If you aren’t already familiar with Vincent Velasquez, you inevitably will be very soon.
On Tuesday afternoon against the Padres, Velasquez absolutely dominated San Diego’s lineup, allowing just three hits and striking out 16 batters over the course of his complete game shutout, in which Velasquez received 27 swings and misses. This following his first outing of the season, where Velasquez struck out nine over six innings, giving up no runs, it would appear that he’s already in midseason form.
Velasquez has now struck out twenty-five batters in just fifteen innings of work, and subsequently holds the new record for a Phillies pitcher of most combined K’s in their first two starts of the season, previously set at 20 back in 1964.
Originally a product of the Astros, getting drafted by them in the second round of the 2010 draft, Velasquez came to Philadelphia as part of the Ken Giles trade this past offseason. To this point, it would appear to be a great move on the part of Philadelphia (especially with Giles getting off to a slow start with Houston).
But Velasquez’s career hasn’t been a smooth ride to the top.
Back in 2011, Velasquez underwent Tommy John surgery (an all too common procedure at this point), forcing him to miss the entire 2011 season. In addition to the injuries, once Velasquez finally did make it to the major leagues, he didn’t immediately post the type of numbers he has recently, notching a 4.37 ERA over 19 total games pitched and 7 starts in 2015, leaving many to question him moving forward.
However, Velasquez appears ready to take off.
It certainly can’t come soon enough for Philadelphia, who has been fairly pathetic in recent years. While they dominated their opponents for a number of years in a row not too long ago, they have been in the process of rebuilding over the past few seasons But other than Velasquez, the Phillies’ pitching staff merely consists of standouts Aaron Nola and Jeremy Hellickson — nothing close to resembling their rotation of 2011 that included Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay.
Likewise, the Phillies lack a good, intimidating lineup, currently possessing very little power threats within it. With Ryan Howard no longer the slugger he once was, and seemingly on his last stretch with Philly, Maikel Franco is truly the only major power threat available of what was once an efficient offensive machine.
But there is help on the way, with the Phillies holding seven of the top 100 prospects in baseball throughout their farm systems. Pitching-wise, the Phillies have guys such as Jake Thompson and Mark Appel in Triple-A, both of which are ready to help very soon. Hitting-wise, J.P. Crawford and Nick Williams are coming fast, and should be contributing to the run scoring in Philadelphia before too long.
With the win on Thursday afternoon, the Phillies have now won three straight, and five of their last six, keeping their overall record for the season at .500 (5-5). Inevitably, however, the Phillies will taper out of contention as the year goes on, and as other teams begin to figure things out, ultimately finishing at or near the bottom of the National League East division.
Even so, once every fifth day, Phillies fans will be reminded by Velasquez that their club is well on their way to transforming back into a contender once again, as it was for so many years not so long ago. Rebuilding is a process that takes time, as well as patience on both the part of the team and the fans.
But as Vincent Velasquez proved on Tuesday, the rebuild is getting closer to completion.
A couple weeks ago, I blogged about the through the mail (TTM) autograph requests I was planning to send off to players during Spring Training. At the end of the post, I stated that I was going to be publishing a blog post every time I received back a few autographs, and now that I’ve successfully gotten back some of the requests I sent, I figured I’d go ahead and type this entry up. Of the nine total TTM requests I sent off so far, I’ve received two of them back, with them being from:
MARK APPEL — ASTROS’ ORGANIZATION
The number one overall draft pick by the Astros in 2013, Mark Appel was regarded as one of the best college pitchers in the country coming off a strong senior season at Stanford. However, he hasn’t yet lived up to those numbers. Posting a 6.91 ERA over the course of 18 games started in 2014, Astros fans will surely be watching to see whether or not Appel can get things going this year. Ranked as the number 30 prospect in all of baseball, there are still plenty of people that believe he can . . . and will.
SAM TUIVAILALA — ST. LOUIS CARDNALS
It’s very possible that you’ve never heard of Sam Tuivailala. But that’s not because he isn’t a valuable asset of the Cardinals’ organization. Able to reach 100 miles per hour on his fastball, Tuivaila is an under the radar player in every sense of the word. With 170 strikeouts over the course of 108.1 career relief innings pitched in the minors, Tuivailala has already been able to show his talents on the major league level, making his big league debut last season. Expect him only to get better in the years to come.
I still have autograph requests out for Rob Kaminsky, Jacob Gatewood, Dustin Ackley, Joe Kelly, Scooter Gennett, Tony La Russa and Doug Fister. When/if I get any of those back, assuming it’s before Opening Day on April 6th, I’ll be sure to post another update. Though, there’s no guarantee I’ll get any more back at all.
Spring Training has officially begun for the majority of teams around baseball. Over this past week, pitchers and catchers have made their way to either Florida or Arizona to start their training for the long 162-game 2015 season. Meaning, there are a mere ten days until Spring Training exhibition games get under way and just 43 days before Opening Night between the Cardinals and the Cubs on April 5th.
But I’m not quite ready to jump ahead to the start of the regular season just yet, as I still have a lot I want to talk about in the coming weeks on this blog. Therefore, for the time being, I’d like to take a minute to discuss something I love to do this time of year (besides watch Spring Training games on TV.)
Every Spring Training, for the past three or four years, I’ve sent out a handful of through the mail (TTM) autograph requests to different players around the league. This year, I’m going to be sending out several TTM’s, with the best player I’m sending to being the Astros’ 2013 number one pick, Mark Appel.
Other top prospects that I’m planning to send to throughout the spring include Sam Tuivailala (an under the radar, underrated flamethrower in the Cardinals’ farm system), Jacob Gatewood (41st overall pick in the 2014, known for his extreme power), Rob Kaminsky (a highly praised pitching prospect with St. Louis), and D.J. Peterson (a breakout slugger in the Mariners’ system who hit 31 homers in 2014).
As far as major leaguers are concerned, I’m sending to just a few of those this year. I got tired over the past few years of taking the time to put together an autograph request and wasting stamps to not receive anything back in return. So this time around, I’m only sending to big league players that I feel confident will return the cards signed, either because they have a good record of signing TTM or because they told me they would on Twitter.
Players who fall into that category include Patrick Corbin, Scooter Gennett, Joe Kelly and Dustin Ackley. They won’t wind up being the only MLB players I send to before Spring Training is over, but right now that’s all I’m sending out. I’ll keep an eye on who’s signing very well over the coming weeks and if they’re a good enough player, I’ll likely send something out to them like I did with James Paxton last year and Mark McGwire a few years back. (Both were returned signed, just as had been advertised those springs.)
Last year I sent off fourteen total autograph requests to Spring Training and received back six of them, from Eddie Butler, Clayton Kershaw, Albert Almora, Kyle Zimmer, James Paxton and David Robertson. That’s pretty good as far as TTM’s go, but not getting back the other eight really made me think about who I sent to in 2015. So I’m sending off just nine to start off, with there being a good possibility I’ll add a few more to the list of autograph requests before Spring Training ends.
No matter what I decide to do, and no matter how many I successfully receive back signed, I’m planning to post a blog entry every time I receive back 2-3 autographs from the players I’m sending to, just as I did last year. Hopefully it won’t be all that terribly long before I start getting them back (maybe a few weeks?). So be sure to check back over the course of the next couple months to see how well I do this Spring Training.
For the past several years, the Houston Astros have been somewhat of a laughingstock among Major League Baseball, with some people going as far as calling them a Triple-A caliber team at best. Losing over 100 games each of the past two seasons, things weren’t looking any more promising for this season, as many people predicted that the Astros could lose another 100 games in 2014.
However, while the Astros are likely to still finish last in their division, and still might reach 100 losses, they appear to be slowly turning the corner.
The biggest reason for that turn has been two of their many top prospects getting the call up to the big leagues.
First it was George Springer, who blasted 10 homers in his first month, and now it’s Jonathan Singleton, who was signed to a controversial five year, ten million dollar deal, worth a potential thirty-five million, before he ever had an at-bat on the major league level.
Hitting .267 with 14 home runs and 43 RBI’s at Triple-A before his call up, Singleton didn’t disappoint in his debut on Tuesday night against the Angels. Going 1-3 for the game, Singleton drew a bases loaded walk and blasted his first career home run — just the fourth Astros player to ever hit a home run in their first game — providing a couple of runs in the Astros’ 7-2 win over the Angels.
Overall, Singleton looked really comfortable at the plate, and along with Springer and the rest of the players currently on the Astros, they’re already becoming a good team. But even with these talented prospects now beginning to produce for the big league team — the only true power hitters for the Astros besides Chris Carter and Matt Dominguez — it’s still going to be awhile before the Astros are making any sort of playoff run. But, thankfully, the Astros have a ton of help on the way that should transform them into a competitive team.
Making their way to Houston include prospects Carlos Correa, the first overall draft pick in 2012, Mark Appel, the first overall pick in 2013, along with Delino De Shields, Lance McCullers and Mike Foltynewicz. Each of them are part of the top 100 prospects list, and with the majority of them being future game changers, it should be interesting to see how good the Astros can become within the next few years.
With the Astros set to add yet another potential star player to their organization on Thursday night, when they receive their third straight first overall pick in the 2014 MLB draft, their prospect list continues to grow and grow. And thus, it should all spell success at some point down the road, once their key prospects reach the major leagues and begin to contribute to the recently struggling club.
After starting from a level playing field on Opening Day, there are always certain teams who find themselves falling lower and lower in the standings as a given season goes on. Though it can vary from year to year, with teams having an off season compared to their normal standards, for the last several seasons it has been two main teams: the Cubs and the Astros.
Currently sitting dead last in their respective divisions through a fourth of the season played, and with no signs that things will be changing in the near future, even with a good amount of the season left to go, it’s once again not looking too good for either the Cubs or the Astros. However, despite neither having finished with a winning record since 2009, their fortunes could be changing over the coming years. One thing they both have in common is their strong farm systems, which are loaded with top prospects that will be coming up to help out down the road.
For the Cubs, having not reached the postseason since 2008, they currently have prospects such as Javier Baez, who’s off to a rough start to 2014 after dominating last year; Kris Bryant, who’s expected to have 40 home run power in the majors; and Albert Almora, who is a few years away but is likely to have a big impact once he reaches Chicago. Those players, combined with those they have now, should make for a good team beginning around 2016 and continuing for the many years beyond.
To go along with their already decent major league team, the Astros, who haven’t made the postseason since 2005, have a ton of talent coming their way, including Carlos Correa, who is expected to be an all around fantastic player; Mark Appel, who’s likely to get a late season call up if he’s performing well; and Jonathan Singleton, who possesses some above average power. After losing over 100 games and being the worst team in baseball as of late, the Astros could see things turning around very soon.
The only good thing about performing so poorly each season is that you receive a high pick in the following year’s draft, with it looking likely that the Astros will take Carlos Rodon as the number one overall pick in the upcoming 2014 draft (the Cubs have the fourth overall pick.) But even so, your top picks in the draft, which subsequently become your top prospects, don’t always pan out and reach the big league level. And even when they do, for some players, it takes them a bit of time to adjust once they get the call up.
The most recent example of that being George Springer, who has hit a mere .222 with 3 home runs so far this season with the Astros after blasting 37 homers to go along with a .303 batting average as part of their farm system in 2013. Though he’s predicted to still have a great career, sometimes it just takes awhile for players to make the adjustment to big league pitching, no matter how good they are.
And therefore, while I’m not saying either the Astros or the Cubs will be winning the World Series in the coming years, I do feel that with their high level of talent from the minors on its way they will become much more competitive than they currently are, having to settle with last place finishes year after year.
With it being nearly equal in terms of current talent, and taking prospect depth into consideration, it’s somewhat difficult to predict which of the teams will be the best half a decade from now. But if I had to choose, I’d likely go with the Cubs, even though the Astros should be a lot better as well. It’s truly too close to call, and that’s something to look forward to if you’re a fan of either team — or just a baseball fan in general.
Who do you think will be the better team in five years?
Mark Appel was drafted out of high school by the Tigers in the 15th round of the 2009 draft. However, due to his commitment to Stanford University, Appel didn’t sign, and instead went to pitch at college.
At Standford, Appel began as a relief pitcher, only receiving three starts his freshman year, where he posted a 5.92 ERA over 38 innings. Once he was made a full time starter again the next season, Appel excelled, lowering his ERA down to 3.02 for the year. In his junior year of college, after he went 10-2 with a 2.56 ERA, Appel was once again drafted, this time by the Pirates as the eighth overall pick. Many felt that Appel would begin his professional baseball career, but he decided to return to college to finish out his baseball career (and degree) at Stanford.
Despite some flak from people around the baseball world for returning to college, Appel showed just how good of a pitcher he is, improving to have his best season at Stanford; setting the all-time collective strikeout record, in which he went 10-4 with a 2.12 ERA. After such a successful final year, Appel was drafted yet again, for the third time, by the Astros as the first overall pick in the 2013 draft.
Beginning his professional baseball career with Low-A Tri-City, Appel made it up to Single-A Quad Cities in 2013, going a combined 3-1 with a 3.79 ERA. Due to the 106 innings Appel had already pitched in 2013 at Stanford, he was shut down after just 38 professional innings pitched, bringing his innings up to roughly 144 for the season.
Appel has an average, to slightly above average, fastball, ranging from the lower to mid nineties, but he can crank it up to upper nineties when needed. He also possesses a good slider and a work in progress changeup that many think will come along.
Heading into his first major league Spring Training, it’s been reported that Appel could, potentially, make the big leagues out of camp “if he is one of the best five pitchers out of Spring Training”. However, as many people feel, it will likely be later in 2014, or early 2015, when Houston — his hometown — gets its first glimpse of Appel. But no matter when that is, with all of the other top prospects in the Astros’ farm system, the future would appear to be bright for them as an organization moving forward, with Appel soon to be leading the way.
Mark Appel — top pitching prospect in the Astros’ organization — 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 first became interested in baseball when I was very young. For as long as I can remember, I have been playing some version of the sport. Growing up, my parents, as well as certain coaches throughout the years, really influenced me and encouraged me to pursue my dream of playing baseball as a way to educate myself in college and professionally.
2.) Who was your favorite baseball player growing up? Why?
Nolan Ryan was one of the all-time great pitchers and the player I looked up to the most as far as what I wanted to be on the field. He was a fierce competitor who gave his all every single time he got the ball. He competed no matter the score, circumstance, or previous result. Win or lose, you knew he was going to go out and compete again the next time he got the ball.
3.) You were drafted by the Astros in the 1st round of the 2013 draft. What was that process like for you? Where were you when you first found out? Initial thoughts?
The draft process is very interesting. As someone who has gone through it three different times in three unique situations, I feel like I have seen it all. Someone expected to get drafted goes through “interviews”, both on and off the field. In my situation, I spoke with general managers and scouting directors, as well as the local area scouts. Answering their questions off the field is important for their evaluation process so they can have a good understanding of the type of person you are. But the factor that matters most is the results on the field — how good you are at playing baseball.
The Astros and I had a number of conversations leading up to the draft and on the day of the draft, as well as a few other teams. When the time came for the pick to be made, I felt peace in knowing that I would be exactly where God wanted me to be, whether it was Houston or another team. Bud Selig announced my name and my friends and family who came to visit California (I was preparing for graduation the following week) all celebrated! It was a surreal feeling, knowing that I would be able to have a chance to play in my hometown and the team I grew up rooting for was now the same organization I was a part of. God’s grace is too great.
4.) Before being the number one overall pick in 2013, you were drafted by the Tigers in 2009, and the Pirates, eighth overall, in 2012. What made you decide to attend college instead of going pro out of high school? Why did you decide to return for your senior year at Stanford in 2012 after the Pirates drafted you so high?
Like I said, I have been drafted three times and each were unique situations.
In high school the Tigers drafted me in the 15th round, even though I told all the area scouts I spoke with that I was planning on attending Stanford. Dreaming about being a pro baseball player, it was fun to entertain the thought of signing as a senior in high school, but I knew that Stanford was where I needed to be for my future, both in baseball and in life. Unsure if I was ready to play minor league baseball, I knew college would allow me to grow up, become a man, and still play baseball at a very high level.
In 2012 the Pirates drafted me with the 8th pick in the draft. The decision to return to school for my senior season was the toughest I have ever had to make. There are a number of factors that go into a decision of that magnitude: baseball development and career, education, regrets (I will explain this one later), desires, and money. Also, as a follower of Jesus, relationships with my coaches, teammates and fans, combined with being a part of what God is doing in this world, is very important to me.
For the baseball development, I did not see an advantage to either signing or returning to school. Development really comes down to how badly you want to get better as a player. I knew that I would be able to improve both at Stanford and in the Pirates’ organization. As far as education went, it was a no-brainer to return to school. Playing my senior year allowed me to finish my degree in Management Science and Engineering. As far as regrets go, when I made my decision, I did not want to have any regrets. I didn’t want to spend my idle time thinking about what it would have been like if I chose the other option. Going back to Stanford meant I would have a chance to play in Omaha (which we didn’t achieve), finish my degree before starting a professional career, and continue to be involved in campus ministries that I had been involved with the past three years.
Those are some things that I would have wondered about a lot if I had signed. When it came down to it, money out of the question, I wanted to go back to school, not for the lack of things signing professionally had to offer (which wasn’t much), but for the opportunities I had during my senior year at Stanford.
But, as everyone knows, money was involved. And it was a lot of money. There are two somewhat conflicting things going on with my situation. On one hand, I was offered a lot of money, and I mean a lot. And on the other hand, I wasn’t offered what I believed my value for my talents was in the draft market under the current rules. So do I stick to principle and go back to school, or do I chase the money and sign? It was a tough question to comprehend.
There are financial benefits to both options, as well as financial risks (well, maybe there were only risks for returning to school). If money was the most important thing to me, I would have signed 100 percent. I knew by returning to school, I would give up 3.8 million dollars. I also knew there were a few things that could go wrong: injury and underperformance were the two main risks. I also knew there were benefits: education, relationships, the opportunity to get better, and a potential financial gain. The thing most people don’t realize is that I had zero regrets. No matter the outcome of my senior season and the draft that followed, I would have been extremely happy with the decision.
As confirmation that I was exactly where God wanted me to be, within the first two weeks of being back at school four members from the Stanford baseball team had accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior through the team bible study! It was so cool to be a part of the work of the Holy Spirit!
5.) In your senior year of high school, you were a part time relief pitcher and didn’t become a full time starter again until your sophomore year of college. Having been both a starting and relief pitcher, which did you find more challenging?
Both relieving and starting have their challenges. I have much more experience as a starter, and at higher levels of competition, I have only started. Personally, I think the difference is the mentality and routine. A reliever needs to mentally prepare himself to pitch 1-2 innings every single night, in general. A starter must prepare mentally to pitch five or more innings once every five days. The two are difficult to compare. With that being said, I would say that starting has been more challenging for me, probably due to the difference in talent level between high school and college, but also because there is so much to learn as a starter. I feel like I learn something new every single day.
6.) Talk a little bit about life on the road: What’s the most difficult aspect of it? What do you do to pass the time?
Life on the road can be very difficult. There are many things that, as a Christian, I need to prepare for. Wherever you go, you will have decisions to make from the time you wake up to the time you go to bed that will affect both how you play and how your teammates see you — as a man of integrity or a hypocrite. From how I spend my time in the hotel room to where I go and what I do after the games, there will be temptations of various kinds; whether it is alcohol, drugs, etc. For me, reading is something that I enjoy doing, starting with the Bible, but also books for entertainment purposes. Reading engages the mind to learn and grow, especially when playing baseball every day can get repetitive and mundane at times.
Spending time with teammates is a great way to spend your free time. These are the guys that you hope to win a championship with, and in my opinion, the better the team knows and respects each other off the field the more we will play together as a unit. I also believe that building relationships is the first step to discipleship, what Jesus has called us to do as believers. Coming along side people and meeting them where they are, encouraging them and building them up, investing in their lives speaks a lot louder than just telling them about an alternative lifestyle through knowing Jesus that would be better for them. Actions always speak louder than words.
7.) The Astros haven’t been doing well lately, finishing with over 100 losses the past two seasons, but they have great talent down in their farm system. With players such as yourself, Carlos Correa and George Springer, among others, how do you see the team faring over the next few years?
Being a part of the Astros’ organization is an incredible blessing. Not only are they my hometown team, but I believe they are a team that will be good quickly and good for a long time. Buying in to the system now and getting to know all the players right now will build a foundation for the future of the organization at the big league level.
I believe that the Astros will be the most improved team this year, and will continue to improve year after year. As we develop and add new players to the major league team, the chances we win more and more games only increases.
8.) What do you feel went well in 2013? What are your goals for 2014?
My 2013 pro season was great. I’m not necessarily pleased with the end of year statistics as a whole, but I do believe I continued to improve and to learn about professional baseball and what to expect for my 2014 season.
This season my goals are simply to work as hard as I can every single day and allow God to take care of the rest. I am not going to worry about which level I start out at or when I make it to Houston this year (if at all). The great thing about being a disciple of Jesus is knowing that wherever I am in life, I have purpose and there is work to be done for the kingdom of God. Don’t get me wrong, I am going to work with all that I have in order to reach the big leagues, but while I’m working, I’m not going to worry, and I’ll have some fun!
9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?
Favorite TV show: Currently, ‘Parks and Recreation’. I can really identify with Ron Swanson. Favorite food: Steak.
10.) Lastly, what advice would you give to kids who are just starting out that dream of playing professional baseball one day?
My advice to kids hoping to play pro ball is to work hard in school, first and foremost. Secondly, have fun while you are playing. Don’t let the fun of the game be overshadowed by the worry and fear of not achieving the goals that you have for yourself. Baseball is a fun game, and I have seen too many players in college and pro ball not enjoy it because they want to be the best so badly that their desire for perfection has removed the joy they once had while playing the game. Don’t lose that childlike spirit.
Big thanks to Mark Appel for taking the time to answer my questions.
Due to the Dodgers’ and Diamondbacks’ opening-series that’s set to take place on March 22nd and 23rd in Australia, Spring Training action is beginning a bit earlier than usual this year. The Diamondbacks have their pitchers and catchers reporting today, with the Dodgers’ pitchers and catchers reporting on Saturday. Therefore, for the first time since the Red Sox won the 2013 World Series over three months ago, baseball is finally back.
But while the Dodgers and Diamondbacks are getting started this week, the remainder of the teams won’t begin reporting until next week, anywhere from the 11th to the 17th: The Indians report date is set for Tuesday; the Cardinals and Mariners will begin on Wednesday; the Braves, Orioles, Phillies, Pirates, Nationals, Angels and Padres report Thursday; the Tigers, Yankees, Rays, Cubs, Reds, Royals and Athletics arrive on Friday; the Red Sox, Astros, Mets, White Sox, Rockies, Brewers and Giants on Saturday; the Marlins, Twins and Rangers report on Sunday; and the Blue Jays begin on Monday. (The rest of the players for all the teams will report anywhere from 3 to 7 days after their respective pitchers and catchers.)
Once all of the pitchers and catchers have reported to Spring Training on February 17th, there will be a mere 33 days until the 2014 Major League Baseball season gets underway in Australia. I, for one, can’t wait.
But I’m not quite ready to jump ahead to the start of the regular season just yet, as I still have a lot I want to talk about in the coming weeks. Therefore, for the time being, I’d like to take a minute to discuss something I love to do this time of year (besides watch Spring Training games on TV.) Every Spring Training, for the past two or three years, I’ve sent out a handful of through the mail (TTM) autograph requests to different players around the league. This year, I’m going to be sending out a dozen, or so, TTM’s, with the best player being Clayton Kershaw.
While that might seem like a long shot — and it very well may be — Kershaw, surprisingly, has been known to sign through the mail over the past few years; the only downside being that it takes over a year for him to return it to you.
Though his recent record breaking contract, and second Cy Young award, may lead to him getting even more fan mail, causing a subsequent stop of him signing for fans that write to him, Kershaw is good enough for me to take a chance on. Even if I don’t get anything back, at least I tried.
Other MLB players I’m sending to include Taijuan Walker (who made his MLB debut in 2013), David Robertson, Kolten Wong, Cody Asche, Mike Napoli and Jake Marisnick. All of these players have been known to be decent TTM signers, with Walker and Robertson being nearly automatic over the past couple years. Asche told me that he tries to sign everything that gets sent his way, so I’m fairly confident I’ll get that one back at least.
I’m also sending to several Minor League players who were invited to Major League Spring Training this year — some for the first time ever. Those players include Archie Bradley, Kyle Zimmer, Mark Appel, Kris Bryant and Albert Almora. All five of these players will be in the majors at some point over the next few years, with Bradley likely making his big league debut this season. Bradley, Zimmer and Appel have all told me that they sign TTM, so I feel like I’ll get those back. Almora has been hit and miss recently, and I doubt Bryant will, but I’m sending to both of them anyway, because you never know.
Last year I sent off eleven autograph requests to Spring Training and received back six of them, from Jason Motte, Danny Hultzen, Stephen Romero, Sonny Gray, Tyler Skaggs and Casey Kelly. That’s pretty good as far as TTM’s go. If I get back five or six of the dozen I’m sending off this year — which is what I expect to receive — I’ll be happy.
I’m planning to post a blog entry every time I receive back a couple autographs from the players I’m sending TTM requests to during Spring Training, just as I did last year. Hopefully it won’t be all that terribly long before I start getting them back (maybe a few weeks?). So be sure to check back for that over the course of the next couple months.
I don’t really like to do too many of these type of blog posts. They mainly just serve as fillers when I have nothing else to blog about (like right now), but I suppose they’re also good, in a way, as they let you all know what to expect in the coming month.
As I’m sure you’re aware, today is the first day of February — a month that brings baseball, once again, in the form of Spring Training games. While I’m, unfortunately, not going to be heading down to any games in person, I am going to be blogging about it all, and in addition, am going to be giving my predictions for the coming season between now and the start on March 22nd. (Most of the predictions will come in March, however.)
My first planned post for this month (after this one) will cover the through the mail (TTM) autograph requests I’m sending out to players at the different MLB camps. I did the same thing last year, and have been sending out autograph requests for the past few seasons, so I always enjoy talking about it. (I’ll also be posting an update periodically whenever I receive two or three autographs back, whenever that may be.)
After that, things should pick up a bit — including the amount of baseball news.
I have an interview with the 2013 number one overall draft pick, Mark Appel, coming up this month, which is probably one of the most interesting interviews I’ve every done. It was apparent that Appel put a lot of effort into the questions, as he had a ton to say with each answer. (I always appreciate it when guys do that.)
I’ll probably do another interview — more than likely with Phillies third baseman, Cody Asche — towards the end of the month. That’ll leave just one more month (March) with interviews. I’ll be posting either one or two, depending on a few factors that I won’t discuss now.
Other than the interviews, I’ll just be writing about the baseball news as it happens.
Keep in mind, none of this is set in stone. I may rearrange things, or exclude them altogether. It’s just a basic outline to give an overall idea of what to expect in the coming month.
With so many players switching teams in the offseason, and the newcomers such as Masahiro Tanaka making their first official appearance with their teams, it should be an interesting next few weeks.
Spring Training games are now just over three weeks away . . . .
I’m not sure what it is about prospects that intrigues me so much, but I absolutely love studying over, and basically memorizing, the top 100 prospects list — the stars of tomorrow. I didn’t really get into it until 2012, as that’s when I began to get serious about autograph collecting, and I had to keep up with the prospects to know when a particularly talented player was coming to town. I suppose that’s why I love it so much, as I can’t get autographs from MLB players all that often — living 250 miles from the nearest MLB team — so I have to get them on their way up.
In this blog post, I’m going to tackle the prospects list in chunks (10 prospects at a time), but I’m not going to be talking about them all. That would take far too long, and besides, not every player of the top 100 is going to make an impact at the Major League level in 2014. Therefore, I’m only going to cover the prospects who will likely make it to the big leagues this year; including those who don’t make it out of Spring Training, but have a chance of a call up later in the season.
Keep in mind, I’m by no means guaranteeing the players I discuss below will make the major leagues this year; they could get delayed for whatever reason. In addition, there might end up being a few players I don’t mention that end up making it to the big leagues this season. I’m merely giving my own personal opinions as to which players I feel will make it to the bigs in 2014. With that said, let the debating begin:
Pierce Johnson (100), Rosell Herrera (99), Stephen Piscotty (98), Robbie Ray (97),
There really aren’t any players from the 100-91 spots that I feel have a good shot at making it to the big leagues in 2014. If any of them made it, it would likely be Jorge Bonifacio and/or Robbie Ray, as both have a shot at beginning the year in Triple-A and therefore could potentially be a September call up. It’s more likely, however, that all these players will have to wait until at least 2015.
Jose Berrios (90), Arismendy Alcantara (89), D.J. Peterson (88), Casey Kelly (87),
Matt Barnes (86), Rafael Montero (85), Hak-Ju Lee (84), Jimmy Nelson (83),
Christian Bethancourt (82) and Justin Nicolino (81).
Casey Kelly is the only one of these players that I feel has a chance at starting with the major league club out of Spring Training. Kelly made his MLB debut in 2012, where he was fairly good, but due to Tommy John surgery last season, he missed all of 2013. If healthy, Kelly has the potential to be a major asset to the Padres in their starting rotation, and should be able to show what he’s capable of this season.
While Jimmy Nelson is a player who is on the fence — possibly making the big leagues out of camp in late March — I feel he will likely pitch a month or two in the minors before getting called back up sometime midseason. Matt Barnes, Rafael Montero and Hak-Ju Lee (who spent 2013 injured) should also all see big league time in 2014, and have the potential to become impact players for their respective clubs.
Matt Davidson (80), Braden Shipley (79), Matthew Wisler (78), Chris Owings (77),
Luis Sardinas (76), Mason Williams (75), Josh Bell (74), Trevor Bauer (73),
Michael Choice (72) and David Dahl (71).
Matt Davidson — recently traded to the White Sox from the Diamondback’s — Chris Owings, Trevor Bauer and Michael Choice could all potentially start the year in the majors, but there’s also the chance that they could spend a few games in Triple-A. They all played in the big leagues at some point in 2013 and will each get their chance to shine on the big stage at some point in 2014, possibly right off the bat.
Matthew Wisler isn’t going to begin the season the Padres, however, it is likely that he could see a few games with them as a late season call up. They could always use pitching help, and Wisler, going 10-6 with a 2.78 ERA last year, could certainly go a long way for the Padres in 2014.
Erik Johnson (70), A.J. Cole (69), Eduardo Rodriguez (68), Alen Hanson (67),
Delino De Shields (66), Jake Marisnick (65), Julio Urias (64), Zach Lee (63),
Mookie Betts (62) and Blake Swihart (61).
Jake Marisnick spent a good bit of time (40 games) with the Marlin in 2013, and there’s a good shot at him starting off the year with them. Marisnick didn’t perform particularly well, but he’s still young and would make a good outfielder for them in 2014. Erik Johnson, who also made his MLB debut last season, has the potential to break camp with the White Sox, but it’s going to come down to how he performs in Spring Training. Either way, he’ll see time in the majors this season.
Eduardo Rodriguez, Zach Lee and Alen Hanson all could make it to the bigs in 2014, but for Hanson that may have to wait another season. Rodriguez and Lee should begin the 2014 season with Triple-A, and depending on how they do, they could possibly be September call ups. Hanson also holds that chance, but it will likely be 2015 for him.
Lucas Sims (60), Rougned Odor (59), Kolten Wong (58), Garin Cecchini (57),
Jake Odorizzi (56), Marcus Stroman (55), Mike Foltynewicz (54), Jesse Biddle (53),
Lance McCullers (52) and Colin Moran (51).
Kolten Wong, despite forever holding the distinction of being picked off to end the game during the 2013 World Series, should begin the season where he left off. As a late season call up last year, Wong did decently, and many feel he is going to turn into a very special player. Jake Odorizzi also has the talent to begin 2014 at the big league level, but the big difference between Wong and Odorizzi is team room. The Rays’ rotation is packed, and therefore it’s likely Odorizzi will be back with Triple-A to begin the season.
Garin Cecchini, Marcus Stroman, Mike Foltynewicz and Jesse Biddle all have the chance to make their MLB debuts this season, as they all should begin in Triple-A. Of them, Stroman has the potential to be called up the quickest, as many people feel he is the most ready, and the Blue Jays really could use some pitching. But all of them should help out their respective clubs at some point this year.
Jonathan Singleton (50), Jorge Soler (49), Clint Frazier (48), Gary Sanchez (47),
Allen Webster (46), Austin Meadows (45), Lucas Giolito (44), Max Fried (43),
C.J. Edwards (42) and Eddie Butler (41).
Allen Webster is the only player of this group that stands any shot at making the majors to start the year, but even so, it’s not a good shot. Despite making the Red Sox rotation in 2013, Webster performed somewhat poorly, and it’s likely that that bad showing could land him back in Triple-A to begin 2014.
Jonathan Singleton, Gary Sanchez and Eddie Butler all could begin 2014 in Triple-A, and all three could make the majors this season. Of them, Singleton is the only player with Triple-A experience, but they each have the talent to make their respective clubs at some point this year. The only thing that would hold Sanchez back would possibly be Brian McCann, whom the Yankees signed to a major contract earlier this offseason, and is blocking Sanchez’s spot as the Bronx Bombers’ catcher.
Kohl Stewart (40), Jorge Alfaro (39), Adalberto Mondesi (38), Billy Hamilton (37),
Billy Hamilton, Yordano Ventura, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Kevin Gausman all should begin the season in the majors, as all four of them spent time there last season. Though they all have some things to work on, they each have a ton of natural talent, and could be helping out their big league club from day one of the 2014 season, with Bradley having to compete for his outfield spot against the newly acquired Grady Sizemore.
Joc Pederson was debated over by the Dodgers last season as to whether or not they wanted to call him up or choose another talented outfielder by the name of Yasiel Puig instead. (We all know what happened — with Puig going on a tear with the Dodgers — so I won’t talk a lot about it.) Though he doesn’t have the power that Puig possesses, Pederson is going to be a great player for the Dodgers, and should see a few games in the majors in 2014. The only question being, is there room for him in the already crowded outfield? (A possible trade isn’t out of the question.)
Henry Owens (30), Andrew Heaney (29), Alex Meyer (28), Tyler Glasnow (27),
George Springer and Travis d’Arnaud each have a chance to begin 2014 with their big league team, but d’Arnaud is the more likely of the two. He spent the last month of the 2013 season with the Mets, and should begin with them out of Spring Training. Springer on the other hand — while he hit 37 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A last year — will likely spend a month or two in the minors before finally getting a chance to showcase his talents on the biggest stage possible.
Henry Owens, Andrew Heaney, Alex Meyer and Maikel Franco will likely be sent to Triple-A out of Spring Training, however, they should all reach the major league level this season. They all have a ton of talent, and will be fun to watch this season. If any of them get called up early enough, they could become an immediate everyday impact player for their club.
Dylan Bundy (20), Robert Stephenson (19), Albert Almora (18), Mark Appel (17),
Jameson Taillon (16), Nick Castellanos (15), Jonathan Gray (14), Gregory Polanco (13),
Addison Russell (12) and Noah Syndergaard (11).
Nick Castellanos finally has a spot available for him on the Tigers and it’s likely that he’ll claim it right out of Spring Training. Castellanos spent the final games of 2013 in the big leagues, but with Miguel Cabrera at third — his normal position — Castellanos was forced to the outfield. Now that Prince Fielder is with the Rangers, Cabrera can return to his original spot at first, and Castellanos can play a full season at third base, where he should do extremely well.
There are a ton of players from the 20-11 spots that will likely see big league time in 2014. Dylan Bundy, Robert Stephenson, Mark Appel, Jameson Taillon, Gregory Polanco, Addison Russell and Noah Syndergaard all stand a decent shot — some better than others — with Bundy, Taillon and Syndergaard likely being the three with the best shot of a call up earlier than September. We’ll have to see exactly what happens, but this group of players in particular will be a fun one to watch.
Francisco Lindor (10), Kris Bryant (9), Carlos Correa (8), Javier Baez (7),
Taijuan Walker (6), Archie Bradley (5), Miguel Sano (4), Oscar Taveras (3),
Xander Bogaerts (2) and Byron Buxton (1).
Taijuan Walker, Xander Bogaerts and Archie Bradley will all spend a good chunk of time in the big leagues in 2014, but it’s likely that they will begin the year with their major league teams. Admittedly, Bradley is a bit of a stretch — likely starting the year in Triple-A — but if he performs exceptionally well in Spring Training, it’s not completely out of the question. All of these players, if they can remain healthy and subsequently play enough games at the major league level, all have the potential to be Rookie of the Year caliber players.
Francisco Lindor, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Oscar Taveras could each play games in the majors this season, but it’s possible that Bryant will have to wait until 2015, depending on how he performs and how quickly the Cubs want to bring him along. Regardless, all of these players, as with the previously named players in this group, have the potential to be Rookie of the Year finalist in 2015, assuming they don’t exceed the stats in 2014 needed to still qualify as a rookie the next season.
I can honestly say that I agree with the top 100 prospects list for the most part, though there were a few players that I feel should’ve ranked higher/lower than they were. But I didn’t form the list, so I can’t complain. Now that the top prospects going into the 2014 season have been announced, I pose the following question: Which of the top ten prospects (although a couple of them may not even make the major leagues) do you feel will have the biggest impact at the major league level in 2014? Cast your vote below:
Feel free to leave a comment below with your overall thoughts on the top 100 prospects list heading into this season.
This is my 121st blog post of the year and it will be my last of 2013. I’ve done my best to keep all the goals I originally set back in January, but it’s Christmas time, so I’m going to mess up my goal of blogging at least once every four days and take a break until the new year.
I’ve really had a great time with this blog in the past year, as I’ve blogged more often than I ever had before. With the exception of my 24-day trip around the country in July/August, I got 2-3 posts up every week. That’s pretty good if you ask me.
As I did last year, I’m going to be setting five resolutions/goals for the 2014 blogging season on January 1st (my next blog post). A few of them are going to be the same, however, I’ve changed a couple around, based on my 2013 blogging year.
After that, I’m going to be posting an entry on my Hall of Fame picks, followed by the players elected into the H.O.F. (on January 8th) and a post marking the three-year anniversary of this blog on January 20th. I also have the 2013 number one overall draft pick, Mark Appel, scheduled for an interview sometime next month. So a Q and A with him will likely come late in the month, or early in early February.
Lastly, I just wanted to take the time to thank everyone who’s read my blog throughout the past year, and throughout its nearly three year existence. Whether you’re a regular or just check in from time-to-time, if it weren’t for you all I’d have no reason to blog. So thank you. I’m going to do my best to make 2014 the best year yet — even better than 2013 — and hopefully you will all continue to come back every so often to read what I have to say.
Merry Christmas, and best wishes for a Happy New Year.