Tagged: Texas Rangers

The Little Guys: Analyzing the 2014 Rule 5 Class

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Picture this: You’re recruited for a month long internship with a top company, and should you succeed at that internship, the company will offer you a job. However, at the end of the internship, you find out you didn’t make the cut. However, another top company happened to notice you, and offers you a full time position there, no questions asked.

Admittedly, while not the best way, this is still a good way to describe what happened to Texas Rangers pitcher Logan Verrett. A former Mets draft pick and projected fringe major leaguer, Verrett was given the opportunity for a fresh start when he was plucked out of their system by the Baltimore Orioles in the Rule 5 Draft. Verrett had a decent spring, but given the lack of space on the Orioles’ roster, especially in the relief corps, the team tried to keep him by sneaking him through the waiver wire. The Rangers, who have been dealing with several injuries this spring, pounced, and flew him out to Arlington where he was given the opportunity to pitch against his old team, the Mets, in an exhibition tuneup.

The Rule 5 Draft is mutually beneficial for teams and players. On the players side, it allows certain prospects who have languished in the minor leagues for years to showcase their stuff for teams who need, and are looking for cheap talent. On the teams’ side, it’s a very cheap way to try out a player who may or may not have major league potential. Should the player succeed, he has the opportunity to stay on the roster, provided it’s for a full year. Should he not, the team offers the player back to his old team for half the money it cost to draft him.

The Rule 5 Draft has been especially beneficial for teams looking for relief help, as it has yielded plenty of decent pitchers; among the more recent examples, Josh Fields, who went from being a failed first round pick in the Red Sox system to being a key member of the Astros bullpen, and TJ McFarland, an Indians minor leaguer who went to the Orioles and became a solid reliever/starter hybrid.

This year’s class, while it’s still a bit early to make determinations, has the best shot of being one of the more valuable Rule 5 classes in the draft’s history. Usually during Spring Training, about half of the picks made are returned to their original teams, but as of today, only one, Astros pitcher Jandel Gustave has been returned, while all those left still have shots at, or have already made the major league roster.

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Oscar Hernandez was all but given a shot at being Arizona’s backup catcher as the team opted not to upgrade the position following the Miguel Montero trade. With Tuffy Gosewisch expected to start until top prospect Peter O’Brien was ready, Hernandez seemed primed for the important role of backup catcher. However, Hernandez injured his wrist while batting back in early march, and underwent surgery. He is currently in his third week of recovery; usually this type of surgery takes up to 5 weeks to recover. While his roster status is murky, his competition for the backup spot doesn’t seem to offer much concern as to whether or not he will stay, or be returned to Tampa Bay. Gerald Laird may have experience, but a 36 year old catcher isn’t exactly reassuring for long term security, and Blake Lalli is a more expensive Hernandez. Expect the Diamondbacks to make a decision on him soon.

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Mark Canha represents a departure of the fundamental aspect of Moneyball, getting-on-base, however, in terms of cheap talent, he fits the bill. A power hitting first baseman with a frustrating propensity to strike out (Think of a younger and cheaper Mark Reynolds), he has been viewed as a platoon player with former Mets slugger Ike Davis. Canha had a solid spring, leading the team in home runs, and his power has been seen as crucial in coping with the loss of Josh Donaldson. He will be used primarily against left-handed pitchers, but his splits in the minors allow him to be the first man off the bench when facing right handed pitching. Given the faith the A’s have placed in their youth, it’s highly unlikely that Canha returns to Miami, from where he was plucked by Colorado,

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While first round picks and top prospects are often given higher visibility than other minor leaguers, it doesn’t always mean that they’re immune to being expendable, and no better example comes to mind than Delino DeShields. The former Astros first round pick took an exceptionally long time to adjust to the minor leagues after being drafted, and jumped on and off of the Top 100 Prospect list. Just when it seemed like he had finally come into his own, however, the Astros had strengthened their system and he found himself expendable. With the Rangers, DeShields has the opportunity to be a fourth outfielder and a late inning speed boost. Given the Rangers’ constant problems with injuries, it wouldn’t be a surprise if DeShields does find some regular playing time during the season.

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If you’re a Rule 5 Pick, and you somehow make it on the Orioles roster, chances are you will likely stick. Given the team’s recent success with Darren O’Day and TJ McFarland, Jason Garcia is likely breathing a sigh of relief, and thanking his lucky stars that he was kept while Logan Verrett was claimed. He’s the typical Rule 5 guy, a pitcher who may present some value in the bullpen. If he can make himself noticed, he may not have to worry about being returned to Boston.

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J.R. Graham is a former top prospect trying to reinvent himself after dealing with an injury that nearly ended his career. The former top 100 prospect is considered to still have some degree of value as a reliever, and is expected to enter high pressure situations to prove his worth. Graham was one of the few Rule 5 picks to gain exposure from the national media during camp, as his stirrups led to a fascinating human interest story from Fox Sports. Given the Twins’ lack of a viable live arm in the bullpen, odds are Graham will not have to come back to Atlanta.

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Taylor Featherston is probably the most underrated pick in this year’s class. A guy who didn’t make much buzz during the spring, he still somehow impressed the Angels brass enough to make the team as a backup infielder. Given the importance of backup shortstops, Featherston is likely going to serve primarily as a defensive sub off the bench. While the Angels have a glut of middle infield depth in Johnny Giavotella, Grant Green and Josh Rutledge, Featherston’s positional versatility should give the Angels more incentive to keep him rather than return him to the Rockies.

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Teams that are in rebuild mode often use their Rule 5 pick on positional players. The Marlins successfully gambled their 2005 pick and turned it into Dan Uggla, while the White Sox got value in catcher Adrian Nieto last year. This year, the Phillies are giving Odubel Herrera the opportunity to play the outfield while they play the rebuild game. Herrera has speed and a lively bat, and his glove makes him a valuable centerfielder. In fact, his play in centerfield effectively moved Ben Revere to left field. Herrera’s spring, not to mention his ability has led one sports page to dub him the next Shane Victorino, who was, incidentally, a Rule 5 pick of the Phillies in 2005. Because of the value that Herrera offers, he could conceivably stay in Philadelphia, rather than go back to the clog that is the Rangers’ middle infield depth.

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Although not as visible as Verrett, Andrew McKirahan is filling a similar role to his fellow Rule 5er. Bullpen inconsistency and injuries essentially forced the Braves to claim the former Cubs prospect on waivers and use him. This isn’t to make McKirahan’s addition sound like a bad move, rather, it’s good for him, as he has a guaranteed spot, at least until Josh Outman returns from the disabled list. McKirahan has value as a lefthandedhanded long reliever, and his spring has been decent; in fact he threw a perfect inning in his Braves debut. He and Luis Avilan will make up the left-handed portion of the Braves bullpen, which is a good idea to give him some experience as the Braves rebuild.

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Sean Gilmartin follows a similar narrative to Josh Fields: a former first round pick ends up being traded to another team, and then toils in the minors there, only to be picked by another team in the Rule 5 draft. Once a consensus All-American, he found himself thrust into one of the oddest bullpen competitions in spring. Gilmartin was considered the “best man” in a competition where the best ERA was below 6, and though he settled down and lowered his ERA, the Mets went out and acquired two left-handed relievers, likely to put less pressure on him. With the Mets opting to go with an unconventional, and somewhat confusing 8 man bullpen, Gilmartin has the chance to prove that he’s not just a warm body. As a former starter, his value will be in long relief. Even if Alex Torres has some consistency issues, Gilmartin is still on a shorter leash, and he will need to replicate his latter half of spring if he wants to avoid returning to Minnesota.

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Daniel Winkler may be one of the biggest enigmas of this year’s class. A right-hander with plenty of talent, he was struck by the Tommy John bug last year, and is expected to miss time while he recovers. Injuries are usually the big complicator for Rule 5 picks, so the amount of days that Winkler gets with the Braves will likely not be enough to exhaust his rule 5 status until 2016. Don’t be surprised if he possibly gets returned to Colorado.

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David Rollins is the biggest wild card of the group. While he does have value as a left-handed reliever, he unfortunately shot himself in the foot by testing positive for PEDs, leading to an 80 game suspension, the first time this has happened. The Mariners have not said whether they will return him to the Astros, but don’t hold out hope that he will stay.

We’ve already covered Logan Verrett, so no need to go back there.

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The only Rule 5 pick who has prior major league experience, Andy Oliver had an advantage over some of his contemporaries, and as the injuries hit, his chances seemed better and better. However, it seems as if Oliver may not have a spot on the team, despite making Bleacher Report’s All Spring Training Team. Oliver was placed on waivers, and even if he clears, the Phillies would have to offer Oliver back to the Pittsburgh Pirates or make a deal involving him, before they could option him to the minors.

Of course, making the roster and surviving the season are two completely different things, so those who have made the the cut still have the challenge of staying on the major league roster.  So long as a player stays on the active roster for 90 days, he will lost his Rule 5 status, and a team can proceed however they wish with their player.

Will we be seeing another Uggla, Victorino, or Johan Santana from this group? Time will tell.

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2015 MLB Mock Draft: Pitchers and Catchers Edition, Part 1

The 2015 MLB Draft Order has officially been set, thanks to the San Diego Padres electing to sign James Shields. With their forfeiture of the 13th overall pick, the start of the college baseball season, and of course, pitchers and catchers reporting for Major League Baseball’s Spring Training, it seems appropriate to do yet another mock draft.

You all know how this works by now, the selections are done based on organizational (as in top 20 prospects) need, the draft will be split up so as to not have this take all day, after the draft is complete, I’ll release the full results, etc. etc. etc.

So without further delay, here are the first seven picks for the 2014 MLB Mock Draft

1. Arizona Diamondbacks

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Like the center in basketball, the quarterback in football, and the goalie in hockey, shortstop is often considered one of the most important positions. While one is mainly valued for his defensive abilities, a shortstop that can hit is considered a major boon, and for the Diamondbacks, who have the likes of Nick Ahmed and Chris Owings piloting the position now, it couldn’t be a better time for them to have the number one pick.

Brendan Rodgers of Lake Mary High School is arguably the best prep player in the country. I’ve used the term HAPS, or Highly Anticipated Prep Shortstop to describe players like him, prep shortstops with advanced tools and the ability to go through a minor league system quickly. His bat alone could have him in the majors in three years, and his defense while currently decent enough to allow him to stay at his current position, will only improve with time in the minors.

Rodgers would be the perfect complement to Paul Goldschmidt and Yasmany Tomas, who would be 31 and 27, respectively. Having three potent bats with power potential would certainly allow Arizona to complement what is likely going to be a solid up-and-coming rotation, allowing them to compete in the NL West.

2. Houston Astros

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The Astros have managed to build a system that many teams would kill to have, especially with the high floor college talent they’ve acquired in the past draft. While they have a solid foundation of righthanded pitching, thanks in part to Mark Appel and Lance McCullers, their lack of a future impact left-handed pitcher is what holds the team from having a solid system.

Virginia’s Nathan Kirby may not have the upside that 2014 draft pick Brady Aiken had, but he also doesn’t have the history that Aiken has with the Astros. This isn’t to say that Kirby is your prototypical safe pick, rather, he has the potential to be a staff anchor. In his opening start, Kirby only allowed three hits in seven innings of work against East Carolina, which is one of the American Athletic Conference’s toughest teams.

Kirby has a solid three pitch mix, a fastball, slider, and changeup which will only get better due to his commitment to filling out his frame during the summer. He has solid command, and will play the zone in order

The Astros would also benefit from drafting Kirby, as his old college teammate, Derek Fisher, is already in their system, and building upon that preexisting chemistry will do them a world of good in developing confidence in their starter.

3. Colorado Rockies

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I mentioned it in my last mock, but I think it bears repeating: By developing their own starters instead of buying them, the Colorado Rockies will have an advantage that no NL club has: pitchers who are used to throwing in the thin air of Denver. And it doesn’t matter if the pitcher is left or right-handed, the idea is that in developing their own arms, they form a pitching staff that allows them to compete in the NL West. Having Jon Gray, Eddie Butler and Kyle Freeland starting the staff is good, but what they need is another bona fide arm.

The past five years have been kind to teams who have had the number three pick in the draft, and 2015 will be no exception. Brady Aiken’s decision to forgo his UCLA commitment has catapulted him to the top of what is already a vaunted arms class, and significantly improves the talent level of a limited left-handed class.

Whether or not he does have an issue with his throwing arm will be negligible, given his upside as a pitcher. His fastball-curveball-changeup combination are incredibly advanced for his age, and his build is similar to that of top right-handed pitching prospect Kyle Funkhouser.

Aiken will complement fellow southpaw Kyle Freeland quite well, and will allow the Rockies to develop variety in their rotation with Gray and Butler as righthanded starters.

4. Texas Rangers

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You can make as many jokes as you like about the state of the Rangers rotation, because currently, aside from Yu Darvish, there is little upside. Sure, getting Anthony Ranaudo from Boston may offer some hope, and Chi Chi Gonzalez could turn out to be a better draft choice then I thought, but truth be told, even if the Rangers had a lineup of players that possessed Joey Gallo’s attributes, it still wouldn’t make up for the fact that the rotation will need to be fixed in the future.

Sometimes the stars align, however, and an advanced college arm will fall into your lap. Louisville ace Kyle Funkhouser is that arm. While I had a feeling that he could be one of the best arms in the draft, but was wary of whether or not his ability and potential demand for a big contract could drop him a few picks, his 12 strikeout performance against Alabama State is pretty much him saying to me, “Give me some credit and put me in the top 5 already!”

Funkhouser certainly deserves credit where it’s due, as he was Team USA’s top prospect last summer, but what really makes him attractive to teams is his pitch arsenal, which currently would grade as league average, but has the potential to improve to ace levels.

While Alabama State isn’t exactly a baseball powerhouse, should Funkhouser continue pitching the way he does even if he drops his strikeout totals, there’s no doubt he could be in conversation to be the top pick.

5. Houston Astros

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Legacy prospects are as much of a gamble as any other prospects. Some turn out to be as good, if not better than their fathers, while others fail in that regard. There’s no doubt that Delino Deshields could have been a solid prospect, but the Astros organization was running out of patience and understandably, with plenty of talent and few 40 man roster spots open, left him unprotected for the Texas Rangers to take. Of course, Deshields was known mainly for his speed; Houston’s hypothetical pick here has more dimension to his game.

Daz Cameron, of Eagles Landing Christian Academy, is the son of Mike Cameron, who was probably one of the most underrated players of his generation. Cameron the younger, at one point was viewed as a top pick, but a drop off in his junior year has him somewhere between top ten and top fifteen. However, Cameron’s current ability affords him the opportunity of improving his draft stock.

A solid contact hitter now, he has the potential to add power to his swing, and while he has average speed for the basepaths, he does have the ability to cover his position well enough to compensate defensively.

Cameron is a prodigy, however, as he is part of the very exclusive club of players who have played in the All-American Game twice His talent will be hard to ignore, and it wouldn’t surprise me if, should he improve, the Astros end up taking him second overall.

6. Minnesota Twins

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Minnesota’s future will be bright for as long as Byron Buxton continues to prove he is a top prospect, and the Twins will have a solid staff to look forward to with the impending arrivals of Alex Meyer, Kohl Stewart and Nick Burdi. However, how do you repopulate the system? Who becomes the next top pitching prospect?

Kolby Allard of San Clemente High School has taken a meteoric rise from where I originally slotted him, 16th, to where he stands now, as a top ten prospect with the potential to be top five. He has similar attributes to Brady Aiken, but the stigma of his height drops his value.

What he lacks in height, Allard compensates for in the ability to pitch in big games; he made it out of the summer as USA Baseball’s top prep pitcher.

Pairing him up with Kohl Stewart will do nothing but good, as two young and lively arms anchoring the Twins rotation will give them a solid future hold in the AL Central.

7. Boston Red Sox

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Rarely does a team have a plethora of Major League ready left-handed pitching like the Boston Red Sox. Guys like Henry Owens, Eduardo Rodriguez, Edwin Escobar and Brian Johnson make up 2/5 of their top ten prospects. However, the point here is that these pitchers are practically Major League ready, and when they graduate, Boston’s system will need to adjust. Given the amount of prep options, it’s entirely possible that the Red Sox opt to go for a long term project in the hopes of replenishing their pitching stores.

Cathedral High School righty Ashe Russell has seen his draft position rise, mainly because he has that much growth potential. Even though Indiana is starting to develop a reputation as a northern prospect pipeline, it’s still in its developing stages, and as a result, Russell has plenty of potential to grow. A two pitch man now with a solid fastball and up-and-coming slider, Russell does have a changeup, but it probably will suit him better once the talent level adjusts.

Russell does have the build to be a pitcher, but he’s still raw, and should he be taken by Boston, he probably will start out as a reliever and be developed into a spot starter or closer. Still, his potential is too great to pass on, and Boston has developed some solid pitchers as of late.

 

 

Would Jameis Winston Succeed as a Two Sport Athlete?

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Normally, exhibition games between Major League teams and college teams is often regarded in the same vein as a private cocktail party reserved for only the extremely interested baseball fans. However, Tuesday’s game between the New york Yankees and the Florida State Seminoles was clearly more than that.

Boasting the Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Jameis Winston, who serves as both the team’s closer and an outfielder, the Seminoles made this game something more of a huge attention grab, which is entirely up to the fan’s perspective as positive or negative.

Winston was probably the most scrutinized player on George Steinbrenner Field, even more than Derek Jeter, who is playing his last spring training, and Masahiro Tanaka, who’s playing his first. For Winston, the game was nothing to write home about; he entered the game as a defensive substitute, grounded out, and then struck out. Still, Winston’s mere presence was more than enough; the only thing that could have made the day better for him would have been if he had been allowed to pitch to the players as well.

Still, Winston clearly enjoyed the opportunity to meet his favorite players and said that it was almost as great as winning the National Championship.

Now that the excitement has likely died down and college baseball can go back to its regular pace, the question is if Jameis Winston can add more exposure to college baseball. We already saw how negative attention from college baseball has been covered, with the Ben Wetzler case, but how about a positive story, even if it’s on par with a Tim Tebow-esque gimmick?

Winston is by every definition of the word, an athlete. While there are probably people, diehard Seminole football fans and NFL scouts in particular, who cringe at the thought of Winston becoming a two sport professional athlete, there is no denying that Winston, if he can prove that he can manage both sports and find what he works best at, in this case as the Seminoles closer.

And to be honest, a Heisman winning football star, even a football star alone playing baseball is actually a fun thing to watch. Look at Bo Jackson. Jackson was a star at Auburn in football and baseball. He would have been one of the greatest athletes of all time had he not gotten hurt in football and limited his strikeout numbers in baseball.

If Jeff Samardzjia had chosen to play both football and baseball at the same time, instead of strictly staying as a pitcher, in all likelihood, he would have been an exceptionally popular athlete.

Winston is, however, a very raw baseball player. Despite being named a preseason All American, he needs to figure out where he wants to play if he is serious about playing two sports. As a hitter, he’s below average. He has high strikeout numbers, and while he does have some value as a switch hitter, having him in a daily lineup would be more of a liability. As a pitcher, Winston is actually very good. His season has started reasonably well with a save, only one hit allowed, and an 0.00 ERA, but the concern here is that pitchers are high maintenance. Winston would not be able to play both baseball and football if he was a starting pitcher. As a reliever, maybe a closer or a set up man, there wouldn’t be as much stress on his throwing arm.

The other thing that needs to be noted is how Winston plans to balance the training for baseball and football. Does Winston join a summer league? Does he use the summer to do football drills? Winston has the projectability and the hype to play in a big summer league, like the Cape Cod League or the New England Collegiate League.

He even had the hype to be a first round talent out of high school; had he not been so insistent on his Florida State commitment, scouts theorized he would have been a low first round draft choice, and rightfully so, as his fastball reaches the high 90’s.

While most football people wouldn’t want Winston to be a two sport athlete, he has gotten an endorsement from perhaps the most important person he knows right now: Head Coach Jimbo Fisher. Fisher, who was out to throw the first pitch, and probably monitor his quarterback, said “I think he definitely has ability, but it has to be the right situation.” Now, if your coach is that honest and isn’t sugarcoating, you know that he really believes that Winston may have a future as a two sport star.

In a spring training which will see the Super Bowl Champion quarterback suiting up for the Texas Rangers, the first trials of the new home plate collision law, as well as a preview of instant replay, nothing’s out of the realm of possibility. Perhaps Winston does end up showing that he is serious about being a two sport athlete. Perhaps also he improves his stock to the point where next year, he could be a first round pick in both baseball and football in the same year (It is entirely possible if he either leaves in 2015 or stays until 2016).

Still Winston could be the best thing for college baseball in terms of publicity right now. Time will tell if he is serious about being a two sport star and how good he could be.

The Curious Case of Barret Loux and Hayden Simpson

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The 2010 MLB Draft has the chance to go down as one of the best in recent memory. So far, 12 players from the first and comp rounds have made their major league debuts, four of which were named All-Stars. In addition, it’s likely that many of the high schoolers from this year’s first and comp class, including Pirates pitcher Jameson Taillon, Phillies pitcher Jesse Biddle, Blue Jays pitcher Aaron Sanchez, and Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard, as well as Angels outfielder Kaleb Cowart, Marlins third baseman Zack Cox, and Angels second baseman Taylor Lindsey may all make their major league debuts this year.

But the one name that sticks out from that class didn’t even sign with his team. And no, he didn’t end up being redrafted, but he did go on a fast track through the minors ending up at AAA last year for the Iowa Cubs. That player is former Texas A&M pitcher Barret Loux.

Two years before Michael Wacha put Texas A&M baseball on the map, Barret Loux was the big name for the Aggies. A big pitcher at 6’5″ and 230 pounds, armed with a fastball, slider, curve, and changeup, Loux put up excellent numbers for the Aggies, including leading the team in strikeouts twice, as well as being a nominee for the Golden Spikes award. He wasn’t as well regarded as his former teammate however, and was envisioned as a late first round pick. However, the Arizona Diamondbacks decided that he was worth the 6th overall draft choice (keep in mind, this was before the hard slot money system was put into place) and picked him ahead of such names as Matt Harvey and Chris Sale.

Arizona did have a deal in place for him, but a failed physical due to a labrum tear derailed it. As a consequence, the Diamondbacks never signed him, and he became a free agent. In November of that year, Loux and the Texas Rangers came to an agreement on a contract. It was Loux’s situation which led to some of the revamping of the draft rules, including mandatory physicals for prospects before the draft, and free agency for those who failed them.

Loux spent two seasons in the Rangers minor league system, playing for A level Myrtle Beach in 2011 and AA Frisco in 2012. In both those seasons, he struck out at least 100 batters, had ERAs under 3.81, and at Frisco, won all but one of his decisions.

However, Loux’s time with Texas came to an end as the Texas Rangers, having made a deal with the Chicago Cubs for Geovany Soto, were forced to give him up when the player originally send in the deal, pitcher Jake Brigham, was found to have an injury history not dissimilar to Loux’s. Loux was traded for Brigham, and started the season at AAA Iowa. While his stats were not as impressive as they were in Texas, he failed to post 100 strikeouts for the first time since his sophomore season at A&M, and he had a sub .500 win-loss record, as well as an ERA over 4, Loux still has managed to somewhat resurrect his prospect status.

While he was not ranked in the top 20 of the Cubs end of 2013 list, the fact that he has managed to jump three levels, without appearing in any of the A sub levels should indicate that he will have a fair shot at making the big league roster.

It may come out that Arizona should have kept him barring the injury concerns, especially if Loux manages to impress this spring and plays as a dark horse rotation candidate. In addition, it could help show that the Cubs didn’t exactly fail in that aspect of the draft.

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In that same draft, the Cubs took a right handed pitcher out of Division II Southern Arkansas University, Hayden Simpson with the 16th overall pick. Simpson who was viewed by many to be a questionable pick from the beginning, struggled in his three years in the Cubs’ system.

Perhaps it was the fact that he never was the same after coming down with a case of Mono, or perhaps it was the hype that was so unjustly heaped upon him, but Simpson, who was known for being an aggressive pitcher, never amounted to what he was pegged to be. He never advanced past High-A Daytona, and as of the end of 2013, was pitching for the Southern Illinois Miners of the Frontier League.

If Barret Loux can prove that he is Major League ready, then in all likelihood, the Cubs will look favorably on the college arms of the 2014 draft class; a commodity that the Cubs are in serious need of. Loux, along with the other major league ready Cubs prospects could help bring Chicago back to dominance.

 

 

Was Ubaldo Jimenez worth forfeiting the 17th overall pick?

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Ubaldo Jimenez became the next player with draft compensation to leave free agent purgatory, signing a multiyear deal with the Baltimore Orioles. Jimenez, who rejected a qualifying offer from his old team, the Cleveland Indians, cost the Orioles not only the money, but also the 17th overall pick in the draft.

Ever since the new free agent draft compensation rules have come into effect last year, it seems as if teams are intentionally lowballing these players so that they can get the draft pick. We saw how bad it was last year with Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse, who waited until the middle of Spring Training to sign with teams. And ultimately, those teams forfeited draft picks.

Bourn went from Atlanta to Cleveland, who used the pick that they obtained in the deal to draft Oklahoma State starter Jason Hursh, Cleveland, however, didn’t lose their first round pick, as they had a top ten draft pick. Incidentally, the Bourn case drew a lot of controversy, as the New York Mets who had the 11th pick, which wasn’t protected, wanted to sign him, but felt that they would be unfairly losing a draft pick because the Pittsburgh Pirates had gotten a top ten pick for allowing Mark Appel to return to Stanford for his senior season, pushing the Mets one spot out of the top ten. Cleveland ended up signing Bourn, but instead of losing a first rounder to the Braves, they lost a second rounder.

Lohse was signed by the Brewers, who forfeited their first round draft choice. The Cardinals used that pick to select Rob Kaminsky, a New Jersey prep pitcher.

Going back to Jimenez and the free agents that remain, the common theme for these remaining free agents is the draft pick. Ervin Santana, Nelson Cruz, Stephen Drew, and Kendrys Morales haven’t gotten offers because teams are afraid to lose a pick for them. It’s essentially a simpler form of restricted free agency.

There is no doubt that these players do deserve deals. Santana resurrected his career in Kansas City, Cruz, pre-Biogenesis was viewed as a deadly middle-of-the-order bat. Drew could hit and adequately defend, and helped Boston win a championship, and Morales resurrected his career in Seattle after a couple years of injury trouble in Anaheim.

But herein lies the problem, it’s not just the draft pick, it’s the money and the risky investment too.

Santana is demanding ace money after reestablishing himself in KANSAS CITY. Kansas City is in no way a place to brag about reestablishing yourself, even if the Royals did manage to get out of the cellar thanks in part to a bizarro season by the White Sox and another really bad season by the Twins.

The problem with Cruz is that nobody knows if he’ll be as good after being caught in the Biogenesis probe. Maybe he’ll be another Ryan Braun, maybe he becomes Melky Cabrera. Either way, it’s a big risk for a PED user.

The problem with Drew is that 2013 could have been a fluke year for him. Drew was protected by a lineup that seemed to envelop his deficiencies, couple that with the fact that he’s getting into the “wrong side of 30” territory. While this is okay for maybe an outfielder or a first baseman, a “wrong side of 30” middle infielder is a bit of a problem, especially on the defensive side of things.

And of course, there’s Morales. While he did have a respectable offensive season, there are still concerns about his health and defensive ability. People are more inclined to take a look at him as a designated hitter than as a first baseman. Had Morales not gotten hurt, in all likelihood, he would be one of the first players off the board instead of the last.

But going back to Ubaldo. Was the deal worth it?

Jimenez is certainly long removed from his days of dominance in Denver. In Cleveland, he really was just a mid rotation starter, nothing special, basically the baseball equivalent of a one hit wonder. Baltimore however knew that in order to compete in the AL East again, which once again was strengthened by yet another Yankee spending spree, as well as the continuing growth of the other four teams in the division, they needed to add pitching. Getting Jimenez meant the forfeiture of a draft pick, but they went through with it anyway.

Was it worth it though?

From a money perspective, no. Jimenez was not worth that type of money or amount of years. From the pick perspective, certainly.

17th overall picks in the MLB Draft haven’t traditionally fared well. To provide an example of how they fared in the past ten years:

2013-2010: Tim Anderson, White Sox, DJ Davis, Blue Jays, CJ Cron, Angels, and Josh Sale, Rays. While Anderson and Davis are a long way from determining if they’re good or not, Cron may or may not need another year in the minors, and Sale has been nothing short of a bust.

2009: AJ Pollock of the Diamondbacks has managed to put himself in the Arizona lineup. A leadoff hitter, Pollock may stand as the best bet to break the bad 17th overall pick

2008: David Cooper, who was projected to be the next big slugging first baseman/DH, was a major disappointment in Toronto. Basically a AAAA player, he recently signed a deal with the Indians.

2007: Blake Beaven is another one of those forgettable rotation pieces. His biggest claim to fame was being included in the Cliff Lee deal which sent the former ace to the Texas Rangers for their 2011 World Series run.

2006: Matt Antonelli was supposed to be one of the big middle infield talents for the Padres, almost what Stephen Drew would have been had he not been injured. However failure to be consistent coupled with lack of opportunity led his only major league experience to be a September call up. Afterwards, he bounced around other teams’ minor league systems, but failed to latch on and retired last summer.

2005: CJ Henry was the first of Derek Jeter’s potential successors, but he just couldn’t hit. He was packaged in a deal for the late Cory Lidle and Bobby Abreu for the Yankees’ 2006 postseason run, but failed further to establish himself in Philadelphia. He quit baseball and played basketball for the University of Kansas with his more famous brother, Xavier, who now plays for the Los Angeles Lakers. Henry’s back to playing baseball now, albeit it’s independent ball in Evansville, Illinois.

2004: Scott Elbert was drafted by the Dodgers as a pitcher. Injuries derailed his effectiveness and turned him into a two pitch reliever. While he’s not the best reliever on the Dodgers, he is an okay option out of the bullpen.

So in a sense it probably was a somewhat good idea. Losing the pick means that another team, the Royals, will be saddled with the bad pick, while the Orioles will maybe get immediate contribution from Jimenez.

2014 Top 100 Prospects: AL West

It’s time for Round 2 of the Top 100 Prospects: This time, the focus is on the AL West. Instead of individual profiles this time, I’ll concentrate the prospects into one paragraph on how each prospect fits into his team.

Houston Astros: 

Top 100 Prospects:

8. SS Carlos Correa (2012 R1)

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17. P Mark Appel (2013 R1)

@MAppel26

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21. OF George Springer (2011 R1)

@gspringer_4

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50. 1B Jonathan Singleton (2009 R8, Acquired from PHI in Hunter Pence Trade)

@iLLJAY_SiNG

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52. P Lance McCullers (2012 R1C)

@LMcCullers_41

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54. P Mike Foltynewicz (2010 R1)

@Folty25

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66. OF Delino DeShields (2010 R1)

@LinoDeShields

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Outlook:

The Astros are a terrible team now, but the future is bright for them. To begin, this team has been preparing for the future by drafting high ceiling talent. What started last year with Jarred Cosart will likely continue this year with the anticipated debut of Mark Appel. Appel, the first overall pick from Stanford University comes with a major league fastball and two solid secondary pitches. Given the track record for first overall picks from big time colleges, (Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg come to mind), Appel should be in the majors by August or September. Until the draft comes around, the next big Astros pitching prospect is Lance McCullers. McCullers was viewed at one time to be the top pick in the 2012 draft, until the Astros decided to go with Carlos Correa (more on him later) However, McCullers, who is the son of the former Padres and Yankees pitcher, fell to the compensatory round, where Houston eagerly snatched him up. McCullers had a decent first full season in Quad Cities, with 117 strikeouts, but given his age and the time it usually takes for high school arms to develop, McCullers probably won’t see the Majors until 2016 at the earliest. Lastly, there’s Mike Foltynewicz. Folty, who was the second first rounder the Astros had in 2010, has one of the best fastballs in the minors, but beyond that, his offerings are average and his control is below average. Houston has used him in both the rotation and the bullpen, and given the speed of his fastball, he looks to be more like an Aroldis Chapman-ish closer. He will likely see plenty of time in AAA before making his big league debut, and if the Astros are smart, they’ll concentrate his use to small doses. In the position player department, the Astros are pretty set in terms of speed. Two former first round picks, George Springer and Delino DeShields are considered to be two of the fastest runners in the top 100. Springer is practically Majors ready, especially after ringing up AAA pitching with 37 home runs this past year, while DeShields is still stuck in A ball at Lancaster. Both however were futures game prospects last year and impressed plenty with their play, and will likely make up 2/3 of the Astros outfield in the future. Carlos Correa may not be as fast as Springer or DeShields, but he can hit. Viewed by many as a surprise first overall pick, especially with the likes of Byron Buxton and Appel on the board, Correa has really impressed so far in his minor league career, hitting at a .320 clip with 144 hits at Quad Cities. His defense is okay, given his strong arm yet weaker fielding capability, but time in the minors should give him some chance to develop. Finally, there’s Jonathan Singleton. Singleton, the other prize in the Pence trade (Cosart was the first) has had a very long minor league career. There is potential still, but drug problems have continually offset his major league career. Singleton will be under the microscope this year, especially given the failure of Brett Wallace as the Astros future at first base. If he can stay clean and hit the way that scouts have gushed over him for the past few years, the first base job will be his. All in all, the Astros have what many consider to be a top farm system, rivaled only by Boston and Chicago. It should be interesting to see if the homegrowns help contribute to the Astros’ ascendance back into the Major League elite.

Los Angeles Angels 

No Prospects in Top 100

Oakland Athletics

Top 100 Prospect:

12. SS Addison Russell (2012 R1)

@Addison_Russell

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Oakland has only one prospect in the top 100 this year, and he may be the most talked about prospect that isn’t already under the microscope. Addison Russell was the first high school draft pick taken in the first round by general manager Billy Beane since 2001, when they selected Jeremy Bonderman. Russell represents a departure from the Moneyball drafting strategy of taking low ceiling/high floor collegiate players in the first round. But how is he paying off on Beane’s gamble? After an aggressive development which had him starting at High A Stockton (A full level above where he should have been) he surprised many by hitting a respectable .275/17/60. He had 118 hits, but his strikeout numbers were high, just two less than his hit total. Russell impressed enough to be selected to Team USA’s Futures roster, then followed it up with a short call up to AAA Sacramento, completely bypassing Double-A. I expect Russell to begin play at Double-A this year with a quick rise to AAA by mid June. If he continues to play the way he has, there is a good chance that he’ll be making his Major League debut especially early. Russell has plenty of good tools. His hitting is possibly his best asset, but he’ll need to cut down on his K rate if he wants to make any real impact in the higher levels. Still, the first pick in the post-moneyball strategy era is definitely looking like a wise pick.

Seattle Mariners:

Top 100 Prospects:

6. P Taijuan Walker (2010 1C)

@tai_walker

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88. 1B DJ Peterson (2013 R1)

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Seattle has some great young pitchers coming up soon, but only one made this year’s preseason Top 100 list, Taijuan Walker.  Walker, who has been the gem of Seattle’s minor league system for the past couple years, has had nothing but success in the minors. Last year, he jumped through Double and Triple A, made an appearance in the Futures Game, and made his Major League debut. Walker may be one of the best prospects in the Mariners system, but there is talk that he may be an expendable asset, especially since the team has looked at a possible deal to Tampa Bay for David Price. What the Mariners would be losing if they traded Walker, however is big. To begin, his fastball is a Major League offering, and his off speed pitches, while still developing into reliable weapons, are solid experiments. Second, his age indicates that he could be pitching in the majors for a long time. Third, his price and arbitration clock are set for a good five to six years away, so team control would be easy for Seattle to keep him. In short, Walker, the former shortstop turned potential ace, is someone to watch this year. DJ Peterson was one of the few picks I got right in my mock draft last year. A power hitting third baseman out of New Mexico, Peterson was a defensive liability at his original position and ended up being moved to first base. At Everett and Clinton, Peterson showed why he was a first round pick by hitting well for average with some pop. Peterson should advance quickly in the minors, and given Seattle’s failure to get a solid hitting first baseman (see Justin Smoak, Mike Morse and Mike Carp for reference), Peterson’s major league time will be spent under the microscope. It will be interesting to see how he handles the next level of play though.

Texas Rangers:

Top 100 Prospects:

39. C Jorge Alfaro (IFA 2010)

@_JorgeAlfaro11

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59. 2B Rougned Odor (IFA 2011)

@RougnedOdor

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72. OF Michael Choice (2010 R1, Acquired from OAK for OF Craig Gentry)

@VinnyChoice

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76. SS Luis Sardinas (IFA 2009) 

@thesardisardi

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92. 3B Joey Gallo (2012 R1C)

@JoeyGallo24

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If you thought Houston’s system was stacked, wait until you see their rival’s. Texas’ system may not be as pitching talented as some of the other systems, but what they lack in arms, they make up for with bats and gloves. To start, let’s go behind the plate. Jorge Alfaro is one of the best international catchers in the game, even better than Braves catcher Christian Bethancourt. While Alfaro is young, he is quite advanced for his age. He has a cannon for an arm, and is a very gritty defender. Alfaro compensated for an injury plagued 2012 with a fine 2013, which cause him to go through three levels of play. Alfaro is a throwback to the primarily defensive catcher, which is fine, but if he really wants to make it to Arlington, he’d better start working on his bat. As if the Rangers’ infield wasn’t crowded enough with last year’s number 1 overall prospect in Jurickson Profar and perennial All-Star Elvis Andrus, two more young international middle infielders will likely be coming up soon. Luis Sardinas and Rougned Odor. Both have good arms, and are decent hitters, but Odor has more power and Sardinas more speed. Given the Rangers’ constant need for pitching, I doubt that either will see themselves in a Rangers uniform, likely one or both will be shipped in a deal to a team that’s looking for a middle infielder.  However, they should make the trade quickly, as both finished their seasons in the Texas League and are likely to be in AAA before long. Joey Gallo has power, that’s a given, what he lacks is the hitting skill that goes with it. In essence, he reminds me of Ike Davis or Adam Dunn, only smaller. Still, Gallo would thrive in the dry heat of Dallas, as balls tend to carry farther in that park. Gallo showed why he was a first round pick last year by smashing 38 home runs for the Hickory Crawdads, an impressive feat given the more humid air of the Carolina League, but as his low batting average and high strikeout rate continue to hamper his ability, so should his development be slowed down until he can go beyond one dimension. Lastly, there’s the lone majors-ready player on this list: Michael Choice. Choice played his college ball a mere 9 minutes away from Globe Life Park in Arlington, but was drafted by the Oakland A’s. After toiling for almost three seasons in the minors, Choice impressed enough to make a September call-up. From the stats, we can see that Choice thrives as a #2 or #6 hitter, and while he does have some power, don’t let it fool you. Choice will likely be given every chance to replace Gentry, the man he was traded for, in the Ranger lineup. It will be interesting to see how he makes his situation.

So that’s the AL West. Stay tuned for next week’s installment of the top 100 prospects by division.

Should Russell Wilson become a Two Sport Athlete?

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Russell Wilson brought pride and joy to the city of Seattle on Sunday, February 2nd, when he helped the Seahawks take down Peyton Manning and the highly favored Denver Broncos, 43-8. Wilson threw for two touchdowns and over 200 yards in order to lead his team to victory.

So what’s next for the young star?

Obviously he’s going to celebrate, go to Disney World, perhaps cash in on his success with endorsements, maybe sign an extension with the Seahawks and then report to Spring Training with the Texas Rangers.

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Let me repeat that again, a little slower. He’s going…to report…to Spring Training…with the Texas Rangers…Baseball Team.

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Take a second to let that sink in, or clean the spit off your monitors.

If you forgot what happened this past December, Russell Wilson, who was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in 2010 as a second baseman, spent a couple seasons in the minors while playing college football, before being drafted by the Seahawks in 2012. He then decided to quit baseball so he could focus on football full time. However,  he forgot to fill out his retirement papers, and the Rangers, with a minor league pick in the Rule 5 draft, decided to pluck him out of the Rockies’ system.

The Rangers have plans to use him more as a motivational speaker for their minor leaguers, but there have been some people who say that Wilson might want to actually play a few games and take some hacks in the cage.

A professional two sport athlete is rare these days, as the physical toll of one sport is often too much for a player the be able to add the rigors of another. In fact, the last two sport athlete who played two sports professionally, not including the minor leagues for baseball in the same season was Deion Sanders, who played for the Dallas Cowboys and Cincinnati Reds in 1997. In that season, Sanders had 30 tackles and 2 interceptions in football, while in baseball, he hit .273 with 5 home runs and 23 RBI, all while finishing second in stolen bases.

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Of course, the idea of the professional two sport athlete isn’t completely dead. On January 24th at Florida State Baseball’s media event, Heisman Trophy winning quarterback and pitcher/outfielder Jameis Winston said that he wanted to become the next two sport star.

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In the case of Sanders and Winston, the positions they played on the diamond allowed them the luxury to play both baseball and football. Sanders was primarily an outfielder and Winston is primarily a pitcher, in fact, he’s a closer for the Seminoles. Wilson is a completely different case. As a second baseman, he’s going to put himself more in the line of fire, dealing not only with errant grounders and barreling runners, but also he’ll be taking those same risks at the plate. A quarterback is the most valuable asset to a team, and having him play a position like second base is going to be a nightmare for that team.

However, Wilson is smart, scrappy and agile. He’s had to deal with running away from linemen who are twice his size, so a baseball player who may be bigger than him is probably not the worst thing he’s had to deal with.

If Wilson wants to make this more than just a $10,000 motivational speaker/photo op event, it’s up to him and the Seahawks. Wilson is a natural athlete who while raw on the diamond as a hitter, is an excellent fielder. He’s only 25, which while past the prime prospect age, gives him the chance to be a solid late contributor. It will be interesting to see how he decides to go forward with this opportunity, assuming he is allowed to and does.