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!

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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!

MLB Non-Roster Invitees – AL West

Well, something finally happened — Manny Machado agreed to a ten year contract with the San Diego Padres, first reported by Jeff Passan and Mark Feinsand.

Once Machado passes his physical, the deal will become official. Before long, Bryce Harper will choose where he plays for the next several years. Everyone….BREATHE!

Okay, back to why we’re here. Last time out, we examined some interesting non-roster invitees in the AL Central Division. Today we head west and finish off the American League West, starting with the Astros.

Houston Astros

  • J.B. Bukauskas (RHP) – Bukauskas, a 22 year old right-hander, was Houston’s first round draft pick in 2017. He was drafted out of high school in the 20th round of the 2014 draft by the Dbacks, but decided to go to college at the UNC. Bukauskas began ’18 with one abbreviated start in Rookie ball, made 13 more starts across various levels of A-league ball. He made one brilliant six inning start at AA Corpus Christi to finish the season. Overall J.B. pitched well, amassing a combined ERA of 2.14, walking 24 and striking out 71 over 59 innings. Bukauskas will most likely spend the larger part of 2019 in Double-A. If he does well, look for him to be promoted to Triple-A Round Rock late in 2019
  • Yordan Alvarez (LF/1B) – Yordan is the Astros number three rated prospect in their system, a power-hitting 6’5″ hulk of a man. The 21 year old Cuban played 88 games in 2018, almost evenly split between AA and AAA. He hit 20 home-runs in 379 plate appearances, with an overall slash-line of .293/.369/.534. Not too shabby. Expect to see him soon, probably later this season.
  • Forrest Whitley (RHP) – Things are looking better for the Astros second ranked prospect than a year ago. In early 2018, he was suspended 50 games for violating the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. After returning, Whitley made eight uninspiring starts for Double-A Corpus Christi. He put up a 3.76 ERA over 26.1 innings, striking out 34. Forrest also added another 26 innings of work in the Arizona Fall League with similar results. This young man has a lot of catching up to do to justify his being the organization’s number-one pick in the 2016 draft.

Los Angeles Angels

  • Jo Adell (CF) – Jordon Scott “Jo” Adell is a 19 year old center-fielder from Louisville, KY, the tenth player taken in the 2017 amateur draft. He spent most of 2018 playing in A-level ball in Burlington, Iowa. Adell was promoted to High-A Inland Empire (San Bernadino) after 25 games, and was again promoted to AA Mobile to finish the season. He stumbled in Double-A, hitting .238 in 17 games. Jo finished with 20 HR’s, and his power will only increase as he fills out. Adell, the top-ranked prospect in their system, plays all three outfield spots. Good thing, since the Angels CF spot is currently occupied by Mike Trout
  • Griffin Canning (RHP) – Canning, a 6’2″ righty out of Mission Viejo, CA is the second-ranked prospect of the Angels. Originally drafted in the 38th round by Colorado in 2014, he decided to go to college at UCLA. Re-entering the draft in 2017, the Angels selected Canning in the 2nd round. He rose quickly through the minors in 2018. He made two scoreless starts in High-A Inland Empire and was promoted to AA Mobile. Ten starts and a 2.17 ERA later, the 22 year old was promoted to Triple-A Salt Lake. The competition was stiffer in the Pacific Coast League. Canning was hit hard in Salt Lake, surrendering 68 hits and 22 walks over 59 innings, posting a 5.49 ERA. Chances are he spends most of the summer in AAA.
  • Peter Bourjos (OF) – A blast from the past! The rail-thin 31 year old vet played the first four seasons of his career in Anaheim. After 2013, Bourjos bounced from St. Louis to Philly, Tampa and Atlanta. The Braves released him in July, and shortly after he signed a minor league deal with the San Francisco Giants, finishing the year in AAA Sacramento. Bourjos doesn’t have the same speed he once had, but can steal a few bags and be a good defensive replacement. If you’re looking for offense, well, you’re dreaming.

Oakland Athletics

  • Sean Murphy (C) – Murphy is an athletic (see what I did there?) 24 year old strong-armed catcher. Murphy, a third round draft pick in the 2016 draft, had a productive season on both sides of the ball until he suffered a broken bone in his right hand. He recovered at the very tail-end of the season, and was promoted to Triple-A Nashville. Murphy played three games before the season ended, then went to Winter league ball in the Dominican League. He struggled in the Domincan Republic, hitting .185 with two home-runs and 13 RBI in 23 games. A’s fans can look to see him play this year in Las Vegas, the team’s new Triple-A affiliate.
  • Jesus Luzardo (LHP) – Luzardo, the first ranked prospect in the A’s system, was acquired from the Washington Nationals a part of the 2017 trade that sent Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson to D.C. The 21 year old southpaw began last season in High-A Stockton (Calif.) where he dominated opponents for three starts. Luzardo was promoted to AA Midland in the Texas League, posting a 7-3 record and 2.29 ERA, with 86 K’s in 79.2 innings. He was bumped up to Triple-A Nashville, where he was lit-up to the tune of 25 hits and 13 runs over 16 innings (7.31 ERA). Expect Luzardo and his mid-90’s fastball (he can reach back for 97-98 mph) to spend 2019 in AAA Las Vegas.
  • Jerry Blevins (LHP) – 35 year old Jerry Blevins started his major league career way back in 2007 with these same Oakland A’s. He enjoyed a long and productive career, primarily as a LOOGY (lefty one out guy). Blevins made 60 or more appearances in seven different seasons, proving his durability. He’s not a strikeout pitcher, rarely topping 90 mph but gets outs by mixing his ordinary fastball with a low-70’s looping curve. Jerry had an off-year, logging a 4.85 ERA, but can be very useful on the cheap for the perpetually cost-efficient A’s.

Seattle Mariners

  • Dustin Ackley (OF/2B/1B) – Ackley hasn’t appeared in a MLB game since an injury-riddled season in 2016 with the Yankees, but he’s still around. He signed a minor league deal with the M’s on January 24, after spending the last two seasons with the Salt Lake Bees, the Triple-A affiliate of the Angels. Ackley, soon to be 31, was the 2009 first round pick of the Mariners. At best, Dustin will be a very useful piece at a low price if he makes the big-league club. At worst, he will be experienced minor league filler at the AAA level.
  • Kyle Lewis (CF) – Lewis was the Mariners first round draft pick (#11 overall) in 2016. His career was slowed by a right knee injury that he suffered in late 2016. It cost him the majority of 2017 after re-aggravating it, eventually leading to his knee being scoped in February 2018. After he returned, the 23 year old center-fielder split last year between High-A Modesto (Calif.) and AA Arkansas, posting a combined .244/.306/.405 slash-line. In 86 games, Lewis hit 9 home-runs and drove in 52 RBI. If his knee problems resurface, he will be likely destined for a corner outfield spot. Expect him to begin 2019 in Double-A Arkansas.
  • Ichiro Suzuki (OF) – Amazing. Simply amazing. Those were my initial thoughts upon discovering that this will be Ichiro’s 28th season in professional baseball, when you include his nine seasons in Japan. At age 45, he isn’t expected to play very much if he makes the team. If so, Ichiro won’t embarrass himself out there. I won’t bet against him, as no one takes better care of his body.

Texas Rangers

  • Tim Dillard (RHP) – Dillard was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2002’s amateur draft, and spent the next 16 seasons in the organization, mostly in the minor leagues. The 35 year old Dillard made 73 appearances over parts of four seasons in a Brewers uniform, mostly in 2011 and 2012. He hasn’t made a big league appearance since, but became a beloved figure among fans in Milwaukee in large part because he’s one of the funniest people on Twitter (@DimTillard – you should follow him).
  • Jason Hammel (RHP) – The 36 year old from Greenville, SC has seen better days. Hammel spent the last two seasons with the Kansas City Royals, including a record of 4-14 with a 6.02 ERA last season. He began the year in the starting rotation and pitched himself out of it by the All-Star break, thanks in large part to a particularly gruesome four-start stretch where he surrendered 27 runs in 17.2 innings. He does not throw hard enough to overcome mistakes as he did in earlier years. At the big league level, he’s nothing more than a warm body to eat insignificant innings.
  • Hunter Pence (RF) – Pence has had a long, productive career and wants to keep playing, so he signed a minor league deal with the Rangers on February 7. He spent time re-working his swing over the winter after a rough 2018 when he hit a career-worst .226. Pence only hit four home-runs in 97 games. It didn’t help that he missed more than six weeks with a sprained right thumb early in the season. Another great follow on Twitter (@hunterpence), by the way.

Before we close, I want to pay respect to San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who is retiring after the 2019 season. I have long admired Mr. Bochy for the way he goes about things. He just carries himself as a friendly professional. Here is a very a proud moment for him, handing the ball to his son, Brett Bochy for the first time.

And with that, we have looked at each team in the American League. In a few days, we will delve into the National League, beginning with the NL East Division. Who know, maybe even by then Bryce Harper will have found a home — I still think it’ll be the Phillies. We’ll found out. See you then!

MLB Non-Roster Invitees – American League Central

Welcome back! Pitchers and catchers have been in camps across Florida and Arizona, getting acquainted or reacquainted with each other. This week, position players will be in camp looking to get things started. In addition to players on 40 man rosters, there are several “non roster invitees” with each team, looking to make good impressions. Some are young guys, usually early round picks that teams are excited to see, and the rest are veteran ballplayers trying to latch on somewhere.

On Friday, we took a look at three non-roster invitees on each team in the AL East who To start off your Monday. Let’s pick three NRI’s on each team in the AL Central to talk about.

Chicago White Sox

  • Blake Rutherford (RF) – Rutherford, a 2016 1st round draft pick, came to the White Sox in the summer of 2017 from the New York Yankees in the deal that sent David Robertson, Todd Frazier and Tommy Kahnle to the Bronx. Rutherford, 21, spent last year in High-A ball where he posted a .293/.345/.436 slash line to go with seven home runs and 78 RBI. A left-handed hitter, Rutherford is tall and lanky (6’3″, 195), can play all three outfield spots and can steal a few bags (15 in 2018). He is expected to begin 2019 with the Double-A Birmingham Barons.
  • Ryan Goins (INF) – Goins began the 2018 season with the Royals, where he posted an anemic .226 average in 41 games. He was released at the beginning of July and signed a minor league deal with Philadelphia the following day. The 31 year old Goins spent the rest of the season with their Triple-A team where he hit .220 over 42 games. At least he was consistent. He’s no more than minor league filler, but will provide steady infield defense no matter where he plays.
  • Evan Marshall (RHP) – If 28 year old Evan Marshall never throws another major league pitch, he’s come out on top. He’s overcome and returned from brain injury from a 105 mph comebacker and he and his wife, Allie, had a major health scare when their four-month son Ryan became ill. Thankfully, it appears both Evan and Ryan are healthy now. Here’s hoping Evan can resume his major league career on Chicago’s South Side in 2019.

Cleveland Indians

  • Dioner Navarro (C) – Wait, what? The 35 year old switch-hitting catcher hasn’t played a major league game since 2016, when he split the season between the White Sox and Toronto Blue Jays, hitting a weak .207. In 2018, Navarro played 20 games with the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League, with pedestrian results. Surprises can happen, but I will be stunned if he plays another MLB game.
  • Matt Joyce (OF) – After hitting a career-high 25 home runs in 2017, the left-handed slugger lost his mojo in ’18. He finished the season barely above the “Mendoza Line” at .208 and only seven HR’s in 83 games. After two seasons in Oakland, Joyce signed a minor-league deal with the Tribe a little more than a week ago. He rebounded nicely in ’16 after having a rough 2015 season in Anaheim, but at age 34, the odds are a bit longer.
  • Alex Wilson (RHP) – Signed to a minor league deal the same day as the aforementioned Matt Joyce, Wilson came from the Tigers, where he spent the last four seasons. He had decent numbers last season, posting a 1.05 WHIP to go with a 3.36 ERA. The 32 year old Wilson isn’t a strikeout pitcher. He “only” throws 92-93 with his heat and has a cutter (86-88) he employs well. Wilson could be a guy the Indians make good use of, especially after losing Andrew Miller and Cody Allen to free agency

Detroit Tigers

  • Casey Mize (RHP) – 21 year old Casey Mize was the number one pick in last year’s amateur draft after a successful collegiate career at Auburn University. He has a fastball that ranges 92-96 and can reach back for a little more when he needs it. Mize made five brief starts in the low minors, all but one at High-A ball in Lakeland (Florida State League). Over his 11.2 innings, he struck out ten and walked only two. Look for Mize to spend all 2019 in the minors, and at the very least the first month of 2020 so the Tigers can keep an extra year of team control.
  • Daz Cameron (OF) – Cameron, a 2015 first-round draft pick of the Houston Astros, was acquired by Detroit in the 2017 mid-season trade that sent Justin Verlander to Houston. The young center-fielder, the son of former MLB outfielder Mike Cameron, began 2018 in High-A Lakeland. He was promoted to Double-A after 58 games, and again promoted to Triple-A Toledo after a good showing in more than fifty games in Erie. In AAA, the sleek right-handed hitter struggled a bit in his brief 15 game stint as a Mud Hen. Look for him to begin ’19 in Toledo, but he could be in the Motor City by September, maybe even mid-season if he tears it up.
  • Pete Kozma (INF) – Thirty year old Pete Kozma will never be confused for a good hitter, but hard work and determination are a staple of his. After his days with the Cardinals ended after 2015, he bounced from the Yankees to the Rangers, to Detroit. He even found time to play 24 games with the Perth Heat of the Australian Baseball League. Expect Pete to play in Toledo this year, assuming he stays with the organization. If nothing else, Kozma’s work ethic and experience will be more important to the team than his actual play.

Kansas City Royals

  • Drew Storen (RHP) – The ink on Storen’s minor league deal isn’t even dry, having signed his contract on Friday, Feb. 15.

If he doesn’t make the team, he has an opt-out he can exercise on March 25. Storen spent 2018 recovering and rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, last pitching for the Cincinnati Reds in 2017. If Drew is healthy, he will be a serviceable reliever. Storen, now 31, doesn’t have the velocity he had when he was closing for the Nationals in the early part of this decade, but he knows how to pitch. It’s no-risk, high reward potential for the Royals.

  • Homer Bailey (RHP) – Also pulled from Cincinnati’s recycling bin is former Red Homer Bailey, he of one of the most hideous season stat-lines in recent history. All he did over his 20 starts was go 1-14 with a 6.09 ERA and WHIP of 1.63. He is still only 32, and the velocity is still more than good enough, averaging more than 93 with his gas. Perhaps a much needed change of scenery and some mechanical adjustments will do Bailey good. Another no-risk/potential high reward.
  • M.J. Melendez (C) – 20 year old Melendez was Kansas City’s second round pick in 2017 and is rated as the team’s fifth-best prospect in their system. He spent last year in A-ball in Lexington of the South Atlantic League where he hit a respectable .251 with 19 home runs and 73 RBI in 111 games. It’ll be a while before Melendez reaches the majors for good, but rubbing elbows with the boys in the big-club now will be good motivation for him to work hard and get back.

Minnesota Twins

  • Royce Lewis (SS) – Royce is the top prospect in the Twins organization and was the number one pick of the 2017 amateur draft. Lewis, 19, spent last season split between Single-A Cedar Rapids, where he hit .315, and High-A Fort Myers (.255). His combined stats were respectable, logging .292/.352/.451 with 14 HR’s and 74 RBI. He stole 28 bases in 36 attempts. Lewis had 21 errors in 112 games, but experience and maturity will help clean that up. Look for him to start the season in High-A ball and advance to AA Pensacola later in 2019. If he really crushes it, a promotion to AAA Rochester late in the season isn’t be out of the question.
  • Lucas Duda (1B/DH) – Like a lot of current free agents, the market just hasn’t been there this offseason. The lefty power-hitting Duda took what he could, signing a minor league deal last week. The Twins need a first baseman after Joe Mauer retired, and this is a low-risk deal that will pay off if the 33 year old Duda has a rebound year. He’s never going to hit for average, but if Lucas hits closer to the 30 jacks he tallied in 2017, it’ll be well worth it.
  • Tim Collins (LHP) – Collins first made it to the major leagues back in 2011, when he made the Royals team out of spring training. He stayed in Kansas City through 2014, then missed the 2015, ’16 and ’17 seasons because he had two Tommy John surgeries. The 28 year old Collins resurfaced in 2018 with the Washington Nationals, making 38 appearances. The 5’7″, 168 lb. lefty is small in stature, but still generates a good fastball, still reaching 93-94 even after his elbow surgeries.

And with that, we’ve knocked off the AL Central Division. On Wednesday, we will turn our eyes to some non roster invitees in the AL West. Please join us!

MLB Non-Roster Invitees – American League East

Spring training is finally here! Pitchers and catchers are already with their teams in Arizona and Florida, along with a good number of position players looking to get a head-start on things.

There are always a ton of players in MLB camps every spring, the majority of them being players on the 40-man rosters. Every team also has a number of players who are “non roster invitees”. The term is pretty self-explanatory. These guys are players who are not on the 40 man, but are invited to major league camp so the front office, manager and coaches can take a look at them. It’s generally a mix of young talent (think early round draft picks) and older players who are looking to looking to latch on with teams, hoping to continue their careers.

Today we’re going to look at a few players on each team in the American League East Division, and we will cover the remaining AL and National League divisions in future articles. Here we go!

Baltimore Orioles

Sean Gilmartin (LHP) – Gilmartin is a 28 year old soft-tossing lefty pitcher who first broke in with the New York Mets in 2015. He pitched very well in the ’15 season, but has scuffled in succeeding years, kicking around the minor leagues. He surfaced in Baltimore in 2018, pitching to a 3.00 ERA in 27 innings. He may come in handy for the O’s in 2019, and lefties have a way of sticking around.

Jace Peterson (Utility) – Peterson began 2018 with the New York Yankees, but was gone by the end of April when the Orioles plucked him off waivers after playing only three games in the Bronx. He didn’t hit well, ending the season on the Mendoza-line (.200 average), but he proved to be handy because he can play anywhere on the field. The Orioles have little talent, so the 28 year old handyman may end up sticking. Being a left-handed bat helps.

Mike Yastrzemski (OF) – Does the name Yastrzemski sound familiar? If you know your baseball history, it should. Yes, Mike is the grandson of former Red Sox legend and Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski. The 28 year old bats left-handed like his grandfather and plays good defense in the outfield like him. In 2018, he spent the bulk of the season in Triple-A Norfolk, where he had a slash-line of .265/.359/.441. If young Yaz has a productive spring, he could fill a gap with the big club until some of their OF prospects are ready down the line.

Boston Red Sox

Erasmo Ramirez (RHP) – It seems like the former Tampa Bay Rays and Seattle Mariners hurler has been around forever, having made his debut back in 2012, but he’s only 28 years old. After Seattle acquired him in the middle of the 2017 season, he pitched reasonably well, compiling a 3.92 ERA down the stretch. Things went sideways last season. Ramirez made ten starts, pitching to the tune of a 6.50 ERA over 45.2 innings. He spent a few months on the DL with a shoulder injury, which might have been why he was so ineffective last season. The Red Sox’s rotation is pretty well set, but a good spring could land him a bullpen spot or a MLB deal elsewhere.

Zach Putnam (RHP) – The 31 year old Putnam hasn’t pitched since April 2017, when he injured his elbow in the middle of a game, resulting in Tommy John Surgery. He signed a minor league deal in December. He doesn’t throw hard (91-92) but was effective in 2016 (2.30 ERA), striking out more than a batter per inning. If Putnam stays healthy, he could provide good bullpen depth.

Rusney Castillo (OF) – The Red Sox signed the Cuba-born outfielder prior to the 2014 season to a seven year deal worth more than 72 million dollars. For all this money, the Sox have received a grand total of seven home-runs and 35 RBI since Castillo signed his name to the contract. He played a half season in 2015 in Boston and a handful of games in ’16, after which the Sox correctly figured Castillo was a bust. They have to pay him anyway, so he may as well be in big-league camp. He will probably be paid another 11 million to play in Pawtucket in 2019. His contract has an opt-out after this year, but I’m pretty sure he’ll want the 14 million he will be owed in 2020.

New York Yankees

Danny Farquhar (RHP) – Danny’s 2018 season came to an abrupt halt in late April after he suffered a brain hemorrhage in the White Sox dugout in the middle of an appearance. He made an incredible recovery after having life-saving brain surgery, and the Yankees signed him to a minor league deal on February 1. Farquhar has good stuff, but with mixed results over his career. If the soon to be 32 year old stays healthy, he will be excellent bullpen depth. This is such a great feel-good story, it won’t matter if he throws another pitch because he’s already won. I’m rooting for him.

Ryan Lavarnway (C) – The Yankees signed Lavarnway to a minor league deal in early November with an invitation to big league camp. The 31 year old will likely spend 2019 in Triple-A Scranton Wilkes Barre as depth and to add a veteran presence to work with the organization’s young hurlers such as Michael King, Domingo Acevedo and others. This is a nice addition.

Mike Ford (1B/DH) – 26 year old Mike Ford is a power-hitting first baseman who has worked his way through the Yankees minor league system. In 2017, he hit 20 home runs between AA Trenton and AAA Scranton, but was left unprotected on the 40 man. The Seattle Mariners took him in that winter’s Rule 5 Draft, meaning the M’s had to keep him on their big league roster for all of 2018, or have to return him to the Yankees organization. The latter happened, and he was returned. He hit 16 homers last year in Triple-A, and provided a slash-line of .253/.327/.433. His strong left-handed bat is good insurance if Luke Voit and/or Greg Bird go down.

Tampa Bay Rays

Ryan Merritt (LHP) – Remember him? The former Cleveland Indians pitcher who made a strong postseason start in Toronto back in 2016 has battled shoulder injury problems ever since. He was released last fall and quickly signed a minor league deal with the Rays. Merritt, soon to be 27 years old, never threw hard but does throw strikes —  and the Rays have a way of getting a lot out of their pitchers, so who knows?

Emilio Bonafacio (Utility) – Bonafacio is yet another guy who seemingly has been around forever, but is “only” 33 years of age. He’s played on eight different MLB teams, and if he makes the Rays squad, it’ll be nine. The switch-hitting utilityman spent most of 2018 with the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League, where he hit .348 and stole 20 bags. With a young team, his veteran presence could go a long way, and his hard work would set an example for the kids.

Oliver Drake (RHP) – This poor guy must always keep his bags packed. He spent time on the rosters of five (FIVE!) different major league teams in 2018, having been plucked continuously off waivers. Despite all this time migrating from once place to another, he managed to make 44 appearances (1-1, 5.29 ERA), recording 51 strikeouts over 47.2 innings. Hopefully the 32 year old Drake will find a home with the Rays.

Toronto Blue Jays

Eric Sogard (INF) – Sogard spent the last two seasons in Milwaukee after spending parts of six seasons with the Oakland A’s. He was released by the Brewers on Sept. 1 with an anemic .134 average. Tampa signed him to a minor league deal in December and will add depth. There’s not much chance of him making the big league squad, as there are too many guys ahead of him. The 32 year old Sogard will likely be slated for Triple-A Buffalo. He’s a pro and young kids such as Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will benefit from his tutelage.

Mark Leiter, Jr. (RHP) – 27 year old Mark Leiter, Jr. was selected off waivers on Sept. 1 by the Blue Jays after the Phillies DFA’ed him. He came up as a starter in the Philadelphia organization and made a handful of starts for the Phillies in 2016 with mixed results. Leiter, the son of former MLB pitcher Mark Leiter and nephew of Al Leiter, pitched exclusively out of the pen last season. He’s not overpowering, topping out in the low 90’s and will probably be minor league filler in 2019.

Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. (3B) – I saved the best for last. This is Vladdy Jr’s first big league camp. To be sure, it will be his last as a non-roster invitee. The 19 year old son of MLB Hall of Fame right-fielder Vladimir Guerrero tore the cover off the ball between AA and AAA in 2018, to the tune of a .381/.437/.636 slash-line. He hit 20 home runs in 95 games and had 227 total bases. What stands out to me is the fact he only struck out 38 times in 357 at bats, walking 37 times. I had the privilege of watching him at a game in Buffalo last August. Here he is facing Scranton Wilkes Barre’s lefty Nestor Cortes, Jr.

 

 

Vladdy will likely begin the 2019 season with the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons, to give the Blue Jays an extra year of team control. I can’t wait to see what he can do when he’s called up, which will likely be early May.

In our next entry, we’ll take a look at some non-roster invitees in the AL Central. I hope you’ll join us!

Wild Horse Galloping to Cincy

Things had been mostly quiet on the western front since the end of MLB’s Winter Meetings more than a week ago. A late afternoon trade between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Cincinnati Reds was equivalent to pouring gasoline into the proverbial hot stove.

At 4:25 PM EST, Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan fired off a tweet that warned the baseball world that a trade was imminent.

As you might predict, that got baseball Twitter all kinds of fired up. Several tweets from the winter meetings resurfaced regarding the possibility of Dodgers OF Yasiel Puig being involved in a potential deal. Nine minutes later, Passan sent out another tweet, this time with the specifics.

This is clearly a salary-dump move that benefits each team. Homer Bailey had been absolutely dreadful since signing his deal with the Reds a number of years ago, and moving Kemp and Puig allows the Dodgers room to make their much anticipated run for Bryce Harper in their now-vacant right field. It also has been noted on Twitter that Kemp and Puig weren’t very happy with manager Dave Roberts‘ platoon system and were looking to move on from LA because of it.

In other news, MLB Network’s Jon Heyman tweeted that free agent shortstop Manny Machado won’t be making any decision on a new team until after the New Year.

This also likely means Bryce Harper won’t be making a decision until after New Year’s Day either. So grab a Snickers bar and your blanket and toss another log into the stove. I would also like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. Stay warm, be safe and enjoy your loved ones! 😎🎅🏽

The Battle for the NL West is Hot!

Here we are in the first week of September. It’s been a hot summer here in the northeast, but cooler temps are on the horizon as Fall gets closer and closer. Most everyone associates Fall with raking leaves, drinking warm cocoa and watching football.

But let’s not forget the hot battles for divisions and wild-cards in MLB. All three divisions in the National League are still up for grabs, and none is hotter than the NL West. As of this writing (9/6), the Colorado Rockies lead the division, 1.5 games ahead of the LA Dodgers and 2 games ahead of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

 

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The Rockies, Dodgers and Dbacks each have roughly two dozen games left, so lets take a look at the remaining schedule for each team.

Rockies:

Starting Friday night, Colorado begins a seven game home-stand against the Dodgers for three games, followed by Arizona for four games. After that, the Rockies take to the road for ten games against the San Francisco Giants, Dodgers and Dbacks. After the road trip concludes, Colorado returns home for their final seven games beginning with a four game set against the Philadelphia Phillies and ending with three games against the Washington Nationals.

With the Rockies playing 14 of their last 23 games at home, coupled with them riding a five game winning streak, I think they have the best chance at winning the division.

 

Dodgers:

The Dodgers begin a ten game road trip on Friday in Colorado for three games, followed by another three game set in Cincinnati against the Reds, and concluding with a four game series in St. Louis against the Cardinals. The Dodgers return to Los Angeles the next day (9/17) to begin a three game set against the Rockies, followed by their final series at home against the San Diego Padres. LA finishes the season on the road with three games in Phoenix against the Dbacks, followed by another three against the Giants in San Francisco.

The odds are going to be much longer against the Dodgers, as they play 16 of their last 22 games on the road. They play ten games in ten days, and return home from St. Louis the next day to play the Rockies at home. With the travel and stiff competition, they are going to be weary and I’m not sure the Dodgers have enough to overcome. We’ll see.

 

Dbacks:

Arizona has 22 games remaining, and 12 of them are at home. Starting Friday night, the Dbacks have a three game series at home against the Atlanta Braves, then hit the road for a four game series against the Rockies, followed by three games in Houston against the Astros. Upon the conclusion of that series, they return back home for a nine game home-stand against the Chicago Cubs, Rockies and Dodgers — all of them three game series. After an off-day, the Dbacks conclude the regular season with three games in San Diego against the Padres.

I think Arizona’s remaining schedule is the most friendly of these three teams. When they are on the road, they only have to travel to Denver, Houston and San Diego — which are relatively short distances from home. Also, they have two off days built in (Sept. 20 and 27) to rest up tired bodies. The Dbacks have lost seven of their last 10 games, but they could have a golden opportunity to gain momentum by taking advantage of the easy schedule going forward.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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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”.