Guys I Like For 2015

Every year I try to share a list of guys I really like for the coming season. I hope to include guys that haven’t quite become stars-maybe guys with one or two years in the big leagues. In the past I’ve included Christian Yelich, Sal Perez, Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rendon, Wilin Rosario, Michael Wacha, and others because i really believed in their upside after watching them in either the Arizona Fall League or Spring Training. This year I’m including a few guys with more service time, but still under the radar a bit. Oh, and I’ve missed, too. For example, I was really high on Nate Schierholtz and he never really busted out. He’s a fine player, but not the impact guy I projected.

Here they are. In no particular order.

Kris Davis-Milwaukee Brewers. Yes, I mentioned him last year and he came through for me and for you. And for the Brewers. But he’s still way too far under the radar. This guy has power and an ability to drive in runs. I look for an increase in his batting average, even more home runs and more RBIs.

Carlos Carrasco-Cleveland Indians. No, I don’t think he’ll have a Corey Kluber break out. But he’s watched how Kluber does it. His time in the pen taught him how to throw strikes and not try to throw 100 mph every pitch. I think there will be more ups than downs and a fine season for Carrasco.
<p?
Jorge Soler-Chicago Cubs. While all the attention has gone to Kris Bryant (with good reason) Soler is the guy I think may be the talk of the town at some point. He has tremendous power and is a very good athlete. He’s still under the radar but I love to watch him hit. Look for a true breakout this year.

Carlos Rodon-Chicago White Sox. No surprise here. When I watch him pitch I marvel at his command and poise for his age. Some say he reminds them of Steve Carlton. He may not break with the club, but he’ll be pitching in Chicago and pitching well. This year. By the way-he isn’t even on the 40-man roster yet.

Devin Mesoraco-Cincinnati Reds- A repeater on my list from last year. But he still doesn’t get the love. His swing is perfect for his home park. Power and good contact make this guy an All Star candidate. He only had 384 at-bats last year for the parent club. He’s ready to bust out.

D J LeMahieu-Colorado Rockies-He’s the guy on the club nobody talks about. I like everything he does. His numbers in all categories should increase this year with the confidence of being “the” guy at second base.

Kole Calhoun-Los Angeles Angels- Right field should belong to him. He can smoke line drives and when he gets in a groove he makes things happen. I like everything about his offense and I think there is more power to come beyond 17 homers last year.

Will Middlebrooks-San Diego Padres. I never thought I’d write that I think Middlebrooks could become a consistent offensive force. After seeing him in Spring Training, I believe. I also think the third base job is his to keep in San Diego with a good lineup around him. Hope I’m right.

Taijuan Walker-Seattle Mariners. He has had the spring the club has been waiting for. He’s throwing strikes, getting ahead of hitters and using a complete repertoire. He now has confidence-the most important ingredient for success.

Ryan Rua-Texas Rangers- I think he has a chance to at least platoon in left field for Texas. They guy can hit with some power and drive in runs. It’s a great ball park for him and he can make a difference for the club hitting from the right side of the plate.

Mookie Betts-Red Sox. What an athlete. If he doesn’t win a starting job in Boston something is woefully wrong. Line drives, power, good speed, the total package from a guy still under the radar. Outstanding upside.

J D Martinez-Detroit Tigers-The one (of many in my opinion) that got away from the Astros. Big time power in a great lineup. More experience. Some tweaks in his approach and he’s off and running. Love it.

Eddie Rosario-Minnesota Twins- I don’t know if the Twins will give him a chance this year. But if they do, he won’t disappoint. Outstanding line drive hitter with great balance and eye-hand coordination at the plate. Can play LF well.

Alex Colome-Tampa Bay Rays-Once he’s healthy and back in pitching shape after beginning the season in the Minor Leagues, I believe Colome will find his way to Tampa. He’s got very good stuff and can get hitters out. Just a matter of when during the season. I also like his teammate Nate Karns.

Of course there are other young guys I like, but those above seem a bit more special to me. Will they all succeed? Probably not. But as a scout, I see things in each of them that speak to upside and impact.

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

We’re only a week away from playing games that count. Stick with me during the season and we’ll talk some ball.

That’s it. I’m out.

At The Halfway Point

I write this as we’re about midway through Spring Training. Only a couple more weeks and the games begin to count. Here are some more of my observations from the games and players I’ve seen so far.

I have a hunch that the Reds offense is going to really come to life this year. I like what I have seen and heard from Jay Bruce. I look for big numbers from him as he has decided to play his game and not worry about what pundits have to say. I also look for a healthy Brandon Phillips to exceed expectations. Again, if these guys are healthy the team will score runs in bunches. And of course, it’s very possible Joey Votto will make it through the entire year in one piece. The problem I see is pitching. The rotation still seems thin to me and I don’t quite know how they cover injury or poor performance.
But I like the offense a great deal.

Micah Johnson has looked like a starting second baseman for the White Sox. He’s a non-roster invitee but he’s played very well so far. He can bunt well and smoke some line drives. If he’s on the club, he’ll steal some bases.

I admit I was surprised the Rockies released Jhoulys Chacin.

Bad blood continues between the Diamondbacks and Dodgers. Both teams better be careful because at the rate their going, somebody will get hurt and lose playing time. It’s really getting ugly with players being hit by pitches.

Tuffy Gosewisch has won the starting catching job for the Dbacks. And Nick Ahmed is in the mix at shortstop. If that happens, Chris Owings moves to second base and Aaron Hill goes to the bench or to third base. What about Yasmany Tomas? He went three for three with a homer on Monday. He was playing third base. I think the Dbacks jury is still out on him. I know mine is.

Speedsters Terrance Gore and Reymond Fuentes have both been sent out by the Royals. That means the primary designated runners remain to be Jarrod Dyson and Lorenzo Cain. I was a bit surprised Fuentes isn’t on the club.

Jason Kipnis’ back problems may be a concern as the year progresses. Is this an isolated incident? Will the issue linger? He has some at-bats to make up in the closing weeks of spring. My bell is ringing about Kipnis. I’m not on the band wagon yet.

Zach McAllister is throwing more off-speed stuff to go along with his very good fastball. If he continues to gain confidence in those pitches he will enhance his chances of making the rotation. Teams have been sitting on the fastball and now they have more to think about. it’s a long season-I think McAllister will start for the Tribe at some point.
It may even happen right out of the gate. I really like T. J. House as well. But I have some concerns about the inconsistency and over-thinking of Trevor Bauer and the inconsistency of Danny Salazar. Upside? Yes. But when? Maybe this year. But I’m not running to Vegas just yet.

More and more teams are throwing high fastballs to Mike Trout. But I’ve seen him make adjustments to that pitch. He isn’t as quick to swing and when he does, he doesn’t try to do to much with that high heat. He’s every bit as great as his press clippings. I’m more convinced every time I see him.

The issue with the barking shoulder of Dodgers Hyun-jin Ryu is serious. If he misses any amount of time, the health of Brandon McCarthy and and Brett Anderson become even more crucial. And both have had their health hiccups in the past. Where do the Dodgers turn for pitching depth? And who closes for them with Kenley Jansen hurt? It was going to be…wait for it….Brandon League. But he’s hurt too. The Dodgers coasting to a West Division Championship is not a slam dunk.

Already thin in the outfield, the Giants Angel Pagan is suffering back issues once again. He’s a real catalyst for the club and any time he misses will put more stress on an already difficult situation. Brandon Belt may play some in left field and Buster Posey may play more at first base. Pagan is crucial given the losses of Sandoval and the injury to Pence.

I still think Ryan Rua will win the left field job in Texas. He has a solid bat, can play average defense and adds a nice right-handed bat to the lineup. I have no inside information, but I think Rua is the guy. Or at least one of the guys. I think he makes the final cut and is on the roster.

Nick Martinez and Nick Tepesch will fight it out for the last spot in the Rangers rotation.
The winner? I have no idea.

Rule 5 addition Mark Canha is an interesting option for the Athletics. He can play first, the outfield and even some third base. And he has some pop in his bat, something the team really needs.

I have some concerns about some of the news from Florida. Specifically, the health of Red Sox closer Koji Uehara. A bad hamstring has been keeping him out of games. That scares me. And the club isn’t deep in back end of the bullpen guys.

I like the Twins a lot more than some people. Why? Because of their offense. No, I don’t like the overall pitching depth and quality, but I sure like the offense with guys like Vargas, Plouffe, Dozier, Mauer and Hunter. And during the year we’ll probably see Byron Buxton and maybe Miguel Sano. A guy I really, really like is Eddie Rosario. I would not bet against him seeing big league action this year.

Next week I will do two blogs on my division predictions. I got pretty lucky last year with team won-loss records and standings predictions. I hope I can do it again. I’ll do two blogs-one AL and one NL.

This coming week I’ll be featuring three Rule 5 players on my scouting profiles for MLBPipeline.com. They include Mark Canha, Taylor Featherston and David Rollins. I don’t know when they’ll post, but I’ll go into some depth on each of the three.

As always, thanks for reading my work and for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.

That’s it. I’m done.

Early Spring Training Thoughts

We’ve completed two weeks of Spring Training and I thought I would share some early observations and thoughts regarding what I’ve seen so far in Arizona. I won’t be going to Florida this year as had been originally planned.

The Diamondbacks are in the midst of evaluating the fruits of their off season labor. They have experienced a set back with the injury to Rule 5 catcher Oscar Hernandez. A solid defensive catcher, Hernandez was making strides with his offense before being hurt. The good news is that non-roster catcher Peter O’Brien continues to raise eyebrows with his offensive game. And his defense is improving. It would not surprise me in the least if we didn’t see O’Brien on the big league roster at some early point in the season.

Remember the name Aaron Blair. Of all the Dbacks pitchers I have seen, Blair impresses me the most. He has a solid repertoire, grit on the mound and he can throw strikes. Repeating his delivery is a factor setting him apart for me.

While I like Rubby De La Rosa’s stuff, his command and control still are major issues. To find success, he simply has to reduce his walk rate and throw strikes. It’s a huge challenge.

Can Yasmany Tomas play third base? It’s a huge question that must be resolved by the Dbacks staff. Can he react at the hot corner naturally and without going through a thought process after the ball is hit. His actions have to be more automatic. The club has another half month to figure it out. They can live with mediocre defense if the ball jumps off his bat. We’ll see. It’s too early to reach conclusions.

Royals pitcher Christian Binford has already been reassigned to Minor League camp. The right-handeder wowed me with his ability to consistently throw strikes. I mean this righty is a strike machine. He has everything I look for in a pitcher. Most importantly, he trusts his stuff and throws strike one and gets ahead in the count.

I’ve never seen a switch-pitcher. Athletics reliever Patrick Venditte can throw both right and left-handed. A rule is in place requiring him to declare which arm he is using before the at-bat. Venditte’s ability can be very useful in saving a bullpen.  The guy can pitch and it’s really fun to watch.  His glove is specially made, allowing him to pitch with either hand.  Amazing.  I don’t know if he’ll stick, but he can be an option during the season.

Marcus Semien has shown some real pop in his bat. Yes, the air is thin in Arizona and the ball flies. But he has shown power. He has shown the ball comes off his bat quickly and with force. I like what I’ve seen so far.

The White Sox are a nicely balanced club with hitting, speed and pitching. The back end of the rotation isn’t the strongest, but in Sale, Samardzija and Quintana the first three guys in the rotation are very solid. I think Quintana is a very underrated pitcher. And getting David Robertson to close games is huge.

So far this spring, the Indians Danny Salazar has really scuffled. That despite his early arrival in Goodyear to work himself into good pitching shape. I’m not as convinced the Indians rotation is as sound as is being advertised. But I do like T.J. House as their fourth starter behind Kluber, Carrasco and Bauer. It’s that fifth spot that gives me some concern. Can’t have enough pitching.

Once he learns to recognize pitches more quickly and avoids swinging at pitches he can’t drive, I think the Angels C J Cron will become a very, very good Major League hitter. He has outstanding power and a nice stroke. He should get lots of at-bats with the Josh Hamilton situation. I’m a big believer in Cron’s upside.

I can only imagine the damage Howie Kendrick will do in the middle of the Dodgers lineup. He looks terrific so far. But what has surprised me the most is the energy and focus of Jimmy Rollins. I think he can almost taste success and a possible ring and it is reflected in his offense and defense so far. He looks sooooo good.

With the injury to Chris Taylor, the Mariners shortstop will likely be Brad Miller. Both are excellent options for a club that looks very good to me. Yes, Jesus Montero has lost a ton of weight, but I still see him being beaten by high velocity fastballs up in the zone. That’s a hole that can be exploited. I don’t know what his future will be with the club. But if he hits-they can use him at first base and at designated hitter.

What to do with Kris Bryant? He now has six spring home runs as I write this. If I’m in the front office of the Cubs, I promote him in mid-April at the point where the team will be guaranteed another year of service time. I think it’s crucial. A year more of Bryant is worth waiting a half a month. I think it’s a no brainer. But come mid-April (I think around April 17)-up he comes.

Cameron Maybin, Will Venable, Carlos Quentin and even Rymer Liriano and Abraham Almonte are all outfielders on the Padres 40-man roster and each is behind Matt Kemp, Wil Myers and Justin Upton. With the injury to catcher Tim Federowicz, maybe the club will move an outfielder for a catcher such as Dioner Navarro of the Blue Jays. As a matter of fact, even the Dbacks could use Navarro. So could lots of teams. While I think the Padres are greatly improved, the NL West will be aiming for them.

In my next installment I’ll reflect a bit on the Rockies, Reds, Brewers, Giants and Rangers. Plus anything new I discover.

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

That’s it. I’m done.

Spring has sprung-Early Observations

OK-I’m down off the ledge. I can function once again as a normal human being. Baseball is back. Reports from training camps are flowing daily and everyone looks healthy and happy. There are no problems. Every team is in first place.

I’d like to share some early observations:

We have seen a change of style between commissioner Manfred and former commissioner Selig. Mr. Selig did an amazing job building the financial as well as the internal peace and harmony of the sport. He was ahead of the curve in many areas. Other issues have taken longer to resolve. Mr. Manfred has shared his personal feelings more publicly. It is clear that he has thought long and hard about the issues and challenges to be faced. I don’t think there will ever be a dull moment in the Park Avenue aspect of the sport.

the “pace of game” initiatives being implemented make sense. Fans really want the game to flow. It isn’t as much how long the game lasts, it’s more about the pace and flow of the action. Or inaction. Two culprits keep popping in my head as I consider pace of game. First and foremost are the countless pitching changes being made. We live in an age of specialization. Get the right guy on the mound to face a particular hitter at the right time. Not a batter later. Not a batter too soon. Takes time. The second greatest culprit is throwing over to first base to keep the runner close. Fans hate it. It’s boring. But it’s strategic. In most cases, it’s important. In some cases it’s silly. Takes time. The integrity of the game would be harmed if either pitching change rules or “keeping runners close” regulations were changed. They are here to stay.

C C Sabathia came to camp some 30 pounds heavier than last year. He is convinced the extra weight will keep him stronger. My biggest concern is the progress he can make on his cutter. If he can get that pitch figured out properly and if his foot lands properly on the mound without pain, Sabathia may return to anchor the staff. I see him as a pivotal guy for the Yankees franchise.

The early pictures I saw of Pablo Sandoval gave me great pause. He looks like he’s still carrying around far too much weight for his frame. I’ve been fooled before. He has excellent range for his size. But when does that weight start impacting his knees, his core and his bat speed? I’m just askin’.

Drew Smiley raised some concerns publicly about the disparity between amateur signing bonuses based upon international players outside the United States, Canadian and Puerto Rican First Year Player Draft system. Clearly, an international draft is something that must be addressed. It could even include two systems-the current Draft and another for international players other than Americans, Canadians and Puerto Ricans. The money is getting scary. It’s an issue that will find a solution. The number of teams willing to pay taxes for exceeding international spending limits is minimal-causing an imbalance.

In case you missed it, B J Upton is now Melvin Upton. It is something he has wanted to do.

Yoan Moncada is now with the Red Sox. Here’s what I don’t get. Where were the Yankees? The Red Sox are loaded with position players and may have added Moncada simply because he’s a great player and eventually, he’ll earn his own position. The Yankees, however, needed Moncada in their middle infield. If there was ever a signing that had “Yankees” written all over it, I thought it was Moncada. So the Red Sox won twice. They got Moncada and the Yankees didn’t. But at a hefty price. Don’t the Red Sox still need a true No. 1 starter, or is that just me? Cole Hamels? Cliff Lee?

The Diamondbacks have earned a new mega television deal. Some of their recent moves may have been predicated on the future TV contract. They made two huge international signings by inking Yasmany Tomas and Yoan Lopez, both from Cuba.
I think we will see great things from both of these prospects. Lopez may well force himself into the rotation discussion this spring.

Hanley Ramirez is giving every indication that he is thrilled to be playing left field for the Red Sox. If he’s healthy and happy, watch out.

Jurickson Profar is out for the year following shoulder surgery. It’s such a shame that we haven’t really gotten to see what this young man can do. Injuries have really hurt his career.

It appears that Prince Fielder is totally recovered and ready to go for the Rangers. A healthy Fielder can really add length to the lineup and ruffle some pitchers.

I have heard all the talk about how the Cubs may (and even should) break camp with Kris Bryant as their starting third baseman. I disagree. I think he will benefit from a couple months at Triple-A and the club will benefit by not starting his clock too soon. This is a super talent. I’d rather have him around as long as I could and promote him when he’s totally ready as opposed to squeezing a couple more months at the beginning of his big league career. The team has Tommy La Stella and Mike Olt who are both capable of holding down the fort until Bryant arrives later in the season.

How patient will the Cubs be with Javier Baez? He’s only 22. He has amazing bat speed. But he has to recognize pitches quicker and lay off the sliders and curve balls that tie him up. At some point, even the Cubs may find the strikeouts tough to live with. He’s such a great talent, but he has to show progress.

There is risk involved in the Phillies holding on to Hamels and Lee until the July trade deadline. If that’s their plan, what happens if either gets hurt between now and then? Or what happens if either are totally ineffective. And even today, I have heard that Chase Utley has opened the door to being traded. I’m certain the Phillies know what they want for each of their veterans, but the risk/reward tilts to them now for sure. I’m not as certain about five months from now.

Thank you for following my “On The Cusp” series at MLBPipeline.com.

That’s it. I’m done. I’ll be sharing my observations on Spring Training as we move along.

Pizza or pasta-I love em both

I know there are lots of forms of entertainment. To be truthful, there are movies I’ve seen that I didn’t like. Same goes for television shows, concerts and stage plays. But believe me, I have never seen a Spring Training game I didn’t like.

There is something very, very special about Spring Training. First and foremost, you’re there. Your friends probably aren’t. They may be back home shivering and shoveling if you live in a frigid winter state. Or, they may be at….work. Yikes!

Spring Training is renewal. Renaissance. It’s a time when even a 100 loss team has a chance. Hope. Vigor. Vitality. Players have that certain “skip” in their step, if you will. Everyone says they’re healthy. Everyone says “it’s the best offseason I’ve ever had. Got all my work done. Spent time with my family. Went hunting. Went fishing. Just chilled.” Renewal. Fresh. A new start. Everyone’s chipper. And when he played, Chipper was even more chipper.

In some parts of Arizona and Florida the scent of orange blossoms can still be discovered. You may have to drive a bit, but they can be found. Not as prolific as the past, but orange blossoms nonetheless. In both states it smells like spring. And spring smells good.

But man, these two Spring Training experiences are way different. I love pizza and I love pasta. Don’t ask me to choose. I love Arizona and I love Florida for Spring Training. Don’t ask me to choose. They are unique and special. Different in many ways and the same in some. It’s baseball.

FLORIDA

There is a charm about Florida camps that one does not find any longer in Arizona. Parks that are the homes to clubs like Detroit and Baltimore, Houston and Pittsburgh. Toronto and the New York Mets. And more. They have character. Some are in residential neighborhoods. Some are so quaint it seems like the fan is returning to 1950 and 1960. Updated, yes. But only the paint and some of the important amenities have been refurbished. The memories, the charm and the nostalgia can’t be painted over. I hope Florida doesn’t lose that. But some clubs will be moving to newer, more updated parks in the future. Some of the older and more nostalgic parks will remain.

The drive from one park to another goes on forever in Florida. Lots of traffic. Lots of cops out giving tickets. Some toll roads. Road construction. Everything we hate about driving with little of the good stuff. But at the end of the road…bliss. The ballpark. Get off the freeway to catch a Marlins or Cardinals game and you’re greeted with a small sign on a pole that says something like…”Ball Game Today.”
You bet. A game every day in March. Love it.

And Florida has Steak N Shake. Love me some Steak N Shake.

The humidity is greater than Arizona and the pitchers like that. The ball gets more movement.

Bus rides for players are longer and it isn’t unusual for major core components of a club to skip long road trips. But that happens in Arizona to some extent as well. Just don’t be upset if your favorite player isn’t at the park that day. It happens. But overall, it isn’t worth being upset. Nothing should upset you.

ARIZONA

Facilities in Arizona are all on the new side. Very modern. Very “state of the art.” But beautiful. Not as intimate as Florida. A different type of charm. A different experience totally. Many are upscale and really big.

Players seem more distant from the fans. I know that I’ve been told that fans have to work much harder to get autographs in Arizona. But it can be done. Some parks are easier than others.

But what an experience. Everything works. Hot water in the faucet at most parks. Not a given in Florida. Great, great food at the concession stands, similar to Florida.

The air is drier in Arizona and the breaking balls don’t break as much. Players really have to work to break a sweat.

Arizona has Portillo’s for hot dogs, beef sandwiches and milk shakes. I love me some Portillo’s.

Parks are close enough to see a day game and a night game on the same day without driving more than 30 miles. I do it with regularity.

Rental cars are very expensive in Arizona.

I want you to do me a favor. At some point in your life, make it a priority to visit a Spring Training site. Catch a few games. Buy the T shirts and the hats. Wear them proudly back home. Show off a little. Don’t boast. Just wear the goods. Breathe in the Spring Training scent of Karen’s ice cream truck. Or the kettle corn at Maryvale, home of the Brewers. Get some noodles at Peoria, home of the Padres and Mariners. You’ll be hooked.

Pizza or pasta? Florida or Arizona? Both great. Both have something for each of us. There is no such thing as a bad Spring Training game. Time stops. For those three hours we are in paradise. Lost with the crack of the bat and the smell of the mustard. Brown mustard at Goodyear, home of the Indians and Reds.

We might buy a baseball from a Phillies fan in Clearwater. One he says he caught at the game and is now selling for a buck or two. We might stroll through the new and renovated boardwalk at the Pirates camp in Bradenton. It’s fantastic. Or, we may pick up the free Lakeland newspaper they give us at Tigertown. What a place.

As the spring progresses, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the nuances and atmosphere of each place I visit in both Florida and Arizona. I’ll be your eyes and ears until you can get there yourself. But promise me you’ll set a goal of attending at least one Spring Training game in the future. You’ll be convinced you are very much alive.

My “On The Cusp” series continues on MLBPipeline.com. Look for your favorite team on the site or in my archives. And thanks for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff. Much appreciated.

That’s it. I’m done.

Unfinished Business: NL East and Central

This is my last blog in this series of unfinished business. It’s my take on potential issues and concerns that remain with big league clubs prior to the start of Spring Training.

I clearly admire what the Braves have been doing to bolster their pitching in preparation for the arrival of their new stadium. However, I have some real concerns about their ability-or lack thereof- to score runs this coming season. Where’s the beef?
Where’s the sizzle? I see issues with a quick recovery from neck surgery for Nick Markakis, issues with B J Upton rebounding to hit quality pitching, and a fairly mediocre hitting infield with the exception of Freddie Freeman. Lots of offensive questions lead me to believe the Braves need some help. Quickly. Regarding prospect position players, I do like Jose Peraza and Rio Ruiz for the future. But I don’t see much in the way of trading chips for the present.

For me, the Marlins are a team on the move. A team fans will love to watch. If I have any issue, it’s with their bench. The rotation will get a huge boost when Jose Fernandez returns in mid-season. Mat Latos’ health is a bit of a concern. But the team could hum.

The Mets need a shortstop. For the fourth year in a row I believe the Mets need a shortstop. Jose Reyes left in November 2012. He hasn’t been replaced. They could also use some 1B depth. But I love the starting pitching. I think Juan Legares is an outstanding defensive CF and they have some nice pieces. Unfinished? Shortstop IMO.

The Phillies really have to find a way to get younger quicker. So do I. But that aside, I’m not sure how they enter a new season with the few moves they’ve made. It’s time to take the best offers for Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. And Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. They didn’t get much younger adding Grady Sizemore and Aaron Harang. There may be deals to be made for prospects-and perhaps the prospects will inject some much needed vim, vigor and victories. Or maybe there aren’t deals to be made. But one would think Hamels and Lee could fetch the future. Utley is a very valuable player for a dedicated fan base. But if he can bring help for tomorrow, the fan base may be forgiving.

The Nationals are an extremely balanced teams that could really beat up on their NL East opponents. The only hiccup may occur in left field while they await the return of Jayson Werth from shoulder surgery. The rotation is outstanding. The pen is outstanding. The lineup is dangerous. Everything clicks like my teeth when I visit Chicago in January.

I think the Cubs pitching will be better than most analysts have indicated. I also think their farm system is as good or even better than advertised. Issues? Unfinished business? Not much. Left field is a minor concern for about half a season. Third base is a concern until the Cubs are satisfied that Kris Bryant is ready to see big league sliders and breaking balls on a regular basis. Probably…mid May. At catcher, I didn’t see the need for Miguel Montero over Wellington Castillo (who’s out of options, by the way) but I’m not the Cubs. I really like Castillo. And David Ross. Need I say more?
Jorge Soler is a monster of a hitter. Anthony Rizzo remains underrated IMO. Javier Baez has to learn to hit the cutter, slider, off-speed pitches and recognize them quicker. But the Cubs have few flaws. Go watch Soler. And when he’s promoted, go watch Bryant. And eventually Schwarber and Russell and Almora and McKinney and Alcantara and Edwards and on and on and on.

The Reds? Yikes. What happened to the Reds? On paper, they don’t seem that bad. They have good players. Depth is my issue. If Joey Votto gets hurt again or Jay Bruce or Todd Frazier or…you get my drift, right? The rotation is ??? Beyond Cueto I begin to worry. Age is creeping up on the club. They aren’t old, by any means. But the creep is starting. Brandon Phillips is 33. Marlon Byrd 37. Joey Votto 31. Skip Schumacher 35. Bryan Pena 33. Jason Bourgeois 33. Depth is my issue.

I think the Brewers fixed their 1B issue with the acquisition of Adam Lind. The guy can clobber right-handed pitching. Especially at Miller Park. They made a great deal to get insurance for Jean Segura and Scooter Gennett with Luis Sardinas. I do like this club. I don’t totally like the starting pitching, as I think they’re counting on Jimmy Nelson to do more than I’ve seen from him. And I don’t think they have the No. 6, No. 7 or No. 8 starters that every club seems to need these days. Pitching. Unfinished business.

My concern with the Pirates is very simple-what do they do about 1B if Pedro Alverez is not really sold on changing positions? Is that where Corey Hart comes in? And can he hit after his injuries? I think they contend. Waiting in the wings will be Jameson Taillon and Nick Kingham-and if Charlie Morton gets healthy, Charlie Morton if they need more starting pitching. So they do have some pitching depth. Sean Rodriguez is the sleeper. He can play everywhere. Including 1B. So the unfinished business may be mitigated with Hart and Rodriguez. This is a good club. But keep an eye on Alvarez. I hope it works for him.

The Cardinals remain the Cardinals. Always in contention. Always knowing what they’re doing. They do need Jason Heyward to hit. And they need Adam Wainwright to stay healthy. And Michael Wacha to rebound. And Trevor Rosenthal to throw strikes. But for me, there aren’t any real flaws. It’s a solid club that will depend on average performances from their guys-which they’ll get. And some will exceed that. I’m not a huge fan of Jhonny Peralta’s defense at shortstop, but they can live with it. And thrive.
Unfinished business? Very little.

Thanks for reading this series. And when you go to bed tonight, remember this: The Equipment Trucks Are About To Arrive At Your Team’s Spring Training Park. Did you get the capital letters? That means it’s important. To me, to you and to your entire family. It’s Almost Baseball.

Follow me on twitter @BerniePleskoff and at MLBPipeline.com. My followers and readers are the Best.

That’s it. I’m done.

Unfinished Business-National League West

Some MLB teams are more balanced than others. In my opinion, every club could still use a tweak, a nudge or even a transfusion to get them off life support. Today, I begin my look at the unfinished business of the National League. The West is up first.

General manager Dave Stewart has indicated that his Diamondbacks are fairly set behind the plate. As things now stand, they will begin Spring Training with Tuffy Gosewisch as the starter and Rule 5 selection Oscar Hernandez as the back up catcher. After making his declaration, Stewart did sign veteran Gerald Laird and he is a non-roster invitee to Spring Training. The job will ultimately belong to prospect Peter O’Brien. He still has work to do on his defensive game, but O’Brien is an exciting offensive player. I look for him to wear a big league uniform at some point this season. I really like Tuffy, and maybe the club does have enough catching. But I remain concerned.

Speaking of catching, I’m among the many concerned about the nosedive performed by the Rockies Wilin Rosario last season. Never a good defensive catcher, his offense has always kept him in the lineup. But his bat tanked last year and the club has doubts. Nick Hundley waits in the wings. For me the problem begins and ends on the Coors Field mound. Somehow, the club has to get the baseball to home plate when the opposition hits during home games. That’s a shame. I think they’ll always have unfinished business on the mound. The humidor has helped but elevation, wind tunnels, and a huge outfield landscape are tough elements to overcome. If they could play only offense at home they would be World Class. But they have to pitch and play defense. Those are the rules.

For me, the Dodgers are far from perfect. Yes, I think the defense has improved with Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick up the middle. But the power has taken a hit with the loss of Hanley Ramirez, Matt Kemp and Dee Gordon. Each has the ability to score runs and/or knock in runs. But the pitching is still sound. Especially if Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson deliver the goods at the back of the rotation. Third base is an issue for me. And while I like Joc Pederson as a center fielder, my jury on him must remain out until at least the middle of the season. So yes, questions still remain. The bullpen? I think they could have some hiccups. But the team is still way good.

As much as I really like what the Padres have done and continue to do, I think some gaping holes remain to be filled. I’m concerned about third base (Yangervis Solarte) in particular. And I don’t see much third base depth. I’m also not nuts about Wil Myers in center. But I do like the depth they have there with Will Venable and Cameron Maybin. If they remain with the club. Who knows, they may be part of a future trade. I think we’ll see one more starter and an additional third base option before too long. Is there a James Shields in the future? How about Cole Hamels? I’m just askin’.

The Giants never cease to amaze. But I think the pitching is the huge question. Or questions. I really believe they need one or two more starters in case Matt Cain can’t come back or Tim Hudson and Jake Peavy grind to a halt. And Tim Lincecum is penciled in as the fifth starter. The starting pitching? Yikes. And the 6th and 7th guys in line may be Ryan Vogelsong and Yusmeiro Petit. The pitching picture is blurry. But don’t ever count them out. Just count me concerned. They always find a way and every time we write them off, along comes the front office with a mid-season rabbit flopping out of their caps.

Overall, I’m not making any predictions yet, but I do think some of the flaws could be fatal. Wounds can be addressed. Direct hits to the heart from two feet away could spell doom. And that’s my concern with pitching depth. For me, pitching carries the day in parks like Coors Field and Chase Field. AT&T, Petco and Dodgers Stadium are more forgiving. I look at games played at both Coors Field and Chase Field with a jaundiced eye. That’s where pitchers have to keep the ball down and in the park. So for me, when I make my predictions this coming spring, pitching will factor heavily in the NL West equation. I don’t think what we see now is what we’ll get in April or even in July. Remember, the season is only half over in mid-July. That’s when lots of clubs strike (like the Giants) with their best late season moves.

Hope springs eternal-we are less than two weeks from pitchers and catchers reporting for Spring Training. Are you ready? Man, I am. And so is my wife. Get my drift?

Thanks of reading my “On The Cusp” series on MLBPipeline.com. And thanks for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.

“Unfinished Business-Part 2-AL West”

I haven’t ever seen a perfect team. Some, however, are more balanced than others. Today I share my thoughts about some unfinished business with the AL West.

I really believe the Astros helped themselves by improving their bullpen. The additions of Luke Gregerson, Pat Neshek and Will Harris help stabilize the pen. But, when it’s all said and done I think they are still short on starting pitching. It may take eight starters to get through the season, and I don’t see the depth. While I like the offense, there are a ton of strikeout in the middle of the order with Springer, Carter, Rasmus and Gattis. But they should put up plenty of runs to cover high scoring games. Still, while I think they have improved, the pitching is worrisome.

The Angels won 98 games last year-ten more than the second place Athletics. But my concern is that they may have eaten into that advantage with the departure of Howie Kendrick. I have been and still am a huge Kendrick believer. The guy is a natural hitter with gap power and an ability to drive in big runs. He now yields second base to Josh Rutledge. I think the difference is dramatic. Yes, the team now has a good lefty pitching prospect in Andrew Heaney. I really like him. But he is untested. The team is still good, but a return to health from Garrett Richards is really important. They also need a bounce back from C.J. Wilson. For me, another pitcher, second base depth and more playing time for C.J. Cron would all work well.

Cespedes-gone. Moss-gone. Donaldson-gone. Jaso-gone. Norris-gone. Not to mention Samardzija and Lester. I’m probably missing some. This isn’t tinkering. This is a complete surgical reconstruction in Oakland. I think home runs in Oakland will go the way of the public pay telephone-few and far between. Yes, I like the young pitching received in return. I like Ben Zobrist. But the last I looked, Zobrist can only play one position at a time. They need him at second base, shortstop, in the outfield and selling programs with the names of the players. I think there are some holes in the lineup, to say the least. But here’s the but. But the Oakland front office always seems to know what they are doing. They should pitch well. Defense and power may be a thing of the past. I don’t think they’re done. I think they’ll find middle infield depth and maybe try to find some power somewhere. Then again, maybe not.

The Mariners are one of the few teams in the big leagues about which I have few, if any, questions. The are a balanced club of good starting pitching, good relief pitching, power, speed, and a good farm system to support the Major League club if needed. I love the fact the opposition has to navigate through Jackson, Smith, Cano, Cruz, and Seager. Will Brad Miller be able to keep the job at shortstop? That may be the only question. I look for huge offensive seasons from these M’s. The bench could use a boost, but that’s picking nits. I don’t like picking nits. This is a good team that should challenge for the top spot in the AL West-at least that’s what I think today at the beginning of February when we haven’t even started Spring Training.

The Rangers. I look for the greatest increase in wins in all of baseball to come from the Rangers. If…if Prince Fielder is healthy and can hit like he should. If Shin-Soo-Choo returns to health and his previous form of setting the table from the top of the order. If..if Yu Darvish stays healthy and limits his repertoire from eight pitches to maybe four or five. I really like Rougned Odor. Having him around can allow Jurickson Profar to get completely healthy before his return. But the Rangers need at least one more new starter beyond Yovani Gallardo. And I’m concerned Gallardo will get a stiff neck from turning around and watching balls fly out of his home park. Matt Harrison and Martin Perez may-and I mean may-offer late season help. They need to get that unfinished business finished. They need more starting pitching.

The AL West will be really fun to watch because every team seems solid and competitive. No 100 game losers. I don’t think. But business remains to be done regarding starting pitching throughout the division, with the exception of Seattle. I think they are the most settled at that crucial winning component. They have pitching depth, balance and a hunger to win.

And my favorite words?…”The equipment trucks have left for Arizona and Florida.”
Spring Training is within reach.

Thanks for reading my “On The Cusp” series on MLBPipeline.com and my Top 40 Relief Pitchers for 2015 on MLB.com and MLBPipeline.com.

That’s it. I’m done.

Unfinished Business-American League East and Central

There are rarely, if ever, perfectly balanced teams with offense, defense, starting pitching, speed, power, relief pitching, and all the requisite components of greatness. Virtually every team has some flaws. Some have more than others.

Today I want to take a look at what I think remains to be done for several American League clubs prior to the bell ringing in April. I will update my thoughts periodically on this topic throughout the rest of the buildup to the season. My next blog will feature the AL West and one NL division.

I guess I am beyond surprised the Orioles have not been able to add to their roster after losing players like Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. The free agent market would have been attractive but they were burned badly by the ineffective (to put it kindly) performance of Ubaldo Jimenez. They did more than stick their toe in the water on that one. They jumped in head first and drowned. Everyone will pay a price for that mistake. But the fans will suffer the most. The team went from good to mediocre in one offseason. They need offensive outfield help. Even if their injured Manny Machado and Matt Wieters make it all the way back-I think they fall short.

The Red Sox are going to try to climb the standings without a true ace or even a traditional No. 1 starter. They have collected better pitching than last year, but they are dependent upon a return to form of Justin Masterson, some consistency from Clay Buchholz and a good adjustment to the AL by Wade Miley. That’s a great deal to ask. I like Rick Porcello, but it seems to me he will be pitching under more pressure. The team may be able to pound the opposition into submission with the likes of that lineup. I think they need another very good pitcher. Cole Hamels?

The Yankees have lots of unresolved issues regarding their starting pitching. Will CC come back strong or end up being So So? What about Michael Pineda? Masahiro Tanaka? Ivan Nova? Isn’t it a lot to except four guys to return to form? I don’t see a lot of proven starting pitching waiting in the wings. And that isn’t even to mention health concerns of Beltran, Teixeira, or ARod. I think they need at least one more proven starter. But the Yankees will find a way. I’m a huge Joe Girardi fan.

Where will the Rays find offense? I thought they were challenged in the past, but they appear to be even thinner this year. And can their defense help their pitching as they have done in the past? Asdrubal Cabrera at shortstop? But I do like the addition of Rene Rivera behind the plate. They’ll miss Ben Zobrist. Their outstanding pitching may very well carry the day—in low scoring games.

The Blue Jays are as close to a solid club as I can find in the AL. All they need IMO is one more reliable starting pitcher and a proven closer. I think they can use Spring Training to find both of those. But overall, I like the club. Ultimately, Aaron Sanchez may be a solid big league closer. Maybe not yet.

I think the acquisition of catcher Geovany Soto was a very good move for the White Sox. He may eventually be a big part of what they accomplish. This is a very, very solid club. One piece worth fixing may be second base-but they have to give Carlos Sanchez a chance. Or do they return to Gordon Beckham? There is some middle infield depth in the farm system, but not Major League ready.

The Indians need at least one more right-handed bat. I actually think they could use more than one. Like other clubs, they are hoping for returns to health from too many players. Bourn (hamstrings) Swisher (knees) Kipnis (hand) Moss (hip). It’s asking a lot for them all to contribute to improving their personal 2014 nightmares. The pitching has the potential to carry the club. Have they improved their defense? That was a huge, huge problem and I’m not convinced at all they can catch the ball and throw the ball much better than last year.

The Tigers still need one more solid hitting outfielder, and yes, at least one relief pitcher. Maybe two. I am not sold that Anthony Gose will be the answer in center. Especially not offensively. And the back end of their bullpen has been among the reasons they aren’t yet World Series Champions. It’s still a flat tire. The Tigers will need a healthy Miguel Cabrera right from the beginning as the other Central clubs are better.

The Royals are solid, but I think they will find themselves a James Shields short of where they were last year. I don’t think Edinson Volquez makes up the difference. But Alex Rios instead of Billy Butler is probably a wash. Reymond Fuentes can run. If he makes the club, he adds another speedster to get on, get over and get in. I still like the club, but remember-a great deal went well for them in the 2nd half last season. Can that happen again. The bullpen is the best in the Central-by far. Maybe one of the best in the game.

The Twins are waiting for the arrivals of Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano. But when it’s all said and done, who’s pitching? Ervin Santana is a nice addition, but they need more. Much more. Tommy Milone may help, but…they just don’t have the pitching yet to compete in a tough division. Alex Meyer and Trevor May??? Um… I think the Twins have to make some bold moves to gain some swagger and play with the big boys. A new manager may bring a new voice and new priorities. I wish them well.

Next: more Unfinished Business.

Thanks for reading my work on MLBPipeline.com and MLB.com and thanks for listening to Short Hops. As always, you are very much appreciated.

That’s it. I’m done.

p.s. run the ball on the goal line if you have one of the best in the business in the backfield.

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.

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 78 other followers