After tonight's 4-3 Reds win over the Brewers, Cincinnati closer Aroldis Chapman did something you don't see every day in baseball: a pair of somersaults off the mound, popping up in front of astonished Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan. Hanigan and Chapman exchanged a handshake and a brief hug before going about the rest of their team celebrations after the win.
The successful outing was much-needed for Chapman, who's allowed four runs over his last three outings, blowing the save and getting the loss and two of those appearances. Tonight, he struck out the side and finished off the game with a 99 mph heater to Brewers catcher Martin Maldonado that was ridiculously out of the zone. Just like a proper closer does...
I'm sure we all know (and adore!) the lovely rule of the MLB All-Star game that stipuates that every team must have a representative in the game. In some years, this leads to some absolutely silly scenarios, like Kevin Correia representing the Pirates last year (while all-world center fielder Andrew McCutchen was relegated to the Final Vote ballot, which he won in a landslide) or Ty Wigginton as the lone Oriole in 2010 (thanks to the inane utility player selection recently instituted). But sometimes, there's a really great player on a bad team that deserves to go to the game, and usually does without much of a discussion. But sometimes, it's really tough, and we end up with situations like "Evan Meek: All-Star".
At any rate, I'm going to take a look at the 12 teams currently under .500, and see who their token rep in the All-Star game will be...or maybe, they'll even have multiple players that are deserving.
Detroit Tigers: Prince Fielder is going to go, as he currently has a 600,000 vote lead on Paul Konerko for the AL's starting first base job. Third baseman Miguel Cabrera will probably end up making the trip to Kansas City as well, due to the dire state of AL third basemen right now thanks to a glut of injuries. Center fielder Austin Jackson also deserves an all-expenses paid trip to Kauffman Stadium, due to his three win season so far, but the 20 games or so he missed might hurt him. Reigning AL Cy Young and MVP winner Justin Verlander is also pretty much locked into the game as well. The Tigers will get somewhere between two and four All-Stars...not so bad for a team under .500 that's been a huge disappointment this year.
Kansas City Royals: As the host team, you'd like to see the Royals get multiple players into the game in their home stadium, but only two players are standing out for me: left fielder Alex Gordon, and third baseman Mike Moustakas. Most of Gordon's value comes from his defense, and he's not tearing the cover off of the ball like he did last year. As for Moustakas, the same point that stood for Cabrera stands for him. It's a weak third base crop this year, and Moustakas is having a great year.
Jon Heyman of CBS is reporting that there is apparently a decent bit of interest in San Diego Padres third baseman Chase Headley. Headley currently has a .780 OPS for the last place Padres, and is just 28 years-old. He's only being paid $3.475 million this year, and is under team control for the next two seasons.
Since he became a regular in 2009 for San Diego, Headley has amassed a team-high 12.1 fWAR, with the only player coming close to that total being Adrian Gonzalez, who was traded last winter to the Red Sox. Headley has a .740 OPS with the Padres for his career, and also provides Gold Glove level defense. That .740 OPS is extremely misleading on the surface, due to half of Headley's games being played in the hitters' hellhole that is Petco Park. Away from Petco, Headley has an .808 OPS and a .144 ISO, compared to a .666 OPS and .106 ISO at Petco.
Headley is one of the premiere third basemen in baseball, a position that has become relatively weakened in recent years. His 3.0 fWAR this season is second to only David Wright of the Mets, and his .780 OPS is one of the top numbers in the league, even with the Petco Park factor in play. Over the last four years, Headley is a top ten fWAR player at third base, and when you exclude players who have gotten a lot of time at other positions (Kevin Youkilis, Alex Rodriguez, Martin Prado), he's a borderline top five player at the position.
Catching prospect and last name winner Travis d'Arnaud, pictured to the left, is killing it for the Las Vegas 51s, the Triple-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays. I got back from Las Vegas last Wednesday night with much less money than d'Arnaud has. Then again, I also arrived with much less money than d'Arnaud has. Although he is not a part of our Minor League Top 10 this week, he gets a picture on here because, well, Vegas, baby. Vegas.
An Ode To Trevor Bauer
Oh, Trevor. You have grown so much in such a short amount of time. At the beginning of this year, I was marveling at your strikeout prowess while bemoaning your control issues. At this point, it's all moot, considering you went to Triple-A Reno, a high scoring environment, and became a better pitcher in the process. Your three pitch combo is fantastic. You are a #2-type who could become an ace with a fourth pitch. But for now? You are exactly what Arizona needs right now considering their offensive woes. May you do your best against the Dodgers and your worst against the Giants.
Minor League Top 10
1. Dylan Bundy, RHP - High-A Frederick (BAL) - 5 GS, 3-2, 3.42 ERA, 23 2/3 IP, 20 H, 9 ER, 25/8 K/BB ratio - Bundy isn't the god he was at Low-A ball, but he's certainly showing off his dominance with Frederick, being downright nasty in his last start, going five innings while allowing two hits and two walks and striking out two. He's still a ways away from being an Oriole, but chances are he'll finish out the year in Frederick and get a chance to really show off his stuff in Double-A next year, where a good showing could make him the Harper or Trout version of a pitching prospect.
2. Jurickson Profar, SS - Double-A Frisco (TEX) - .293/.373/.470, 30 XBH (7 HR), 46/37 K/BB ratio, 9-for-12 SB - Yep. That's an .843 OPS by a 19-year-old shortstop. The Rangers are now zeroing in on a couple of problems. Mike Olt is having a year that could make him a Ranger in due time thanks to Mitch Moreland's injury, and Profar is having the type of year that is making Elvis Andrus expendable (the same Andrus who is hitting .302/.379/.410 and is somehow hitting his ESPN triple slash projection RIGHT ON THE BUTTON). Profar's arrival could also open up money for Josh Hamilton's return, which can't be understated at all. Even with no room for him at the big league level, if the Rangers can somehow swing a deal for Andrus, they might not lose a step at all up the middle. That's insane.
3. Taijuan Walker, RHP - Double-A Jackson (SEA) - 12 GS, 4-3, 3.79 ERA, 57 IP, 53 H, 26 R (24 ER), 59/23 K/BB ratio - Walker has given up 13 earned runs over his last three starts after giving up only seven over the six starts leading up to that stretch. His last start was especially ugly (3 2/3 IP, 6 H, 6 ER, 3 BB, 4 K) but Mariners fans must not worry. This looks like it's just a swoon for right now after a great start, and if that's the case, the Generals will be hoping for Walker to bounce back much sooner than later and return to his status as the best non-Bundy pitching prospect out there.
There are still a few days left in voting for the 2012 All-Star Game, but that doesn't mean it is too early to predict the ENTIRE American League All-Star roster. That's a good thing, because that is just what I went and did. I'd hate to think I wasted all that time guessing at the roster selections for an exhibition game. Phew!
C - Mike Napoli: A million votes ahead of Mauer, he's a lock. 1B - Prince Fielder: He'll beat out Konerko barring last minute voter fraud. That would never happen in Chicago, right? 2B - Robinson Cano: He is in a tight race with Kinsler but appears to have the momentum. 3B - Adrian Beltre: Miguel Cabrera is making a late push, but it looks to be too little too late. SS - Derek Jeter: You can't keep the Captain down. OF - Josh Hamilton: He's on the verge of a new voting record, so he seems like a safe bet. OF - Curtis Granderson: He was on the cusp for awhile but is now in with ease. OF - Jose Bautista: The ballot box stuffers in Texas could push Nelson Cruz past Joey Bats, but they have tailed off too much of late to close the gap. DH - David Ortiz: He's going to get the start, let's hope he doesn't rip these teammates in the media.
There may well be no stranger feeling than when you're with a group of people who are quite experienced at their craft in a place where something very important is allegedly happening and the rest of the world seems to know more about said happening than everyone in that room combined.
That was the case Sunday afternoon at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago. Right around the 6th inning of the Brewers-White Sox game, buzz began building on social media that the Sox were on the verge of acquiring Kevin Youkilis from the Red Sox, with some early reports suggesting that the deal was completed long before anything was ever announced. At the time, Mike Fiers and Jose Quintana were engaged in the second pitchers' duel of the series, a scoreless contest that saw both pitchers who had been afterthoughts going into this season twirling masterpieces.
I was at the game on assignment for ESPN Playbook and RedEye just hoping to grab a couple of real quick fun features. Instead, I and everyone else in the press box found ourselves in the middle of the second biggest story to come out of the South side this season after Philip Humber's perfect game.
What ensued was one of the more bizarre experiences I've had in nearly a decade of working in sports and in the media. Veteran reporters were checking Twitter to see what others thousands of miles away were reporting. Was Youkilis still in the game? What exactly did the Red Sox clubbie say about his locker being cleaned out?
We were the ones paid to know everything about said contest and at that moment, we knew precisely nothing.
As the innings wore on, more information leaked out from the internet and seemingly everyone who wasn't at the very stadium of the team that it would affect knew more than we did. I approached White Sox PR late in the game and asked if we'd be attending a press conference that wasn't the standard one offered up by manager Robin Ventura. They seemed to know as much as the rest of us.
I asked a veteran reporter if she could find Brett Lillibridge, one of the players alleged to be involved in the trade, in the White Sox dugout in the 9th inning. She could not and neither could I. That was, perhaps, our first indication, that the internet buzz was about to turn into a real life roar.
Twenty minutes later, Eduardo Escobar would pinch hit for Lillibridge and drive in the game's only run, sending us scrambling for the eleevators. Ten minutes after that, every single reporter scrambled down four flights to the post-game interview room where Sox GM Kenny Williams would meet us and inform us that the rumors were in fact true and now we faced deadlines to beat and face to save.
A rallying cry this offseason among people watching the Arizona Diamondbacks has been "FREE TREVOR BAUER", referring to the fifth overall pick in last year's amateur draft who is running roughshod over the minor leagues. After 93 innings and 16 starts in the minors this year, the call has been made, and Bauer will make his major league debut for the Diamondbacks on Thursday in Atlanta against the Braves.
Arizona needed to make a move to bring up a starter after Joe Saunders was forced to go on the DL yesterday with inflammation in his left shoulder. After Bauer's fellow prospect Pat Corbin earned a shot in the majors earlier this year (before being demoted to AAA Reno), either Corbin or the highly touted Bauer seemed like the logical option to replace Saunders in the rotation, and Bauer was the choice.
The UCLA alum has absolutely dominated the minors this year, much like he dominated the NCAA during his career as a Bruin. Bauer has struck out 116 batters in those 93 minor league innings this season, which leads all minor leaguers. Hell, it's also more than any pitcher in the majors has. Some fans had lamented Bauer's season due to a relatively high walk total (48 this year), but scouts were attributing that to Bauer learning how to pitch professionally and master his pitches, as opposed to a lack of control or command.
Perhaps most impressive to me about Bauer is that eight of his starts this season came in the extremely hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. Bauer had a 2.82 ERA in PCL play, and had allowed more than three runs in a start just once. Bauer also got more ground ball outs in PCL play than he did when he was in the AA Southern League, perhaps showing an ability to modify his pitching style based on the park he was in, a very unique and impressive trait.
At any rate, Bauer will take his place in a pretty solid Arizona rotation. They've used a total of seven starters this year, with Josh Collmenter quickly losing his job and being forced to the bullpen, and Corbin making a few starts while Daniel Hudson was on the DL. Hudson's been pretty bad this year, but Miley, Trevor Cahill, and Ian Kennedy have been pretty damn good, combing for 5.7 fWAR. Replacing the soft-throwing, mediocre Saunders with Bauer is a step in the right direciton for a team that has struggled for the first two months of the year before getting hot here in June and making it a three-team race in the NL West.
The Diamondbacks would be foolish to send Bauer down and replace him with Saunders when the veteran comes off of the DL. By the same token, I think they'd be foolish if they replaced Hudson with Saunders. Kennedy and Cahill aren't going anywhere, and Miley has been such a great surprise that Arizona can't make a move involving him. It makes you possibly wonder whether or not they could dangle Saunders or Hudson over the next month, especially with Corbin and fellow top prospect Tyler Skaggs also on the cusp of the majors.
Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis has been a hot target of trade rumors all week, with a number of teams linked to him. The three apparent front runners for his services were the Dodgers, Indians, and White Sox, and this afternoon, rumors are swirling furiously that he's heading to Chicago. Youkilis's name plate has been removed from his locker at Fenway Park, and he was removed early from today's game against the Braves. Jon Heyman thinks that the deal is done, and many others believe the same thing.
But how good of a fit would Youkilis be on the South Side? Well quite frankly, there aren't many third basemen in the league who *wouldn't* be an improvement for the White Sox at third base. Chicago's third baseman have hit a pathetic .176/.250/.235 this year with just one home run, and have actually been worth -1.5 wins. That is beyond awful. Even Youkilis, who has been killed by injuries this year, was an improvement on those numbers. He's hit .233/.315/.377 with four homers, good for roughly a replacement level performance.
This isn't the same Kevin Youkilis that had three (and nearly five) straight four win seasons over the prime years of his career. But even a below-average Youkilis season is better than the peaks of the injured Brent Morel, the washed up Orlando Hudson, or the young, untested Eduardo Escobar. And the best case scenario is even better for the White Sox. Imagine if Youkilis, not needing to anchor the heart of the Red Sox order behind Adrian Gonzalez, started hitting like his old self at the bottom of Chicago's order. With a monster in Adam Dunn, the consistently great Paul Konerko, the rebounding Alex Rios, and the solid AJ Pierzynski hitting ahead of him, there won't be much pressure on Youkilis to be "the man" for the White Sox.
Acquiring Youkilis doesn't make the White Sox the World Series favorites in the American League. Hell, with the Tigers offense starting to heat up, they might not even be the favorite in the AL Central anymore. But one thing is for certain: with Youkilis starting at third base for the next three month, the White Sox just got a hell of a lot better, even if Youkilis isn't an MVP candidate anymore.
Jim Thome hit a walkoff homer yesterday as the Phillies beat the Rays 7-6. It was his 13th career walkoff homer, which is the most all-time, breaking a tie that Thome was in with Mickey Mantle, Jimmie Foxx, Babe Ruth, Stan Musial, and Frank Robinson. The game-ending homer was also the 609th of Thome's career, tying him with Sammy Sosa for the seventh most all-time. Thome only got into the walk-off situation yesterday because of Jonathan Papelbon blowing his first save of the year for the Phililes. Before the bottom of the ninth kicked off, Papelbon offered Thome a check for $5,000 if he hit a walkoff homer. Thome did, and Papelbon paid up.
Game of the Night: Blue Jays 7, Marlins 1. This game was very hotly contested...until the ninth inning, that is. The score was deadlocked at one, after great efforts on the mound by starters Brett Cecil and Josh Johnson. But in the ninth, it was a bullpen game. In the top of the inning, Edwin Encarnacio homered off of Steve Cishek in his second inning of work to give Toronto a 2-1 lead. Cishek then allowed a single, a sacrifice, and an intentional walk before balking the runners over to second and third. Jeff Mathis (of all people) then successfully squeezed in a run, thanks to Cishek mishandling the bunt. Oddly, it was Toronto's second successful squeeze of the game. That resulted in Edward Mujica replacing Cishek, and getting an Omar Vizquel ground out for out number two. Mujica hit Brett Lawrie to load the bases for the white hot Colby Rasmus, who hit a grand slam to right to make it 7-1 and ice any chance of a comeback. Casey Janssen retired the Marlins in order in the ninth, and that was that for the Fish.
That's how it stared. An innocent sounding 69-year-old lady who cares enough to take time out of her day to leave a voicemail for a front office staffer of the Sacramento Rivercats. Specifically, to talk about one of their new players at the time, former Major League superstar Manny Ramirez. And then, out came this gem...
"...and I noticed that Manny Rodriguez has these long-long dreadlocks. I don't know how many Rivercats have that, but, we, we, a lot of people out here don't feel these people should be able to have/play with this long hair."
What happens in the following three minutes of recording if nothing short of jaw dropping hilarity. Among the amazing quotes provided by this lady, who describes herself as, "not a fuddy-duddy" are these classics...
"I think there should be rules where they have to have short hair not longer than behind their ears and maybe they won't get on these darn performance enhancement drugs. Long hair and drugs we all know goes together."
What a ridiculous statement! I mean, Tim Lincecum has long hair and you don't see him...oh, wait...never mind.
"It can hurt the eyes of the opposing players trying to tag them out."
I guess this is plausible, but could you imagine this actually becoming a real problem? Joe Mauer has been placed on the 15-day disabled list (Dreads to eye).
"And I'm a lady, I'm not a fuddy duddy."
According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, fuddy duddy is described as: one that is old-fashioned, unimaginative, or conservative. In other words, if you use the phrase "fuddy duddy," you're probably a fuddy duddy.
"I just noticed they're all getting in trouble on steroids and using cortisone for energy. That stuff causes cancer. That's why Lance Armstrong, the bike guy, got cancer."
I'm not sure that players use cortisone, an anti-inflammatory medication, for energy, but anyway...Why do we need to bring Lance Armstrong into this? Last I checked, he never had dreads. I'm actually surprised she didn't call him Lance Anderson, the bike guy.
"Because [a dreadlock] does fly into the second, third, first baseman's face when they tag him out. Of course catcher has a mask on, but..."
Thank God at least one player on the field is safe from the eminent danger of flying dreadlocks! Of course, you have to listen to the actual audio to truly appreciate the comedic value of this voice mail. Enjoy.