January 2014

I’m Beginning To Drop Some Names

I certainly want you to know I’ve missed you. I’ve been away for a week, but I’ve kept up on all the happenings in baseball. But frankly, I expected more action last week.

We still have those free agent pitchers and Nelson Cruz hanging around. Having a team lose a draft pick is problematic for pitchers like Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana. I still think someone will get a fine starting pitcher with Bronson Arroyo. I hope he finds a home. Nelson Cruz could land in Seattle-maybe by the time you read this. Yes, it’s a tough hitter’s park, but the presence of Robinson Cano could be a big help.

We heard those great words this week—“The equipment trucks are leaving from Progressive Field to Goodyear, Arizona on Friday.” That’s today. My heart skips a beat when I hear words like that. And believe me, I have to be very careful about my heart skipping any beats.

The new hat designed to provide some protection for pitchers is getting mixed reviews from those who have seen it or tried it on. I think some of the reviews are coming from people who haven’t even seen it. I like that it isn’t mandatory that pitcher’s wear the new hat (with more protection on both the top and sides.) Anything that helps protect players is fine with me. It all comes down to comfort. If a pitcher isn’t comfortable with the added depth of the hat, he’ll just go back to using the traditional cap.

I don’t quite understand the collision at home plate business. I think it will be very difficult to alter the natural flow and instincts of a runner on a play at the plate. I have to admit that my jury is still deliberating that. I want to see how it unfolds.

There are a couple players I am particularly keen on watching this season. In each blog from now until the bell rings in April, I’ll talk about a couple.

My initial name for today is Jesus Aguilar of the Cleveland Indians. A big first baseman, I’ve seen Aguilar’s power first-hand. He won’t break camp with the club, but if an opportunity presents itself and he’s been hitting in the Minors, he’s a guy that can add some power. And just 13 months ago at the Winter Meetings, he was seen as a possible Rule 5 Draft loss for the Tribe. But he went unclaimed. I’ll be keeping an eye out.

Two other big first baseman I’ll be watching are the Astros Japhet Amador from the Mexican League and the Giants Angel Villalona who is returning to the club after spending time in a serious legal matter.

I really like watching big first basemen. I like to watch them field their position. Both Amador and Villalona are very agile and lithe for such big bodied guys. If they can hit, they’d be under the radar bonuses for their clubs. But believe me, they aren’t under my radar. I’ll be watching closely.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it in this forum, but I’m very bullish on Anibal Sanchez this coming season. If you followed me last year, my main pitcher recommendation was Chris Tillman. He didn’t disappoint. This year? Sanchez. Great stuff. Everything moves. Including the hitter’s eyes. And knees.

Those who have followed me in the past know that I get itchy this time of year. I start talking about guys I really love to watch. And guys I want on my fantasy team. So that’s what I’ll be doing from now on.

I’m thrilled to read the reports that Pablo Sandoval has lost weight. I hope it’s true. We’ll see in a couple short weeks from now.

Next week on MLBPipeline.com I’ll be writing about the Indians Tony Wolters and then I’ll be providing my National League Prospect Dream Team followed at the end of the week by my American League Prospect Dream Team. At the end of that piece, I’ll have an All Major League Prospect Dream Team. Hope you’ll read them. Probably Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Of course, that can change.

Enjoyed talking to the Sun City Grand crowd this week. Thanks for the nice reception and great turn out. Loved talking baseball with you.

As always, follow me on twitter @BerniePleskoff, on Short Hops podcast with Derek Van Riper (which you can find free on iTunes) and of course, at my main landing spot-MLBPipeline.com.

And as always, thanks for reading my work.

That’s it. I’m done.

Sunday Morning At LAX

I’m sitting at LAX in Los Angeles waiting for my flight back to Phoenix.

The Scout’s dinner last night was outstanding. Dennis Gilbert and several other very dedicated baseball folks do a marvelous job helping scouts in need. It was a heartwarming event.

Prior to the dinner, a silent auction was held in virtually every ballroom available at the hotel. To say it is a mammoth display of memorabilia would be an understatement. It doesn’t just include baseball. Every sport, cinema, politics, the music world and all forms of relics and treasures from Pop culture are represented.

Among the items I saw was the actual assignment transfer of Babe Ruth from the Yankees to the Red Sox. I believe the opening bid was $10,000.

An autographed blown up program cover of the 1969 Mets was listed at $4500.

My personal favorite may have been an autographed collage of Albert Einstein that included a formula in pencil above his signature. Price? Opening bid of $7500.

Then there were signature cuts of Benjamin Franklin and Abraham Lincoln. Are you kidding me?

If anything sold in the room after room of amazing items the proceeds went to the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation.

So what’s on my mind today?

Yesterday on television I heard someone urge a colleague to “put his best foot forward.” I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to figure out which of my feet was the best? Do you know which of yours qualifies?

I never get bored.

I think the Indians will hold on to Asdrubal Cabrera, hope he has a great year, let him go in free agency and claim the draft choice. No sense selling him short now.

While I like the Tigers rotation, I have concern about their depth. What if Verlander has to miss a few starts? With Doug Fister gone, do they really have 7 or 8 starting pitchers available? I’m just wondering.

I think the Reds will regret not having Bronson Arroyo if he leaves.

The Padres Chris Denorfia remains on my underrated list. He’ll be playing lots of innings-and I think he’ll hit.

I feel the same way about the Rockies Jordan Pacheco. He needs a sustained chance to play somewhere and I think he’ll hit. But where does he play? The Rockes have a loaded lineup. Loaded. But I still scratch my head about them giving up Dexter Fowler.

Don’t get excited in Spring Training if your targeted players hit a ton in the first couple weeks. Pitchers are getting their arms in shape and they throw lots of fastballs. “Cookies.” The true test could come in the last week. That’s when poker begins to change and the bigger chips come on to the table.

Spring Training tells me a few things about players. For example: is the guy in shape? How are his mechanics as a player or pitcher? Is he trying to perfect a new pitch? Has he changed his swing? It’s a time to work out kinks. So don’t put too much stock in Spring Training results. Look more for process than results.

I think fans get cheated when regular players don’t make road trips in Spring Training. If they aren’t going to play that day, take batting practice or throw on the field. Let fans see you. Spring Training tickets are not inexpensive. Then factor airfare, hotel, food. You see my point. There are allegedly supposed to be four regulars in every lineup in Spring Training. I don’t think that’s always the case.

I used to stay in a place just outside of Winter Haven, Florida that had the aroma of orange blossoms. I asked for a room at the back of the motel that faced the orchard. It was fantastic.

One year when I was with the Astros a hurricane had hit the area just days before camp opened. Every single mobile home was destroyed. They were a stone’s throw from the Astros complex. Not one item was destroyed at the Spring Training home of the Astros. It was a miracle. But those poor people lost everything.

I’ll be covering Spring Training from Florida and Arizona. I’ll keep you updated on what I see.

The Mariners and Padres will be moving in to renovated clubhouses this spring. The Cubs will be opening their new Spring Training home on February 27th. And the Oakland Athletics will be winding down their stay at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. They move to the former home of the Cubs in Mesa next season.

The entire arbitration process and salary business is one of the aspects of baseball that I give little attention. I am much more concerned with the actual game than player contracts. It’s a necessary part of the game.

My jury is still out about instant replay. I’ll let you know as the season moves along. But I do think the games will get longer. And I like the human element of baseball. I like the arguments. They had excitement. We need kerfuffles. Let’s not lose kerfuffles.

You won’t be finding me here for about a week. But my articles will be posted on MLBPipeline.com and I’ll be tweeting on twitter @BerniePleskoff. Hope you’ll check them out.

That’s it, I’m done.

And as always, thank you for reading and supporting my work. Much appreciated.

Hey-What Am I Thinking About The National League?

It won’t be long. Nope, it won’t be long until we read the words…”The equipment trucks left today for Arizona-Florida.” Are those great words, or what?

I just don’t see the Braves having the same type of impact they had last season. I think the team will miss the leadership of Brian McCann. Some guys are really important to a club. For me, he was one of them. Nothing against Evan Gattis. They need help at second base and they have to get some return from B J Upton.

IMO Miami is one of the most exciting future teams in the game. Their pitching is so deep they will have the luxury of letting guys develop longer in the farm system. One of my sleeper guys for the year is Nathan Eovaldi. If he can gain command, watch out!

I’ve always liked Chris Young. I think if he gets to play regularly, Mets fans will see an outstanding defensive outfielder. He’s a streaky hitter, but he has some real pop. Tough park for power. Granderson was a big offensive pick up for them. Better year for them.

I think this will be the last shot for this group of Phillies. They may break up the band and go their separate ways if the team doesn’t win. They need a comeback from Ryan Howard and strong pitching after Hamels and Lee. Father time isn’t kind.

On paper, the Nationals seem loaded to me. Better than last year with a healthy Ryan Zimmerman/Bryce Harper all year. I see a huge year ahead for Harper. And now they added Doug Fister to an already strong rotation. I like the club. Lots.

The Cubs are still in a waiting mode as their prospects continue to develop. When a mascot makes big news, it’s like starting a fire to divert attention from a fire elsewhere. Where’s the beef? I have a two word suggestion for Cubs fans. It’s one they have never heard before. “Be patient.” Oh, right. They have heard that before. Sorry.

Can Billy Hamilton get on base? I’m not convinced yet. I like the rotation but I think they’ll miss Bronson Arroyo if he leaves. And of course, Choo is gone already. Hamilton has to get on base to make things happen. Can’t steal first. Unless it’s at night with the lights out and nobody’s watching. Then you can put it in your trophy case.

How long has it been since the Brewers had a first baseman? Well-they still don’t have a first baseman. Jonathan Lucroy is underrated as a catcher. I love watching Khris Davis hit. He has sneaky power. But let him play. Even if he slumps. Let him play.

I think Pittsburgh could use Bronson Arroyo and….here’s that name again….Nelson Cruz. But, it’s not my money. The Pirates are thisclose to winning. I think both Arroyo (or another starter) and Cruz could really make a huge difference.

The Cardinals are the most perfectly balanced, complete team heading in to Spring Training. I can’t find an unmet need.

The Diamondbacks addition of Mark Trumbo to protect Paul Goldschmidt and lengthen the lineup was huge. Also-adding Addison Reed to the bullpen allows the 6-9th inning roles to be defined with quality and depth. Great moves. They need one or two starting pitchers. Especially with health issues surrounding Brandon McCarthy. I look for Archie Bradley at some point during the year. Maybe not in April.

I love the Rockies offense. But it’s very tough to pitch at Coors. Even with the humidor. They will greatly miss Dexter Fowler. However, I look for a big year from Drew Stubbs. Even if he isn’t a starter. He’ll hit those gaps in the outfield and run, run, run.

Somebody in the Dodgers organization has to take Yasiel Puig either under his wing and mentor him or take him to the woodshed. He’s wasting unbelievable talent on immature behavior. It’s a concern. I love the club. What if they get Tanaka? Yikes! They may never lose two games in a row.

What if Carlos Quentin could play, say, 150 games? What could he be? What if Chase Headley and Seth Smith come through? What if their pitchers get healthy? Luebke, Weiland and Kelly. That law firm can do some serious pitching. I like the Padres. If they can get on the field healthy and stay on the field healthy.

As I wrote on MLBPipeline.com, I think Angel Villalona might be able to add some power during the season for the Giants. It’s a long shot, but stranger things have happened. I still love what Hunter Pence brings–energy, a solid bat and weird mechanics in every phase of his game. The Giants could return to form. I’m pulling for Tim Lincecum.

Huge question marks linger in the league. Like Dan Uggla ever hitting? Giancarlo Stanton seeing pitches to hit? Ike Davis and Lucas Duda getting untracked? Dom Brown showing if last year was more his norm? Manager Matt Williams getting the most out of very talented Nationals players? Starlin Castro realizing his potential? the Reds finding a replacement leadoff hitter? Ryan Braun putting the past in the past and hitting like Ryan Braun? The Pirates finding a solid right fielder? The Cardinals Wacha Kelly and Miller repeating? Miguel Montero learning how to hit again for the Dbacks? Wilin Rosario making continued improvement behind the plate for the Rockies? Ramirez, Crawford, Kemp and Ethier staying healthy? The Padres able to staff a healthy rotation for an entire year? Pablo Sandoval working hard to keep the weight down for the Giants? And many, many more I’ll discuss going forward.

That’s it. I’m done.

Thanks for following my articles on MLBPipeline.com and for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff. Catch my podcast with Derek VanRiper every week on iTunes.
And, as always. Thanks for reading.

Hey-What Am I Thinking About The American League?

I begin today with a disclaimer. This blog shall be entirely Hall of Fame and ARod free. No mention will be made of either. As I say about my weight, enough is enough.

Some things are rolling through my mind as I sit outside and whittle waiting for Spring Training to start.

The Orioles still have several holes to fill. I think they are weak at second base and left field in particular. The can certainly use another starter.

I do think rookie Jonathan Schoop shows promise. I don’t know if he can win the second base job, but I think he has a shot.

Delmon Young may help as a right-handed DH to team up with Henry Urrutia from the left side. But who plays left field? Is that Nolan Reimold? Young certainly isn’t an everyday answer there. Francisco Peguerro? That’s why I like Nelson Cruz in that role.

If Stephen Drew signs with the Red Sox, does that move Xander Bogaerts back to third and Will Middlebrooks to the bench? I’m just asking.

What’s the Red Sox plan for center field if Jackie Bradley Jr. still isn’t ready for an everyday role? Shance Victorino, I would guess. And Daniel Nava in right? Are they an outfielder short, even with Jonny Gomes?

I think the Yankees did a great job getting Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, but who plays third base? How about second base? How about shortstop if Jeter can’t go? Well, shortstop will be in the able hands of Brendan Ryan defensively. But second and third? Yikes. I’m not sure Brian Roberts can stay healthy! And Kelly Johnson? It just doesn’t seem the Yankees are paying enough attention to those two positions. And as I’ve said before, they need at least one more starting pitcher. So if they don’t get Tanaka, look for Santana, Garza, Jimenez or Arroyo.

The Rays will be a much better club with Ryan Hanigan behind the plate. I think it’s one of the best off season moves. Little fanfare-but a solid catcher. And catching has been a black hole of the Rays for a while.

Heath Bell will be better in Tampa Bay than he was in Arizona. He was upset about not knowing his role from game to game. Hid mind will be settled and hr still has good stuff.

I haven’t backed off my opinion that the Blue Jays really want Tanaka. I don’t think they can match the contract length or the west coast environment Tanaka seems to seek. As a result, they’ll go “all in” on Jimenez, Garza and Santana and probably pay a ton to grab at least one of them.

It seems the Blue Jays will be using Ryan Goins and Maicer Izturis at second base.

I can’t find starting times for White Sox games on their schedule. Hope they release them soon.

The White Sox turnover includes Jose Abreu at first base, Matt Davidson at third base and Adam Eaton in center. Are they better now than when the season ended last year? I’m just asking’?

I can’t find much White Sox pitching depth behind Erik Johnson and Andre Rienzo in the 4 and 5 holes in the rotation.

I look for Carlos Santana to play plenty of games at third base for the Indians. They can get an extra bat in the lineup against left-handed pitching, using Lonnie Chisenhall only against righties. Santana is not a disaster at third.

I remember saying last year and the year before that Jeff Francoeur (now with the Indians) will always end up being………Jeff Francoeur. If you get my drift.

I am keeping an open mind on the Tigers Nick Castellanos. I have seen him play in the Arizona Fall League and he didn’t hit. But that was then. This is now. I am open to having my opinion change. On thing that will help. He’s back at his original position of third base.

Left field looks like a platoon between Andy Dirks and Rajai Davis. Is that enough? Nelson Cruz awaits a call.

The Royals Yordano Ventura has a great arm. If he commands his pitches, he’ll be a sleeper and help the rotation. We don’t hear enough about him whenever young pitching is discussed.

I think Omar Infante finally settles the Royals second base issues. He’s an underrated player.

Watch out for Twins C Josmil Pinto. The guy can hit.

The Twins have every faith in Pedro Florimon at shortstop. Good defender. Has to hit more.

Jason Kubel in right? Haven’t we seen that movie?

Astros first base prospect Japhet Amador had a huge season in the Mexican League. Don’t be surprised if he’s in Houston before the year is out. I write about him on MLBPipeline.com next week.

I like Mark Krauss more than the Astros do, I think. I believe he can hit as a platoon player.

Brett Oberholzer is a very craft, under the radar lefty.

I don’t think it’s a good sign that Tanaka did not visit the Angels in his visit to Los Angeles. I think that speaks volumes that they are not on his radar.

IMO the Angels need to move now on one of the remaining starters, lest they be shut
out.

Look for the Angels to play their regulars longer and more often in Spring Training.

Craig Gentry is a big addition to the A’s.

Parker, Griffin, Straily, Kamir, Gray. Not too shabby as a rotation. Watch out.

Who is Josh Reddick? 2012 edition or 2013?

I think the Mariners are greatly improved. But I wonder why they haven’t moved yet on Kendrys Morales. I think he can help them. So could one more pitcher.

What a great fit for Tanaka. Big park. Nice offense. Seattle.

After spending mega bucks this off season, don’t the Rangers just have to go out and get a pitcher to fill the missed innings from the Derek Holland injury? What am I missing here? I don’t think it’s Colby Lewis. And what if Alexi Ogando’s arm falls off at the shoulder?

Martin Perez can be really, really good.

Mitch Moreland as the DH? How about Nelson Cruz on a one year deal? Makes sense to me.

Nelson Cruz, I’m pulling for you, man. I tried to get you several jobs in this blog. Why? Because you can hit for power. Especially as a DH.

Hope you’ll read my weekly profiles on MLBPipeline.com and follow me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.

That’s it. I’m done. And as always, thanks for reading my work.

A Tanaka House Of Cards

The entire Masahiro Tanaka posting situation is fascinating to me. Basically, much of an industry is in a “holding pattern” while the process plays itself out.

The Tanaka signing could be like pulling the one card in the wrong place or in an awkward way that makes the entire house of cards fall.

Or, it could be like adding the one card that puts the roof on the house and keeps the elements from ruining the rest of the house. For a long time. Good roof.

But lots of teams playing with their houses of cards are just biding their time waiting to figure out where that card plays best.

I still like the Yankees.

Man-Masahiro Tanaka puts a roof on that house that they really, really need.

Consider that much of the Yankees rotation is steeped in “what ifs.” What if C. C becomes just so so? Or worse. What if Pineda doesn’t come back? Or what if he only comes part of the way back? What if Kuroda is more erosion that explosion? Not to mention the untested David Phelps. The still developing Ivan Nova. Yes, the Yankees need Tanaka. And they have the Cano money to pay him.

I still think the Blue Jays will do whatever it takes to get Tanaka. Is money is the key that unlocks the secret passage to the place where the golden contract is hidden? If money is the issue-the Blue Jays can go all in. They need him. Badly. And I think they can pay.

The top priority for the Blue Jays this off season is and has been—pitching. And that’s where the consolation prizes of Garza, Santana and Jimenez come to play. If the Blue Jays can’t get Tanaka, I look for a full court press on Jimenez and Santana. And maybe even Garza.

The Mariners? I get it. I get the interest. I get the comfort level Tanaka may feel in Seattle. But. Does he want to wait to win? Does he want to put the team on his back and make them win? That could happen. But they still need more than him. True-they have Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker. And then? Danny Hultzen is hurt. I’m not bullish on James Paxton. Their short a pitcher. Maybe two. Tanaka would sure help cut the waiting time.

Yes- the Mariners really, really need Tanaka. And he may just go there.

The Rangers? I think pairing him with Yu Darvish would be awesome. Can they both sing out of the same hymnal? Probably. Tanaka could bring them a World Championship. I worry about the shoulder of Alexi Ogando. And I don’t know who their No. 5 pitcher will be. Tanaka slots nicely behind Darvish, and ahead of Harrison (if he’s healthy) Holland and then Perez. Great rotation.

Tanaka has a great split-finger fastball. He can pitch in a smaller park and induce some ground balls. But in a larger park? Like Seattle or Toronto? Nice fit. He has a low-to-mid 90’s fastball. But he has better command than most pitchers. Even better than Darvish- so it says in everything I’ve read and seen. We’ll see.

Tanaka is only 25. He can pitch for five years before his contract starts getting more “iffy.”

But my real “if” is still in the number of pitches he’s already thrown in Japan. How will that translate here? Will he hold up? Hot weather? Cold weather? Designated hitters that can really hit? Lots of questions remain for me.

I’ll be convinced when I see him throw strikes and get hitters out over and over. And then over and over again. Like Darvish. Who got no run support by the way. He did it over and over and over and…

I think it’ll be the Yankees. They need him more than anyone and will pay. And believe it-the Yankees still have that special something. Panache. Glitz. Broadway.

But-we wait. The house of cards is still being built. It crashes for some and it protects one team for at least four to five more years of the eight or nine in the contract. Cause I think it’ll be at least eight.

And I remember Jerry Reinsdorf saying he wouldn’t give Jack McDowell more than a couple years because—well—-because he was a pitcher. And pitchers get hurt.

Man. How times have changed.
That’s it. I’m done. And by the way—Happy New Year.