Category Archives: Sports

Atlanta Braves: What to look for in the MLB Rule 5 Draft

(This article was run at Talking Chop, please see the full post HERE.)

It’s draft day at the MLB Winter Meetings.

Thursday, Dec. 13 at noon ET teams will have an opportunity to select one of the minor leaguers left unprotected when every Major League team set 40-man rosters back on Nov. 20. The Rule 5 Draft is one of the more interesting drafts in any sport, and while it’s lost a little luster the past few seasons, it has also sprung the careers of names like Dan UgglaOdubel Herrera, and Marwin Gonzalez, giving these prospects a new look at an MLB career.

So what’s in store for the Braves on Thursday?

What is it?

I’ve done quite a bit of work with the Rule 5 Draft coming over from Minor League Ball. Before the draft, it’s always good for a quick refresher, since the Rule 5 Draft is like no other in sports. This is the quick, Rule 5 for Dummies tutorial I always used:

Who’s eligible? Any prospect who signed when they were 18 or younger and has played five years, or any prospect who signed when they were 19 or older and has played four.

How’s it work: Once a team selects an unprotected player, they owe the team he was drafted from $100,000 and must add him to their 25-man roster for the entire season, and he must be active for at least 90 days. If not, said player is returned to the original team for half the price. There’s a bit more to it, like DL stints for example, but that’s the easy gist of it.

The Braves have made four selections in a row the past four seasons. Last year they took relief pitcher Anyelo Gómez from the Yankees and returned him. The year before they selected reliever Armando Rivera and released him as well. Evan Rutckyjl was in 2015, yet another reliever returned to the Yankees, and in 2014 it was a Rockies, you guessed it, reliever. This guy managed to stick around as Dan Winkler made 69 appearances for your 2018 National League East champs.

Rio Ruiz signed with the Baltimore Orioles earlier this week and that opened up a spot on the 40-man roster. That means there is a good possibility of another Braves Rule 5 selection in 2018.

Who’s at risk?

There are three Braves to be worried about losing. Let’s rank them in order of risk factor, from highest to lowest.

RHP Josh Graham: Most felt it was Jacob Webb or Graham that would garner 40-man protection and Webb got the nod. That leaves the 25-year-old, 2015 fourth-rounder out of Oregon at risk. Graham hasn’t reached Triple-A so teams may be hesitant, but Graham has shown good strikeout numbers fueled by a ground ball rate north of 50 percent, despite getting roughed up in his Double-A debut allowing more than one hit and nearly a run per inning.

UTIL Ray-Patrick Didder: A pedestrian showing in the Arizona Fall League was the best thing for the Braves. The 24-year-old infielder-turned-outfielder-turned-infielder-again showed a lot of improvement once in Double-A, looking much more like the breakout 2016 prospect he was. Didder combines a big arm, arguably the best speed in the system, and great instincts into what should easily amount to a big league role player, but 131 career at bats above A-ball should make it hard for teams to add him to their 25.

UTIL Travis DemeritteThere is a lot that is confusing about Demeritte (like which letter in his last name is doubled, is it the ‘m’, the ‘r’, or the ‘t’). When the now 24-year-old came to the Braves via trade in 2016, he was one of the Rangers top prospects and widely considered one of the brighter second base prospects in baseball. While his renowned power has stuck, nearly every other aspect of his game has declined, and where he fits in for the Braves is a question mark. Still, six years without a Triple-A at bat should not see too many suitors, but name recognition may have someone calling.

Possible targets

We know one thing. Braves like relievers in the Rule 5 Draft. The 25-year-old DII baseball product Art Warren (Seattle Mariners) may be enticing. While he has an awesome fastball-slider combo, the RHP has a rare four-pitch mix for a reliever. After a breakout 2017 in the Arizona Fall League, Warren spent most of 2018 on the shelf, which means teams will be hesitant.

Riley Ferrell (Houston Astrosis another intriguing RHP. Armed with a nasty fastball-slider combo himself, Ferrell posted solid numbers before getting beat up in his Triple-A debut in 2018. He could be worth a flier.

Tyler Jay (Minnesota Twinshas been maddening throughout his career. The 24-year-old lefty was a first-rounder in 2014 for the Twins but has battled injury leading to inconsistency ever since. He has the stuff in a, wait for it, fastball-slider combo to be a big-league short man, but his health history may keep people away.

Junior Fernandez (St. Louis Cardinalsthrows straight gas. He’s shown command issues on his climb up the ladder but moved to the bullpen full time in 2018. He has a changeup that offsets his upper-90s fastball well, and if he gets selected it’s on heat and projection alone.

Moving away from pitchers, the Colorado Rockies Dom Nunez is an intriguing candidate. The Braves have question marks behind the plate, and Nunez was once one of the more-inspiring catching prospects in the game. While he has progressed from high school shortstop to a quality catcher, his bat has not, and you can argue it has taken a step backward at the higher levels.

There are quite a few intriguing infielders — like the Oakland Athletics Richie Martin, St. Louis Cardinals Max Schrock, and Washington Nationals Jose Marmolejos for example — but that doesn’t seem like a 25-man need for the Braves, especially leaving Didder unprotected. One intriguing bat to monitor is the Brewers Jake Gatewood. The 23-year-old right-handed-hitting first baseman can flat out rake. Problem is he misses a lot and may not amount to much more than a big-league pinch hitter. Coming off an injury-shortened 2018, someone will probably take a chance on him bringing him to spring training, but how much contact he makes will determine if he can stick.

The Atlanta Braves officially hire Rick Kranitz as pitching coach

(This release is from Talking Chop, the full release can be read HERE)

What was announced on December 4 became official for Atlanta on Thursday. Rick Kranitz is now officially the Atlanta Braves new pitching coach.

Kranitz comes with a lengthy list of accolades and stops around the big leagues. The 60-year-old earned Baseball America’s Major League Coach of the Year award after mentoring the nearly all-rookie rotation to a record-setting performance, with four pitchers reaching the 10-win plateau. While those four rookies — Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, Scott Olsen, and Anibal Sanchez — haven’t gone on to Hall of Fame careers, they all became household names, with Sanchez having a solid bounce back season with the Braves in 2018.

“Rick is a tremendous addition to our organization,” Alex Anthopoulos said. “His proven record of success, along with his work ethic and passion for the game, made him the perfect fit for us.”

Kranitz began his career with the Chicago Cubs, where he was a player and coach in the Appy League. He has also made stops in Milwaukee — where his 2012 rotation struck out 1,402 opposing hitters — as well as spending time in Baltimore and most recently Philadelphia. The strides made by Aaron Nola in his lone season with Kranitz are more than noteworthy as the 25-year-old finished third in Cy Young voting with a 2.37 ERA, 224 strikeouts and a 0.98 WHIP. Zach Eflin, Phillies 24-year-old righty, also made progress, seeing career-highs across the board, including strikeouts which has become a calling card of Kranitz’s.

“I’m thrilled to add Rick to our coaching staff,” Brian Snitker said. “Right from the start of the interview process, Rick stood out with his knowledge, credentials, and experience. He has had a lot of success developing young talent and he is going to have a big impact getting the most out of all of our pitchers.”

And perhaps that’s the biggest takeaway for the Braves. Kranitz has a proven track record with some of the games youngest and brightest arms. With plenty of young arms in a deep arsenal for the Braves, Kranitz seems to be a positive addition and good fit for the Braves in 2019.

The Atlanta Braves Freddy Tarnok has big potential. Here’s what you should know

(This is my debut article for Talking Chop. See the full article HERE.)

The Atlanta Braves right-hander Freddy Tarnok is yet another young arm in a seemingly endless arsenal of highly-rated pitching prospects. One viewing of Tarnok and three words quickly come to mind: electric, exciting, and raw.

Continue reading The Atlanta Braves Freddy Tarnok has big potential. Here’s what you should know

Boston Red Sox: Nathan Eovaldi re-signs for four years keeping World Series rotation together

The Boston Red Sox are trying to keep the band together. The starting pitching staff that earned the Red Sox their fourth World Series title since 2004 is now closer to remaining complete.

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Eovaldi pitched in the majors for the first time since August of 2016 this past season. The 28-year-old righty has been well-traveled in his career, being selected in the 11th round of the 2008 MLB Draft by the Dodgers, traded to the Marlins in the Hanley Ramirez deal, then traded to the Yankees in the Martin Prado deal, then released by the Yankees before signing on with the Tampa Bay Rays who traded him to the Red Sox at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline for Jalen Beeks.

Got all that?

Continue reading Boston Red Sox: Nathan Eovaldi re-signs for four years keeping World Series rotation together

Here’s everything you need to know about the DII football championship semifinals

Twenty-eight teams entered the 2018 DII football championship with national title aspirations. After 15 weeks of football, just four teams remain.

The DII football championship is broken into four Super Regions with each portion of the bracket beginning with the seven teams. Three rounds of play determine each Super Region champion which moves on to the national semifinals. Three of the four teams that advanced — Valdosta State, Minnesota State and Notre Dame (OH) — were No. 1 seeds in their respective regions. The fourth — Ferris State — was the No. 2. All four teams enter Saturday undefeated.

Continue reading Here’s everything you need to know about the DII football championship semifinals

The Atlanta Braves sign former AL MVP Josh Donaldson to a one-year deal

(From MLB Daily Dish, read the full article HERE).

The Atlanta Braves are having a productive Monday. In what seemed a matter of minutes after signing veteran, fan-favorite Brian McCann to replace Kurt Suzuki, the Braves bring in third baseman Josh Donaldson.

Jeff Passan

@JeffPassan

Sources: Josh Donaldson’s deal with the Braves is done. It’s for one year and $23 million. @Ken_Rosenthal had the figures first and @StevePhillipsGM first connected the sides.

Donaldson and Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos go back their Blue Jays roots when Anthopoulos trade four players to the Oakland Athletics to land his third baseman. That turned out to be an initial success, as Donaldson won the American League MVP that same season, slashing .297/.371/.568 with 122 runs, 123 RBI, and 41 home runs.

The 32-year-old right-hander was rumored to be on the trade block for what seemed an eternity, but an injury-plagued 2018 saw him shipped to the Cleveland Indians at the deadline for a player to be named later, hardly the value of what a healthy Donaldson should command. Donaldson played 52 games last year in a very much lost season.

This is a big signing for the Braves as Donaldson has great numbers over his eight-year career, slashing .275/.367/.507 and a .874 OPS. He can find the gaps as well as launch it out of the park with 193 career doubles and 182 career home runs. He brings a veteran presence to the heart of the lineup and stability defensively at third. While he won’t win many Gold Gloves, he has a cannon of an arm having been drafted as a catcher.

It does present several big question marks for the Braves future. With Johan Camargo becoming a reliable option at third when they needed him, where does he move? Will he shift back to the super utility role, or are perhaps, Dansby Swanson’s days numbered at shortstop? Though it is just a one-year deal, does this mean the Braves don’t believe top offensive prospect Austin Riley is ready, or possibly on the move?

Stay tuned. These questions and more will be answered in the coming hot stove weeks.

New York Yankees send top prospect Justus Sheffield to Mariners for James Paxton

Welcome to MLB hot stove season. The New York Yankees made a big splash and landed James Paxton. Early reports are Justus Sheffield in the headliner.

We took a look last week right here at Minor League Ball at why the Yankees should pursue Paxton when the rumors began. Just days later it came to fruition, with the Yankees sending their top prospect along the way.

The prized get is lefty Justus Sheffield. This past weekend, Sheffield was one of our LHP prospects we were excited about to make their MLB debut as a starter this season (read more HERE). What did we say?

Trade rumors are swirling around the Yankees and veteran starters, and you can bet that Sheffield’s name is in the mix. That doesn’t mean he will be traded, but doesn’t mean he won’t. Either way, Sheffield should make his debut as a starter in 2019 somewhere at the very least.

Sheffield came to the Yankees in the Andrew Miller deal and pitched a mere 2.2 innings in the big leagues out of the bullpen before heading to his third club. He dealt with some injuries early on in his career, but he has the stuff that makes him one of the top left-handed prospect in the game. He has three plus-pitches, with an electric mid-90s fastball, and while his slider and change are exciting, they are also inconsistent in command, though much improved in 2018.

Erik Swanson is also heading to the Mariners. Swanson was part of the Carlos Beltran deal and never made it to the Bronx, dealing with a few trips to the disabled list in 2018. The 25-year-old, 6’3” righty was once one of the Rangers top prospects, and still has very interesting stuff and back-of-the-rotation potential. He went 3-2 in 13 starts (14 appearances) in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre with a 3.86 ERA, a 1.06 WHIP and a 78:14 K: BB ratio in 72.1 innings. Swanson was Rule 5 eligible and was going to have a tough time finding a spot on the Yankees 40-man but has a chance to contribute quickly in Seattle.

Dom Thompson-Williams, the last prospect in the fold, was drafted in the fifth round of the 2016 MLB Draft out of South Carolina. The 23-year-old centerfielder split the 2018 season between Charleston and Tampa. His 10 games in Charleston, his second brief stint there, was too easy and he quickly jumped to the Florida State League. There he slashed .290/.356/.517 with 16 doubles and 17 home runs, adding 17 stolen bases. He certainly has some nice tools across the board, but in a crowded Yankees outfield, his chances of becoming more than a fourth outfielder were slim.

The Atlanta Braves Ronald Acuña joins the Angels Shohei Ohtani as MLB’s Rookies of the Year

The Atlanta Braves Ronald Acuña, Jr. and the Los Angeles Angels Shohei Ohtani are you National League and American League Rookie of the Years respectively.

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It was no easy task in either league as the rookie talent was plentiful in both the NL and AL in 2018. Acuña had to overcome teenage sensation Juan Soto of the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers playoff star Walker Buehler in order to take home his first of many trophies. Ohtani went head-to-head against a couple of Yankees rookies in Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres and came out ahead thanks to his abilities on the bump and at the plate.

Acuña entered the season No. 1 on the Minor League Ball top 175. He finished the season slashing .293/.366/.552 with a .917 OPS 26 doubles, 26 home runs and 16 stolen bases. If you weren’t aware of Acuña’s talents in the regular season, his memorable grand slam (in the tweet above) against fellow finalist Buehler put him on the map.

Ohtani is the first player to pitch 50 innings and hit 15 home runs since Babe Ruth did it in 1919 per ESPN. And he did both well. Minor League Ball’s No. 3 preseason prospect finished an injury-riddled campaign with 21 doubles and 22 home runs behind a .925 OPS at the plate while going 4-2 with a 3.31 ERA (3.57 FIP) and a 1.61 WHIP with a 63-to-22 strikeout-to-walk mark over 51.2 innings.

The Atlanta Braves Izzy Wilson homers again in Arizona Fall League action

(From Minor League Ball, please see the full article HERE)

Young hitters keep hitting and Peoria wins again. Good morning everyone and welcome to the Arizona Fall League Morning Roundup for Sunday, November 11.

Let’s take a look at how it went down Saturday in Arizona.

Continue reading The Atlanta Braves Izzy Wilson homers again in Arizona Fall League action

New York Yankees: Here’s why James Paxton should be an offseason target

(From Minor League Ball, please see the full article HERE)

The Major League Baseball hot stove season is upon us, and the trade rumors are brewing. Recently, it was revealed that the New York Yankees are in discussions with the Seattle Mariners to obtain James Paxton.

@Ken_Rosenthal

among teams that have spoken to about a trade for LHP James Paxton, sources tell The Athletic. Paxton has two years of control left and is projected by @mlbtraderumors to earn $9M in arbitration next season. NYY also on free-agent LH starters Corbin, Happ, etc.

Paxton, as most people know, is Seattle’s 30-year-old left-hander. He broke out in a big way in 2017, finally showing the potential so many felt he had. He followed that up with a solid 2018 campaign, going 11-6 with a 3.76 ERA (and an even lower 3.23 FIP), a 1.10 WHIP, and a career-high 208 strikeouts in 160.1 innings while walking just 42, or 2.36 per nine.

Continue reading New York Yankees: Here’s why James Paxton should be an offseason target