Around a month 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 fourteen total TTM requests I sent off, I’ve received four of them back, with them being from:
KYLE ZIMMER — ROYALS’ ORGANIZATION
Kyle Zimmer is the number 25 overall prospect in all of baseball. Although he didn’t have a fantastic 2013 season, going 6-9 with a 4.32 ERA, Zimmer has a ton of upside moving forward, and has many people excited for Kansas City’s future. With a fantastic fastball, in addition to an arsenal of a curveball, slider and changeup, Zimmer could, potentially, see his first big league time at some point towards the end of this season.
ALBERT ALMORA — CUBS’ ORGANIZATION
Albert Almora is the number 18 overall prospect in all of baseball. Though he played in just 61 games last season, Almora is one of the Cubs’ highly coveted core prospects — consisting of Kris Bryan, Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, etc. — that are making their way to Wrigley Field. Almora is still several years away from the major leagues, but by batting .329 last year, hopes are high that he will develop into the talented outfielder that he has the ability to become.
CLAYTON KERSHAW — LOS ANGELES DODGERS
This one doesn’t need too much explaining. Clayton Kershaw has become one of the biggest superstars over the course of the past few seasons, winning two Cy Young awards in that time frame. Going 16-9 with a 1.83 ERA in 2013, Kershaw should continue to be, arguably, the most dominant pitcher in all of Major League Baseball. He’s set to get his first start of the season on March 22nd, in game one of the Opening Series against the Diamondbacks down in Australia.
EDDIE BUTLER — ROCKIES’ ORGANIZATION
Eddie Butler is the number 41 overall prospect in all of baseball. Pitching in the 2013 MLB futures game up in New York City, in July, Butler went a combined 9-5 with a 1.80 ERA last season, really putting himself on the map around the league. He held opponents’ batting average to a mere .180 for the entire season, and combined with other top Rockies pitching prospect, Jonathan Gray, the Rockies have a fairly good pair of young arms coming their way in the next couple of years.
I still have autograph requests out for Archie Bradley, Taijuan Walker, David Robertson, Mark Appel, Cody Asche, Kris Bryant, Kolten Wong, Mike Napoli, Jake Marisnick and James Paxton. When/if I get any of those back, assuming it’s before Opening Day on March 31st, I’ll be sure to post another update. Though, there’s no guarantee I’ll get any more back at all.
Spring Training is well underway, and many players are beginning to find their grooves that they hope will carry over into the coming regular season. With just over three weeks until Opening Day, on March 31st, there’s not too much time remaining for players who struggled last season to get things back on track for this year. With that said, some players certainly need to have a good year more than others.
While every player, obviously, wants to have a good, healthy season, there are numerous players who pretty much have to produce a good 2014 for one reason or another — whether it’s personal reasons, statistical reasons, or for team success as a whole. Although there are more players than those in my list below, here are the top ten players (in no particular order) that I feel need to have a really good 2014 season:
1.) Albert Pujols
After recording twelve straight seasons of 30 or more home runs (all but one of which included 100+ RBI’s) Albert Pujols faced the first bit of adversity of his career in 2013. Dealing with a nagging foot injury, Pujols only managed to post 17 home runs and 64 RBI’s, along with a .258 batting average — absolutely terrible by his standards — in 99 games played. With the down year coming as a shock to many people, especially after the acquisition of him led many to predict playoff pushes for the Angels, there will be many eyes on Pujols from his very first at-bat of the season to see if he can bounce back. I personally feel that if Pujols is healthy, the numbers will be there, and he will be a top candidate for American League comeback player of the year, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
2.) Ryan Braun
In January of 2013, a list was made public by the biogenesis clinic in Miami, Florida, connecting numerous players to performance enhancing drugs, including Ryan Braun. After being connected to PED’s back in 2011, the list raised many red flags, but Braun denied any drug use, yet again. But finally, after a 65-game suspension by Major League Baseball, Braun came clean and admitted to having used PED’s, upsetting many people around the league. Therefore, unlike anyone else on my list, Braun (who had a good season, batting .298 with 9 homers and 38 RBI’s in 61 games) needs to have a good 2014 more for his personal image rather than his talent level image. Everyone knows he’s a great player, but it will take some time for fans to get over Braun’s consistent denial of PED use — and a great season would certainly help with that.
3.) Ryan Howard
Battling injuries over the course of the past two seasons, Ryan Howard needs to have a bounce back year for him to once again be considered the major power threat that he once was. Playing in only 80 games in 2013, Howard batted a mere .266 with 11 home runs and 43 RBI’s. Considering the fact that Howard hit 33 home runs just two years prior, making it the sixth 30+ home run season of his career, the Phillies’ former star first baseman really needs to show signs of his former self this season. If Howard can perform anywhere near his previous level by staying healthy and putting many a ball into the outfield seats, not only could he very well win the 2014 National League comeback player of the year award, but the Phillies could have a real shot at having a memorable year.
4.) Derek Jeter
Announcing that 2014 would be his final season playing Major League Baseball last month, Derek Jeter needs to have a good final season to top off an already incredible career. In 2013, Jeter struggled with injury after injury, managing to play in only 17 games, and posting a .190 batting average, to go along with a single homer and 7 runs batted in. After accumulating over 3,300 hits in the big leagues over the course of his career, Jeter doesn’t need to have a good final season to be remembered as one of the best players of all-time — he’s already on that list for many people — but rather to finish out his career in Jeter fashion, going out on top of his game. I truly hope he can have a great 2014 season, and I feel he will do just that.
5.) David Price
When David Price won the 2012 American League Cy Young award, recording 20 wins and posting a 2.56 ERA, many (myself included) felt he had a good chance at doing the same again last season. But instead, Price was faced with a midseason injury that caused his numbers to take a tumble. Posting a win-loss record of 10-8 with a 3.33 ERA — not too terrible, but somewhat disappointing for him — Price needs to bounce back in 2014 for both his sake and the sake of the Rays. Price truly can be the key for the Rays, who always seem to be on the brink of playoff baseball every season. With an improved American League East division for the coming year, Price’s season could be the difference maker for if the Rays are able to make the postseason or not.
6.) B.J. Upton
Arguably the biggest disappointment of the 2013 season, batting .184 with just 9 home runs and 26 RBI’s after a 2012 season of 28 homers and 78 runs driven in, B.J. Upton has to have a good season this year for him not to be considered a trade bust by the Braves. The Braves managed to win their division last season by a rather large margin without much production from Upton, and if they can get Upton back to his former self, the Braves could have an even better year. It will be interesting to see how B.J. Upton does in the coming year with so much negative criticism surrounding him from the 2013 season. If he can have another good season, the down year he experience will be a forgotten aspect of the past.
7.) Stephen Strasburg
There are some players that are tagged with a major amount of hype from their first appearance in the big leagues, and Stephen Strasburg is one of them. While he hasn’t disappointed for the most part, going 8-9 with a 3.00 ERA last season, Strasburg also hasn’t managed to blow everyone away and completely dominate like many believe he can. It’s been reported that Strasburg has added a new pitch to his arsenal and is throwing better than ever, and that could mean good things for both him and the Nationals. If Strasburg can find a way to tally even ten more wins than he did this past year, the Nat’s could find themselves in the running for the National League East division title, assuming everything else goes right for the rest of the team.
8.) Mike Moustakas
Having the potential to be an All-Star third baseman season after season, Mike Moustakas has yet to post an exceptional season at the major league level. Batting only .233, with 12 homers and 42 RBI’s last season, Moustakas needs to have a good season this year for him to be seen as the above average player he can be moving forward. The Royals still have several holes in their lineup, but Moustakas performing well each year would go a long way in helping them move back into contention. He’s still fairly young, at just 25 years old, and therefore has time left to live out his former hype, but Moustakas could use a strong statistical season to prove to many that he’s one of the top third baseman in the game of baseball today.
9.) Matt Kemp
Although he’s still not fully healthy, Matt Kemp is already on the radar of many people who think he will have a good 2014 season. The only question mark being his health, playing in only 73 games last year. If healthy, as with many players on this list, the numbers will be there, as Kemp is one of the premier talents in the game today, possessing 40 home run, 40 stolen base ability (coming one home run shy of doing just that in 2011, when he placed second in MVP voting). Although there is great depth in the Dodgers’ current outfield, which includes players such as Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier and Yasiel Puig, if Kemp can show signs that he’s healthy, he will certainly get plenty of playing time in the coming season. He’s too good of a player to count out.
10.) Tim Lincecum
Once a Cy Young caliber pitcher, having won back-to-back awards in 2008 and 2009, Tim Lincecum has really fallen off as of late. Each of the past two seasons, Lincecum has posted an ERA over 4.00, and in addition had losing records. While the win-loss record isn’t the most important thing when evaluating a pitcher’s season, an ERA anywhere above 3.50 usually means they had a disappointing year. But with the talent that Lincecum has shown in the past, I’m not giving up on a turnaround just yet. He just really needs to have a good 2014 season — perhaps more than most of the players on this list — for him to become ‘The Freak’ pitcher he once was considered. I truly hope he can, because when Lincecum is on, he’s one of the most fun pitchers to watch in all of baseball.
There are a few players who need to have a good 2014 season who just barely missed my above list because their stats were slightly too good. One of those being Josh Hamilton, who was a major disappointment after signing with the Angles, but when you check the stats, he actually had a decent year, hitting 21 home runs and driving in 79 runs. Another example of that being Yoenis Cespedes, who had a down year average wise, hitting just .240, but posted 26 homers and 80 RBI’s. Not too bad of a season for most players.
Joining those two on the list of just misses are Giancarlo Stanton, who was injured in 2013 but still managed to hit 24 home runs and amass 62 RBI’s, along with Dan Uggla, whose .179 batting included 22 homers and 55 RBI’s, which really isn’t all that terrible. While all the players listed under the just missed category had down seasons by their standards, they managed to have somewhat decent years as far as the major league average goes. Even so, they could each use a good 2014 season to prove what they’re capable of.
Which player needs to have a good 2014 season the most? Leave a comment below.
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.
After hours of searching the internet (mainly MLB.com) for topics to discuss in a blog post, I couldn’t really come up with anything all that worthwhile. Although there are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of potential things to write about, nothing caught my attention enough to publish something on. (Thank goodness Spring Training games start soon.)
Therefore, I decided to type up a post on the MLB ballparks I’ve been to in my life — in chronological order — and tell a little about my time spent at each one. While that may not be all that exciting to read about (sorry?), I figured it might appeal to some. Living in North Carolina, I can’t make it to MLB games too often, and thus, I’ve been to nine major league ballparks in my life — some more than once — with them being:
Turner Field — Home of the Atlanta Braves
One of only two ballparks I’ve been to more than once, I first visited Turner Field way back in 2002. It was my first ever baseball game, and I didn’t know who was playing (the Cubs), nor the basic rules of the game. All that I knew was that there was some sort of sport going on. A lot has certainly changed since then — I’m a huge baseball fan now — but this game was the first professional baseball action of my life, and will subsequently always be a special memory.
My second visit to see the Braves play came in 2009, against the Yankees . . . . :
. . . . followed by another visit the following year for a couple of games against the Mets and the Giants (seen below):
The Yankees would go on to win the 2009 World Series, with the Giants going on to win the 2010 World Series. So, I guess you could say I bring teams long-term luck at Turner Field — just not the Braves.
Citizens Bank Park — Home of the Philadelphia Phillies
In what would turn out to be their final year of existence, my first game in Philadelphia saw the Phillies taking on the Montreal Expos, back in 2004. I don’t have any pictures from the game, but I remember it fairly vividly; except for the fact that the manager of the Expos was Hall of Famer Frank Robinson. That I don’t remember, but it’s neat to look back and say, at least, that I saw him. (Or, I think I did.)
Comerica Park — Home of the Detroit Tigers
Yet another game against the Yankees, this game was took place back in 2005, and included the likes of Gary Sheffield, Derek Jeter, Magglio Ordonez and Ivan Rodriguez. Though I remember the game, I still didn’t care about baseball all that much. That is, until Bernie Williams hit a game-winning homer in the ninth inning, which is the one moment from the game that sticks out in my mind, and really began my baseball obsession. (I even wrote a blog post on it.)
PNC Park — Home of the Pittsburgh Pirates
PNC Park was the first ballpark I can recall saying “wow” at. Not in reaction to a miraculous play made in the game, but as response to the beauty of the stadium itself. It’s truly one of the most scenic parks I’ve been to, and although this was the only time I’ve ever been (July 2, 2006, against the Tigers), I have no doubt that I’ll be back one day. Especially now, with the Pirates finally having a team worth seeing; making the playoffs for the first time in my life last year.
Fenway Park — Home of the Boston Red Sox
Beautiful in its own way, Fenway Park is my favorite ballpark I’ve ever visited — hands down. The historic aspect to the park is enough to make it number one on my list of stadiums visited, as not too many places can you say that players such as Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski have played on the same field at one point in time. This particular game was in 2008, against the Diamondbacks, and despite a Red Sox loss, it was an all around amazing time.
Great American Ballpark — Home of the Cincinnati Reds
After a first attempt to visit this ballpark in 2011 resulted in a rainout, 2012 brought my first ever game at Great American Ballpark:
It turned out to be Reds’ Hall of Fame induction day, and although it wasn’t planned that way, it was an extremely full day of baseball fun. Starting early in the morning, with a meet and greet with former Reds greats — including Eric Davis and the 2012 inductees Dan Driessen and Sean Casey — and ending with a great Reds win, this was one of the more entertaining MLB games I’ve ever been to.
Kauffman Stadium — Home of the Kansas City Royals
I’m counting this as a ballpark I’ve been to, as although I’m yet to see a “game” here, I went inside the park and witnessed an MLB event, in this case, the 2012 Home Run Derby at Kauffman Stadium:
This wouldn’t even be on the list if it wasn’t for State Farm. As you may recall if you’ve been following my blog for awhile, I received an all expense paid trip to the 2012 derby in Kansas City, which I attended with my grandpa. Prince Fielder ended up taking home his second derby title, and I was able to add another ballpark to my list.
Camden Yards — Home of the Baltimore Orioles
One of the most recent ballparks I’ve visited, just last year, Camden Yards could very well be the most amazing MLB park in all of baseball when you combine everything together. (Though, I can’t make a fair conclusion, since I’m still far from having been to them all.) The fans are electric, the park itself is perfectly designed, and it certainly was a fun time:
With the help of a couple of Chris Davis homers, the Orioles cruised to an easy 11-3 win against the Yankees in this particular game.
Safeco Field — Home of the Seattle Mariners
The last ballpark I’ve visited up to this point in time — I attended the Mariners-Twins game on July 26, 2013 — Safeco Field wasn’t my favorite ballpark I’ve ever been to (don’t get me wrong, it was incredible) but the city views were definitely better than any I’ve witnessed at an MLB stadium:
Felix Hernandez pitched a gem of a game, but would go on to get a no decision in a tough Mariners’ loss. Nonetheless, this made the ninth ballpark I’ve been to, and I don’t plan on stopping until I’ve been to all thirty. Hopefully that won’t take too terribly long.
While that concludes the ballparks I’ve been inside, I’ve seen five other stadiums in passing which I thought I should include anyway. I won’t spend very long discussing them, since there isn’t really a great story behind the encounter, but I do want to mention them anyway.
Back in 2006, on a family vacation to New York City, I was lucky enough to see the exterior of the Old Yankee Stadium, which has since been torn down. Unfortunately, tickets were sold out to the games during our trip, which led to having to settle with a game in Pittsburgh (as described above).
The final four ballparks I’ve “seen” include U.S. Cellular Field (White Sox’ park), Nationals Park, Busch Stadium (Cardinals’ park) and Chase Field (Diamondbacks’ park). My distant views of the parks came from an airplane, for U.S. Cellular Field, and the highway, for Nationals Park, Bush Stadium and Chase Field.
As you’d probably agree, all of the parks listed after Safeco Field don’t officially count.
But I have no doubt I’ll see games in them some day.
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.