April 2015

My Early Observations

Hats off to the Tigers. They completely destroyed both the Twins and the Indians. They looked like they could beat any team, any day. When Miguel Cabrera is going good he can center the ball to the middle of the field. That’s what I saw with a couple of his base hits. And then he totally smoked home runs to left. While I really enjoy watching Cabrera and his buddies totally torment pitchers, my greatest take away from the Tigers success so far has been the stellar pitching of Shane Greene. He’s thrown everything but the kitchen sink at hitters-throwing strike one and getting ahead in counts. I love watching this guy pitch. He gets it. Yes, he may have a bump in the road because he’s human, but man, he’s been outstanding.

How much has Nelson Cruz meant to the Mariners so far? The man can flat out hit. When he hits a rocket shot there isn’t a park that can hold it. No matter how far away the fences.

I don’t think Fernando Rodney is in jeopardy of losing his closer’s job. Not yet at least. He did break bats and all the hits weren’t solid. I see hope he stays in the role as the Mariners closer.

Why did the Rockies bring back 42-year old LaTroy Hawkins? I wish I knew. Maybe he lost his job so quickly because the Rockies are off to such a great start and they want to preserve every win. Whatever the reason, the job now belongs to Adam Ottavino, a very good arm. But…will he keep the job? Rafael Betancourt waits in the wings.
By the way, Hawkins is one of the finest gentlemen in the game. I hope all goes well for him. He deserves only the best.

Will the Yankees lose patience with the slow offensive start of Didi Gregorius? I sure hope not.

We should never be surprised at what Adrian Gonzalez can do with a bat. He’s that good a hitter. Great eye-hand coordination. Outstanding pitch recognition. And quick hands through the ball. He’s a master at his craft.

I tried to get D J LeMahieu in every league in which I play fantasy baseball. I couldn’t pull it off. I’ve told you before I like every thing about the guy. Now he’s getting some due publicity for his fast start.

I hope things continue for the guys on my Guys I Like This Year list. Most are off to great starts. I just hope I don’t jinx them.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it over and over…The Indians simply have to get another right-handed bat. They are still totally vulnerable to left-handed pitching.

How about the duo of Matt Harvey and Jake deGrom? Make that a trio when you add veteran Bartolo Colon to the mix. Watch out for the Mets.

Poker may change when guys like Kris Bryant and White Sox pitcher Carlos Rodon make their big league arrivals. And how about the Twins Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano? There are so many great prospects waiting to make an impact. Some will come sooner than we may think.

I can’t help feeling badly about the total collapse of the Rangers pitching fortunes. Yu Darvish and Derek Holland. Not to mention Matt Harrison and Martin Perez. Yikes!

I love to watch the energy of the Kansas City Royals. Every game they put on a clinic about playing the game with gusto and guts. And every day I appreciate Lorenzo Cain more and more. I was on his band wagon early, but now I’m the drum major out ahead of the trumpet section. He’s that good.

I had my concerns about the Astros strikeout total in my pre-season pennant blog. I don’t know if they’ll ever make the necessary adjustments to make more contact. Yes there will be games when they blast the ball out of the park. But the strikeouts will kill lots of rallies.

How important is Chris Heston to the Giants? He stepped up when Matt Cain and (at the time) Jake Peavy were injured. Now I think he may be a more permanent member of the Giants rotation. No great overpowering pitches. Just a deep repertoire with command and control.

Yes-I’m really surprised at the start of the Atlanta Braves. But it’s a long season.

Miguel Castro was a Spring Training Blue Jays invitee. He wasn’t on the 40-man. Either was Roberto Osuna. Or Devon Travis. At the age of….20 Castro is the team’s closer. At least for now. I have shoes older than him. Those guys are all such great stories.

I’m still very concerned about the Indians pitching in the 4 and 5 slots. And I hope Carlos Carrasco can rebound from the terrible line drive to the jaw against the White Sox. He and Corey Kluber along with Trevor Bauer form a good trio. But then????

Jhoulys Chacin signed with the Indians. My contact with the Rockies told me he had lost two to three miles per hour off his fastball. Anything left in the tank?

Last I looked, Carlos Quentin is still out there looking for a job.

Mookie Betts is fantastic. Another of the great young stars we are getting to watch. He can do it all.

OK-that’s it for now. I’m done.

And thank you for reading my work on MLBPipeline.com and for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.

Nibbles Before The Main Course

Tonight. It’s here. This is like New Year’s Day. The long wait is over. The fantastic winter offseason is behind us. Spring Training was a time for several rookies to win jobs (see the Blue Jays for example) and for us to get bad news about more arm and elbow injuries. But we move forward now. Baseball has center stage. It all starts tonight.

I still have some crumbs on the table before the real main course. Follow me on twitter @BerniePleskoff this entire season for analysis and commentary.

I applaud the Diamondbacks for several very difficult decisions they made. I agree with each. First-they have sent Yasmany Tomas to the Minor Leagues for more seasoning. Expecting him to transition to a new country and a new position was asking a great deal. Giving him time to sort things out should help. And putting Nick Ahmed at short with Chris Owings at second makes all the sense in the world. I mentioned that several days ago as a possibility on my twitter account. And finally, inserting Archie Bradley in the rotation is a very sound move. I think he’s ready. He may be inconsistent-but most pitchers are.

The Dbacks also gave Trevor Cahill new life with the Braves. He could thrive there.
Now the Dbacks need to find a home for Aaron Hill. I suggest talking to the Angels or even the Nationals.

The Cubs Javier Baez is another player that should benefit by being sent down. He has to learn how to hit a cutter, a slider, a curve ball, a changeup and anything and everything that isn’t a fastball. I do not look for a quick return to the big league club for Baez. The team needs for him to get it right. Develop pitch recognition and plate discipline. I think that will take until deep into the second half, if then.

I think Carlos Rodon will be the key to the White Sox season. He adds needed length to their rotation. He’s that good. Look for him at a Cellular Field near you soon.

Why hasn’t anyone traded for the Blue Jays Dioner Navarro or the Cubs Wellington Castillo. And wouldn’t Wilin Rosario look good as the Indians designated hitter? The team really needs another right-handed bat. Or how about Carlos Quentin?

The Brewers are going to score a ton of runs. The pitching staff will yield a ton of runs. I watched three Brewers spring games last week and I was amazed at how loud those bats are. Especially Jonathan Lucroy and Ryan Braun.

We talk about great defensive shortstops a great deal. Perhaps the best is still the Braves Andrelton Simmons. The guy that doesn’t get enough love is the Marlins Adeiny Hechavarria. I love to watch him play. Just like I love watching Didi Gregorius and Nick Ahmed. We have some amazing defensive shortstops in baseball now.

I loved watching the Athletics ambidextrous Patrick Venditte pitch. I’m sorry he didn’t make the final cut. Imagine bringing a guy in from the bullpen that can throw from either hand. He’s a situational lefty/righty who can really pitch.

The Angels need a second baseman. Really, really need a second baseman.

There are some fantastic outfields in baseball. The Marlins (Yelich, Ozuna and Stanton) are fantastic. But Pittsburgh’s trio of Marte, McCutchen and Polanco are right up there. I’m looking for each of those three, including Polanco to have fantastic years.

The Cardinals Marco Gonzales will start the season in the Minors. But he could be in the rotation for lots and lots of clubs. I think we’ll see him before too long.

Speaking of rotations-I think the Astros will need Mark Appel by mid-season at the latest.

In case you missed, that’ll be Mike Pelfrey taking the rotation spot of Ervin Santana for say…. roughly 80 games.

Word from Lakeland is that Joe Nathan looked very good at the end of spring. That said, I’m asking my stock broker to buy shares for me in Joakim Soria.

Who’s the real Trevor Bauer? I’m just asking. I think the Indians will, too.

Why don’t the Royals get more love? This was a very good team last year. And they are another year advanced in their maturity. I like the progress made by Eric Hosmer. And I’m a huge Lorezo Cain fan. So what is it? It’s the rotation. But the rotation is on a par with other Central clubs. Or is it? So why did I pick them 4th? Maybe the rotation isn’t quite on par with Detroit, Chicago and Kansas City after all. But isn’t that what we said last year? They are under loved. They can play the game.

Tyson Ross will no longer be a secret after this season.

I’m beginning to allow a bit of doubt to creep into my mind about the Nationals. Injuries mean Michael Taylor, Yunel Escobar, Tyler Moore (no, not Mary Tyler Moore) and Danny Espinosa are in their starting lineup instead of Denard Span, Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth and even Nate McLouth. And…wait for it…Dan Uggla is on the bench. Talk me off the ledge here. What if they really, really scuffle until they get their regulars back. It’s an issue for me. They could lose ground quickly to teams like the Mets and Marlins. It’s a real concern.

OK-that’s enough nibbles for now.

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

That’s it. I’m done.

How I See The American League

It takes a great deal of skill mixed in with some good luck to win a division title. The competition in both leagues is stiff. Today I take a look at the American League and share my thoughts about the pennant races. Of course, one serious injury to a key player or a bad performance or two could certainly alter the playing field.

Last year’s record is in (). My prediction for this year follows immediately.

AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
Seattle Mariners (87-75) 90-72 Those that have followed me for a while know that I have been very bullish on the Mariners and Marlins for a few years now-saying that their times will soon be coming. I’ve liked what both teams have been building. I think the Mariners time has come. The additions of Nelson Cruz and Seth Smith help lengthen their lineup and provide the firepower that has been missing. I really like what I’ve seen of Taijuan Walker during Spring Training. I think the team is hungry, balanced and poised to win the west. But it won’t be easy.

Los Angeles Angels-(98-64) 89-73 I’m not saying the loss of Howie Kendrick will amount to a 9 game swing in their record, but the loss of Howie Kendrick will loom large IMO. They have a huge hole at second base. I’m also a bit skeptical of their rotation-and the lack of starting pitching depth. I like the bullpen. And of course I like Mike Trout and Albert Pujols. But I think the rotation and the bench may result in the losses piling up against the Mariners in head to head contests. And that’s how I think the division will be won by Seattle. I look for C J Cron and Kole Calhoun to shine. But it’s the pitching woes that concern me as well as games against Seattle.

Oakland Athletics-(88-74) 83-79 The injury bug bites again. And it’s Coco Crisp once again. He’s a guy they can’t afford to lose. But they have. Already shallow in the outfield, the loss of Crisp leaves a huge hole to fill. I like the pitching, but I think they are playing with an offensive water pistol as opposed to the cannons of the Mariners and Angels. They lost too much over the winter and even their pitching depth can’t help them overtake the clubs ahead of them.

Texas Rangers-(67-95) 78-84 Pitching, pitching, pitching. It just isn’t there. The loss of Yu Darvish is huge. There are just too many questions in the rotation. And in the pen. But. I really think Prince Fielder will rebound to have a very respectable year. The same goes for Shin-Soo Choo. So offensively, they will be a better club. They still have Adrian Beltre as well-albeit he’s another year older. I just don’t see the firepower being able to trump lousy pitching.

Houston Astros-(70-92) 73-89 Color me among the few that do not like the moves the Astros have made of late. Losing players like J. D. Martinez, Jarred Cosart and Mike Foltynewicz made me scratch my head at the time of each transaction. Yes, the bullpen is better with Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek, but I still see lots and lots of strikeouts (with men in scoring position) by the offense. And a mediocre rotation. And yes, the team will hit tons of home runs. That should be exciting. I just don’t see enough wins to overtake any other club in the division.

AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL (this division can be won by any of four teams IMO)
Detroit Tigers-(90-72) 87-75 The addition of Yoenis Cespedes is important because he adds another potent (albeit inconsistent) bat to a lineup that already includes J D Martines, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. They can be lethal. Losing Max Scherzer and having injury issues with Justin Verlander are reasons to believe the team may not be as strong as in the past. Can Anthony Gose hit during the regular season or will we see a platoon with Rajai Davis? There are some outs to be found in the lineup-and opposing pitchers will have to count on those to succeed. The Tigers are still strong. The bullpen is an issue for me. Especially at the back end. But they win.

Cleveland Indians- (85-77) 85-77 The potential of the starting rotation is excellent. Corey Kluber may regress a bit, but he’s still an awesome presence. I look for Carlos Carrasco to have learned well from watching Kluber. Breakout time for him. Beyond that, I have questions about Bauer, House and McAllister. They can be very good or very inconsistent. I have to admit though, I really like T J House. The offense? Here’s where I have some problems. Jason Kipnis? Will he come back? Michael Bourn? Will his hamstrings hold up? Lonnie Chisenhall? Can he hit for a full season? For me, Michael Brantley is an incredible five tool player. The best they have. They may contend, but they need much more offensive, defensive and hitting consistency.

Chicago White Sox-(73-89) 84-78 This is the most improved team in the division, if not the entire American League. Adding David Robertson as their closer is a huge step. Adam LaRoche adds another big bat to lengthen the lineup. Adam Eaton is underrated as a terrific table center and outstanding defensive center fielder. But here’s my issue-beyond Chris Sale, Jeff Samardzija and the very underrated Jose Quintana I think they are very vulnerable. If the division beats up on their No. 4 and No. 5 starters, it could have very negative consequences. Both the Tigers and Indians have longer and deeper rotations. It’s the only reason I don’t have them No. 1.

Kansas City Royals-(89-73) 84-78 This was a difficult call for me. Why the five game differential from last year? I think the loss of James Shields is huge. Not the Shields of the postseason. The Shields of the regular season. He was stable and relatively consistent. I have the same issues with the length and depth of the Royals rotation as I have with the White Sox. I think their pitching has been weakened and it will cost them games against division opponents. I do like the offense. Especially Lorenzo Cain. I look for a big comeback from Kendrys Morales. But I can’t get past the rotation. The bullpen, however, is among the best in baseball. They’ll have to be because they will be called on early and often. But the pen will respond to the task.

Minnesota Twins-(70-92) 75-87 The offense on this team is very underrated. I think they’ll score plenty of runs. That won’t be a problem. Pitching, however, will be. Both in the back end of the rotation and the bullpen. Can Phil Hughes repeat his fantastic season? I’m a bit skeptical. How much will Ervin Santana help? A lot. But which Ricky Nolasco will show up? I’m not at all a believer in the pitching. But the bats will play. And the Twins will put a hurt on at least one contender at the end of the season.

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST (this is my toughest division of any to predict)
Baltimore Orioles (96-66) 90-72 Yes, they lost Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. But they get Manny Machado back and Chris Davis for all but the first game of the season. Eventually, we’ll see Matt Wieters, I hope. But they still have the very reliable and dangerous Adam Jones. Steve Pearce remains an unknown to most. But he can hit. And I like the pitching. Especially Chris Tillman. I think they are deep enough in the rotation to hold off a charge by the Red Sox. But this is a very close call.

Boston Red Sox (71-91) 89-73 Do they have enough to make up all the ground from last to first? Hanley and Panda certainly help. But the real stud is Mookie Betts. I liked him when I saw him playing second base in the Fall League two years ago.
The team is an offensive juggernaut. The issues? Who is the real Clay Buchholz? Who is the real Justin Masterson? Can Wade Miley keep the ball inside the park? Will Koji Uehara return from his hamstring woes? Too many pitching issues for me to jump on board. But the offense just may beat the opposition into submission. It’s that good.

Toronto Blue Jays (83-79) 88-74 Six rookies have made the opening day roster. Yes, it’s a gamble. But it also means energy and excitement. Fans are going to love new second baseman Devon Travis. And of course, they added Josh Donaldson to go along with Bautista and Encarnacion. That’s some true power in the middle of the lineup. I like the pitching better than I like the Red Sox pitching. But I like the experience and depth of the Red Sox offense just a bit better. The Blue Jays will contend all season.

New York Yankees (84-78) 84-78 Wait until next year. I think the Yankees will have a field day with the free agent pitching coming on the market over the winter. Guys like David Price and Johnny Cueto. I think they bide their time this year and do the best they can with a chronologically advanced group of veterans. By next year we’ll likely see Gary Sanchez behind the plate and perhaps Greg Bird at first and Aaron Judge in the outfield. I look for a fantastic year from Michael Pineda but hiccups and heartaches from the rotation. C C will be so so. And will Masahiro Tanaka’s arm last the season. Lots of rotation issues. They’ll hit, but the starting pitching is suspect.

Tampa Bay Rays-(77-85) 75-87 We are seeing the transformation of a franchise in a short one or two year span. I really like the young pitchers on the staff. They have some depth and pitching can help win some games. I think the offense remains suspect. Steven Souza may struggle a bit at first, but I like his upside a great deal. Isn’t it time for Desmond Jennings to step up? I don’t see them being able to beat the other teams in the division with any consistency. The future looks brighter than the present.

I hope you will follow me on twitter @BerniePleskoff. And thank you for reading my prospect profiles at MLBPipeline.com. I wish you all a great baseball season. May your team bring you great joy and excitement. And don’t be upset with me if I had harsh words for your club. I just try to write what I see.

That’s it. I’m done.

How I See The National League

Pitching rules. Strikeouts are up. Team home run totals and batting averages are down. Defensive shifts matter. Bullpens are much, much better. The game has changed. And having said that, it seems many of the divisional races will be among the most exciting ever.

I begin my predictions with the National League. I did very well last year predicting the finishes in both leagues. I am not as confident this time around. Injuries are rampant and I think there are more to come. But here we go. Last year’s records are in ( ). My predicted record for this year follow last year’s.

NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
Los Angeles Dodgers (94-68) 90-72. I have some major concerns about the Dodgers pitching staff. Where has all the depth gone? Ryu is hurt and I think he’ll be out a while. I’m not sure the No. 4 and No. 5 starters (McCarthy, Anderson) are going to last the season. But I love Howie Kendrick and Jimmy Rollins up the middle. They both look fantastic this spring. Rollins has a new lease on life playing for a winner. I think Dodgers fans will like Joc Pederson in center. But I see some regression because of a mediocre bullpen and lack of starting depth. But they still win the west.

San Diego Padres- (77-85) 85-77 I agree that the outfield offense could be very exciting and that it will make a huge difference in the team’s ability to score runs. But what I like most about the Padres is the pitching. Shields, Ross, Cashner, Kennedy and Morrow is a pretty solid rotation. I think the bullpen could use another lefty. I really like Kevin Quackenbush. I look for Will Middlebrooks to have a much improved year at the plate. They could exceed my expectations. Solid club with an open window.

San Francisco Giants-(88-74) 81-81 I realize the Giants are among the best at regrouping after encountering hiccups. But they have too many holes for my tastes. Things will improve a bit when Hunter Pence gets back, but I wouldn’t count on him being the same for a while after his return. The pitching staff is…chronologically advanced. No Pablo. Little outfield and pitching depth. Not this year for them.

Colorado Rockies-(66-96) 72-90 Do you realize the Rockies were 21-60 on the road last year? Yikes. So much for not being able to pitch in Coors. They weren’t able to pitch in Coors or anywhere else. I still like the offense. Rosario is no longer a catcher. And his playing time is diminished. He belongs in the AL as a DH. If Tulo and Cargo can stay healthy, they can win at least 6 more games. Maybe more. Tulo/Cargo are the keys.

Arizona Diamondbacks- (64-98) 65-97 I like the improvement of Josh Collmenter. He’s a quality pitcher. The rotation after him, ???. They have issues behind the plate, too. And they have issues with what to do with Yasmany Tomas. I think Mark Trumbo and Paul Goldschmidt will be a dynamic duo. I just can’t get past the rotation and the bullpen as concerns that will haunt the club the entire season.

NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
St. Louis Cardinals (90-72) 89-73 Still the team to beat in the Central IMO. I see them plodding along all season and then making a late move to win the division. They have solid, if not deep starting pitching. They beat teams with sound fundamentals. They play good, timely baseball. Kolten Wong continues to impress. Enough to win.

Pittsburgh Pirates (88-74) 88-74 I like the energy of this club. They have one of, if not the best outfields in baseball. The pitching is solid, if not deep-similar to St. Louis. I think they’ll lose the division by one slim game, but make the Wild Card. I look for a huge season from Starling Marte. The bullpen will save the bacon for this club.

Milwaukee Brewers (82=80) 82-80 Before they crashed and burned in the last month of the season, this was an outstanding club. Ryan Braun is healthy once again. Khris Davis is a true offensive sleeper, Jonathan Lucroy is a double’s machine (if his hamstrings hold up) Carlos Gomez is among the best in the game, Jean Segura rebounds after an unfortunate tragedy in his family, Adam Lind adds pop at first base, Aramis Ramirez says goodbye with some thunder…but they can’t pitch. And that’s the only reason I have them in 3rd place. The rotation and the pen scare me.

Chicago Cubs (73-89) 81-81 Not quite yet. But think of Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler in the same lineup. It’s exciting and impressive. I’m a huge, huge Soler fan. But they won’t be able to do it by themselves yet. The pitching is improved. The team is improved. But I think they need this year to blend together as a team. They have new pitchers, new position players and a new manager. It takes time. Next year I’ll be writing something totally different. But they’re on their way. I like this club. A lot.

Cincinnati Reds (76-86) 75-87 Depth, or lack of it is the issue for me. If any of their position players or pitchers get hurt or scuffle, I just don’t see guys waiting in the wings to take their place. The rotation is a concern. They should score runs, but they’ll be playing from behind a great deal. Votto, Phillips and Bruce have to rebound.

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Washington Nationals (96-66) 93-69 I’m not as bullish on the Nationals as I was at the beginning of Spring Training. The loss of Anthony Rendon for any amount of time hurts. Ditto for Denard Span. But man, can this team pitch. Every day the opposition will have to face a top quality starter from among Scherzer, Strasburg, Zimmerman, Gonzalez and Fister. And unlike most other teams, they have another stud waiting in the wings in Tanner Roark. This will be a tough team to score against. But the offense has to produce as well-stay healthy and produce. They can and they will.

New York Mets (79-83) 83-79 Slowly but surely, this club is coming together with pitching and hitting. Lucas Duda remains underrated as a power hitter. Juan Legares is a magician in center field. Michael Cuddyer lengthens the lineup and gives the pitcher another power bat to deal with. And the pitching is exciting with the return of Matt Harvey. He and Jacob deGrom are a formidable duo. It drops off from there. They’ll miss Zack Wheeler big time.

Miami Marlins (77-85) 81-81 They’re on their way. I love the balance on this club and the young players like Stanton and Yelich will form a tremendous nucleus for the future. If they had Jose Fernandez all year I’d pick them to threaten the Nationals and for sure, the Mets. But Fernandez will come back mid-season and add life to the rotation. Like the Cubs, this is a team that will get better and better. Just not quite enough this year.

Atlanta Braves (79-83) 70-92 I have no idea how they’ll score runs. They are building for the future and the pitching they’ve acquired will help them improve in years to come. By the time they are in their new park the pitching will be mature and ready to go. But the offense needs help. Freddie Freeman may not see many pitches to hit. My fear is that he’ll swing at lousy pitches in frustration. Not a good club this year.

Philadelphia Phillies (73-89) 68-94 I hope for their sake they haven’t waiting too long to trade Cole Hammels. Or Chase Utley. Or Ryan Howard. I don’t think Grady Sizemore, Jeff Francoeur, Jordan Danks or Aaron Harang are the answers to their problems. Actually, they could lose 100 games.

Next: The American League.

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

That’s it. I’m done.