My Vote for 2016 A.L. Most Valuable Player Award

Choosing the Most Valuable Player from each league is the most difficult decision of all the major baseball awards handed out at the conclusion of each season. With Rookie of the Year and Cy Young you can usually look solely at which player had the best overall stats, but Most Valuable Player sometimes involves a bit more than just stats. While ortizit’s important that an MVP winner had a great statistical year, the best offensive player doesn’t automatically become the most valuable.

With that said, it was an even more difficult vote for me this season than it has been in seasons past. There are several players, including Jose Altuve, Mookie Betts, Mike Trout, David Ortiz and Mark Trumbo, who were all extremely valuable members of their given team in the American League. However, in the end, only one player can win the Most Valuable Player award.

The first player I’m forced to knock from this group is Mark Trumbo, who lead all of baseball in home runs this season but won’t lead them all in MVP voting. Despite smacking 47 big flies for the O’s and driving in 108 runs, helping to keep the Orioles in contention, Trumbo didn’t quite do enough to earn the honor.

Next off the list for me is Jose Altuve. For such a small player, Altuve has huge impacts each and every season, and this year saw more of the same. Playing in all but one game this season, Altuve hit a career high 24 homers and came up just shy of 100 RBI’s, all while batting .338. Even so, he didn’t do enough to make him the most valuable.

Also not the most valuable in my mind is Mookie Betts, but it’s not because the stats weren’t there. Betts hit .318 for the Red Sox and slugged 31 homers in addition to scoring 122 runs. If not for a couple of other players who had superstar-level seasons, Betts would be the easy pick for MVP. But he’s not this season.

Finishing second in MVP voting for the fourth time in his five year career is Mike Trout, as I’m seeing things now. He had the highest WAR — if that’s a stat you like — yet again of any player around baseball, coming from his great defense and .315/.441/.550 slash line. He was the most valuable Angels player by far, but not quite the most valuable American Leaguer.

That distinction goes to Boston’s David Ortiz. In this his final season in Major League Baseball, Ortiz posted stats never before seen by any player age forty or older. Hitting .315 while slugging a superb .660, Ortiz was able to record a 38 home run and 127 RBI season, pushing the Red Sox to another division title. With this being David Ortiz’s final campaign, it would be fitting to see him go out in style with the Most Valuable Player award.

2016 MLB Draft: Moniak, Senzel & Anderson Top Three

Jason Groome, Riley Pint and Kyle Lewis were ranked as the number one, two and three draft prospects going into Thursday’s 2016 first-year player draft, but they went in a completely different order than predicted. In fact, they didn’t go as any of the first three selections at all, instead getting picked in the 12th, 4th and 11th spots, respectively. Even so, they will still undoubtedly have impacts on the clubs that took a chance on them, as will the three that actually went top three overall.

Mickey Moniak went first overall, getting drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies.

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Moniak doesn’t do just one thing well; he does a lot of things well, which is the reason he was selected as the first overall pick in this year’s draft. This past season in high school, Moniak hit .476 with 7 home runs in 105 at-bats, and was subsequently named the 2016 California Gatorade player of the year. Moniak was taken by the Phillies in their first number one overall pick since back in 1998, and becomes the first high school outfielder since Delmon Young in 2003 to be drafted first overall, joining the likes of Josh Hamilton and Ken Griffey Jr. As a solid defender, Moniak is expected to remain in center field moving forward as he now makes his way into a loaded Phillies’ farm system that looks to have the Phillies in good shape moving forward over the next few years.

Nick Senzel went second overall, getting drafted by the Cincinnati Reds.

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Making the position change to third base just this past season, Senzel performed extremely well at the hot corner for the University of Tennessee. Senzel doesn’t strike out a ton for a guy with a good deal of pop, and recorded a .352 line with 8 homers, 59 RBI’s and 25 stolen bases to boot this past season. As far as University of Tennessee draftees history goes, the third overall pick of Senzel makes him the earliest selection out of that college in its history, beating out Rockies’ great Todd Helton, who was selected eighth overall back in 1995. Much like the Phillies, the Reds haven’t been having too much success in the standings as of late, but they added a nice piece to what they’re looking to do moving forward, with Senzel looking to be the eventual replacement down the road for the loss of Todd Frazier.

Ian Anderson went third overall, getting drafted by the Atlanta Braves.

Ian

Compared to Jacob deGrom by Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz on MLB Network, Anderson has all the things you’re looking for out of a pitcher coming from high school. Anderson was selected as the first pitcher of the 2016 draft, with a fastball consistently in the 94-96 mile-per-hour range as well as a curveball with a big break to it. Despite missing the first half of his senior season due to pneumonia, Anderson showed enough talent to earn the third overall selection in the draft. Possessing a solid ability to throw strikes and get guys out, Anderson is certainly a step in the right direction for a Braves team that’s in the process of rebuilding for 2017 and beyond, when they’ll be playing in their new ballpark. If all goes as planned, the Braves will be in much better shape if guys such as Anderson pan out.

The remainder of the draft saw many surprises. A lot of players went higher than anyone expected, while others stuck around longer than many thought they would. But that usually happens every year with the draft.

The rest of the 1st round of the 2016 draft, following the first three picks, went as follows:

4. Rockies: Riley Pint

5. Brewers: Corey Ray

6. Athletics: A.J. Puk

7. Marlins: Braxton Garrett

8. Padres: Cal Quantrill

9. Tigers: Matt Manning

10. White Sox: Zack Collins

11. Mariners: Kyle Lewis

12. Red Sox: Jason Groome

13. Rays: Joshua Lowe

14. Indians: Will Benson

15. Twins: Alex Kirilloff

16. Angels: Matt Thaiss

17. Astros: Forrest Whitley

18. Yankees: Blake Rutherford

19. Mets: Justin Dunn

20. Dodgers: Gavin Lux

21. Blue Jays: T.J. Zeuch

22. Pirates: Will Craig

23. Cardinals: Delvin Perez

24. Padres: Hudson Sanchez

25. Padres: Eric Lauer

26. White Sox: Zack Burdi

27. Orioles: Cody Sedlock

28. Nationals: Carter Kieboom

29. Nationals: Dane Dunning

30. Rangers: Cole Ragans

31. Mets: Anthony Kay

32. Dodgers: Will Smith

33. Cardinals: Dylan Carlson

34. Cardinals: Dakota Hudson

Lottery Round A

35. Reds: Taylor Trammell

36. Dodgers: Jordan Sheffield

37. Athletics: Daulton Jefferies

38. Rockies: Robert Tyler

39. Diamondbacks: Anfernee Grier

40. Braves: Joey Wentz

41. Pirates: Nick Lodolo

Make sure to follow the list of players above as the majority of them begin their professional careers. Odds are at least a few of those names will become MLB All-Stars, with the possibility that some may become a future Hall of Famer. You never know what can happen when you have so much young talent entering their given MLB organizations, and that’s reason enough to pay close attention to them all.

Steven Wright: The “New” R. A. Dickey

In the history of Major League Baseball, there have been very few pitchers who have actually succeeded in mastering the knuckleball to the point where they were able to absolutely dominate opposing batters on a consistent basis. For the most part, pitchers who throw the knuckleball are ineffective, and have up-and-down, short-lived careers.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Seattle MarinersHowever, as with anything, there are always a few exceptions — Phil Niekro, Tim Wakefield, etc. — with the latest example of that being Steven Wright of the Boston Red Sox. Through four games started this season, Steven Wright has a 1.37 ERA, with a tick under one strikeout per inning pitched. Following an ERA of 4.09 in 2015, Wright appears to have figured things out.

On Wednesday night alone, Wright went seven strong innings against the Braves (given, Atlanta isn’t exactly a powerhouse team this season), striking out eight and giving up just two runs (only one earned run) in Boston’s 9-4 win. 

Due to his great performance to this point in the season, Wright has subsequently taken over the leading role of most dominant MLB knuckleballer, recently held by R.A. Dickey (the only other active knuckleball thrower).

With Toronto this season, Dickey has recorded a subpar 6.75 ERA, and hasn’t been all that terribly great since he took home the Cy Young award in 2012 with the Mets. That season — the only extremely fantastic season of his career — Dickey posted a 2.73 ERA over 33 starts, while striking out 230 batters, but he’s gone 40-40 with a 4.06 ERA since then.

Steven Wright didn’t actually appear in the big leagues until the season after Dickey had his breakout year, but it appears that Wright is on the verge of having a special season as a knuckleball pitcher much like the one of Dickey in 2012.

Boston could certainly continue to use successful outings from him, as their other starters hold ERA’s above 3.51, with David Price possessing a 5.76 and Joe Kelly unbelievably having a 9.35 ERA over three starts. For that reason, Steven Wright is currently being looked at as the surprising Ace of the staff, and has been a welcome surprise for the Red Sox so far this year.

While I’m not necessarily saying that Steven Wright’s 2016 season will end up being as successful as R.A. Dickey’s 2012 campaign, with him winning the Cy Young, it is definitely a positive sign for Wright of great things to come. I imagine not even Wright himself would have envisioned this good of a start to the season when things began back on April 4th, but every given baseball season is much like the knuckleball pitch itself: You never know where it’s going to wind up.

Trevor Story Wasting No Time Setting Records

Any time a baseball player makes their MLB debut, it’s bound to be a special day for them. When it happens on Opening Day, it makes it all that more thrilling. But Trevor Story has taken things a step further, not only doing both of the aforementioned things this season, but also exploding onto the scene with the Rockies.  Story

In his brief, three-game MLB career, Story has already accomplished something that no other player in baseball history has ever been able to do. Over the course of his first few games in the bigs, Story has proceeded to launch four home runs (one of which was off 2015 NL Cy Young winner, Zack Greinke), hitting at least one in every single game he’s played, and becoming the first player to ever do so in three straight games to lead off their career.

After a strong Spring Training showing, the Rockies felt confident that Story could be brought up to the majors to fill the void left by Jose Reyes during his absence from the team, but no one could have anticipated Story performing the way he has to this point.

Story is now batting .286 on the season (his only four hits have been home runs) with 4 home runs and 7 RBI’s over the course of three games, and has gone from an under the radar prospect in the Rockies farm system to a star overnight. While I’ll be the first to admit that Story inevitably won’t be able to keep up this historic pace, currently hitting a home run every 3.5 at-bats, it’s still amazing to watch while it lasts.

But while Story will ultimately not reach his on-pace number of 200+ home runs for the season, all signs point to him continuing to produce quality number for the Rockies, likely for years to come. While Corey Seager was the heavy favorite to win the National League Rookie of the Year award after his terrific stint with the Dodgers towards the end of last season, it appears that Story is going to give Seager a run for his money.

Although this is baseball, where guys can go from being red hot to ice cold in the matter of a single game, Story is well on his way to breaking his career high of 20 home runs set last season in the minors between Double-A and Triple-A. After all, Story is yet to play a single game at home in Coors Field, where the ball is known to fly out of the park.

It’s crazy to think, but Trevor Story might be just getting started.

Previewing the 2014 Major League Baseball Draft

The 2014 Major League Baseball First-Year Player draft is now less than two weeks away.

Set to air live on MLB Network on June 5th, and continuing through June 7th on MLB.com, the draft has become a bigger focus each and every year as time has gone by. With teams now counting on their first few picks to make it to the big leagues within a couple of years and have an immediate impact, choosing the right player for your organization has become a huge deal. 2014-Draft

While none of last year’s first round draft picks have made the major leagues as of yet, currently, four of the 2012 first round picks have made the majors for at least a brief period of time, being Kevin Gausman and Marcus Stroman, in addition to Mike Zunino and Michael Wacha who have made the biggest impacts.

With this year’s draft being pitcher heavy, a lot of teams are going to be picking up a possible future ace of their rotation as their first pick. Though there are some good position players in the mix as well, overall, pitchers are the dominant presence, making up seven of the top ten ranked draft prospects who will go quickly come draft day.

As I did last year, I’m planning to blog about the results of the draft, along with a few of my thoughts, the day after the first round takes place. With the first five picks going to the Astros, Marlins, White Sox, Cubs and Twins, it should be interesting to see how teams play things, depending on their overall biggest needs that they need to fill for the future.

Though I’m not going to give any predictions for the order in which the players are chosen (I’m by no means a draft expert) I do want to talk a bit about the “experts'” picks for who will likely be some of the first off the board.

For the number one overall pick, no one can seem to agree who it will be, however, nearly everyone is predicting that it will be one of two left-handed pitchers: Brady Aiken or Carlos Rodon. Untitled

Aiken is one of four high school players ranked in the top ten draft prospects, and is expected to go in the top two, if not number one overall. Possessing some of the best stuff seen out of a high school pitcher in quite a while — set to be the first high school lefty to go in the top five since 2002 — Aiken is one of the younger players in the draft, currently age 17, but he could possibly be one of the most talented.

With a good fastball, as well as a great curveball and changeup, it will be up to the Astros if they want to take a chance on the young pitcher.

Or they could go with Rodon, who began the year as the clear cut first overall pick, but due to a somewhat down year by his standards — he still managed to post a 2.01 ERA despite poor run support leading to a 6-7 record — his stock has fallen a bit.

But with that said, he still has everything you want and expect to see in the number one pick. With a good, hard fastball, a really good slider, and a work in progress change up, Rodon may not be the highest ranked draft prospect, but he may have the most upside.

On the position player side of things, high school catcher Alex Jackson appears to be the favorite to be the first non-pitcher off the board. While not too many of the game’s top catchers produce big time stats at the big league level, many people feel that Jackson has the ability to do just that.

With a cannon for an arm behind the plate, as well as a real power swing that should yield a good deal of power in addition to hitting for average, Jackson will likely become one of the brightest catching prospects in baseball after June 5th.

And therefore, with so much fantastic talent, from pitchers to position players, the 2014 draft could turn out to be one of the best in years.

3/8/14: NC State Vs. Notre Dame

Normally, I don’t blog about college baseball games that I attend. They simply don’t have the same talent level that comes with a Major League Baseball game — or even a minor league game, for that matter — and it’s not usually worth writing about. But the NC State versus Notre Dame game that my dad and I went to on Saturday was a bit different.

First of all, the projected number one overall 2014 draft pick, Carlos Rodon, was scheduled to make the start for State, and with his previous track record — going 10-3 with a 2.99 ERA last season — Rodon certainly goes a long way in making this year’s NC State team something special. But Rodon isn’t the only standout on the team.

In addition, Trea Turner, who’s predicted to be a top ten pick in the upcoming draft, adds excitement to each and every game, none more so than with his above average speed. With both Rodon and Turner, this year’s State team is a must see.

Which is why I found myself out at the ballpark on Saturday afternoon. I wanted to witness it all for myself before they both leave following this season.

While Carlos Rodon is usually NC State’s Friday starter, as most college aces are, a rainout on Friday forced the game to be made up as part of a double header with visiting Notre Dame on Saturday, with Rodon pitching game one:

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Although he hadn’t started off the year too well, going 1-2, I was optimistic that Rodon would turn things around in his first warm start of the season.

And for the most part, I was right.

Rodon appeared to be locked in out of the gate, as he gave up just one hit, and struck out two (one of which was Craig Biggio’s son, Cavan Biggio) through the first two innings. In the third, however, Rodon lost a bit of his composure, allowing three hits, but impressed me with his ability to keep things from getting too out of hand, allowing only one run.

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But while Rodon had a great start to the game, he didn’t receive any run support, as State failed to get a man across the plate through the first four innings, due to the equally strong start from Notre Dame’s Sean Fitzgerald. But Fitzgerald finally struggled enough in the fifth to allow a single run, bringing the score to 1-1.

At that point in time, I made my way around from the third base side to the first base side, which is where I spent the rest of the game, just so I could get a glimpse from a different angle of Carlos Rodon . . . . :

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. . . . and Trea Turner:

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When I first found my way over to that side of the ballpark, I heard of a rumor that Craig Biggio was actually in attendance to watch his son play. But since I never actually saw him, I can’t say for sure that it was true. But I digress. Back to the game.

Both pitchers continued to do well until the sixth, when each allowed two runs to the opposing squad, raising the score to 3 runs apiece. Fitzgerald was replaced after the sixth, but Rodon was left in, which would turn out to be huge for State.

Recording what would be the game winning hit in the eighth, State’s Jake Armstrong proved to be the difference maker, as he singled in Bubby Riley and Trea Turner, whose speed likely aided in his ability to score, making it 5-3, State.

Rodon finished out the game a bit shaky, allowing two hits in the ninth, but promptly got a game ending double play to lock up the fifth complete game of his career:

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Rodon received the win, bringing his win-loss record up to 2-2, to go along with a 2.40 ERA on the season, striking out seven and allowing 10 scattered hits on 121 pitches. My overall impression was that Rodon was good, but not overly fantastic in this particular game, but that’s not meant to take anything away from Rodon. He’s a great pitcher, and will undoubtedly be a star in the majors at some point down the road (as will Trea Turner, who went 1-4 on the day).

As you may have inferred, I didn’t try for any autographs at this game as I usually do every time I go to a baseball game, but that’s simply because I’m going to be seeing NC State again next month, when they take on UNC at the newly renovated Durham Bulls Athletic Park on April 15th. Rodon isn’t scheduled to pitch, so I’m hopeful I’ll be able to get him to sign for me, along with Trea Turner. But either way, it’s sure to be a fun time, as always.

Q and A With Cody Asche

Cody Asche was drafted by the Phillies in the 4th round of the 2011 draft. Since the draft, Asche has had a good deal of success, flying through the minor leagues — never spending a full season at any one level — and making his Major League Baseball debut in July of 2013.Untitled

After somewhat of a disappointing professional baseball debut in 2011, where he batted .192 with 2 home runs and 19 RBI’s in 78 games, Asche began climbing through the ranks at the start of the 2012 season.

In 2012, Asche posted a batting average of .324 with 12 homers and 72 RBI’s, between High-A and Double-A, before finishing out the year in Arizona as a member of the annual Arizona Fall League.

Following the great season, Asche recorded 15 home runs and 68 RBI’s the next year, to go along with a .295 batting average, earning him a callup to the majors after the All-Star break. In 50 games with the Phillies, before the end of the 2013 season, Asche blasted 5 homers and drove in 22 runs, proving why he was able to make it there so quickly.

Heading into what’s going to be Asche’s first full season in the major leagues, Asche should continue to get better and better as he gains experience, and will likely be playing the hot corner in Philadelphia for years to come.

Cody Asche — third baseman for the Phillies — took the time recently to answer some of my questions:

1.) At what age did you first become interested in baseball? Who was your biggest baseball influence growing up?

I would say really young, around five to six. I loved playing it in the backyard with my brother and my dad. So they have to be the two who influenced me the most.

2.) Who was your favorite baseball player growing up? Why?

Ken Griffey Jr. He was a superstar. He did it all and played the game the right way.

3.) You were drafted by the Phillies in the 4th round of the 2011 draft. What was that process like for you? Where were you when you first found out? Initial thoughts?

It was very stressful. Not knowing what lies ahead can be stressful, especially when you are trying to play a college season. I found out in my kitchen. We had the draft audio on and my mom and dad were with me when my name was called. Initially, thoughts were excitement, and happiness that the process was over.

4.) After getting drafted, you were assigned to Single-A and placed at second base. Having played third base up until that point, you didn’t have a very successful (half) season. However, in 2012, you were moved back to third, and did very well. Having excelled ever since, what is it about third base that makes you more comfortable?

I’m not sure it’s only third that made me feel comfortable. I think it was more just learning the ropes and getting comfortable in pro ball. Hitting wise, success is all about comfort. When you struggle it’s because something doesn’t feel right and you aren’t comfortable. So after the first year I worked on some things to help improve that, and I have been able to do well since.

5.) Your great 2012 season was capped off with an invitation to the Arizona Fall League, where you once again posted good numbers, earning you a spot on the Western Division roster of the Rising Stars game. What was that experience like? What did you take away from it?

The Arizona Fall League was awesome. I was fortunate enough to be a guy that got to play four days a week down there, so I could really work on my game. I definitely credit that time period for setting me up for a good 2013 campaign.

6.) Starting the 2013 season at Triple-A, you made your major league debut in July. What kind of emotions did you experience during your debut?

Emotions were crazy. Trying to hold back tears seeing your parents in the stands for the first time was tough, then playing on top of that made it a little crazy to start. But that is all part of it. I think the phone call I got to make to my parents the day I was called up was the most memorable part of making it up last year.

7.) What’s it like playing under Ryne Sandberg (a baseball Hall of Famer)?

He’s a great person. I think that stands out to me the most. It seems like he sincerely cares about the players, and especially myself. I think all managers have a way of showing that to their players.

8.) What do you feel went well in 2013? What are your goals for 2014?

I think in 2013 I was able to improve a ton. That’s what I really care about, just improving on a daily basis. As far as 2014 is concerned, I would like to be healthy and keep learning and finding my niche on the team so I can contribute to a winner in Philly.

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

TV show: Parks and Recreation. Food: Chicken parm.

10.) Lastly, what advice would you give to kids who are just starting out that dream of playing professional baseball one day?

Don’t sell yourself short. No matter what position or level you are at, keep faith and confidence in yourself and keep improving. Never lose your own self confidence. ——————————————————————————————————————————————

Big thanks to Cody Asche for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @cody_smasche