The Week That Was in Baseball: February 24-March 2, 2014
The Teasers of 2013: Will They Thrive in 2014? • Breaking Down Rule 7.13
Wahoo Takes a Hit Within Cleveland's Borders • Wrigley by the Desert
Are the Teasers of 2013 Ready for 2014?
Every spring, we pick a group of players who, in their major league debuts, had the best call-up performances of the previous season as a totally unscientific yet entertaining way of letting everyone know who may—or may not—bust out in 2014. Don’t laugh: While some of our choices from previous years have never lived up to their initial, superb auditions, others most certainly have—others, like the New York Mets’ Matt Harvey, who was only the starting pitcher for the National League All-Stars, and Shelby Miller, who finished 15-9 for the St. Louis Cardinals. They join Teaser alumni in David Price, Craig Kimbrel, Chris Sale, Pablo Sandoval and Madison Bumgarner.
So here’s our list for 2014, in alpha order: Keep an eye on them and check back with us at the end of the season.
Kevin Chapman, Houston. The left-handed reliever didn’t allow a run over his first 13 appearances for the Astros and finished his two-month stint with a fine 1.77 ERA in 25 outings; walks were a problem (13 in 20.1 innings) but opponents hit just .188 against him. Chapman is considered a good bet to make the Astros’ opening Day roster.
Jarrod Cosart, Houston. Chapman isn’t the only young strong arm ready to make an impression for the Astros. Cosart made a grand entry onto the big league scene last July 12 when he threw eight shutout innings against the Rays at Tampa Bay; he made nine more starts and, although he didn’t win any of them and walked more batters than he struck out, still finished with an exemplary 1.95 ERA. The 23-year-old right-hander will likely get more shots this year as he’s a shoo-in for the starting rotation—provided he doesn’t get suspended with any more politically incorrect tweets like the homophobic one that made news last month.
Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati. The speedy outfielder from Mississippi is the exception to the rule on this list; a lot of people already know about him, thanks to his amazing exploits in the thievery department that include an organized baseball-record 155 in the minors during 2012 and 13 more among 19 at-bats and many pinch-run appearances after being called up by the Reds last September. If he’s given the everyday job this year in Cincinnati (many say it’s likely) and hits decently, then look out Rickey Henderson—they may place an eraser at the ready next to your season stolen base mark in the record book.
Erik Johnson, Chicago White Sox. The Sox’ top prospect, Johnson produced an impressive 18-8 record and 2.21 ERA in two years of minor league ball and looked good in his major league audition late last season, winning his last three starts after dropping his first two and putting up an overall 3.25 ERA. A job in the 2014 Chicago rotation is the 24-year-old right-hander’s to lose.
Tommy Medica, San Diego. After forging a strong presence in the minors, the San Jose native jumped from Double-A to the Padres last September and homered in his first game against Philadelphia ace Cliff Lee; 19 games later, he finished his call-up having hit .290 with three homers and ten RBIs in 69 at-bats. He’s battling for a reserve spot on the Padres’ roster, and could get it based on his versatility playing the outfield, first base and, in a pinch, the catcher spot.
Jimmy Nelson, Milwaukee. In the near term, the big (6’5”, 245 pounds) right-hander is the Brewers’ only hope in their farm system; he’s the only Brewer ranked in Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects, and he barely checks in at no. 96. Nelson had a good 2013 in the minors but was even better when called up late to Milwaukee; although pitching with a small sample size of ten innings, he only allowed a run on two hits and five walks. Nelson is resigned to the fact he’ll likely start the year in Triple-A, but don’t be surprised if he’s back in Milwaukee by midseason if not sooner.
Chris Owings, Arizona. One of the Diamondbacks’ more prized prospects, Owings—yes, the younger brother of former Arizona pitcher Micah Owings—emerged in Triple-A as the Pacific Coast League’s MVP with a .330 average and 104 runs for Reno; he leveraged that success into a solid September in Phoenix, hitting .291 in 55 at-bats. Unfortunately for Owings, he represents part of a banner crop of shortstops within the organization’s totem pole, so it remains to be seen whether he can beat out the equally young and dynamic Didi Gregorius for the everyday job; he has thus become the subject of recent trade rumors.
James Paxton, Seattle. Taijuan Walker may be getting all the spring training buzz among young Mariners pitchers, but don’t forget Paxton—the Canadian lefty who started four late games for Seattle, won three of them and authored a 1.50 ERA. (Funny thing, too: he was 8-11 with a shaky 4.45 ERA down the road in Triple-A Tacoma before being called up.) The Mariners realize they have a problem with the back end of their rotation, so they’re hoping that Paxton can strengthen it and that his brief major league trial was no mirage.
Josmil Pinto. Minnesota. Signed eight years ago at age 16 from his native Venezuela, Pinto finally said hello to the majors last year. What at entrance it was: In 76 at-bats, the catcher hit .342 with four homers and 12 RBIs, while throwing out five of 11 basestealers. The prospect of him continuing on such a warpath to success must be leaving the Twins giddy, especially now that Joe Mauer has moved to first base. Barring bad health (his back has been acting up in camp), he’ll likely start the year platooning behind the plate with veteran Kurt Suzuki.
Tanner Roark, Washington. A year after losing 17 games in the minors, the right-hander from Illinois found faith in his fastball, his control—and a winning knack, which easily leveraged to his major league debut with the Nationals. Joining the team as a reliever, Roark won four games in August; promoted to the rotation in September, he won three more. All of this, with a stellar 1.51 ERA. He’s likely to make the Nats’ Opening Day roster; it’s just a matter of whether he’ll start or throw long relief.
And What of Last Year’s Teasers?
Now that we’ve declared the Teasers for this year, let’s look at those we picked last year and how they’re doing:
For Francisley Bueno, the 2013 season was a virtual repeat of the effort that got him on last year’s list; after a fine Triple-A effort in mid-relief, he got yet another brief taste at the big league level and made the most of little, throwing eight shutout innings for Kansas City. He’s fighting yet again to make the Royals’ Opening Day roster.
After hitting well over .300 for both Triple-A and the Royals in 2012, Irving Falu regressed in 2013—stuck at the .250 mark for much of the year in the minors in advance of a very limited (four at-bats) cameo in Kansas City. He begins this spring as a non-roster invitee for the Brewers.
Christian Garcia’s season started and ended almost all at once, after one bullpen session in Washington spring camp. His arm was the main culprit then, and when that healed, his hamstring went; he ultimately made it into 11 games in 2013 spread across three levels of minor league ball, and not a single day with the Nationals. Garcia is crossing his fingers that he’ll stay healthy and stick with the parent club when camp breaks.
Needless to say, Matt Harvey became one of baseball’s big names last year, a determined young hurler who experienced the highs with a spectacular first half and an All-Star Game assignment in the season’s first half—and the lows when he succumbed to Tommy John surgery in September. If he’s lucky, Harvey will return to the mound towards the end of this season.
Like Garcia above, Steve Johnson has found himself right back where he started a year ago after enduring through numerous injuries that kept restricted him to 13 minor league appearances and a forgettable short run in Baltimore that clearly would not have qualified him for any teaser’s list. Yet he’s healthy and ready once more to crack the Orioles’ Opening Day roster.
Pete Kozma, whose 2012 Teaser effort included some postseason heroics, had the opportunity of a lifetime when Rafael Furcal, the man ahead of him on the St. Louis depth chart at short, suffered a season-long injury. In Furcal’s place, Kozma couldn’t seize the moment—hitting a paltry .217 with just one homer in 143 games for the Cardinals. That may cost him for 2014; with Jhonny Peralta signed on at St. Louis, Kozma has likely lost his starting role—and some believe he’ll have to fight just to make the roster.
By contrast, Kozma’s teammate Shelby Miller made good on his tease, racking up a 15-9 record before being mysteriously cast aside on the Cardinals’ playoff roster. You’d think the regular season effort is easily enough to ensure his return to the rotation in 2014, but there is a lot of quality competition at St. Louis camp for the starter spots and he’ll have to pitch strong in exhibition play to earn it.
Darin Ruf was salivated as the next big thing in Philadelphia after a thunderous slugging display with both Triple-A and the Phillies in 2012. Summoned from the minors midway through 2013, Ruf played virtually everyday and did execute with decent muscle (14 homers in 293 at-bats) but hit only.247. The main question entering 2014 is whether the Phillies can find a comfortable, available position for Ruf or whether they can continue to tolerate his subpar defense in the outfield.
A left-handed spot reliever, Donnie Veal endured a bumpy first half in which his struggles resulted in a back-and-forth commute between the White Sox and the minors; he finally settled in and pitched with authority over the season’s final two months, finishing with a 2-3 record, 4.60 ERA and 13 holds in 50 games for the Pale Hose.
A Collision Course With Uncertainty?
This past week, Major League Baseball set in motion Rule 7.13, which will outlaw “unnecessary” home plate collisions between the runner and catcher. The rule is considered “experimental,” which means that if no one’s happy with it at season’s end, it could be cast aside.
In short, here’s what you can and cannot do:
* A runner can’t slam into the catcher if the catcher’s not directly between the runner and the plate.
* A catcher can’t block the plate from the runner if he doesn’t have the ball.
* If the catcher is blocking the plate and does have the ball, he is fair game for the runner.
* A catcher can still not have the ball and be ruled to be legally between home plate and the runner if he has no choice but to receive a throw in that area.
The ultimate call will still belong to the umpire, who’ll have to make his best judgment in the context of the interpretation of Rule 7.13. And, oh yes, any such interpretation can be subject to MLB’s version of comprehensive video replay (also set to start this year).
In as scientific a poll as we could generate after pouring through online press stories this past week, half of all active major league catchers like the new rule; 20% are not in favor, and 30% showed mixed emotions.
Not surprisingly, one of those applauding the new rule is San Francisco’s Buster Posey, who suffered a season-ending injury early in 2011 after being wrenched over by Florida’s Scott Cousins in a questionable collision—a moment that ignited the conversation on home plate collisions and possibly led to the creation of the rule. “What I take away from it is, it eliminates the malicious collision, which is a good thing,” Posey said. He also wasn’t thrilled with the idea that people will call this the “Buster Posey Rule,” but understood.
Whatever it’s name, some catchers dissented. “I don’t agree with (the rule),” said Miami’s Jarrod Saltalamacchia. “It’s been in the game since the beginning. You’re going to end up getting more people hurt than helped by trying to change the rules.” Boston’s A.J. Pierzynski minced no words in his condemnation of the rule: “I understand why they’re doing it, but next, they’re going to tell us that you can't slide into the guy at second base…You never want to see guys get hurt, and you never want to see guys go down because of it, but it’s part of the game you signed up for.”
Those with more mixed emotions lament that all the coaching they’ve received on the topic will have to change. Tampa Bay’s Jose Molina: “We have five weeks to learn something we’ve never done.”
Finally, there’s Dioner Navarro for the Toronto Blue Jays, who shrugged his shoulders and offered, “I don’t care. We’re still going to get crushed.”
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Will Opening Day become a national holiday? That’s what a petition fronted by Hall-of-Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith and generated by Anheuser-Busch aims to do. The petition needs to collect 100,000 names within 30 days for Washington to officially consider it. So…what happens if this all comes to fruition and the first such holiday ends in a myriad of rainouts?
It’s Called Free Speech, Mr. Maduro
Venezuelan-born major leaguers expressed their collective concern over the protests, counter-protests—and the violence erupting as a result—that has besieged their home country over the past few weeks. In a concerted campaign, major leaguers from Miguel Cabrera to former star Omar Vizquel to younger players like the Mets’ Wilmer Flores have grouped together and taken to social media to voice their worries over the situation; they’re not necessarily taking sides, but they want an end to the violence and a return to something close to normality. Venezuela president Nicolas Maduro doesn’t buy the neutral stand; he publicly responded to the posts by saying the players were being manipulated by MLB owners.
And While We’re at It, Can We Remove KISS from the Rock-and-Roll Hall?
Last fall, the Cleveland Indians polled their fan base to find out what they thought of Wahoo, the caricatured Indian that has built up a mountain of controversy in more political correct times; apparently based on the feedback, the team decided to demote the use of the icon to home uniforms only.
In an editorial this past week, the Cleveland Plain Dealer took it one step further; it strongly urged the Indians to completely cut bait with Wahoo, once and for all. “It’s time for a clean break,” it wrote. “One day, the Indians will say goodbye to Wahoo. It's inevitable. And it's a little unsettling that it hasn't happened by now. Why cling to Wahoo when it so clearly offends?...The team should do it now. Take the heat. Deal with the backlash. Move on. It can be done thoughtfully, by simply acknowledging the mixed emotions of all involved.”
Extra Credit if You Know Brooks Robinson
It ain’t easy being a Baltimore Oriole. Few people seem to pass the physical to become one. Now we hear that someone had to pass a different kind of exam. Josh Hart, the 37th overall pick in last year’s draft, was introduced by manager Buck Showalter to Frank Robinson, who starred for Baltimore in the late 1960s and brought the franchise its first-ever world title in 1966. A clueless look ensued as Hart had no idea who Robinson was. A stunned Showalter responded by telling Hart he had to write a one-page essay on Robinson and turn it in the next day. We’ll assume he passed, because he’s still in camp.
Sports Stalk Radio
That weird little rivalry between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks from last year (beanballs, ban on visiting team paraphernalia, crashing the pool) is apparently still with us. Phoenix sports talk host Doug Franz wrote in a blog this past week that the Diamondbacks should bean the Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig, and do it sooner than later. Franz cited strategy: “Waiting until the regular season just risks lengthier suspensions. Plunking Puig in Australia would make it more difficult to replace those suspended because you’re not traveling with your whole minor league system behind you.” A local poll of listeners agreed with Franz.
Mesa's New Mecca
Spring Training’s newest facility opened its gates this past when the Chicago Cubs hosted its first exhibition at Cubs Park in Mesa. As with all new spring complexes, this one features a myriad of training fields surrounding an aesthetically modern mother venue, but with an unusually high number of seats—nearly 15,000—that expect to be filled often by the usual heavy influx of Cubs fans in Arizona. There are some reminders of Wrigley Field at Cubs Park—which was the first name of Wrigley when the Cubs took over the Chicago ballpark in 1916; the field dimensions are the same, the backstop is made of brick and there’s a replica of the Wrigley marquee sign sitting almost lost within the concourse area. The residents of Mesa are hoping that the $84 million they put into the project will be pay off.
And what of HoHoKam Park, the previous, long-time spring home for the Cubs? It’s being renovated for their new tenants, the Oakland A’s, to take over in 2015.
See, It’s Easy Being Natural
In his first at-bat of spring training, Ryan Braun—playing for the first time since being suspended 65 games for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal—homered for the Milwaukee Brewers.
Top That, Peter Parker
If outstanding defensive performance counted for anything in spring training, Josh Reddick would already have a Gold Glove locked up. The Oakland outfielder robbed San Francisco’s Michael Morse of not one but two home runs on the first day of spring training—with the first steal an absolute gem that has to be seen to be believed, with Reddick doing his best Spider-Man impersonation to climb the tall right-field fence at the Giants’ home park in Scottsdale to rob Morse.
The Middle is Where the Beef is
The Washington Nationals beat Atlanta in a 16-15 Saturday contest in which all 31 runs were scored between the third and sixth innings.
Spring Football This is Not
Among the standard set-up of pre-spring training games involving major league teams and local colleges, the matchup between the New York Yankees and Florida State University held special intrigue as the Seminoles showed off one of their better players: Jameis Winston, who played a little football last year and won a little something called the Heisman Trophy. Winston failed to reach base in his two at-bats against the Yankees (who won, 8-3), but the Yankees were nevertheless impressed with his play and he was impressed with the experience. “It was an honor, surreal,” Winston said. “It was better than winning the national championship.”
The Martinez Boner
The St. Louis Cardinals asked their gifted, young pitcher Carlos Martinez to clean up his Twitter account a few days after Deadspin publicized the fact that it was littered with explicit porn photos. Adding spin to sin, Martinez sat with ESPN Desportes and more than implied that he wasn’t responsible for uploading the Triple-X images because his Twitter page was “hacked.”
If We Don’t Miss You, the Tabloids Certainly Will
It was a long, strange and painful journey for pitcher Carl Pavano, who officially announced his retirement this past week. His major league travels took him through the dying days of the Montreal Expos, the surprise champion Florida Marlins, an ill-fated four years with the New York Yankees and a somewhat satisfying late-career renaissance with the Minnesota Twins.
Constant success would have been in the cards had it not been for constant injuries and controversy. There was the tendinitis and bone chips in Montreal; the back problems, Tommy John surgery, “bruised buttocks” (that’s what was officially once listed by the Yankees) and cracked ribs from a self-caused auto accident he failed to report to the team during a tumultuous four-year reign in New York in which he made 26 starts—and $40 million—and with Minnesota, he dealt with a bizarre extortion plot from a former high school classmate and a ruptured spleen a year ago that kept him out of action in 2013 and hastened his retirement.
Numerically speaking, Pavano was nothing more than your common .500 pitcher, putting together a 108-107 record over 14 active seasons with a 4.39 ERA. His lone taste of glory came in the Marlins’ 2003 World Series run, appearing in eight games (two as a starter) during the postseason with a 2-0 record and 1.40 ERA. The Yankees—who Pavano helped beat to win the trophy—gained a measure of revenge in successive postseasons (2009-10) when they knocked him and the Twins around in the playoffs.
Auction of the Week
When the Mets’ Mike Piazza broke his bat during the 2000 World Series and half of it came to the feet of Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens—who memorably threw it back towards Piazza in the boiling-point peak between the two—Yankees strength coach Jeff Mangold had the fiduciary smarts to save it from the trash, hang onto it and make a little money. And for that, he’s a little richer; he auctioned the half-bat this past week and sold it to an anonymous buyer for $47,800. Mangold will donate some of the proceeds to charity and plans to use the rest to help finance his children’s college education.
Wounded of the Week
Last week it was the Seattle Mariners who got nailed with the injury bug; this week it was another AL West team, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, that got hit. Josh Hamilton, trying to rebound after an awful debut with the Angels last year, suffered a calf injury and will miss at least two weeks of spring action. Pitcher C.J. Wilson was a little luckier; while doing practice tosses with catcher Yorvit Torrealba, Wilson looked the other way and got struck in the side of the head with a return throw. His head was left bleeding, but he is considered okay to continue with spring training.
The news was more sobering over at Minnesota Twins camp. Miguel Sano, the team’s projected power-hitting future who is ranked sixth among all baseball prospects (he hit 35 homers between Class A+ and AA last year at age 20), will miss the entire 2014 campaign as he undergoes Tommy John surgery.
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