Cuban INF Yulieski Gourriel Available For Hire

According to MLB.com, Cuban infielder Yulieski Gourriel has been cleared to become a free agent and could sign with a team as early as this season. The 32-year-old has primarily played third base over his career (13 in the CNS and two in the JPL). He has also played at second base and short stop.

Gourriel has repeatedly expressed a desire to leave Cuba with permission of the Cuban government. He and his younger brother Lourdes (22-years-old) left Cuba’s Ciego de Avila team following its Caribbean Series back in February of this year in search of MLB contracts (per Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com).

Gourriel is regarded as the best baseball player in Cuba and it’s easy to see why when you look at his numbers.

Last year with the Industriales, Gourriel slashed a ridiculous .500/.589/.874 with 15 home runs and 51 RBI in just 49 games. Throughout his professional career Gourriel has a slash line of .335/.417/.580 with 1,585 hits, 250 HR, 1,018 RBI, and 611 BB.

Given that Gourriel is considered by many to be Major League-ready right now, I thought I would provide a look at one team from each division who could potentially sign him.

 

National League East: New York Mets

According to ESPN, the Mets may pursue Gourriel aggressively (and understandably so).

With perennial third baseman David Wright likely sidelined for the remainder of the season due to a herniated disk, the Mets could use someone with Gourriel’s experience who’s ready to make an impact.

Gourriel would also have a clubhouse friend in countryman Yoenis Cespedes, so this would seem like a match made in heaven on paper for both sides.

 

National League Central: Pittsburgh Pirates

Sitting at third place in the NL Central and two-and-a-half games back for one of the two NL Wild Card spots, the Bucs could use a potential offensive boost and change of pace in their infield.

Currently Pittsburgh is comfortable at third base with David Freese and Jung Ho Kang. They also seem comfortable at second base with Josh Harrison, but Gourriel could possibly platoon at short stop with Jordy Mercer.

If nothing else, Gourriel would be welcomed infield depth and could add some needed pop into the Pirates’ lineup.

 

National League West: San Francisco Giants

I’ll admit, the Gigantes are a bit of a stretch here when you consider their more than serviceable starting infield comprised of Matt Duffy (3B), Brandon Crawford (SS), Joe Panik (2B), and Brandon Belt (1B).

However, it wouldn’t hurt to have Gourriel behind any of those guys or allowing them to rest come the dog days of August.

With Hunter Pence possibly out of the everyday lineup until after the All-Star break with a torn hamstring, San-Fran could use a batter of Gourriel’s caliber.

 

 

(Photo Credit: Nati Harnik, AP Photo)

(Photo Credit: Nati Harnik, AP Photo)

 

 

American League East: Baltimore Orioles

The O’s aren’t exactly in dire need for an infielder either (see Manny Machado, Chris Davis, Jonathon Schoop, and JJ Hardy).

Nevertheless, with JJ Hardy still out and rehabbing a fractured left foot and the flexibility of the DH position, Baltimore could use Gourriel as infield depth in a platoon with Alvarez. The O’s could also put him at the hot corner over current starter Ryan Flaherty (while Machado covers at SS in Hardy’s absence).

As you can see, Baltimore would have options by signing Gourriel. And when you are trying to stay atop the AL East, having options is quite the luxury.

 

American League Central: Cleveland Indians

The Tribe, in my opinion, is the AL team who would benefit most by signing Gourriel now. Cleveland currently has a solid middle-infield with short stop sensation Francisco Lindor and veteran second baseman Jason Kipnis. However, the corners of their infield are getting a bit old (Mike Napoli, 34) and worn out (Juan Uribe, 37).

At 32 with 15 seasons under his belt, Gourriel isn’t young either but would seem more serviceable than Uribe at third. Though the Indians do have another promising young talent in Jose Ramirez (currently starting in left field but a third baseman by trade), the addition of Gourriel would give the Tribe more flexibility.

Cleveland is on top of the AL Central by a thin margin and Gourriel could offer assistance in helping distance that lead (you’re probably sensing an AL pattern by now).

 

American League West: Texas Rangers

The Rangers have been red hot lately and have a seven-and-a-half game first place lead in the AL West over the Seattle Mariners. A large part of that success stems from one of the more crowded infields in the majors (see Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Rougned Odor, and Jurickson Profar).

However, they could make room for Gourriel at first base by rotating with Mitch Moreland.

At the very least, Gourriel could share DH responsibilities with Prince Fielder while also acting as infield insurance.

 

Honorable Mention: Los Angeles Dodgers, Oakland Athletics, St. Louis Cardinals, New York Yankees

 

Final Thoughts:

While I feel the Mets or Indians will make the most aggressive run at Gourriel, you never know who might throw their hat in the ring.

This development will be one to keep an eye on in the coming weeks. It would be surprising not to see Gourriel on a Major League roster by the All-Star break.

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.

 

http://SportsRants.com

Fixing The Atlanta Braves Lack Of Power

By now I am sure you’ve heard, the Atlanta Braves hit just a single home run in their previous 500 plus at-bats, and the team’s total for the season sits at just 4, dead last in the MLB by 9. While it’s easy to place the issue solely on the lack of talent on the current roster, help is not on the way.

The Braves have one of the top 3 farm systems in all of baseball. So naturally, the fans are going revert back to that fact as consolation for many of the team’s current struggles. Unfortunately for those fans, power does not lurk in the minors for the Braves. The closest thing to a near-ready prospect with some power is Gwinnett third baseman, Rio Ruiz, who doesn’t project for anything more than average power at the big league level.

Searching a little deeper (and much further away from being MLB ready), you find prospects Austin Riley, Ronald Acuna, and Braxton Davidson.  All three are currently in A-ball, whether it be Low-A Rome (Riley/Acuna) or High-A Carolina (Davidson), so they certainly will not provide the power surge that is desperately needed any time soon.

So what is Atlanta to do about their lack of power bats?

-Enter Joey Gallo-

Joey Gallo is a consensus top 25 prospect in baseball and currently resides within the Texas Rangers organization. Gallo has legitimate 80 grade power and, perhaps more importantly for the purpose of this article, he’s MLB ready. Gallo already has MLB experience under his belt after a brief call up at the end of the 2015 season, and is crushing his Triple-A opposition this season  with 7 homers, 3 doubles, and a triple across 63 at-bats.

While trading top 10 prospects is not standard procedure amongst MLB general managers, Gallo may be an exception as Gallo’s ideal position will likely be third base in the majors, a spot currently blocked on the Rangers by the newly extended, future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre .

In order for the Braves to even interest the Rangers with a deal for Gallo, it would take a rather healthy package in return. I turned to some of my Braves friends to pick their brains about what they’d consider a fair trade, and we came across a few tricky road blocks.

Most significantly, any major deal involving the Braves in the upcoming months is more than likely to include the Braves current best hitter, Nick Markakis. One problem…the Rangers are stacked in the outfield as far as MLB ready players and prospects go, with the likes of Nomar Mazara and Delino Deshields already making their marks in the majors the season (the former is slashing .365/.426/.519 ). Along with Top 100 prospect Lewis Brinson not being far behind. So the clubs’ fit as trading partners isn’t exactly ideal.

However, the Braves have the luxury of being able to offer a loaded package of promising pitching prospects that the Rangers would find very intriguing. Together, we settled on a possible return package of Braves’ top arm Sean Newcomb (current top 20 prospect), Tyrell Jenkins or Chris Ellis, and possibly another lower level arm.

This is the only scenario we see likely, as the Rangers would be trading their top prospect for a trio of high upside pitching prospects, and the Braves would begin dipping into their wealth of pitching prospects in order to fill necessary holes throughout the organization.

So in conclusion, the trade fit is less than ideal, and the Braves would have to send the Rangers quite the haul, but the return could be substantial for the middle of the Braves’ future lineups.

Obviously this is highly unlikely to happen as the level of risk for both sides could be too large for either one to pull the trigger (if they were to even talk about a trade). However, it’s occasionally fun just to sit back and think about all the moves various teams could be making in the coming months…especially when you are an Atlanta Braves fan and the team is 4-17 with the light at the end of the tunnel appearing to be very far away .

 

Rookie Watch 2.0

 

Before the season began, you might recall, I offered a glimpse at possible rookie of the year candidates. Since then, a few relatively unknown rookies have burst onto the MLB scene. One has already made MLB history and the others have some fans asking “Who the heck is (insert player name here)?”.

So, without further ado, allow me to provide you with an updated ROY candidate list:

 

 

5. Kenta Maeda (Los Angeles Dodgers P)

Prior to this season, Maeda spent eight years pitching in the Japanese Central League for the Hiroshima Carp. Nevertheless, this being his first season in the majors with the Dodgers, Maeda is ROY eligible per MLB ruling, and has began his rookie campaign rather nicely.

In his first two starts this season, Maeda has thrown a total of 12 scoreless innings with a 1-0 record and eight strikeouts. Maeda also managed to hit a solo-shot home run in his major league debut, adding to his early success out west. Maeda will be someone to keep your eye on as the season unfolds.

 

4. Corey Seager (Los Angeles Dodgers SS)

In just 27 games and 98 at bats last season with the Dodgers, Seager hit four home runs, 17RBI, and slashed an impressive .337/.425/.561. In 11 games this season the 21-year-old shortstop is off to a solid start with one home run, six RBI, and is slashing .267/.292/.714.

Seager appears to be Los Angeles’ shortstop of the future and will likely be battling with a few of these candidates for the National League ROY award at seasons end.

 

3. Jeremy Hazelbaker (St. Louis Cardinals OF)

Called up by the Cardinals on April 2nd, Hazelbaker has been on a tear to begin the season. In 11 games Hazelbaker is 13 of 32 hitting with three home runs, seven RBI, and a nasty slash line of .406/.432/.844.

If the 28-year-old can keep this pace up, or even produce at half of his current hitting rate, St. Louis will have one of the stronger outfields in the majors this year.

 

2. Tyler White (Houston Astros 1B)

Just when you thought the ‘Stros had all of their young talent on the field and they couldn’t possibly have room for more, enter first baseman Tyler White.

White has hit four home runs with 11RBI, and is slashing .395/.467/.789 through 12 games this season. White appears poised to become the Astros everyday first baseman for 2016, barring any type of major setback.

White may also run away with the American League ROY award as well, unless Minnesota Twins rookie center fielder Bryce Buxton can climb out of his current hitting slump.

 

1. Trevor Story (Colorado Rockies SS)

Story has been nothing short of sensational so far this season. The young Rockies shortstop made MLB history by becoming the only player to hit at least one home run in each of his first four career games, as well as hitting the most home runs in a teams first six games with seven.

Along with his seven dingers, Story has 13RBI and has posted a respectable .292/.314/.833 slash line in 11 games.

Story has undoubtedly caused some Colorado fans to forget about former shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, and will likely edge Jose Reyes for playing time if and when Reyes returns to baseball this season.

 

Honorable Mention: Trea Turner (Washington Nationals SS/2B), Joey Gallo (Texas Rangers 3B/OF), Stephen Matz (New York Mets P),  and Jose Berrios (Minnesota Twins P).

 

Final Thoughts:

Sure most, if not all, of these players will regress at some point this season.  But until then, enjoy the highlights while they’re still hot.

I’ll have another rookie revision coming your way once the calendar flips to July, and the season reaches its half way mark at the All-Star Break.

 

Bat Flip Crazy

 

In baseball, as with most sports, there are unwritten rules of the game.

 

For instance, you should never talk to a pitcher when he is throwing a no-hitter, or don’t hit-and-run when the count is 0-2. When it comes to sportsmanship, there are debates galore on what is considered to be appropriate or inappropriate. One in particular that seems to have current and former players buzzing is the art, or disgrace for some, of bat flipping.

 

While bat flipping is not new to the sport, it has become more prominent in recent years among some of the sports rising stars à la outfielder Yasiel Puig of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper.

 

In case you are not familiar with the action of which I’m referencing, allow me to provide you with a clip of Puig and one of his signature bat flips:

 

 

 

 (video courtesy of TBS Sports/YouTube User “LilCee354”)

As you can see in the video above, fans for the most part seem to enjoy it, as usually a bat flip follows when a batter knows the hit is a home run. But as fun as bat flipping can be, there have been instances where the action has caused quite the opposite effect.

A perfect example of this would be Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista’s “Bat Flip Heard ‘Round the World”. I’ll set the stage for you.

It was game five of the American League Divisional Series between the Jays and the Texas Rangers last year. With the score tied in the seventh inning at 3-3, Bautitsta launched a three-run rocket to take the lead, and the rest is, as they say, is history.

 

 

 

(Full clip of Bautista’s bat flip, and the craziness that followed. Video Courtesy of Fox Sports/YouTube User “Captain Canada”)

Flipping Out

Since then, there has been somewhat of a line in the sand drawn between players.

Speaking out against Bautista’s bat flip, Hall of Fame and former New York Yankees relief pitcher “Goose” Gossage was quoted by ESPN’s Andrew Marchand as saying:

Bautista is a —-ing disgrace to the game,” Gossage told ESPN. “He’s embarrassing to all the Latin players, whoever played before him. Throwing his bat and acting like a fool, like all those guys in Toronto. [Yoenis] Cespedes , same thing.

Bautista took the higher road in response to Gossage’ criticism:

He’s a great ambassador for the game,” Bautista told ESPN after being informed of Gossage’s comments. “I don’t agree with him. I’m disappointed that he made those comments, but I’m not going to get into it with him. I would never say anything about him, no matter what he said about me. I have too much good stuff to worry about his comments. Today is my first game [of the spring], getting ready for a new season; hopefully, we will whoop some more a**.

Gossage was later quoted as stating

Everything is good,” Gossage told reporters. “I lost my mind for a minute.

Goose isn’t the only Hall of Famer who has an issue with this “new fangled” celebration. Per Mike Axisa of MLB.com, former Cincinnati Reds catcher Johnny Bench spoke out earlier this spring in regards to Bryce Harper flipping his bat, as well as Harper’s comments on how baseball has become a “tired sport”.

Below is a transcript courtesy of Randy Miller (NJ.com) and the Rich Eisen Show where Bench made the following statements:

You can flip your bat. We had guys do that … and the next time up there was chin music. And if you want to play that way, that’s fine.

“Bring back the excitement? OK, we’ll bring back the brushback pitch, the knockdown pitch. That’s all part of the excitement.”

“I know a lot of the old-timers and a lot of people who watched baseball forever would love to see somebody have a little chin music (as retaliation),” Bench said. “If you want to do that, fine. Flip the bat, run around any way you want, but just expect the next time you come up to the plate, you better watching how much you dig into that batter’s box.

 

It is not just players from the past who are commenting, though, as Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout was recently qouted saying “you will never catch him flipping his bat”.

 

This of course, is not to assume that Trout agrees with either Gossage or Bench, though the Halo’s outfielder is probably the poster boy for baseball purists.

 

On the other side of that previously mentioned line in the sand are veteran sluggers like Boston Red Sox designated hitter David “Big Papi” Oritz. In a recent interview with the Boston Globe’s own Alex Speier, Papi had this to say on the matter:

 

People want to talk about old school. I am old school,” said Ortiz. “How many [expletives] are in the game right now who played in 1997 in the big leagues?

“This game is competition. This ain’t no baby-sitting. There ain’t no crying. When somebody strikes me out, I’m not up there crying, like, ‘Boo-hoo . . . this guy’ . . . No, no, no. There’s none of that. There’s no babysitting in baseball. There’s no babysitting. If you’re going to take it like a baby, I’m going to take [you] deep again. How about that? Take it like a man and make better, quality pitches the next time I face you, and then you get [me] out, and then you do whatever the h— you want. This is competition.”

“Respect? Respect my [expletive]. I don’t have to respect nobody when I’m between those two lines. I’m trying to beat everybody when I’m between those two lines. This ain’t no crying. There’s no, ‘Let me be concerned about taking you deep.’ No.

 

As you can see, there are two schools of thought when it comes to bat flipping. This is certainly something worth keeping track of in 2016, as it will be intriguing to see who does or does not flip their bat.

 

Final Thoughts:

I personally have no issues with athletes celebrating such things as home runs, slam dunks, slap shots, or touch downs. Of course, practicing humility every once and a while is good too.

That being said, I could not resist closing this post with a walk-off bat flip clip…Korean style:

 

(Video courtesy of YouTube User “mybonet”/www.mykbo.net)

 

 

 

 

http://SportsRants.com

Spring Training Storylines

Spring Training games are being played this week, meaning the regular season is right around the corner. While games in the Cactus and Grapefruit leagues don’t actually count, it’s still important for teams to make assessments and players to prepare for the upcoming 162 games that do matter. With that being said and without further adieu, here’s a quick rundown of a some players and team situations worth monitoring this month.

 

Leading Off

The Baltimore Orioles were recent recipients of bad news before entering Spring Training this year. Just when the O’s thought they had a true lead-off hitter for the first time since Brian Roberts’ last full MLB season in 2009, Dexter Fowler switched gears last minute and decided to return to the Chicago Cubs. With Fowler out of picture, Baltimore will have to use these Spring games wisely to determine who is best suited to be their lead guy.

Possible lead-off candidates include O’s third baseman Manny Machado (.359 OBP in 2015), outfielder Nolan Reimold (.327 OBP in 2015), and Hyun-Soo Kim (who boasts an average OBP of .406 in 10 seasons of Korean Baseball Organization play). While Machado can certainly be a top of the order batter for Baltimore, if Kim can impress in these Grapefruit league games, it would be more ideal to have Machado hitting second or fifth.

In theory, Kim and Machado could get on base with Adam Jones and Chris Davis bringing them in to score (or Machado could be used as an RBI machine if he bats fifth, he had 86RBI in 2015).

 

Maeda in America (see what I did there)

Speaking of international players like Hyun-Soo Kim above, former Japan Central League ace Kenta Maeda, now with the Los Angeles Dodgers, should be a lot of fun to watch this Spring. Maeda spent eight seasons with the Hiroshima Carp compiling a total win loss record of 97-67 with a 2.39 ERA, over 1,500 innings pitched, over 1,200 strikeouts, and a 1.04 WHIP.

Maeda is currently listed as fourth on LA’s depth chart behind seasoned veterans Brett Anderson (listed as third) and Scott Kazmir (listed as second). If his transition to major league play  mirrors that of his JPCL performances, I believe Maeda could become the Dodgers number two man in the rotation by the second half of the season.

 

Debut with Detroit

Making his debut with the Tigers, Detroit’s new left fielder Justin Upton has gone oh-for-four in the teams first two Spring Training contests. This is to be expected, though, as it will take Upton time to get acclimated to American League pitchers and Motown fans needn’t worry. Upton has hit 25 or more home runs in five of his nine major league seasons, including last year when he hit 26 to go along with 81 RBI and a sustainable .250/.336/.454 slash line.

Given that Upton  had to deal with the notoriously deep dimensions of  Petco Park in San Diego for most of 2015, I look for him to improve his stats and add some more power to Detroit’s lineup this season.

 

Who’s on First?

After seeing Hanley Ramirez struggle mightily in left field last season, the Boston Red Sox made the decision this off-season to move the former star shortstop to first base. The switch to first makes this the fourth position Ramirez has played in his 11 year career (he has also played third base). Whether or not Ramirez will have success at the position remains to be seen, and this will definitely be something to keep an eye on as Grapefruit League play continues.

Ramirez will likely also split time this year with David Ortiz at designated hitter, as this will be Ortiz’ final season. In the event Ramirez underperforms defensively at first base this season, the Sox may choose him as a short-term replacement at DH in 2017, since he is under contract with Boston until 2020.

 

Out in Left Field

The Texas Rangers recent signing of free agent and former Washington Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond, was somewhat surprising considering the Rangers already have an everyday SS in Elvis Andrus. Texas, however, will not be shifting the infield around in 2016 to make room for Desmond. Instead, the Rangers have decided to play him in the outfield according to multiple reports. Similarly to the aforementioned Ramirez, Desmond has primarily played at shortstop in his seven year MLB career.

The Rangers current depth chart shows Desmond starting in left field, with Josh Hamilton right behind him. Hamilton is also shown as being second on the DH depth chart, behind Prince Fielder. This will no doubt be an interesting development to watch as the season progresses for Texas.

 

(All depth chart information is per MLB.com, while all players statistics are from either ESPN.com or BaseballReference.com. Contractual info is from Spotrac.com)

 

Final Thoughts:

 

Spring Training, much like the Pre-Season in the NFL, is a time for all 30 MLB teams to make evaluations, get a clearer picture of what the 40-man roster will look like, and experiment with different lineups or rotations.

For fans, it’s a perfectly good excuse to take a paid vacation and enjoy all of the festivities it has to offer.

Welcome back baseball, we have missed you.

Rookie Watch 2016

In 2015 Major League Baseball saw a surplus of young talent emerge that included Kris Bryant (NL ROY), Carlos Correa (AL ROY), Francisco Lindor, Matt Duffy, Roberto Osuna, and that’s just to name a few.

Now that those young stars are entering their sophomore season, lets turn our attention to this years rookie class. Listed below are my top five new guys to keep an eye on in 2016.

 

Young Guns:

 

5. Trea Turner (Washington Nationals)

 

With only 40-at-bats with the Nationals last season, Turner and Washington had a very small sample of what he can do at the next level. In those at bats Turner slashed for .225/.295/.325 with a solo shot home run. While those numbers don’t exactly jump off the page, his Triple-A stats from 2015 sure do.

Last season in 116 minor league games Turner had a slash line of .322/.370/.458 with eight home runs, 56 RBI, and 29 steals. Those numbers were good enough to give Turner a chance to compete for playing time this year in Spring Training.

Danny Espinosa is currently slated to start the season at shortstop for Washington, with Turner listed as second on the depth chart ahead of  MLB journeyman Stephen Drew (per MLB.com).

Espinosa, however, is being pulled from his usual position of second base to cover at shortstop for Washington.  This could lead team manager Dusty Baker to try Turner out at shortstop this season, to sure up the infield and shake up the batting order. It will of course be entirely up to Turner what happens next, if given such an opportunity.

 

4. Joey Gallo (Texas Rangers)

 

For a brief moment in 2015 it appeared that the Texas Rangers top prospect, Gallo, was going to be another rookie sensation vying for a ROY award at seasons end. But, while Gallo displayed his power hitting potential with six home runs in just 36 games for Texas, his .204 batting average ultimately led to him being sent back down to the minors (where he polished off  his minor league stats: a .240AVG, 23HR, 41R, and 63 RBI).

Gallo is currently stuck behind both Josh Hamilton in left field, Adrian Beltre at third (Gallo’s more natural position), and even Shin-Soo Choo in right field. But, if he can improve his batting average by making solid contact to go with his power ability, I don’t see why he couldn’t earn a few reps at any of those previously mentioned positions.

Especially when you consider the age of Hamilton (34), Beltre (36), and Choo (33), Gallo (22) can try to capitalize during those starters periods of rest. Much like Turner, Gallo will have to make the most of any opportunities given in 2016.

 

3.  Steven Matz (New York Mets)

 

The New York Mets had a  successful pitching staff last year, that was quite young in terms of major league mound time. A small portion of that success can be credited to Steven Matz. The lefty went 4-0 in his six regular season starts in 2015, posting a  2.27 ERA with 34 strikeouts over a total of 35 innings.

Matz notched three post-season starts as well, and despite an 0-1 post-season pitching record with a 3.64 ERA and 13 strikeouts, the 24-year-old has earned himself the number four spot in the Metz 2016 rotation.

With more chances to start on a regular basis, we should see Matz improve upon last years stats. Making the Mets’ rotation potentially one of baseball’s best in 2016, and possibly for years to come.

 

2. Byron Buxton (Minnesota Twins)

 

Before his call-up by Minnesota in late August last season, Buxton slashed a successful .305/.367/.500 line with 22 stolen bases and 45 RBI in 72 minor league games.  Those numbers didn’t exactly transfer over for the remainder of the Twins 2015 schedule, however.

Buxton closed out the 2015 season with a .205/.250/.326 line in 129 major league at bats (just under the at bat requirements to still be considered a rookie this year).

Nonetheless, the Twins believe heavily in Buxton and have named him as the teams starting centerfielder for 2016.  Since Buxton gets a second chance at first impressions with Minnesota, barring a major setback, I think he has the tools, talent, and potential to become the 2016 rookie of the year in the American League.

 

1. Corey Seager (Los Angeles Dodgers)

 

After putting up solid minor league stats in 2015 (.293/.344/.487 with 18HR and 76RBI) , the Dodgers dialed up their top prospect late last season. Seager made the most of his September call-up with Los Angeles , slashing for .337/.425/.561 (also posting an impressive .986 OPS) with four home runs and  17 RBI in just 27 games (98-total-at-bats).

Seager was so impressive, the Dodgers decided to include him on their post-season roster as well. Despite struggling similarly to the way Matz did with the Mets in the playoffs, Seager’s September showing was enough to earn him the starting job at shortstop entering 2016.

Given his short success from last year, it seems only logical to slot Seager as the National League rookie of the year favorite for 2016. With a full season in the majors ahead, it will be interesting to see what his final stat line looks like.

 

While the players listed above made their MLB debut in 2015, they are still rookies entering 2016 per the following MLB rule which states:

“A player will be considered a rookie unless A) he has exceeded 130 at bats, or pitched more than 50 innings in the majors; or B) accumulated more than 45 days on an active roster of a Major League club or clubs during the period of 25-player limit.”

Because they all fall below the aforementioned statistics, they are all eligible as ROY candidates this season.

 

Final Thoughts:

It’s possible Turner and Gallo may begin the season back in the minors, but baseball is a marathon not a sprint. Meaning over the course of 2016, either may be called upon to fill in for the guy playing just above them. As to whether or not they will make it count when given the opportunity, only time will tell.

Meanwhile for Matz, Buxton, and Seager, the mission is to prove they belong in the big leagues.

Here’s hoping the 2016 rookie race, is an exciting one to watch.

Top Ten Current MLB Droughts

It’s been said time and again that “Good things come to those who wait.” and “Patience is a virtue”. While those statements can certainly prove themselves to be true for most people, fans of the teams listed in this post may have a bone to pick with those proverbs. Heck for some fans, their patience has been stretched so thin, you could use it as fishing line.

WARNING: Astros, Brewers, Cubs, Indians, Mariners, Nationals, Orioles, Padres, Pirates, and Rangers fans may not wish to continue reading (and nobody would blame you). For everyone else still reading, I won’t keep you waiting. Lets dive into the top ten MLB droughts:

 

10. Baltimore Orioles

While the O’s were able to end a post-season appearance drought of 17 years back in 2014 (previous appearance was in 1997), they are still enduring a World Series title drought dating back to 1983 (32 years). Couple that with the string of last and fourth place finishes throughout their previous 17 year playoff drought, and the fans of Camden Yards are left clamoring for a championship. If nothing else to finally have some bragging rights over the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, who have won four of the last 10 World Series.

Finishing last year at 81-81 (.500 on the dot) and in third place in the AL East, Baltimore’s chances of ending that 32 year drought, in my opinion, is much like last years finish, 50/50.

 

9. Pittsburgh Pirates

Much like the Orioles, the Bucs ended their previous playoff drought of 20 years back in 2013, and just this past season had fans thinking they’d be raising the jolly roger flag in the World Series for the first time since 1979. Pittsburgh won 98 games in 2015, but saw their impressive season end abruptly after a 4-0 loss to the Cubs in the National League Wild Card game. This caused a 35 year old World Series drought to turn 36.

Despite being cellar dwellers in the National League Central during the majority of that previous 20 year playoff drought, the Bucs are now making the playoffs consistently. So maybe, just maybe, their World Series drought is close to being quenched.

 

8. Seattle Mariners

While the Mariners may have recently had another former star enter the Baseball Hall of Fame in Ken Griffey Jr., something  you won’t find in Cooperstown is a Mariners World Series trophy. That’s because since entering the league in 1977 (39 years ago), Seattle has never won the fall classic.

The Mariners 2001 season in which they won an MLB record 116 wins, along with the National League West division, is by far the franchises one shining moment amongst a collection of otherwise forgettable seasons. With 2001 being the last time the M’s made the playoffs, they currently have the longest post-season drought at 14 years. Despite some nice off-season acquisitions over past few seasons, and a solid pitching rotation headed by “King” Felix Hernandez, Seattle fans will likely remain sleepless for years to come.

 

(Todd Warshaw/Allsport)

(Todd Warshaw/Allsport)

 

7. San Diego Padres

Padres fans share a similar pain with Seattle in that they too have never experienced their team winning a World Series. Fans of the Fathers have suffered a bit longer though than the folks in Seattle. With the Padres entering the league back in 1969, San Diego’ drought stands at 47 years. To make matters worse, unless the Padres can pull of their best season since 2006 in 2016, it will be 10 years since San Diego last won the NL West.

San Diego can take some solace in knowing that they aren’t the only team to have a 47 year old championship drought. The next two teams on this list also have never won the big one in their franchises existence either.

 

6. Milwaukee Brewers

Like San Diego, Milwaukee has also never won a World Series since entering the MLB in 1969 (47 years). Additionally, the Brewers have never won a National League Pennant since joining the NL in 1998. The last time the Brewers did win a Pennant (1982), they were still in the American League. Bringing the total pennant drought for Milwaukee to 33 years.

As if those stats aren’t sad enough for fans of the Brew Crew, Milwaukee finished last years tumultuous, injury riddled 2015 season at 68-95 in fourth place of the NL Central. What’s ahead for 2016?

All signs point to them battling for who gets top bunk at the bottom of the division, with the Cincinnati Reds this year. My prediction, more of the same pain for the foreseeable future.

 

(Susan Walsh/AP Photo)

(Susan Walsh/AP Photo)

5. Washington Nationals

Entering last year, the Nationals were odds on favorites to win their first World Series in franchise history. As you’ve probably caught on to the theme of this post by now, things went sour for Washington in 2015. By the time the post-season arrived, the Nationals were on the outside looking in.

Like the aforementioned Brewers,  Washington has also never won a National League Pennant. Bringing their drought total to 47 years for both a pennant and a title. Fans of this franchise are used to waiting however.

This is because there was a 33 year absence of the teams existence in our nations capital from 1972-2005 (In 72′ the Washington Senators left DC for Fort Worth to become the Texas Rangers).

2015 aside, I feel that Bryce Harper & Co. can certainly rebound in 2016 and vie for the franchises first championship.

 

4. Houston Astros

After losing to the Chicago White Sox in the 2005 World Series, the Astros started to slip in the standings steadily from 2006-2010. Then from 2011-2013 they managed to finish last in both the NL Central (2011-2012) and American League West divisions (2013, switching from the NL to the AL). In 2014 they avoided a fourth straight last place finish by placing fourth a few games ahead of the Rangers.

When you add that slump to a 54 year World Series drought, it doesn’t exactly cause your fan base to believe it will end anytime soon. However, finishing in last place year after year doesn’t have to be all bad.

The Astros have used their top draft picks and made a few savvy free agent signings over those years, to build a playoff caliber team that surprised many last year. Houston bowed out, however, in the American League Divisional Series to the Kansas City Royals (The Royals would go on to win it all and end their 30 year title drought) .

Only time will tell if the Astros can continue their 2015 success story and possibly put an end to their Texas sized title drought.

 

3. Texas Rangers

The Rangers surged last year on their way to edging the Astros in the AL west to claim the division for the third time in five years. Coincidently, they also edge Houston on this list by one year as their drought for a World Series title stands at 55 years.

Although fans have been experiencing a yo-yo affect with Texas’ seasonal outcomes of late (Nearly winning it all in 2011, then finishing last in 2014), the Rangers seem to be only a few pieces of the puzzle away from putting together a championship team.

It will certainly be interesting to see if these Texas teams continue to shine in 2016, as both fan bases could use some reassurance that things are looking up.

(Photo Courtesy of ESPN)

(Photo Courtesy of ESPN)

2. Cleveland Indians

There’s no denying the state of Texas has suffered over the years when it comes to professional baseball, but no sports city in the country has suffered more than Cleveland. Enter the Cleveland Indians, whose fans are apart of a Tribe that’s endured a 67 year long World Series drought. The last time the Indians won a World Series, was way back in 1948.

Despite multiple fall classic appearances in the late 90’s, the Tribe tripped and stumbled each time leading them to an 18 year AL Pennant drought as well. The closest Cleveland has come recently to ending both droughts was in 2007, when they lost a seven game ALCS to the Boston Red Sox.

Hope, however, may be on the horizon for Chief Wahoo and the city of Cleveland. According to another Sports Rants contributor, the Indians  are the AL’s sleeper team in 2016.

 

1. Chicago Cubs

If I had a dollar for every year a Chicago Cubs fan said “This is the year, we’re winning the World Series” I would have $107. When you have to go back farther than an entire century to find your teams last World Series title (1908), superstitions, curses, even supernatural events start to become believable.

To put this into perspective, the last time the Cubs won a title the president was Theodore Roosevelt, gas was 20 cents a gallon, and the number one song was “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” by Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer (per the Huffington Post).

Chicago like Cleveland, has also suffered playoff collapses and heartache during their drought (see the Steve Bartman Incident from 2003). To make matters worse, as if the drought and playoff fiascos haven’t been enough, the city of Chicago has already seen a drought end. The Cubs longtime rival Chicago White Sox  (mentioned earlier in this post) defeated the Astros in 2005 to end their title drought of 87 years.

Despite all of this, the 2016 Cubs actually appear to be in a position to finally put that old Billy goat to bed. Of course, we’ll have to wait and see, but at least fans of this franchise have some hope again.

 

Final Thought:

While these droughts have no doubt been daunting for each respective franchise, we’ve seen a number of teams end their  post-season and World Series woes over the last 15 seasons. So, whether it’s been a few decades or over a century, just remember, there’s always next year.

 

Living The Dream At A Young Age

(Via foxsports.com)

He’s called from the ‘pen, thrust into the line of fire, a fire that is burning more intensely than he’s ever seen before. The situation couldn’t have been more tense. It’s Game 5 of the ALDS, winner advances, loser watches the remainder of the playoffs from their couch, thinking about what could have been. Some really good, established veteran hitters are set to come to the plate in the inning. And out trots this 20-year-old kid with no more than a cup of coffee or two under his belt in terms of Major League experience.

And you know what, he shuts them down. Josh Hamilton. Punch out. Elvis Andrus. Sit down my friend, you have no chance. Confidently, the young man exhales, points his fingers to the sky, and walks off to a standing ovation. Two batters, two strikeouts. It didn’t get much easier than that.

But let’s back track a little here first. Are you sure this kid’s 20-years-old? 20? As in, younger than me writing this article right now as a senior in college? 20? You’ve got to be joking.

Of course, I’m not, as we witnessed last night in one of the craziest, wackiest, wildest baseball games we’ve ever seen. Robert Osuno, born in the year 1995, who wasn’t even alive the last time the Blue Jays won a playoff series, shut the door out of the bullpen with the utmost confidence, poise and control I’ve seen out of a relief pitcher this postseason.

The kid has 20 saves in his Major League career, something I wish I could claim in any level of professional sports in my life. But, nonetheless, it’s still only 20 saves in his young career. How, as a 20-year-old, do you have the gumption and the tenacity to trot out to the mound in a win or go home series, strike out two very successful hitters, and then run back out for the ninth and K two more desperate Rangers hitters on your way to becoming the second younger pitcher in the HISTORY of the game to record a save in a postseason game? It absolutely boggles my mind that a young man could do this.

We hear the stories of how legends are made in October. Of course we know about Kirk Gibson’s homerun and Derek Jeter’s flip to the plate to nail a non-sliding Giambi, and David Freese saving the Cardinals World Series dreams with a towering homerun that hasn’t come down yet.

Unfortunately, the legend of Roberto Osuna may get lost in the shuffle of the wildness that was the inning prior to him entering the ball game. But I’d like nobody to forget the outing that this kid had last night. And if the Blue Jays continue their impressive run deeper into the playoffs and find a way to defeat the Royals in the ALCS, you sure can bet that they’ll send the kid to the mound who was born after his fellow teammate, Latroy Hawkins, made his Major League debut. Funny how veteran leadership and a youth infusion can steady up your bullpen come playoff time.

 

The 7th Inning That Stretched – Blue Jays eliminate Rangers.

Rangers vs Blue Jays…Game 5 from Toronto’s Rogers Centre.

I was listening to a crucial part of this game on the car radio during the top of the seventh inning and after arriving at my final destination I was double-checking my phone during the bottom of that inning. I had some non-baseball related things to do on Wednesday, but a confused Rick Sutcliffe, my Twitter feed and the fruit of the Vines gave me a pretty good idea that the Rangers scored a bizarre run, that their defense collapsed possibly under the pressure of unruly fans in the bottom of the seventh, before Jose Bautista sealed the deal with a dramatic and flashy home run exclamation point.

When I got home I definitely had to go back to the DVR and watch the entire seventh inning to see how what I heard and read felt when watching it on TV. Bautista’s home run ritual looked just as silly on a 46-inch television as it did when viewing Vines on my phone of other people’s 46-inch televisions.

Three things grind my gears from the 7th inning that stretched 53 minutes.

  1. Why does the Rogers Centre sell canned beer to fans?
  2. Why isn’t the crew chief or home plate umpire mic’d so he can explain the call to the crowd with Ed Hochuli type legal detail. See NFL.
  3. Can we please move on from treating the bat like a baton in a high school band halftime show?

Let’s dig deeper on each point.

  1. Why does the Rogers Centre sell canned beer to fans?

Since 2001 I’ve attended baseball games at all California baseball stadiums more than once. My home stadium would be Angels Stadium of Anaheim. I have many memories of the Yankees playing poorly in that place, but I can never remember being served an adult beverage in a can that I could have at my seat. Cans get poured into plastic cups as a safety precaution. Seems pretty logical in what should be a safety conscious environment.

The alternative would be allowing a fan the option to possess a twelve dollar 24-ounce aluminum object that they could throw toward the field when a call didn’t go their way. That’s essentially what happened in Toronto on Wednesday night when multiple knuckleheads tossed cans, plastic bottles, and paper products on the field after not understanding an obscure baseball rule that I’m sure every sane Blue Jays fan will now never forget called Rule 6.03(a)(3).

In the top of the seventh inning of a 2-2 game, the Rangers’ Rougned Odor hustled home from third base after Blue Jay catcher Russell Martin’s throw back to the pitcher accidently bounced off Shin-Soo Choo’s bat creating a live ball situation. Choo was still in the batter’s box at the time, but had already stretched out his left arm to prepare for his next swing. It just so happened that’s the area Martin’s throw hit. The Rangers took a 3-2 lead after Dale Scott reversed his initial dead ball call. Confusion and anger ensued with some fans testing how far they could soft toss objects over the fans in front of them, but still toward the field of play that featured their hometown nine.

If Blue Jays fans are going to be all rowdy this postseason then the canned beverages need to be introduced to a plastic cup at the point of sale.

  1. Why isn’t the crew chief or home plate umpire mic’d so he can explain the call to the crowd with Ed Hochuli type legal detail?

I know it’s not the NFL, but can we get the umpire a microphone so he do some explaining on replays. The nonchalant safe/out, fair/foul signal right after he listens to his favorite jam on the replay headset is totally lame.

In this situation a Blue Jays protest and a conference with the other umpires and a rules check with whomever is on the other end of those replay headsets led to Scott’s reversed call being upheld and the Texas run counting. OK, cool, but why?

The problem I have is that on something obscure like this situation the fans didn’t receive any clear verbal declaration as to what had happened. They never do. The communication is basically limited to a P.A. announcer saying “The play is under review” and “The call on the field is upheld/overturned.” Fans never really get the why part of a replay decision, which can be confusing when the call in question isn’t simply a fair/foul, out/safe, HR/No HR call. Even on a basic decision that requires replay it would be nice to get a “replay confirms the runner’s foot was on the bag when the tag was applied, first down!” or something like that.

  1. Can we please move on from treating the bat like a baton in a high school band halftime show?

It was a bad bottom of the 7th for the Rangers Elvis Andrus. He muffed a ground ball to allow Russell Martin a bit of redemption. Andrus then failed to catch Moreland’s poor throw to force Martin at second base. Elvis was then unable to catch Beltre’s throw to third base to force out pinch runner Dalton Pompey. Giving the Blue Jays six outs seems like a bad idea.

An aggressively sliding Pompey was forced out at home on Ben Revere’s groundball to Mitch Moreland. A replay confirmed Pompey was legally aggressively sliding. That’s one out.

The Rangers then turned to Sam Dyson out of the bullpen and he helped set the game on fire. Josh Donaldson hit a pop up that Odor was unable to grab due to some route efficiency issues. A force out was made at second, but a run scored to tie the game at three.

With runners on first and third, Jose Bautista crushed a go ahead 3-run homer to left center field. He stood at the plate to admire his work before releasing what appeared to be some inner rage that led to him throwing his bat out of the way for his home run trot.

The following batter Edwin Encarnacion was forced to get chatty with Sam Dyson because Dyson didn’t understand Encarnacion was not trying to stir up the crowd with his hand gestures following Bautista’s homer. Edwin was allegedly trying to calm the crowd from throwing more objects onto the field in the mayhem that was the seventh inning.

Emotions were running high for both sides. Bautista’s 3-run homer were the final runs scored in the Blue Jays 6-3 game five victory that sends them to the ALCS for the first time since 1993, but can we please tone down the bat gymnastics. The bat flipping and tossing has been over done by several players to the point where it’s not all that funny or cute anymore. I wonder if sportsmanship is even in the job description for professionalism. Get over yourself. We’ve got advanced metrics telling us you’re good, we’ve got writers telling us you’re good, we don’t also always need the player hammering home the point with histrionics.

In an age where marketing your brand seems to be key to so many, it would be nice to see the reaction to accomplishment look organic not contrived, like say the Kansas City Royals. They have had hot heads at times in 2015, but their fans and team seemed to exercise respect and joy during their 7-2 Game 5 ALDS win against the Houston Astros. The celebratory Kansas City Wants It More playoff t-shirts are a little braggy, but they’ll get to show how much they want it when facing the Toronto Blue Jays in the ALCS which begins Friday in Kansas City. If it turns out the Blue Jays actually want it more, I hope they don’t scare people by going about victory like the angry mob or raging Bautista we saw on Wednesday during the  7th inning that stretched.

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