The Tortoise and LaHair

On a stormy June 2002 night  in New York the names were announced in 5 minute intervals. After 38 completed rounds of 30 and 1179 picks, and exactly 10 years from the Transit of Venus, Bryan LaHair‘s name is called for the Seattle Mariners. A Right Fielder out of St. Petersburg College, LaHair was taken after such studs as: John Mayberry (1st), Randall Frye (3rd), Eric Blakley (21st), Vance Hall (21st) and Deandre Green (38th). Bryan’s below average minor league career led to his release from the Mariners in 2009. The Cubs signed him two months later. It was at this point when LaHair realized that slow and steady wasn’t going to win this.

The next season Bryan turned it on. He hit 25 home runs and batted .308. Last season (2011) in Iowa LaHair batted .331 and hit 38 home runs.  He spent a little time in the majors that year playing 20 games hitting .280 with 2 home runs. His strong showing in Iowa and a solid spring in 2012 led to the veteran farm hand breaking with Chicago.

[Other notable 39th Round Legends:

  1. Eric Decker (drafted by the Brewers & never signed, drafted again the next season earlier…now catches passes from Peyton Manning. 
  2. Daniel Desouza (he’s the guy the Cubs took in the same draft before LaHair
  3. Luke Hochevar (2002 by the Dodgers)
  4. Kenny Rogers (1982 by the Rangers) Also, the other Kenny Rogers starred in the classic film “Six Pack” and released #1 on everyone’s playlist, “Love Will Turn You Around,” in 1982.  

This season Bryan LaHair has been one of the few positive things to come out of the North Side. At the time this is written, he is hitting .310 with 12 Home runs, 25 RBI while sporting an OBP of .391 and a SLG of .589. It would be natural to say that he is finally living up to his projections…but let’s be real. A 39th round pick had no projections or expectations really at any point in his career. This is a Disney-esk movie scenario about a man who never gave up and kept digging until he got his chance in the big leagues.

The real question here is, if you are Theo Epstein what do you do with LaHair?

Here’s Theo’s conundrum:

A) Anthony Rizzo- …is waiting in the shadows…not unlike Darkwing Duck. I think we can all agree that Bryan LaHair wasn’t supposed to be doing this well. He was supposed to carry his Spring Training momentum through the first quarter of the season to keep the seat warm for Anthony Rizzo. A player Theo drafted and considered a top prospect when he was in Boston, so much that he was a part of the deal that sent Adrian Gonzalez to Boston..oh by the way the guy that brokered that deal on the San Diego Padres side is now also with the Cubs.

II) LaHair has a limited sample size (as I have driven into the ground earlier). Do you trade high?

3) Or, do you hang on hoping he’s a late bloomer and build with him and Rizzo? This would mean that LaHair would need to move to another position. Probably Right Field since that’s his secondary comfort food.

Standing in Bryan’s way in Right Field is the juggernaut that is David DeJesus. Those are pretty big shoes to fill. I mean, DeJesus was the AL “Player of the Week” in 2005 once. AND, he has Jesus in his name. That alone puts him in the Tim Tebow realm.

Obviously, Right Field wouldn’t be an issue. Where this discussion gets interesting is with Bryan’s contract situation. LaHair is locked up until 2018 and isn’t arbitration eligible until 2015. He is making $482,500 this season. As a benchmark, Alfonso Soriano is making $18,000,000 this year, Geovany Soto is making $4.5 million this year, Ian Stewart is making $2.2 million, DeJesus is making $4.25. My point is that he makes less than anyone else on the starting lineup.

This makes these sell high option much more enticing. Especially since the Chicago Cubs will not be buyers at the deadline, they will most certainly be sellers.

If it were me (which means this statement will assuredly be wrong) I see what I can get for Bryan LaHair on the market. The Cubs need to be rebuilt. So, they need to replenish the farm system.  Package LaHair in a deal with one of the ridiculous contracts to a contender and reload the prospects. This isn’t because I don’t believe that LaHair cannot maintain his major league productivity, I just don’t think he’ll be able to maintain it long enough (as is years) to be a part of the reconstruction process for the Chicago Cubs.

“Well then who gets him?”

  • How about Miami? Gaby Sanchez isn’t having a great season and unless he turns it around the Marlins could need a First Baseman.
  • Texas Rangers? Mitch Moreland is inconsistent and streaky. Also, I’m sure they would love to get Soriano back….right?
  • Los Angeles Dodgers? I mean… no one trusts James Loney.
  • St. Louis Cardinals? If Berkman doesn’t make it back and they are in contention they could look to make a move. But, would Theo deal to the hated Cardinals? For one of their pitching prospects I bet he would.
My money is on Texas and Nolan Ryan. For the record, I was also pretty confident they would sign Prince Fielder too. So, obviously I have as much inside information as my dog. Until the trading frenzy starts Cubs fans, keep doing it Old Style.

Crying into the Homer Hanky

Mike Stobe/ Getty Images

For the better part of a decade the Minnesota Twins were the model small market team. In the playoffs 6 out of the 11 years. Success achieved through the draft and minor league development. Not sweating when a prized player leaves for a bigger contract because “there’s plenty more where he came from.” It appears now that the talent well of ready now players is running dry.

Help could be on the way. Due to having the 2nd worst record in MLB last season, the Twins get the 2nd overall pick in the 2012 draft. Additionally they get 2 supplemental picks (32, 42). This is the 2nd straight year that  the descendants of Brandon and Brenda Walsh get 3 picks in the 1st round.

This draft position puts Minnesota in line to get either Mark Appel (RHP out of Stanford), Byron Buxton (OF- High School) whom are the top to projected picks. It seems to me that pitching is a little more essential at this juncture of the franchise, so if I were paid a ridiculous amount of money to be their GM and Appel was drafted by the Astros, I would strongly consider taking Kevin Gausman (RHP out of LSU). He is projected as the 4th best player on the board with an explosive fastball that has room to get faster.

If they decide to go Buxton at #2 then at #32 Walker Weickel (RHP- High School) needs a strong look. Mid-90′s fastball, 12-6 curve that can be thrown on both sides of the plate and a deceptive change-up.

At #42 Nolan Sanburn seems to be the best option for them if he’s still around. Strong, smack you in the mouth 2 pitch arsenal with a Closer’s disposition.  His upper 90′s fastball and a knee-buckling slurve will make Twins fan forget Matt Capps ever played and that Joe Nathan wasn’t offered a new contract.

“Nothin’ but money. I got plenty of nothin’, and you’ve got plenty of money. “- Rochester Van Jones (The Jack Benny Show

The river of talent that flowed through Rochester has turned into a storm drain. The best prospects on the horizon are all position players. They may have a positive impact, but rebuilding is still imminent.  If Joe Mauer can stay healthy, Miguel Sano and Aaron Hicks will complement the middle of the order nicely.

Sano is a natural SS converting to 3B, ranked the 20th overall on the top prospect list.  Big power potential and a strong arm and glove. He will help solve the revolving door at the hot corner, but not anytime soon. He’s still in A- Beloit working out his plate discipline issues. Unless he takes significant strides this season and next spring, don’t expect him to get the call until 2014.

Aaron Hicks is a switch hitting 5-tool outfielder currently serving time in AA- New Britain. It’s hard to avoid Tori Hunter comparisons with his speed and power potential. Consistency seems to plaguing Hicks. Luckily for him the Twins have a history of patiently developing outfielders. Much like Sano don’t expect to see Aaron in the majors until 2014.

The dark horse in the Twins development system is Max Kepler (OF -Germany), still very raw 19 years old with no real baseline. Positive scouting report on instincts and other natural ability indicate that with the right development he could emerge as a great center fielder. He was signed at 17 at received the largest signing bonus for any European position player in league history ($800,000).  So some scout some where felt strongly enough about Kepler’s ability that they were able to convince their front office to pony up $800,000 to a 17 year old dancer from Germany.  He is 6’4 and should develop some power… and some would be better than the none he is showing currently. Although, he could turn into a Ryan Sweeney and just hit doubles every at bat.

The best pitching prospects are Kyle Gibson and Liam Hendriks (Hendriks is currently on the 40-man but not active). Neither of these pitchers are projected to have “ace” material, and are considered “middle of the rotation” guys. Hence the need to focus on pitching in the upcoming draft. Minnesota seems to have a surplus of “middle of the rotation guys.”  Well, except Jason Marquis, he’s a “shouldn’t be in the rotation” guy. And, Francisco Liriano is a “paid to be in the top of the rotation….but really belong in the middle guy.”

With the emergence of home-grown teams all around Major League Baseball from Tampa and Cincinnati to the core of the Washington Nationals and soon to be (if not now) the Baltimore Orioles; the Minnesota Twins were the model of small market success.  The Twins showed from year to year that even when big names left, there was another waiting for their turn. I don’t think that this ideology has been lost or buried by a new ballpark and big contracts. The downturn could be chalked up to bad luck. But, really the player development department needs to be reevaluated. With 2 years of top picks currently in the system this team should be able to return to form and fill in the holes.

Now what do you do to stop the sinking until then?

Sources:

http://www.mlb.com/mlb/prospects/watch/y2012/#list=draft

http://www.milb.com

http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/MIN/2012.shtml

http://www.scoutingbook.com/blog/min-minnesota-twins-top-prospects-2012

Fake to 3rd, Throw to…..the Replay Booth.

Photo from AP. Found on DayLife.com.

I have an idea. Instead of focusing attention on real problems within a baseball game, why don’t we work on making insignificant strategy illegal?

As most (probably all) of you know, there has been talk of outlawing a pitcher from faking a throw to 3rd and then throwing to 1st. This is dumb. There is no need in addressing this. It rarely works…so why address it? Who cares if a right-handed pitcher tries it? I guess the left-handed pitchers do. So maybe this is an “equal opportunity” move from MLB to even out the rights of lefties and righties. Obviously, the ACLU must have gotten involved.

Now, I’m not a baseball purist…by any stretch of the imagination. I firmly believe that in order to stay relevant, you must evolve to some degree. Maintain the basic principles of the game respect the history and legend, but stay current. Changing this rule doesn’t bring you into the 21st century. I liken this to when your work changes a policy for no good reason other than to change something because nothing has been changed in a while.

With the exception of gameplay policy, MLB has done a good job at adapting with the time. Their social networking and digital media strategy was/is further along than any other professional sport. The FanCave is a great engagement tool as is their Twitter and Facebook integration overall! MLB.tv and the AtBat app were ahead of their time as well. No one can say Major League Baseball hasn’t worked hard at trying to reach a younger generation.

If anything needs to be addressed and changed, it’s the highly debated replay situation. If you really want to cut down on “deceptive tricks” a player may have in their arsenal, then an officiating staff should have the ability to take a second look and penalize accordingly. If there is no room for doubt, no gray area, then players will be less inclined to dance around in that space. The trick is that the league will actually have to follow through with it <unlike drug testing>.

Replay doesn’t have to be a long drawn out process like football or this blog post. There is no need for red flags and coaches challenges. What if all replays were called for by a booth umpire, or a central office (like NHL does)? Here’s a scenario: Batter hits a slow dribbler to 3rd base, 3rd baseman has to charge up and bare-hand the throw to 1st. Close play, umpire calls ‘safe.’ Now, by the time the ball has been thrown back to the pitcher, the next batter walks up, does his ritual and finally steps into the box at least 30 seconds to a minute will have passed, this is plenty of time for a replay official to have slowed down the play and called in to an open-line earpiece that the officiating crew could be wearing.

Let’s take a moment to weigh the benefits of each change!

Fake to third:

  • Shaves off the extra 15 seconds per game this move costs.
  • The runner at 1st doesn’t feel like they have to fake a move to 2nd base.
  • The runner at 3rd doesn’t feel neglected for not getting a throw over.

Replay:

  • Situation like the Armando Gallaraga perfect game don’t happen.
  • Managers don’t have to come argue for 5 minutes over a call that can be reviewed in 30 seconds.
  • Umpires are criticized less and their self-esteem isn’t nearly as fragile.

As you can see from the scientific pro and con list above. Addressing the replay situation is clearly vastly more important than focusing energy on outlawing a pitcher from faking a pick-off to 3rd in hopes that he will finally fool the runner at first into running. As a committee looks further into this, maybe they can consult with the folks at Warner Bros. about Wile.E.Coyote using those elaborate deceptive ACME traps to try to fool the Road Runner. The success rate for each is correlated.

Dr. Fever

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Nationally Johnny Cueto of the Cincinnati Reds is often overlooked. When lists are made of the top pitchers in the game, or the “who would you draft” talks spin around bars, Cueto is often left as an afterthought. Despite that he has firmly dug in as the lights out ace for the Reds. In 7 starts this season Cueto has allowed no more than 3 runs, and he’s only allowed 3 runs once (4/11). That was his 2nd start. From that point in his last 5 starts he’s allowed a total of 3 earned runs. Leaving his ERA this season a sparkling 1.12.

Cueto’s success shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. There was a level of hype swirling around him when he was brought up in 2008. Each of his seasons with the big club has been better than the one before. We won’t count in wins and losses…that’s a crap evaluation instrument for a pitcher. Here we’ll look solely at ERA.

  • 2008- 4.81
  • 2009- 4.41
  • 2010- 3.64
  • 2011- 2.31

How about a little perspective? In 2011 Justin Verlander had an ERA of 2.40. Clayton Kershaw‘s ERA last season was 2.28. These were your Cy Young awardees.

From the Fantasy side of things. I play in a few different leagues, in two of my leagues I drafted Cueto. Several times I’ve tried to trade him, and several times I’ve been turned down. These aren’t blockbuster deals either. Simple trades for 1 or 2 category hitters to pump up my anemic offense. Pre-season he was ranked by the ESPN fantasy guys as the 43rd best pitcher in the pool. One spot behind Hiroki Kuroda. I mean really….Hiroki Kuroda.

The two biggest arguments against Dr. Johnny Fever are his persistent health problems and his declined strikeout. Let’s knock the health issues out. An average starting pitcher makes 30-34 starts. Cueto has only missed that mark once, last year.

The other argument is his declining strikeout numbers. When Cueto came into league he gained the reputation of a burner. That also may have been an unfair label (as most labels tend to be). He’s struck out 150+ once…his rookie year. With the exception of a shortened season in 2011, Cueto has hovered around 130 K’s per season.

The only true cause for concern I have seen with my completely untrained analytic ability is that his K/BB ratio has not improved over time, the upside is it hasn’t gotten any worse. He has stayed around 2-2.5 in that category.

Maybe it’s the small market, maybe it’s the declined strikeout rate due to a new pitch to contact style, maybe it’s the soft mattress? Whatever the case, Johnny Cueto has been undervalued in the real world and the fantasy world.

The Best Center Fielder in Baseball is Carlos Gomez?

AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps


This past weekend a national announcer declared that Carlos Gomez is “currently the best Center Fielder in all of baseball.” A bold statement that, without hesitation, caused my eyes to squint. I’m not going to claim to be an expert on Carlos Gomez’s career, but I have seen enough of him over the years to know offensively the strongest aspect of his game is speed. I believe that in that moment the announcer in question was referring to defensive ability. Still, I questioned this. This gave me a great excuse to look up Center Fielder stats. I was giddy with excitement.  Here is what I concluded from researching baseball-reference.com.

Baseball-Reference.com has the top ten defensive CF’s ranked this way:

Really, the only time Gomez has cracked this top ten list was 2008 when he was ranked tied for fourth with Grady Sizemore.

When you get down to comparing fielding percentages, Gomez is right in line with the ten men mentioned above at .986 for his career in 6 seasons at CF. Bourn (.991 in 6), Kemp (.989 in 7)..for example.

I’m not saying Gomez is bad at his position, but if you make a major league club…you shouldn’t be bad at your position. The difference defensively between the top Center Fielder’s is a couple of runs per year. Those runs may or may not be the difference in winning or losing. But, our bold color commentator was off…Gomez is not the best Center Fielder in the game.

Hawkins:

This is incredibly well done.

Originally posted on hitmorelinedrives:

http://hitmorelinedrives.com

Mike Matheny is the new St. Louis Cardinals Manager. Mike coached his kids after retirement and this is a letter to the parents on his team. This may be the BEST letter I’ve ever read regarding youth baseball. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Courtesy of http://www.mac-n-seitz.com/

Letter from Mike Matheny…..

I always said that the only team that I would coach would be a team of orphans, and now here we are. The reason for me saying this is that I have found the biggest problem with youth sports has been the parents. I think that it is best to nip this in the bud right off the bat. I think the concept that I am asking all of you to grab is that this experience is ALL about the boys. If there is anything about it that includes you, we need to…

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