Looking through their lineup, you will assuredly see a ton of names that you've never heard of.  In the off-season, they traded reigning Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey to the Blue Jays for two quality prospects in catcher Travis D'Arnaud and right hander Noah Syndergaard.  

The Mets pitching staff is not bad at all.  There are quite a few quality arms there, especially in the starting rotation, but they are in a very tough NL East with three other quality teams in the Nationals, Braves, and Phillies.  The Mets are banking that their youngsters will mature and mature fast, as that is the only way I see them being able to compete in 2013.

Let's dig in deeper to the Mets' roster:

Even after trading R.A. Dickey, the Mets still have a solid rotation.  Johan Santana, although often injured, is the de facto ace of the staff.  Jon Niese and Dillon Gee both return, and are both very consistent.  The newcomer to this staff is Shaun Marcum.  Marcum has very good stuff, but has been unable to stay healthy, so he is a big question mark.  Youngster Matt Harvey got a taste of the big leagues last year, and he proved he belong.  I look for Harvey to take a big step and to continue this success in 2013.  

The bullpen isn't the best for the Mets.  The Closer as of now is Frank Francisco, but he will be pushed by Bobby Parnell.  Both closed at times for the Mets last year, and Parnell had a bit more success in the role.  The rest of the bullpen will be rounded out by some young, relative unknowns.  Competing for the other spots in the pen will be lefties Josh Edgin and Robert Carson, as well as righties Jeurys Familia, Elvin Ramirez, Jeremy Hefner, and Jenrry Mejia.

The Mets have some quality pitching prospects in Zach Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard.  Wheeler is one of the best pitching prospects in the game and has the stuff to crack the Mets rotation in 2013, if there is a spot for him.  Syndergaard still might be at least a year away, but he has the body and the repertoire to be a solid middle of the rotation starting pitcher for a long time in this league.

There are a couple of big time positives in the Mets lineup.  Third baseman David Wright is a staple in New York, and he got a big money extension in the off-season to prove it.  First baseman Ike Davis might struggle to hit for average, but there is no doubt that he will hit his fair share of home runs.  Up the middle, the Mets have Ruben Tejada at shortstop and Daniel Murphy at second base.  Neither provide much in terms of speed or power, but they will hit for a decent average and are solid defenders.  John Buck will start the year at catcher, but there isn't much standing between top prospect Travis D'Arnaud and the starting job.

Across the outfield, the Mets will run out Lucas Duda in left, Kirk Nieuwenhuis in center, and Mike Baxter in left.  Duda has some pop, but the rest of them leave quite a bit to be desired.  I don't really expect much production from Nieuwenhuis or Baxter, and this is definitely the glaring hole in the Mets lineup.  Utility man Justin Turner might see some time at first, with Ike Davis shifting to right field if Baxter struggles to start.

The Mets have a big time catching prospect in Travis D'Arnaud, who they received for Dickey from Toronto.  D'Arnaud is one of the best prospects in the game and there is no doubt in my mind, given the lack of catching depth at the big league level, that he will be up early in the year.  He isn't the best defended, but D'Arnaud can flat out hit, and that is something the Mets definitely need in their lineup.

While I usually opt for the pitcher, and the Mets have a couple nice ones in LaTroy Hawkins and Tim Byrdak, the most interesting guy here is Marlon Byrd.  After the worst year of his career in 2012 with the Cubs and Red Sox, Byrd looks to bounce back in 2013.  With the lack of depth and talent in the Mets outfield, Byrd has a great opportunity here to make the roster out of Spring Training.

The Mets have a couple glaring holes in their lineup, but on the positive side, they can pitch.  The rotation is five deep, with a couple young, strong arms on the rise like Mejia and Wheeler.  I just don't expect the Mets to be able to keep up with the rest of the NL East.  The Braves and Nationals are both great teams, and the Phillies are improved from 2012.  2013 looks to be a rebuilding year for the Mets, but hey, at least they're in the same division as the Marlins, right??

There aren't many Mets who are on the Twitter circuit, but non-roster invite Tim Byrdak gets the nod here.  Why is a fringe roster player who might not even make the team getting our Twitter account of the day you ask?  Well because his avatar is him dressed as Hulk Hogan of course!! You see what our criteria for this sort of thing is now.  Follow him @Givemethelefty

Thursday, February 21, 2013

2013 Preview: Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore Orioles 

(2012: 93-69, 2nd Place AL East, Wild Card Berth)
(2013: FC Prediction: 4th Place AL East)

But Tommy, the Orioles won 93 games and made the playoffs last year, how can they finish fourth??  The answer is pretty simple here, the AL East is pretty tough.  The Rays and Yankees are always up there, while the Red Sox are improved and the Blue Jays are greatly improved.  While many expected them to be active this off-season, the Orioles stayed very quiet, perhaps allowing other teams in the division to pass them up.

The Orioles enjoyed kind of a perfect storm of success last year, and they rode that all the way to a wild card berth.  I just don't see the Orioles being able to repeat the success they had last year, especially with some question marks in the rotation.  The Orioles roster is almost exactly the same as is was for the team last year, but is the status quo good enough?  

Let's take a look at the roster and see if it is:

The Orioles rotation is full of relative unknowns, and the an unknown is baseball is always a scary thing.  Jason Hammel is the ace of the staff, but he doesn't really have the stuff to be a top of the rotation starter.  Wei-Yin Chen looks to have a solid sophomore season after breaking onto the scene in 2012.  Former top prospect Chris Tillman should also have a rotation spot locked up.  The rest of the rotation should be interesting.  Miguel Gonzalez, Brian Matusz, Steve Johnson, Jake Arrieta, and Zach Britton should battle for the last two spots.  All have started in the past and have shown flashes of being solid Major League starters, but consistency is the name of the game with all of these guys.

Closer Jim Johnson established himself as one of the best in the league last year.  If he can be 75% of the pitcher he was last year, he still should have a successful 2013 campaign.  Righties Pedro Strop and Darren O'Day are very reliable relievers and should eat up plenty of innings this year, while guys like Tommy Hunter and Luis Ayala look to fill in nicely in the long and middle relief roles.

The Orioles have some very strong starting pitching in the minors.  I don't think there is any doubt the top prospect Dylan Bundy is up with the club at some point in 2013.  The number 2 prospect in all of baseball has great stuff and a great makeup.  He should be a front of the rotation starter for years to come.  2012 first round pick Kevin Gausman is also a quality pitching prospect, but he still doesn't have a full year of pro ball under his belt, so he is probably best off getting another year of seasoning in the minors.

The Orioles have some thump in their infield, to go along with a couple solid average hitters.  Third baseman Manny Machado looks to continue to improve in his first full season in the big leagues.  The guy can flat out hit, and he proved that in his brief time with the Orioles in 2012.  First baseman Chris Davis and shortstop JJ Hardy both provide a ton of home run pop, and Hardy is coming off the best year of his career.  Second base will be shared by Ryan Flaherty and veteran Brian Roberts.  Flaherty has a history of a high batting average.  Roberts might not have a ton left in the tank, but he can still provide the intangibles this young club needs to repeat their 2012 success.

One of the stars of this team is young catcher Matt Wieters.  Wieters finally came into his own in 2012, hitting 23 home runs.  He still has a lot of untapped potential and should be able to improve upon the low batting average numbers he's put up in his career so far.  After Mark Reynolds moved on, the designated hitter role will be filled by long time journeyman Wilson Betemit.  Betemit is a great role player and should be able to fill in nicely in the short run.

The outfield features star center fielder Adam Jones.  Jones had a huge season in 2012, and while he might not reach the lofty numbers he put up last year, Jones is a flat out stud.  Right fielder Nick Markakis was able to stay healthy last year and his production improved because of it.  Markakis has always been able to hit for a high average and he plays great defense in right with a plus arm.  Left fielder Nolan Reimold was hurt last year, but he should bounce back nicely this year.  He has more power than he knows what to do with, so look for Reimold to hit a good number of homers in 2013.

The Orioles don't really have much in terms of hitting prospects in their system.  Second baseman Jonathan Schoop is the best of the bunch, although he probably won't be ready until 2014.  Look for him to possibly replace Roberts once he decides to hang them up for good.  Other names of note here are Nick Delmonico, who won't be ready until probably 2015, and outfielder Xavier Avery, who might be up with the club as a backup outfielder this year.

There are ton of quality names here.  Outfielders Chris Dickerson, Lew Ford, and Conor Jackson all have big league experience.  But given the relative unknowns in the starting rotation, I give the nod here to Jair Jurrjens.  Yes, he is far removed from his Cy Young quality season in 2009, and he has struggled to stay healthy, but Jurrjens might be able to put together a nice Spring and make the club.

The Orioles surprised a ton of people last year when they made the playoffs.  They won't be able to do the same this year.  The now on the radar Orioles will struggle to repeat their success in the tough and improved AL East.  If they can pitch, the Orioles have enough quality bats to be able to compete.  However, I don't expect them to get the consistent starting pitching that they did last year.  The bullpen doesn't have a ton of depth, so watch for overuse of Johnson, O'Day, and Strop, which could lead to late season struggles.

The Orioles don't have a ton of tweeters, so I'll give the nod to top prospect Dylan Bundy.  Just over 13 thousand followers is not good enough for a top 5 prospect in baseball.  So follow him @Dylan_Bundy

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Best Fans in Baseball...

When you live in a city that is most known for their watered-down beer, has a football team whose best player is Danny Amendola, and their most famous building looks like they tried to build a giant, silver McDonalds but ran out of money halfway through building it, chances are that the residents of that city will turn to baseball to forget about the miserable, muggy summers.  

For whatever reason, the rest of America has unanimously decided to crown the fans of the St. Louis Cardinals "The best fans in baseball."  Look, I have nothing against the St. Louis Cardinals.  Their fans are generally more insightful, intelligent and thoughtful than most fan bases.  

My late grandfather was a die-hard Cardinals fan.  I learned everything I needed to know about the Rule 5 Draft from a Cardinals fan.  Cardinals fans have generally been pleasant and polite whenever I run across them.  

But I'm not sure why Cardinals fans got the title of "Baseball's Best Fans."  What about the Mets?  Or the Yankees?  Or the Marlins?  Okay, there aren't any Marlins fans.  But let's not confuse 'passion' with 'fandom.'  

The truth is that there are just as many witless, offensive, prick dummies that cheer for the Cardinals as any other team.  Except their a**holes are the best a**holes in baseball.  While my Redbird friends may never forgive me, the hot baseball Twitter exposes why social media is both the best and worst thing ever invented.  

Thanks to a brave individual who decided to simply retweet all of the tweets sent by "the best fans in baseball," it turns out that the St. Louis Cardinals fans are just like the rest of us.  

So go ahead, follow @BestFansStLouis 

Here are a few sample excerpts.  Raise your hand if you've seen something similar from your own fan base in the comments section of the Chicago Sun-Times sports section.  Just replace "Matt Holiday" with "Alfonso Soriano." 

Pretty smart, huh?  

And just so I can't be accused of hating on the Cardinals, here's some excerpts from @FacebookCubs (which is just comments from the Chicago Cubs Facebook Page) just to show that the less intelligent segments of two rival fan bases are just 300 miles on I-55 apart in distance and probably even closer in their standardized test scores.

Good thing none of them will probably ever read this.  


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Post #100

This is post #100 for us over at The Full Count!! Who would have thought when we started this thing that we would have made it this far!! I just wanted to thank everyone who reads because without all of you, we never would have made it past the first week!!

As a little thank you to all of you readers, we have decided to have a little contest.  Coming up soon, we will be having a little trivia game.  The 7 winners of this game will be able to compete in a fantasy baseball league with Chris, Wade, and myself.  There will be prizes for the winners of that fantasy league, so make sure that if you want in on this, that you keep a look out for our upcoming contest!!

On behalf of all of us and Kate Upton, we just wanted to say thank you!!

2013 Preview: Milwaukee Brewers

Milwaukee Brewers
(2012: 83-79, 3rd place NL Central)
(2013 FC Prediction: 4th place NL Central)

The Brewers are a very interesting team heading into 2013.  Despite being cleared prior to last year of PED use, Braun's name has again resurfaced in all of the Biogenesis hoopla, so Braun might have to deal with his name being thrown around again.  Braun just seems guilty to me, but I don't have all of the evidence in front of me, so no one really knows as of yet.  What we do know, is that if this drags into the season it could become a distraction for Braun.

My biggest question mark with the Brewers is their starting rotation.  There are just a ton of relative unknowns in their rotation, and I have a problem picking this team to finish up with the Cardinals or Reds based on the lack of experience on their pitching staff.

The Brewers lineup has tons of pop, so let's take a look at their roster:

The Brewers have a very inexperienced starting rotation, and maybe it is the Cubs fan in me, but I just don't trust them, despite some success in 2012.  Ace Yovani Gallardo is good, there is no doubt about that but the rest of the Brewers rotation will be rounded out by Marco Estrada, Mark Rogers, Mike Fiers, and Wily Peralta (Chris Narveson will also be competing).  To quote the movie Major League, "Who are these ****ing guys???"  Fiers, Estrada, and Rogers were all pretty successful in 2012, but they are relatively inexperienced, and while they will have good stretches in 2013, I expect them to take their lumps as well.  Wily Peralta is the Brewers top prospect, and while I expect him to make the team, he did struggle in 2012 in AAA, so he is no lock to have success at the big league level.

The Brewers bullpen was among the worst in the league in 2012, leading the league in blown saves.  John Axford wasn't very good, but he has great stuff, so I fully expect him to return to form in 2013.  The Brew Crew added a couple quality bullpen arms in Mike Gonzalez, Tom Gorzelanny, and Burke Badenhop, so those three should help eat innings up and finish games. Gone is Francisco Rodriguez, which is probably a good thing.  I expect this bullpen to be much better this year behind a strong bounce back performance from Axford.

Five of the top six Brewers prospect are pitchers, but none of them are very highly regarded.  Peralta is the only one in the top 100 and he should compete for a rotation spot.  Outside of that, I don't see any of these pitching prospects helping the club this year, although righty Tyler Thornburg does have the kind of power arm that will translate into big time bullpen success, so possibly look for him late in games in 2013.  

While the pitching staff may struggle, the Brewers lineup is definitely one of the best in the league.  The lineup is led by Ryan Braun, who if he is able to avoid suspension, will be a MVP candidate yet again in 2013.  Carlos Gomez will again be in center field, while Norichika Aoki will be in right.  Both of these guys are very fast, and Aoki proved that his games definitely translates to American baseball in 2012.  Look for both of these guys to steal 30+ bases this year and to cover a lot ground in the outfield.

Former Cub Aramis Ramirez returns at third base, where he is coming off one of the best years of his career.  If he can stay healthy, he should definitely repeat these kinds of numbers.  Shortstop and highly touted prospect Jean Segura will begin his first full season in the big leagues.  He has good range at short and can stick a little bit, but look for some inconsistency from the the youngster.  Second baseman Rickie Weeks looks to rebound from a down year, and he has way too much talent to struggle as much as he did this past season.  The big question mark is first base.  Corey Hart had his knee scoped and could be out until May.  Then the Brewers got news that Mat Gamel reinjured his knee and is out for 2013.  That leaves Taylor Green and prospect Hunter Morris.  I'll talk a little about Morris in the next paragraph, but Green probably has the slight edge right now.  Catcher Jonathan Lucroy returns and is an absolute hitting machine, so expect another good season out of the 26 year old backstop.

The only Brewers hitting prospect of note is first baseman Hunter Morris.  Morris absolute dominated the AA Southern League last year.  All signs pointed to Morris being in AAA to start the year as he is probably not ready, but he may be thrust into action in 2013 earlier than expected.  The injuries to Hart and Gamel give him the opportunity, and you can sure as hell bet Morris is chomping at the bit to take over.  A strong Spring from the non-roster invite could earn him the starting nod on opening day.

I already mentioned Morris, and there are some names like infielders Bobby Crosby and Donnie Murphy that are nice on the list, but the edge always go to pitchers when it comes to non-rosters making the club.  Because of this, I have to go with right hander Kelvim Escobar.  The wily veteran has a chance to make this club mainly because of the lack of depth in the bullpen.  Despite bringing in three relievers through trade or free agency, there is still probably an open spot or two in the pen and Escobar will be looking to grab it.

The Brewers season lies mostly in the hands of the pitching staff.  They will score runs, the only question is will they be able to prevent them.  Because of this, the Brewers are definitely a hard team to pick.  If they pitch, they have a shot to win the division, even with the Reds and Cardinals looking good, and the upstart Pirates still trying to make a name for themselves.  If they don't pitch, well they could finish fourth, where we have them predicted to be. The Cubs should have the cellar locked up in the NL Central, but the Brew Crew could easily finish fourth.  They could probably just as easy finish first, so look for a wild NL Central race all season long.

The Brewers in general aren't very active on Twitter, but closer John Axford is definitely one of the most entertaining players in all of baseball when it comes to tweeting.  Check him out @JohnAxford

Monday, February 18, 2013

2013 Preview: Seattle Mariners

Seattle Mariners
(2012: 75-87, Last place AL West)
(2013: FC Prediction: 4th place AL West)

Rejoice Mariners fans!!  The Houston Astros have moved to the AL West, all but ensuring that the Mariners will not finish last this year.  On top of that, King Felix Hernandez just signed the largest contract for a pitcher in Major League history, inking a 7 year, 175 million dollar extension this past week.  This is the best thing to happen to Seattle since Starbucks!!  The Mariners are used to seeing their stars leave in their prime, whether it has been Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriguez, or most recently Ichiro (in their defense, he's well past his prime).  Kudos to General Manager Jack Zduriencik (spell check??) for locking up his best player long term.  

The Mariners have been active this off-season, trading for first baseman Kendrys Morales and outfielder Michael Morse to bolster their very weak lineup.  The lineup still isn't the best, but it added a lot of pop with those two bats.  The pitching staff is still a little thin in the rotation, but their is tons of talent in the higher levels of this system, so look for a couple of the youngsters to make an impact soon in Seattle.

How exactly do the Mariners look on paper?? Well, let's find out:

Everyone knows about King Felix.  The guy is a perennial Cy Young candidate and is one of the top 5 pitchers in baseball.  Felix is also one of the great guys in baseball.  Despite an extreme lack of run support throughout his career, and relatively unsuccessful teams, he has not complained once, and has time and again said how much he loves playing in Seattle.  Plus, the Mariners just gave him 175 more reason to love the city.

The pitchers in the rotation behind Felix might be the problem.  Hisashi Iwakuma was excellent for the Mariners last year, and he'll need to repeat that success for the rotation to hold its own, especially given that they traded one of the more reliable pitchers in the game this off-season, Jason Vargas.  Behind Iwakuma, the Mariners added lefty Joe Saunders.  Saunders looks to fill in Vargas' role as an innings eater and a quality start machine.  The 4 and 5 spots might be a problem, with Blake Beavan, Erasmo Ramirez, and Hector Noesi battling for the last two spots, but this is where I look for the Mariners youngsters to make a push.

The bullpen in Seattle is pretty good and full of names you've never heard of.  There are some young, power arms, starting with closer Tom Wilhemsen.  Although Wilhemsen sounds like he should be an English Duke, he has a live fastball and a power curve that should help him get batters out to close out games.  Righties Stephen Pryor and Carter Capps, and lefty Lucas Luetge all are good strikeout guys who will take their lumps, but have the arms to last in the bullpen, along with situational lefty Oliver Perez.

The Mariners pitching prospects are something to really get excited about.  Righty Taijuan Walker, and lefties Danny Hultzen and James Paxton are all top 75 prospects in baseball.  Walker is the probably the best of the bunch, but he still might be a year away.  Hultzen and Paxton were both college lefties, so they should continue on the fast track this year.  If the bottom of the rotation struggles and these two start off hot, they both might get a chance to crack the rotation this year.  

The Mariners lineup is relatively young, and might lack in key areas, but there is some talent there.  Second baseman Dustin Ackley will really have to step up his game this year and prove why he was a top 5 pick.  New addition Kendrys Morales, who should stay healthy in the DH spot, will provide the Mariners with some pop in the middle of the order.  Catcher Jesus Montero might not be the best defensive catcher, but he sure can hit.  First baseman Justin Smoak has light tower power, but he will need to cut down on his strikeouts this year.  The infield is rounded out by shortstop Brendan Ryan and third baseman Kyle Seager.  Ryan is known for his glove and will provide little at the plate.  Seager can definitely hit, providing 20 home runs and 86 RBIs in 2012, so he will have to continue those numbers to avoiding being pushed out by Alex Liddi, who is nearing his last chance with the Mariners

Center fielder Franklin Gutierrez is extremely talented, but he just hasn't been able to stay healthy.  He should be able to lead off and cover a ton of ground in the outfield, but first he has to prove he can stay healthy.  Michael Morse started his career with the Mariners and he will now return, looking to anchor the middle of the order.  I look for Morse to have a nice season this year, as he moves out of the crowded situation in Washington and into a role where he will be expected to hit.  Right field should be manned by Michael Saunders, but one interesting guy in this mix is Jason Bay.  Bay signed a contract after being bought out by the Mets, and he looks to rebuild his value after a dreadful time in New York.

The Mariners have quality hitting prospects as well.  2012 first round pick Mike Zunino is already pushing to make the club, and with Montero's shortcomings as a defensive catcher, Zunino might be in Seattle sooner rather than later.  Shortstop Nick Franklin is also a quality prospect, and with Ryan's lack of hitting ability, Franklin might be able to push him in 2013, despite Ryan being a gold glove quality defender.

There are a couple of nice names on this list including Jon Garland and Kameron Loe, who probably has the best chance to make the team, but the best story on this list is definitely Jeremy Bonderman.  After injuries derailed the career of Bonderman in Detroit, he looks for another chance after a couple of years out of baseball.  If Bonderman could somehow make this roster, it would be a great story, and we all know Full Count writer Chris will be one happy camper if this happens.

The Mariners should be improved in 2013, with some additions to the lineup and a solid bullpen.  However, this team doesn't have the starting rotation to compete in this very tough division yet.  A perfect 2013 for Seattle would be for all of their top 5 prospects (Walker, Hultzen, Zunino, Franklin, and Paxton) to progress and to avoid injury.  All of them have a chance to crack this roster in 2013, but another year of seasoning couldn't hurt as this team will look to push the top dogs in the AL West in 2014.

Top prospect Taijuan Walker is very entertaining on Twitter, often conversing with fellow prospect James Paxton, so follow him @tai_walker

Friday, February 15, 2013

2013 Preview: San Diego Padres

San Diego Padres
(2012: 76-86, 4th place NL West)
(2013: FC Prediction, 4th Place NL West)

Being in the Midwest, I don't get to see a whole lot of Padres games.  Thankfully, due to MLBtv (sign up for it, seriously, it's awesome), I got to watch a couple last year.  I noticed two things while watching; Chase Headley is insanely good, and the Padres have a good young core of players.  PetCo Park has traditionally been a pitcher's paradise, but the fences are being moved in 10 feet this year, perhaps making it a little easier to hit in.  

The Padres only made minor changes in the off-season, but if the young players can improve upon their 2012 seasons, the Padres might be able to make a little bit of noise in the NL West. Problem for them is that the West is very strong, with the Dodgers, Giants, and Diamondbacks all being quality teams.  

Let's take a look at the 2013 Padres a little more in depth:

The Padres have a questionable starting rotation, but that doesn't mean there isn't some talent in there.  Ace and former Chicago White Sox lefty Clayton Richard leads the charge and I expect him to continue to improve.  Edinson Volquez, acquired in the Mat Latos trade, is also at the top of the rotation.  The rotation is expected to be rounded out by Eric Stults, Tyson Ross, and Anthony Bass.  There are a couple of names that could push for a spot, including veteran journeyman Jason Marquis and highly touted prospect Casey Kelly.  He had a minor elbow injury in 2012, but I look for him to push very hard for a rotation spot this year, given how good his stuff is.

The bullpen is definitely one of the Padres' strengths heading into 2013.  Closer Huston Street, even with his injury, was one of the best closers in the MLB in 2013.  He is supported by fill in closer Dale Thayer, who has some of the best facial hair in the big leagues.  Youngster Brad Boxberger has a power arm and has the makeup to be a very good late inning reliever for the Friars.  Lastly, Luke Gregerson has been one of the best relievers in baseball in the last couple of years.  Gregerson has one of the best sliders in baseball and has parlayed that into a couple great season.

The Padres top pitching prospect is 2012 first round pick Max Fried.  Fried was successful in his 2012 debut and looks to build upon that campaign in 2013.  However, he is still at least a year or two away from contributing at the big league level.  This leaves the aforementioned Kelly with the best chance among the Padres prospects to crack the roster.


The Paders have a well balanced lineup, but not one area pops out at you as outstanding.  They have speed with Maybin and Cabrera, contact hitters with Alonso and Headley, and power with Quentin.  There might not be enough pop in this lineup, but the Padres have a good base of hitters.  They should head into opening day looking a little something like this:

1. Cameron Maybin (CF)-Maybin is an elite talent in center who has plenty of speed and can cover a lot of ground, but he will have to put a full season with the bat together in 2013.
2. Wil Venable (RF)-Venable is a serviceable outfielder, but he might be in a platoon with Chris Denorfia, who has a solid history against lefties.
3. Chase Headley (3B)-Headley put up MVP type numbers at the plate in addition to playing gold glove quality defense at the hot corner.  I look for Headley to repeat upon his wildly successful campaign, though he might not reach the numbers that he had in 2012. 
4. Carlos Quentin (LF)-Quentin has a ton of power, so he should greatly benefit from the moving in of the fences.  If he can stay healthy, look for some big power numbers from Quentin in 2013.
5. Yonder Alonso (1B)-Alonso might not have the power of a typical first baseman, but the guy can flat out hit.  He sprays the ball to all fields and should hit for a high average.
6. Logan Forsyte (2B)-Forsythe is a well rounded player who can hit for average, steal a couple bases, and play solid defense.
7. Nick Hundley (C)-The 50 game suspension to catcher Yasmani Grandal hurts, but backup Hundley has been the Padres starter in recent years, so he should be able to step right in.  Hundley is a bit behind Grandal with the bat, but he can really handle a pitching staff.
8. Everth Cabrera (SS)-Cabrera might struggle with the bat, but he is a great defender and has tons of speed.  

Jedd Gyorko is the best Padres prospect, and he appears to be ready for Major League duty, but the problem might be finding a spot for him.  Gyorko is a third baseman by trade, but Headley is not going anywhere.  The next logical spot is second base, so if Logan Forsythe struggles at all in 2013, look for Gyorko to be called up to fill his spot.  Outfielder Rymer Liriano is also very talented, but he might be better off with another year of seasoning in the minors.

There are a ton of names you have probably never heard of on this list, but starter Freddy Garcia has a legitimate shot to make this team out of Spring Training.  With some question marks in the rotation, the reliable Garcia could crack the roster with a strong spring.  He was decent last year for the Yankees, so unless he has a major regression, he stills appears to have something left in the tank.

The Padres actually have a lot of talent in their lineup, but given their weakness in the starting rotation, I find it hard to believe that the Padres can compete in the strong NL West.  However, if the Padres rotation can put together a solid campaign, I could see the Padres pushing the top teams in this division given the strength of their bullpen and the consistency in their lineup.  The reality is that this team might simply be another year away from competing.

He was who we used for the 2012 season review, but given that he actually retweeted what we wrote, I have to give the nod here to Yonder Alonso.  So follow him @YonderalonsoU and send him some well wishes for the 2013 season.