Cubs Looking To Add Arms

For all the strengths that the 2016 Chicago Cubs have, and they have quite a few, they do seem to have one spot that could be improved. Defensively, the Cubs are good and offensively, the Cubs are great. Their pitching, however, might need some work.

Statistically, the Cubs have the best starting rotation in the MLB, but the very back end of the staff might need another arm. Lefty reliever Clayton Richard has a 6.00 ERA as of June 15th.

Richard has been a problem in the Cubs bullpen and been playing poorly this year. It wasn’t too long ago he had an ERA of 8.00. Virtually no one expected Richard to be a stud, but he has been very disappointing.

Richard is only 32 years old. It is possible he could bounce back and become a somewhat effective reliever, but would it be enough for Richard to help the Cubs go on a deep postseason run?

At this point in time, not many people expect Richard to contribute a great deal to the Cubs bullpen going forward. The Cubs have a number of other relievers, Hector Rondon, Travis Wood, Trevor Cahill, and Pedro Strop who are performing well, but the Cubs could add another arm.

According to Brian Marron of Bleacher Report, Chicago Cubs scout Jason Parks was at Yankee Stadium recently looking at three big time Yankees relievers. Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, and Andrew Miller, the pitchers in question, are the top three arms in the Yankees bullpen.

Multiple sources have reported that the Cubs have started looking for relievers and linked the Cubs to the Yankees as a potential trade partner.

The Cubs have interest in acquiring a reliever, there is little doubt about that, but how much are they willing to give up in order to get one. The Cubs have a number of young players that other teams would want, but the question remains, are the Cubs willing to give up their talent? It was rumored in the offseason that the Cubs were willing to trade Jorge Soler, and according to Joe Giglio of NJ.com that is still the case.

However, another young outfielder, Albert Almora could come into play here. Almora was brought up to the Cubs’ roster this week after Soler landed on the disabled list. Almora is one of the top prospects in the Cubs deep farm system. He could be an attractive piece for teams looking for an outfielder and the Cubs could have the flexibility to move him after acquiring Chris Coghlan this past week.

Whether the Yankees will actually want to trade their big arms is unknown. The Yankees are currently in fourth place in the American League East, but could make up ground in the coming weeks. If the Yankees still aren’t where they want to be later in the summer, the team might become sellers in order to build a better roster in the future.

At this point an Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, or Dellin Betances trade is mere speculation. The Yankees do have a number of talented players and might think their roster is good enough as is. The trade deadline isn’t until august, so there is no rush for anything to get done at this point.

Prediction

The Yankees will trade Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs. The Yankees have a tough schedule in starting in late June. The Yankees will play the Rangers, Red Sox, Giants, Indians, White Sox, Orioles before the end of July. The team will be out of playoff contention and the Cubs will have enough ammunition in their farm system to get a deal done.

Miller has performed slightly better than Chapman so far this season, making him more difficult to acquire than Chapman. Chapman is also in the last year of his deal. This gives the Cubs the option to rent him for a few months or sign him to a long term deal.

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A Look Back: Jim Abbott’s Second Greatest Feat

June 15th just passed, marking the 17th anniversary of a strangely inspiring play. Yes, I’m talking about just one play in a life of countless games.

A left-handed starting pitcher from the University of Michigan, Jim Abbott had a relatively successful first 7 years in the Major Leagues. He compiled a 78-82 record with a 3.77 ERA while finishing 3rd in the AL Cy Young voting in 1991, going 18-11 with a 2.91 ERA in 243 innings.

After playing for the California Angels in his first 4 seasons, Abbott was traded to the New York Yankees after the ‘92 season. On September 4th of 1993, he etched his name in the history books, tossing a no-hitter on the hallowed grounds of Yankee Stadium.

Associated Press

Associated Press

Abbott was coming off his worst outing of the season 5 days earlier when he allowed 7 earned runs on 10 hits in just 3.2 innings against the Cleveland Indians. Amazingly, in true baseball fashion, Cleveland was again the opponent as Abbott held them hitless with the aid of some terrific defense.

Of course, thus far I’ve left out the most astounding part: As I’m sure most of you know, Jim Abbott did all of this playing with one hand. Born with a right arm that ends about where his wrist would be, Abbott only had a stub where his right hand should exist. An inspiration to all who say, “I can’t.”

By deftly sliding his glove onto his left hand after each pitch – and a ton of work perfecting the move – Abbott silenced every doubter from Little League through MLB. His left arm fired bullets and his athleticism made him a strong defender, as he continually proved he had the skill to not only play, but excel.

While his accomplishments in the big leagues were somewhat surprising (after all, these are the best of the best), Abbott had been collecting accolades for years – more than most “two-handed” baseball players.

At the age of 11, Abbott threw a no-hitter in his very first Little League game. In his senior year of high school, he had a ridiculous 0.76 ERA, won 10 games, and struck out more than two hitters per inning.

Abbott beat out Basketball Hall-of-Famer David Robinson as the country’s top amateur athlete, becoming the first baseball player to win the AAU’s Sullivan Award, an award that has been handed out longer than the Heisman.

Abbott then earned baseball’s top amateur honor – the Golden Spikes Award – winning over another future Hall of Famer, Ken Griffey, Jr.

The following year, Abbott won the Big Ten Male Athlete of the Year award – the first baseball player ever to take home that honor. Later in 1988, the southpaw continued to impress by hurling a complete game in the Olympics to give Team USA a 5-3 victory over Japan to win the Gold Medal.

 

JimAbbott_USA_JohnWMcDonough_SportsIllustrated

John W. McDonough, Sports Illustrated

Despite all of these amazing feats, the one thing Abbott had never done was collect a base hit in Major League Baseball – the toughest thing to do in all of sports. He played in the American League from ’91-’96 where the designated hitter stood in his way.

In 1997, MLB started Interleague play where AL teams would play in some NL ballparks, requiring the pitchers to hit. Unfortunately for Abbott, he went 2-18 with a 7.48 ERA the year before and struggled in the spring of ’97, prompting the Angels to release the 29-year-old before Opening Day.

He sat out all of 1997, but fought his way back to the Chicago White Sox in ’98 where he only got 5 starts, all against AL teams in September. However, he did go 5-0 with a 4.55 ERA, which led him to look for another starting gig in 1999.

Cue the 1999 Milwaukee Brewers, who just so happened to switch from the AL Central into the NL Central one year earlier.

Coming off their 6th straight losing season (out of 12), they needed a left-handed starter and Abbott needed a new club. Both player and team saw a fit and had no worries about Abbott’s ability to bat in the NL.

After a solid Spring Training on the mound, Abbott was awful in his first 3 starts, going 0-3 with an 11.20 ERA (17 ER in 13.2 IP). He actually pitched some in relief, but went back to starting full time and picked up his 1st win on May 30, “improving” his record to 1-5.

Offensively, Abbott started the year 0-for-12 with 7 strikeouts through June 4th, though he did get down 3 sacrifice bunts. Considering his poor pitching performances as well, you started to get the sense he’d never get that 1st MLB hit.

That’s one of the ways baseball is such a great game. On June 15, it seemed like just another game in the middle of the daily rhythms of baseball, though the unsuspecting crowd would bear witness to another fascinating athletic display that also speaks to the strength of the human spirit.

It was a normal evening for baseball at rundown Milwaukee County Stadium. Thanks to the fans of the visiting Chicago Cubs, nearly 41,000 fans were on hand to see Jon Lieber square off against Jim Abbott between the new NL Central rivals.

There were some interesting items related to the game. Geoff Jenkins, playing in his first full season with the Brewers, was batting 8th. It’s not often you see a player with a 1.050 OPS hitting in front of the pitcher nearly 3 months into the season.

For the Cubs, Sammy Sosa started in center field. Strange until you realize his fellow outfielders were Henry Rodriguez and Glenallen Hill. At shortstop, it was future Brewers’ strikeout king Jose Hernandez who would join Milwaukee the following year.

Otherwise, it seemed like an uneventful evening until the bottom of the 4th inning. With the game tied at 1, the Brewers had Sean Berry at 2nd with 2 outs and Jenkins due to bat. Despite being early in the contest, the Cubs elected to walk Jenkins to pitch to Abbott.

As fate would have it, I was in the stands that night. As the veteran hurler walked to the plate, a noticeable buzz went through the crowd. Whispers of “he’s gonna do it here” echoed throughout the old wooden seats. Of course, every time he batted fans spoke of a similar fate.

Abbott stepped into the box, wrapped his left hand around his right “stub” and the handle of the bat, and taunted Lieber with a pair of faux swings toward the mound.

On the first offering, Abbott ripped a frozen rope toward short – the crowd cheered, then went briefly silent, then roared again – as Hernandez came within inches of snagging the line drive. Berry rumbled around to score the go-ahead run, though Jenkins was gunned down at 3rd by Sosa.

 

But it didn’t matter, the damage was done. Another notch on the belt of a man who accomplished so much in baseball. With or without the hit, 1999 would be the last of his 10 seasons – and he left having proved he could even hit.

(He would actually get a 2nd hit later that year – also against Jon Lieber, because baseball is funny like that. That time it was at Wrigley Field to drive in a pair of runs, including Jenkins.)

The best part was, he did it all while countless others doubted him, either out of ignorance, envy or a simple lack of faith in the drive and ability of someone who loved the game.

Abbott’s first Major League hit wasn’t his greatest feat and it’s just a footnote in the history of the game; however, his lone season in Milwaukee – while mostly forgettable – should be remembered for one of the many terrific nuances of America’s Pastime.

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The Next Man Up: Ike Davis

The Yankees roller coaster season continues as they struggle to find answers to turn their season around. Injuries have plagued the Yankees and they are having a hard time working around them.

Mark Teixeira is a big part of the lineup and his injury has loomed large in the Yankees clubhouse. The team had to find some relief and so they acquired Ike Davis. Davis needs to make a difference on the field because the Yankees have to start winning.

This season is moving quickly and this team can be on the verge of being knocked out of playoff contention early.

The Yankees do not need a place holder at the first base position they need a player that can make plays on defense, and get the job done in the batter’s box. I can see Davis being that kind of player, and he can help the Yankees offense in a major way.

The team has been getting outscored early and they are having trouble fighting back to regain the lead and win. That is a problem the Yankees have experienced at home and on the road and it has to change. The Yankees need to take this season to rebuild and move players around.

Davis is probably not the start of the rebuilding process, but he is a young player that can give the Yankees some life to try and revive their losing record. Davis is a career .200 hitter and the Yankees need him to be better than he is on paper.

His best season in the majors was in 2012 with the New York Mets when he exploded for 32 homeruns. Davis played in the most games in a single season of his career (156) in 2012. He performed that well after coming off a season in which he only played in 36 games due to injury.

The Yankees have been losing their first basemen at an alarming rate and they have had to use the depth that they lack on their bench as replacements. Davis now has the pressure on him to be as great as he once was. He is the best bet for the Yankees in their current state.

He is not completely different from Teixeira aside from not being a switch hitter the lefty does have pop in his bat. Davis has the right pieces around him to make a name for himself in the Bronx, but it is up to him to be productive.

Davis has a big responsibility on his hands to try and help the team change. Defensively he is a great player and he is the most qualified person for this position.

The Yankees do need him for offensive purposes just like they needed Teixeira before he got injured. Teixeira was also in a hitting slump before his injury. He could potentially lock up the first base position if he performs well.

This is a position that he is familiar with and if he starts hitting well and stays hot he will stay at first base. After Teixeira returns the Yankees will have options and they will make their decision when they are sure that he is healthy.

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Jonathan Lucroy: Why He’s Enjoying A Power Surge

Prior to the 2016 season, many wondered how effective Jonathan Lucroy would be coming off an injury-plagued season where he struggled to ever get his bat going. Lucroy played in just 103 games in 2015, posting his lowest batting average (.264) and OPS (.717) since 2011, the catcher’s first full season as a starter.

Not to mention, “Luc” just turned 30 on Monday, a concerning number for any player at his demanding position.

While the Milwaukee Brewers weren’t planning on truly competing this season, the hope was that Lucroy would bounce back to All-Star status in time for a trade deadline deal that would net Milwaukee a top prospect or two for their rebuilding efforts. Lucroy’s team-friendly contract is paying him $4 million this season with a club option for $5.25 million in 2017.

Those figures, combined with an elite-level bat and solid defensive skills at a premier position, make Lucroy extremely attractive to contending clubs if you trust that he’ll stay healthy and live up to those high standards.

Through the Brewers’ first 64 games, Lucroy has not only reached his normal hitting statistics, but he has added more power as well – something he hasn’t been known for in the past. Lucroy is on pace to surpass a handful of personal bests in these areas, ones he set in 2014 when he started the All-Star game and finished 4th in MVP voting.

If he continues at the current level, Lucroy would finish with a career-high 22 HR, a .519 slugging percentage, and an .883 OPS. As of June 14, he leads the team in triples (3), is 2nd behind Ryan Braun in SLG (.519) and OPS (.883), and sits 3rd on the club in HR (9) and doubles (12).

It’s fair to wonder if he can actually keep up the pace as we get into the heart of summer, especially playing such a taxing spot on the diamond. With that said, there are a number of reasons Milwaukee’s popular backstop is enjoying a power surge in 2016.

 

Hard Hit Ball Percentage

When putting the ball in play, 37.1% of Lucroy’s balls are considered “hard hit.” That number would be the best he has ever posted and nearly 5% higher than his career average. This obviously doesn’t guarantee more hits or additional home runs, but it does make it more likely to happen on a consistent basis.

His hard hit percentage is also part of the reason Lucroy’s batting average of balls in play (BABIP) currently sits at a career-high .343 this year. This stat tries to account for some luck in determining how many batted balls are landing safely. Of course, in theory, if you’re hitting the ball hard more frequently, they’ll be more difficult for the defense to catch.

 

Willingness To Strike Out

This one might seem counterintuitive, but it goes hand in hand with the hard hit ball percentage. While strikeouts can be extremely damaging in certain situations, trying to avoid the strikeout all the time can create even more outs. Instead of taking a normal, healthy cut at the baseball, a hitter may simply flick his wrists or punch at the ball to avoid the strikeout.

By trying to make ANY contact possible, it often results in softer hit balls that are just as easily turned into outs. By always taking a regular swing, you might whiff more often, but the balls you do hit will be caught less often.

Through 64 team games, Lucroy has struck out 43 times, putting him on pace for about 108 whiffs this season. That would represent the most in his career, topping his 99 punch outs in 2011. Since that time, the highest total he accumulated was 71 in 2014 – ironically, his best season.

Want more proof Lucroy has changed his approach and shed frequent contact for frequent pop? On pitches in the strike zone, Lucroy is only making contact 86.6% of the time. That is by far a career low and nearly 6% below his average. He has bought into a change in philosophy and it’s paying dividends in his power numbers.

 

Batting Cleanup

Most sabermetrics experts would disagree with me because they believe players don’t change because of the spot in the lineup. While it’s not always the case, certain guys will either mentally or physically (or both) alter what they do depending on where they hit in the order. This can definitely impact a players’ production over the course of a season.

Lucroy is the type of hitter who can produce anywhere in the lineup, and managers have done just that with him. He has at least 240 plate appearances in every spot from 2 through 8 in his career. However, entering 2016, Lucroy had just 231 plate appearances batting 4th – the fewest of those 7 spots he has hit frequently in.

That has changed this season as the 4-hole has been his primary spot in the lineup, and it’s altered his plan at the plate as well.

Holding down the premier run-producing role in the game – the cleanup hitter – Lucroy’s focus has zeroed in on driving balls to the outfield to knock in runs. Particularly with the frequency in which Braun and Jonathan Villar have been on base, it makes Lucroy all-the-more important as a power bat.

 

Keeping The Ball Off The Ground

With Lucroy’s approach as a run producer and his willingness to strike out to create consistent, hard contact, it’s enabled him to avoid hitting too many ground balls. With runners on base, he has made a concentrated effort to lift the ball to avoid double plays. He’s also not giving the defense easy, slow rollers by simply avoiding those strike outs.

The result has been a career-high 40% of his balls in play considered fly balls, and a 6% decrease in ground balls from his career average. His line drive percentage is also better than his average, sitting at 24.6% as of June 14. For reference, line drives are most likely to go for hits and fly balls are far more productive than grounders when they aren’t caught.

Lucroy’s hard hit percentage, combined with the increase in fly balls, has worked together to play a huge role in his power surge from a statistical standpoint; additionally, his mental approach to the game has had a positive impact as well.

 

 

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Lincecum To Make Angels Debut Saturday

After three minor league starts, via the Los Angeles Angels Triple-A affiliate Salt Lake Bees, longtime Halo’s skipper Mike Scioscia says Tim Lincecum is “definitely ready” to join the team this weekend against the Oakland Athletics.

Linceum, the former two-time Cy Young award winner and three-time World Series champion, is fully recovered from a hip surgery he underwent last September and signed a one year $2 million contract with the Angels back in May.

In those three previously mentioned minor league outings, Lincecum posted a 2.65 ERA, 19 SO, and six walks in 17 innings of work.

His best performance came this past Sunday against the Fresno Grizzlies, the Triple-A affiliate whom Lincecum pitched with before being called up to the San Francisco Giants back in 2007. “The Freak” took a no-hitter bid into the seventh inning, struck out eight Grizzlies, needed only 89 pitches to get 21 outs, and finished the day with a one-hitter performance. Fresno, however, still managed to win the contest with a final score of 1-0.

After Sundays game Lincecum had the following to say: (quotes courtesy of MiLB.com’s Michael Avallone)

 

These fans have been always good to me,” Lincecum said. “I try to return that. I don’t take it for granted. It’s pretty crazy. The baseball community is big here. There’s a lot of following obviously for San Francisco. It’s pretty great. It’s just fun to have that kind of support out here when I’m trying to remake myself.”

“It’s a little different,” he said. “I’m in a different place. I’m not trying to make my path anymore, I’m trying to re-create it. I feel like the three starts I had definitely got me ready.”

“I just need to throw more strikes,” he said after his first start on June 2. “My stuff showed that I can play and I can get outs in the zone. As long as I stay there, that’s going to benefit me the most. I know you get in trouble when you get behind in counts, you put guys on base. I know I’ve been able to get out of situations like that, but you try to limit those situations so you can go deeper into games. That’s what I’m looking for.

 

Lincecum is understandably eager to make his first start on a major league mound in almost a year ( last start was June 27th, 2015 with San-Fran), and the Angels are equally excited to have a healthy hurler for a change.

Los Angeles, more than any other team in the majors this season, has dealt with a multitude of injuries and ailments to its pitching staff.

To date, the Halos have Ace Garrett Richards (right elbow, UCL) and lefty Andrew Heaney (left elbow, UCL) on the 60-day disabled list (both may not return this season), Nick Tropeano (right shoulder) on the 15-day disabled list, and both C.J. Wilson (left shoulder) and Joe Smith (left hamstring) listed as TBD for possible return this season.

The Angels current starters are composed of longtime staff member Jered Weaver, followed by Matt Shoemaker, Hector Santiago, and Jhoulys Chacin (with Lincecum becoming the fifth starter to round out the rotation).

Per Y! Sports and MLB.com, Lincecum is scheduled to start this Saturday afternoon at 4:05 p.m. EST (1:05  p.m. PDT), in the middle of a three game series with the A’s (as mentioned at the top of this post), opposite Oakland starter Sean Manaea (2-4/6.02 ERA/40 SO) at the Coliseum.

 

Finals Thoughts:

Prior to his hip surgery that brought last season, and his time with the Giants, to a close, Lincecum had been declining. From 2012-2015 he posted a win loss record of 39-42 with an average ERA of 4.60.

Nevertheless, it would appear “The Freak” is ready to try and “re-create himself” as a Halo starting this weekend.

Given last year’s resurgence of Bartolo Colon (New York Mets) and Scott Kazmir (Los Angeles Dodgers), Lincecum could become this seasons feel good story, and provide the kind of stability the Angels so desperately need.

Of course, as with most things, only time will tell.

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Why the Nationals Need to Re-Promote Trea Turner

The Washington Nationals are currently in first place in the NL East. Although their offense has been relatively solid thus far, it can still be improved. Re-promoting shortstop Trea Turner  is something that the team can do to achieve this.

Turner, 22, is considered one of the Nationals’ top prospects. Originally selected with the 13th overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft by the San Diego Padres, Turner was eventually traded to Washington in the three-team trade that sent Wil Myers to San Diego. He started out in Double-A with the Harrisburg Senators of the Eastern League, and immediately impressed people in the organization. After just 10 games, the Nationals promoted him to Triple-A Syracuse. Turner played in 48 games for the Chiefs, hitting .314 with three home runs and 15 RBIs. The Nationals called him up to the Major Leagues on August 21, 2015. In 40 at-bats, Turner hit .225.

Instead of having Turner be their starting shortstop to start the 2016 season, the Nationals optioned him to Syracuse once Spring Training ended. Danny Espinosa was named the team’s starting shortstop. Last Friday, Turner was called-up because Ryan Zimmerman needed to be placed on the paternity list. He started at second base that night when the Nationals were in Cincinnati taking on the Reds. In the game, he went 3-for-3 with a walk. However, he did not start for the rest of the weekend. His only other appearance in the series came as a pinch-runner in Saturday’s game. On Monday, the Nationals announced that Zimmerman was reinstated and Turner had been optioned back to Triple-A.

This move definitely came as a surprise to many people in DC. The Nationals could have optioned another player to Triple-A, but instead they chose Turner. Espinosa really hasn’t had a good year. He’s only batting .203 with nine home runs and 24 RBIs. In 57 starts at shortstop, he has committed five errors. Despite the fact that Espinosa is hitting just over .200, Nationals manager Dusty Baker has continued to pencil him into the lineup everyday. Part of the reason for this is that he really doesn’t have many other options. Stephen Drew is considered the team’s backup shortstop. His offensive numbers are less-than-impressive as well. Drew is only hitting .207 in 58 at-bats. Besides these two players, Baker really doesn’t have any other options at shortstop. If the Nationals re-promoted Turner however, then he would.     

It’s not like Turner hasn’t been putting up good numbers in Triple-A this season. He’s had 213 at-bats with the Chiefs and is hitting .310 with three home runs and 24 RBIs. His on-base percentage is .377 while his slugging percentage is up to .460 Additionally, Turner has 19 stolen bases. There’s really no reason for the Nationals to keep waiting. Clearly, he’s ready to be promoted for good.

The Nationals are currently in a tight divisional race in the NL East with the New York Mets. If they want to take down the defending division champions, they’re going to need to put out the best offense they can everyday. For that to happen, Trea Turner needs to be with the team and in the starting lineup. Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo has been criticized for moves he’s made or hasn’t made in the past. This is an opportunity for him to make the right decision. If he doesn’t soon, Nationals fans will certainly continue to be on his case.

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Rangers Ride Youth Wave To First Place

The Texas Rangers have been on a tear of late, going 15-4 in their last 19 contests and boast the best win percentage in baseball (.789) since May 20th. As a result, the Rangers are currently atop the American League West division, and they sport the AL’s best overall record with 37 wins and 23 losses.

The Texas sized takeaway from all those numbers, is how well the Rangers have responded to adversity this season by utilizing their younger players.

Earlier in the year Texas lost outfielder Josh Hamilton to a season ending knee injury, Shin-So0 Choo wound up on the DL due to hamstring issues, Shawn Tolleson tumbled from the closer role into a setup spot in the bullpen, and Prince Fielder was (still is) slumping something awful.

Then to add insult to injury, second year star Rougned Odor threw “the punch heard ’round the world” at Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista and was suspended for eight games. Odor appealed and had the suspension reduced to seven games.

The turning point for Texas has been backed by a rookie, a replacement, a former top prospect, and a returning starter.

 

(Photo Credit: USATDSI)

(Photo Credit: USATDSI)

 

Newcomer Nomar Mazara (22-years-old) has been nothing short of sensational this season, and is slashing for .320/.368/.490 with 10 home runs and 28RBI in 52 games thus far. Tolleson’s replacement, Sam Dyson, has been serviceable as a closer notching eight saves with a 1-1 record, a 2.12 ERA, and 27 SO in 29 innings of work.

Meanwhile, Jurickson Profar has served as an infield spark plug, playing multiple positions and posting a .389/.400/.611 slash line with two HR, four RBI, 12 runs, and 21 hits in his last 15 games. Add Yu Darvish’s 2-0 record, 2.87 ERA, and 19 SO in just 15 innings of work over three games, and you get to where the Rangers are currently, the best in the West.

It’s also important to note the Rangers have made the most of their divisional series play this year. Texas is currently 21-11 against it’s divisional foes, going 9-1 against the in-state rival Houston Astros. The Rangers have primarily had success against right handed pitching, as they are 28-15 when facing a righty (9-8 going against lefties).

Texas will have a chance to make their current four game lead over the second place Seattle Mariners, who have arguably been the biggest surprise in 2016, larger as they begin a three game weekend series with the M’s tonight at 10:10 p.m. EST (7:10 p.m. PDT).

Derek Holland (5-4/4.53 ERA/33 SO) will to the rubber for the Rangers, while Hisashi Iwakuma (4-5/4.13 ERA/60 SO) gets the home start at Safeco Field.

 

Final Thoughts:

More good news for the Rangers, Rougned Odor (nine HR, 29 RBI, and a .265/.290/.464 slash) has since returned from his suspension, Shin-Soo Choo is set to return to the team by the middle-to-later portion of this month, and they’ll play another divisional series at the beginning of next week against the Oakland Athletics (who are last in the AL West at 25-34), to try and build upon their first place lead.

One fun fact I almost forgot to mention, per ESPN Stats and Info: Texas has the most hits (160) and HR (22) from players who are 23-years-old or younger (Profar-23, Odor-22, Mazara-22) this season.

Whether or not these youngsters can continue to help carry the Rangers to their first back-to-back AL West titles since 1998-1999, remains to be seen.

 

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Atlanta Braves Draft: Day One Reactions

The first day of the MLB Draft has come and gone. How did the Atlanta Braves fare? Who did they take and why?

First Round – 3rd Overall Pick

With the third pick in the draft the Braves selected a right handed pitcher named Ian Anderson. Ian Anderson hardly came as a shock to those who had been paying close attention to the draft throughout the day as rumors began a few days ago and were confirmed early yesterday morning that the Braves had a deal in place with Anderson in order to sign him for an “under slot” bonus.

Ian Anderson stands at 6’3″ and throws his fastball in the mid 90’s. He was considered to be the 13th best prospect in the draft, according to MLB.com .

Many were calling for the Braves to take a bat, and with good reason. The current big league club is not hitting very much and there is not an abundance of talented bats rising through their farm system. You could have made a logical argument for drafting either Mercer’s Kyle Lewis or Louisville’s’ Corey Ray with the third pick.

However, the Atlanta Braves agreeing to sign Ian Anderson to an under slot deal would prove to be pivotal as the draft night wore on and shortly you will understand why. I love this pick for the Braves.

Lottery Round A – 40th Overall Pick

When the team’s selection rolled around at 40 it was pretty evident who they were taking. Another rumor had been started a few weeks ago that the Braves could have been speaking with Joey Wentz about possibly being able to take him, a first round talent, all the way down at pick 40. This is exactly how it happened and the pick could not have gone better for the Braves.

Joey Wentz is a 6’5″ left handed pitcher out of a Kansas high school. Last summer he made himself known for his bat, crushing home runs in the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, but he established himself as a mid-first round talent on the mound. Joey throws in the mid-90’s and has two above average alternate offerings in the mix along with his clean and repeatable delivery.

Once again a really great pick for the Braves here. They were able to select MLB.com’s 16th best draft prospect at pick number 40. The Braves would next go on the clock just four picks later at 44th overall.

Second Round – 44th Overall Pick

The depth of the 2016 draft was easily high school pitchers, as there were plenty of high upside arms in this draft to choose from. After seeing the Braves select two high school pitchers with their first two picks, the organization went back to the well again for their third pick, this time selecting Kyle Muller out of a high school in Texas.

Kyle Muller is another high school left hander with a mid-90’s heater. His other offerings and control are not as advanced as the other two players the Braves drafted, but he is 6’5″ and projectable. Making him MLB.com’s 24th best draft prospect .

Atlanta’s agreement with Ian Anderson to sign him for an under slot bonus allowed for them to be able to select two other high upside and highly touted prospects much further down in the draft than where they were expected to go.

The Braves were able to draft the 13th, 16th, and 24th best draft prospects with picks 3, 40, and 44. That’s amazing value and the money they saved selecting Ian Anderson was the difference. John Coppolella has previously stated how he envisions “wave after wave” of talented prospects coming into Atlanta for years to come. This is certainly a nice vision to have and one that could bring sustainable and winning baseball to the organization. However those waves are not possible unless you have as much highly touted talent as you can acquire.

The Braves got max value from their first three picks on draft day. Braves fans should be very excited by the draft so far.

Atlanta’s final pick of the first day was the pick they received in a trade with Baltimore a few weeks back, pick 76.

Lottery Round B – 76th Overall Pick

At pick 76 the Braves finally did what all…eh…we’ll call them “casual fans” were screaming for throughout the night. They selected a position player, or, rather more importantly, they selected a bat.

The pick was the catcher out of California, Brett Cumberland. Cumberland is a draft eligible sophomore and bats from both sides of the plate. He hits extremely will and can hit for a little bit of power, ranking 69th on MLB.com’s top 200 draft prospects list .

Coming into draft night, I was pretty sure that the Braves would target a catcher with their later picks (either 76 or 80) but Cumberland was not on my radar due to his reputation as a bat-first catcher. With the pitching staff the Braves are putting together I would have liked to see them select a catcher with a defensive pedigree and projectable (or more just “a project”) bat, such as Sean Murphy out of Wright State or, even later on in the draft, taken Jake Rogers out of Tulane who has been described as the best defender at any position in this draft.

Nevertheless the pick was Cumberland, and I understand why. The guy can flat out hit and he was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year for his excellent season. Most scouts see him moving out from behind the plate later on, but the Braves will likely put him back there until he proves he can’t handle it, or his bat simply outgrows his defense and he needs to move on from catching in order to make an impact at the major league level.

Brief Day One Reaction Summary

An excellent day for the Braves organization and fans. The team snagged three early to mid-first round talents with their first three picks and added a potent bat with their fourth. Outstanding value and hopefully they will be picks that pan out in the future.

If you take just one thing away from this article let it be this…the great first day of the draft by the Atlanta Braves was built upon the golden rule of drafting…

You Do Not Draft For Need

 

 

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Power Rankings: American League East

The AL East has been heating up and here is how I see the division shaping out at this point of the season. Most of the teams have been playing well and here is where they land on my list.

5. Tampa Bay Rays

The way the Rays have been playing has not been great and their record has been telling that story. Right now they are 27-31 but they have been fighting to get back to .500.

They were recently swept by the Kansas City Royals and that was a tough series for them on defense. They did find a way to bounce back by winning their next 2 series against the Minnesota Twins and the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Through 61 games there is still room for this team to work their way back into a good spot in the standings. They are capable of going on a hot streak and if they do they will be right back in contention.

4. Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays could be playing better, but right now they are in a good position. They are 3rd place in the division and 6th place in the American League standings.

The offensive fire power of this team is something special, but they have been struggling lately. They lost a series to the Tigers and now they are playing against their division rivals in the Orioles. They should be able to win the series and keep their winning ways going.

Josh Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion have been carrying the load for their team with their hot hitting. They all have help from each other and that’s what makes them a championship caliber team.

3. New York Yankees

The Yankees are still trying to figure out what works for them and they are making different things work. They have arrived back to the .500 area after sweeping the Los Angeles Angels, but they are still fighting through injuries.

A big help in that effort has been Carlos Beltran. Beltran has been on fire recently and he was the driving force behind the sweep of the Angels. By getting on base and driving runs in he made a difference in that series.

They will need to win the next series to stay in reach of the rest of the division, but the way they have been producing runs makes it likely that they will continue their success.

2. Boston Red Sox

Boston has been playing like one of the best teams in baseball this season. They have a great record through 59 games and they are just playing great.

Recently they have not been showing how great they are. In their last four series they split two of them and lost the other two. It looks like the Blue Jays have their number this season although their records say otherwise.

Toronto could be a matchup problem for them later on in the season, but Boston will have time to adjust and fix what has been hurting them in those series against Toronto.

1. Baltimore Orioles

The top spot in the AL East power rankings goes to the Baltimore Orioles. This team has been the best team not only in their division, but in their league as well. They have a record of 36-23 and that can be attributed to great hitting.

This team loves to put big numbers on the board and they have been doing just that. In their last 5 games they have averaged 5 runs per game. The Orioles are good at exploiting bad pitching matchups against their lineup.

They recently lost third baseman Manny Machado for 4 games due to a brawl between him and Yordano Ventura of the Kansas City Royals. Hopefully that does not derail the hot streak the team has been on.

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Rookie Watch 2.5

Ok, ok, I know in my last rookie watch post I promised to revisit those candidates in July with an update.

However, and shame on me for not adding this player to my list eariler than now, I felt the recent success of Texas Rangers outfielder Nomar Mazara merrited an eariler update.

Also, a few of those former candidates have since cooled down, and as a result didn’t make this new cut.

With that being said, and without further ado, let’s take a look at the top rooks:

 


1. Trevor Story ( SS Colorado Rockies)

Few rookies have captivated fans the way Colorado short stop Trevor Story has this season.

Despite a high number of strikeouts, 81, Story continues to etch himself further into the history books. He now has the most HR by a rookie SS before the All-Star break, with 16, since 1933.

Story is currently slashing .262/.315/.563 to go along with 42 RBI, and will likely remain the Rockies starting SS after veteran Jose Reyes returns to the team.

 

2. Nomar Mazara ( OF Texas Rangers)

Plagued by early injuries this season, the Rangers outfield was in need of assistance. Enter Nomar Mazara.

In 49 games so far this season, Mazara has hit 10 home runs with 27 RBI and a solid .319/.370/.500 slash-line.

Mazara was also honored last month with the American League Rookie of the Month for May, which he also received back in April.

I know I said the same thing about Tyler White last time around, however, it would seem Mazara is on a fast track to becoming the 2016 AL ROY recipient.

 

3. Steven Matz (SP New York Mets)

After a less than desirable first start to the season, Steven Matz has been nothing short of sensational ever since.

In his last six outings Matz is 6-0 with an impressive 1.74 ERA, a microscopic WHIP of 0.96, and 43 SO. Those numbers earned Matz the National League Rookie of the Month honors for May, opposite Mazara.

It appears Matz (25) has joined Jacob DeGrom (27) and Noah Syndergaard (23), as yet another young pitching stud on the Mets staff.

 

4. Corey Seager (SS Los Angeles Dodgers)

Seager flew onto everyone’s 2016 rookie radar after last year’s brief, but impressive, late season stint. And despite a slow start, Seager has recently reminded us why he’s so good.

The young Dodger had his first three HR game against the Atlanta Braves back on June 3rd, and ended the series with a total of five HR. This makes Seager the second youngest MLB player to have five HR in his last three games, and six HR in his last six games in the Modern Era (since 1900 per Elias Sports Bureau)

Seager has slashed for .283/.340/.526 this season with 14 HR (second behind Story for the most by a rook SS since 1933) and 35 RBI.

 

 5. Michael Fulmer (SP Detroit Tigers)

Fulmer has been a rookie on the rise, and is currently riding a 22 and 1/3 scoreless innings streak for the Tigers. Fulmer also owns a 6-1 record with a respectable 2.83 ERA, and 49 SO thus far.

The 23-year-old has provided some needed stability to Detroit’s rotation, which has mostly been carried by veterans Jordan Zimmerman (8-2/2.58 ERA/43 SO) and Justin Verlander (5-5/3.97 ERA/85 SO) this season.

Fulmer will be worth keeping an eye on, and could rival Mazara at seasons end for AL ROY.

 

Honorable Mention: Aledmys Diaz SS STL, Trea Turner SS/2B WSH, Aaron Nola SP PHI, Kenta Maeda SP LAD, Adam Duvall OF CIN.

 

Final Thoughts:

So, for real this time, I’ll provide one last rookie update following the All-Star break in July, before I post my final ROY candidates in both the AL and NL.

Until then, these young guns will give you plenty to watch between now and then.