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Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Tight 2012 National League Cy Young Race

Pitching in the National League this season has seen its fair share of surprises; both the good and the bad. Former stalwarts have seen injury (Roy Halladay) and inexplicable decline (Tim Lincecum), but into those voids have stepped other hurlers looking to establish their own legacies. The result has been some inspired pitching, contributing to what looks to a tight race for the National League Cy Young Award. With half the season left to play there are still 10-12 pitchers who have positioned themselves as potential contenders for the hardware. They have the next three months to prove if their hot starts are the real deal and not just flukes. So far I see the race breaking down as follows:

1st- R.A. Dickey- New York Mets: In something that could not have been predicted at the beginning of the season, Dickey is looking strong as the current frontrunner for the NL Cy Young. His first half has been reminiscent of when Tim Wakefield first broke in with the Red Sox in 1995, and went 14-1 with a 1.65 ERA in his first 17 games. Dickey has been just as dominant in 2012, going 12-1 with a 2.15 ERA in 16 starts. He also leads the NL with 3 complete games and a 0.885 WHIP, while showing unheard of control and consistency for a knuckleballer. He is simply putting up video game numbers, even going through a month stretch where he didn’t allow an earned run. With the exception of a game against Atlanta in April, where he allowed 8 earned runs, his ERA on the season is a microscopic 1.57. The Mets are 14-2 in his starts, but just 28-34 in all other games, making him a viable MVP candidate as well.

2nd- Matt Cain- San Francisco Giants: Even with Cain’s excellent numbers and his perfect game where he struck out 14 he is still second on this list; although not too far behind. In 16 games the sturdy right-hander has posted a 9-3 record with a 2.53 ERA and 0.950 WHIP. He has struck out 114 in a league leading 113.2 innings, all while allowing just 85 hits. He has replaced Lincecum as the ace of the Giants and will be primarily responsible if the team makes this year’s playoffs. With a more traditional arsenal of pitches, he may be better equipped to sustain his production over the course of the season than Dickey, but still has other stuff competition in trying to capture his first Cy Young.

3rd- Stephen Strasburg- Washington Nationals: If Strasburg really is shut down after he hits the 160 inning mark his Cy Young candidacy will come to a screeching halt. However, with nothing yet being set in stone, and given what he has produced as of today, he is still very much in the conversation. The powerful righty is 9-2 in 15 starts, with a 2.60 ERA and a league leading 118 strikeouts in 90 innings. His filthy stuff is made even more intimidating by his excellent control, and he is more than capable of making a run that could leave his final numbers look even more ridiculous by the end of the year.

4th- James McDonald- Pittsburgh Pirates: Many believed that the Pirates would be an improved team this season, but their sustained success this late in the year has been a pleasant surprise. A major reason for their improvement has been the development of McDonald into a bonefide top-of-the-rotation starter. Now in his fifth major league season he finally appears to have tapped into his vast potential. In 15 starts he is 7-3, with a 2.44 ERA and a 0.979 WHIP. His won/loss record would be better if not for the anemic Pirates offense (the team has been shut out in all three of his losses). If the Pirates continue to linger near the top of the NL Central, it will only raise McDonald’s profile and make him an even more viable candidate if he keep pitching at a high level.

5th- Clayton Kershaw- Los Angeles Dodgers: If you only went by his 5-4 record, you might wonder why Kershaw is ranked so highly on this list, but looking at his other numbers will eradicate any doubt. He leads the NL with 102.1 innings, has a 2.74 ERA, 103 strikeouts, and a 1.043 WHIP. He gets the nod over Wade Miley for the fifth spot because he has thrown 18 more innings. Kershaw’s excellent season has been overshadowed somewhat by the team effort of the Dodgers, which has been one of the feel-good stories of the year. As one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball, Kershaw will be in the Cy Young conversation all year and is a near lock to get his numbers. He may not end up with 21 wins like 2011, but that stat doesn’t tell the entire story of a pitcher, so don’t sleep on his candidacy.

Still in the picture (in no particular order):  Gio Gonzalez, Lance Lynn, Cole Hamels, Ryan Dempster, Wade Miley, Zach Greinke, Chris Capuano, Johnny Cueto, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong, Craig Kimbrel.

The pitchers in my top five and those who didn’t quite make the list are proof positive that the National League has had a lot of great pitching so far in 2012. This season has already been described as the year of the pitcher, and the number of Cy Young contenders does nothing to refute that assertion. Whoever ultimately takes home the award is certain to have had an amazing season. With every pitcher on my list playing for a team in serious playoff contention, the stretch run will include some great pitching match-ups with a lot at stake- all to the benefit of us baseball fans.

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Friday, June 29, 2012

Rock Shoulders: The Player with the Coolest Name in the Minor Leagues

Check out my most recent contribution to; it's an interview with Chicago Cubs prospect Rock Shoulders, who has the coolest name in the minor leagues.


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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Meet Joe Sclafani, a New Draftee of the Houston Astros

Young baseball players considering playing collegiately for an Ivy League school have different factors to consider than other recruits. While Ivy League players will receive world class educations, they aren’t eligible for athletic scholarships. The level of competition can be high, but players often struggle to get the recognition needed to pursue opportunities at the next level. Despite these differences and challenges, there seems to be a near universal love of the experience, and every now and then a player gets a shot at the pros, with Dartmouth’s Joe Sclafani being one of the most recent examples.
 Sclafani, an athletic switch-hitting shortstop from Florida, crafted an epic four year career with the Big Green of Dartmouth College. He earned First Team All Ivy three times and was twice named his team’s MVP. In 172 career Dartmouth games he hit .326 with 11 home runs and 116 RBI. He left as the school’s all time leader in games played, walks, at bats, and assists, while ranking in their top three in a number of other categories.
Early June proved to be a whirlwind for Sclafani, as he graduated and was chosen in the 14th round of the MLB draft by the Houston Astros, all within the span of just a few days. Wanting to start his professional career as soon as possible, he signed quickly and was assigned to the Tri-Cty Valley Cats in the New York Penn League. With Houston in full-blown rebuilding mode, there should be plenty of opportunities for young players like Sclafani to impress to player development staff and move through the system.
I was able to meet Sclafani just before the start of his second professional game. He was clearly excited about his future and looking forward to seeing what the season has in store for him. To keep up with his progress, check out for updates on his stats and team’s record.
Joe Sclafani Interview:
How did you first become interested in baseball?: When I was a little kid, less than two probably, my dad put a bat in my hands and we started playing catch. Ever since then I fell in love with it and it’s always been my first passion.
Who were your favorite team and player growing up and why?: It was the Yankees and Toni Martinez.

How did you end up attending Dartmouth College?: I’m from Florida. I went to a bunch of showcases and my parents spent a ton of money. I went to Perfect Game stuff and then I went to the Head First showcases, which is where I did well, and is where kids who did well on SATs go. A lot of the best schools in the country academically go there. I happened to have a couple of good showings and I heard from pretty much all of the Ivy League schools. My last four were Dartmouth, Columbia, Yale, and Fordham. I wound up visiting Dartmouth and fell in love with it and the rest is history.
Can you run through what your draft day experience was like?: It was great. I had heard from a few teams and I knew there was a chance I would go, but the process is so uncertain. I was really anxious. I didn’t think my name would be called on the second day, so I wasn’t even watching it. Then the area scout called me from the Astros and said they were thinking about taking me in the 14th or 15th round. A couple of my friends found out and came over. We were still in school because we just had graduation this past Sunday (June 10th). After that I got a million calls and text messages and congratulations. It was a really special experience.

After you got drafted did the Astros give you any sort of plan or idea of what their development plan is for you?: I really didn’t hear too much honestly coming out of it. I know I am older under baseball standards, so I knew they would probably put me in this league or rookie ball. I think they want me to just keep progressing physically and getting stronger and quicker; really refining my skills and becoming as good as I can be.
What thoughts were going through your head after playing in your first professional game, against the Vermont Lake Monsters, on June 18th?: Surprisingly I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I was going to be. Once I got that first ground ball out of the way in the second inning, it was just baseball, a game I have played thousands of times. But it was pretty special and a dream come true. It’s everything you work towards for your entire life and to be able to do it is a lot of fun.


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Monday, June 25, 2012

Looking Back on Kevin Youkilis' Career with the Boston Red Sox

Baseball trades often leave fans feeling reflective; in the way one may have felt after having a good friend move away during grade school. Sunday’s announcement that the Red Sox had sent corner infielder Kevin Youkilis to the White Sox in a glorified roster purge to get full time at bats for rookie phenom Will Middlebrooks led me to experience those thoughts and emotions first-hand.

Some of my first impressions of Youkilis included wondering how such an unathletic looking specimen could last in the majors, and why fans kept booing him every time he came to the plate. As it turned out appearances can be deceiving and fans weren’t booing; they were simply calling out “Yoouukk,” an endearing refrain that became a Boston staple over the next eight and a half years.

Except for a .299 career minor league batting average and a propensity for drawing walks that led him to acquire the moniker of “The Greek God of Walks” in Michael Lewis’ iconic book Moneyball, nothing really stood out about Youkilis. In the intensely charged baseball town of Boston being so vanilla can make things even harder for players trying to establish themselves. As it turned out, Youkilis became a rare exception; a lunch pail player who carved out a niche with the Red Sox with his intense and effective play.

In looking back I realized that although Youkilis became a “star” with Boston, he never really quite fit in the way most prominent players do. Fans got a kick out of the doughy guy with the funny name, who managed to play some pretty darn good baseball. They seemed to appreciate the production that seemingly came in spite of what they expected he should be capable of. Even former manager Terry Francona affirmed such thoughts when he once famously scoffed at Youk’s nickname, telling reporters, “I’ve seen him in the shower, and he’s not the Greek god of anything.”

Youkilis’ inability to fit in was perhaps most visible with his teammates. When he came up as a rookie it was with the infamous “Idiots” of 2004. Between the idolatry of the perfectly coifed messianic caveman, Johnny Damon, and the panache of sluggers Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, Youk looked downright plain in comparison. He had no dominant skill, but played good defense, could hit a little, and was capable of occasional power. As he put in more seasons in Boston and his skills became more refined, he never assumed the mantle of a team leader. Ortiz has been the primary face of the franchise for much of Youk’s career, and when players like Damon and Ramirez left, their void was filled by the likes of younger players like Dustin Pedroia.

Perhaps Youkilis never became more of a leader because of his relationships with his teammates. Earlier in his career he was famously chastised for being too intense in the dugout after his at-bats that didn’t go well, as teammates grew tired of helmets and coolers ricocheting about the dugout. Youk also got into an altercation with Manny Ramirez in 2008, and in 2010 publically questioned the commitment of Jacoby Ellsbury, who missed the majority of that season with injury. Although nothing was ever confirmed, Youkilis was also whispered to be the player Josh Beckett angrily called out as the “clubhouse snitch” after “Chicken and Beer-Gate” this past year. Finally, new manager Bobby Valentine shocked many by announcing shortly after the start of this season that he felt his struggling third baseman wasn’t as invested in the game as he needed to be. Clubhouse politics are always a murky business, so these issues may lack the proper context required to fully know the true impact they had on Youkilis’ role with the team.

At the end of the day, you would be hard-pressed to indentify another player who played as intensely as Youkilis during his near decade career in Boston. He was part of two World Series winning teams, was a three time all-star, and consistently ranked among the more under-appreciated players in baseball. He never became a superstar and he never set any records, but he was an anchor for some great teams, and most important was the tangibility of how much he cared.  He was nothing special all while being quite special. There have been few players in the history of the Red Sox who brought as much as Youkilis, and no matter how much his final season with the team fizzled, it’s sad to see him go, and like all good friends he will be missed.


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Friday, June 22, 2012

Early Thoughts on the 2012 NL Rookie of the Year Race

Last week I outlined how the American League Rookie of the Year race is shaping up and now it’s the National League’s turn. While the NL has also introduced a strong crop of rookies this year, the level of production has not been quite as high as their AL counterparts. Bryce Harper has gotten the lion’s share of the attention, but he is not alone when it comes to the young talent making their mark. With so many of these rookies playing pivotal roles for playoff contenders, their continued success will be crucial in determining if their team is playing come October. My top 2012 NL rookies to date are as follows:

1. Bryce Harper- Outfielder- Washington Nationals: This shouldn't come as a surprise, as Harper has been one of the more ballyhooed prospects in recent memory and has so far lived up the hype. Not only is he the rookie who has had the most impact in the NL, but he has done so as a 19 year old. Having been on the baseball radar since he was literally a middle school student, he has done a remarkable job of living up to the massive expectations heaped on his shoulders at such a young age. Not only has he done a fine job playing all over the Washington outfield, but he has hit .287 in 47 games, with a .875 OPS, 7 home runs, and 20 RBI, while taking walks and limiting his strikeouts a little more than many expected. Most believed that he was capable of big numbers, but few can claim that they thought he would be playing with such control and poise this early in his major league career. His play will be even more important if Stephen Strasburg is shut down in August as currently planned, and could be a key factor in determining whether or not the Nats make the playoffs. 

2. Randall Delgado- Pitcher- Atlanta Braves: Delgado has consistently been placed third by talent evaluators when discussing the trio of fellow young Brave pitchers, which includes Julio Teheran and Arodys Vizcaino. However, it is Delgado who has enjoyed the most major league success to date. Just 22, the right-handed Panamanian has settled in as a mainstay in the middle of the Atlanta rotation. In 13 starts he has gone 4-7 with a 4.12 ERA. He has been hurt at times by his inconsistent control, as evidenced by the 37 walks he has issued in 74.1 innings, but his 60 strikeouts and 62 hits allowed are all encouraging signs of good things to come if he continues to develop and adjust. Now that Brandon Beachy is out for the remainder of the season, Atlanta will lean even more heavily on Delgado.

3. Wilin Rosario- Catcher- Colorado Rockies: On one hand it’s difficult to get excited over a hitter with a .274 OBP, but on the other, when that player is a 23 year old catcher on pace for 26 home runs, you have to take notice. Rosario is hitting .238 in 46 games, with 11 home runs and 32 RBI, making him one of the top offensive catchers in the majors. But with only 7 walks, he clearly needs to develop more plate discipline. The good news is that his production has not been inflated by Coors Field, as he sports a .295/.333/.590 line on the road. Rosario currently leads the NL with 9 passed balls, but has otherwise shown solid defensive skills while catching perhaps the worst pitching staff in the majors. With the Rockies languishing 16 games back in the NL West, Rosario should get plenty of playing time the rest of the way.

4. Kirk Nieuwenhuis- Outfielder- New York Mets: The loss of Jose Reyes and the disappointing production from Jason Bay and Ike Davis has made a punchless Mets’ offense even more meager in 2012. Fortunately they have received an unexpected contribution from the big left-handed hitting Nieuwenhuis, who has played all over their outfield and more than held his own at the plate. In 68 games he is hitting .284 with 6 home runs and 24 RBI.  His numbers may not be setting any records, but the versatility he affords the Mets in playing all three outfield positions and hit all over the lineup has made him extremely valuable and helped keep them in playoff contention.

5. Zach Cozart-Shortstop- Cincinnati Reds: Many evaluators pegged Cozart as a frontrunner for this year’s rookie of the year before the season started. He has never profiled as a potential star, but rather is regarded as a solid player who can do a little of everything. His 2012 season has personified that reputation. Playing great defense shortstop for the first place Reds, Cozart has also shown a little pop at the plate, smacking 7 home runs in 65 games. He is hitting a modest .262 with 57 strikeouts, but has proven to be a capable starter in the competitive NL Central.

Honorable Mention: Todd Frazier, Jared Hughes, Norichika Aoki, Jordan Pacheco, Matt Carpenter

Like their AL counterparts, the 2012 crop of NL rookies boasts some impressive players; some of whom are major factors in their respective teams’ pennant hopes. Whereas the AL youngsters have been dominated by pitchers, the NL group has been defined by position players. The true test of their abilities will come as it gets deeper into the season and it is determined if they can sustain or improve their production, and possibly help their teams into the playoffs; all of which I am looking forward to seeing the final results.


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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Johnny Monell: Trying to Catch With the Majors

Becoming a good baseball player is a tall task in and of itself, but my money is on catcher being the most difficult position for a young player to learn. Not only must they learn to play defense, but they must also become an expert handler of a pitching staff, all while trying to master their own hitting. Thus, it is little wonder that teams covet skilled receivers so much. While the San Francisco Giants already have star catcher Buster Posey, the horrific injury he suffered last year showed how important it is to have depth, and Johnny Monell is being counted on to assume that role.

Monell picked up baseball from his father Johnny, who had a 15 year professional career in the minors, Mexican, and independent leagues as an outfielder. However, the younger Monell chose his own path, becoming a lefty hitting catcher while growing up in the Bronx. By the time he graduated from Christopher Columbus High School in 2005 he was being tracked by major league teams and was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the 27th round of that year’s draft, but he decided to attend Seminole Community College in Florida instead of signing. The next year the Mets took him in the 49th round, but he again declined to sign. Finally, after the Giants chose him in the 30th round in 2007, he signed and began his professional career.

Defense is the strongest part of Monell’s game, though he has also shown some pop in his bat. His best season came in 2010, when he hit a combined .273 with 19 home runs and 71 RBI between High-A and Triple-A. He is playing this season in Double-A with the Richmond Flying Squirrels, and trying to prove that he is ready for the majors. He has started slowly at the plate, hitting just .196 with 4 home runs, but has been playing his typical stellar defense and even mixing in some games at first base. For more information on his statistics, please check out

I had a chance to touch base with Monell before this season. It’s obvious that he loves his career and is looking forward to seeing if he can earn his way to the majors. If you want to keep up with him as he continues his season, make sure to follow him on Twitter.

Johnny Monell Interview:

Who were your favorite team and player when you were growing up, and why?: I would have to say the New York Yankees; just living blocks from the stadium at a very young age. I grew up in the Bronx. They always had great players to come in and play, plus the old Yankee Stadium was a cathedral of baseball.

Your dad played professional baseball for many years; can you talk about the experiences you had because of that?: Wow, there's so many. Basically, growing up in clubhouse all over and having him around helps me a lot. I ask him lots of questions and he always talks about his former teammates. But I would say having him on my side is awesome. He is someone who has seen a lot throughout his career and being able to pass down tips and just being able to talk about the game. 

Can you describe what your draft experience was like?: Well, after being drafted three times, it was a matter of knowing and self evaluating if I was ready to play pro ball. I would say the first time I was drafted in 2005, it was awesome, just because not too many kids from the inner city or even the Bronx get seen! Scouts hardly came. That year we had some really good ball players that got drafted or looked at to go to good universities. It was a blessing and a humbling experience.

How did you make the decision to not sign the first two times you were drafted?: Just knowing if I was ready. Having my dad kind of helped with my decision. Getting my education done was really big, especially with my mom saying how school is important. So I decided to go ahead and go to college and it simply worked out.  Two drafts later I have my degree and had some solid years playing pro bal,l so everything just came together and worked out great!

What steps do you take to provide more off-field comfort during the minor league season (food, toys, anything else to keep you sane and not bored, etc...)?: Haha. I try to keep up with the latest movies, shows, and music, so my Hulu and Netflix accounts get abused!!

Who has been your most influential coach or manager?: Wow, that’s a very hard question! Very hard! There have been so many coaches that I have been around and that I've worked with. I would have to say Brian Harper and Tom Trebelhorn, and may he rest in peace, Buddy Paine. He was a scout when I was in high school, and he put us inner city kids on the map. He did a lot for us, and I will never forget that man!

What do you think you need to work on the most to best prepare you for the major leagues?: I would say just to be a consistent all around player, whether it's defense or hitting. But I know defensively is where I need to get better, and I know I have been. I just have to continue to make strides and show people I can play at the major league level.

How much do you think about whether you will make the major leagues one day?: I think about it every day. I want that opportunity. I'm hungry!!! I want to play at the highest level of baseball. It's a dream and it's a goal, and I will continue to work hard to deserve that opportunity and help a team win! 


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Monday, June 18, 2012

Steven Souza Embraces the Bumps on His Road to the Majors

Young baseball player rarely enter the professional ranks and have success from the beginning. More typical are the ups and downs that build character and help determine if a player is cut out to be a major leaguer. Washington Nationals prospect Steven Souza has experienced that all first-hand and is starting to come out on the other side, while realizing his excellent potential.

The Nationals took Souza as an infielder in the third round of the 2007 draft out of Cascade High School in Washington. The right-handed hitter immediately flashed his diverse talent of power and speed, but was unable to put everything together, hitting just .194 and .213 respectively in his first two professional seasons. His struggles continued in 2009, as he stole 25 bases, but hit .237 with 116 strikeouts in 126 games with Class-A Hagerstown.

2010 ended up being a turning point for Souza in more ways than one. He stayed with Hagerstown, and while he still struggled with his average (.231), he had 11 home runs, 56 RBI, and 18 steals in 81 games. On July 15th it was announced that he had tested positive for substances on baseball’s banned list and was suspended for 50 games, effectively ending his season and disrupting any progress he had made.

Such a public discipline would completely derail many young players, but Souza decided to view it as an opportunity. He was rusty upon his return in 2011, hitting just .228, with 11 home runs and 25 steals for High-A Potomac.

In 2012 he was moved to the outfield to take advantage of his athleticism, and his game finally seems to be coming together. He is once again back with Hagerstown, but is finally clicking on all cylinders. In 44 games he is hitting .297 with 9 home runs and 40 RBI. It should be only a matter of time before he is promoted to see if he can sustain his success at the next level.

Before this season started Souza chatted with me about baseball. If you want to see what he is up to the rest of this season and beyond, make sure to also give him a follow on Twitter.  

Steven Souza Interview:

Who were your favorite team and player when you were growing up, and why?: My favorite team was the Seattle Mariners because it is my home town and I enjoyed watching them very much. However, my favorite player was Eric Chavez, for his gifted glove and his smooth swing!

Did you ever consider college ball, and if so, what made you decide to turn pro?: Yes, I did consider college. I had a scholarship for baseball to Washington State University. I chose professional baseball instead because I wanted the best coaching I could have right out of high school. I figured I was young and could get a jump start on everyone!

Can you describe what your draft experience was like?: The draft was by far one of the craziest, yet, exciting times of my life. There were a lot of people over at my house that day, all watching MLB Network and anxiously awaiting my name to be called, as we knew it was going to be somewhere between the second and third round. The Nationals at pick 80 asked me if I would sign at 100, and the rest is history.

After you signed, did you do anything to treat yourself or celebrate with family/friends?: I didn't do anything crazy. God has always taught me to be humble with my money; not running around buying needless junk. The fulfillment was me receiving an opportunity like nothing else; not money.

What has been your favorite moment so far in your career?: My favorite moment would have to be my 50 game suspension. I know that's not what you'd expect, but it's made me not only a better teammate but a more understanding person because of it. I've been shaped today by God through the experiences I've had in my life and I wouldn't take back a single one.

Who has been your most influential manager or coach?: That’s hard because I've been blessed with so many great coaches. But if I were to choose one, Jeff Garber has been a light in my life and a guide through my career. He has helped me so much with in-fielding and throwing I can't even begin to thank him. He also knows who I am as a person, understands me, and we communicate a lot better because of it.

What is spring training like for a minor league player?: Spring training isn't terrible if you enjoy working. There is a lot of work to be done in spring, starting with early work at 8, and ending with late work. Personally I like being around all the players; I enjoy getting up early and breaking a sweat. It's a great time to rebuild.
How closely do you follow the transaction of the Nationals and of the affiliate teams above where you are playing?: Unless it is one of my friends involved I have no idea what goes on with the transactions. Now it hasn't always been this way, but I've learned to keep my focus on what I can control and that is staying focused on God and on the field.


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Friday, June 15, 2012

Early Thoughts on the 2012 AL Rookie of the Year Race

While still early, the 2012 major league baseball season is now more than a third over, and many rookies have made intentions about being up to stay clear through their play. It’s never too early to start speculating about the Rookie of the Year race, and the American League has a number of impressive candidates. Not only are these rookies putting up excellent numbers, but they are also making crucial contributions to the pennant hopes of their respective teams. I have gone through who I believe are the current front runners and put them in ranked order. Although my order may change as the season goes on, indications are good that these players represent the next generation of stars for the AL.

1. Mike Trout- Outfielder- Los Angeles Angels: Despite the excellent production from the other players on this list, Trout is currently the top rookie in the league by a healthy margin. Having been described as the closest thing to a young Mickey Mantle is a testament to how impressive Trout truly has been this season. In 42 games he is hitting .341 with 6 home runs, 26 RBI, and 16 stolen bases, all while playing breathtaking defense in center field. The Angels, who started this year in miserable fashion, were rejuvenated when Trout was summoned from the minors in late April, and have made up an impressive amount of ground on the front running Texas Rangers.

2. Felix Doubront- Pitcher- Boston Red Sox: Coming out of spring training there was uncertainty if Doubront would even make the team, let alone the starting rotation. Thus, it is more than a little surprising that he has been the most consistent starter for the frustrating and injury-bitten Red Sox. In 13 starts he has posted a 7-3 record with a 4.17 ERA. Most surprisingly are the 81 strikeouts he has collected in his 73.1 innings. He has commanded his low 90’s fastball better than his previous major league stints and has developed more bite on his slider, giving him swing and miss ability. Almost overnight his ceiling looks like it has increased from a long man/end of rotation starter to a solid number 3. 

3. Yu Darvish- Pitcher- Texas Rangers: Like all other super hyped players who have come from Japan, Darvish arrived in Arlington with huge expectations. Although he has had some rough moments, particularly with his control, he has mostly lived up to his big contract and assumed his place at the head of the Rangers’ starting rotation. He is 7-4 in 12 starts, with a 3.72 ERA. His 77 strikeouts have been offset by the 44 walks he has allowed, but his pure stuff has gotten him out of trouble more often than not. It will be interesting to see if he can maintain or even improve his performance as the long, hot Texas summer wears on. If he can, the Rangers are good bets to make a return to the World Series and place Darvish on baseball’s biggest stage.

4. Wei-Yin Chen- Pitcher- Baltimore Orioles: Chen represents something the Orioles have seemingly lacked for years; a competent starting pitcher. He doesn’t have overwhelming stuff, but is a battler and keeps his team in games. The Taiwanese lefty has been a big part of the Orioles’ hot start, going 6-2, with a 3.68 ERA in 12 starts. He doesn’t profile as an ace of the future, but should settle nicely into the midst of the Baltimore rotation, as the team hopes the likes of Dylan Bundy and Brian Matusz develop into their bulls.

5. Addison Reed- Pitcher- Chicago White Sox: Any pitcher who approaches 100 mph with their fastball are bound to garner attention, but Reed has been a bit of an enigma. In college he was overshadowed by his teammate Stephen Strasburg, and in Chicago, power lefty Chris Sale gets a lot of the attention. Despite the lack of adulation, Reed quickly worked his way through the minors and this year has stepped into the closer role in Chicago for a team that has surprised baseball by bounding out of the gate in first place in the Al Central. In 24 relief appearances he has converted all seven of his save opportunities. His 4.35 ERA is inflated by one bad outing he had in May against the Royals, where he gave up 6 earned runs in one inning. Without that game his season ERA would be a sparkling 1.88. He has effectively closed the door in the 9th inning for the White Sox, and if they end up making the post season he will be a major reason for their success.
      Honorable Mention: Jarrod Parker, Drew Smyly, Yoenis Cespedes, Will Middlebrooks

Can these rookies keep it up? As the season moves along, will they fade or will they turn it up another notch? Such questions are great reasons to keep watching to see who ends up at the top of the heap and who can help their team get into the postseason. Regardless of such outcomes, the American League has a bumper crop of 2012 rookies and they are a major reason to keep watching the rest of the season.


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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Reviewing The Baseball Hall of Shame: The Best of Blooperstown

Let’s face it; for many of us baseball fans the game is not always about who won or lost. It’s about the story and the journey of our favorite teams and players, which are comprised of plays; the unusual, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Perhaps more than any other sport baseball has a tradition of the bizarre that both captivates and delights its fans. You will find no better compilation of these moments than in The Baseball Hall of Shame: The Best of Blooperstown, the recent work of Bruce Nash and Allan Zullo through Lyons Press.

Between 1985 and 1992 Nash and Zullo published regular installments of Baseball Hall of Shame, digging up a compendium of wacky and unusual plays from baseball past. The Best of Blooperstown takes the best of their past work and combines it with some choice stories that have occurred within the past 20 years and other gems they have since uncovered. It is a terrific blend of outrageous moments in baseball, from the origins of the pro game until the present. Their stories ranging from the incredible to the hilarious include:

·     -  Dizzy Dean, who got so upset when the New York Giants scored seven runs off him in one inning that he came back and hit seven batters in a row during the next frame. Such competitiveness was even stranger because it happened during an exhibition game.

·     -  The wacky Jackie Price, who was known in the minors for taking batting practice while dangling upside down and suspended from a support by his ankles. His brief time in the majors came to an end in 1947 while with the Cleveland Indians after causing an uproar by letting a number of his pet snakes loose aboard a train during a road trip.

·     -  Legendary Brooklyn Dodger manager Wilbert Robinson tried to make headlines during spring training in 1915 by boasting he could catch a baseball dropped from an airplane. Pranksters on his team substituted a grapefruit for the ball and when it exploded into his glove, the pulpy aftermath momentarily terrified Robinson, who believed he had suffered a terrible injury.

Reading The Best of Blooperstown was particularly nostalgic for me. Not only was I a regular reader of the original series, but it is reminiscent of Mel Allen’s This Week in Baseball, a television show that captured the best and the worst in baseball every week. Nash and Zullo allow what people love about baseball to shine through, letting the reader temporarily escape the endless stories of high dollar contracts, performance enhancers, and controversy that pervade the headlines on a daily basis. That is not to say that this is a book meant for children, because it’s not. While the writing style can certainly be handled by the younger set, it also holds plenty of appeal for the grown-ups too. The only requirement to read this book is being a fan of baseball. As long as you meet that standard the entire time you spend reading The Best of Blooperstown you will likely have a smile on your face and remember why you fell in love with the game in the first place.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of the book being reviewed by the publisher, but received no payment or other consideration for this review.


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Monday, June 11, 2012

Jose Cruz Jr. is Still Carrying on His Family's Baseball Legacy

Talented baseball players who have fathers who played in the major are often viewed as the gold standard when evaluating player development. On top of their innate ability, the access to elite instruction and being exposed to what it takes to be a big leaguer puts them at a major advantage over other prospects. The career of Ken Griffey Jr. exemplifies why teams covet this type of young player, prompting his initial team, the Seattle Mariners to pursue another high profile progeny shortly after “The Kid” became a star. That player was Jose Cruz, Jr., and he also went on to show why such a drafting strategy is wise.

The elder Jose Cruz was a two time All-Star outfielder for the Cardinals, Astros, and Yankees, and collected 2,251 hits during a 19 year major league career that finished following the 1988 season. His son, Jose Jr. was chip off the old block from the beginning, compiling an epic tenure as an outfielder with Rice University, where he was an All-American in each of his three seasons and left as one of the top prospects in the 1995 MLB draft. As a power hitting switch hitter, who played excellent defense, Cruz Jr. was a rare five tool talent that teams love to project. Thus, it was no surprise when the Mariners took him with the 3rd overall pick.

Cruz Jr. made quick work of the minors and made his major league debut on May 31, 1997. He joined a team known for its offense, with their lineup boasting Griffey, Jr., Jay Buhner, Edgar Martinez, and a young Alex Rodriguez among others. Cruz Jr. fit right in, hitting 12 home runs in 49 games, but received shocking news at that year’s trade deadline. The Mariners were fighting for the division lead and the playoffs, but didn’t have the pitching staff to match their lineup. They paid a steep price to fix that by sending Cruz to the Toronto Blue Jays for young pitcher Paul Spoljaric and established reliever Mike Timlin in an effort to shore up their bullpen. The Mariners ended up making the playoffs, but lost in the first round, while Cruz Jr. went on to enjoy a productive 12 year major league career.

Cruz Jr. established himself in Toronto, playing seven and a half years and hitting as many as 34 home runs in a season. He also played with the Giants, Devil Rays, Diamondbacks, Red Sox, Dodgers, Padres, and Astros before retiring following the 2008 season. He played a total of 1,388 major league games, hitting .247 with 204 home runs and 624 RBI and was known as an excellent defensive outfielder. More information about his career statistics is available at

Even in retirement Cruz Jr. is still involved in the game, serving as an analyst for He has thoroughly enjoyed his time in the game and now acts as an ambassador in educating others about baseball. Despite his busy in-season schedule, he recently answered some questions I had about his career. If you want to keep up with him after checking out our interview, make sure to also give him a follow on Twitter, where he provides great daily baseball coverage.

Jose Cruz, Jr. Interview:

Can you describe some of your thoughts on having a father who played major league ball and how that impacted your childhood?: My father impacted my life in all aspects. He created my beliefs on how you should play the game. On him being an MLB player, I didn’t realize how special his career was until I started getting closer to the majors; then it became something really special.

What was your draft experience like with the Mariners?: I was one of the most exciting times of my life; something I had been working towards for about eight years. The Mariners were great.

Despite being drafted so highly, how difficult was it to do the work and play the games necessary to make the majors? Did you ever have to fight through any self doubt?: It was extremely difficult. It took a lot of work, focus, and belief. There are a lot of great players in the minors. The difference is in the mental part. I had a moment in 1999 that I wasn’t sure how I was ever going to hit again.

How surprising was it to be drafted so highly by Seattle and then get traded midway through your first MLB season?: The getting drafted part was awesome. The getting traded part was devastating. I thought I was going to be a Mariner forever, but you learn quick that the majors is a business. It was a blessing though; Toronto was great for me.

What was your favorite moment from your playing career?: There are a lot of them. I hit a few walk-offs and those were great. I thought playing in the WBC was the funnest baseball experience I had as a pro.

If you could do anything differently about your playing career, what would that be?: I would have accepted the o-fers a lot better and I would have stuck with my hitting approach more.  
Who was your favorite coach or manager?: Cito Gaston, Jim Tracy, and Lloyd Moseby. 

Besides the pay, what was the best part of being able to play professional baseball for a living?: The preparation for the game, the inner circle of the clubhouse, and the succeeding at the game of baseball was the best.  


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Friday, June 8, 2012

Christian Colon: Chats Royals and Baseball

A long spate of losing seasons has put the Kansas City Royals in the position of drafting high in the MLB drafts over the past two-plus decades. However, it has only been recently that the organization has been recognized for accumulating one of the best collections of prospects in the game, with the hope that enough of them will blossom into players capable of leading the major league team out of the second division. With Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer having graduated to man the corner spots at the big league level, the Royals are hoping that someone will emerge to claim the middle of the infield, a notorious weakness for years. As things currently stand, it looks like shortstop Christian Colon might be that player.

Colon was born in Puerto Rico, but because of his father’s job in pharmaceuticals, moved frequently throughout his childhood. He even played ball for three different high schools, in Texas, Utah, and California, and was a star wherever he played. The right-handed hitter was chosen as the MVP of the Aflac All-American High School Baseball Classic in 2006 and batted .435 as a senior in 2007, prompting his selection by the San Diego Padres in the 10th round of that year’s MLB draft. Colon was already committed to attend Cal-State Fullerton and passed up on starting his professional career in favor of college.

The decision to attend college was a good one for Colon. He was an All-American and joined the U.S. National team, becoming the first player in the history of the Collegiate National Team to be named a captain. In 2009 he appeared in 23 games in for the U.S., hitting .459 with 5 home runs, 31 RBI, and 24 stolen bases. Following his junior season in 2010, he was viewed as one of the most complete players in college and was chosen by the Royals with the 4th pick in the first round of that year’s draft.

Some critics initially decried the Royals’ selection of Colon, believing that his potential to become anything more than a solid player was limited. The Royals were happy with their choice, knowing that they had acquired one of the hardest working and most focused players in the draft. Colon has done little to disappoint thus far in his professional career. He has put up two solid, yet unspectacular seasons in High-A and Double-A, and is off to a nice start in Double-A in 2012. You can check out his numbers at His game is one centered on doing a little bit of everything well. His ceiling is likely that of a .275 hitter with 15 home runs and 20 stolen bases; production the Royals would gladly take from the shortstop position.

Colon chatted with me prior to the start of the season about his time with the Royals and his hopes for the future. You can also give him a follow on Twitter and follow him as he nears the culmination his goal of making the major leagues.

Christian Colon Interview:

Who were your favorite team and player when you were growing up, and why?: I didn't really follow teams. I would follow players. My favorite players growing up were Roberto Alomar and Derek Jeter because they are the type of player I will want to become one day.

How did you know that the Royals were interested in you?: I actually didn't know, but I knew they have always had interest since high school. They were the first team to call me out of high school, so that was very cool! Great organization!

Can you describe what your draft day experience was like?: OMG, my day of the draft was amazing best day of my life. I was with most of my teammates at my apartment. We had to play that night for the regional’s, so I told them along with my family that I would only watch the first five picks, then we had to go. Well I got picked and everyone went nuts and crying.

How difficult is it to stand out in an organization with so much young talent?: Not difficult at all because they know who I am and what I can do, and I have been doing everything I can to win and show them I am a winner.

What do you consider to be the best attributes you bring to a baseball team?: I am a baseball player and I can bring a lot to a team. My defense and my offense are there, but one tool that many scouts didn't see was my ability to lead by example, and determination to be great and be a big leaguer.

If you could do anything differently about your baseball career to date, what would that be?: I don't think I would change anything about my baseball career honestly.

Have you gotten any instruction or advice from guys like Frank White or George Brett?: Oh yes, from both of those guys. They are awesome to be around and hear all of their stories! They pretty much say to trust your abilities!

Can you run through what a typical day is like for you during the season?: Wake up, go lift, then hit, throw, and eat lunch. Then run again and hang out. For more info, check out my website More details there! Thank you!


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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Red Sox Better Be In It For The Long Haul With Daniel Bard

Earlier this year the Boston Red Sox went all in gambling that Daniel Bard could be converted from one of the best setup men in the game to an effective starter.  Nobody expected it to be a flawless transition, and while there have been some highs, there have also been many lows, particularly in recent games. Now that it is 10 starts into the experiment, the Red Sox and their fans are wondering if it was the right move to make and what the future now holds for Bard.

In 11 games (10 starts) this season Bard has gone 5-6 with a 5.24 ERA. Although he has only allowed 52 hits in 55 innings, he has struck out just 34, while walking an alarming 37 batters. At times his wildness has been so great that it appears he doesn’t know where the ball is going on any given pitch. This was most noticeable during his last start on June 3rd against the Blue Jays, when he walked 6 and hit 2 batters before departing after 1.2 innings in what turned out to be a 5-1 loss. It marked the 6th time in his 10 starts that he has walked at least 4 batters; a bad sign for a pitcher who struggled so much with control earlier in his career.

It will be interesting to see how the Red Sox handle Bard moving forward. For now, barring a complete meltdown, he is a near lock to remain in the starting rotation. Other than the impending return of Daisuke Matsuzaka, who has consistently been giving up home runs and experiencing setbacks in the high minors during his rehab, the Red Sox have precious few other options. The team would also like to see Bard succeed as a starter, given his top-flight talent, but he has yet to do anything to back up their faith. Somehow they must help him tame his wildness and instill a swagger needed by all successful starters.

Part of what made Bard such an effective reliever was how his stuff played up in shorter spurts. His fastball ran 96-99, which when combined with a breaking ball that occasionally flashes plus, and an average changeup, made him a terror in the late innings. As a starter his secondary stuff has remained the same, but his fastball now sits at 92-94, which is nothing to sneeze at, but can hardly be classified as special. For the first time in his major league career he needs to know how to pitch with his stuff, as opposed to being able to simply overwhelm hitters with natural ability.

Granted, 10 starts is a relatively small sample size, but there is no doubt that Bard is struggling; primarily with his control and confidence. Having to adjust and get better in the midst of an American League East race is tall task for any player, let alone one facing the challenges of Bard. What unfolds during the remainder of the season will not only be a testament to his competiveness and determination, but also the effectiveness of the Red Sox staff in helping the pitcher break through to the other side.

Fans may be clamoring for Bard to return to the bullpen, but that is no magical elixir. If anything, yo-yoing him between roles would only complicate his situation at this point. If he can get his head on straight, there is no reason he can’t become a solid starter for the long term. For that to happen, the Red Sox need to commit to being in the process for the long haul. It may not be popular right now, but since Boston decided to make Bard a starter, their mantra going forward has to be in for a penny, in for a pound.


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Monday, June 4, 2012

Bruce Spitzer Brings Teddy Ballgame Back to Life

Ted Williams remains as much of a mythic figure in death as he was as a player. His stubborn personality and astonishing ability to hit a baseball made him an object of curiosity, admiration, and occasional scorn. This only grew in the wake of Williams’ death in 2002 when news leaked that he had been cryogenically frozen by two of his children; a shocking state of purgatory for such a legend. Author Bruce Spitzer has just released a new book, Extra Innings, which adds a new chapter and then some to the ongoing saga of Teddy Ballgame.

Extra Innings explores what happens in 2092, when Williams, through the ingenuity of cryogenics is brought back to life and resumes his baseball career with the Red Sox. Dick Flavin, the poet laureate of the Red Sox describes the book with gusto, "He’s baaack!  Ninety years after his death Teddy Ballgame retakes center stage, swinging a bat for the Red Sox, flying jets for the Marines and swearing up a blue streak. If you like baseball, science fiction, or a good thriller, Extra Innings is the book for you. It is Shoeless Joe Hardy meets Isaac Asimov.  No need to wait to see if the science of cryonics will bring Ted Williams back to life. Bruce Spitzer already has."

Most baseball fans have a player from the past that they would love to see play for the first time or perhaps one final game. For me, Ted Williams is near the top of my list. Thus it is with great anticipation that I look forward to reading Extra Innings and experiencing that thrill through the imagination of Spitzer. The author recently took a little time out to answer some questions about his new book and how he came to write about such a unique topic. Make sure to pick up a copy and check out the story for yourself today!

Bruce Spitzer Interview:

Extra Innings is your first novel. How did you hit upon such a unique idea/story?: I have a degree in journalism and I have been a business writer my entire life. One night six years ago I was watching a Red Sox game and the announcers were talking about Ted Williams. In between innings I was doing a little channel surfing and landed on something like Discovery or the History Channel and they were doing a show about mummies and an afterlife. I put two and two together: the thought about the real-life cryonic preservation of Ted Williams and then I began to imagine a second life for him. Thus the premise for Extra Innings was born.

What is your background with baseball and more specifically the Red Sox?: I played the game only as a boy but I’ve been a baseball fan my entire life. I’ve circled around the Red Sox for a long time. In my day job, in addition to being the editor of a magazine, I’m a PR executive. I know sports reporters. I’ve run promotions with Red Sox players, been in the dugout, the clubhouse, and I’ve sat just about everywhere in the park, from luxury boxes to centerfield bleachers to on top of the Green Monster. My favorite thing in the world is to take my son to a game. After awhile Fenway gets into your blood. But I revere the broader baseball world as well. (I made sure to take my son to the old Yankee Stadium before it closed.) That respect for the history of the game plays out in Extra Innings and it is why it appeals to any baseball fan, not just those from Red Sox Nation.

What has the response been like so far for Extra Innings?: It’s been great. It seems to have caught the imagination of lots of folks. We had the book launch inside Fenway. The publicity has been fabulous—and not just in New England. It’s been covered in Sports Illustrated Magazine, appeared on the 32-story Reuters news sign in Times Square, and covered in news items as far away as Singapore—all in the first month of publication. Now my goal is to hit the road and go out and meet more readers. Check out the website,, to see some of the publicity and view upcoming appearances.

Besides finishing, what was the most enjoyable part of the writing process with this book?: (Laughing) Indeed, finishing was a highlight. However, so much of it was enjoyable and pleasantly surprising. For example, in the research phase I visited the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown and, with white gloves on, went through a ton of Ted Williams’ documents and mementos in the library. One of the most interesting things I discovered, which did not make it into the novel, was how Williams wrote his Hall of Fame induction speech. Not quite written on the back of the proverbial envelope, it was written the night before on small stationary or a notepad from a tiny motel nearby. It was just like Ted to eschew the fancy digs at Cooperstown’s giant resort hotel and stay at a small place without a lot of hullabaloo. So much of the research and the writing were like that—it took me to unexpected places. Hopefully, readers are feeling the same. It’s what good fiction is all about.


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Friday, June 1, 2012

Can These Players With Hot Starts Keep It Up?

The first third of the baseball season is just wrapping up and has already been marked by numerous injuries, slow starts, and surprises galore. In particular there are some players who have come out of relative obscurity and are well on their way to posting seasons beyond what even the most optimistic analysts predicted during spring training. The big question moving forward will be whether or not these players can sustain their hot starts or if they will regress back to previous expectations.

In particular there are five players who have caught my eye because of their uber over-achieving. In looking at what they have done so far and what they face for the rest of the season, I will let you know who to expect to keep producing and who will be revealed as a flash in the pan.

Lance Lynn: 8-1 and 2.54 ERA- The Cardinals liked what Lynn, a former first round draft pick, did out of their bullpen during the latter part of last year’s World Series run, but even they must be a little surprised at how he has exploded this year as a starter. Lynn has done an admirable job of filling in as the team’s ace while Chris Carpenter suffers through yet another lengthy injury, but unfortunately he won’t be able to keep up his torrid pace. That’s not to say he won’t end up having a good rest of the season; he will simply be coming back to earth, which has already begun happening. Over his past 4 games he has allowed 12 earned runs in 25 innings after allowing just 5 earned runs in his first 6 starts.

The Cardinals are also likely to limit Lynn’s innings somewhat towards the end of the season given his age, but perhaps not as much as other prospects. Lynn has surpassed 100 innings in each of the past four seasons and with his mountainous frame can take a little more pounding than others. When it is all said and done 15 wins and an ERA in the 3.50 to 3.75 range seems like a good bet for this up and coming right-hander.

Chris Davis: .309, 9 home runs, 23 RBI- The Orioles have been a surprise story in their own right, having clung to the top of the tough AL East for the first two months of the season. As the Orioles have begun their inevitable slide back in the pack, so too will Davis. The power will be there, but not the average. He will continue to get playing time and hit some home runs, but he is what he is, and that is a hitter who rarely walks and strikes out in bunches. His bat will be an asset for the offense-deprived Orioles but expect his average to dip precipitously. A best case scenario for him will be finishing in the range of .250, 25, 75, which wouldn’t be too bad at all for a guy who fell out of favor in Texas and wasn’t even assured of starting in Baltimore when the season started.

Chris Capuano: 7-1 and 2.14 ERA- A lot has gone right for the Dodgers over the past few months; from finally getting out from under the disastrous ownership of the McCourts, to finding a great blend of players who have catapulted the team to an early lead in the NL West. Their efforts have been led in part by Capuano, a guy to root for regardless of whether or not you are a Los Angeles fan. He missed all of 2008-2009 and part of 2010 with a devastating injury. His results since returning suggest that the time off allowed him to figure out how to pitch, an education in craftiness, which has allowed him to extend his performance beyond his pure stuff. With the Dodgers appearing to be the class of the West, Capuano should be able to approach 16 wins, 175 strikeouts, and a sub 3.00 ERA for the season.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia: .281, 10 home runs, 24 RBI- People have been waiting for Salty to emerge into the player that was envisioned when the Braves made him a first round choice in 2003 for quite some time. Signs are finally pointing to his arrival. He has cut his high strikeout rate a bit in 2012 and has been crushing fastballs. Most importantly, he has become a serviceable catcher and has replaced the recently retired Jason Varitek as the leader of the staff. Salty doesn’t make enough contact to hit .281 all year, but could easily hit .250 with 20-25 home runs in the potent Red Sox lineup.

Josh Reddick: .266, 14 home runs, 27 RBI- Many felt that the A’s return on Andrew Bailey was a little light, but Reddick has been proving them wrong so far. Never a huge power prospect, Reddick was expected to have his home run totals further inhibited by playing in the cavernous Coliseum. So much for expectations, as Reddick has been the most consistent player on the Oakland roster and has signed major signs of maturity as a player. He is taking a few more walks, and while he still piles up the strikeouts, his plate discipline and approach has improved from when he was with Boston. If he avoids the injuries that have plagued him in the past, he is a good bet to continue his excellent production. Since his teammates struggle to get on base with much regularity, his RBI numbers will remain low, but don’t be surprised if he finishes in the neighborhood of 25-30 home runs and a .260 batting average.

High praise has been earned by the players on this list but the true test will be seeing if they can put together full seasons of strong production. Such performances can often swing the direction of a team or even a playoff race, so these are stories that bear close watching. As in previous years some of these players will transition into long term solid major leaguers or perhaps even stars, while others will fade as the games pile up. The great fun comes in trying to figure out who will make the permanent transformations and watching it all play out.


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