Friday, March 26, 2010

MLB Preview #6
American League Central

Minnesota Twins

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Denard Span CF
Orlando Hudson 2B
Joe Mauer C
Justin Morneau 1B
Mike Cuddyer RF
Jim Thome DH/Delmon Young LF
Jason Kubel LF/DH
JJ Hardy SS
Nick Punto/Brendan Harris 3B

Scott Baker
Kevin Slowey
Carl Pavano
Nick Blackburn
Francisco Liriano
Brian Duensing

The Twins simultaneously upgraded at shortstop and center field by trading Carlos Gomez for JJ Hardy. Denard Span's defense is arguably on par with Gomez', plus Span has a much better bat. The Twins will need all the range Span can give them if he's going to be sharing an outfield with Kubel and Cuddyer. Presumably, we'll see the Kubel/Thome combination against righties, and Young/Kubel or Young/Thome against lefties. Despite all their moves, including the addition of an increasingly league-average Orlando Hudson, the Twinkies still have a hole at third base. Whether that's filled by no-longer-a-prospect Brendan Harris or the good glove/no hit Nick Punto will probably depend on the matchup.

Jose Morales will be Joe Mauer's injury insurance this year, while Matt Tolbert will be waiting to take innings from Harris, Punto, and the other infielders.

Minnesota's pitching rotation has always been full of young talent, and this year is no different. However, for those who didn't pay attention to baseball for the past few years, it may come as a surprise that Scott Baker is the staff ace and Francisco Liriano is fighting to even make it into the rotation. The addition and retention of Carl Pavano will help this club's playoff run. Notre Dame product Jeff Manship will also try to work his way into the mix after making his Major League debut last year.

The Twins may have lost Joe Nathan for the season, but the bullpen has always been the Future Closers of America club. Veteran Jon Rauch will step in for the time being, but Minnesota may still look for a trade. Rauch will be supported by Matt Guerrier, Pat Neshek, and Jesse Crain.

Cleveland Indians

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Asdrubal Cabrera SS
Grady Sizemore CF
Shin-Soo Choo RF
Russell Branyan 1B
Travis Hafner DH
Jhonny Peralta 3B
Matt LaPorta LF
Lou Marson C
Luis Valbuena 2B

Jake Westbrook
Fausto Carmona
Justin Masterson
Aaron Laffey
Mitch Talbot
David Huff

Even this optimistic Indians fan was surprised by CHONE's prediction of a second place finish for the Tribe. Still, they have the weapons to do it if everything comes together correctly. Shin-Soo Choo and Grady Sizemore are the stars, and the supporting cast is starting to come together nicely. Much was made of Sizemore's drop to the second spot in the lineup, but many projection systems say that's where a team's best hitter should hit. The decision will be much easier to swallow if Asdrubal Cabrera can again hit like he did last year. With Russell Branyan and Travis Hafner, the big issue as always will be health. Branyan has yet to play this spring, which could lead to Austin Kearns taking his spot on opening day. Meanwhile, Lou Marson will play the Josh Bard to Carlos Santana's Victor Martinez to start this season.

All signs point to the Indians keeping Michael Brantley in the minors to start the season, even with Branyan's injury. The idea is to delay Brantley's arbitration clock. It could mean that Trevor Crowe starts the season with the parent club, since he can back up all three outfield positions. Mike Redmond was added as a veteran presence not only for a young pitching staff, but also for a young catching unit. It looks like Redmond will be Fausto Carmona's personal catcher as the latter looks to get back on track. A number of players are fighting for the backup infield spot, including the infamous Andy Marte, new acquisition Anderson Hernandez, and non-roster invitee Mark Grudzielanek.

Only three spots are set in the starting rotation at this point. Jake Westbrook will pitch opening day, followed by Carmona, followed by Justin Masterson. The last two spots will go to two of Aaron Laffey, Mitch Talbot, and David Huff, with Talbot expected to win a place by default since he is out of options. But as on any rebuilding team, there will be plenty of pitchers earning starts on this team. Jeremy Sowers will fight injuries and ineffectiveness in what may be his last hurrah with the team, while Carlos Carrasco will try to prove he's had enough minor league seasoning to get the call.

Rumors that Kerry Wood would be traded to the Twins to replace Joe Nathan were quickly squashed when it was discovered that Wood himself would lose two months due to injuries. That just turns Chris Perez, Future Closer into Chris Perez, Current Closer. Perez will be aided by a number of pitchers looking to prove themselves after ineffective 2009 campaigns, including Joe Smith, Rafael Perez, and Jensen Lewis. Rule V pickup Hector Ambriz will also try to contribute from the pen.

Chicago White Sox

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Juan Pierre LF
Gordon Beckham 2B
Carlos Quentin RF
Paul Konerko 1B
Alex Rios CF
Andruw Jones DH
AJ Pierzynski C
Alexei Ramirez SS
Mark Teahen 3B

Mark Buehrle
Jake Peavy
Gavin Floyd
John Danks
Freddy Garcia
Dan Hudson

The White Sox started with a good concept: a young core of Beckham, Quentin, and Ramirez complemented by veterans Konerko and Pierzynski. But the additions of Juan Pierre, Andruw Jones, and Mark Teahen were questionable at best. (I'll let the reader decide where Alex Rios falls in this equation.)

Chicago's reputation as an aging team was reversed somewhat by the loss of Jim Thome and Jermaine Dye. However, all credit gained in those moves was lost in the acquisitions of Omar Vizquel, Mark Kotsay, and Ramon Castro to man the bench.

CHONE has four White Sox starters - Buehrle, Peavy, Floyd, and Danks - posting 3.5 WAR seasons. That depth is matched by few teams in this league, if any. The only question is the fifth spot, which will either go to journeyman Freddy Garcia or youngster Dan Hudson.

Since it became a regular division contender in the 2000s, Chicago has always had a steady bullpen. Former Seattle closer JJ Putz will now be setting up Bobby Jenks. The duo will be joined by Matt Thornton and Scott Linebrink.

Detroit Tigers

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Johnny Damon LF
Carlos Guillen DH
Magglio Ordonez RF
Miguel Cabrera 1B
Brandon Inge 3B
Gerald Laird C
Scott Sizemore 2B
Adam Everett SS
Austin Jackson CF

Justin Verlander
Rick Porcello
Jeremy Bonderman
Max Scherzer
Eddie Bonine
Nate Robertson
Dontrelle Willis

Are the Tigers rebuilding, or aren't they? By letting go of Curtis Granderson and Placido Polanco in favor of calling up Austin Jackson and Scott Sizemore (in addition to trading Edwin Jackson for Max Scherzer), it seems Detroit is favoring the future over the present. Why then sign Johnny Damon. Regardless of how you slice it, this is a batting order whose offense falls off sharply after the top five. Sure Detroit will have a solid defense with Laird, Everett, Inge, and now Damon, but will they hit well enough to match it?

On the bench, Ramon Santiago is back once again as the Tigers utility infielder. Clete Thomas and Ryan Raburn will fight for a backup role in the outfield, although both could see decent playing time if age catches up to Ordonez and Damon, or lack of experience catches up to Jackson.

There's Verlander, and then there's everyone else. Handing Rick Porcello the second spot in the rotation is risky, especially since the 21-year-old is due for some regression after an impressive 2009. Jeremy Bonderman and Max Scherzer have locked up rotation spots, although there's some question as to whether the latter is ready yet to be a starter. The fifth spot is still open, although recent indications give the job to Nate Robertson over Bonine or Willis.

The Tigers went outside of the organization to pick up closer Jose Valverde. He'll be set up by Joel Zumaya, Bobby Seay, Zach Miner, and former Yankee Phil Coke. Daniel Schlereth, a top prospect and son of the ESPN football commentator, will also try to win a spot in the bullpen.

Kansas City Royals

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Scott Podsednik LF
David DeJesus RF
Rick Ankiel CF
Jose Guillen DH
Billy Butler 1B
Alberto Callaspo/Chris Getz 2B
Alex Gordon 3B
Jason Kendall C
Yuniesky Betancourt SS

Zack Greinke
Gil Meche
Luke Hochevar
Kyle Davies
Brian Bannister
Robinson Tejada

The Royals claim to preach getting on base. But then they surround their homegrown talent with signings like Scott Podsednik, Jason Kendall, and Yuneski Betancourt. Even Rick Ankiel isn't the hitter he once was. Go figure, then, that David DeJesus, Billy Butler, and Alex Gordon are the only players CHONE predicts to play above replacent level this year.

As with most mediocre teams, the Royals have a number of so-so players fighting it out for bench spots. Mike Aviles, Mitch Maier, super-utilityman Willie Bloomquist, and White Sox castoffs Josh Fields and Brian Anderson all look to make the club this year.

In 2009, Zack Greinke had a legitimate argument for league MVP. This year, he'll look to make another run at the trophy that has traditionally gone to position players. Supporting him are decent starters in Meche, Hochevar, and Bannister, and passible candidates in Davies and Tejada.

Rule V pickup Joakim Soria surpassed everyone's expectations. But for every Soria there are dozens of Kyle Farnsworths, Juan Cruzes, and Anthony Lerews - players moved to relief because they could never live up to the hype.

Friday, March 19, 2010

MLB Preview #5
National League Central

St. Louis Cardinals

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Skip Schumaker 2B
Colby Rasmus CF
Albert Pujols 1B
Matt Holliday LF
Ryan Ludwick RF
Yadier Molina C
David Freese 3B
Brendan Ryan SS

Adam Wainwright
Chris Carpenter
Kyle Lohse
Brad Penny
Kyle McClellan

One all world player (Pujols), one All Star (Holliday), one above average hitter (Ludwick), and average production from the rest of the lineup. That's the recipe for a division championship.

Predictably, Tony Larussa has stocked his bench with veterans, in this case Jason LaRue at catcher and Felipe Lopez and Julio Lugo in the infield. There's not much depth in the outfield, although presumably Skip Schumaker can move back there while Lopez or Lugo mans the keystone sack. Lopez and Lugo can become key pieces of this team, with the relative inexperience of all Cardinals infielders not named Albert Pujols. Also of note is that did include Mark McGwire in their prognostication. The 46-year-old "DH" is predicted to have 20 home runs and 155 strike outs in 300+ at bats.

The St. Louis rotation mirrors its lineup in that there are a few stars (2009 Cy Young contenders Wainwright and Carpenter) with average to above average support.

Closer Ryan Franklin may not repeat the breakout success. But if there's one place this club has outstanding depth, it's in the bullpen. (Remember that this club could afford to trade two future closers for half a season's worth of Mark DeRosa.) Franklin will be aided by Jason Motte, Dennys Reyes, and whichever young arms fail to capture the last spot in the rotation.

Milwaukee Brewers

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Rickie Weeks 2B
Corey Hart RF
Ryan Braun LF
Prince Fielder 1B
Casey McGehee 3B
Greg Zaun C
Carlos Gomez CF
Alcides Escobar SS

Yovani Gallardo
Randy Wolf
Doug Davis
Jeff Suppan
Manny Parra
David Bush

By trading JJ Hardy for Carlos Gomez, the Brewers essentially gave away one good bat for two good gloves. In getting Gomez, the Brewers got a player whose defense is comparable to the man he replaces, Mike Cameron. However, Gomez' bat still needs his work. (Based on current skill, the Twins were wise to give him up and keep Denard Span.) But by getting rid of Hardy, Milwaukee was also able to move Alcides Escobar's glove into the starting lineup. Now they must hope that Corey Hart, Ryan Braun, and Prince Fielder (and eventually Mat Gamel, when he replaces McGehee) can hit enough to balance the offense and defense.

The Brewers bench features three of my personal cheeseballs, infielders Craig Counsell and Joe Inglett, and outfielder Jody Gerut.

In the starting rotation, rising star Yovani Gallardo will be supported by a number of National League veterans. As always, the Brewers may need to add another starting pitcher or two if they want to make the playoffs.

The Brewers bullpen is a good mix of young and veteran talent. Trevor Hoffman is back as the team's closer, supported by LaTroy Hawkins, Claudio Vargas, Carlos Villanueva, and David Riske. Also looking to make the team after a cup of coffee last year is John Axford. Axford started his college career at Notre Dame before graduating from Canisius. (Man does this club like to stock up on former Irish, Indians, and Twins players or what?)

Chicago Cubs

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Alfonso Soriano LF
Ryan Theriot SS
Derrek Lee 1B
Aramis Ramirez 3B
Geovany Soto C
Marlon Byrd CF
Kosuke Fukudome RF
Mike Fontenot 2B

Carlos Zambrano
Ted Lilly
Ryan Dempster
Randy Wells
Tom Gorzelanny
Jeff Samardzija
Carlos Silva

Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, and Geovany Soto are a good core to build around, but the rest of the pieces just aren't there. Marlon Byrd was a solid pickup, but he's no Matt Holliday. How long can the Cubs wait before they blow things up and start again with Starlin Castro and his contemporaries?

Like Byrd, Xavier Nady was a solid outfield pickup, and he'll likely platoon with Fukudome in the outfield. Returning for the Cubbies are Koyie Hill, Micah Hoffpauir, Jeff Baker, and Andres Blanco.

Chicago's rotation is in very good shape, at least, headlined by Zambrano, Lilly, and Dempster. Wells and Gorzelanny were two more good acquisitions, the latter yet another Pirates pitcher who struggled as a erstwhile ace but who should do quite well in the back of the rotation where he belongs. Jeff Samardzija does have a chance at a rotation spot at some point this season, but if he loses out to Carlos Silva at this point, The Shark should probably consider a return to the gridiron.

Carlos Marmol has settled in as the Cubs closer, despite lingering questions about his control. Marmol will be aided by John Grabow, Sean Marshall, Justin Berg, and whichever starters listed above do not make the rotation.

Cincinnati Reds

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Drew Stubbs CF
Orlando Cabrera SS
Joey Votto 1B
Brandon Phillips 2B
Scott Rolen 3B
Jay Bruce RF
Chris Dickerson/Jonny Gomes LF
Ramon Hernandez C

Aaron Harang
Bronson Arroyo
Johnny Cueto
Homer Bailey
Aroldis Chapman
Justin Lehr
Matt Maloney
Edinson Volquez

Cincinnati made some "win now" moves in acquiring Orlando Cabrera and Scott Rolen, despite the fact that they weren't that close to being contenders before the moves were made. Regardless, the Reds have managed to upgrade both their offense and defense in the process. The Reds defense was also improved by naming Drew Stubbs the starting center fielder. Not only is Stubbs a stud center fielder, but he also assures that Jay Bruce stays in right field, where he will be more of a defensive asset. In left, Cincinnati can play Chris Dickerson for defense and Jonny Gomes for offense when need be. Oh, and speaking of studs, Joey Votto is a machine at the plate.

Veteran Aaron Miles will be the utility infielder, although expect to see some time from Paul Janish as well. After a brief but impressive stint at shortstop in 2009, Janish expected to have the starting job locked up this year - until the Reds acquired Cabrera. So Janish may be playing with something to prove. Also playing with something to prove are Wladimir Balentien and Laynce Nix, who are fighting for the fourth outfielder spot. Balentien is no longer a top prospect, and now he must prove that he's not Cincinnati's next Wily Mo Pena.

Cincinnati's pitching rotation may not have any great starters, but it does have quite a few very good ones. The team will receive a much-needed shot in the arm when Edinson Volquez returns from his injury and Aroldis Chapman is ready for the majors. Until then, Huron High School product Matt Maloney will fight for one of the last rotation spots.

In the bullpen, Francisco Cordero will be supported by veterans Mike Lincoln and Arthur Rhodes, and hitting sensation Micah Owings.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Andrew McCutchen CF
Akinori Iwamura 2B
Garret Jones RF
Jeff Clement 1B
Ryan Doumit C
Andy LaRoche 3B
Lastings Milledge LF
Ronny Cedeno SS

Paul Maholm
Zach Duke
Russ Ohlendorf
Charlie Morton
Kevin Hart

It will be a long, slow, process rebuilding the Pirates, but things are starting to move in the right direction. The additions made in the past few months - Iwamura, Clement, Milledge, Cedeno - were minor but positive. That wasn't always a given for the Pirates in the past. The biggest move may have been to name Andrew McCutchen a starter; the center fielder is due for a breakout this year.

The bench is made of young-ish veterans who struggled as starters, but who should do just fine in replacement roles. That list includes Brandon Moss and Ryan Church in the outfield and Bobby Crosby in the infield. Of course, the interesting thing will be to see how long the Pirates can keep top prospects Jose Tabata and Pedro Alvarez off the field.

As mentioned above, the Pirates rotation is normally staffed with players more comfortable as fourth or fifth starters. But players like Paul Maholm and Charlie Morton will try to be the exception to the rule this year.

Like his mentor Mark Shapiro, it appears that Pirates GM Neal Huntington isn't quite sure how to put together a bullpen. Instead of relying on the arms already in the system, Huntington went out to acquire Octavio Dotel, Joel Hanrahan, DJ Carrasco, and Frontier League veteran Brendan Donnelly.

Houston Astros

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Michael Bourn CF
Kaz Matsui 2B
Lance Berkman 1B
Carlos Lee LF
Hunter Pence RF
Pedro Feliz 3B
JR Towles C
Tommy Manzella SS

Roy Oswalt
Wandy Rodriguez
Bud Norris
Brett Myers
Felipe Paulino
Brian Moehler

Call the Astros the "Cardinals Lite." Like St. Louis, Houston is a team based on a few stars surrounded by role players, as opposed to a balanced set. But Houston's stars and role players just don't match up with the Cards'. Adding someone just because they were a World Champion (Feliz) doesn't help when he was one of the weaker starters. The position to watch here is the starting catcher spot. Will it go to JR Towles, the top prospect from a few years ago, or Juan Castro, the top prospect of the future?

Coming off the bench to man all three outfield spots will be Jason Michaels. On the infield, Geoff Blum and Jeff Keppinger will fight over playing time and the correct spelling of their first name. Keppinger can see increased playing time in the middle of the diamond if either Manzella or Matsui falter.

At least the Astros have two legit aces to ride in Oswalt and Rodriguez. But whose idea was it to put Randy Wells, Randy Wolf, and Brett Myers in the same division? For whatever reason, I always get those three guys confused.

Complementing the Oswalt-Rodriguez one-two punch is the one-two bullpen punch of closers Brandon Lyon and Matt Lindstrom.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Laetare Sunday

For the fourth straight year, Kanka's Sports Page is proud to announce the recipient of the KankaNation Laetare Medal. The KankaNation Laetare goes to the KankaManiac "whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of Kanka's Sports Page and enriched the heritage of humanity."

This year, the award goes to...

Pete, for a number of reasons, but I'll save most of those for the Fifer he'll be getting later this year. Speaking of bachelor parties, though, the main reason Pete wins the Laetare is because he served as designated puker for the above three grooms-to-be this past year. That man does love his scotch, even if his stomach doesn't.

Friday, March 12, 2010

MLB Preview #4
American League East

New York Yankees

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Derek Jeter SS
Curtis Granderson CF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Nick Johnson DH
Jorge Posada C
Robinson Cano 2B
Nick Swisher RF
Randy Winn/Brett Gardner LF

CC Sabathia
AJ Burnett
Javier Vazquez
Andy Pettitte
Phil Hughes

This is what luxury can afford you: a team that can outhit the disadvantages of batting Nick Johnson too high in the lineup and Nick Swisher too low, or putting Curtis Granderson in center instead of Brett Gardner, or playing Randy Winn over Gardner, or any other perceived slights this starting lineup has.

As has been the issue for several years now, the Yankees do not have much depth among their position players. This could be a major issue considering the injury history of Nick Johnson and the age of Jeter, Rodriguez, Posada, and Winn. Francisco Cervelli is back as the second-string catcher, but he's only keeping the position warm for Jesus Montero... assuming the later can stick behind the plate, which would come as a surprise to many scouts. Also expected to win bench roles are infielder Ramiro Pena and outfielder Greg Golson.

A great rotation only got better with the addition of Javier Vazquez, whose sabermetric stats made him a Cy Young contender in 2009. Of course, Vazquez struggled in his first stint in the Bronx, so only time will tell how he fares in his second.

A return to the bullpen for Joba Chamberlain should help shore up a somewhat shaky relief corps and help bridge the gap to the ageless Mariano Rivera.

Boston Red Sox

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Jacoby Ellsbury LF
Dustin Pedroia 2B
Victor Martinez C
Kevin Youkilis 1B
David Ortiz DH
Adrian Beltre 3B
JD Drew RF
Mike Cameron CF
Marco Scutaro SS

Josh Beckett
Jon Lester
John Lackey
Daisuke Matsuzaka
Clay Buchholz
Tim Wakefield

Now this is a batting order. Sure, Beltre, Drew, and Cameron will probably draw ire in New England for a perceived lack of production. But sane fans will recognize their value, especially coming out of the bottom of the lineup. Yes, Marco Scutaro will regress, but he will still be a useful hitter. Conversely, don't be surprised if David Ortiz regresses in a positive direction.

Mike Lowell, Jed Lowrie, and Bill Hall will fight for spots as backup infielders, while Jason Varitek will once again don the tools of ignorance. (Hey, someone has to catch Tim Wakefield). In the outfield, former Marlins starter Jeremy Hermida will look to take a backup role. Hermida could see increased playing time if Cameron gets hurt, when Drew gets hurt, or if Ellsbury gets traded.

The Red Sox have been exceptionally deep at starting pitching recently, and this year is no different. Like their division rivals, Boston also managed to shore up the middle of their rotation with another team's ace. For the Sox, it's former workhorse John Lackey.

Jonathan Papelbon may no longer be unhittable, but he's still one of the best closers in the game. Boston's pitching depth also extends to the bullpen, which again features Hideki Okajima, Manny Delcarmen, Ramon Ramirez, and Daniel Bard.

Tampa Bay Rays

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

BJ Upton CF
Carl Crawford LF
Evan Longoria 3B
Carlos Pena 1B
Pat Burrell DH
Ben Zobrist 2B
Matt Joyce RF
Dioner Navarro C
Jason Bartlett SS

Jamie Shields
Matt Garza
Jeff Niemman
David Price
Wade Davis

As most Tampa Bay fans will tell you, this is a team would definitely win any of the other five divisions in baseball. Still, it's nothing to be ashamed of. BJ Upton and Pat Burrell are due for bounceback years, and that will certainly help offset any regression Ben Zobrist (and Carlos Pena) have. Matt Joyce should finally start to show that the Rays got the better end of the Edwin Jackson trade from two years ago.

Tampa Bay's big offseason acquisition was Kelly Shoppach. Shoppach, a streaky hitter in his own right, will backup the equally streaky Dioner Navarro. Basically, they're each other's insurance. Willy Aybar will serve as the utility infielder, while Gabe Kapler will return to that same role in the outfield. Meanwhile, shortstop Reid Brignac and center fielder Desmond Jennings are each only a trade away from being able to showcase their tools in the majors.

The Rays have relied on a dearth of starting pitchers to restock other positions via trades. One can only wonder if that surplus is close to running out, though. Fortunately, Tampa Bay has seemed to settle on a rotation it can trust in Shields, Garza, Niemman, Price, and Davis.

Rafael Soriano has been added as the Rays closer, which helps the former closers-by-committee settle into more traditional bullpen roles. Randy Choate, Grant Balfour, and Lance Cormier will be joined by former starter and Barberton native Andy Sonnanstine in relief.

Baltimore Orioles

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Brian Roberts2B
Adam Jones CF
Nick Markakis RF
Miguel Tejada 3B
Matt Wieters C
Luke Scott DH
Garrett Atkins 1B
Nolan Reimold LF
Cesar Izturis SS

Kevin Millwood
Jeremy Guthrie
Brian Matusz
Chris Tillman
Brad Bergesen
David Hernandez
Jason Berken

The Orioles hitters can go either way this year. It can be a great year if Brian Roberts returns from his injury. If Adam Jones and Nick Markakis continue their rise to startdom. If Miguel Tejada and Garrett Atkins can his like they did a few years ago. If Matt Wieters has already reached a level that matches his hype. But if even a few of those "ifs" falter, it could be another long summer in Baltimore.

On the bench, Robert Andino and the ageless Ty Wigginton will serve as backup infielders. Unless, of course, Indians castoff Michael Aubrey somehow beats out Wigginton (or even Atkins) this spring. In the outfield, Felix Pie is slated to back up all three positions. Of course, Wigginton and Luke Scott can still play out there as well.

Since trading Erik Bedard, this team has sorely lacked an ace. Kevin Millwood may not be an ace in the true sense, bu t he is a veteran presence and an innings-eater that will help this young staff, especially top prospects Matusz and Tillman.

After years of producing closers in the right field warehouse, the Orioles went out and bought an already-made model. Mike Gonzalez comes over from the Braves and will be helped by Cla Meredith and Koji Uehara.

Toronto Blue Jays

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Aaron Hill 2B
Alex Gonzalez SS
Adam Lind LF/DH
Vernon Wells CF
Lyle Overbay 1B
Travis Snider RF/LF
Edwin Encarnacion 3B
Randy Ruiz DH/Jose Bautista RF
John Buck C

Ricky Romero
Shaun Marcum
Brandon Morrow
Brett Cecil
Marc Rzepczynski
David Purcey
Dustin McGowan

Rebuilding the Blue Jays is a long, slow process, which makes the acquisitions of players like Alex Gonzalez, Edwin Encarnacion, and John Buck all the more confusing. The good news, if any, is that Travis Snider and Adam Lind should finally get as many at bats as possible.

The addition of Gonzalez means that once again John McDonald will be limited to a super utility role. Outfield playing time will be split among the names listed above, while Jose Molina will try to stick as the team's backup catcher. It will be interesting to see how soon Brett Wallace makes an appearance at the Rogers Centre. But what is more interesting is that the Blue Jays acquired Wallace in the first place. Sure he can hit, but he is a first base/DH type in an organization already overloaded at the position. On top of that, the Jays appear to be thin in the outfield, yet they traded Michael Taylor (acquired in the Halladay trade) to get Wallace.

Of course, the glaring loss of Roy Halladay hurts this rotation. But, this team is returning much of the same staff that was lights out in 2008, so perhaps not all hope is lost. Plus, they did acquire Kyle Drabek (after the Phillies reportedly wouldn't give him up for Cliff Lee) and Brandon Morrow.

In another interesting move, the Blue Jays went out and signed veteran closer Kevin Gregg. Gregg will be supported by the usual suspects in Toronto - Jason Frasor, Scott Downs, Brian Tallet, Shawn Camp, and Jeremy Accardo.

Friday, March 05, 2010

MLB Preview #3
National League East

Atlanta Braves

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Nate McClouth CF
Melky Cabrera LF
Martin Prado 2B
Chipper Jones 3B
Troy Glaus 1B
Brian McCann C
Yunel Escobar SS
Matt Diaz RF

Derek Lowe
Jair Jurrjens
Tommy Hanson
Tim Hudson
Kenshin Kawakami

The Braves may not have any Mark Teixeira-level superstars anymore. But what they do have is a lineup with above-average players at every single position. That's certainly nothing to be ashamed of, and it's part of the reason why CHONE has Atlanta unseating Philadelphia in the NL East. Everyone on the infield can flat-out rake the ball, and Escobar is one of the game's most underrated defenders at shortstop. The outfield isn't too bad either.

Speaking of the outfield, that's where the true depth on this team lies. Looking to make the roster are veteran Eric Hinske and a youth movement in Gregor Blanco and Jordan Schafer. Of course, none of those outfielders' jobs are safe once top prospect Jayson Heyward is ready for the bigs.

Or perhaps Atlanta's depth lies in its starting rotation. Who else can trade away a Cy Young Candidate in Javier Vazquez and still march out a starting rotation that's expected to be 12.6 wins above replacement? Jurrjens, Hanson, Schafer, and Heyward are the youth movement that will start the Braves next run of playoff appearances.

The only question on this team is the bullpen. Do closer Billy Wagner and setup man Takashi Saito have anything left in the tank? Can former starters Kris Medlen and Jo-Jo Reyes and a group of no-names bridge the gap between those talented starters and the veteran finishers?

Philadelphia Phillies

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Jimmy Rollins SS
Shane Victorino CF
Chase Utley 2B
Ryan Howard 1B
Jayson Werth RF
Raul Ibanez LF
Placido Polanco 3B
Carlos Ruiz C

Roy Halladay
Cole Hamels
Joe Blanton
JA Happ
Jamie Moyer
Antonio Bastardo
Kyle Kendrick

The Phillies lineup is in stark contrast with the Braves. Whereas Atlanta is a decent from top to bottom, Philadelphia features one superstar (Chase Utley), two stars (Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth), and a supporting cast of so-so players.

The Phillies bench features a number of National League veterans in Brian Schneider, Juan Castro, Greg Dobbs, and Ross Gload, as well as outfielders Ben Francisco and John Mayberry.

Of course, who needs a stacked batting lineup when you have Roy Halladay and a very good starting cast? The Phillies rotation may be a little top-heavy, but as soon as a fifth starter settles in, this team will be set.

Brad Lidge once again leads a bullpen that was disappointing at best in 2009. But all the regulars are back - Ryan Madson, JC Romero, Chad Durbin - with the addition of Danys Baez.

New York Mets

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Jose Reyes SS
Luis Castillo 2B
David Wright 3B
Carlos Beltran CF
Jason Bay LF
Daniel Murphy 1B
Jeff Francouer RF
Rod Barajas/Omir Santos C

Johan Santana
Mike Pelfrey
John Maine
Oliver Perez
Jon Niese
Fernando Nieve

The core of Jose Reyes, David Wright, and Carlos Beltran is still intact. But the supporting players aren't quite as good as they once were. Sure, Jason Bay can hit, but can he hit - and field - in a larger outfield? Will Daniel Murphy and Jeff Francouer finally blossom, or continue to struggle? Who is waiting in the wings to help?

The Mets bench features a laundry list of backup catchers, including Henry Blanco and Chris Coste. On the infield there's Alex Cora, Anderson Hernandez, and the ageless Fernando Tatis. New to the outfield is Gary Matthews, whose ego has lived up to his big contract (he wants to start and bat leadoff), but whose talent hasn't.

The rotation is a bright spot for the Mets, with Pelfrey, Maine, and Niese all on the right side of 30, and Santana due for a bounceback season. Playing in a pitcher's park doesn't hurt, either.

In the bullpen, Francisco Rodriguez is back and will be supported by veterans Kelvim Escobar, Pedro Feliciano, and Nelson Figueroa.

Florida Marlins

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Chris Coghlan LF
Cameron Maybin CF
Hanley Ramirez SS
Jorge Cantu 3B
Dan Uggla 2B
Gaby Sanchez 1B
Cody Ross RF
John Baker C

Josh Johnson
Ricky Nolasco
Anibal Sanchez
Sean West
Chris Volstad
Rick VandenHurk
Andrew Miller

Hanlery Ramirez is still a star, and his glove is respectable enough to keep him at short. Dan Uggla is a proven commodity. Chris Coghlan is a rising start with the bat, and now he only needs to find a position. In Cameron Maybin, the Miguel Cabrera trade is finally starting to pay off. Maybin was always a plus defender, and now his bat is starting to come around as well.

Supersubs Emilio Bonifacio and Wes Helms highlight a bench that sees catcher Ronny Paulino settle into a backup role.

Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco broke out last year, but they'll need help this year. What the Florida rotation lacks in quality, it makes up for in quantity. It may be a case of riding the hot hands, as they did quite successfully last year.

Leo Nunez enters his second season as the Marlins closer. He'll be joined in the bullpen by Dan Meyer, Burke Badenhop, Hayden Penn, and Taylor Tankersly - four prospects whose careers plateaued after promising starts.

Washington Nationals

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Christian Guzman SS
Ivan Rodriguez C
Ryan Zimmerman 3B
Adam Dunn 1B
Elijah Dukes RF
Josh Willingham LF
Adam Kennedy 2B
Nyjer Morgan CF

Jason Marquis
John Lannan
Scott Olsen
Garrett Mock
Craig Stammen
JD Martin

Slowly but surely, the Nats are improving. The main problem with their lineup is that they have a number of guys (Guzman, Rodriguez, Kennedy, and Morgan) who could bat in the one and two spots, but probably shouldn't. It will be interesting to see how that shakes down. Morgan's speed helps make him a great defensive player, but it doesn't make him a leadoff hitter. Guzman, Rodriguez, and Kennedy may be known for their contact skills, but don't undervalue the ability to actually get on base. The middle of the lineup shouldn't have any issues, though. Zimmerman and Dunn will continue to hit well. Dukes and Willingham have enjoyed the change of scenery so far, and they both should continue to improve.

The Washington bench features catchers Wil Nieves and Jesus Flores, former Seattle prospect Mike Morse, and ageless utilityman Willie Harris. Top position prospect Ian Desmon will try to break camp in a utility role after an impressive 2009 debut.

Like the Marlins, the Nationals rotation is one of quantity over quality. When Chien-Ming Wang, Jordann Zimmermann, and Stephen Strasburg are ready to join the discussion, that will certainly help Washington's case.

Matt Capps has made a career out of closing for bad teams. He'll be aided by the likes of former Yankees Brian Bruney and Tyler Clippard.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The Notre Dame Fan's Book of Life Lessons

Just received this press release about a new (and apparently self-published) ND book. Check it out.

In his new book, P.J. Whitfield, a South Bend native and now a journalist in Los Angeles, captures the magic and life lessons of Notre Dame football. On each page, "The Notre Dame Fan's Book of Life Lessons" zeroes in on one moment in Irish football history. Whitfield's original statistical research leads to fresh insights. This little book tackles some big and little issues:

What Brian Kelly brings to Notre Dame that only Frank Leahy surpassed.
The Notre Dame coach who faced top-20 teams more often than any other Fighting Irish coach.
The team that almost lost to the Old Timers in the spring exhibition, then made a run at perfection.
The N.D. player who stood up to a racist and won.
The small kid a newspaper said would "get killed at Notre Dame" but he proved otherwise.
Five vital keys to every N.D. national championship.

Whitfield grew up in South Bend, Indiana. As a kid, he bummed tickets to see N.D. games. His previous work includes, "The White Sox Fan's Little Book of Wisdom." That book was published in November 2004, just before the ChiSox won it all. May he bring as much luck to the Irish.

"The Notre Dame Fan's Book of Life Lessons" will be available at in six to eight weeks. It currently can be ordered direct from