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 Diamondbacks: Trade 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 Braves: Get 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 Orioles: Scout 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 Sox: Battle 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 Cubs: Fly 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 Sox: Don’t waste this farm system. And you can start by plugging Eloy Jimenezand his super human power into the Opening Day lineup.
Cincinnati Reds: Get Nick Senzel healthy and figure out where you want to play him already. Another year in the minors from arguably the best bat in the 2016 MLB Draft isn’t fair to any of us.
Cleveland Indians: Trade 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 Rockies: Win 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 Tigers: Like 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 Astros: Stop getting better. Come on, guys. You didn’t need Michael Brantley. Let the Athletics at least have a fighting chance.
New York Mets: Shock 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.
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 Phillies: At least earn a Wild Card spot. This team has spent some money this offseason, and the likes of Andrew McCutchen, Jean 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 Pirates: If 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 Padres: Compete. The Padres have plenty of young, shiny pieces in place to be the 2018 Atlanta Braves. Let’s see it.
San Francisco Giants: Well, 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 Mariners: Make 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 Cardinals: Take 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 Rays: Get 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 Rangers: Don’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 Jays: Make Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. the Opening Day third baseman. Or DH. Or first baseman. Just get the guy on the field ASAP.
Rolling right along, Minor League Ball continues its position by position look at prospects ready for their MLB debuts in the coming 2019 season. Today we focus our attention on the catching position. But before we begin, get caught up on those already completed:
Catcher, as most of us know, is such a hard position to project. Some catchers are defense first and can’t hit a lick, while others are all bat. It doesn’t seem that there are many impact catchers ready to make a difference in 2019, but here are a few that have our attention (as always, feel free to add more in the comments).
Murphy is the 24-year-old backstop out of Wright State that the A’s nabbed in the third round of the 2016 MLB Draft. Just three short years later, it looks like they have a solid backstop on their hands.
Murphy entered 2018 as our own John Sickels’ No. 10 prospect on the A’s, with a very positive B- grade. Here’s why:
Age 23, third round pick in 2016 from Wright State University; hit .297/.343/.527 in 165 at-bats in High-A but slumped to .209/.288/.309 in 191 at-bats in Double-A; excellent throwing arm and a reliable defensive catcher, will get to majors on his defense alone but future will depend on the bat; flashes above-average power and will draw walks but uncertain what his batting average will look like against the best pitching, has never hit particularly well with wood; some caution with the hitting is advisable but overall I like him. ETA 2019.
So here’s the skinny. Sources, like Baseball America for example, have his arm labeled at an 80. He’s thrown out over 35 percent of base runners in his career and has allowed just 14 passed balls in 182 games behind the plate. And whatever ailed him in 2017 in the Texas League, he fixed in 2018.
Murphy slashed .288/.358/.498 with a modest 16.3 strikeout percentage and a very reasonable 8.0 walk percentage. He still hits way too many ground balls, but it seems like the power is there and he could be a 10 home run catcher at the next level. He has just eight at bats over Double-A, but with Josh Phegley the only catcher on the current 40-man roster, the job is Murphy’s for the taking.
Collins was one of the best power bats in the 2016 MLB Draft, and he homered in the College World Series almost immediately after the White Sox snagged him in the first round to prove it. He’s been a work in progress ever since but is certainly ready for a taste of the bigs on a restructuring White Sox team.
The big — he’s listed at 6’3” and 220 and looks every bit of it — left-handed hitting, right-handed throwing backstop has two tremendous positives. He has monster power that goes to all fields and he has incredible plate patience that pays off in walks and in waiting for the right pitch to drive. Last season he may have struck out 158 times, but he walked 101, 24 better than his 2017 career-best. Despite the contact concerns, Collins still got on base at a .382 lick, so there is definitely value there.
Along with perfecting his contact skills, Collins, as most big catchers do, is still honing his craft behind the plate. His footwork is much improved and he has a cannon, albeit somewhat inconsistent. If he continues to work on framing his pitches, he could very well be a viable backstop for years to come.
Ruiz is a bit of a stretch, as almost every publication feels his ETA is 2020. That’s fair, considering the switch-hitting catcher is still a mere 20 years of age. But with only Austin Barnes on the 25-man and THE Kyle Farmer and Rocky Gale as the backups on the 40-man, well, why not?
The Dodgers have never been shy about playing their young prospects, and if injuries strike, Ruiz could at least get a quick cup of coffee in 2019. Here’s why Ruiz is so special. The Dodgers inked him as a defensive-first catcher… and he has been a solid hitter with nice speed. And the defense hasn’t suffered at all.
You can look at the fact that Ruiz has just 23 home runs in his career, but 18 have come since his July 2017 promotion to the California League. He has already shown an ability to make contact, and now his power is clearly developing. His batting average struggled this season, but he did show the most power of his young career as a 20-year-old in Double-A. He’s only thrown out 26 percent of base runners in his career, but he doesn’t make many mistakes with solid blocking skills and good mechanics behind the plate.
The Dodgers could wait until 2020, but without many options at the big league level, we may see Ruiz this year.
Another to watch:
Taylor Gushue, Washington Nationals: There are better catching prospects on the Nationals. Raudy Read will likely get the first shot and Tres Barrera may be a quick mover, but Gushue is ready for his big league debut to at the very least, see what he can do. The power-first catcher is now 24-years-old and has been working in the Dominican Summer League so it’s safe to assume his MLB debut is close.
Chadwick Tromp, Cincinnati Reds: I don’t know anything about him, his stats aren’t very good, but the 23-year-old backstop has a fun name (keep your politics out of this please) and that is worth an MLB debut alone.
The Chicago White Sox have had a nice 48 hours, haven’t they? A day after getting four solid prospects for Chris Sale, they sent Adam Eaton to the Washington Nationals for three more. Their top five prospects now rival anyone’s in baseball, and that says a lot.
Oh, and the New York Yankees went New York Yankees once again.
Yesterday, we took a look at Dakota Hudson, who was projected to go tenth in the Today’s Knuckleball Almost Mock Draft. Hudson, of course, wound up going 34th overall to the St. Louis Cardinals while the Chicago White Sox — owners of the tenth pick — went a completely different direction.
Skipping over pitching, the White Sox swooped in and took the best catching prospect in this year’s crop.
This has been an interesting week for the Chicago White Sox. No it has nothing to do with the fact that they have won two games in a row, nor does it have anything to do with Tyler Saladino (who?) hitting his third home run of the spring.
No, the whole world knows what’s wrong on the South Side and it has to do with Adam LaRoche, Kenny Williams, Chris Sale and this kid named Drake.
Well sports fans, March Madness is upon us. If you’ve been following along you are aware that the mighty Fighting Blue Hens are heading to the Big Dance. NFL free agency is also underway with names like Revis Island and Eric Decker changing places. In Florida and Arizona, though, Spring Training keeps on trucking along and so does your divisional previews.
THE AL CENTRAL
The AL Central is a division that has quite a few unique claims to fame. They have the last Triple Crown winner. They made pine tar use very famous. One of the greatest sports movies ever was made about a team that calls their division home. Heading into 2014, they have one of the best teams in all of baseball.
Most people have the White Sox finishing ahead of the Twins this year but when push comes to shove they are both pretty bad teams. It could go either way. Any way you cut it, the whole city of Chicago is in for a long season so they better hope the Bulls make a really deep run in the playoffs!
The eyes of the baseball world will be focused on Jose Dariel Abreau, the 27-year old Cuban import who signed a 4-year deal for $68 million and should earn every penny. He tore up the 2013 World Baseball Classic batting .360 with 3 HRs, 6 runs scored, and 9 RBI IN SIX GAMES! With his nature ability and White Sox legend Paul Konerko hanging around one last season to mentor his replacement, Abreau should take home the AL Rookie of the Year Award. They also ignited their line-up with youth via trades by bringing in Adam Eaton and Matt Davidson. Eaton, as the new leadoff hitter, should immediately help improve a team that was second to last in on-base percentage last season. Davidson may still be a year away.
The starting rotation has a ton of ifs. Chris Sale, at only 24 years of age, is the ace of this staff. The White Sox could have upgraded the team overall with all of the trade offers for Sale this offseason, however they hung onto him for a reason. John Danks at one point had all of the tools to grow into an ace as well but he has been plagued by back-to-back injury riddled seasons. There is no guarantees he will ever regain his 2010 form. The rest of the rotation is young and inexperienced which rarely pans out.
The bullpen took the biggest hit this offseason. Gone are closer Addison Reed (who had 40 saves last season) and left handed specialist Matt Thorton. 28-year old Nathan Jones will step in as closer with zero career saves. Ronald Bellisario, Scott Downs, and Mitchell Boggs were signed in the offseason and have some closing experience, however there is a reason they didn’t stick as closers. The White Sox are in for a long season.
Project 2014 finish: 72-90. For ticket information visit Ticket Monster.
4. The Minnesota Twins
(Covers.com has the O/U at 65.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 70-92)
If you want a model of consistency take a look at the Twins. Two years in a row they have finished 66-96. That is the main reason I believe it can’t get much worse.
Their offense is in a holding mode while waiting on two of the Top Ten prospects in the AL. Miguel Sano, who many expected to break camp this season, needs Tommy John surgery and is out for 2014. Most experts have Byron Buxton as the number one prospect in the game. He will most likely start at Triple A but we will hear from him sooner than later. The line-up the Twins will field to start the season is more on the veteran side but still has some pop in their bats. Joe Mauer, now at first base, is still Joe Mauer and without the strain of catching everyday he could return to his old form. Josh Willingham, Trevor Plouffe, and Jason Kubel have all shown they could hit in the past. They need to do it again for this team to stay competitive.
They revamped the pitching staff bringing in two guys that, on paper, may seem mediocre. The Twins are hoping that a change of scenery for Phil Hughes and Ricky Nolasco is all that they need. Both could be a nice top of the rotation punch and at the very least they will eat innings. Crafty veterans Mike Pelfry andKevin Correia fill out a rotation that will keep them in games.
After failing as a starter, Glenn Perkins has had nice back-to-back seasons shutting down games for the Twins. The rest of the bullpen is a bit shaky filled with a bunch of middling veterans. Samuel Deduno will most likely start the year in the pen coming off surgery but he could find his way into the rotation. This will be a much better team than it has been the last three seasons, but they are clearly waiting on their future.
Projected 2014 finish: 78-84. To purchase tickets click here.
3. The Cleveland Indians
(Covers.com has the O/U at 82.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing at 81-81)
Wild Thing, you make my heart sing. This team isn’t as bad as that Indians team started out. In fact, their line-up is pretty sick. It’s what they lost in pitching this offseason that will ultimately hurt them. Maybe they can get vaseline-baller Eddie Harris out of retirement.
The line-up from the leadoff spot to the nine hole is stacked. Michael Bourn isn’t getting any younger but he makes Willie “Mays” Hayes look slow. Nick Swisher is still one of my favorite players in the game as he is the ultimate model of consistency. I’m willing to bet he bats .240 with 25 HRs, about 85 RBIs, and tons of walks. Jason Kipnis is threatening to become the best second baseman in baseball as he is evolving into a solid 5 tool player. Carlos Santana’s numbers, which are already stellar, will benefit now as the full time DH with the emergence of Yan Gomes at catcher. Throw in newly resigned Michael Brantley and veteran Asdrubal Cabrera and this team is going to score a lot of runs and hit a lot of dingers.
The problem is how many runs the other teams are going to score against them. Ubaldo Jiminez and Scott Kazmir are gone leaving Justin Masterson as the lone ace of this staff. At 28, I can’t figure out if he is a work in progress or has peaked. One thing is for certain: when he is dominant, he is lights out as evidenced by his 3 complete games shutouts in 2013. The rest of the rotation is young and could be decent as Zach McAllister and Corey Kluber showed a lot of promise last season.
The bullpen remains the same mess it was before they let Chris Perez go. John Axford is no Rick Vaughn. The rest of the bullpen will struggle to close out games, but this team will win games off their bats alone. As long as no one steals Jobu’s rum that is.
Projected 2014 finsih: 85-77. To purchase tickets for any game click here.
2. The Kansas City Royals
(Covers.com has the O/U at 85.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 79-83)
The only promising stat to point out about the Royals’ playoff history is that the last time they made the playoffs they won the World Series. Unfortunately that was 1985. That drought ends this year as you are looking at one of this season’s AL Wild Card teams. You can ask Jay Scott, I have been hyping this team of youngsters for three years now, and finally it’s their turn.
The main reason this team will make the playoffs is because of the MVP performance Eric Hosmer is going to put together. I haven’t deemed him the AL MVP just yet because of Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera, but I’m tempted. He’s 24 now and he has teased us for a few years but he’s ready to become the team’s leader. The heart of this line-up is young but have been playing together for several years and are finally ready to click. Hosmer, Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez, and Mike Moustakas are primed and ready to take this franchise back to the playoffs. This is the stuff dreams are made of, kids. All five are homegrown talent, and aside from Perez, were top 15 picks in the first round of their respective drafts. They’ve made it to the bigs together and now they will make a run at the MLB playoffs.
The pitching staff is a bit shaky but they should be just fine. They are anchored by James Shields in a walk year so he is ready for a Cy Young-type season. Top prospect Yordano Ventura is making a very strong statement this spring to start the year in the rotation. The rest of the staff are crafty veterans (aka junk ballers) who seem to find ways to win.
The bullpen is strong as Greg Holland is one of the best closers in the biz. Set-up man Aaron Crow is a former All-Star. Wade Davis is a good swingman in case someone in the rotation suffers. Get ready Kaufman Krazies, it’s time to have fun again.
Projected 2014 finish: 90-72 AL Wild Card Team. For ticket information click here.
1. The Detroit Tigers
(Covers.com has the O/U at 91.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 88-74)
They lost Prince Fielder. They lost Doug Fister. They acquired Joba Chamberlian. Despite all of the negative offseason moves, the Tigers are just fine. It’s easy when you have the best hitter and pitcher in the AL.
Ian Kinsler comes to Detroit with a massive chip on his shoulder wishing an 0-162 on his former club. As long as he and Torii Hunter get on base regularly they will score a thousand runs with Miguel Cabrera right behind them. He is so good. You can put 8 shlubs on the field and as long as Cabrera is batting 3rd they will win games. The guy won a Triple Crown. That’s not a big deal for you old farts, but for me it’s the only one I have ever seen. For that reason, no matter how good Mike Trout is becoming, until Cabrera loses a limb, he’s still the best hitter in the game.
Then they have arguably the best pitcher in the game. Justin Verlander is silly good. He had a “down year” last season with 13 wins, 217 Ks and a 3.46 ERA. Read that again. He has four top-of-the-line pitches and a fastball that increases in speed later in games. Go ahead, read that one again, too. Following him in the rotation is reigning Cy Young Award winner Max Sherzer and behind him is reigning AL ERA Champion Anibal Snachez. Do the other two pitchers even matter in the rotation?
The biggest problem the Tigers have had the past few seasons (and probably the reason the haven’t won a World Series) was their bullpen. They fixed that problem by signing Joba Chamberlain from the Yankees. Ok, ok, I’m done with the Joba jokes. The Tigers now have Joe Nathan, who has averaged 40 saves a year the past two seasons, closing out games. Flamethrower Bruce Rondon will set him up and be ready to take the reigns when the 39-year old closer hangs it up. This team is making a deep run into October this year and I’ll probably lose more money to Ted Reed.
Projected 2014 finish: 98-64. AL Central Champs. For ticket information click here.