Saturday, December 31, 2005

Cuban Response to WBC Omission

As a follow up to my views on Cuba being prevented from taking part in the upcoming World Baseball Classic I have just stunbled upon this letter which is the Cuban response to the US Treasury.

I think its points are well made and clear and certainly makes it clear how preposterous this decision is.

City of Havana, December 14, 2005

Mr. Paul Archey, First Vice President,
Baseball Major League,
New York, USA

Dear Archey:

Today, Wednesday afternoon we received a FAX from your office, informing us of a letter from Robert Warner, director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) denying the Cuban national team participation in the World Baseball Classic.

The reasons alleged by the above-mentioned Office for that refusal are established in the shameful Regulation of the Control of Cuban Assets 31 CFR, section 515 of the Treasury Department.

For any half-rational person such a decision is absurd. Anger and political obstinacy are once again preventing the world from enjoying a genuinely representative universal baseball spectacular.

How can one talk of a World Baseball Classic when the Cuban team, the Olympic and World champion, is not represented?

We are defenders of baseball and of its significance for our peoples.

We cannot allow ourselves to be dragged along by the ultraconservative tendencies that characterize the current U.S. government.

Once again we are prepared to seek solutions and ways of evaluating the possible participation of our team.

Money is not the motive adduced by the OFAC for our interest in competing. We are a federation of a modest but dignified country; our only proposal is to cooperate so that baseball can continue to develop and attain its reinsertion in the Olympic Program in the near future. We have never competed for money.

With the objective of offering options, the Cuban Baseball Federation would be disposed to the money corresponding to its participation in the Classic to be destined to the victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

Dear Mr. Archey, we should like to note that we appreciate as an ethic the position of the Major League and the Association of Major League Players, in respect to Cuba’s possible participation in the Classic.

Awaiting your response,

Yours sincerely,

Carlos Rodríguez Acosta

Club v Country - The big issue by Richard Meade

There have been a few tests of loyalty already this off-season what with Boston hero CF Johnny Damon choosing to go with the money and become a Yankee and Paul Konerko reportedly turning down more than the $60million five year deal that the White Sox offered him to stay in Chicago.

But the true test of loyalty is now upon us. Last week Hideki Matsui added his name to the list of players that will not be participating in the first World Baseball Classic in March. He cited the fact that he wanted to make sure he kept himself fresh and injury free to achieve his dream of earning a World Series with the Yankees.

The decision follows A-Rod's choice to become a spectator in order to try and repeat his MVP performance for the Bronx faithful. I, as you have probably already gathered, have a problem with this.

Now first of all I understand that the MLB season is long and arduous and that any kind of advantage that you can get over the course of the 162 game marathon can only be good. I also understand that the pressure for success on Yankees players is probably greater than those of any other team but despite this I still can't agree with players' decision.

First of all the World Baseball Classic is under a month in length and there are relatively few games to be played. Also there is an amazing amount of exclusivity connected to this championship. It's the first one ever - how can you turn down the chance to play in the first real global baseball competition ever.

But my biggest problem is the lack of pride these players seem to have. To be selected to play for your country should be an amazing thing, unturndownable if you will.
In almost every other sport the top players are more than happy to be selected for their national team and take pride in putting on their national colours and taking the field, court, track etc. I hope that the fact that no-one is getting paid for the tournament is not putting off these global superstars who have signed multi-million dollar contracts with the world's richest club, but part of me suspects that this is the case.

Don't get me wrong, I'm still looking forward to the event as are some of the biggest stars in the game such as Barry Bonds, David Ortiz, and Ichiro, but international competitions are meant to show off the biggest stars in the game and without them the tournament will feel slightly tainted.

Friday, December 30, 2005

ESPN programming on NASN?

I'm sure those of you that subscribe to NASN (not me, i don't sub when the baseball is off-season) will have noticed that there have been some issues with ESPN programmes. Reading various articles and the NASN site itself, seems the contract ran out, wasn't going to be renewed, but now a 3 month deal has been reached to continue with ESPN progs. However, on the NASN site under the MLB section header it has the following:

- Direct coverage from local US networks
- MLB's This week in Baseball

That doesn't fill me with too much hope! Firstly, I have to admit to preferring ESPN's coverage when compared to the local networks, like YES or NESN, which are often so biased that it spoils the game (i remember putting the volume down on one local broadcast of the Cubs last year - can't remember the network - as it was just so ridiculously one-sided) Secondly, whilst TWIB is an ok programme, the loss of Baseball Tonight would be a blow to NASN too

There have been rumours about ESPN starting their own channel, etc, etc - don't know if there is any truth in this, but i don't think anything that further dilutes the coverage of live Baseball on British screens could be a good thing. At the moment we have our 'entry level' terrestrial coverage that five do a decent job with, and if you want more, you can get NASN on Sky or Cable. Having two seperate pay channels diluting the coverage wouldn't be a good move ... so hopefully NASN can, as they hope to do, renegotiate a further contract with ESPN in the new year - whilst i don't think it will put me off subscribing during the ball season, i think it would taint the product slightly ... fingers crossed!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

The future of terrestrial coverage in the UK?

Firstly, thanks to Pete J for getting me involved here!

Ok....for my first attempt at this, i'd like to talk about the future of Baseball coverage on UK television. Personally, i have only been following baseball for 3 years, and yes, i was attracted to the game through terrestrial coverage on five...and if i'm being honest, it was probably the mid-innings banter that kept my interest to begin with, before the sport grew on me.

Therefore, it would seem that this is probably the route that most people reading this would have taken to get into the game. Sadly though, the coverage on terrestrial tv seems to have become more precarious as the years have passed. Last season, five seemed to miss a few first pitches, etc, but the coverage was still good. However, this season (2005) has seen a further deterioration in 'getting on air in time' culminating with the loss of Wednesday night baseball to some free to air (but not available to all) satellite station.

This is worrying...not so much for my continuing enjoyment of the sport as i usually sub to NASN (or could take MLBtv - although i appreciate not everyone can) but more to the point that if MLB really are commited to expanding the sport worldwide, then surely terrestrial coverage is the only way it can really make an impact. You only have to look at how North American sports have struggled to impact on the UK: NFL Europe has been and gone, Basketball goes through it's phases....only Hockey has really had any sustained impact - bear in mind that all of these sports are easier to host facility-wise than baseball with it's custom pitches! With the upcoming WBC, it seems like MLB are serious, so hopefully we will have a clear middle ground between what MLB expect for their rights from terrestrial channels, and the price they would pay by not having any!

I'm still hopeful that five will continue their coverage next year, and one thing i tire of hearing on various forums i read, is that five's coverage is POOR! I think that is very unfair, as the production team and presenters do a fantastic job on what is probably a very small budget. What i think people really mean is that five's attitude to coverage that has been poor, missing first pitches, etc, but that is surely down to the station scheduling and management, not anything to do with the guys producing the show! I for one hope to see baseball back on five next year, and hopefully with a whole new attitude towards scheduling, as let's face it, it IS the entry-level to the sport of baseball for most people in the UK. Oh, and erm ... PS Can we get Wednesday night baseball back too?

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Millwood a Ranger

We all know that The Rangers always have great hitting (its hard not to in the Arlington band box) and the thing that has kept them back in recent terms has been pitching.

Kevin Millwood was arguably the most desirable of this years free agent pitchers after a year in Cleveland which may have only seen him win 9 games but he posted an AL best ERA of 2.86 so you'd think this would be a great pick up for Texas, wouldn't you?

While I do rate Millwood as a pitcher, I am not convinced he has the right mental make up to be the ace that Texas need or maybe think they're getting. His best years in Atlanta were when the holy trinity of Smoltz, Glavine and Maddux were still there and as The Braves gave him more responsibility, their returns diminished. The same story in Philadelphia, they brought him in to be the ace that would see The Phils back into the postseason and he simply wasn't.

Last year Cleveland brought Millwood in after he got little attention in the free agent market and they simply expected him to be a middle rotation guy behind incumbents Sabathia and Westbrook and guess what, he had a great year.

Kevin Millwood is a good pitcher when expectations are low and responsibility is limited but while Texas might feel they are getting a guy who can get them over the hump and win the West, I do fear they might have picked up another Chan Ho Park.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Damon a Yankee

Everyone seems to be writing about this so I might as well do the same.

This deal really seems to be emblematic of the directions the Sox and Yankees seem to be going right now as New York is returning to its policy of throwing money at their problems and Boston are standing still while those around them retool and get better.

We'll start by looking at the guy New York are paying $13m a year for. Johnny Damon is a guy on the decline who has no arm in the outfield and I would a good example of how speed can help you make up for bad reads.

A lot of people like to make out that Damon is one of the best in the league but he really is just one of the best marketed players around. His lifetime OBP of .353 hardly stands out and 37 steals would boost your profile as an elite lead-off man...just not over two years.

So what are the Yanks getting for their money? Well Damon is another over payed guy who can bat lead-off and move Jeter into the two spot he belongs in and he also should provide some relative speed and consistency to a line-up that was very formidable already and will make them even more difficult to shut down.

Perhaps the main thing that Johnny Damon gives the Yankees is an energy guy as opposed to the endless line of brooding kill-joys (they like to be referred to as 'professional') and that should put more fight and intensity to a team that sometimes just looked like they just had to turn up to win.

And what of Boston?

Well the Sox now have next to no depth in the outfield and thats even if you include Manny who is supposedly going to be dealt (just like he was the last dozen times he put in a trade request). Also, with the additional loss of Renteria, almost completely depletes the team of any real speed and there was a reason why Ortiz and Ramirez have been able to post so many RBI the last few years.

Basically the Yanks are stocking up and the Sox are standing still while everyone else in the division retools and improves. New York have brought on another immovable contract who will burden the team in a couple of years time and Boston are falling into the basement of the AL East.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The List : #1 Ichiro

Ichiro Suzuki, RF, Seattle Mariners

Well here he is, the number one guy on The List ahead of Albert Pujols.

Ichiro Suzuki is just pure excitement on a baseball field. How many other guys have as many exciting ground outs as Ichiro? He could hit a simple dribbler to the pitcher and then you still think he might get on thanks to his electric speed out of the box and that unique batting style of his. The strange thing is, while you would never teach someone to hit like that when you break him down its not actually so unorthodox as he still keeps his head in and shifts his weight through the ball, its just at the point of contact his follow through leads his front foot up the line and as soon as the ball leaves his bat he’s running. Its just a truly revolutionary way to make the most out of his biggest asset; speed.

As exciting as he is offensively, its his defence that just blows you away. He is unrivalled in right field and you’d probably have to go as far back as Roberto Clemente to find anyone in the same league. He has amazing range and a laser guided rocket launcher of an arm. There might be a couple of guys who can throw harder but none of them have his accuracy. You just don’t even think of taking an extra base on Ichiro because he will fire it right on target in plenty of time. I will never forget how he cut down a guy tagging up to go to third on what looked like a routine sacrifice that would advance the runner without a problem. The ball never bounced and was on a line all the way.

Everything Ichiro does is exciting, the way he swings the bat, the way he runs the bases, the way he catches, the way he throws, just everything. He puts the ball in play and things happen and its all the things that make this game great.

Monday, December 19, 2005

The List : #2 Albert Pujols

Albert Pujols, 1B, St Louis Cardinals

Albert Pujols is the thinking mans slugger. The more you watch this guy hit the more you marvel at just how good he is. Everything you would ever teach someone about hitting is embodied in Albert Pujols. He’s quiet in the box, nicely balanced, in a great position to see the ball and when he gets something phat his hands just explode straight to the ball with a sweet swing that looks more like a lefty swing than a righty (left handed batters are sexy and you know it!) and his head never comes off the ball.

The greatest attribute he has is his ability to make adjustments. If you get him out one way you should just thank your lucky stars and go to something different because if you go there again he will punish you.

Further adding to his resumé as a perfect role model for prospective ball players is his impressive work rate. Since he started playing for the Cardinals he has played a few different positions before landing at first and the rate of improvement has been dramatic as he’s gone from being a bit suspect to looking like he could conceivably win a Gold Glove some day.

You should have known that he would be a grafter after being picked in the 13th round (unlucky for the teams that picked 401 guys ahead of him) and making it to the Majors two years after being drafted. He even steals bases now. What’s he going to let out of the bag next year? What else id there for him to excel at?

On top of all the performance and the great numbers he is one of the most affable guys in baseball who constantly deflects attention away from himself and is always quick to credit any success he has to the work of the guys around him. This is a true leader and the very definition of what a franchise player should be. Just oozes class all over and MLB should market the game around him as much as they can.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The List : #3 Delmon Young

Delmon Young, RF, Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Since being drafted first overall in the 2003 draft it really has been a matter of when, not if, Delmon Young will be a dominant offensive force in MLB. If it wasn’t for a very hesitant and limp front office over the last couple of years in Tampa, Young would not have had such a monster season in the minors but would have been ripping the ball in big league parks.

Upon signing after the draft Young stated that he would be with the D-Rays within his first pro season and has grown increasingly frustrated with his lack of opportunities to strut his stuff at the top level and with good reason as many commentators have stated that he is the best hitter in the entire organisation including the likes of Aubrey Huff and Carl Crawford.

The most impressive thing about him is how he makes adjustments and how he rises to the challenges laid before him. Before last season he was told he could probably steal more bags than he had been and responded by nearly having a 40/40 season.

After struggling a little in his first few weeks he soon had to be moved up to Double A in order to get any sort of challenge. He can take the ball out of any field to any part of the park and if he’s not Rookie of the Year in ‘06 then someone must have done something amazing or he must have gotten injured. This kid is like Mount St Helens, waiting to erupt and spread carnage throughout America.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Cuba Not Allowed to Compete in WBC

Who’d have thought it likely that the US government would mess in things that don’t really concern them? In one of the biggest advertisements of the American national past time, the US Treasury Department have said that they will not allow the Cubans to participate in the upcoming World Baseball Classic and I have to ask how this really affects the US government?

Of course we have the embargo on Cuba and relations between the two countries has been estranged for a while now but a game between Cuba and Baltimore went by without any real incident and the Cubans have participated in a number of Olympics and no one has kicked up a fuss, so why is it a problem now? They aren’t even scheduled to play any group games in America and wouldn’t even play a quarter final game there so the maximum number of games they would even play on US soil would be two so are they afraid the Cubans will storm through the tournament and then make some sort of sweeping statement in the semis and the final? Or maybe by taking part in the tournament the Cuban government will raise the funds and opportunity to stockpile nuclear warheads and start planning an attack upon Florida if Cuba don’t do well?

What’s more likely is that the ultra-territorial right wing government in the White House are just looking to flex some more political muscle on a left wing foe that has been thoroughly vilified over the years.

It would be an absolute travesty if Cuba were excluded from this tournament as they are undoubtedly one of the top baseball nations in the world and any tournament would be worse off for not having that sort of talent involved. Also, of all the nations that would take part Cuba have the most to prove as their amateur status is belittled against other professional sides and their success on an Olympic stage is often downplayed because they don’t get the chance to play against professionals.

This is almost like banning the French from the Olympics or maybe banning Detroit from the NHL, it is totally irrational and serves very little purpose other than to further exemplify the jingoistic foreign policy of the present regime in America. If we’re going to do things like this then why not bring back the reserve clause or the gentleman’s agreement?

Thankfully baseball officials have more sense of building bridges rather than burning them down and are pursuing a way to get this ban lifted and Cuba back into the WBC like they deserve to be but in the meantime this can only diminish the credibility of a tournament that needs as much credence as it can get if its intentions are to be realised. If the US wants to restrict Cuban nationals playing in the Majors and making a living in America that’s fine but to just blindly inhibit something so transient as a two week baseball tournament goes beyond politics and into the realms of pettyness. Hopefully someone with some common sense can sort this out.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The List : #4 Vladimir Guerrero

Vladimir Guerrero, RF, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

How can anyone not love to see this guy play? Everything he does is maximum effort. If he was an amplifier he’d go up to eleven. Every time he swings a bat (which is whenever the ball doesn’t bounce to home plate) he’s looking to put the ball into orbit around Mars. Every time he throws the ball he looks to put the ball through the pocket of the receivers glove. When he steals a bag he wants to be there before he left.

This effervescent and prodigious talent on the field is a stark contrast to his character off it as he is renowned for being deeply private and shy of the bright lights and many see that as the main reason he wound up in Anaheim rather than New York (that and his mother was allegedly not fond of the place either). Before games he can be found in a corner of the room playing video games and he is rumoured to have consciously avoided learning too much English so he doesn’t have to deal with the press so much. All he wants to do is play ball and play as hard as he can.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The List : #5 Jim Thome

Jim Thome, 1B, Chicago White Sox

When the Indians drafted Thome in the 13th round of the 1989 draft they couldn’t have expected the kind of production they got out of him. Jim Thome is the size of a house and he swings big and when he makes contact (which is often) the ball tends to go a long way and when he misses he misses big. Since his debut in ‘91 he has 430 homeruns to his name and is one of those hitters who when he’s at the plate you know something is going to happen. But that’s not what gets him to fifth in this list.

A big guy who looms large in the clubhouse is an even bigger man in the community as he dedicates so much of his time to charitable causes, most notably the Steve Palermo Chapter of the National Paralysis Foundation. In response to his winning the Roberto Clemente Award in 2002 he said in typically humble tones, “I have never thought of my time in the community as work, but as my responsibility to spread my good fortune to those around me who are more deserving.”

Away from the NPF, Thome has served as co-chairman of the United Way Softball Slam, done countless fund raising events for the children’s home in his home town of Peoria and he and his wife dress as Mr and Mrs Santa Claus whilst organising a toy drive dedicated to disadvantaged kids. Needless to say there simply aren’t enough Jim Thome’s in the world.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The List : 20 - 6

Almost there (I do like to tease).

There are some seriously talented individuals in this bit but just wait till the top five are announced. They'll leave you scratching your head as to why they are there I'm sure.

20 Dontrelle Willis, P, Florida Marlins
Dontrelle Willis always looks like a kid who has suddenly found himself living a dream as a ballplayer. The high socks, the crooked angle of his hat and his baggy uniform all add to the illusion and then you have the kind of delivery you do when you’re messing around playing catch in the garden with a friend.
His youthful enthusiasm seems boundless and sometimes it seems as if you’d have to go out and pick him up and drag him back to the dugout kicking and screaming to take him out of a game. He wants to go nine, he wants to have every at bat and field every ball. He just wants to play ball and it’s a good thing he knows how or he’d end up sulking on a porch somewhere.

19 Roy Halladay, P, Toronto Blue Jays
In his Cy Young winning season Halladay showed what sort of a competitor he is and has been suffering from the fall out of all that exertion ever since. Whenever his team needs him he answers the call whenever able.
When healthy he has one of the biggest arsenals of quality pitches of anyone in the game and can shut down anyone. It would be easy to make a case for him being the best in the AL and I’m not sure I’d argue.

18 Barry Bonds, LF, San Francisco Giants
There are very few players in professional sport whose presence on a team impacts every scenario of the oppositions approach. It doesn’t matter who is at the plate for the Giants, the thought going through every ones mind is how many guys after this is Barry? Bonds impact every plate appearance for his whole team and when he’s at the dish himself he strikes fear into the hearts of pitchers everywhere because they know if they make even the slightest mistake against him the ball will be a distant memory.
Barry Bonds makes me think of what life must have been like when Babe Ruth was around. That’s how good he is and its got nothing to do with steroids.

17 Johan Santana, P, Minnesota Twins
Johan Santana is the new guy who people will think if his ERA is over 3.00 then he must have had a bad year. On a bad day he is tough to hit, on a good day he is un-hittable. He’ll come at you with the hard fastball and then pull the string on that incredible change up which is fast becoming one of the toughest pitches around.

16 Curt Schilling, P, Boston Red Sox
In my mind Curt Schilling has been the best big game pitcher of the last fifteen years. In ‘93 he almost single handedly beat a highly talented Blue Jays team. Then came his World Series co-MVP in 2001 and then came the performances that will define his career and etch his name into the storied history of MLB when he fought through the pain barrier to help lead the BoSox to the 2004 title. Those exploits throughout the ‘04 playoffs might well cause his career to come to an abrupt end very soon but it really epitomised the way he has played his entire career.

15 Carl Crawford, LF, Tampa Bay Devil Rays
This guy was amazing to watch when he was just a speedster but it seems that every year he adds something to his game. He’s developed good patience at the plate which has gotten him on base more and enabled him to find better pitches to show off the improved power.
He’s toiled in relative anonymity down in Tampa so far in his career but soon he will be surrounded by enough talent that he will finally be able to show all the things he is capable of.

14 Manny Ramirez, LF, Boston Red Sox
Manny Ramirez has asked to be traded again and when I heard that all I could think of is, “That’s so Manny.” Ramirez is just such an aloof and flaky guy that nothing you hear about him is surprising and when you see him in the outfield with a bottle in his pocket you don’t think about how idiotic it is you just put it down to Manny being Manny…oh and 40+ HR, 120+ RBI and a .300+ average every year will also help you to be more understanding.

13 Justin Verlander, P, Detroit Tigers
In one emergency start for the Tigers last year, Justin Verlander had a few troubles in the first inning and then shut down the opposition for the next four innings even though he didn’t have his best stuff on the day and couldn’t locate his breaking pitches.
Verlander will turn 23 by the time next season starts and already might have the best fastball in baseball and when he refines his motion to help him locate a sharp breaking ball then he could really be something else especially with a cocky attitude that makes him believe he can beat anyone.

12 Miguel Tejada, SS, Baltimore Orioles
If the Orioles ever manage to put a winner on the field then Tejada will be the MVP. As it stands you could still just give him the award most years.
There is nothing he can’t do as he makes spectacular plays in the field, runs the bases, and has emerged as one of, if not the, best RBI man in the game. He’s also a tremendous leader and energetic clubhouse presence who is not afraid to get in peoples face if they aren’t performing and always backs himself up with performance on the field.

11 Ken Griffey Junior, CF, Cincinnati Reds
For baseball fans of a certain age there is no one greater than Junior. The sexiest swing in the game, even now, and every homerun he hits is just beautiful to watch. People give him a hard time because he always seems to be injured but the reason he gets those injuries is because he always wants to make those plays in the outfield (he dislocated his shoulder diving to make a game saving catch, what more do you want?) but even with all that criticism and all the hardship he still has that swagger even if that great smile of his doesn’t come so easily.
For me Junior Griffey will forever be the very antithesis of how baseball should be played and I know a whole generation of fans will agree with me.

10 Jake Peavy, P, San Diego Padres
Its amazing to look at what Peavy has done in his short time in the Bigs whilst being treated with kid gloves by the Padres. He already has an ERA title to his name which he won whilst being in the same league as Randy Johnson while he was on top of his game. Peavy is just coming into his physical prime and every time I see him I ask myself what isn’t he capable of? He definitely could win a Cy and it wouldn’t surprise me if he won a strikeout crown he just has the great stuff, the great instincts and the desire to succeed and it really seems more a matter of time till he gets around to doing everything.

9 Brad Lidge, P, Houston Astros
Complete and total filth. He should have a health warning placed upon him or he should simply be banned from being used under the Geneva Convention or something. Lidge throws a lively high-90’s fastball and then backs it up with that hard slider that must have been developed as part of the Philadelphia Experiment because there is no way that it conforms to the laws of physics as we know them.

8 Carlos Delgado, 1B, New York Mets
I never get tired of seeing people truly enjoying themselves on the field and Carlos Delgado has one of the biggest smiles in the game. He never stops smiling and he gives himself plenty of things to smile about as he pounds the ball wherever he goes.

7 Mark Buerhle, P, Chicago White Sox
You never get bored when Mark Buerhle is on the mound, mainly because there isn’t enough time between pitches to do so. As soon as the game starts he takes to the hill and pitches without any fuss, without any hoopla. The hitter steps in and is instantly placed under fire by Buerhle’s arsenal and no matter what happens in that AB he will attack the next guy, and the next, until the game is over.
Mark Buerhle is a true ace who goes out there every fifth day (he’d probably go every fourth or maybe third day if you asked him), works long and gets decisions. He is a stabilising force on arguably the best pitching unit in the game and doesn’t need to strike out 200 guys to do it.

6 Livan Hernandez, P, Washington Nationals
People talk about how overrated wins are as a stat for pitching as they are subject to too much criteria out of the hands of the pitcher. I say innings pitched is an underrated stat as it is rarely brought up but pitchers stay in the game for as long as they are effective and that means lots of innings pitched. IP also means that for every inning you work, there is one less inning for your middle relief to pitch which means that they stay fresher and, therefore, more effective which enables a team not only to be in a good position to win on that day but also the next.
Even if your team is being blown out every now and then someone needs to suck it up and eat some innings for the good of the team. In short, there is no real downside to someone who is capable of devouring innings. And who has lead the Majors in innings pitched the last three years? Livan Hernandez…oh and he’s shown he’s clutch too.

Friday, December 09, 2005

The List 39-21

We're getting to the money end of The List now and we're getting into the realms of the best glove men and guys who are at that tell tale part of their career where they establish where they stand in the game...oh and Sean Casey.

39 Victor Martinez, C, Cleveland Indians
Catchers who have the ability to bat in the heart of the order are always intriguing creatures worthy of note and Victor Martinez isn’t far from taking over Mike Piazza’s role as the poster boy for offensive minded catchers (Martinez is probably better defensively but admittedly not great). What’s more intriguing is how he manages to get all that hair into his batting helmet?

38 Sean Casey, 1B, Cincinnati Reds
Much like Mark Grace before him, Sean Casey is forever being told he doesn’t hit for enough power for an every day first baseman but still manages to drive in runs by hitting for average but that’s neither here nor there. The reason Sean Casey is on this list is because he is one of the great characters in baseball. You really won’t hear anyone say a bad thing about ‘The Mayor’ who will talk to all and sundry about all sorts and many wouldn’t be surprised if he ran for public office after he retires (hence the nickname).

There are so many great stories about Casey. Apparently, when he ran for 8th grade school president he planned to hand out a bag of Tootsie Rolls as part of his campaign but they never made it as he scoffed the lot…of course he still won. In fact he’s always had to face doubters and he always rises above them and never quits or loses his enthusiasm.

But perhaps the one play that sums up why Sean Casey is so special was when his manager wanted him to play back and instead Casey decided to hold on Mark McGwire just so he could talk to him.

37 Scott Kazmir, P, Tampa Bay Devil Rays
You often hear people using the word ‘potential’ a lot with young players but the real potential Scott Kazmir has is to make Victor Zambrano infamous as the wrong half of one of the most lopsided trades in history. It still baffles me why the Mets would let go of this guy as any GM will tell you how rare hard throwing lefties are and this guy already has two plus pitches and after a promising rookie campaign that saw him get stronger down the stretch and with all the offensive talent coming through the D-Rays farm system you have to wonder how long it will be till he’s the Frank Robinson to Zambrano’s Milt Papas?

36 Michael Young, SS, Texas Rangers
On the most vaunted infield in baseball Michael Young is the key component both offensively and defensively. He covers the ground to make Hank Blalock’s lack of range a non-factor and gets on base to make Mark Teixeira more dangerous. Everything starts for the Rangers with Michael Young. He is a sparkplug extraordinaire.

35 Marcus Sanders, 2B, San Francisco Giants
This guy is green from the vine and has barely seen anything of pro-baseball but he already excites me more than almost anyone else outside the Majors. Whenever you hear about him the first thing that comes up is speed and the second thing they’ll mention is speed. This kid is stupid fast. But what interests me more is the way he seems to put up impressive walk totals and his OBP as a result. This is a guy who knows what he has and knows what he has to do to make it a factor and then they say he might even develop enough power to keep pitchers honest and that’s when people start comparing him to Rickey (Henderson). He’s got a long way to go and to think he might emulate the best leadoff man of all time might be a stretch but I can’t wait to see how close he gets.

34 Zach Duke, P, Pittsburgh Pirates
Its hard to argue with what Zach Duke did in his abridged rookie campaign. Wonderfully poised and with that wicked hook he won’t get rattled when the inevitable drop off comes (come on, how do you maintain that level?) and he will need that mental fortitude when he hits next season and the scouts have picked him apart. If he can prove he has the endurance to last a full year and that he has the ability to adjust and adapt then there is no telling how far his career can go.

33 Mariano Rivera, P, New York Yankees
Mo Rivera is slowly making me consider placing him ahead of Denis Eckersley in the all time closer stakes. The thing that makes him special is when you get to the really big games and it doesn’t matter if he had an off night the day before or if the stadium is on fire around him, he will go to that mound and pound that strike zone with that cutter and get you those three outs to secure the game. A phenomenal talent.

32 Eric Gagne, P, Los Angeles Dodgers
What puts Gagne ahead of Rivera on this countdown is the pomp and circumstance that surrounds him. Rivera is just meat and potatoes in his approach but Gagne is a regular smorgasbord once the skipper points his finger to the Dodger pen to bring him in. The music blares and across the field ambles the slightly rounded bespectacled figure of Eric Gagne and once the music dies down he’ll whistle a high-90’s fastball by you and then pull the chain with his stupidly slow big hook and in between the two is a whole arsenal of nastiness. Even Los Angeles fans stick around to see him pitch and that says a lot about him.

31 Luis Castillo, 2B, Minnesota Twins
Age might be sapping him of his speed but Castillo is still a tremendous guy to have near the top of the order. A great bunter and almost impossible to strikeout he helps make things happen, especially if he’s batting behind a good lead-off guy. Add that to his ability in the field where he turns the double play as well as anyone and you have a player who’s fundamentals are a good lesson for all would be players.

30 Tim Hudson, P, Atlanta Braves
Tim Hudson is one of those guys who you can’t tell if that’s facial hair or some kind of ink stain he’s marked on his chin (it might just be me who thinks this way). Anyway, he is an outstanding pitcher and his splitter is as good a pitch as anyone has in baseball.

29 Scott Podsednik, LF, Chicago White Sox
You don’t get too many Scott Podsednik’s these days. He really is a throwback to the 80’s when guys like Rickey (Henderson) and Vince Coleman would get on base and then they would run. No situational stuff. No examining the pitcher or waiting for the right pitch to go on. They would get on and they were going to steal a bag and if you want to stop them then you’re welcome to try. Scott Podsednik is like that and its great to see a true base stealer just strike fear into the hearts of a pitcher and his infield. We like Scott Podsednik a lot and he should have been the AL MVP last year.

28 Pedro Martinez, P, New York Mets
People call him flaky or lethargic and apathetic but those people are just deluded enough to think that a modern day pitcher can keep his career ERA under 2.00 for a career which is what Pedro seemed to be aiming at earlier on in his career. Even though he’s lost velocity on his fastball he still has one of the top two change-ups in the game (Hoffman still has a great one but which is better is any ones guess) and is the sort of guy who can shut out any team at any time and gives his team a chance to win every time he takes the mound and all the time he’s having a great time. Pedro is an icon of his era.

27 Rich Harden, P, Oakland A’s
I’ll watch Harden pitch and I’ll think to myself, “Damn this kid is good.” Then I’ll not see much of him or hear much about what’s happening on the west coast for a while and then he’ll show up again and I’ll think to myself, “Damn this kid is really good.” Because he is a tremendous pitcher with as good a fastball as there is at the moment and he just pours it on. The freaky thing is he is still very young and next time I see him I might think he’s really, really good!

26 Ryan Howard, 1B, Philadelphia Phillies
Ryan Howard takes some almighty hacks when he’s at the plate. Just a vicious hitter and I’m waiting for him to emulate The Natural by hitting the ball so hard the cover comes off and there’s nothing but twine left.

25 Andruw Jones, CF, Atlanta Braves
I think most of us get our kicks watching Jones play the outfield just because we all think he’ll drop one of those basket catches one day. Really Andruw is the only guy who can get to the outfield gaps and then snag a line-drive bullet with a basket catch and still find time during that play to read the paper, eat a sandwich and balance out his tax form. An unbelievable fielder and an all or nothing type hitter.

24 Francisco Rodriguez, P, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Do closers these days need to wear glasses as part of the uniform these days or what? K-Rod might have the most electric stuff in the league. His fastball explodes out of his hand and his breaking stuff is hard and cuts at right angles late and leaves hitters swinging at vapours. He still has some maturing to do and its frightening to think what he might do once he hit’s the height of his powers.

23 Bengie Molina, C, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Traditionally you always have your best fielders up the middle as they are the most difficult to play and every now and then you get guys who play those positions so well as to make it almost balletic in the way they effortless move about the field in that position and make plays look simple and effortless. Bengie Molina has such easy catch and throw mechanics that you have to think pitchers are queuing around the block to pitch to him. Add to that the nimbleness of a cat whilst wearing all that armour and you have a truly mesmerising talent.

22 Felix Hernandez, P, Seattle Mariners
Next year Felix Hernandez will be 20 years old and be one of the better pitchers around. By 2010 he will be the best. He has a mid to high 90’s fastball and a truly vicious slider that gets well into the high 80’s and when you consider his age and that most pitchers don’t fill out till they hit their mid 20’s, he might even start throwing a bit harder. What’s more is he also has a very good curve and change and knows how to use all his pitches and knows the importance of keeping the ball down.

It truly is unfair how much potential this kid has. Even if he doesn’t improve on what he’s got know the Mariners have got themselves an ace.

21 David Ortiz, DH, Boston Red Sox
Forget the MVP credentials, the power numbers and the big clutch hits, this guy is one of baseballs true characters and his moniker of Big Papi really suits him. He’s been described as a big teddy bear of a man and its just wonderful to see players truly enjoying themselves at the ballpark and few seem to have more fun or illicit more smiles than Big Papi. He is a treasure.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The List 59 - 40

Seems like the theme in this section is reclaimation projects and burgeoning greatness ands when I see guys like Crede and Sizemore here it reminds me of how tough it was to make this list.

59 Chris Carpenter, P, St Louis Cardinals
For ages Carpenter was the future for the Blue Jays rotation but injury after injury seemed to hamper his progress. A move to St Louis and he seemed to get a second wind and became the pitcher we always thought he could be. A fearless pitcher with a great hook and a lively fastball, he was good value for the Cy Young Award this year and who’s to say he can’t back it up with a similar showing next year?

58 Joe Crede, 3B, Chicago White Sox
People always talk about Joe Crede’s potential and how he doesn’t hit for a good enough average and truth be told, if he got his average above .280 he’d probably have a great season. What you need to remember is that he stays in the line-up everyday because he can take one out of the yard and he is the best defensive third baseman in the AL. If people stopped focussing so much on what he doesn’t do and focussed on what he does then he might get those Gold Gloves he deserves.

57 Joel Zumaya, P, Detroit Tigers
They say the downside on Joel Zumaya is that he could end up a Billy Wagner-esque closer. I bet every team in the league would love to have pitchers with that downside. He’s starting in the minors now and is striking guys out at a ridiculous rate and if he can get a third pitch to complement his three digit fastball and slurve then he could become a dominant starter. Either way he’ll be in The Majors soon and he is nasty.

56 Jake Westbrook, P, Cleveland Indians
I’ve been saying how good Westbrook is for ages. When Westbrook was leading the league in losses I was still telling people how good he was and come seasons end he had fifteen wins and I felt smug. He is a real gamer who guts it out in every start and gives his team a chance to win every fifth day and he’s one of those guys who still looks to go nine on every start. Westbrook is a quality pitcher. Why won’t people believe me?

55 Ivan Rodriguez, C, Detroit Tigers
Throughout his career Pudge Rodriguez might not have been Johnny Bench but he’s come as close as anyone ever has. He reaches for balls he used to block with his body and his power numbers are starting to decline but you always have to watch him when he plays because he still has that arm and still loves to show it off.

54 Roy Oswalt, P, Houston Astros
Clemens and Pettitte might have had the big years and put up the numbers but Oswalt is the ace of that staff. He has the great curve ball and the good fastball and is one of the most competitive pitchers around. He goes after hitters with the attitude of ‘here it is, what you going to do about it?’ One way or another the game will be decided with him on the mound.

53 Zack Greinke, P, Kansas City Royals
Greinke has it so tough on the Royals. He has no help offensively or defensively and the way he attacks the zone by changing speeds and location he needs his fielders to back him up. What impressed me about him this year was that he never stopped pitching to guys and some of his best starts were down the stretch after a long season of being beaten up and he’s only just turned 23. If they can put together a half decent team in Kansas City then he will win games.

52 Darin Erstad, 1B, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
If there was ever someone who played the game with more intensity than Darin Erstad they wouldn’t last too long because they would spontaneously combust. Erstad plays anywhere on the field, anywhere in the line-up and gives it his all. He’ll run through walls, knock guys over and would probably take a bullet if he had to.

51 Jeff Clement, C, Seattle Mariners
Clement hit 46 homeruns at Southern California which is second all time there to some guy called Mark McGwire who hit 54. Add to that power some decent raw tools defensively that he is working hard to refine with the help of Chad Kreuter, we have an intriguing catching prospect who warrants attention.

50 Mike Matheny, C, San Francisco Giants
Anyone who wants to know what it means to be a top defensive catcher should watch Matheny play. He uses his body like no one else to keep the ball in front of him, has tremendous lateral movement and great footwork to complement his ability to gun down base runners. His ability to call a game and handle a pitching staff are also as good as it gets. Sheer poetry in motion.

49 Billy Wagner, P, Philadelphia Phillies
He doesn’t look that big or intimidating but he manages to get that ball to the dish in a hurry. He doesn’t hit 100mph as much as he used to but he still is as nasty as they come and totally fearless. When he’s bringing it, there aren’t many who can handle it.

48 Gary Sheffield, RF, New York Yankees
I like this guy for a lot of the reasons why many people dislike him. Gary Sheffield has serious attitude and while some people see it as arrogance or petulance, I see it as an unquenchable desire to win and demanding nothing but the best. On top of all that attitude is the fastest bat in baseball and hit’s the ball so hard so often that the ball would probably go 600ft if those damn fences didn’t get in the way.

47 Rickie Weeks, 2B, Milwaukee Brewers
Its easy to like a guy who has Gary Sheffield-esque bat speed and great speed on the bases. Its even easier to like a guy who, in his rookie year, struggles down the stretch but never made excuses or complained even though he ended up having surgery at the end of the year on a thumb that had been hampering him for two months. Rickie Weeks will emerge very quickly as one of the most dynamic players in the game very, very soon and the Brewers have a big piece of that rebuilding puzzle right here.

46 Kerry Wood, P, Chicago Cubs
If Kerry Wood could stay healthy for a whole year he would strikeout 400 hitters and the reason I can say that is because he won’t happen. Its just never taken off for Wood the way it should have but whenever he is playing he is as tough as they come with an overpowering fastball and one of the great curves in the game. He struck out nineteen once and you know he can do it again against anyone, its just a matter of staying healthy.

45 Mark Prior, P, Chicago Cubs
With Mark Priors conditioning and mechanics he shouldn’t have the injury problems he does but we still have yet to see just how good he can be (and he can be the best if given a chance) and the way I see it, it will take two full seasons without injuries until we see him really become the force he was always thought to be but if he can’t get that soon then those injuries will add up and hinder him for the rest of his career.

44 Carlos Quentin, RF, Arizona Diamondbacks
Carlos Quentin is an on base machine with power and great defensive tools. Basically he has a tremendous baseball mind and an athletic body and as good as he is now, he will get better and then he’ll work to improve on that. As things stand he looks to be a Paul O’Neill producer but don’t be surprised if he the next Larry Walker emerges.

43 Yadier Molina, C, St Louis Cardinals
The youngest of the Molina boys and his brothers say he could be the best of the three which is saying something. He’s already Gold Glove quality behind the dish and did the almost impossible by replacing Matheny without missing a beat which says a lot about how good he could be.

42 Grady Sizemore, CF, Cleveland Indians
In this new age of baseball that seems to focus on numbers and statistical models there doesn’t seem to be much room for intangibles but every now and then something happens that leads to someone being plugged into a line-up and its like catching lightening in a bottle.
Grady Sizemore started off last year as the odd man out in the Indian outfield but got a chance to play due to an injury and once he was inserted into the lead-off spot the whole team clicked. He might not be the most statistically impressive player but he just makes things happen.

41 Mark Teixeira, 1B, Texas Rangers
The Rangers might have the best infield in baseball and often people focus on the former Yankee Alfonso Soriano or sparkplug extraordinaire Michael Young and sometimes they look at Mark Blalock (is he the slowest player in MLB?) and this seems to dull Mark Teixeira’s star and lets not beat about the bush, Mark Teixeira is one of the elite clean-up men in MLB and will be for a while.

40 Jeremy Bonderman, P, Detroit Tigers
Remember when, as a 21 year old rookie, Bonderman lost 19 games? When a guy bounces back from that you know he’s got the right stuff. Even after all that he pitches without fear and attacks hitters and as his body has filled out more and more and he’s gotten stronger, he has emerged as one of the best pitchers in the AL.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The WBC Preamble Starts

They’ve announced the first wave of players to commit to the upcoming World Baseball Classic (the baseball World Cup to me and you) and it makes interesting reading.

For starters the Canadians have themselves a team that would be OK in the Majors with a particularly strong pen with Gagne being set up by Jesse Crain, Rheal Cormier and Paul Quantrill although the only pitcher of note in the rotation looks to be Jeff Francis (who actually won’t be at altitude for a change) and the line-up seems to be counting on Justin Morneau and we all know what that did for Minnesota this year.

When you look at the Italian roster you can’t help but be reminded of the Greek Olympic team which was basically comprised of people with loose family links and Greek sounding names. Quite frankly Mike Piazza is as Italian as apple pie (and as useful as one defensively too). Even with this approach I doubt the likes of Frank Catalanotto and Mark DeRosa will do too much to really boost the mostly domestic based side the Italians will field who are among the best outside the Americas.

Puerto Rico will have a decent offence with Beltran, Delgado and Pudge Rodriguez (apparently Alex Rodriguez hasn’t committed to a nation) and the defence should be equally solid but the pitching lacks any established closer or a front line starter unless Joel Piniero returns to the form of a couple of years ago (and even that’s a stretch).

Venezuela has Johan Santana with K-Rod as security and the likes of Bobby Abreu and Melvin Mora providing the offence and the likes of Omar Vizquel and Carlos Guillen providing excellent D up the middle but the real story is the powerhouses brought forward by the Dominicans and America. The U.S. has eight established closers including lefties Billy Wagner and B.J. Ryan, four starters with Cy Young Awards on their CV (Buerhle, Peavy, Pettitte, Dontrelle Willis and Ben Sheets would be a great rotation as it is) and a line-up that could have the likes of Carl Crawford and Michael Young at the top of the order and any of Bonds, Berkman, Eric Chavez, Junior Griffey, Chipper Jones and Mark Teixeira to drive them in. The scary thing is that the Dominican Republic could be even more dominant offensively with Manny Ramirez, Albert Pujols, Vlad Guerrero, David Ortiz and Miguel Tejada. Their pitching depth might not be as good although Pedro and Colon will provide an excellent one-two punch and Francisco Cordero, Jose Mesa and Alfonseca in the pen (Alfonseca’s presence will also see that the Dominicans will have more fingers than any other team).

Little seems to have been disclosed about Japan (apparently the Asian teams are waiting till the end of the week) although Ichiro has said he wants to take part and of course we still aren’t sure if the Cubans will fully commit to the whole enterprise.

Of course closer to the tournament we will go into more depth as rosters are confirmed and we’ll start really seeing who the movers and shakers will be but I have to admit I was highly sceptical that this many high profile players would involve themselves in this tournament and I am glad to have been proven wrong. This is already looking like the great exhibition we’ve always wanted and hopefully with the right exposure the gospel of baseball will be spread far and wide and the profile of the sport will be boosted like that of basketball after the first Dream Team.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The List : 60 - 79

Time for the second installment of The List and there are one or two genuine superstars here that might make a lot of other peoples top 10's but that would be too easy.

79 Khalil Greene, SS, San Diego Padres
Another slick middle infielder who slaps the ball around and knows how to use his speed. The Padres really miss him when he’s not in the line-up as he is a true igniter who always seems to do something unexpected that will lift his team. It’s a shame guys like this seem to be going out of fashion.

78 Josh Barfield, 2B, San Diego Padres
Ordinarily I look for middle infielders who can flash the leather rather than simply hanging around the keystone waiting for their next at-bat but for some reason I find it easy to forgive the son of the great Jesse Barfield (even I can let bias slip in from time to time).

77 Guillermo Quiroz, C, Toronto Blue Jays
I’ve been waiting for this guy to crack the Blue Jay line-up for about a year and a half now. Every time I hear about Quiroz I hear really good things about his play whilst wearing the armour and occasionally his ability to swing a bat. He could either be a young Charles Johnson or another Kevin Cash.

76 Derek Jeter, SS, New York Yankees
Even Yankee haters respect Jeter. You cannot deny that this guy is as clutch as they come and all that is whilst playing under arguably the brightest spotlight in professional sport. Its hard to figure out who is more important in terms of keeping good karma in the Yankee clubhouse, Torre or Jeter.

75 Francisco Cordero, P, Texas Rangers
He might not look the most athletic guy in the league or even appear to care too much about what’s going on around him but when Cordero comes into a game you know what’s coming and you know no-ones going to stop him doing it.

74 Scott Rolen, 3B, St Louis Cardinals
It was a shame the way he left Philadelphia and all the animosity it seemed to engender but you can’t ignore a guy who has this much talent at the plate and in the field. When he plays the hot corner you can always expect to see him do something spectacular and with all the runs he puts on the board, he probably takes away almost double that.

73 Oliver Perez, P, Pittsburgh Pirates
One of the most baffling talents in MLB. A power pitching lefty with one of the nastiest hooks around and if he has his mojo working, can rip apart any order on any night but luckily for the league he doesn’t seem to have his mojo too often.

72 Jesse Crain, P, Minnesota Twins
This guy is a real fire cracker on the mound with a mid-90’s fastball and a tight slider that jumps out of his hand. The first time I saw him I said to myself he will be an elite closer one day and I still think that.

71 Matt Cain, P, San Francisco Giants
This guy could be a rare thing for the Giants; an impact player younger than 30. Cain has an easy delivery that sees the ball jump out of his hand and he just attacks the zone. Certainly one to look for in the future.

70 Francisco Liriano, P, Minnesota Twins
You may have heard of a guy called Johan Santana, well Liriano could be just as good. Like Santana he has a hard fastball and a great change and if the way he absolutely abused minor league hitters last year is anything to go by (that is actually an understatement) there is no telling how good he could be. Don’t be fooled by his numbers after being called up last year, he is the real deal.

69 Carlos Lee, LF, Milwaukee Brewers
While at the White Sox Carlos Lee never got that much attention as he was on a line-up with the likes of Frank Thomas and Paul Konerko but once he landed in Milwaukee he emerged from shadows to show just what a great hitter he always was. What people still don’t seem to realise is that he can steal a bag too. The only mark against him is his D where he doesn’t take the best routes but what he does do is give maximum effort out there and while he can’t do a lot he does what he can.

68 Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Washington Nationals
In his first year as a pro Zimmerman made it to the Bigs, aged just 20, and didn’t look out of place. The easiest thing to think of with this guy is to imagine Scott Rolen with maybe a little less power but better average. There is nothing he can’t do and he will get much better and much stronger. This guy can be special.

67 Eric Chavez, 3B, Oakland A’s
Eric Chavez is one of the most amiable guys in baseball and always gives good copy and once he’s on the field he typifies the Oakland A’s ethos. He’s a disciplined hitter with good pop and without him in the order the A’s always struggle. One of the few true leaders in the sport.

66 Carlos Beltran, CF, New York Mets
There is nothing Carlos Beltran can’t do on a baseball field and he might be, pound for pound, the most talented player in baseball. Niggling injuries stymied his performances last year but when healthy he is arguably the best base runner in baseball, can hit for power, gets on base and only Andruw Jones is better in the field. If he ever finds a way to put all his tools together at once then watch out.

65 Joe Mauer, C, Minnesota Twins
I start to wonder if we’ll ever see just how good a catcher this guy could be. Catchers are often on borrowed time due to the demands of the job but the injury bug has already taken a hold of Mauer in his two years with the big club. Even if he never puts in a full season as a catcher, wherever he plays he could be an All Star.

64 Joe Nathan, P, Minnesota Twins
I bet the Giants miss Nathan and Liriano more than they miss A.J. Pierzynski. Came to the Twins as a failed starter and is now one of the elite closers in baseball. He comes at you with a hard fastball and a nasty slider and is as tough to hit as anyone.

63 Ben Sheets, P, Milwaukee Brewers
After a strong showing at The Olympics Sheets drew a lot of attention and was pegged to be a big game pitcher and many were disappointed by his average showing in his rookie year. Then came 2004 where, if not for a phenomenal year from Randy Johnson, Ben Sheets would have been the guy people were harping on about how you could possibly not give him the Cy. A mid-90’s fastball, one of the nastiest curveballs in baseball and with a Milwaukee line-up which is brewing some exciting young hitters it might not be too long till people are asking how you could possibly not give him the Cy?

62 Carlos Zambrano, P, Chicago Cubs
At the beginning of every year people in Chicago talk about how Wood and Prior are as dominant as there are in the league and how Maddux is on his way to the Hall of Fame but by the end of every year Zambrano emerges as the most dependable starter in the rotation. Makes you wonder when people will start to notice the pattern?

61 Rafael Furcal, SS, Atlanta Braves
This guy is just exciting. Furcal has great speed and knows how to use it to get on base and score runs. He also might have the best arm of any infielder and he has such confidence in it that he attempts throws that he has no business believing might get people out and often makes errors from just trying way too hard and too much effort is never a bad thing in my book.

60 Thomas Diamond, P, Texas Rangers
When Diamond was drafted he already had a great fastball and a good change and he mixed both well enough that he managed to strikeout 101 batters in 81 1/3 innings in A ball and after he moved up he started working on a breaking pitch and made the adjustment and started beating up on AA hitters. If he continues to progress then Texas might finally have the pitching to take advantage of that great offence they’ve put together.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The List : 100-80

A while ago, when I started playing fantasy baseball (sadly even I have been bitten by that bug), a friend started asking me about who I was likely to pick and he'd throw names at me and I would say if they were on my list or not. Since then The List has evolved into something more than players who would be handy to have on your fantasy roster to something far less quantifiable and now it's a compilation of my favourite players in the game.

It must be noted that this is not a list of the best or most talented players around (there is no place in Spurious Baseball for such clear cut things) but the characters around the league and players who play this beautiful game the way I think it should be played so sit back and enjoy this feature which should keep things ticking over in here. At least until the winter meetings get under way.

100 Brandon Stricklen, P, Houston Astros
A 42nd round draft choice in his first year of pro ball who can throw hard might not sound too exciting but this is a guy who, if he hadn’t been a ball player, would be on his way to being an FBI agent. How cool is that?

99 Taylor Teagarden, C, Texas Rangers
Like many of Scott Boras’ clients going into the draft, Teagarden was drafted later than he might have been (3rd round) but some scouts have likened his potential to that of über-prospect Joe Mauer. Needless to say this is a guy worth watching.

98 Coco Crisp, LF, Cleveland Indians
How can you not think of Coco Crisp and not smile? He has the coolest name in all of sports. Add to that he is a dynamic and speedy player who is capable of some spectacular plays and spectacular misplays. You have to love this guy.

97 Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Colorado Rockies
They say this guy is like Bobby Crosby but with potentially better tools. The fact that Colorado feel that Tulowitzki might be able to join the big club within another year, maybe two, just emphasises what kind of potential he has. He could be special.

96 Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C, Atlanta Braves
This guy has too many A’s in his name not to be compelling. Everything you hear about this guy makes him sound like Jason Varitek with a better bat. The organisation raves about his play calling and handling of pitchers and you just have to look up the numbers to see what he can do with the bat. They are even confident he can improve his ability to throw out runners. We shall see.

95 Bobby Jenks, P, Chicago White Sox
The guy is the size of a tank and once he wheels out of the of the pen to the mound, it must seem like he’s firing shells at the catchers glove. His fastball can get into triple digits and when he gets his curveball going its just lights out.

94 Jeff Francoeur, RF, Atlanta Braves
There’s no denying the amount of talent this guy has both at the plate and in the field but the thing I love about this guy is that he will not be walked. If its around the plate he’s going to swing at it and his hand-eye coordination is good enough that he’ll hit most of them.

93 BJ Upton, SS, Tampa Bay Devil Rays
The prodigal E6 Upton is endless entertainment. All last year I would look at the reports and see if he had added another error to his prolific total. Most people would love to have as many doubles as Upton had errors last year. With the errors does come a lot of other huge numbers and that is why he is near the top of most of the lists of top prospects. This guy can do it all…almost.

92 Erick Aybar, SS, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
I remember a day when everyone would think of shortstops and think of players like Erick Aybar. Aybar is a slick fielding and rangy fielder with a bit of pop and very good speed on the bases. It’s a shame that the demands of the modern day shortstop have changed and defensive wizardry seems less important than sticking another bat in the line-up in an attempt to strip baseball of any athleticism in exchange for big burly blokes trotting around the bases and plodding about the field hoping that balls get hit straight at them. We need more Erick Aybar’s.

91 Chad Bradford, P, Boston Red Sox
This guy scrapes his knuckles on the floor from time to time in his delivery. What else do you need to know?

90 Yusmeiro Petit, P, Florida Marlins
He’s had problems adjusting to AAA but control pitchers who struggle to get into the 90’s have such a small margin for error. Prior to this year all he had dominated everyone he had faced and did it all by using his guile and pitching rather than just being a thrower like so many. Time will tell if he can get back to his crafty winning ways.

89 Yuniesky Betancourt, SS, Seattle Mariners
What can I say? I love slick defensive shortstops who slap the ball about and trust their speed. It won’t be long till this guy is a regular on highlight reels.

88 Greg Maddux, P, Chicago Cubs
Since I first started watching baseball some twenty years ago, no pitcher has filled me with as much wonder as Greg Maddux. In an age where pitching seems to be about radar guns, Maddux has made a career out of carving line-ups apart with tremendous guts and intelligence and it has been beautiful to watch. The reason he is so far down this list (he would easily make my top 10 of all time players) is because seeing him pitch now only reminds me that those amazing years in the mid-90’s are gone and day to day he just isn’t the pitcher he used to be. Though he might be right at the end of his career but you just feel he has another 80 pitch complete game shutout somewhere and I want to be there when it happens.

87 Brandon Wood, SS, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Before last season Brandon Wood was just another one of the talented middle infield prospects that Anaheim seem laden with. Now he is one of the most explosive young talents in baseball. The season he just had in Rancho Cucamonga was unbelievable leading the minors in homeruns, doubles, extra-base hits and total bases and this was a guy who was drafted for his glove.

86 Russ Adams, SS, Toronto Blue Jays
This is a genuine energy guy who is the sort of person you find on winning teams. He might not have the best speed but he steals bases, he might not be the best or most disciplined hitter but he gets on base, he might not be the strongest guy but he’ll hit one out from time to time, he just plugs away and does what he can for the team.

85 Marcus Giles, 2B, Atlanta Braves
I could watch Marcus Giles turn double plays all day. No one hangs in longer to make the turn than he does. Its almost like every time he makes the pivot he has some ones cleats in his gut.

84 Bobby Crosby, SS, Oakland A’s
Not the sort of guy who will hit 40 homeruns or steal 40 but Bobby Crosby is one of those guys who just seems to make the whole team around him better and players like that are hard to find. If he played on an east coast team people would talk about him a whole lot more.

83 Paul Konerko, 1B, Chicago White Sox
Paul Konerko mulled about the league for ages as an OK slugger who was good enough to put in the middle of the order but not good enough to warrant paying big bucks to keep around. Then he went to Chicago and became an MVP calibre run producer and the sort of guy your team can’t do without. A stabilising presence in the clubhouse and on the field and he’ll richly deserve the big contract he got this off season.

82 Travis Hafner, DH, Cleveland Indians
There is something so satisfying about regaling Hafner with praise as he’s one of those guys who plays for an unfashionable team, puts up great numbers but never seems to get much press. It’s like discovering some great band playing in front of fifty people in some obscure music venue before they hit the charts. He truly deserves to be given MVP consideration but if he ever threatened to win it he’d be far less compelling.

81 Felix Pie, CF, Chicago Cubs
Not only is he blessed with a tremendous array of tools, his name is Pie. You can bet there will be a lot of people who have watched certain TV shows and will be forever amusing themselves by uttering the phrase, “I am a big fan of Pie.”

80 Chase Utley, 2B, Philadelphia Phillies
The Phils always seem to disappoint me but whenever I see them play Utley does not. He always seems to really work hard and get the most out of himself and never takes a play off. On a Philadelphia team that is carrying a lot of deadwood and is in need of refurbishment, Utley is the sort of player they can rebuild with.