College baseball: 9 burning questions for the 2019 season

(This piece originally ran on NCAA.com. You can read the full feature HERE.)

Opening weekend of the 2019 college baseball season is quickly approaching with first pitch set for the weekend of Feb. 15.

MORE: 12 opening weekend matchups to be excited for

Just how will the road to Omaha be traveled? Finding the answers to these nine questions should shed some light on what to expect from the 2019 season.

Continue reading College baseball: 9 burning questions for the 2019 season

College baseball: 5 reasons we’re excited for SEC baseball in 2019

(This piece originally ran on NCAA.com. The full feature can be read HERE.)

The college baseball preseason polls are out and there are high expectations for the top SEC baseball teams once again.

Eight SEC teams populate all three preseason polls, with 2018 NCAA tournament teams like South Carolina and Texas A&M on the outside of the top 25 looking in. There is plenty to watch this season in the SEC alone, but here are five things that we are really excited for in 2019.

Continue reading College baseball: 5 reasons we’re excited for SEC baseball in 2019

College baseball: Mississippi State’s all-time starting nine

(This piece originally ran on NCAA.com with photos from Mississippi State Athletics. You can see the full feature HERE.)

Let’s take a look at Mississippi State’s all-time starting nine in this edition of the NCAA.com series of the best possible starting lineups for some of college baseball’s most successful programs.

Continue reading College baseball: Mississippi State’s all-time starting nine

College baseball: Vanderbilt’s all-time starting nine

(This article originally ran on NCAA.com with all photos courtesy of Vanderbilt Athletics. You can read the full feature HERE.)

Let’s take a look at Vanderbilt’s all-time starting nine in this edition of the NCAA.com series of the best possible starting lineups for some of college baseball’s most successful programs.

Continue reading College baseball: Vanderbilt’s all-time starting nine

NCAA DII baseball: Here are the teams to watch in 2019

(This piece originally ran on NCAA.com. You can read the full piece HERE.)

The DII baseball season is finally here. With the first pitch of the 2019 season on Feb. 1, the road to Cary, North Carolina will officially begin.

Continue reading NCAA DII baseball: Here are the teams to watch in 2019

MLB New Year’s resolutions: One 2019 Opening Day goal for every big league team

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

A new year brings new dreams for each of the 30 teams in Major League Baseball. Let’s take a look at one resolution each team should stick to for a healthy and happy new year.

Arizona DiamondbacksTrade Zach Greinke. May have to swallow some pride and eat that contract, but the Padres are on the up and the Rockies and Dodgers are not going anywhere. The Diamondbacks have to get back on track quickly, and if the cost is lower, plenty of teams would love Greinke.

Atlanta BravesGet a veteran starter. An ace would make this team frightening, but a solid presence like Sonny Gray — who has certainly had his share of ups and downs — would be grand for these young studs.

Baltimore OriolesScout some international players. They finally hired a leader in Koby Perez. The Orioles farm system is vastly improved, now it’s time to take the next step.

Boston Red SoxBattle back. The 2014 follow up to the Red Sox last title wasn’t so strong, but they did reach the ALDS in both 2008 and 2005. This team is loaded, but the window is small with a not-so-sexy farm system.

Chicago CubsFly the W. After what seemed an eternity of mediocracy, the Cubs have been one of the more consistent teams in the MLB with four-straight 90+ win seasons and that elusive World Series title. See the Red Sox: that window may be closing so may as well make one more run in a suddenly stacked division.

Chicago White SoxDon’t waste this farm system. And you can start by plugging Eloy Jimenezand his super human power into the Opening Day lineup.

Cleveland IndiansTrade Corey Kluber. His value is arguably higher than any other pitcher in baseball on the market, and let’s face it. The Indians can still win the AL Central without him while starting to get better for the future.

Colorado RockiesWin the NL West. The Rockies had one pitcher in Kyle Freeland with a sub-3.00 ERA, and another young gun in German Marquez post a 3.77 ERA. If Jon Gray can finally throw together a full season of greatness instead of small spurts, the Rockies may have their best pitching staff yet.

Detroit TigersLike you’ll see with the Royals below, it’s all about patience. The Tigers have an exciting top 15 for prospects, but they aren’t ready. With the demand for Nick Castellanos seemingly high, move him and make it an exciting top 20 prospect list.

Houston AstrosStop getting better. Come on, guys. You didn’t need Michael Brantley. Let the Athletics at least have a fighting chance.

Kansas City RoyalsBe patient. The Royals are arguably the most improved farm system in baseball and, much like the Braves, it is built on a lot of exciting young arms. It’s not going to be a fun 2019, and 2020 may not be much better, but it’s coming.

Los Angeles AngelsGet Mike Trout to the playoffs. Fifteen career plate appearances in the postseason isn’t fair to him or us. At the very least get him on some billboards on the East Coast.

Los Angeles DodgersWin a World Series (no, that is not a prediction). The only thing stopping the Dodgers from having the most dominant run over the past five years is the American League.

Miami MarlinsTrade J.T. Realmuto already. We’re all getting tired of the rumors and false leads, am I right?

Milwaukee BrewersClone Christian Yelich. Eight times. And if he can pitch, do it a ninth.

Minnesota TwinsSolve the Byron Buxton enigma. Either get it going or move on, we’re tired of waiting.

New York MetsShock the world. Well, they kind of did that with the hire of Brodie Van Wagenen, but the former agent has made some nice moves and has stood firm on holding on to his Big Three. If this team pulls off the turnaround they feel they can, plenty will be surprised.

New York YankeesSpend money. I mean really. Who are these guys?

Oakland A’s: Keep grinding. This was a fun team to root for last season. If that pitching staff comes back healthy, the Athletics could be better.

Philadelphia PhilliesAt least earn a Wild Card spot. This team has spent some money this offseason, and the likes of Andrew McCutchenJean Segura, and now David Robertson surely brought in some veteran moxie for this young squad. With the money they had to spend, the Phillies faithful are expecting some October baseball.

Pittsburgh PiratesIf the Mets don’t step up and shock the world, perhaps the young Pirates can. The outfield is exciting, the infield is fun, and the pitching is solid and likely only getting better if Mitch Keller can become the star most envision.

San Diego PadresCompete. The Padres have plenty of young, shiny pieces in place to be the 2018 Atlanta Braves. Let’s see it.

San Francisco GiantsWell, it’s an odd year, so we know there will be no magic by the bay. Maybe it is time to dangle Madison Bumgarner out there at the All Star break when the Giants are out of contention.

Seattle MarinersMake the playoffs. With all the facelifts this roster has had over the past few seasons in a “win-now” mode, wouldn’t it be great to see them make the Wild Card when they aren’t trying.

St. Louis CardinalsTake back the NL Central. This was Cardinals Country not long ago, and they’ve made some nice moves this offseason. I seem to remember them being pretty good when they had one of the best players at first base some time ago.

Tampa Bay RaysGet a new stadium. And this isn’t on these guys. What the Rays did last year was a fun story, now get them somewhere people will come actually watch.

Texas RangersDon’t be terrible. That’s quite the pitching staff, huh? When you bring in Globe Life Park’s park factors, there could be a lot of homers hit in Arlington in 2019.

Toronto Blue JaysMake Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. the Opening Day third baseman. Or DH. Or first baseman. Just get the guy on the field ASAP.

Washington NationalsWhat every Nationals fan wants. Bryce Harper or not, this team needs to win a playoff series, especially in an ever-improving NL East.

NFL playoffs: Here are the 26 Division II football players in the postseason

(From NCAA.com, please see the full article HERE.)

The 2019 NFL playoffs kick off on Saturday, Jan. 5 when the Houston Texans battle the Indianapolis Colts in the first Wild Card game of the postseason. Five former DII football players will hit the field for that game.

In fact, all eight teams playing on Wild Card weekend will feature former Division II football players. The numbers are up from last season when 22 former DII ballers were spread out across 11 teams in the NFL playoffs. One year later, 26 players from 10 different rosters* enter the postseason. Only the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints are not represented on their active rosters by any former DII football players.

MORE: An incredibly early look at the 2019 preseason top 10

Here are some interesting numbers from the 2019 NFL playoffs:

2 — Players from Grand Valley State and California (Pa) in the postseason, the only two schools with multiple players in the playoffs.

3 — DII players returning to the playoffs from last season. Ethan Westbrooks returns for the Rams while both Tyreek Hill and Ron Parker return for the Chiefs. Morgan Fox (Colorado State-Pueblo) played for the Rams last season but is currently on injured reserve.

 5 —  Former DII players on the Baltimore Ravens roster, more than any other team in the NFL playoffs. The Los Angeles Rams are right behind with four.

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.@BCarr39 intercepts Rivers on the first play!

9 — Defensive backs, including safeties, from DII schools in the NFL playoffs, the most from any position. Wide receivers were the second most represented with five.

11 — DII players on NFC rosters, up one from last season.

15 — DII players on AFC rosters, up three from last year.

MORE: 11 record-breaking numbers from the 2018 DII football championsip

NAME POSITION SCHOOL
Baltimore Ravens
John Brown WR Pittsburg State
Brandon Carr CB Grand Valley State
Matthew Judon LB Grand Valley State
Zach Sieler DT Ferris State
Brandon Williams DT Missouri Southern
Chicago Bears
Eric Kush OG California (Pa)
Adam Shaheen TE Ashland
Dallas Cowboys
C.J. Goodwin CB California (Pa)
Jeff Heath S Saginaw Valley State
Chris Jones P Carson-Newman
Houston Texans
Tyrell Adams LB West Georgia
Vyncint Smith WR Limestone
Indianapolis Colts
Pierre Desir CB Lindenwood
Kenny Moore II CB Valdosta State
Grover Stewart DT Albany State
Kansas City Chiefs
Tyreek Hill WR West Alabama
Ron Parker DB Newberry
Los Angeles Chargers
Austin Ekeler RB Western State
Jeff Richards CB Emporia State
Tyrell Williams WR Western Oregon
Los Angeles Rams
Marqui Christian S MSU Texas
Matt Longacre LB Northwest Missouri
Ethan Westbrooks DE West Texas A&M
Greg Zuerlein K Missouri Western
Philadelphia Eagles
Tre Sullivan S Shepherd
Seattle Seahawks
David Moore WR East Central

* — Active rosters per NFL.com team sites only. Practice squad, future contracts, and injured reserve players are not included.

MORE: Programs with the most titles | DII football news

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

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