May 2014

Memorial Day Memo

Let me being by thanking all the wonderful service men and women who are away from home and helping to keep our country free. Your tireless and unselfish efforts are beyond words and are most appreciated and respected. And let us remember those who sacrificed their life for our continued freedom.

The Chicago press has really had a field day with the Cubs signing Manny Ramirez as a player-coach for their Iowa club. The print media has column after column saying it’s a huge mistake to have someone who served a suspension for illegal substance use as a coach is not the right message to send prospects. Countering that, the Cubs brass have indicated Manny has learned from that and is an excellent teacher of fundamental hitting. Especially hitting the breaking ball. Whatever side you come down on, it should be another interesting chapter in the Cubs Long Range plan. I can see both sides. Believe me, Manny Ramirez is one of the most lethal right-handed hitters I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen quite a few. I remember when he was a skinny young man as a rookie with the Indians. He was shy and very humble. But as a coach? I really am not so sure.

I’ve been at Cellular One for the White Sox weekend games with the Yankees and now I’m catching one game against the Indians before I head to see the Brewers and Orioles.
There isn’t anything in sports quite like a Yankees game. People come out of the weeds to watch them play. The press box is always mobbed. And it was the last White Sox stop for Derek Jeter on his farewell tour. He made it a good one, getting four hits. Crowd gave him a standing ovation every time to the plate. And believe me, he busted his tail on a triple to right-center. It’s great to watch him play.

I got my first look at Masaharo Tanaka. As I said on twitter yesterday, I think he can throw a ball into a teacup from the mound. What makes him so good is his pin point control and command of every pitch. The splitter is really, really nasty. I think the best thing to do is move up in the box and try to hit the ball before it moves. Good luck with that.

I think what was then called Comiskey Park was the first home of the dessert cart for suite owners. A dessert cart came around late in the game and the suite dwellers could choose whatever they wanted. For a price, of course. The host always got a hefty bill. But it’s still going on. And the desserts are outstanding. Including the carrot cake.

I spoke with White Sox first baseman Jose’ Abreu in the clubhouse (thru an interpreter). He indicated he is on schedule for a return from the disabled list June 2nd. He had a big smile on his face and he’s raring to go. Quite a nice young man.

Michael Brantley is on my list as one of the most underrated players in the game. All he does is come through in the clutch. Can’t say the same for Nick Swisher. Not at all.
I hope Brantley is on the All Star team.

I met up with my dear friend Klauss on Saturday night. He and his wife and my wife and I went to a place called Antique Tacos on Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago. My wife had heard of it from the Food Channel. It was amazing. Lots of vegetables. But of course, I got the tacos that had the meat. Soft taco shells. I eat vegetables about once a week if I have to. I look it, too.

My wife replaced my worn and used Harry Caray tee shirt with a brand new one from a place at Water Tower Place. I’m lovin’ it. Every baseball fan should have a Harry Caray tee shirt. The shirt has nothing to do with the White Sox or Cubs-just the outlined face of Harry Caray. This outline is in blue, not like the one I have in black.

I had never seen Yangervis Solarte play. Now I know why the Yankees kept him. The man can rake.

The Rangers are reported to be looking to make a deal with the Nationals for a first baseman. And so-the trade rumors begin. From now until July, we’ll have to sort out fact from fiction.

Watch out for the Blue Jays.

The Trevor Bauer experiment is still a work in progress. He didn’t have a good outing his last time up with the Indians.

It’s really hot and humid here in Chicago today. But I guess it’s a welcome change from the cold wintery weather they’ve been having. Coming from Phoenix, I’m not at all used to the humidity.

Oh well, have a great week. And as always, thanks for reading my work on MLBPipeline.com and listening to Short Hops podcast on iTunes. Please follow me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.

That’s it. I’m done.

Tony La Russa Is In The House

Tony La Russa had been sitting in the press box at Chase Field for a few games prior to the announcement that he would become the Chief Baseball Officer of the Diamondbacks. That announcement came this past Saturday. I really can’t say I know one person who knew of the pending hire in advance. Everyone I spoke with was shocked. And thrilled. And waiting to see what happens.

La Russa has earned tremendous respect in baseball and in society. He has a law degree, is very articulate and is extremely intelligent. And he knows baseball. Inside and out.

La Russa brings a swagger to his role. He will soon bring a Hall Of Fame induction plaque to hang on his wall— along with mementos from the World Championship clubs he has managed. He has been part of three World Series championships, six league championships and twelve division championships. That’s not only amazing, it’s totally impressive.

Now 69 years-old, La Russa embarks on a new challenge. Can he help the Diamondbacks become competitive in a division with the surging Rockies, the steady and consistent Giants, the super star Dodgers, and the promising Padres?

La Russa will be reunited with at least two of his former staff members with the St. Louis Cardinals. Dave Duncan is an organizational pitching guru for the Dbacks and Dave McKay is the club’s first base coach. Both have deep roots with La Russa. Both are trusted.

So what can the baseball world expect from La Russa in his new role, a role that includes having general manager Kevin Towers reporting to him? First, I think he will review the landscape. He and his trusted allies will evaluate what they have. Not just at the big league level, but they will drill down. They will look at every aspect of organizational talent (or lack thereof) and instructional technique. I think he will be pensive and circumspect. He will watch, ask and learn. I don’t think he will jump in and make changes for changes sake.

I think he and the organization will provide much more patience with young prospects. Instead of trading them away, they will develop their young players. No player will come to the Major League club before he is ready. The draft will be the focal point of player procurement. And this draft board will be scrutinized and evaluated before the first pick is made. What will this player or that player bring to the organization as part of our team? As a component of a total team effort, not just as an individual.

Ultimately, and in his own time, I believe La Russa will put people in place he trusts with shepherding consistent, fundamental mechanics. He will put coaches in place that will insist on shorter swings, situational success, consistency, making contact, catching the ball, throwing to the right base, and hustling. Not only in good times, but in bad times as well. Playing with a sense of urgency. Doing whatever it takes within the rules of the game to……..win. Tony La Russa will never accept complacency or a lack of effort. He will never accept losing by being either lazy or lacking focus. He will never accept mediocrity.

I think the initial emphasis will be on pitching, as it should be. The Dbacks need an overhaul in pitching. At every level. There is no ace. There is no number 2 starter. Anywhere in the organization. Not at this time. Maybe that person will emerge. Archie Bradley has a long way to go after he recovers from his injury.

To me, A J Pollock, Chris Owings, Paul Goldschmidt and Didi Gregorius are the type of players Tony La Russa can build around. Add Aaron Hill to the list if he isn’t traded at some point. Miguel Montero has to be more consistent behind the plate and he has to continue using his more compact stroke at the plate. He has a long term, expensive contract and he probably isn’t going anywhere. There are no catchers that I can identify in the farm system.

La Russa realizes players are not robots. However, fundamentals have to come naturally. There has to be institutional standards. The “Dbacks way of doing things.”
And that will be the La Russa and his trusted allies way of doing things.

Tony LaRussa is a serious, dedicated professional. More than anything else, Tony La Russa is a winner. Can he help steer the Dbacks into the very special category of a winning baseball team? Time will tell. But all that being said, the clock has begun to tick.

Thinking Out Loud

Maybe someone put two and two together with Marlins super star pitcher Jose’ Fernandez after his last start in San Diego. In that game, he gave up 5 earned runs on 6 hits in just 5 innings. The start before, he yielded 2 earned runs in 7 innings against the Dodgers. He hadn’t given up a run in the 3 previous starts. As a matter of fact, Fernandez’ velocity had dropped from 97.6 mph in March to 95.9 mph in May. That isn’t a huge drop, but it causes some to wonder. The results just weren’t like Fernandez. Something was wrong. Now, on the brink of becoming a top shelf, All Star quality pitcher in the same conversation with Clayton Kershaw, Fernandez is on the shelf with an elbow issue. He’s likely to have Tommy John surgery. It hasn’t been announced, but it sure sounds like it. I’ve said it many times. He has the best curveball I’ve seen in a long time. And that pitch is right now or is very close to being the equal of the one thrown by Kershaw. And that’s saying something. We wish Fernandez all the best as he deals with a blip in his career. Hope that’s all it is. A blip and not a huge speed bump.

I like Chris Owings. I like Aaron Hill. But the Dbacks need pitching. Where do they go? They have to give up someone in trade for any type of starter they can find. One that can hang around Arizona for a while. Trade candidates include Hill, Martin Prado. Didi Gregorius or Nick Ahmed. Who’s available for Arizona? I have an idea. How about the Cardinals. They have the pitching. They can move Peralta back to third. Put Carpenter back at second. Bring in either Gregorius or Ahmed at shortstop. It would be good for both clubs. I won’t even guess which pitcher among their outstanding depth at that position might fetch a Didi. Ahmed would be less expensive. He’s a darn good defensive shortstop. I think that’s what the Cardinals need now. I like Peralta much better at third because of his lack of range at shortstop. It’s a good match.

I’ll say it again. After watching both John Axford and Addison Reed implode and lose games because of their penchant to give up the long ball, I have to wonder why set-up men can’t start the 9th. It must be illegal.

Charlie Blackmon is legit.

Puig or Braun?

If you’re the Dodgers, do you try to get H. Ramirez to sign a lengthy contract? Does his health concern you? I’m just wondering. It sure does concern me if I’m them. But I’m not them. They’re them. I would look to find a shortstop like Stephen Drew and play Dee Gordon at second while moving Ramirez to third this season. Then, I’d try to find a third baseman for next year.

What happens to David Price at the July trade deadline? And how about Justin Masterson? Both could be sent to contenders. Price has more value because he has a year and half. Masterson only from July through the playoffs. But he can help someone.

C.C. has been less than so so so far. And now he’s hurt. Is he toast? I’m concerned about the drop in velocity and the bum knee. He’s on the DL. But can the Yankees count on him? David Price? But who do the Yankees have to trade. Ah-a catcher. Maybe Gary Sanchez and a pitcher like Dellin Betances. Just thinking out loud. It might take more than that. No middle-infielders available on the Yankees. They need them themselves. Maybe a three way trade with the Indians. Plenty of middle-infielders. Start with Asdrubal Cabrera. Betances could be a closer some day. If he can command that wicked fastball.

If you haven’t watched Rougned Odor of the Rangers yet, you should. He has a combination of power, speed and defense that belies his 20 years of age. Just an amazingly quick journey through the farm system to the parent club. He has it all. Jurickson Profar got all the hype, but Odor is really quite a player to watch.

Sweet swing you ask? Try Christian Yelich. It says in my brain that he’s on his way to becoming a very dangerous hitter. Very dangerous. But then you knew I liked him. I’ve been raving about him for three or four years now.

Sleeper you ask? Wilson Ramos of the Nationals. Not even in the catching conversation. Hits and plays outstanding defense. Hitting 4th for the Nationals now.

Jonathan Singleton time soon in Houston. Soon. Springer and Singleton=hope. But not NOW. Be patient.

Gregory Polanco time in Pittsburgh? They can’t wait much longer. He’s the real deal. Pirates fans will love him. He’ll be a fantasy darling. And man, can he play. Great arm. Solid bat with power. Patience though. He’ll be adjusting to the way pitchers adjust to him. All Star time promotion. Sooner if it were me.

Oscar Taveras? Also soon. I see him moving in to his new home in right field in St. Louis and hitting the ground running. Exciting player.

Will the Phillies trade Cliff Lee? Yankees could sure use him, right?

How long does Kansas City wait for Mike Moustakas? What should they do? Does he have any trade value? Yes. Third base is not a deep position. Maybe a change of scenery will work for him.

Would you give Pablo Sandoval a long-term contract if you were the Giants? At big, big bucks? They have a decision to make.

Did Max Scherzer make the right decision turning down more money from the Tigers than is in my home town bank on any given day? Didn’t we watch that movie starring Ubaldo Jimenez just last year? I know Scherzer isn’t Jimenez, but the concept seems similar to me. How ca you say “no” to more money than they have in some city governments? Gutsy. I guess.

The day after the MLB draft should be fun. We should be seeing Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales sign contracts. But where?

Thanks for reading my work on MLBPipeline.com and for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff. And listen to Short Hops on iTunes.

Thats’ it. I’m done.

A Little of This and Some of That

Sometimes I think one or two players set the tone for an entire roster. The departures of Jacoby Ellsbury and Stephen Drew have given the Red Sox an entirely different look and feel. They miss both those players-but especially Ellsbury. A guy that ignites an offense from the top of the batting order is hard to find. To watch him play for your biggest rival is difficult to handle. I think the Red Sox could struggle to score runs all year. In addition, the defensive shifts being deployed against David Ortiz are taking their toll on his productivity.

On the other hand, think of what the Yankees have been able to do because Robinson Cano left them for Seattle. They used the money targeted for him to fill several gaping holes and return to the Yankees of old. Very good free agent signings IMO on the part of Mr. Cashman.

It’s very difficult for me to watch John Axford come in to save an Indians game. I know he’s done the job–most of the time. But not without heartburn. And the loss to the White Sox Sunday was painful to watch. Corey Kluber pitched an 8 inning gem. While I left the room for an instant, Axford had already walked the leadoff hitter. Then it went downhill from there.

The hole I’ve seen in Jose Abreu’s swing is a high fastball. But not an 88 mph fastball. A mid-90’s fastball.

The Rockies have one of the best defensive infields I have seen in years. Nolan Arenado is incredible at third. D J LeMahieu is almost his equal at second. Tulo is darn good at shortstop and now, Justin Morneau brings a great glove to first. And man, can that club clobber the baseball. If they can use a pitching machine instead of humans they would win the World Series. But it’s tough to pitch in Colorado. Very tough.

I saw a statistic that said 31 pitchers have required Tommy John surgery since February. 16 have been on Major League pitching staffs. Maybe some doctor and hospital should consider providing a Tommy John surgery at birth. That would provide a tremendous public service.

How do the Dbacks come back from their horrible start? That’s the question I’m being asked the most lately. My answer? I don’t know. The farm system can not plug pitching holes–or position player holes for that matter. There are few players available on the trade front (at least until the trade deadline in July). And even if there were, who can they trade? Maybe second baseman Aaron Hill. Chris Owings could convert to second base with Didi Gregorius playing shortstop. I’ll get Didi in there somewhere.

The Marlins are a fun team to watch. And I firmly believe Jose’ Fernandez is in the conversation as the best pitcher in baseball. Why? I just think the Kershaw injury gives me a bit of concern. But if he is still behind Kershaw, he isn’t far away from being the best. His curveball is beyond fantastic.

The Tigers need Stephen Drew. Tomorrow if not today.

It’s very strange to look in the Wrigley Field stands on a televised game and see empty seats. But that’s reality. It’s been cold and the team isn’t winning. Bad combination-even for a tremendously loyal fan base.

Here’s something I never thought would happen this year—Oakland is looking for starting pitching. Are you kidding me? That speaks volumes about pitching depth and surgeries. They have two guys on the shelf in Parker and Griffin.

How tough is it to pitch to Major League hitters? The Angels are on the brink of returning Ernesto Frieri to the closer’s role. Yikes!

Is Prince heating up? Seems like it. And so is Miguel Cabrera. Watch out!

Speaking of Miguel. Have you noticed the shorter swing and different footwork for Miguel Montero in the batter’s box? He’s getting results. He’s much improved over the 2013 edition. But I’m still not buying it 100%. I want to see it for an entire season.

Corey Kluber is really a darn good starting pitcher.

I’m really happy for the Brewers. They are doing it with a balance of pitching and hitting. Hope they keep it up. It’s a good story. Small market and in the same division with the Cardinals. But the Cardinals hitters have really scuffled.

Kolten Wong has been sent out for more seasoning. Um….I think I many have mentioned…..in the pre-season.

I think the Angels will regret trading Randal Grichuk to St. Louis. I love his swing. He’s a little bit of a late bloomer, but he can flat out hit. The Cards have almost as much outfield depth as they have pitching depth. That’s scary good.

If you can figure out how the Padres can score some runs, contact Buddy Black. I feel terrible for him and Josh Byrnes. It’s a solid franchise, but they’re not scoring runs.

The Rays need pitching? Yes, they do. Speaking of good defense. That’s a team that plays good defense. I’ve seen some outstanding plays by Desmond Jennings. Game savers.

The Cubs Starlin Castro has responded very well to manager Rick Renteria.

The Royals? I just don’t see them hanging in with the Tigers. Even if they get hot, which they haven’t yet. The Tigers just have too much pitching.

Rick Porcello is having a great start to his year. Of course. I didn’t keep him in one of my keeper leagues. I had a hunch when I hit the delete button.

This month I’ll be in Chicago to see the White Sox and in Milwaukee to watch the Brewers. Hope you follow me on twitter for those games.

Angel Pagan may be among the most underrated players in the game. The Giants are a different team with him. When he had that prolonged injury they really scuffled.

Ubaldo Jimenez must be driving Buck Schowalter nuts. Which is the real guy? The one that bombed for his first few starts or the one who threw a gem last week? The Rockies and Indians have lived through that nightmare.

I still like the Orioles. Even with Chris Davis on the shelf. Very balanced club.

Sorry to see Jason Kipnis miss time with an injury. He’s the heart of the Indians IMO.

Looks like we’ll get to see left-hander Robbie Ray pitch for the Tigers this week. We’ll see the pitcher the Tigers got for Doug Fister.

Thanks for reading my work on MLBPipeline.com and for listening to Short Hops on iTunes. And thanks for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff. Much appreciated.

That’s it. I’m done.