Archive for March, 2014

VFTB Radio Episode 9 – The Opening Day Show

Monday, March 31st, 2014

SHOW OUTLINE

  • A discussion on the opening day loss and general team discussion.
  • VFTB Mailbag Question on our favorite baseball video games of all time.

Download the Episode – (50 min / 11 MB)

SUBSCRIPTION INFO

Subscribe to the show in iTunes (Please remember to review and rate the show) Follow us on Twitter: Joe – @vftb / Josh – @JCstats / Sean – @powell_sean E-mail the mailbag – viewfromthebleachers@gmail.com

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Miggy and Trout Get Paid, Drug Testing, and Opening Day.

Monday, March 31st, 2014

After the season kicked off in Australia about a week ago, the excitement for baseball’s return had reached its peak. Players were finally returning from Florida and Arizona, and games were actually going to mean something.

Before we could get to that point, though, we had to make it through one more week of essentially meaningless games, and although nothing too relevant happened on the field, there was more than enough to keep everyone busy.


Cabrera, Trout Sign Big Extensions

The two best position players in baseball each signed lucrative contract extensions, and they happened to be within 48 hours of each other. Though they’re both undoubtedly proven players, the reactions that were elicited from each contract were completely different.

The first deal to get done was the Detroit Tigers pact with reigning AL MVP Miguel Cabrera. The eye-popping 10-year, $292 million deal was the richest in total value in MLB history, and many fans and analysts alike panned it due to a combination of Cabrera’s age, and the length of the contract.

On the other hand, the 6-year, $144.5 million contract for the Los Angeles Angels and Mike Trout was widely considered to be a smart move for both sides, as it takes Trout through his arbitration years and ends when he is 29. When that time comes, he’ll likely unseat Cabrera (or potentially a different player) for the largest contract in history.

From my perspective, I’d have to say that I’m not against the Cabrera deal as many people are. Of course, many executives around the league are criticizing it, but that’s probably because the cost of the best player on their team just skyrocketed, along with any free agents they may bring in. Cabrera should remain one of the better hitters in the game throughout the course of his contract, as his blend of contact and power, and his utilization of the entire field will allow him to age well.


New Drug Testing Process To Be Implemented

Somehow, the MLB quietly agreed to a system that will enforce performance-enhancing drugs better than any of the four major sports leagues. It won’t get much mainstream media coverage, but Bud Selig, new Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark, and the rest of the executives really knocked this one out of the park.

Under the new guidelines, the penalties for positive tests will be much more strict than before. A first positive test will result in an 80-game suspension, which is up from 50 in the previous agreement, the second will be worth a full season (162 games), and a third will be a permanent suspension from Major League Baseball.

It’s not just the penalties that stiffened, but the testing process as well. Each player will be required to take Carbon Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry tests, which show if HGH was in a player’s system in the past two weeks. Along with that, there will be around 1,800 more urine samples collected (Side note: I never thought I’d ever write about urine at any point).

That’s not even the end of it, either. There will also be increased blood testing for HGH, and, as a positive for players, there will be some leniency with unintentional positive tests which puts an end to the “No Tolerance” era.


Spring Training Comes To A Close

It’s about time. After going through about a month-long tease, we’re finally going to be treated to regular season baseball, and I think I speak for everyone in saying that it couldn’t have come quick enough.

Throughout this spring, we got to see old faces in new places, like Robinson Cano in Seattle and Prince Fielder in Texas. These two players, specifically, stepped up to the plate for their teams and will look to build on their successes from MLB’s preseason. Of course, some teams weren’t so lucky with their big acquisitions, as the Yankees couldn’t have been happy with Jacoby Ellsbury’s play, same for the Twins and Ricky Nolasco.

Like every spring, there were some standout young players that made their mark on their team, as players like Nick Castellanos, Javier Baez and Addison Russell all put on a show throughout March. While those three might not all get up to the big league this year (Castellanos will start at third for the Tigers, and Baez should be up in no time at all), they showed that they’ll be a big part of their respective team’s futures.

It’s great to see all of the young players get to play against top-level competition, but I know I’m not alone in thinking that Spring Training couldn’t have ended soon enough. It’s finally time, ladies and gentlemen. Play Ball!

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10 Bold Predictions for the 2014 Cubs Season

Monday, March 31st, 2014

Happy Opening Day everyone. If you’re like me, this is a personal holiday for you. I’ve taken it as a holiday from work and/or school for as long as I can remember. I’m definitely one who is on the bandwagon to make the day a national holiday. If the sport is our “National Pastime”, then the day should be a holiday.

I make no secret that I am not a fan of spring training. I don’t get excited about the season until it’s here. As far as I’m concerned, spring training is a necessary evil. That said, I’m excited about this team and excited about this season. I am much more excited about the 2014 season than I was about last season. I am going to go on record with 10 bold predictions for the season. Take these with a grain of salt for two reasons. First, note the key word, bold. They aren’t intended to all come true. Second, know that I completely suck at predictions. ESPN recently asked me to fill out my ballot for the 2014 season for various questions and then tabbed me in their “expert panel”. I laughed at that. So, away we go.

1. Mike Olt will lead the team in home runs – If you’ve listened to our podcast at all, you know we’re all fans of Olt and we want him to succeed. This year, after reportedly clearing up the vision issues that caused his development to come off the track, he will come out and not only solidify his claim to the third base job, but do it in such a manner that it causes the front office to wonder why they even considered using Luis Valbuena or Donnie Murphy there to begin with. Olt has power and it will be on display in 2014.

2. Javier Baez will have started at least 15 games at shortstop for the Cubs by September 1. – I haven’t decided if I think this will be a result of an injury or issue with Starlin Castro and his production, or if it will simply be an element of Baez pushing his way into the lineup. Regardless of the reason, Baez is close and we’re going to see him sooner rather than later.

3. Anthony Rizzo will finish in the top 10 for the NL MVP race. – So many people are down on Rizzo and the season he had in 2013, but when you really look at the numbers, they weren’t horrible. This year he continues to improve and rebounds strongly to begin to make a name for himself in the NL.

4. Kyle Hendricks will make at least 10 starts for the Cubs – I like Hendricks a lot and I feel like he’s next man up in the event of an injury or poor performance. Nevermind the fact that it came down to Carlos Villanueva and Chris Rusin for the last spot in the rotation. Hendricks is the guy who will get the longer look.

5. Pedro Strop will finish the season with more saves than Jose Veras – I was actually a little surprised when the Cubs brought in Veras. There was no question that the pen needed to be improved, and it has been, but the move to bring in a closer when at the end of 2013 you let Strop audition for the job seems weird.

6. The bullpen will finish in the top 5 in the NL for ERA – It’s improved and bolstered with power arms. Be excited.

7. More than one player will represent the Cubs in the All Star game. – If I have to pick, I’m going with Rizzo and Travis Wood.

8. Castro will be traded by the July 31 deadline and Darwin Barney will not. – Just a hunch.

9. People will quickly see why Arodys Vizcaino was considered a top prospect when he announces his presence with authority after being recalled from Iowa and becomes one of the top arms in the pen. – I believe very strongly in this guy, so much that I called for him to make the opening day roster. He didn’t, but watch what happens when he comes up. At least 10 K/9 ratio and an ERA under 3.00.

10. The Cubs will win 81 games in 2014 – I hinted at this in the last few weeks on the podcast and I’m locking it in now in writing. This team will be .500 when all is said and done. You heard it here first.


Opening day means all the teams throw their best. Personally, I think Wood is the best pitcher in the rotation, but you can’t deny that Samardzija is a good choice after the monster performance he posted last year against the Pirates on opening day. His opponent is Francisco Liriano, who really turned his career around last year after signing with Pittsburgh. Since he’s spent the majority of his career in the American League, very few members of the roster have seen him for any amount of time. He’s a three pitch pitcher (Fastball, Slider, and Change). What I find interesting is that last year we saw a drop in the amount he used the fastball despite the velocity staying the same. As a result, he saw a significant increase in production. Another interesting note: Date back to 2009 reports that vs. lefties he simply does not use the change up, only throwing it 1.8% of the time. Compare that with how he approaches the righties, where he uses the change 24.3% of the time.

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Cubs Roster Taking Shape

Friday, March 28th, 2014

Cubs GM Jed Hoyer announced yesterday that Mike Olt and Ryan Kalish have made the Cubs MLB roster (making my early roster predictions look AMAZING – and making Joe’s predictions look TERRIBLE). So, with George Kottaras and Donnie Murphy gone, the positional roster looks like this:

C – Welington Castillo / John Baker

1B – Anthony Rizzo

SS – Starlin Castro

…and here’s where it gets interesting:

2B – Darwin Barney / Emilio Bonifacio / Luis Valbuena

3B – Olt / Valbuena

OF – Junior Lake / Nate Schierholtz / Ryan Sweeney / Justin Ruggiano / Ryan Kalish / Bonifacio

The challenge for Rick Renteria is going to be shuffling around players enough to give everyone enough at-bats to stay productive, while also not shuffling so much that the younger guys don’t get consistent at-bats. As you can see, I think Bonifacio will play in both the infield and the outfield, while Valbuena will likely see time at both 2B and 3B. However, I don’t think you have Olt on the roster to sit on the bench – given his upside – so finding time for all these guys is going to be quite difficult. There is, of course, a chance that a trade or two could still happen – but opening day is just around the corner (yay!), so those moves are becoming less likely. The Barney and Schierholtz trade rumors are still hanging around…

To me, Barney has to be the odd man out. He’s pretty much a glove-only guy at this point (even with the expected positive regression at the plate) – so you don’t want him to be taking at-bats away from guys who hit better (and have more developmental upside). Of course, he’s also not a good pinch-hit option coming off the bench. I just have a hard time finding a reason to have him on this team at this point (aside from the intangibles like “leadership”). Every time he’s in the lineup, I can see myself wishing that someone else was playing instead.

The only roster questions that remain involve the 5th starter (Carlos Villanueva or Chris Rusin) and the last bullpen spot (Rusin / Alberto Cabrera / Justin Grimm). My money is on Villanueva to grab the 5th starter spot (until Jake Arrieta comes back) and for Cabrera to take the bullpen gig (out of options). I’d rather have Rusin remain a starter in AAA anyway – I’m sure we’ll need him at some point later in the season for a spot start or two.

How Renteria handles these playing-time issues will be a huge test for the first-year manager. If he pulls this off, we may have found ourselves a keeper.

I’ll be in Chicago next weekend for opening day at Wrigley Field. I’ll be in the bleachers on Friday and Saturday. If you’re around, and you happen to see me, feel free to say “hi.” Since I’ve been living in Georgia the last 6 years, I’ve become quite the wimp, so I’ll probably be so bundled-up you won’t recognize me anyway.

In the meantime, please head over to iTunes to subscribe to, rate, and review the VFTB podcast.

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Why Cubs’ Fans Can’t Compare Current Prospects with Gary Scott and Felix Pie

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

There may be no more exciting time than 2014 to be a fan of the Chicago Cubs.

Hold on…hold on…I am referring to the Cubs collection of talented young prospects…not the current Major League incarnation.

Still not thrilled? I understand…you may be one of those naysayers, stating with acrimony; “they are just prospects!” or “we have seen this all before!” Sorry if you get the impression that I am drunk on Cubbie blue Kool-Aid, but here’s the rub;

Cubs’ fans haven’t seen this before.

For my book, Beyond Bartman, Curses and Goats: 105 Reasons Why It’s Been 105 Years, I meticulously researched every Cubs’ draft starting with the initial MLB draft of 1965.  In ‘65 the Cubs drafted a player by the name of Rick James (…not the ‘80s funk master).  Johnny Bench and Nolan Ryan were but two of the players selected after Mr. James, whose career amounted to nothing.  Essentially, the 1965 Cubs’ draft was a telling harbinger of future Chicago Cubs’ drafts.

Ken Holtzman, Rick Reuschel and Lee Smith are the only significant players drafted by the Chicago Cubs from 1965-1980.  The arrival of Dallas Green’s regime in 1982 set in motion a prosperous run of draft picks; Joe Carter, Shawon Dunston, Greg Maddux, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark Grace, Joe Girardi and others.  For his efforts, Mr. Green was fired by the Cubs in 1987.  Thus another void in prospects was created until the late 1990’s.  Jim Hendry may have been an unpopular guy upon his firing in 2010; nevertheless he had a hand in producing a renaissance in Chicago Cubs’ prospects.  Below are the Cubs’ prospects included in Baseball America’s top 100 rankings from 2000-2005:

2000(2) – Corey Patterson #3, Hee-Seop Choi #77

2001(5) – Corey Patterson #2, Juan Cruz #17, Hee-Seop Choi #22, Ben Christensen #37, Carlos Zambrano #68

2002(7) – Mark Prior #2, Juan Cruz #6, Hee-Seop Choi #40, David Kelton #45, Bobby Hill #48, Nic Jackson #68, Carlos Zambrano #80.

2003(4) – Hee-Seop Choi #22, Angel Guzman #47, Andy Sisco #53, Nic Jackson #100.

2004(6) – Angel Guzman #24, Justin Jones #56, Ryan Harvey #65(sorry…I just threw up in my mouth a bit), Andy Sisco #77, Felix Pie #85, Bobbie Brownlie #92

2005(3) – Brian Dopirak #21(sorry, I did it again), Felix Pie #31, Ryan Harvey #66

Upon perusing these names, a Cubs’ fan might view this period as a time of great failure. Conversely, I would like you to consider the following:

  • The Cubs were pretty, pretty close to the World Series in 2003…in case you forgot.
  • Cubs’ pitching prospects outnumbered their hitting prospects, and many of them would succumb to injuries…and Juan Cruz would have three years added to his “age”.
  • Hee Seop Choi beget Derek Lee…Bobbie Hill beget Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton. (That’s pretty darn good!)
  • Corey Patterson was not a complete bust; he was having a “breakout” type season before injuring his knee in 2003, and he made a career as a spot starter/fourth outfielder.
  • He may have been a crazy-eyed, Gatorade cooler smashing, teammate fighting madman, but Carlos Zambrano was definitely a “hit” as a prospect.

Conceivably I may not have convinced you that 2000-2005 was a prosperous time for the Cubs’ prospects.  You may feel that this period just portends that the current crop of prospects will be wash-outs. Perhaps when you look at Dan Vogelbach, Albert Almora, and Jorge Soler you see Brian Dopirak, Felix Pie, and Ryan Harvey.  I can’t guarantee that you are mistaken, but I can assure you that it’s not a reasonable comparison.

In my former life as a high school coach I was somewhat connected to the scouting world.  This was actually one of the few parts of the job I enjoyed…picking the brains of Major League scouts. A Florida Marlin’s scout once told me that the fish were happy to get Ricky Nolasco from the Cubs (…a bulldog he called him). He also told me and that he believed Rich Hill would never make it. (…hmmm) I also learned that many of these scouts would only call about players, after learning of another teams’ interest. Sometimes the scout would barely know the player’s name he was calling about (…you got a pitcher there?). Yet it was another incident that tipped me off about the inaccuracies and limitations of scouting, and this was just over a decade ago.

A colleague of mine received a call from a Chicago reporter asking questions regarding the upcoming season.  He asked my friend to rank the area’s top prospects.  So, off the top of his head, my acquaintance gave the reporter a list of 15-20 of the best players he knew in the area.  The next day, in a major Chicago newspaper, there was the exact same list of prospects.  This list…from one man…on the spot, yet it would be on record as “the top prospects in the area.”

I doubt this was an isolated case in the “age of information not even remotely close to what is available in 2014”.  Today prospects at the high school, college, and pro level are dissected and analyzed more than any time in history…and they are scrutinized by more people than ever.  Long gone are the days when Baseball America was the only source of prospect information. There are at least a half-dozen prospect rankings as respected as Baseball America.  Baseball America itself has shown vast improvement in their “hits and misses”. Listed below is the history of Baseball America’s Top 100 prospect list. (…hint, they have gotten better at projecting)

http://www.baseballamerica.com/today/prospects/rankings/top-100-prospects/all-time/

Even more encouraging regarding this current “wave” of Cubs’ prospects, is that a consensus can be formed.  Using four of the best; Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, Keith Law and Mlb.com, here is some cumulative data:

There are a few discrepancies on this list, such as the disagreement on Edwards, but a few things are evident:

  • All four rate Baez in the top 10.
  • Bryant, with less than half a season as a professional is ranked in the top 20 of all four.
  • In three of the five, the Cubs have five of the top 50 prospects in baseball.

Scroll back up and compare these rankings with the “glory days” of 2000-2005…and remember, those years did aid in producing winning seasons in 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2008.

As a Cubs’ fan, it’s natural for us to be skeptical of all prospect talk. However, in this case…the past has little to do with the future.

Will all of the Cubs’ prospects make it? No. Has there ever been a time in baseball history where prospect rankings indicate success as strongly as they do today? No.

Therefore the excitement regarding the Cubs’ farm system is tangible, and it’s not like anything we have ever seen before.

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