It’s Opening Day!

It’s finally here!

Opening Day in MLB is a holiday in my household. Personally, I feel that it’s better than Christmas. Baseball is my favorite thing in life after my son. Every team in baseball is full of optimism and dreams of hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy in October.

And the weather is warmer in the vast majority of the country than it is on Christmas!

There is literally nothing on the agenda for me today than watching our national pastime. Good luck and best wishes to whomever you root for.

Enjoy the day, everybody!

Non-Roster Invitees – National League East

We survived! I’m so excited because MLB spring training baseball games begin today. Baseball is back, baby!

In our last piece, we looked at a few notable non roster invitees from each team in the American League West. Today we begin the National League, starting with the East division. Let’s get started, down south in Atlanta.

Atlanta Braves

Ian Anderson (RHP) – Ian Anderson is a 20 year old righty who was a first round draft pick (#3 overall) in the 2016 amateur draft. Standing 6’3″ tall and 170 pounds, Anderson employs three pitches. He features a good fastball (92-96 mph), a swing and miss curve and a change-up. Ian works continuously to improve his off-speed pitches, and was rewarded for it with excellent results in 2018. Anderson made 20 starts in High-A ball with the Florida Fire Frogs, logging a 2.52 ERA. He struck out 118 over 100 innings, allowing 73 hits and 40 walks. Ian was bumped-up to AA Mississippi and made four more starts, punching-out 24 over 19.1 innings and posting a 2.33 ERA. Anderson needs to work on control and command, but what 20 year old pitcher doesn’t? His ceiling is high, but the Braves won’t rush him.

Austin Riley (3B) – Riley was taken by Atlanta late in the first round of the 2015 amateur draft. He is a power-hitting third baseman who was a two-way player in high school. Reportedly, many teams looked at him as a pitcher, but the Braves were more impressed with his bat. He worked his way through the system and split 2018 between AA Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett, slugging 19 HR’s and producing a combined slash-line of .294/.360/.522. Riley was on target for a potential September call-up to Atlanta, but he sprained his knee diving for a foul ball. With an impressive spring, he could easily be playing with the big league club this season.

Pedro Florimon (Utility) – The well-traveled 31 year old utility-man spent the last two seasons with the Phillies. In late May, Florimon fouled a ball off his foot, breaking a bone near his big toe. He finished the at-bat before leaving the game, but didn’t return until Sept. 1. The switch-hitter went 1-14 in September, rendering his 2018 season a washout. The Braves inked him to a minor league deal in November. Pedro is a useful guy to have because he can play anywhere on the field except catcher and first-base.

Miami Marlins

Victor Victor Mesa (CF/OF) – I have to admit the first time I heard Victor Victor’s name, I thought of this scene from the 1980 comedy film, “Airplane!”

Now that we got that out of the way, 22 year old Mesa is Miami’s second ranked prospect in their organization. He and his younger brother, Victor Jr. defected from Cuba last May. In October, both brothers signed contracts with the Marlins, with the elder Mesa getting $5.25 million — a franchise record for an amateur position player. Victor Victor’s strongest points of his game are currently defense and speed and awareness on the basepaths. On offense, Mesa makes good contact, but is lacking in power. He hasn’t drawn many walks because he’s so good at making contact, but has to learn patience to work the counts. Mesa projects to begin in Double A.

Nick Neidert (RHP) – Neidert, 22, was taken in the second round of the 2015 amateur draft by the Mariners. He was acquired in the 2017 deal that sent Dee Gordon to Seattle. At 6’1″, 190 lbs, he doesn’t overpower but can top out at 93 mph, and has a plus-change-up that is his second best pitch. Nick spent the entire 2018 season in AA Jacksonville, where he went 12-7 with a 3.24 ERA. He struck-out 154 over 152.2 innings and walked only 31, a rate of 1.8 per nine innings. Expect Neidert to begin 2019 in Triple-A, and could reach the big-leagues if Marlins have injury problems or ineffectiveness.

Curtis Granderson (RF) – The “Grandy-Man” still can! Curtis Granderson has enjoyed a long and distinguished career, entering what will be his 16th season in the major leagues. He signed a minor league deal on February 5, making the Marlins the fifth organization Granderson has been with since 2017. He began 2018 with the Toronto Blue Jays, and was acquired by Milwaukee on the last day of August for their push to the playoffs. Curtis will turn 38 years old in a few weeks. He’s not an everyday player anymore, but can be productive in a platoon-role against right-handers and as a defensive replacement. He’s also a good clubhouse guy and young Marlins players will benefit from his presence.

New York Mets

Peter Alonso (1B) – Pete Alonso, a 24 year old out of Tampa, FL, is a hulk of a man at 6’3″, 245 lbs. He was picked in the 2nd round of 2016’s draft, and has torn through the Mets system in his two and a half seasons. Last year, Alonso began in AA Binghamton and was elevated to Triple-A Las Vegas midway through the season. When it was over, Peter compiled a slash-line of .285/.395/.579 with 36 home-runs and 119 RBI. On defense, he made only nine errors in 110 games. He’s ready now, but the Mets may use their legal right to gain an extra year of team-control by keeping him Syracuse, their new AAA affiliate until May. You’ll see him soon.

Andre Gimenez (SS) – Gimenez is a 20 year old shortstop from Barquisimeto, Venezuela. He is the top-ranked prospect in the Mets system. He spent most of 2018 in High-A, and later promoted to Double-A where he played almost 40 games. Combined, Gimenez hit .281, with 6 HR’s and 46 RBI in 122 games. On the bases, he’s a threat to steal, swiping 38 bags. He has a quick left-handed bat, but not a power guy at 5’11”, 160 lbs. He’s your prototypical lead-off hitter, able to work the counts and get on base. He bears watching, but you won’t see him until 2020, at the earliest.

Tim Tebow (LF) – How many of you expected Tim Tebow to still be in baseball after he said he wanted to switch sports in 2016? Admittedly, I did not. Tim had the best season of his short baseball career in 2018, putting up a .273 average with 6 HR’s and 36 RBI. He still struck out too much, 103 K’s in only 298 plate appearances. He has been a model teammate by all accounts, and no one has more drive and determination. He may be promoted to AAA Syracuse Mets to begin 2019, and if he plays well enough, who knows? Are you going to bet against Tebow? I’m not.

Philadelphia Phillies

JoJo Romero (LHP) – Romero is a 6’0″, 190 lb. southpaw who was selected in the 4th round of the 2016 draft. He has five pitches, including a mid-nineties fastball, to go with his slider, curve, cutter and change (all average to above-average). He breezed through Rookie League and all levels of A-ball by the end of 2017 with ERA’s under three at each stop. Romero began 2018 at AA Reading, PA of the Eastern League. On May 9, his ERA stood at 6.68 with an 0-4 record. He then seemed to figure things out, going 7-2, 2.35 ERA over his next dozen starts, when a strained oblique short-circuited and ended his season. Romero could start 2019 in Reading, but a move to Triple-A Lehigh Valley could come quickly.

Adam Haseley (CF/OF) – Haseley was the Philly’s top pick in the 2017 amateur draft. So far, he’s made quick work of each stop, hitting everywhere he goes. 2018 began in Clearwater, FL in A+ ball. Adam hit .300 in 79 games in the Sunshine State, with five HR’s and driving in 38. Haseley played his final 39 games in AA Reading, where he hit even better. He nailed six homers to go with his .316 average. Best of all, he struck out less in Double-A and drew walks at a higher rate. Plan for Haseley to finish 2019 in Triple-A, and if he continues progressing at this rate, you’ll see a September call-up.

Drew Butera (C) – Butera was middling along with the rest of the Royals in the basement of the AL Central, when opportunity came knocking in the form of a trade. The 35 year old veteran backstop was shipped to the Colorado Rockies on August 31, as insurance against injury to regular catchers Tony Wolters and Chris Iannetta. It helped that Butera had playoff experience and was familiar with closer Wade Davis. He can’t hit water if he fell from a boat, but his money is earned working with pitchers. Plus he’s a damn good Twitter follow (@drewbutera).

Washington Nationals

Carter Kieboom (SS) – Kieboom, 21, was the Nationals’ 1st round draft choice in 2017’s amateur draft. At 6’2″, 190 lbs, Kieboom hits for power and average. He started last season in High-A Potomac, where he smacked 11 home-runs, driving in 46 in roughly 60 games. Carter, the younger brother of Nationals catcher Spencer Kieboom, was promoted to AA Harrisburg halfway through 2018. He was challenged more there, but still hit a respectable .262 with five home-runs in 62 games. Of interest, Kieboom played 21 games in the Arizona Fall League, nine of which he played at 2nd base, a position he hadn’t played professionally. With Trea Turner firmly entrenched at shortstop in DC, a move to second base would be a way to make room for Kieboom in 2020. Brian Dozier can keep things warm until then.

Aaron Barrett (RHP) – Aaron Barrett is attempting a comeback from not one, but TWO catastrophic arm injuries. He last pitched in the majors with the Nationals in 2015. The story in the embedded tweet from @MiLB is worth reading and gives context.

Barrett pitched well in 20 games for Low-A Auburn Doubledays in the NY-Penn League, giving up only four earned-runs in 20.1 innings. He struck out 26 and walked eight. You can follow Barrett on Twitter here.

Henderson Alvarez (RHP) – It seems hard to believe, but Henderson Alvarez is still only 28 years old. Injuries derailed his once promising career, but to his credit he doesn’t give in. The last time Alvarez pitched a full season in the bigs, it was 2014. He went 12-7 with a 2.65 ERA that year, spinning three shutouts. He still has velocity (low 90′ but his stuff is nowhere near the same after his injuries. I hope he can get back on track, but if not — we’ll still have his walk-off no hitter from September 2013 when he was with Miami.

So that’s it from the NL East. Please join us next time when we continue on in the National League Central!

Ronald Acuña Jr, Jose Ureña and a Beanball Memory

 

Atlanta Braves rookie sensation Ronald Acuña, Jr. was hit on the first pitch Miami Marlins starting pitcher Jose Ureña threw in Wednesday night’s game at SunTrust Park. Acuña had been wearing out Marlins pitching lately (and almost ALL pitching), and it appeared that Ureña wanted to make a statement. That pitch resulted in Ureña’s ejection, Acuña’s eventual removal (Xrays were negative), and collective panic on Twitter.

 

Braves outfielder Ender Inciarte hopped out of the dugout and both benches cleared, with lots of jawing. Thankfully cooler heads prevailed and the game resumed, minus Ureña and Atlanta manager Brian Snitker, who were ejected after the altercation. Braves 1st baseman Freddie Freeman rightfully described Ureña’s pitch as gutless.

 

With this happening on the Marlins’ first pitch of the game in Atlanta, it brought back a very vivid memory for me of another game in Atlanta that occurred almost 34 years ago to this day. On August 12, 1984, the Braves and San Diego Padres played a game, airing on “super-channel” TBS, that would go down in infamy as one of the ugliest brawls (as in plural!) in major league history. I was only 13 years old at the time, but I remember this vividly because the game was simply insane.

Pascual Perez was Atlanta’s starting pitcher on this day. Before I continue, I would like to give you a little background on Perez. He tended to be very demonstrative on the mound and was widely known as a hot-dog. The New York Times‘ Richard Sandomir (@RichSandomir on Twitter) wrote a piece on Perez shortly after the former pitcher was killed in late 2012 in a robbery at his home in the Dominican Republic. He detailed how Perez was late for his own start in 1982, because he was lost on I-285 and couldn’t find Atlanta Fulton County Stadium. In the same piece by Sandomir, YES Network’s Jack Curry properly describes Perez as a guy who hops around the mound “as if he has a pesky mosquito in his uniform pants”.

On that day in August, 1984, Perez drilled Padres lead-off hitter Alan Wiggins square in the back on the first pitch of the game. Wiggins was erased in the next at bat when Padres Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn hit into a double-play. Pascual came to bat in the bottom of the second inning against Ed Whitson, who promptly sailed a pitch behind him, signalling his displeasure at him for nailing Wiggins the previous inning. Perez came to bat again in the bottom of the 4th and 6th innings, with both Whitson and reliever Greg Booker throwing at him, (and missing him) each resulting in skirmishes and the ejections of both pitchers.

For some insane reason that only then-Braves manager Joe Torre knows, Pascual Perez was again sent to bat in the bottom of the 8th inning. San Diego lefty Craig Lefferts finally drilled him and all hell broke loose. Players from both sides flew out of their dugouts, haymakers were thrown, bodies were flying, and reserve player Champ Summers ran toward the Braves dugout where Perez was, only to be met by Bob Horner.

Champ Summers Bob Horner

Atlanta’s 3rd baseman Horner, on the disabled list with a broken right wrist (if you look carefully, you can see a cast), wasn’t having any of it. Adding to an already insane scene, five fans ended up being arrested for getting involved, including the guy throwing his full beer on Champ Summers from atop the Braves dugout. Ed Whitson, no stranger to fighting (think Billy Martin), reappeared in his team’s dugout, shirtless and all.

Shirtless Ed Whitson

When play finally resumed, Joe Torre wisely had Brad Komminsk pinch-run for Perez, who went to the safety of the Braves clubhouse. But the fireworks weren’t quite done. In the top of the 9th, Atlanta’s Donnie Moore drilled Graig Nettles in the back. Nettles, in his first year in San Diego after a long career with the Yankees, wheeled around and charged Moore, who promptly side-stepped him and planted his glove in his face. The benches cleared once again, although it was relatively brief compared to the scene the previous half-inning. Gene Garber came in to finish the game, which the Braves won, 5-3. The detailed chronicle by Jason Foster of the Sporting News can be found here.

Yesterday’s Braves/Marlins game doesn’t compare to the game back in 1984, and today’s umpires and managers wouldn’t let a game get away the way that one did. But I don’t think the festivities between Atlanta and Miami are done yet. Players today police themselves similarly to players of yesteryear, and it’s hard to imagine what happened to Ronald Acuña, Jr. would go unanswered. This is something to stay tuned into.


 

**UPDATE** — 8/16/2018

This afternoon, MLB announced that Jose Ureña was handed a six game suspension for hitting Ronald Acuña, Jr.

 

Aaaaaand naturally Ureña is expected to appeal said suspension. Courtesy of Marlins beat writer Clark Spencer.

Stay tuned!

Jack Morris: The Definition of an Ace

Jack Morris has had a busy summer. The former Detroit Tigers starting pitcher was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame on July 29, and this afternoon he had his number 47 retired by the Tigers, ensuring that no Tiger player will ever wear the 254 game winner’s number ever again.

I began watching baseball regularly in 1983, about the same time Morris’ name began to be associated with other top starting pitchers of the day. I watched every game pitched, as long as the game was televised. He became more of a strikeout pitcher under the tutelage of then-Tigers pitching coach Roger Craig, who taught his pitchers how to throw a split-finger fastball. This pitch, which became known as a “splitter”, has the same action as a fastball coming out of the hand, but drops suddenly just before reaching the plate. A properly thrown splitter will cause the hitter to swing over top of the ball, and Morris perfected this pitch to his advantage.

Morris won 20 games for the first time in his career in ’83, and started 1984 off with a bang. In his second start of the season, he pitched a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox. At the time, the White Sox were no slouches, having come off a 99 win season in ’83, losing to the Baltimore Orioles in that year’s ALCS.

 

Morris’ no-hitter was the first one I ever saw on TV, and it was so exciting to watch. I was barely a teenager watching NBC’s “Saturday Game of the Week” , with legendary broadcasters Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola making the call. Not many games were shown on TV in those days the way they are today. NBC chose to cover this game in advance, as future Hall of Famer and new White Sox starter Tom Seaver was originally slated to make his debut with the team. However, a rain-out changed things, bumping all Chicago starters back a day.

The Tigers went on to win 35 of their first 40 games, and they ran away with the AL East Division in 1984. They went on to win the World Series, beating the San Diego Padres four games to one. Morris went on to win 198 games in a Tigers uniform, starting 34 or more games in six of his last seven seasons in Detroit. However, 1984 was the only year he won a ring with the Tigers.

Jack became a free agent after the 1990 season. On February 5, 1991, he signed a one year deal with the Minnesota Twins, getting an opportunity to play for his hometown team, having been born and raised in St. Paul. 1991 would prove to be memorable for the Twins and Morris. They won 95 games that year, and Jack did his part, winning 18 games, logging almost 250 innings en route to the playoffs. He made five starts in the postseason, winning four of them. Morris started Game 7 of the ’91 World Series against the Atlanta Braves, matching zeroes with future fellow Hall of Famer John Smoltz. The Twins’ workhorse threw 126 pitches over 10 innings, when Minnesota pinch hitter Gene Larkin drove in Dan Gladden, ending the game and the World Series. Morris’ 10 inning shutout became his defining moment and cemented his legacy forever.

 

 

But his career in Minnesota would prove to be “one and done”, as Morris again became a free agent and signed with the Toronto Blue Jays. Benefiting in large part to Toronto’s generous offense, Morris would win 21 games in 1992, marking the first time any Blue Jays starter would win 20 games or more. Despite a relatively high ERA of 4.04, he would come in fifth in voting for the AL Cy Young Award. Morris did pitch 240.2 innings, the 11th season he would reach that threshold in his career.

The Blue Jays would reach the postseason in ’92 and eventually went on to win the World Series four games to two over Atlanta. To help get them there, Toronto rode Morris hard in the second half of the season. He threw 127 innings over his last 18 starts of 1992, an average of just over seven innings/start, which would be unheard of today. But the 37 year old workhorse seemed to wear down, as he allowed 19 runs in 23 postseason innings. Still, Morris had another World Series Championship.

 

Jack Morris Boomer Wells.jpeg

In 1993, he would earn yet another ring as the Blue Jays won 95 games and the AL East, going on to beat the Philadelphia Phillies in seven games. Joe Carter became Toronto’s Game 7 hero as he hit a walk-off home run to give the Blue Jays back to back championships. Personally, Morris had the worst season of his career, going 7-12 with an ERA of 6.19. Age and injury seemed to catch up to him.

The Blue Jays released Morris from his contract on November 5, 1993, making him a free agent. He would pitch one more season, going 10-6 for the Cleveland Indians with a ERA of 5.60 in 1994 before being released on August 9, a mere three days before a player’s strike wiped out the rest of that season. Morris went to spring training in 1995 with the Cincinnati Reds in a final attempt to catch on with a MLB team, but retired shortly afterward.

This writer believes the Baseball Hall of Fame Veteran’s Committee made the right call by inducting Jack Morris into the Hall (along with former Tigers teammate Alan Trammell). He didn’t have the gaudiest of numbers, but he won ballgames and gave his teams a lot of innings. He just seemed to WIN. Morris pitched 3,824 innings over his career, over 549 appearances. That’s an average of 6.97 innings every time he took the mound. He’s the guy I would want standing on the mound in a “must win game”.

 

National League Trade Deadline Winners/Losers

This past Tuesday, the MLB non-waiver trade deadline passed at 4:00 PM Eastern Standard Time. Some teams added and some teams subtracted, and some teams didn’t do a thing! In our last entry, we took a look at the trade deadline winners and losers in the AL. This time around, we will assess the teams in the National League that loaded up and those who missed the boat. Let’s get started!

 

Winners

 

Los Angeles Dodgers – The Dodgers front office team of Pres. Andrew Friedman and GM Farhan Zaidi landed Manny Machado from the Orioles, pried Brian Dozier from the Twins, and still managed to keep three of MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects in their system, including #29 prospect Alex Verdugo. LA had a slew of young talent in their system, using them in trades to stack their team for a deep playoff run. In a lesser deal, reliever John Axford was brought in from Toronto for pitcher Corey Copping. The Dodger lineup is loaded, their pitching is more than solid and they dropped 21 runs on the Brewers last night. I think they will be okay.

 

Atlanta Braves – The Braves weren’t expected to be this good, this quick, but here they are a half-game behind the 1st place Philadelphia Phillies. General Manager Alex Anthopoulos was a busy man, bring in starter Kevin Gausman and relievers Darren O’Day and Brad Brach from the Baltimore Orioles for a handful of prospects and future considerations. On deadline day, the Braves landed LF Adam Duvall from Cincinnati in exchange for LF Preston Tucker, RHP Matt Wisler and RHP prospect Lucas Sims. And on July 27, Anthopoulous brought back lefty reliever Jonny Venters back to the Braves organization where he began his career eight years ago. Venters has very much been a feel good story in 2018, having returned to the major leagues for the first time since 2012, after many years of elbow problems. The Braves made these trades and still have a deep farm system. They addressed most of their needs, and should be a tough team to beat this season and for many seasons to come.

 

Losers

 

Washington Nationals – The Nationals did absolutely nothing to add to their team as the trade deadline came and went. The only deals made prior to the 4:00 EST deadline on July 31, was shipping righty reliever Brandon Kintzler to the Chicago Cubs for RHP Jhon Romero. Kintzler was reported to be a clubhouse snitch in an article published by Yahoo’s Jeff Passan, saying the Nationals’ clubhouse was “a mess”. On July 22, OF Brian Goodwin was shipped to Kansas City for a lower level RHP prospect. Back on June 18, Rizzo made a deal with the Royals, adding future free agent Kelvin Herrera in return for three low-level minor league prospects, but he’s been unreliable, pitching to the tune of a 4.30 ERA and a FIP of 6.58. There were rumblings on Twitter about GM Mike Rizzo making RF and soon-to-be free agent Bryce Harper available via trade, but Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post sent out a tweet that the Nats were holding on to Harper, saying “I believe in this team”.

 

Colorado Rockies – Owners Dick and Charlie Monfort invested heavily this past offseason, adding closer Wade Davis, reliever Bryan Shaw and signing OF Charlie Blackmon to a long-term contract extension. As of this writing, the Rockies are 58-51, two games out of first place in the NL West. They are winning games, but it’s only because the Rockies are hitting the dog-snot out of the ball. Davis and Shaw have ERA’s that better resemble long distance area codes, as does lefty reliever Jake McGee. GM Jeff Bridich would have done well to add another reliable reliever for the pen and another starter to help out the rotation, but all he came up with was 35 year old Seunghwan Oh from the Toronto Blue Jays. Even that move came at a cost, with the Jays getting 1B Chad Spanberger and 2B/OF Forrest Wall (2014 1st round pick) in return. With the aforementioned Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks making moves to improve their teams, it’s easy to see them distancing themselves from the Rockies in the next two months.