Tag Archives: breakout

A look at the first week of baseball: Infante, D’backs and Ozzie Castro, er, Guillen

Miami Marlins second baseman Omar Infante is off to a good start - his manager, however, is struggling to remove his foot from his mouth.

LIVINGSTONE: It’s a week into the season for the boys of summer. It’s nice to get back into the routine of checking daily baseball stats, deciding the ole fantasy line-up for the day and catching whatever games I can on the tube – especially the late games. It’s my first full summer in Toronto and in addition to all things baseball from my years past, I now get to engage with the Fan590, the great crew of baseball nuts and the spot-on and absolutely moronic baseball fanatics – aka Jays fans – out there.

The anxiety and curiosity that comes with the start of the season is always at it’s worst. Everything is so up in the air. How will so-and-so perform? What pitchers are going to throw gems? Who is going to surprise and rip it up the first week and are they legit? Who is going to tank? When do we worry they may not get out of the funk?

And so on and so on.

So, in honour of the first week of the season, the biggest surprises and whatnots of the week.

1. The first-series sweeps of the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees.

For the first time since 1966 (correct me if I’m wrong people) the two powerhouses of the last 20 years in the American League lost their opening series’ in not-so-classy fashion. Four blown saves (Boston had three, including two in one game; Rivera, surprisingly, blew a ninth inning lead to the Tampa Bay Rays). I know it’s early, but it’s surprising. Since then the Yanks have managed some wins against the lowly Baltimore Orioles, while the Sox lost two of three to the Blue Jays and sit at 1-4. No blown saves though, so that’s a positive.

That said – Boston has a nine-game homestand starting Friday. Rays (four), Rangers (two), Yankees (three). If they can’t pull it together at home against these three equals/better thans, it’s going to be a long, long season for Sox Nation.

2. Omar Infante

It’s early, but he’s tied for the league lead in dingers. I know, it’s only three, but still, it’s shocking. The guy hit seven total last season in 640 plate appearances (his 162-game average is nine). In seven seasons (2005-2011) Infante hit 35 home runs in about 2,000 at-bats (note: he hit 16 in 2004 for the Tigers). It’s very likely he won’t hit more than his 2004 total this year, his tenth, but the hot start has to be exciting for the Marlins, who rely on him to get on base and provide quality defense at second.

3. Ozzie Guillen

I’m not going to get into his love for Fidel Castro too much, nor the five-game suspension that followed – but holy lord. In the span of a week he told reporters he gets drunk at the hotel after every game and passes out, followed by bro-love for the longest standing dictator in the world in Castro. Well done Ozzie. Thing is, it’s not surprising – he has no filter.

4. Arizona Diamondbacks

This team is potent. They’re deep on the bench and can field a solid one-thru-eight, loaded with solid hitters who can do damage if given the opportunity. Pitching? Yep, they have it. The addition of Trevor Cahill to the duo of Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson. The comeback against the Giants Saturday shows they can scrape back. Down six runs early, they chipped away and stole the win 7-6 from their division rivals – and biggest opponent for the division title.

5. Minnesota Twins

Six runs in four games – three of those games against the Baltimore Orioles. Enough said.

6. The week of blown saves

Sweet mercy, I don’t know what to think of all the blown saves, walk-off/extra inning wins in the first week. There were enough that it’s cause conversation among the three of us here at Out of Write Field. The AL East is particularly disturbing: Rivera (1), Jays Sergio Santos (2), Red Sox Aceves and Melancon (3) have had it rough in the first week. Watch for Matthew Strader’s piece on the closer issues going on across the majors – blown saves, injuries and everything going wrong in the ninth. As I write this Jonathan Broxton, Royals closer-of-the-day, just blew what feels like the 30th save opportunity in the first week of the season (I think it’s actually 17 at this point of the day with Broxton – but still…17!!? late addition note: Make it 18. Joe Nathan blew the game for the Rangers last night in the ninth to the Seattle Mariners)

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Weekend notes: Collmenter’s delivery and Johnson’s plate discipline

Diamondbacks' pitcher Josh Collmenter delivery is odd in comparison to the rest of the league - it certainly got one Write Fielders' attention.

LIVINGSTONE: After watching the Jays drop the series finale of the opening weekend series to the Cleveland Indians 4-3, The San Francisco Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks game came on and after watching Josh Collmenter throw his first inning, I had to sit down and write about him.

In the many years I’ve watched baseball, there are a number of unorthodox pitchers that come to mind – Hideo Nomo with his near corkscrew pitch delivery, Giants Tim Lincecum with his rocket launchpad approach, Brad Ziegler and Peter Moylan’s submarine-style delivery, the list could go on.

But looking back over the years, I can’t think of anyone with a delivery like Collmenter. While his delivery isn’t as, well, below the belt as the submarine, it is less than normal. When he throws a pitch – either the fastball or change-up, both pitches he relies on heavily – his arm looks like that of a cricket bowler (ie: the guy who launches the cricket ball), a near-mechanical looking delivery. Coming out of his wind-up, his arm doesn’t sit outside his shoulder, but seemingly right in line with it. The over-the-top delivery is uncommon in baseball and certainly can be deceptive to hitters.

There is a certain amount of expectation surrounding Collmenter. Since his days pitching for the Homer High School Trojans, where The Homer, Michigan native put up eye-opening numbers. Collmenter won 18 games in the 2004 season, the third highest total in state history. He recorded a state-record 13 shutouts that season while striking out 223 batters and notching a 0.13 ERA. Collmenter finished his High School career with 49 wins, 23 shutouts, 546 strikeouts and a 0.99 ERA, all of which rank in the top six in state history.

His minor league stats weren’t nearly as lights out – he went 45-27 between 2007 and 2010 with one Trilple-A appearance in 2011 before being called up to the Diamondbacks – but they were enough to get him a spot in the starting rotation where he went 10-10 last season, striking out 100 in 154-plus innings, helping the D’Backs win the National League West division.

He’s a fun kid to watch pitch and with some work on refining his curveball into a quality breaking pitch to compliment his fastball, change-up and cutter, Collmenter will be a top-three starter during his career.

That all said, I want to fast-forward back to the Jays opening series, briefly, to spare our readers the saturation of Jays talk.

Despite being three games into the season, Jays second baseman – and number two hitter – Kelly Johnson is showing some incredible plate discipline. While he’s 5-for-14 with a home run, he’s got four walks, most of them long plate appearances, drawing it out to eight or nine pitch at-bats before taking his base. The biggest one was in the ninth today against the Indians, taking a walk on a 12 (I think) pitch at-bat with two out to load the bases for Jose Bautista. While Bautista flied out (to the moon) to end the game, it wasn’t a total loss.

Hitting in front of one of the most dangerous bats in the game requires you to get on base as much as possible. If the opening series is any indication (Johnson’s OBP is over .500) Bautista is going to have ample opportunity to put runs on the board – or get walked (he’s got four walks in three games), paving the way for Lind, Encarnacion and Lawrie to empty the bases.

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The debate is over: Giants settle on Belt

Giants' management made the right call by putting Brandon Belt on the starting squad. His bat is going to be a big addition to an otherwise low-run scoring offense.

Finally, it seem, the debate is over.

There has been a lot of talk about whether or not San Fransisco Giants’ first baseman – and pending superstar – Brandon Belt would even be on the squad to open the season against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the desert.

And the Giants’ have decided to put Belt on the roster – and start him at first base, displacing the over-paid Aubrey Huff into the outfield.

It’s been a day and night kind of career for Belt. In the minors he destroys pitching, especially in 2010 when he hit .352 between single-A and triple-A ball in the Giants system – not to mention 23 HR and 112 RBI, while only striking out 99 times in 462 plate appearances. Last year, same thing – in 53 games he hit .320 with 8 HR and 26 RBI to go with 12 two-baggers – this all while missing time due to a fracture in his wrist, requiring him to miss part of the season.

While his numbers in the minors are out of this world – his time in the big leagues has been nothing but disappointment. In 2011 he hit .225 in 168 plate appearances, had 9 round-trippers and 18 RBI – while striking out 57 times. Not the best case for a spot on the starting roster this year.

That said – his spring has been strong, apparently showing the talent he has in the minors during the Giants’ spring schedule. However, there is an overload of quality talent on the team and Belt ended up in a battle with career minor-leaguer Brett Pill (who had a decent last couple months last season in a call-up) and journeyman Gregor Blanco, who was turning heads this spring.

The Giants want to win, and they’ve got the line-up and pitching staff to do it. Belt comes with high expectations, and rightfully so. He should be performing to the number 23 ranking he was given by Baseball America in its annual top 100 prospects list.

And this could be his year to cement himself as the everyday first baseman. Huff is in the final year of a pricey contract – and with his age and numbers slowing down, it’s likely he won’t be back next season, leaving the door open for Belt.

To be honest, the fact the Giants’ were debating over Nate Schierholtz in the outfield, over moving Huff there and putting Belt at first – it’s just mind-boggling to me. Sure, Nate’s consistent at the plate and plays great defense – but in a line-up that didn’t fair well at the run-producing part of the game last season – Belt is needed to bolster the run support to compliment the pitching.

If he can get in some decent playing time this season and put up the numbers he did in the minors over the last two seasons – putting his dismal big league appearance from last year behind him – he will become part of a youthful core in San Fran poised to make noise for a number of years.

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Cecil down increases need for Nash

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Brett Cecil.

STRADER: Brett going down means Brian Burke needs to chase Rick Nash?

Yep.

No, I don’t think the big forward from Brampton can snap off a slider, but there was one thing on my mind after I saw the news that our 15-game winner from 2010 is going back to AA.

Please god don’t let this become a theme!

Sports writers have a duty. We can’t be homers. We have to look evenly at every situation and report on it how it is, not how we think it is, how we think it might be. Look like you’re favouring a team, coddling a favourite player, and what are you for your reader?

Here’s me doing a little Jays apologizing. But don’t fret, this is not homerism, this is a balanced and well thought out preemptive strike.

Shut the f–k up!

That’s for all the vultures circling the Jays rotation right now. For as many sports writers that look at the depth of talent the Jays have put together and see the light at the end of the tunnel, there will be those, call them the sheen on the glass walls of the fishbowl, that will circle a failure like vultures. Has Brett Cecil regressed? Absolutely. Is there an organizational concern with what once looked like a can’t miss prospect?

Yep.

But does this mean that if Dustin McGowan experiences a set back, if Henderson Alvarez comes back from (??? Superman’s home planet), that we need to see a million stories from a dozen or so sports geniuses who will go back and forth about whether 75 wins is a failure and the starting rotation is the reason, and they should have seen this coming….veteran starter….been saying it all year….Blah blah blah.

I’m certainly not saying don’t pick on the players. I’m not that guy.

I’ll heckle with the best of them. That’s the glory of professional sports.

But is a 75 win season by the 2012 Jays, if it happens, a failure?

No.

Brett can go down. He’s not ready, and maybe won’t be able to get it back.

Alzarez can struggle, he’s 22!!

Lawrie can bat .260, with maybe 15 homers, and learn more about his position and being a professional, these would all be normal. But with the amount of hype surrounding the Jays (Oh man, American writers are picking them for the playoffs, this is all we need…) there are those on the hunt for the pin, and as soon as they find it, they will jam it in the balloon.

Cecil is going down, McGowan’s got a bad foot, the vultures are in the air.

Let me say it here first. The Jays don’t need to make the playoffs. If they do, it’s icing on the cake, enjoy it as such.

But cake is still awesome.

Progression of the kids, growth of the minor league prospects, how is Anthony Gose doing with more major league type off speed pitching? What is Henderson Alvarez working on, a change up that he can throw away from left handers? A slider? A curve?

What are the weaknesses in Brett Lawrie’s swing? What are the holes, and how can he correct them?

How has Dustin McGowan changed as a pitcher now that he’s pitching again? Does he do anything differently on the mound, behind the scenes?

Why Eric Thames over Travis Snider? Can people stop guessing, analyze their motions in the batters box, write a comprehensive piece about their differences and talk to some scouts about what makes one better than the other? Is Thames being showcased while Travis gets work in?

The real wave of talent is coming in Jake Marisnick, Anthony Gose, Noah Syndegard, Drew Hutchison and others. Can we read more in depth pieces about what they bring to the table, or do I just get to read that Gose is fast until I see him with my own eyes?

I’ll reiterate, I’m not saying don’t pick on the team.

Look at the match ups for the first week. Romero vs. Masterson, Morrow vs. Jimenez, Carreno vs. Tomlin (?? – or whatever Carmona is called maybe?), and then we have Alvarez and Drabek facing the Red Sox, and for as many chicken jokes as people want to make, they’re a powerhouse.

I’m a Jays fan, but if they falter, I don’t mind pointing out why. I just don’t want to read the same thing all summer. Our rotation is Romero, Morrow, Alvarez, Drabek and McGowan, with Hutchison, McGuire, Jenkins, Carreno (probably a future reliever) and loads more of live arms waiting, and hunting, for their own spot.

Is our rotation a question mark right now? Yes. But is that a problem? No, it actually isn’t.

Please, can we read stories about baseball and not what baseball geniuses you all are for pointing out something that was obvious at the beginning of the season.

This team is young, the rotation is young. If the season falls apart, I would still take the same rotation into next year with a smile on my face.

So let’s read about what they’re working on, what’s happening on the field, and why.

Not a bunch of easy stories about how a young rotation is going through the problems of a young rotation.

Let Burke go pick up Nash, and halfway through the summer, we’ll leave the same old to the Leafs reporters, okay?

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Can’t help but cheer for Morrow

Expect big things from Blue Jays RHP Brandon Morrow this year after a quality spring (0.52 ERA in 17 1/3 innings pitched).

LIVINGSTONE – Ah, Vogelsong. Definitely a guy you can’t avoid rooting for, especially being on one of the, if not the, best pitching staffs in baseball. It’s hard to remain relevant on a staff with the likes of Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain – but somehow Vogelsong did it last season.

For me, my Vogelsong – and don’t judge me because I’m a die hard Jays fan – is Brandon Morrow. Yeah, yeah, you’re just picking the guy because he’s on your favourite team. In some respects, yes, but in many, he is the guy this year who will settle into his own and put together an all-star season.

Since coming into the big leagues as a relief pitcher for the Mariners in 2007, Morrow has been on my radar. Sure, he was predominantly a reliever in his first two years (he started five games in 2008), Morrow showed potential to become a quality starter. In 2009 he threw 10 games as a starter and while his numbers weren’t off the charts (1.579 WHIP, 8.1 SO/9, 4.39 ERA), the Jays saw enough to bring him on as a starter and utilize the high-90s fastball, hard slider and twist-em-up change-up to bolster an under-performing rotation.

Yes, the rotation has under-performed the last two years – but Morrow’s shown steady improvement, despite faltering late in games (usually somewhere after the fifth inning). Despite an 11-11 record with a 4.72 ERA, he fanned 203 in 179.1 innings worth of work and finished 7th in the league in strikeouts and his 10.2 SO/9 innings was the best in the American League and third in all of baseball.

If his spring is any indication of what to expect from the hard-throwing right-hander, than a breakout season is in the cards. Morrow allowed just one run in 17 1/3 spring innings for a career-best 0.52 spring ERA. While he’s striking out guys less (7 Ks in his last 12.0 IP) he’s gained a lot of confidence with his change-up and curveball – both pitches that seemingly got him in a lot of trouble last season. Unable to rely on them confidently, hitters tagged him often on his heater and slider.

While I think he’s looking at a big year – I would’ve been faced with a difficult task had he been available by the time I would’ve thought about drafting him.

The last two years have been a tail of two different Morrow’s – the untouchable who would strike out the entire team and the guy who showed no confidence and got tagged for more extra base hits than one could keep track of. When Morrow is on, he is on and looks like one of the elites, but then he comes out and throws an egg of a game and one has to wonder if he is the real deal.

With the potential for the team to put up quality run support on a more regular basis, Morrow could have the safety net of runs on the scoreboard allowing him to focus more on his pitching rather than overpowering the opposition (as we’ve seen with his lower strikeout rate this spring).

And hell – if it’s not Brandon Morrow having the breakout season, it’s going to be a guy like Royals’ first baseman Billy Butler. Playing on a team with a group of young, potential superstars, Butler might finally have the bats around him to thrive. I expect a .300 AVG/30 HR/100 RBI season from this guy. Maybe even more.

Regardless – Morrow is looking damn good and one can only hope he brings his quality spring right into the regular season.

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Vogelsong and the Rudy Effect

McGILLIGAN – There wasn’t one thing I didn’t like about Ryan Vogelsong last season. From his fantasy numbers after I plucked him off the waiver wire to his story that was chronicled in Showtime’s The Franchise TV show. Ryan Vogelsong helped save my fantasy season last year. I had under-performing hurlers and a rash of injuries.

Picking up Vogelsong covered up some of those deficiencies and I rightly or wrongly began to see him as a saviour and believing he did things he may or may not have done.

He was 13-7 with 139 strikeouts, 2.71 ERA and 1.252 WHIP for the San Francisco Giants. Good numbers, but not the kind you would have thought he had if you heard my pronouncements last season. I was openly wondering why he wasn’t getting Cy Young consideration, was sure he would win every time he went to the mound and I was positive he wold be a main stay in my fantasy rotation for years to come.

So when this year’s draft came around what did I do?

Nothing, he was selected by another team and although it pained me to see him go, I believe it was the rational thing to do.

I fell in love with Vogelsong’s story and his above average season cemented him in my mind as a main stay for years to come. I believe this is a problem that can plague people in fantasy leagues. You fall in love with a player for irrational reasons. Perhaps you saw them play in person and they performed unbelievably well, they wore the same number as you, or any other number of foolish reasons to select someone based on anything but sound reason.

Here’s an example: When I was a kid on a trip to Florida my dad took me to a spring training game between the Yankees and Astros. Jeff Bagwell had just come off his rookie of the year campaign and took a few at bats in the contest.

As a youngster, I crowded with other kids for an autograph from the man we were calling out to as Mr. Bagwell. He said he would return to sign things after he changed. We hung by the fence waiting for his return, but when he came out, he got into a car and left. No autographs, nothing.

In the same game, Yankees young slugger Kevin Maas smashed a homerun that landed in a duck pond beyond the wall of the left centre wall that had to be the longest homerun I’ve ever seen hit.

I ended up loving Maas and hating Bagwell and had I been part of a fantasy league I would have irrationally chosen Maas while not even entertaining the possibility of Bagwell playing for me.

Now, how stupid would that have been. Maas couldn’t hit a curveball and washed out while Bagwell was a perennial all-star.

Sure, you say I was just a kid, I wouldn’t do that now. Really, I hate Johnny Damon for going from the Red Sox to the Yankees – to this day it still annoys and I’m a grown man.

When it comes to sports, like many men, I can get emotionally invested and make dumb decisions. Which brings me back to Vogelsong.

His solid play and story of being out of the majors since2006 before making a last ditch comeback that resulted in an All-Star appearance was a great one, truly the kind of Rudy story we all root for.

(NOTE: I use Rudy as the term for any emotionally moving sports story, Joe Montana and his myth crushing be damned.)   

So I had to make a tough decision at the draft. I needed to make sure I thought with my head on Vogelsong not my heart. Here’s the thing, He’ll turn 34 this year and had one good season. Strike one. He’s dealing with some lower back issues this spring. Strike two. He won’t have the Showtime cameras to give him the Rudy treatment, thus taking emotions out of the equation. Strike three, I’m out.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against Vogelsong having a good season and proving me wrong. It’s just that I would rather that happen than pick him for my team and have my head proved right and my heart wrong.

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No Way, Jose? Yes way, Delmon Young.

Delmon Young: poised to be the next Jose Bautista?

STRADER: It’s what every great, and not so great, sportswriter wants to do.

The killer prediction. The real one. No, for all those who have tried it, the New York Yankees are going to win the World Series is not a prediction. Shut up.

The Arizona Diamondbacks are going to win the division is a prediction. (Props to Sports Illustrated’s Dr. Z on the greatest prediction of all time – Giants over Patriots on Feb. 3, 2008 ­– now that’s a prediction). They’re the one nobody sees coming, the one that makes you look like a sports genius. A swami, shall we say?

Prior to the 2009 season, I named my fantasy baseball team, Jose Bautista?Really?? I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I predicted 54, 124, .260, .378, .617. Nobody did. But it was a prediction. I saw something in his bat during his September run and thought to myself, this guy’s gonna make this team. He’s going to win a starting job and play regularly, Cito obviously loved him. Maybe he’ll hit 25 and 85 and surprise a lot of people.

I figured him to be another Wendel Clark. Toronto great, you know? Not quite great, but best in town, so ring of honour and ticker tape parade.

Don’t worry Toronto fans, I’m a Vancouver boy. You’d think Trevor Linden scored 50 a year…

Arguable best player in the game though? Nobody saw that out of Jose. And now, as he backed up one of the best offensive seasons in baseball history (Yep, I’m a steroid era hater – all hail Ken Griffey Jr. The real Barry Bonds. Yeah, we all know it Barry) with 43, 103, .302, .447 and .608 our resident King of Toronto has become the subject of one of the best of the present day baseball off-season predictions.

Who is the next Jose Bautista?

This is my take: (And yes, you will hear that story about my 2009 fantasy team a lot)

His name is Delmon Young, and I believe he is the next Jose Bautista. Granted, Young isn’t going from 15 HR and 54 RBI to 54 HR and 124 RBIs the way Jose did, because Delmon’s already had a great year. 21 HR in the majors is great, I don’t care what anyone says, and 121 RBIs is ridiculous, but there’s another step for Delmon.

He came with a pile of hype when Tampa Bay drafted him in 2003, and probably has even had a day when he went too high in some people’s fantasy drafts. But has he ever been anyone’s first or second rounder consistently? Has he ever been one of those guys everyone wants to draft? Or was he J.D. Drew? (Oh, ok, someone else got him, I’ll just take Markakis…)

That’s what he was supposed to be, and much like we all just watched with Alex Gordon, I think health, maturity and a consistent spot in a talented lineup is going to boost Delmon to the kind of player who can be counted on for 35-40 HR’s and 100+ RBIs every year. He has to work on that strikeout rate, that can come with age, and experience.

Jose did it at 29. Gordon was 27 last year. Delmon will be 27 this year.

Everybody knows who Delmon Young is. But after 2012, he’s going to be one of those guys everyone wants to draft.

LIVINGSTONE will offer his selection for breakout player of the year in Cincinnati Reds OF Jay Bruce. Stay Tuned.

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