Is This A Great Offseason, Or What?

So the greatest baseball offseason in my memory continues with deals, free agent signings and player transactions almost on a daily basis. Is this great for baseball junkies like you and me, or what?

Even though we are enjoying a tremendous baseball winter, we still can’t wait for pitchers and catchers to report to Arizona and Florida, right? Spring Training. A new life for every team in baseball. We’ve been “waiting for next year” for several months and next year will finally be here. That’s when we begin to see what all the moving and shaking was all about. That’s when we get to see Yasmany Tomas in a Dbacks uniform. That’s when we begin to sort out which of the Cubs prospects have a chance to break with the club. With their lack of third base depth, does Kris Bryant assume the position right off the bat? Pablo Sandoval plays for the Red Sox. Wrap that around in your mind a bit. It’s only been words up to now. Soon it will be reality. Justin Upton and Matt Kemp will be in the same San Diego Padres outfield. Way cool.

OK-some deals went down this week and I have to weigh in with a couple of my thoughts.

I really like the way John Hart has targeted young pitching for the future of the Atlanta Braves. The pitcher that most intrigues me is Mike Foltynewicz. I remember seeing him pitch in the Astros Spring Training camp and being totally impressed. He’s a very cool customer on the mound with a very good arm. He has good command of a complete repertoire and I think he’ll be a fixture in the Braves rotation at some point-maybe even late this season. Add in Manny Banuelos, Shelby Miller, Max Fried, Tyrell Jenkins, etc. and the Braves are establishing a solid pitching foundation for their ultimate move to a new stadium. That said, I think they will struggle mightily to score runs this year. The lineup has been weakened tremendously, but all eyes are on their future.

I’m not one that thinks the Brewers forfeited too much in their trade of Yovani Gallardo to the Rangers. I think eventually Jimmy Nelson will become a solid big league starter to take the place of Gallardo. It make take Nelson some time, but the upside remains. I do, however, like middle-infielder Luis Sardinas a great deal. It provides the Brew Crew with an outstanding defensive middle infielder and depth at two positions. Keep your eye on the health of Corey Knebel. If his elbow barks, it may be problematic. And the third player in the deal may be the “wild card.” Right-handed pitcher Marcos Diplan is very, very young. He has huge upside and could be the real winner of the deal. Time will tell.

Very quietly Carlos Corporan was designated for assignment and then traded from the Astros to the Rangers. While he may not be a starter is most team’s eyes, he has some pop in his bat. But he’s a guy that needs to hit regularly to stay sharp. If he were ever to get playing time, I think he could really emerge. We’ll see.

The Cubs have a new leadoff hitter after acquiring Dexter Fowler from Houston. I had disagreements on twitter when I said I felt he was a solid outfielder. Maybe not “outstanding” which was my original word, but I have seen him make some super plays roaming the huge outfield in Colorado. His defensive metrics aren’t good. But the Cubs get a guy that can get on base from the top of the order and one that will make the plays for them in center field. The Astros pick up Luis Valbuena to probably platoon at third base and Dan Straily for the rotation. Fowler will be replaced in center by free agent Colby Rasmus. Overall, I don’t see much improvement for the Astros during the off-season. Lots of moves, but are they better? I’m just askin’. I really think they could have used both Foltynewicz and Jarred Cosart who they traded to Miami last year.

IMO Jake Marisnick plays solid defense and should end up in left field most of the time in Houston with Rasmus in center. Marisnick came in the Cosart deal.

Max Scherzer to the Nationals? Who knew? Not me. I should have figured it out. The Nationals and the Boras Group have a very good relationship. Mike Rizzo drafted Scherzer when Rizzo was with the Dbacks. But man-in essence, isn’t Scherzer now equal to an “owner” of the club? I don’t write about money. But that’s some kind of money. And it’ll help James Shields. And next year’s crop of available pitchers like David Price and Johnny Cueto. If I’m the Nationals I keep all their starters. I wouldn’t think of breaking up a fantastic rotation that includes Strasburg, Scherzer, Zimmerman, Fister, Gonzalez and Tanner Roark if needed. On paper, they have a guy that can win every day. How many teams can really say that? Every day a starter touches the mound for Washington, they are a good bet to win that game. No #4 or #5 starter blues and woes. But. But games aren’t won on paper. They’re won between the lines. Injuries could hit. One or more of their pitchers could get a flat tire. But I sure like the makeup of that club.

Where does James Shields land? I still like the Orioles or the Blue Jays, but I have no idea. None whatsoever. I do know that he can lengthen a rotation, eat innings and help any big league club of his choosing. Maybe he’s waiting for that special team to call. Or he wants another year on the deal. Or more money. But it should be over soon. We should soon find out who wins the Shields Sweepstakes.

Remember when Hunter Morris was in the first base picture for the Brewers? It wasn’t too long ago. The job was his in Spring Training, but it didn’t work out. Now, he’s been designated for assignment. The light only shines for so long.

Tyler Clippard offers the Athletics a really fine late inning relief option. If needed, he can close. If not, he can set up. He’s a good fit for a club that may be better than many think. The deal they made with Washington for Yunel Escobar makes sense for both clubs. The Nationals can use more middle infield help. They got it.

And so now we wait. We wait for the words “the equipment truck departed today for Spring Training.” Those are among the sweetest words in the English language. Another great sentence is “Pitchers and catchers reported today to….to begin Spring Training.” Oh, how I love those words. So do you.

But keep your eyes posted here at BERNIE’S BASEBALL WORLD going forward. And follow me on twitter @BerniePleskoff so we can talk some ball. I hope you’re enjoying my “On The Cusp” series on MLBPipeline.com. I write about each team’s prospects that may make the 2015 club at some point in the season. Finally, I hope you’ll listen to Short Hops on iTunes where my baseball partner Derek Van Riper and I talk baseball for at least an hour a week. And I’m still doing a weekly segment at noon eastern on Wednesday at Sirius/XM Fantasy Sports.

As always, thanks for your great support.

 

More Wood On The Stove

Happy New Year to each and every one of you. I hope this year brings you great health, great joy and a championship for your favorite baseball team. Well, we can all dream, can’t we?

I think there are a couple of sleepers that were moved in the recent flurry of trades. One of those is R J Alvarez who went to the Athletics from the Padres. He had previously gone to the Padres from the Angels, the team that first drafted him. Alvarez has a back of the bullpen power arm. He could eventually close. He has one true pitch-a “lights out” fastball. He was a starter at Florida Atlantic University, but has since converted to the pen. Keep your eye on him. I like his stuff.

More widely known is starting pitcher Andrew Heaney. Heaney was traded to the Dodgers and then flipped to the Angels. I think he has a chance to be a very solid starting pitcher. The Angels have to be patient with him, as it is quite possible he could scuffle a bit against better quality hitting. In time, he can be an innings eater and a winner. He scuffled a bit in his 2014 debut-and that’s what I’m talking about. However, he throws a quality fastball, slider and changeup that should play on the big stage. I’m a huge Howie Kendrick fan (traded for Heaney) but he may have departed when free agency was available to him. This deal was good for the Angels.

Max Fried went from the Padres to the Braves in the Justin Upton trade. There was some risk involved for the Braves, as Fried is recovering from Tommy John surgery. But I think he’ll become a star once he’s recovered. He had great stuff before the elbow issues. He knows how to pitch. I think the big lefty will return to his 95 mph fastball and wipe out curveball once his rehab is complete and his arm is stretched out. We won’t see him this year, but down the road—he’s a keeper.

Manny Banuelos, who went to the Braves for David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve was once spoken of in the same prospect sentences with star reliever Dellin Betances. I vividly remember when Betances had trouble throwing strikes. Like Banuelos, he has had Tommy John surgery. Betances came back from the surgery, regained his power arm and started throwing more strikes. Now-he (Betances) could be closing games for the Yankees. Worse case, he serves as a set-up man for Andrew Miller. But back to Banuelos. He doesn’t have the huge 6-foot-8 height of Betances. In fact, he’s only
5-foot-10. But I really like his upside. I think he’ll bounce back fine from surgery and be able to pitch either out of the Braves rotation or out of their pen. Clearly-the Braves have faith that both Fried and Banuelos will return to their original prospect form. I wouldn’t bet against either.

Franklin Barreto was part of the Josh Donaldson trade with the Blue Jays. He may one day become a star on a team that always seems to need middle infield help. He’s still only 18 (he’ll be 19 in February) but he has the poise and moxie of a guy much older. He barrels pitches and has a terrific feel for hitting. He hit .311/6/61 at Class A Short Season Vancouver last year in 328 plate appearances. For me, he was a top 5 prospect with the Blue Jays. Keep your eye on this young man-he may eventually take some of the sting away from losing Donaldson.

By the way-I also like Shreve, the lefty the Yankees got for their bullpen for Banuelos. I think you’ll see him pitching in New York this coming season. Not in a prominent role, but as an early call southpaw out of the pen.
Remember the name Christian Walker. I think the young prospect could make the Orioles out of Spring Training. They aren’t deep in first basemen, and Walker has a nice bat with a level, doubles/gap bat. The home runs will come.

Marlon Byrd may be the right guy for Reds as they prepare to pass the left field baton to Jesse Winker. But Winker to Cincinnati may not happen until later this year. Frankly, I would have liked to see Winker start the season, but the Reds probably want him to get more development time. So Byrd it is.

I’m still wondering how the Phillies get younger with the likes of Grady Sizemore and Jeff Francoeur as well as the newly acquired Aaron Harang? I’m just wondering. Yikes!

And the Orioles? Yikes again. The AL East is flying past them.

Not to mention the Giants. But I just did. Some way they will shore up their club. It never fails. We look at the lack of moves they make and then suddenly…bam. Here comes a Hunter Pence or a Jake Peavy or a couple years ago a Cody Ross to save the bacon. I will never count them out. Or the Cardinals either.

Do the Marlins want James Shields? I say yes. But at what price? And I still think Tigers owner Mike Ilitch and the Boras Group will sit around the campfire, eat some pizza and come to terms on a return to Detroit for Max Scherzer. I just think it makes sense. The window on that club could slam shut–and the team has to make that expensive move. And they still need bullpen help. Scherzer would really make that starting staff even more amazing. Scherzer/Price/Verlander/Sanchez/Greene or Simon with the other to the pen. Probably Simon to the pen.

Can Alexi Ogando help someone or is he toast? I’m just wondering. I guess his shoulder is as bad as I thought it was. If not-wouldn’t he still be with the Rangers. Plug in the toaster.

The Red Sox will not start the season with their current starting pitching. I see another move or two coming in the future. Right?

Who can use the excess Padres outfielders (the accounting firm of Quentin, Maybin, and Venable)? Or the Red Sox excess of Bryce Brentz, Allen Craig, Daniel Nava, and possibly Shane Victorino? Mookie Betts is too good. He has to stay and play. Well, the Mets, the Orioles, the Giants, the Phillies, the Athletics, the Twins and on and on all come to mind. There is an outstanding market for most of those outfielders. The fly in the ointment? Nobody has what the Padres and Red Sox covet-Major League ready starting pitching. And if they have it, they’re keeping it.

And do you remember…Jackie Bradley, Jr.? That love affair didn’t last too long. I hope he gets a shot somewhere. Add him to the Red Sox outfield inventory.

Carlos Quentin. I wonder what a healthy Carlos Quentin could do? Will we ever find out? When he was with the Dbacks I loved to watch him hit. Then he got hurt. Then he got hurt again. And again. And again. And….you get the point.

Do you think the Yankees have enough starting pitching or do they need a Shields or Scherzer? Will Pineda and Sabathia both return healthy? And the big question-will Tanaka hold up? Don’t they need another arm or two? I love Eovaldi, but what if those other three guys I just mentioned can’t pitch? That leaves Capuano, Warren and Nova (if he’s healthy). I give that a Yikes! I’d be looking for that arm or two, but that’s just me.

Have I mentioned that I think Garrett Jones is going to really help the Yankees? Perfect home park for his swing. He may take DH at-bats from A-Rod. You remember A-Rod, right? And he’ll take some outfield time as well.

OK- that’s all for today. I’m done.

All my best to the kids. And remember your New Year’s Resolution—you forgot already. Well let me remind you. You’re going to tell your family and friends that they are always welcome to follow me on twitter @BerniePleskoff and to read my work at MLBPipeline.com.

The American Shuffle

As a chronologically advanced individual, I can’t remember an off season with so much action and intrigue. Scorecard sales should be up this coming season. Man, have the faces and places changed. Especially in the American League.

The Red Sox will open the season with a newly designed starting rotation and with a couple of different potent bats in the lineup.

Rick Porcello leaves the Tigers to become the potential ace of the Red Sox staff. He made his Major League debut at age 20. He’s now 25-soon to be 26. His baseball life is really beginning to peak. He has become a much better, much more reliable pitcher and the Red Sox will reap the benefits.

Justin Masterson will claim a spot in the rotation, returning to the club where his career began. I wish I could figure him out. I think the Indians and Cardinals wish they could have figured him out. He really, really scuffles against left-handed hitters. But his sinking fastball works well against righties. I’ve watched him lose his release point and blow up his game in the period of ten minutes. For me, he’s an “if.” If he can get lefties out. If he can throw strikes. If, if, if.

Lefty Wade Miley is the third new starting pitcher the Red Sox have added. I’ve watched the good and the bad of Miley with the Dbacks. Here’s my concern. I think the Green Monster is going to get a ton of new dents. He just isn’t overpowering enough to leave pitches up in the zone. If he keeps the ball down, he can be very good. Slow worker. And he has real trouble pitching from the stretch. Miley is a rhythm pitcher. When his release point is consistent he stays out of trouble. Some guys can pitch through a loss of mechanics. He has trouble with that.

I really like what Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez bring to the offense. But both have to stay healthy and stay on the field. They could have monster seasons.

I think the Rays did a great job getting back some outstanding prospects in their deal with the Padres and Nationals. Yes, they gave up Wil Myers. I have some real concerns about his ability to recognize pitches and make consistent contact. He may blossom, he may not. But I really like the upside of Steven Souza-an underrated former Nationals outfielder who was blocked in Washington. I think he starts for Tampa Bay. And I think he will hit-maybe not right away. Fans have to be patient.

The real win for the Rays is Rene Rivera behind the plate. He’s an outstanding defensive catcher with some offense to offer. Rays pitchers will be very happy he’s around. He’s far from a prospect, but he’s a very solid, dependable receiver.

I feel the back end of the Rays bullpen was really bolstered with the addition of Kevin Jepsen. I have a hunch he’ll be their closer. He’s certainly capable.

The Blue Jays are an entirely new team-fresh faces in the lineup to make everyone better. How about navigating through Jose Reyes, Russell Martin, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson. The additions of Martin, Donaldson and outfielder Michael Saunders put this club in contention for an AL East championship IMO. If they can add one more solid starter–watch out.

The Indians added two significant parts to their roster. Brandon Moss will take a roll in the middle of the lineup. My jury remains out on his ability to rebound quickly and effectively from hip surgery. I hope they don’t rush him.

Signing Gavin Floyd and inserting him in the four hole in the rotation really took me by surprise. I hope his elbow is totally healed and he’s ready to go. But his acquisition leaves Danny Salazar and lefty T J House fighting for the final rotation spot. I thought both were set in their roles. One won’t be in the rotation.

While I don’t think Jed Lowrie is the long-term answer at shortstop for the Astros (that would be Carlos Correa) I think his bat will be welcomed in the lineup. He can help with some power from that position. Overall, the big change will come in the bullpen. Both Like Gregerson and Pat Neshek will certainly help late in games.

I don’t think the Mariners are finished with their off-season work. Nelson Cruz and Justin Ruggiano are nice right-handed bats to help balance and lengthen the lineup. But I still think they need another bat. Lefty J A Happ fits at the back end of the rotation. But maybe he could fetch another hitter?

In a need for pitching, the Rangers added lefty Ross Detwiler from the Nationals. I still think they need another hitter and another starter. I would guess their on the prowl now for both those areas. If he’s healthy, Kyuji Fujikawa could be a major, major addition to the bullpen. If Neftali Feliz falters, he can close.

Matt Joyce and Josh Rutledge could both find their way into the starting lineup for the Angels. Joyce adds a bit of pop from the left side of the plate and Rutledge should win the second base job vacated by the departed Howard Kendrick. The pitching depth was strengthened with the addition of left starter Andrew Heaney. I think he has tremendous upside, but patience will be required. He’s only 23 and still gaining confidence.

The Tigers supremacy in the AL Central could be threatened. I still don’t think they have replaced the loss of CF Austin Jackson from mid-2014. Anthony Gose is a good fielder and he can run. Can he get on base? That’s my issue. Having Yoenis Cespedes in the middle of the order to compliment VMart and Miggy makes great sense. The guy to watch just may be J D Martinez. But Cespedes could put up some nice numbers. His issue is making consistent contact. The swings and misses may frustrate Tigers fans. Especially with men in scoring position.

Billy Butler, Ike Davis, Brett Lawrie and Marcus Semien are now all part of a less potent Oakland Athletics lineup. Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss are gone. That’s some significant fire power playing elsewhere. Kendall Graveman could make the starting rotation after being obtained from Toronto.

The Yankees have stabilized their third base situation for years to come with the long-term signing of Chase Headley. That was a really good move. I wonder how the situation will work with ARod and Carlos Beltran regarding playing time in the field? They both can’t DH. If they let him play, Didi Gregorius will shine at shortstop and he’ll surprise some people with his left-handed power in Yankee Stadium. Adding two very high quality lefties to the bullpen in Justin Wilson and Andrew Miller will provide the Yankees with one of the finest pens in baseball. Especially with Dellin Betances as the new closer.

Then there’s the Orioles. I feel badly for their fans. They lost Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis without getting anything back in return. They have huge holes in their lineup that have not been filled. What happens if Chris Davis doesn’t perform? Or if Manny Machado and Matt Wieters can’t rebound from injury? I’m confident the team they have now won’t be the same as the one that starts the season. They’ll make some changes.

Thank you for following my work on MLBPipeline.com and for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.

That’s it. I’m done.

National Landscape Hasn’t Changed Much

It seems as though player movement becomes contagious. Teams watch clubs in their division make moves to strengthen their organization and it becomes a motivating factor to follow suit. While not all the meaningful transactions took place in San Diego, this past Winter Meetings kept participants on guard as transactions came quickly.

It seems more of the earth shaking moves took place in the American League, but the NL had its share of big transactions as well.

The Atlanta Braves have a new leadoff hitter in Nick Markakis. Markakis must first undergo neck surgery from a condition that has bothered him for some time. That may have been among the reasons the Orioles did not finalize a deal to retain his services. Markakis takes the role vacated when Jason Heyward was traded to the Cardinals. Pesky Alberto Callaspo slips into the two hole in the batting order as a free agent acquisition. The team hopes the additions of Shelby Miller to the rotation and Jim Johnson and Arodys Vizcaino to the bullpen help make up for injury losses. Of course, the Braves may not be finished. Justin and B J Upton may be on the move.

The Cubs are beginning to give the north side of Chicago some hope. My fear is that expectations will be too high for the coming year. It will take at least two seasons in my opinion for all the young players and new veterans to come together and play as a unit. However, this club is headed in the right direction and could be lethal when they mature together.

Of course, adding Jon Lester as the ace of the staff is the foundation for the pitching future. He brings his cutter and mature mound presence to a club where his leadership will be as valued as his ability to pitch. Along with the newly refined Jake Arrieta, the team has an outstanding one-two punch at the top of the rotation. Jason Hammel returns to the team as the third starter. Very quietly, the Cubs added veteran flamethrower Jason Motte to the bullpen. If he’s healthy, that’s a big addition. The catching tandem of Wellington Castillo and newly acquired Miguel Montero could be formidable. Montero gets a fresh start in a new environment. He needs to renew his passion for the game and get back to solid catching fundamentals.

The Reds picked up starter Anthony DeSclafani is a deal for one time ace Mat Latos. Latos had come to the Reds as the focal point of the blockbuster deal with the Padres in December 2011. That deal included Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal. DeSclafani has good stuff and is a fine prospect. Probably the team’s fifth starter now, he can work his way up the food chain if he irons out some inconsistency in his command. Latos has had some injury issues, but if he’s healthy, he can really help the Marlins.

The Padres have still not finalized the much discussed deal for Matt Kemp. If they do get the outfielder from the Dodgers I have some very real concerns. First, will Kemp be happy in a lineup that doesn’t have much offensive pop? Will he be happy away from the brighter lights of Los Angeles? Even though it’s a short drive away, the two cities are totally different in feel and living environment. The issue for me is not the package of players returned to the Dodgers for Kemp, but more Kemp’s contract. Will the Padres be able to supplement the lineup with quality players or will one contract eat much of their available payroll? As I write this a proposed deal for outfielder Wil Myers from the Rays is in the works.

One thing is certain. The Padres front office is making every effort to change the offensive side of the club. They have been in discussions with many free agents and have thrown their hat in the ring for potential trades. Some may come to fruition.

In addition to the Cardinals adding Jason Heyward to right field, they have signed first baseman/third baseman Mark Reynolds as depth off the bench. It’s has some significance, because Reynolds is the type of guy that can win a ballgame with a home run as a pinch hitter in the late innings. Yes, he strikes out a ton. However, there is no doubt about his power. Jordan Walden came in the Heyward trade from the Braves and can add some depth to the bullpen. He along with free agent acquisition Matt Belisle of the Rockies will be new to the pen.

The Mets have added the bat of Michael Cuddyer to their lineup and he could be hitting in the cleanup spot. John Mayberry, Jr. signed as a free agent and could add some depth at first base and in the outfield.

The Pirates handled the loss of catcher Russell Martin by bringing Francisco Cervelli over from the Yankees. It was a great move for Pittsburgh, as Cervelli offers outstanding defense to a pitching staff that has prospered under Martin’s guidance. Cervelli is really a bit underrated in my opinion. And bringing back starting lefty Francisco Liriano really helped the continuity of their rotation. They’ll have an all Francisco battery. But the move I really like is the addition of utility player Sean Rodriguez in trade from the Rays. Rodriguez is a solid hitter with some power. He can play all over the field and his versatility will add great depth to the Pirates. Good move IMO.

The Phillies have added pitcher Odubel Herrera and outfielder Andy Oliver via the Rule 5 Draft at the Winter Meetings. I have not scouted either player.

The Giants added infield depth by signing Carlos Triunfel. He was a good infield prospect several years ago for the Mariners.

The Brewers may have found their first baseman in Adam Lind. He has enough power to be a threat in the middle of the lineup and can help take some of the pressure off Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez. He also adds a nice left-handed bat to the middle of the order. I think it was a nice move. He may not hit much for average, but Miller Park is a nice play pen for his swing.

The Rockies have not made many significant moves, but did add left-handed hitting Daniel Descalso to their roster. They also have picked up right-hander Jairo Diaz in trade from the Dodgers. He’ll likely assume a bullpen role.

The Nationals have added second baseman Chris Bostick from the Rangers in a move that could provide the team with some infield depth in the event of a future trade.

You can find my thoughts on the Dodgers and Marlins in previous editions of BERNIE’S BASEBALL WORLD.

Tomorrow: The remaining American League teams.

Thanks for reading my work on MLBPipeline.com and for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.

That’s it. I’m done.

Upgraded Models On Display This Coming Spring

Take a stroll along the 2015 Major League landscape and you’re likely to find the offerings sure look different. Stop in the showroom and kick the tires of the Chicago White Sox newest model. Everything looks upgraded. More bells and whistles. More chrome. All the latest technology. Early test drives this coming spring should show obvious upgrades in class and style. Effective, efficient market driven changes.

The White Sox owned the first portion of the Winter Meetings last week in San Diego. They began retooling their product with the acquisition of free agent first baseman/designated hitter Adam LaRoche. An outstanding defensive first baseman, LaRoche offers more length to the lineup and gives the club an additional power source to compliment Jose Abreu. With the losses of Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn to retirement, the White Sox will have LaRoche and Abreu as interchangeable parts between first base and designated hitter. It will help them both.

Pitching upgrades really set the new edition White Sox into a new category. Having David Robertson available to close games on Chicago’s south side will give the team confidence heading to the ninth inning with a lead. He’s reliable. And consistent. The bullpen also benefits from the experience of newly acquired free agent Zach Duke, a lefty who has found a home in the pen. Perhaps another lefty reliever is still out there to be added to the relief corps.

With Jeff Samardzija on the club, the White Sox have upgraded their rotation. Teams will now have to face a very formidable top three starters of Chris Sale, Samardzija and the underrated Jose Quintana. John Danks and Hector Noesi probably round out the starting five at this early date. Sale, Quintana and Danks are left handed. A nice bonus. Carlos Rondon looms somewhere. Rotation? Bullpen? And Erik Johnson is a big, strong starter as well. So the White Sox now have some pitching depth. New backup catcher Rob Brantly adds a different dimension to the catching corps.

The addition of outfielder Melky Cabrera might be the most significant upgrade of all. He brings a very potent bat to the lineup and should help set the table behind Adam Eaton. Opposing pitchers will have to navigate Eaton, Cabrera. Abreu, LaRoche and Avisail Garcia each and every day. Two of those first five hitters add new life and a new look to the new model. I really like what the White Sox have accomplished. And I don’t think they’re finished. Perhaps Dayan Viciedo will find a new home before the start of the new model year. I would guess the club still has some other changes in mind.

If the White Sox got a face lift, the Miami Marlins have undergone an entire reconstruction. The model that rolls off the lines in February/March will put the club in an entirely different conversation. Contenders. Not pretenders. The club is loaded.
For those that have followed me in the past, the Marlins are one of the teams I have been excited about for the past two seasons. I have felt they have some of the best and brightest young stars in the game. Not just Giancarlo Stanton. I’m talking Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and Adeiney Hechavarria. Not to mention Jose Fernandez, Henderson Alvarez, and Nathan Eovaldi. Exciting, young stars on the horizon. Add in Dee Gordon at the top of the order and the paint gets a bit brighter and shinier. If he gets on base consistently, think of the pressure he will put on the defense before the longer lumber strolls to the plate. If he can get on base consistently. With Michael Morse in the middle of the lineup, Stanton gains a bit more protection. A good thing.

If Dan Haren elects to pitch for the Marlins and not retire, the starting rotation will be lengthened with his experience and ability. The addition of Mat Latos gives them a strong starter at the top until Fernandez returns from his rehabilitation. Jared Cosart is still only 24 and has a chance to blossom into the pitcher many projected to become an ace. Of course Alvarez continues to improve. Tom Koehler at the back end of the rotation is very capable as well. The team lacks a left handed starter. But Justin Nicolino may respond to that need. Or Adam Conley.

Aaron Crow enters the bullpen picture as a middle reliever, and his experience will be welcomed, I’m sure. Steve Cishek is a very under the radar closer.

The new model Marlins are for real. They want to win. They have a very capable front office with good scouting and development personnel. If ownership keeps building upon this new model, the net result will be scary for the National League East. These guys are pretty darn good.

Tomorrow: Other National League club improvements.

Thank you for reading my work at MLBPipeline and for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.

That’s it. I’m done.

Winter Meetings-Reconstruction Zone (Dbacks and Dodgers)

Personnel from every aspect of baseball met last week at the Manchester Hyatt in beautiful San Diego.

The past two years at the Winter Meetings have been rather uneventful, to say the least. This year, the ground shook from the moment we arrived. It was exciting, eventful, invigorating and exhausting, all at the same time. Fans from every team waited and hoped to learn about every morsel of information about their club’s future.

In this several-part blog, I will recap my thoughts about the week that changed the landscape in the sport we all love. Dbacks and Dodgers today. Two more teams tomorrow.

The Diamondbacks entered the off-season with a very thin starting rotation. Their goal was to obtain reliable Major League quality pitchers and stock their farm system with able pitching depth. They accomplished that goal. And then some.

When the season begins in April, it will not be a surprise to see a rotation of Jeremy Hellickson (new) Josh Collmenter, Rubby De La Rosa (new) Allen Webster (new) and one from either Randall Delgado or Trevor Cahill take the mound until Patrick Corbin and/or Bronson Arroyo return healthy. Wade Miley is gone. He’ll take the ball in the new Red Sox rotation. I like both De La Rossa and Webster. I think they will offer the Dbacks quality starts. Both have upside remaining. Both are ready for the biggest stage IMO.

Webster’s fastball sits at 92-93, but he can hit 97. His changeup is a swing and miss offering and his second best pitch at 85mph. Also uses a slider. Gets sink on his pitches and that can be a blessing at Chase Field. I think he’s ready to break out.
De La Rossa: He’s teased front offices of both the Dodgers and Red Sox. A Tommy John operation interrupted his progress. Throws a mid-90’s fastball, a changeup and a slider. Not quite Tyson Ross, but he reminds me of the Padres rising star.

Robbie Ray is a lefty the club got in the deal that cost them Didi Gregorius. Based upon what I saw in the Fall League, I believe Ray needs more development time to work out control and command issues. He has the stuff, but he has to improve on repeating his delivery and getting ahead in counts. If he has a good spring, he may even be the 5th starter. But I don’t think he’s ready for that yet.

The Dbacks moved catcher Miguel Montero to the Cubs for pitchers Zack Godley (reliever) and Jeferson Mejia (starter). The transaction was more about moving $40mm off the payroll IMO. At a manager’s luncheon with Chip Hale at the Winter Meetings, Hale was asked about his starting catcher? His answer? Tuffy Goeswisch. Frankly, I don’t think the team’s starting catcher is currently on the roster. The overall first selection in the Rule 5 Draft was catcher Oscar Hernandez of the Rays organization. The Rays are weak behind the plate. Hmm. But Hernandez is a fine defensive catcher. He will have to remain with the club the entire season, be returned to Tampa Bay for $25,000 or a trade must be completed with the Rays to allow Hernandez to be sent out to the Minor Leagues. He will likely remain with the club. Another catcher is still out there for the Dbacks.

The other piece to the reconstruction project of the Dbacks is the acquisition of Yasmany Tomas, a cuban player reported to have outstanding power. I have not seen him play. I always reserve comment and judgment until I get to scout a player. Tomas is slated to play third base, allowing Mark Trumbo to remain in a corner outfield role. That means David Peralta, A J Pollock and Trumbo in the outfield. Chris Owings (if healthy) would play shortstop with Aaron Hill at second. And of course, Paul Goldschmidt returns from injury to play first.

The Dodgers blew the roof off the hotel with their non-stop activity beyond day one. The White Sox had dominated the meetings until Andrew Friedman and company stepped it up. They will now have Jimmy Rollins replacing Hanley Ramirez (Marlins) at shortstop. I think Rollins still has some petro in the tank. Maybe a half a tank’s worth. He can field better than Ramirez and he can still hit. He will be around until Corey Seager is ready for the job.

The rotation will likely be bolstered with the additions of Brandon McCarthy as a free agent and Joe Wieland from San Diego. McCarthy returned to using his wicked cutter after arriving in New York after a trade with the Yankees from the Dbacks. Wieland has always been a top pitching prospect. But he’s been injured with the Padres.
Wieland has had Tommy John surgery and has taken a bit of time to return to form. When he’s healthy, he sits in the low 90’s with his fastball and has an outstanding curve ball and a changeup in his repertoire. But he’s unproven for the 5 hole in the Dodgers rotation. My jury remains out on that one. I’m skeptical.

I’m not one that will criticize the trade of Dee Gordon to the Marlins. Yes, his speed is outstanding and game changing. But I don’t know if he can sustain an on-base percentage that releases the speed to steal bases. On the other side of the ledger, Howie Kendrick coming over from the Angels to play second is huge. He has a loud, line drive, middle of the field bat. He can drive in runs and score runs. I’ve always liked him and I think he will make up for the loss of Ramirez in the lineup.

The Dodgers had Andrew Heaney. Briefly. They moved him to the Angels for Kendrick. So what they have is a proven second baseman with a nice bat in exchange for an unproven and very top quality left handed starting pitcher. The deal was good for both Los Angeles teams.

That brings me to trading Matt Kemp to the Padres for catcher Yasmani Grandal, Zach Eflin and Wieland. And lots of millions of dollars. The deal may not even be official yet. But losing Kemp will hurt the Dodgers. It takes a huge bat out of the lineup. A bat that was showing signs of coming to life in the second half last season. If Kemp is healthy, he will be lacing the gaps at Petco with doubles. He’ll try to prove the Dodgers wrong. Joc Pederson, a very high upside rookie will be replacing Kemp in the outfield. But he isn’t Matt Kemp. At least not yet.

Are the Dodgers better? I don’t think so. I think they’ll miss Kemp. But I don’t think they are finished yet. They’ll get more pitching help. They added Joel Peralta and Juan Nicasio to the bullpen. But I have my doubts about the five spot in the rotation. And I hope McCarthy can stay healthy.

In my estimation, the Dbacks have improved because of Tomas. The pitching is yet to be seen. I do like the upside of Webster and possibly De La Rossa. I think Hellickson offers Major League experience, but I worry about his tendency to give up the long ball. Especially at Chase Field. And I think his slow pace is detrimental. I hope he can pick that up a bit in his new environment.

I think the Dodgers will try to improve at third base, on the mound and on the bench. There is more ground to shake in Los Angeles. The team we see now will not be the one the Dodgers field in April.

Come back tomorrow when I discuss the White Sox and the Marlins.

As always, thanks for reading my scouting profiles at MLBPipeline.com.

That’s it. I’m done.

Pounding The Ketchup Bottle

It’s amazing how much one free-agent pitcher means to the direction and flow of the Winter Meetings. It seems as though once LHP Jon Lester decides from among his many suitors, the most highly regarded remaining starting pitchers will fall in line. Where does Lester pitch next year? And for how many years thereafter? We shall see. I don’t hear as much about the Cubs being the frontrunners anymore. The buzz here still points to Boston and the Giants. But the Dodgers loom. And the story changes depending upon the source of the information. Red Sox manager John Farrell is confident Lester will return to Boston. Could be. I have no idea. I thought his relationship with Cubs front office personnel could tip the scales in the direction of Chicago. I think we’ll know tomorrow morning. And then…other pitchers should fall into slots. But maybe not Max Scherzer. Perhaps we won’t know about him until Spring Training. But Lester could go to the Cubs or the…or the…or the. Frustrating. Powerful.

While our MLB.com personnel were in a meeting this morning, the Indians got a big left-handed bat in the name of Brandon Moss to play in the outfield, first base or as their designated hitter. He should help the Tribe…if his hip allows. Moss had a tough second half last year and had hip surgery following the season. He is currently in physical therapy and feels he will be two weeks behind other players in Spring Training. I think that may be optimistic. A hip injury for a hitter is a major concern. Hips do so much of the work in swing mechanics. I hope Moss doesn’t return until he is fully healthy.
Just a hunch, but I think the odd man out in the Indians equation could be David Murphy-also a left-handed hitter. Also an outfielder. Not much power. Decline in his 2014 season. Too many redundant position players. Someone probably goes.

Joey Wendle has a chance to be a good hitting second baseman. Some consider him more a utility player than a starter. I’m not one of them. I think he can play full-time for a team like the Athletics that isn’t deep in middle infielders. But he’s a year away from prime time. If the A’s don’t improve that role with a Major League ready guy by the end of Spring Training, Wendle may be rushed. I just don’t see that happening

The Diamondbacks formally announced the signing of Yasmany Tomas. He allegedly has a difference making bat. It could be very exciting for Dbacks fans.

The environment for these meetings is fabulous. The weather in San Diego could not be nicer. We are located adjacent to shops and restaurants right at the harbor. The hotel overlooks beautiful views of the water and downtown San Diego. Meeting rooms, the press room and the hotel sleeping rooms are all a short walk from each other.

Yesterday outside the hotel at Seaport Village we had a guy that trains exotic birds and makes money permitting tourists to take pictures. We had a guy that eats fire performing in the middle of the courtyard. We had Santa Claus greeting little kids, a ballon artist and a guy who thinks he’s Frank Sinatra singing non-stop for hours. Something for everyone. Like a circus. So far I’ve had one great lunch, one good lunch and one lousy dinner. Two out three isn’t bad.

Without a doubt, when we are at dinner tonight some major, huge amazing story will break. Isn’t that what always happens? Our MLB.com team is working hard to uncover every lead and leave no stone unturned to bring our readers the most up to date and current information. Every shred of a lead is followed. I work with amazing reporters who are the best in the business. I learn from them every day. But we can’t make chicken soup if we don’t have the chickens. Does that make sense to you? You know what I mean, right? We don’t start rumors. But I still have a feeling this is going to be a huge week. Trades. Signings. Why do I think that? There are teams with too many outfielders and teams without enough. There are teams with middle infield surpluses and teams with few middle infielders. Any everyone needs pitching.

The Rule 5 Draft is Thursday. I’ll get more into that in subsequent blogs.

So here we are. We wait. It’s like slow ketchup. Once the drips start, it pours easier and faster. I’m willing to wait. So are you, right? The wait is worth it if you like what your team has done. But you want your team to do something. Something good. You wait for word about your club. But don’t get excited about rumors. Get excited when you read that it’s official. Then you can slot the guy into the lineup in your head or in the rotation in your mind. I know. I’m chronologically advanced and I’ve spent years and years and years pounding that ketchup bottle in December. Sometimes it never pours. Sometimes it does. For your sake, I hope you get what you want. Let me know at my twitter account @BerniePleskoff. What are you wishing and hoping for? Keep pounding that bottle.

I have a scouting profile of Joey Wendle up today on MLBPipeline.com. Hope you check it out. And thanks for following me and reading my work. I’ll be back tomorrow with the Tuesday edition of my Winter Meetings blog. For now, let it flow. Please.

That’s it. I’m done. Breaking news will be posted @BerniePleskoff

From Atop My Soapbox

Those who have followed me on twitter the past few years know how greatly I value defense in baseball. They also know how effusive I am in my regard for the defensive prowess of Didi Gregorius. I have extolled his remarkable defensive ability since the first time I saw him in a Cincinnati Reds Spring Training camp.

I really began to consider Gregorius an elite shortstop in the 2012 Arizona Fall League. His athletic ability, his grace, his amazingly soft hands and quick feet, his outstanding range and his cannon of an arm were poetic to me. Every time I saw him I liked him more and more.

Over the years I had seen other young, inexperienced shortstops in the Fall League that I couldn’t stop writing about. Players like Alcides Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarria and others had dazzled me in the AFL, but none quite caught my attention as much as Gregorius. He was, and is, special.

Gregorius was part of a three-team trade in 2012 between the Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians and Arizona Diamondbacks. The Dbacks sent Matt Albers, Trevor Bauer and Bryan Shaw to Cleveland. The Reds sent Drew Stubbs to Cleveland. The Indians sent Lars Anderson and Tony Sipp to Arizona. The Indians sent Shin-Soo Choo and Jason Donald and cash to the Reds. Do you have all that?

When the deal was made, I was ecstatic. I would get to see Didi play shortstop on a regular basis. He didn’t disappoint. His defense was majestic, as expected. Maybe even better. His offense was raw and behind his defense. I kept writing that patience is required. He will come around with the bat. I sighted Omar Vizquel as a perfect example of a defensive wizard who was challenged offensively. Until the light went on. Until he gained enough experience to learn how to hit Major League pitching. Omar: 1989 .220, 1990 .247, 1991 .230, 1992 .294. He kept improving and improving and finished his 24-year career at .272.

No, Didi is not Omar. But in my opinion Didi is very close to Omar defensively.

But when the light goes on for Didi, and I think it will, he’ll be playing shortstop for the New York Yankees. And he’ll get his share of home runs into the short right field porch at Yankee Stadium. And he’ll improve as a hitter. In time.

Yesterday I heard Steve Sax discuss Gregorius on MLB Radio. It was as if I was hearing my own words coming back to me. Sax indicated Yankees fans will be thrilled with what they see from Gregorius. He predicted audible oohs and ahs from Yankees fans at the plays Didi will make. He said Gregorius was among the finest defensive shortstops he had every seen. High praise from a guy who played the game. And who watched him play regularly with the Dbacks.

Nobody can replace Derek Jeter. Someone will play his position. That someone will be Gregorius against right-handed pitching initially with Brendan Ryan playing against lefties. And by the way, Ryan is a fantastic defensive shortstop in his own right.

Being chronologically advanced, I have had the great pleasure and privilege of seeing countless fantastic defensive shortstops. Several like Ozzie Smith and Adam Everett come to mind. Of course, Escobar and Hechavarria make my list. In today’s game, I find Andrelton Simmons the gold standard. Not even Didi matches up with him It’s close, but Simmons takes my prize. More are on the way.

In exchange for Gregorius, the Dbacks bolstered their pitching by obtaining lefty Robbie Ray and helped their organizational depth by receiving shortstop/second baseman Domingo Leyba from Detroit. The Yankees sent right-handed pitcher Shane Greene to the Tigers.

Ray is a work in progress. Still young and relatively inexperienced at 23, the lefty starter could find himself at the back end of the Dbacks rotation. The team is not deep in pitching. If they can afford more development time for him, so much the better. He still has inconsistent command and control, but I saw improvement during his Arizona Fall League season. The same improvement Dbacks brass must have seen. I think his upside could help make this a nice transaction. The real prize could well be Leyba. He has a strong, projectable hitting tool and an ability to grow into a fine defensive infielder. He probably profiles best at second base-a future need for Arizona. His presence in the deal really helps balance things out a bit.

In essence, the Tigers have traded Doug Fister, Robbie Ray and Domingo Leyba for Shane Greene and lefty reliever Ian Krol. Ray was the primary player dealt by Washington to Detroit for Fister in 2013. Krol is serving in the Tigers pen.

Greene could fill a rotation role (that at one time may have been reserved for Ray) if and when the team loses Max Scherzer and/or another starter like Rick Porcello. Is Greene capable? He just turned 26 and is coming off a season of 14 starts in New York. He threw 78 2/3 innings. He yielded 3.3 walks per nine and struck out 9.3 per nine. Those are solid numbers. The walk rate will probably improve. He had an ERA of 3.78 and a WHIP of 1.39. He is a pitcher with promise and upside. He could certainly be a very good addition. But giving up Doug Fister? I’m still scratching my head about that one.

Arizona now turns to very capable shortstop Chris Owings to replace Gregorius. Owings is a better hitter than Didi to date in his young career. For me, Gregorius is a far better defender. The team traded Owings’ good offense and good defense for Didi’s fair offense and great defense IMO. Prospect Nick Ahmed waits in the middle infield wings along with very, very capable utility infielder Cliff Pennington. If he shows he can hit, Aaron Hill will probably get most of the playing time at second base.

But Didi won’t be there to glide deep in the hole, plant his feet and then shoot a 90 mph or more strike on time to first base. Some have said he hits higher than 90. With accuracy. Didi won’t be there to glide behind second base, plant and then throw out the runner by an eyelash. Didi won’t be there to race out to short center or deep along the left field foul line to pull a ball out of the air in what looks like an effortless manner. He’ll be in New York. I wish him well. Soon-maybe even this coming season or the next one at the latest, we’ll talk about his hitting. He’s Omar Vizquel. Steady offensive improvement. Maybe more pop in his bat. Acrobatic defense. Run saving defense.

Yankees fans—enjoy. He’s a treat to watch.

Thanks for reading my scouting profiles on MLBPipeline.com and for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff. I’ll be writing this blog every day from the Winter Meetings in San Diego.

That’s it. I’m done.

 

Pre Winter Meetings Thoughts

It’s always difficult to write a hot stove article or blog because things can change the moment a prediction is made in writing. I was reading a piece today that predicted where players would go. Of the free agents already signed, the site was wrong on each. But at least the reasoning for their choices was sound. But baseball players and baseball teams can change direction quickly.

Here are some of my thoughts as we head to San Diego for the annual gathering of both Minor League and Major League baseball folks at the Winter Meetings.

The Indians are said to be kicking the tires on trading for Oakland’s Brandon Moss. Moss is a left-handed hitter. The Indians are loaded with lefty bats that include Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, Lonnie Chisenhall, Michael Bourn and David Murphy. However, Moss could be a legitimate home run threat that would improve the lineup. He can play both 1B and the OF as well as serve as a DH. Much may depend upon the future of switch-hitting Nick Swisher.

If the Tigers were to go “all in” for Andrew Miller (and I believe he will sign with the Yankees) they would improve their club tremendously. Miller has exactly what the Tigers need. A late game, shut down lefty.

I think adding Miller to the Yankees makes great sense. He would be facing mostly right-handed hitters in the late innings, avoiding the short right field porch lefties hit with regularity. It makes great sense for him to pitch for the Yankees.

I believe the relationship established by Theo Epstein in Jon Lester’s Red Sox days give the Cubs a great chance to sign the lefty. I believe a trust has been established between the two. I also believe Lester may like the challenge of helping the Cubs finally get over the top. Lester sets the starting pitching market.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Chase Headley headed to the Giants to fill the void left when the Panda decided to buy his bamboo in Boston.

Rockies catcher Wilin Rosario could be on the move. I get it. He still has trouble blocking balls in the dirt and he just isn’t making enough progress behind the plate. And his offense tailed off last season. But if he’s traded, some club will get a guy with home run power and a good batting average as a catcher.

I’m still trying to figure out how the Orioles make up for the loss of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis? Is Chris Davis the Chris Davis of Texas, the Chris Davis of two years ago or the Chris Davis of last year? Will Manny Machado be healthy? I think he will be. And I also think Matt Wieters will have a big year and contribute greatly to the offense. Melky Cabrera fits in Baltimore for me.

What are the Phillies thinking? Who knows. But they have to get younger. They have to improve their farm system and organizational depth. They have to get what they can for the veterans that have any market value remaining. And that means that may have to swallow hard and start eating some “dead” contract money. If they pay down much of Ryan Howard’s contract, they may yield some prospects. He has value at the right price for certain teams.

The Dodgers concept of adding depth makes perfect sense. It allows them to deal from a position of strength. Bringing in Chris Heisey gives them another option to place in front of teams in need of outfielders.

I was hoping the Indians would get Chris Denorfia. I’ve always liked his game. Gets his uniform dirty, gets big hits and knows how the game is played. Haven’t heard much on that front lately.

The risk/reward for the Dbacks bringing Chad Billingsley on board tilts heavily to the reward side. If the price is right for Arizona, they could add an option with big league experience to their pitching depth. If he has recovered from injuries, there is little to lose. The Dbacks need pitching.

Yes, Mark Trumbo has value to almost every American League club. Guys that can hit home runs don’t grow on trees. He can hit home runs. Like every transaction-the key will be the price paid. An American League team with pitching depth could find a very nice Christmas present in Trumbo. I’m more worried about his feet than his defense. He can play a bit at 1B and be a designated hitter. But keeping him healthy is an issue.

I haven’t heard a word about Sergio Romo. He’s another guy the Tigers should be talking about. Will he leave the Giants? Who knows?

I heard the Marlins are also interested in Brandon Moss. Watch out for that team. I said last year that I liked their future. I’m a huge Christian Yellich fan. I look for a big, big year from him.

Look for the Padres to play in the international market.

We don’t hear about James Shields on the free agent front. I guess until Lester and Max Scherzer settle somewhere, the Shields’ of the world have to wait. Somebody should come in now and strike. Why wait? Teams want to see pecking order dollars. Scherzer, Lester and then a drop off in money. That’s where Shields will probably fit.

Have I missed it, or is catcher Ryan Lavarnway still out there? Long swing, true. But he can certainly be an upgrade as a back-up catcher for lots of teams.

Robbie Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager. Not bad. To me, Seager is a very underrated player and I think this will be his blossom year. Especially with both Cruz and Cano hanging around in the lineup.

Latos or Leake for Cespedes? Could happen. The Red Sox have Castillo, Cespedes, Craig, Betts, Nava, Victorino, Ramirez, Bryce Brentz and Jackie Bradley as quality outfielders. Ya think a few of them may depart? Jackie Bradley we hardly knew you.
I still think if Cespedes is dealt, Mookie Betts starts in the outfield with Castillo and Ramirez. Have I missed any of them? That’s quite a list.

If you are coming to Phoenix for Spring Training you owe yourself one favor. Drive on the 101 heading east at sunrise. The sun coming up over the McDowell Mountains is just magnificent. Just thought I’d share that.

Just my opinion. The White Sox have made great strides this off season. I think they should keep Alexi Ramirez and keep building with him in the middle of the diamond.
But I think the Dodgers or Mets will make compelling offers for Ramirez.

I credit the Blue Jays for making some very good moves so far. Adding Russell Martin, Michael Saunders and especially Josh Donaldson to an already wonderful lineup that includes Bautista, Reyes and Encarnacion puts them right at the top of the pack in the AL East. They may be able to slug their way to victories with adequate quality as opposed to outstanding quality pitching. But watch out if they get one more starter and/or a relief arm.

Thank you for reading my prospect profiles on MLBPipeline.com. Follow me on twitter @BerniePleskoff every day from the Winter Meetings for the latest and most up to date news possible.

That’s it. I’m done.

We Might Be Talkin’ Filet Mignon

It’s very possible filet mignon is on the menu, but the Athletics may have to wait a few years for the first big taste.

I have to admit right off the bat that I’m a huge Josh Donaldson fan. I think he’s one of the most underrated players in the game.

Donaldson plays a position that has been weak in the American League for a few years. In my opinion, he follows only Adrian Beltre in overall 3B value. I like Evan Longoria, but I think Donaldson may be even better. Kyle Seager is up and coming. I remember being upset when Donaldson was left off the 2013 All Star team. I couldn’t believe it. But Beltre was omitted that year as well.

Some may not know that Donaldson was a Minor League catcher and was converted to third base when a huge need went unresolved. Now he has become an outstanding defender as well as an impact bat in the lineup.

General manager Billy Beane has indicated the gap between the Angels and the Athletics was difficult to close and having Donaldson wouldn’t really make the difference. Rather, he wanted a group of near Major League players to add depth to his roster.

At age 24, Brett Lawrie is four years younger than Donaldson. Lawrie, from Canada was developed by the Brewers and traded to the Blue Jays for pitcher Shaun Marcum. Lawrie is a former first round pick (16th overall) from the 2008 draft. He was a second baseman in the Brewers system and can still play there. Like Dondaldson, he is eligible for arbitration. Lawrie actually becomes a free agent in 2018. Donaldson not until 2019. So both are under team control for years to come.

Here’s my problem. Lawrie has not played a full season as a Major League player. He played in 125 games in 2012, then 107 and 70 this past season. His injury history is an issue. Can he stay on the field? If he can, I think he can be productive. But as productive as Donaldson? That’s my second question. Health is first, productivity second.

In that same three year time frame, Donaldson has played 75 games in 2012 (half the season was played at Triple-A Sacramento) then 158 and 158 this past season. Lawrie hit .247 in his limited time this year, Donaldson .255. Donaldson drove in 98 runs. Lawrie 38. Donaldson hit 29 homers. Lawrie 11. What am I missing here? There’s more. Much more to this deal.

It wasn’t Donaldson for Lawrie even up. The Athletics also yielded RHP Kendall Graveman, LHP Sean Nolin and SS Franklin Baretto. Baretto may be the hidden gem.

Graveman threw 4 2/3 relief innings for the Blue Jays this past season. He worked in five games and finished with an ERA of 3.86 and a 0.85 WHIP. He struck out four and didn’t issue a walk. His history with Toronto has been as a starting pitcher. That’s where the A’s will likely use him. He has a chance to pitch in the Oakland rotation this coming year. A chance. He has 37 Minor League starts. He never appeared as a reliever. His composite ERA is a very, very solid 2.30. His WHIP 1.07. We’re not talking chopped liver here. We’re looking at a very strong history in parts of two Minor League years from a 6-foot-2, 195 former pitcher for Mississippi State University. He was an eighth round Blue Jays draft pick in 2013. Left handed hitters hit better against him than righties. That’s to be expected. So-in summary, Graveman is a viable prospect. He has become the No. 14 prospect on MLB.com. And he’s not chopped liver. He’s a nice entree and a good addition to the Athletics menu.

Sean Nolin is a left-handed starter. I saw him in the recently concluded Arizona Fall League. He has become the No. 9 prospect on the MLB Top 20 Athletics prospect list.
Nolin threw 22 1/3 innings in Arizona. I saw several of his starts. He finished with a 2-1 record and a 4.03 ERA. He had a 1.16 WHIP.

Nolin is a big guy at 6-4, 230 pounds. The fact he’s left handed adds to his value. He has a composite 27-17 record in five Minor League seasons with a 3.06 ERA. His WHIP is 1.21. Nolin has started 86 of the 92 Minor League games in which he has appeared. He pitched for San Jacinto College in Texas and was a sixth round 2010 Blue Jays draft choice. Again, he has a chance to pitch out of the Athletics rotation at some point. A chance. So-in summary, Nolin is a serviceable lefty with good command and control. He is more prospect than suspect. He’s not a salami sandwich, but he’s not prime rib, either. He’s another nice addition to the entree menu.

Now for the prize of the lot. Franklin Barreto is a 5-foot-9, 175 pound shortstop with good range and a bat that plays. He’s only 18 years old. He was MLB.com’s No. 2 international prospect in 2012. I remember all the discussion about him. Toronto landing him was a coup. Oakland grabbing him may be an even bigger coup. He is already the No. 3 prospect in the Athletics system as assigned by MLB.com.

Barreto finished 2014 with an average of .311. He had 90 hits in 328 plate appearances in the low Minors. Among them were 23 doubles, four triples, and six home runs. He drove in 61 runs. He stole 29 bases in 34 attempts. He made too many errors (26) but he’s still learning. So-in summary, Barreto was a highly prized prospect coming out of Venezuela as a teenager. He can hit. He can hit for average and for power. He can play shortstop, although his offense is ahead of his defense. Barreto is no bowl of chicken soup. He’s possibly filet mignon.

So yes, the Athletics shipped a very, very fine All Star caliber, possibly game changing 3B to the Blue Jays in return for a good 3B when healthy and three prospects. Two are on the brink of being Major League ready. One could become a star in several more years.

While I think the Blue Jays will be very happy with this deal, I believe the Athletics are once again rolling the dice. Prospects are prospects. They aren’t proven players. The gap between daily competition in the Minor Leagues and big league players is huge. Huge. But. If Lawrie stays healthy and if one of the two pitchers can pitch, the deal will help Oakland. The operative word is “if”. The crescendo won’t take place until we find out if Barreto is filet mignon or…flank steak.

Thank you for reading my prospect profiles at MLBPipeline.com and for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.

That’s it. I’m done.

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