Friday, March 31, 2023

The Braves Part With Logic


You see, until a certain point I was understanding what the Braves were doing. And then something changed.

Last year, the Braves were making all the correct moves. All these huge pieces start getting extensions. Olson's locked up, Riley's locked up, Strider and Harris are locked up. Then the Sean Murphy trade happens, and on one hand, trading William Contreras is a risky move but Murphy means that the Braves now have two excellent catching options that they can platoon, and dArnaud can age gracefully and DH in favor of Marcell Ozuna, who was signed to an extension back when the Braves didn't know what they were doing with those. The Braves also used that opportunity to lock up Murphy for the foreseeable future, which I also agreed with.

And then at the end of Spring Training, the Braves made the single pettiest move I'd ever seen. 

So, as you'll recall last season, Ozzie Albies got injured and the Braves called up Vaughn Grissom to fill the hole in the infield. Grissom responded by hitting .291 in 41 games, with 41 hits, 18 RBIs and 5 homers, giving the team a security blanket heading into the postseason. During the offseason, Dansby Swanson leaves for Chicago, shortstop is open, Grissom is the favorite. Seeing as Harris, Strider and Olson got extensions with less than a season of work for the Braves, the assumption is that Grissom will be next.

And then in Spring Training, not only does Grissom have an excellent spring, but so does Braden Shewmake, another young infield prospect that's been gestating in the minors for longer and could also be ready for the majors. The fans love Grissom, the fans think Grissom's gonna inherit the team...and then the Braves demote both Grissom and Shewmake and sign Orlando Arcia to a 3-year contract.

So uh...needless to say, Braves fans did not like that.

Arcia is a fine infielder, he's done serviceable work for the Braves since coming over from Milwaukee, but that's the problem. Arcia is very much a replacement-level player, and extending him and giving him shortstop over Grissom, who had a 0.9 WAR in a little over a month of play, seems shortsighted and like they're deliberately trying to keep Grissom under his preliminary contract for as long as possible. If you're handing out money to Orlando Arcia, you're not cutting costs. 

It's also kinda shitty that Grissom still doesn't make Opening Day while the Braves are handing the fifth rotation spot, and probably a fourth seeing as Max Fried is now injured, to two people who've never played an MLB game before, in Jared Shuster and Dylan Dodd. And then because of Raisel Iglesias getting injured, the Braves brought up Nick Anderson, who was already told he'd be starting the year in triple-A. So there's clearly a lot of bullshit lying about in terms of who the Braves think is more useful to the team.

I do think Grissom's eventually gonna be called up and take the majority of reps in short, but I don't see why they couldn't have just given him the position immediately. I thought he earned it last year. If they're playing the whole 'would he have earned it had Arcia not gotten injured' game, they're being petty and to seeing what we're all seeing. 

Also, as far as how all the long-term contracts are going, the catcher they signed for the rest of the decade went 0-for-5 last night while the catcher they're having DH was responsible for a late RBI double and went 4-for-5, so...yeah.

The Braves will probably even out and starting making decisions that make more sense to me, and it'll probably do them well in the long run, but I do wish they weren't thinking so petty with a young, promising player on the line. Jordan Walker and Anthony Volpe are in the bigs, you've got no excuse.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

2023: Now With More Rules


The good news is the MLB season is actually starting on time this year. The bad news is it's been slightly meddled with.

I don't know if my lukewarm-ness on some of the new MLB rules is just because I don't want to give Rob Manfred the benefit of the doubt, or because I don't like change at all, but it's been hard to see so many posts by official MLB accounts, and even ESPN saying 'THE NEW RULES ARE GOOD. YOU CAN LIKE THE NEW RULES.' It goes back to the very end of the last MLB season when they had a reporter get on the air to basically tell us that the Astros winning the World Series was a good thing. The league has been propagandizing too much recently, and trying to control the narrative by getting actual MLB players and managers, as well as celebrities like Bryan Cranston and Sebastian Maniscalco, to approve of the changes made to the game. And that feels a bit fake to me, but whatever.

There is baseball to be played, and it's a very exciting-looking season, with the stakes still very high for so many teams I enjoy, and no shortage of potential great teams waiting to strike. I already know I'm gonna be making a game in the Bronx this year, and I can only imagine I'll hit a match or two in South Philly at some point. Like I'm prone to, here are 5 BOLD PREDICTIONS for the 2023 season:

1. Adley Rutschman is the new Buster Posey. I just get a similar vibe from him, and he seems to have similar well-balanced prowess both in front of and behind the plate. Moreover, The Orioles are making the playoffs this year. It's happening. Regardless of how the AL East race goes, and if the Rays do, in fact, drop a bit as many people think they well, the O's are gonna sneak in and make a serious run at things. Henderson's starting the year at short, Hall and Hernandez are probably gonna be in shortly, there are some much-needed reinforcements in the form of people like Kyle Gibson and Adam Frazier, and the team feels so much more put together than even in the stretch last year. I hope they can accomplish something great, and I hope Rutschman gets rewarded for it.

2. Shohei Ohtani's winning another MVP. In the season directly before one can only assume the two-way monolith becomes a free-agent, Shohei Ohtani is going to dominate in both aspects of play in a way that will rival his MVP season in 2021. He's already been improving as a pitcher every season since the surgery, perhaps he even wins a Cy Young as well. But he'll be 28, which is an important prime year for any player, and I think he's gonna go bigger, even if, rationally, the Angels might not exactly.

3. The Dodgers and Astros aren't winning the West this year. The Dodgers you can honestly guess, they have less big pieces, their big stars are injured in the rotation, it's gonna be harder for them to play the regular game when looking more human, and the Padres exist and are going bigger. But the Astros not winning the AL West is a bolder claim, especially seeing as they just won a ring. Logically, though, they're down a few more big pieces, including Verlander and Gurriel, and they're starting the season with some other big pieces injured, like Altuve and McCullers. I also don't think Jose Abreu is gonna give them what they want, nor do I think that Alex Bregman is gonna fill the void that Altuve's leaving. This team might not succeed initially, and might not succeed ultimately, let alone how the Mariners are gonna do. I just think this might be the season that the regime changes, and hopefully I'm right.

4. Usually around here I predict a Cy Young race. Two years ago I nailed Corbin Burnes, despite the fact that Zack Wheeler deserved the gold. Last year I was way off with Walker Buehler, as he got hurt pretty soon into things. So this year I'm honestly not sure. I'll just do a ballsy one, just on account of last season, Logan Gilbert for AL Cy Young. Even if logically Castillo has a better shot.

5. The Yankees will make the World Series for the first time in 14 years. People have liked to go 'oh, if the Yankees are so good how come they've gone this long without a World Series', well if you expand the playoffs so that it's not the top 3 or 4 best teams, and lesser teams can build momentum, then of course the Yankees aren't gonna win as often. You can honestly argue that the playoffs were expanded to prevent dynasties like the Yankees, and Astros, from happening. I do think they'll make it this year, just on account of what weapons they're dealing with and how many other divisions seem inferior by comparison. As for who they'll play...yeah, probably San Diego. But that's just eyeballing things.

And now, a little bit easier, 5 Predictions for April 2023:

1. Fernando Tatis' forgiveness tour doesn't quite take off. Tatis has a new position, and a new lease on the game, but he's surrounded by people who've succeeded more recently than he and he's now got even more pressure to do well. And I don't think it's gonna happen immediately. 

2. A big team that won't succeed by the end of the year will have a huge start and bowl everybody over. My money is on the Rangers. Maybe they do end up figuring it out, but I think things will click immediately and that will create a lot of false hope. And then in May, hey guess what, deGrom's arm is sore again.

3. Trea Turner's tour of the surrounding areas of major league stadiums will continue, at least for the first half of April. Obviously, SOME of Turner's WBC mojo is gonna wear off, but the home run hitting will give the Phils a boost in the first portion of the season before Turner focuses more on contact. 

4. Jordan Walker is going to get eyes upon him immediately, in a good way. I don't know if he's THE Rookie of the Year, but he's certainly gonna have the best April of his class.

5. Some aspect of the new rules draws controversy during a game.

That's at least some half-hearted predictions, let's see how this season goes.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

In Praise of 'The Fun Player'


This will be Joc Pederson's tenth season in the major leagues. Kinda hard to believe.

After having a stellar rookie season and becoming well-known as a home run hitter in LA, Pederson has mellowed into a fairly solid mid-lineup power hitter. What's more, Pederson seems to be filling the role previously occupied by Hunter Pence in the Giants' lineup as 'the fun guy'. Which, in my opinion, every team needs.

Baseball, in general, is too serious and too simple for my liking. Too many players just come at the game with this stone faced resolve, and say the same 'well we're just gonna do what we're gonna do' things when the press talks to them, and we don't get enough of an eye into how their personality works or how much they actually enjoy the game. At the end of the day, baseball's a kid's game, it's a game people play with their friends, and so if you're a grown-ass man and you get to play baseball, the fun should show a little bit. As much as I love people like Aaron Judge, Justin Verlander, Shohei Ohtani and Nolan Arenado, you don't get a lot from them other than stock seriousness and determination.

Joc Pederson shows up with like a dyed blonde mohawk and says 'let's play', and I think that's a lot more interesting. And that's before you even go into detail about his work with people with disabilities, his run on the Israeli team, his fantasy football hijinks, any of that. Plus, he just seems like one of those guys who has fun, who loves the fans and who can be a true hero like that. Pence was awesome at that, and I think Pederson's a worthy successor.

For my money, the crown prince of 'fun player' archetypes is Joey Votto, and you wouldn't think it just from how dry he is a lot of the time. Votto has a TikTok presence [or will until that gets taken down due to questionable reasonings], he'll go around talking to fans during games, his press conferences are always fun, he thanks fans for coming to games, and he just exudes charisma and personality. The Reds fans already had a guy like that with Sean Casey, who they literally referred to as The Mayor, and for them to have a guy like Votto who's arguably more important, and a much better player, has to be awesome. Votto's a Hall of Famer, there's a chance this could be his last season, and he's still having fun and being himself. 

And now we have people inheriting the game that seem more intent on bringing the fun back, like Julio Rodriguez, whose desire to keep the game enjoyable has made him the cover boy for the game in the span of a year, and Hunter Greene, who's been keen to play up the novelty of throwing 100+ miles all the time while being a tangible, approachable sports figure. We now have Anthony Volpe, who looks to be a bit more of a Spider-Man esque MLB figure as the young kid who grew up a Yankee fan now joining the team. So at least this mentality is growing, but it's mostly younger players who haven't found their full focus and groove yet.

I really hope this trend stays alive, because this, rather than changing rules, is the key to keeping people invested in baseball. If fans have fun characters to root for and fun things happening, they'll watch more.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Steal My Sunshine


A lot of the issues of baseball exist in grey areas. Oh, this new rule doesn't work, but it doesn't not work well enough for it to be repealed. Oh, several umpires are bad, but not enough of them are bad to enforce automated strike-calling. Oh, the money disparity in baseball is awful but not enough for anything to be really enforced.

Arguably the biggest grey area in baseball is its domestic assault policy. Where unless the other person really presses charges, it's likely that they're just gonna let you back into the majors anyhow. 

Mike Clevinger, after the season, was involved in some sort of domestic dispute, which was handled after the White Sox had finalized the details of their contract with him. Because the investigation into Clevinger's homelife turned up, apparently, no evidence of foul play, he was let off the hook and allowed to play this year without a suspension. Funnily enough, Clevinger was given a similar nonexistent punishment a couple years ago when he broke COVID protocols in Chicago, though he eventually missed a year and a half of playing time, due to a karmically-timed injury. 

And so the grey areas strike again. Mike Clevinger did something wrong, enough for it to be reported on, but not enough to warrant a suspension or much more than a small mark on his resume. Mike Clevinger is still going to be a valued starter with the White Sox this year, regardless of whether he did or didn't beat someone up in the offseason. And that's honestly how it goes. You look around the league and you see all these players, like Aroldis Chapman, Marcell Ozuna, Domingo German, Julis Urias, and Jeurys Familia, who've had suspensions for domestic violence charges but still get to play in the majors, virtually unscathed. Several of these guys, especially Urias, have almost completely wiped these from the radar.

Even Trevor Bauer, who fell the hardest thanks to claims of sexual assault, will be playing in Japan for the BayStars this season, meaning even Japan lets people play again regardless of things they're caught doing.

So now we have Clevinger, who came out of MLB's investigation clean, despite a cloud or two preventing the White Sox from completely heralding him as a rotation fix. Are we just expected to continue on as if nothing's happened? Do we just watch him have a decent season and put this knowledge out of our minds? Do we still wait for the other shoe to drop, or for him to get caught doing something else? 

Look, I know that it's taboo sometimes to do posts on serious topics and things like that, but it's a grey area I can't seem to get past, because, like with HGHs and steroids, they got caught breaking the rules and are only let off with a small enough punishment, you hope they're learned from it, and here they are doing what they did before. I feel weird watching people like Starling Marte and Fernando Tatis do well because they've got caught taking HGHs. I feel weird watching Domingo German get a starting role considering how much time he missed due to domestic violence. It's just something I don't know exactly how to feel about, and I think I need to take the more strict approach, like I have by not collecting any of the Rays players that protested Pride Night last year. 

Mike Clevinger is probably gonna have a solid comeback year if he keeps his control and velocity in line. But will baseball ever forgive him? And why do I feel bad that the answer is 'probably'?

Monday, March 27, 2023

THEY Made The Opening Day Roster?


Despite some strong starts during the last half of the 2022 season, Hayden Wesneski was a long shot to make the Cubs' 2023 Opening Day roster. As promising of a prospect that he was, he was going against not only trusted MLB options like Marcus Stroman, Kyle Hendricks, Drew Smyly, and Jameson Taillon, but in-team options like Adrian Sampson, Keegan Thompson and Justin Steele, and lower-rotation guys like Javier Assad and Adbert Alzolay. But Wesneski had an INCREDIBLE spring, and thanks to Hendricks getting injured and Sampson and Alzolay struggling, was handed a crucial spot in the 5-man rotation, alongside Stroman, Taillon, Smyly and Steele. 

Wesneski was the kind of underdog that you wanted to succeed, and the kind of young player that deserves opportunities like this. Thankfully, Wesneski is one of many guys like that who are succeeding out of camp and making the majors. As per a lot of these spring training posts, let's go down and cover all 30 teams and pick one player that I'm glad is making the Opening Day roster. 

Angels: Logan O'Hoppe, the catching prospect who came over from Philly for Brandon Marsh, who's looking like he'll be backing up Max Stassi, and therefore potentially taking the position if he's good enough, this season. For O'Hoppe to make the team and people like Jo Adell, Mickey Moniak and Andrew Velasquez to NOT make the team is pretty huge, and means they're seeing good things from O'Hoppe.

Astros: Hunter Brown, who will be the Astros' fifth starter off the bat, as Lance McCullers will once again begin the season on the IL. Brown will have big shoes to fill, in a year without Justin Verlander, but he's been efficient enough in spring competition. 

Athletics: Freddy Tarnok, who was sent over in the Sean Murphy trade and looks to be making the A's as a reliever. Seeing as Kyle Muller is getting the Opening Day start, Tarnok making the team is a good sign for how much room they have for prospects.

Blue Jays: Not a lot of truly out of the ordinary choices, so by default, Chad Green, who's finally suiting up for a team that isn't the Yankees.

Braves: TIE between Dylan Dodd and Jared Shuster, two guys who made the rotation over Bryce Elder and Ian Anderson. I could have gone with Hoy Park, who made it over Vaughn Grissom or Braden Shewmake, but Dodd and Shuster I actually understand the promise of.

Brewers: Gus Varland, a longtime minor leaguer who's bounced around for a few years and is FINALLY making the majors this year after becoming a character as a spring training reliever. Could have gone with Brice Turang, but him making the team I could have guessed.

Cardinals: In lieu of Jordan Walker, I'm going with Taylor Motter, the longtime backup infielder who impressed enough to make Opening Day, something I did not think he was still capable of. 

Cubs: Wesneski, see above.

Diamondbacks: Nobody really, though I'll say Drey Jameson because I figured that if Ryne Nelson won the 5th slot then Jameson wouldn't make it himself, but there they both are.

Dodgers: James Outman, one of the few Opening Day rookies that might be overshadowed by some of the other ones. The Dodgers are starting Chris Taylor and Trayce Thompson in the outfield this year, might also use David Peralta and Jason Heyward for starts, and are clearly lacking in respected outfield pop that isn't Mookie Betts. Outman being a young outfield guy will certainly help things along, especially if he's ready.

Giants: When I did the research for this post, the Giants roster was still a bit fatty, so I'll just assume Sean Hjelle made the team out of camp and wonder aloud how odd it is that a 6'11 starter might get some reps with the Giants this year. [EDIT, 4/30: The Giants were, in fact, not ready for this Hjelle].

Guardians: Roman Quinn, who will likely make the team after having one of the best offensive springs of his lifetime. Dude hit 4 homers this spring, he's only hit as many as 4 homers IN A SEASON. 

Mariners: The whole roster is pretty sensible at the moment, so how about Jack Larsen, the backup-to-the-backup outfielder who's mostly being used for his defense. Really the only eyebrow-raiser we have here.

Marlins: N/A, they're all too sensible.

Mets: Tommy Pham, who gets like a third or fourth chance since leaving his peak while Mark Vientos, Brett Baty and Francisco Alvarez all have to sit in Syracuse and wait for roster space. You can play the 'but they're not ready yet' game but a lot of people in this post, like Walker, Henderson and Outman, are proving that the only people talking about readiness are really concerned about player control.

Nationals: N/A

Orioles: I suppose Gunnar Henderson, considering that, as evidenced by Grayson Rodriguez not making Opening Day, even the biggest rookies may not have been guaranteed. Henderson's gonna be the starting 3rd baseman this year, and it's well-deserved.

Padres: Another one where the deepest roster cuts hadn't been made as I prepped this. I'd really like it for Jay Groome to somehow squeak onto the roster, after years of being as top prospect for Boston, as well as being a local hero for me. [UPDATE 4 HOURS LATER] Well, so much for that. There's not really any stretches left after Groome, so I guess they're an N/A too.

Phillies: Darick Hall was probably thinking he'd start the year in the minors, then Rhys Hoskins got hurt and all of the sudden he's the starting 1st baseman for the defending NL champs. I sincerely hope he has a decent enough year.

Pirates: Guys, Rich Hill is 43 and he's a prized starter for the Pirates. What the hell is going on? I love this!

Rangers: It is looking very likely that Yoshi Tsustugo might make this team, and that'd be really cool, because after he flamed out with the Rays I thought he was cooked, and he's kinda become an unsung favorite wherever he's played. 

Rays: Christian Bethancourt might actually be the starting catcher for the Rays this year. Some people can call that an inspiring comeback story, I still file it away with the other 'the Rays are too cheap' stuff. Bethancourt returned from MLB obscurity with the A's and now gets to start for the Rays, so that is kinda cool.

Red Sox: Brayan Bello making the roster isn't surprising, but him being a major candidate to start games is surprising to me. Just proves how much the Sox have lost in the last few years.

Reds: The bad news is that Michael Siani and Elly de la Cruz were both cut so the Reds can eventually control them for a little longer. The good news is that at least Spencer Steer is here, and looking to start the year at third. He's a decent prospect, maybe a full year will illuminate his promise.

Rockies: Tulo, then Story, then a year of Iglesias, then, as it's looking, Ezequiel Tovar, who looks to start at shortstop this year for the Rox after getting a 9-game preview last year. Tovar has a lot of promise following him, and he does look sharp after a nice spring, with 14 hits in 18 games, so this guy might end up being THE guy going forward, which, no disrespect to Brendan Rodgers, would be very helpful.

Royals: Aroldis Chapman's beard. Look, in the last 7 years I'd forgotten he could grow one, man.

Tigers: Ryan Kreidler, a rookie who struggled offensively in 28 games last year yet has been handed the starting third base job this year. Of the rosters I looked up for this post, the Tigers' roster was the sparsest, and it seems to be Kreidler or bust, which is a bold strategy.

Twins: N/A, even Gallo I could have guessed

White Sox: Romy Gonzalez will be starting at 2nd base instead of Leury Garcia. That may be one of the biggest shockers of the spring.

Yankees: As much as I wanna say Volpe, through everything I saw from him this spring, I had a feeling. So I'll say this: the Yankees are going in with one rotation spot empty. One would assume, alongside Cole, Cortes, German and Schmidt, that they'd just give it to Michael King, who'd started games before. But as I write this post, it is looking like they will be bringing Jhony Brito with them to the Bronx after 5 perfect innings this weekend. Volpe starting in the majors seems like a foregone conclusion compared to Brito, even if he was looking pretty ready with Scranton last year. I'm still not sure if he's officially in, but if yesterday's anything to go by, what a surprise he could be.

I may update this as more cuts happen, but this alone is a pretty wild picture.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

NOW The Rays Start Spending?


So, to bring you all up to speed, after letting David Price, Evan Longoria, Chris Archer, Blake Snell, Austin Meadows, Mike Brosseau, Ryan Yarbrough, Ji-Man Choi, Charlie Morton, Rich Hill, Diego Castillo, Nick Anderson, J.T. Chargois, Adam Kolarek, Sergio Romo, Willy Adames, Tommy Pham, Corey Dickerson and Kevin Kiermaier leave, the Tampa Bay Rays finally realized that it might help to sign some people to longer-term contracts.

I have constantly ragged on the Rays for being the cheapest sons of guns in the league, and for refusing to pay players what they're worth when given the opportunity. I know it's not really a big factor for them, as even if these big players have left via trades or free agency the team has remained a competitor, but it's the absolute reluctance to create a dynasty with actual players that bugs me. The Rays have a dynasty mentality, and a belief that they will compete with the same mindsets that have made them a good team since 2018, but they don't have a tradition of great players the fans can get a jersey of and wear to games for 10 years. 

Then again, bold of me to assume that Rays fans are actually going to games anyhow.

But the Rays, to their credit, have actually begun to listen to me and spent the offseason signing some of their great players to extensions. Yes, one of them is Jeffrey Springs, and the Rays seem to be going to the John Tortorella school of not demeaning a player for hating gay people because he's good at sports, but these other extended Rays are the moves I'd honestly make. Yandy Diaz has been one of the most consistent pieces of this team, he's here for another 3 or 4 years. Manuel Margot was a huge part of last year's Rays team, he's here for another 2 or 3 years. Tyler Glasnow's the backbone of the rotation hurt or healthy, he's locked up for a few more years. Pete Fairbanks has become one of the most reliable bullpen guys of this farm system, he's here for another few years.

And then, in addition to all of that and Springs [eesh], the Rays went out and did an actual decent free agent signing in Zach Eflin, a mid-rotation Phillies hero that was responsible for great stuff despite the last few seasons being injury-filled. Eflin was great in Philly and, a lot like Kyle Gibson, could definitely head up a rotation in some way without someone like Nola or Wheeler already in place. I think Eflin, if he continues decent health and picks up where he left off last year, could give the Rays a ton of innings and be a reliable rotation piece even if Glasnow, Chirinos and Baz continue to be unreliable. 

Now, here's the funny part. The Rays did all of this work to secure people, sign people, and offer contracts to people who deserve it for once. And right now they are looking to finish fourth in the AL East. 

Because, yes, keeping low-risk, useful guys is a good thing, but it's not the same as keeping around somebody like Meadows or Snell or Adames or Kiermaier, who are bigger players that can provide the x-factor over other teams. Kiermaier, this season, will be playing for the Blue Jays, who had enough money to net him and make sure he's still a lower-tier piece of a huge lineup. The Yankees, Jays and even the Orioles are looking more fully-formed than the Rays, and even the Red Sox might have bigger pieces than the Rays.

The Rays, meanwhile, will be using Christian Bethancourt, Taylor Walls, Isaac Paredes, Jose Siri and Harold Ramirez in major roles this year. Yes, it's cool when they're low-budget pieces that amount to good things, but sometimes small-ball is just small-ball, especially when the biggest pieces are guys like Brandon Lowe, who's struggled since his rookie year, and Wander Franco, who's yet to play a full season in the majors.

I could be wrong, and the Rays could just compete again just out of spite, useful as a lot of these moves were, it feels like too little too late for a team that was good at attracting talent but not great at prolonging it.

2023 in Former Rookies of the Year

It's odd to look back at the Rookie of the Year winners from the 2000s and see how much of a crapshoot this thing used to be. I mean, I'm sure there'll be different assessments in about 10 more years, but just seeing how many ROY winners flamed out after 5 years or less, like Angel Berroa, Jason Jennings, Andrew Bailey, Chris Coghlan, Bobby Crosby and, let's be honest with ourselves, Jason Bay. 

You look at the ones from the 2010s and it's mostly predicted the stars of today- all of Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Jacob deGrom, Corey Seager, Shohei Ohtani, Kris Bryant, Carlos Correa, Aaron Judge and Yordan Alvarez remain the biggest stars in the game. By 2013, 15 of the 20 ROY winners of the previous decade were still in the league, and six of those guys were still among the biggest stars of the game [Ichiro, Pujols, Pedroia, Verlander, Hanley Ramirez and Evan Longoria]. The rest were scrubs.

By comparison, 16 of the 20 from the 2010s are still in the league, and 13 of those guys are still considered huge stars, and are being used in big roles going into camp this year. If Buster Posey hadn't retired, he'd be a figure in this as well. 

Just for fun, I'll go down the list of the active Rookie of the Year winners, and see how they're doing going into the start of the season in a week.

Justin Verlander, 2006: Heh, funny how it drops a bit when Pujols finally retires. Verlander, even for a 40-year-old, is looking at another huge season, in a top role in the Mets' rotation to begin the year. Verlander and Scherzer are gonna be an epic duo that, despite their ages, look to strike the hell out of opposing offenses for as long as they can. No current sign of slipping, though his age and durability are both worries.

Evan Longoria, 2008. Longoria has been in the league for 15 years now and is only now donning his third uniform, fittingly the team that came into the league at the same time as his beloved Rays. The Diamondbacks are planning to use Longo as a starting third baseman and potential DH option. Longo has missed parts of the last few seasons with the Giants, though, to his credit, he's been excellent whenever he's been active. I don't think his star is as high as it was when he came to San Francisco, but he's still had a hell of a career, and the D-Backs might get a bit of pep from his counsel. 

Craig Kimbrel, 2011. Kimbrel's Rod Beck comparisons are back. He's become a journeyman type closer, showing up somewhere and getting 30 or so saves while not being as lights-out as he used to be. This year he's in Philly, and he's not guaranteed the ninth due to Gregory Soto being an even better closing option. He might need to be the setup man, and judging by late 2021, he's not the best at doing that either. 

Bryce Harper, 2012. Hurt, likely to come back by June or July, but still beloved and still regarded as one of the best in the league. 

Mike Trout, 2012. Despite recent injuries and a few Griffey comparisons, still undeniably one of baseball's biggest stars, and priming himself for another huge season in LA after a great WBC run.

Wil Myers, 2013. I think that, while Myers' ability to be one of the biggest stars in the game extinguished in about 2016, he's been a solid enough hitter ever since. He's passed his peak, and the Reds knew that when they picked him up, but he's probably gonna make the team and he'll aid them as an inoffensive power bat. 

Jacob deGrom, 2014. A change of teams, and a slight increase of ERA, are his biggest obstacles going into 2023, but he's still considered one of the best pitchers in the game, has won multiple Cy Young awards, and looks to make the Rangers a contender again.

Jose Abreu, 2014. I've talked up Abreu as an underrated HOF contender, solely because of how consistent his offensive production has been ever since coming into the league. I fear now that he's just passing his peak years, and though the Astros have given him a nice paycheck, I don't know if he'll deliver for them as well as he did for Chicago.

Kris Bryant, 2015. Still one of the biggest names in the game despite missing most of last season. Pretty much everyone is convinced he's due for a comeback with the Rockies, I am hoping they are right.

Carlos Correa, 2015. Though no one is quite certain what medical issue ended up ruining his deals with the Giants and Mets, he's at least back in an organization he knows, he's coming off a strong season, and he's looking to stay relevant despite the Twins not being as sure of a bet as, well, the Mets. I think he's still one of the stars of the game, but he's in danger of blowing it.

Corey Seager, 2016. Yeah, last season made it clear that Corey Seager is still a five-tool player even if he's no longer a member of the Dodgers. With a fuller Rangers roster he looks to make even more of a statement and add to his trophy case even more.

Michael Fulmer, 2016. Yes, clearly Fulmer didn't pan out the way the Tigers wanted, which is a rarity considering who surrounds him on this post, but he's reinvented himself as a reliever. In all of his spring appearances with the Cubs he's gone scoreless, so they're at least excited about that. I don't think he's ever gonna be as big of a deal as he was in 2016 and 2017, though.

Aaron Judge, 2017. Well, of course he's doing well, and he's a hell of a lot richer, too. 

Cody Bellinger, 2017. The last two seasons have put him on the border of stardom and obscurity, and it really hinges on whether he can do anything for the Cubs this year. I think he's honestly cooked himself, and might have peaked in 2019, much like his MVP rival Christian Yelich.

Shohei Ohtani, 2018. Duh.

Ronald Acuna Jr., 2018. Still one of the big stars of the game, yes, but he's missed a bit too much time due to injuries, and he needs this season to prove his staying power, and that he can still perform with the big boys even in a more crowded Braves lineup. 

Yordan Alvarez, 2019. I'd say he's still a big star, though maybe not as big as some other people in this post. If he's able to keep his home run numbers up and stay healthy, his star will rise. If not, he'll be another symbol of the Astros' championship runs.

Pete Alonso, 2019. Yeah, I'm pretty confident that he's still a marquee guy even if he's not quite hitting as many as he did in 2019. Alonso is still one of the biggest stars on the Mets, and will be relied upon a great deal as the stakes get even higher for them.

Kyle Lewis, 2020. The injuries have really lessened Lewis' appeal, which is why he's starting this season as a backup outfielder for the Diamondbacks. I don't wanna believe he's washed himself up this quickly, but I'm very worried that if the 2020 season had been full, he wouldn't have won the award. 

Devin Williams, 2020. As mad as I was that Williams won this award for a month of service, he's become a very strong reliever and closer, and one of the most reliable members of the Brewers. Maybe not a huge star, but it could turn out that way if he stays this excellent.

Randy Arozarena, 2021. His 2020 and 2021 were great. His 2022 was a lot more human. Is it a sophomore slump, or indicative of future trends. With the Rays expected to underperform this year, many eyes will be on Arozarena to see if he really is for real, or if Wander Franco should have gotten that ROY instead.

Jonathan India, 2021. After getting injured very early in the season, India turned in a merely passable sophomore year in a depleted Cincinnati infield. The pressure may be on him a lot more with even less stars in the Reds' lineup, and I worry he may not exceed expectations.

Julio Rodriguez, 2022. Looking extremely good.

Michael Harris II, 2022. As excellent as Harris was in 2022, and as confident as the Braves are in his abilities, I am not sold yet on Harris' long term appeal, and will need a similar year to last year to really convince me that he's for real. With, again, A LOT OF BRAVES looking to impress this year, Harris will either stand out immediately or get lost in the shuffle. 

And that's where we're at. A lot of these guys still look really good in 2023, and, funnily enough, some of the early 2020s ones have already not aged very well. 

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Trying to Figure Out the Brewers


The Milwaukee Brewers have a Cy Young winner and an MVP in important roles this year, and I don't even think they're gonna make second place.

This is a very confounding team, because in several moments in the past few years they've come very closer to being nonironically good, even after nearly making a World Series in 2018. The 2021 version of this team won 95 games and was an intriguing figure in an already-crowded playoff space. Other versions have come close to greatness and haven't quite capitalized. Last year, the Brewers were in first for a large chunk of the middle of the season before the Cardinals, as they deserved to, lapped them and ended the season mightily. 

And now, the Brewers are going into a season with Christian Yelich still on his post-peak deep slide, about to cut Keston Hiura, who was gonna be a prospect that would carry the team in another universe, and looking to start William Contreras, a notably unimpressive defensive catcher, as their chief backstop.

The big draw with this team is going to be the rotation, as usual, because I don't see people getting past Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, Eric Lauer and Freddy Peralta especially easily. Adrian Houser is expected to get the last rotation spot, and lately he's been the hittable one. And then I worry about Lauer, who's had a messy Spring, and Peralta, who always seems to be injured. They do have depth, they have Aaron Ashby and Ethan Small lying around, and now they have Wade Miley and Bryse Wilson, but I don't know if the quality of the rotation will be so intimidating if people do drop. Burnes is the sole guy here who's been truly durable the past few years, and I'm assuming his luck won't run out this year, but anything's possible. 

Meanwhile, the Brewers are going in with an infield of Rowdy Tellez, Luis Urias, Willy Adames and Brian Anderson. Not that this is a completely bad thing, but the 2018 team ironically had more homegrown players in their, like one. But that team had people who were at least respected defensive guys, like Orlando Arcia, Hernan Perez and Jonathan Villar. Tellez isn't a known defenseman, Anderson's defense numbers are slipping towards 'okay', and Urias is honestly just a serviceable infielder. You at least have Adames, who's pretty great, but the loss of somebody like Kolten Wong is pretty loud here. 

I also find it very amusing that, during Urias' WBC run, Mike Brosseau got his spring training starts and hit 6 homers. So if Urias keeps missing games, we might actually have an alright replacement option there.

And, again, the outfield is a lot of assumptions. Garrett Mitchell's supposed to be a big prospect, but Tyrone Taylor has never really wowed me as a starting guy, and Christian Yelich has a combined 4.4 WAR since his last MVP-placing season in 2019. I honestly think the man hit his peak, hit his peak hard, and backed away from that. And the Brewers are stuck with that as a tentpole for a few more years while they try to rebuild with people like Mitchell. 

I see lots of mess where there should be promise, and while there might be a lot that works this season, it'd take a lot of things either coming together or refusing to come apart. I think that, if so much goes right that I'm not thinking will, this could be a wild card team. But the Cubs have done more work to compete than the Brewers, arguably, and I think that will ultimately show.

Friday, March 24, 2023

2023 in Youth Movements


As I mentioned last year, the new CBA made it a little harder for teams to directly tank and throw in the towel, and we only had like 2 or 3 teams [the Nats, A's and Reds] that decided outright that they weren't gonna win games in 2022, and one of those decided basically midway through the year. 

Now, going into 2023, looking at the field, I can't really name many teams that made zero effort to build for the season.  The Cubs, who stayed back and tried replacement players for a few years, signed some of the biggest free agents of the season, the A's netted a number of useful, if not starry, free agents in Aledmys Diaz, Jace Peterson and Shintaro Fujinami, and the Pirates, at the very least, brought back Andrew McCutchen.

I think that what the ease-off of tanking is making teams do is be less liberal with bringing in their prospects and letting them repopulate the team. In the wake of what a lot of the truly competitive teams have been doing, I should stress that it's mostly the rebuilding teams that are giving positions to rookies to start the season [Vaughn Grissom and Anthony Volpe shouldn't be starting the season in the minors, even if we don't know about Volpe yet]. 

The Royals, especially as 2022 ended, were definitely ready to give big roles to some of their rookies and younger players. Right now there's like 5 positions looking to go to rookies or second-years. There's still the long-gestating catching battle between M.J. Melendez and Salvador Perez, which the team is trying to resolve by playing Perez at DH and Melendez at left field. But now we have Michael Massey and Nate Eaton, both of whom came up midway through the year, looking at starting positions. Massey has had a scorching spring, is hitting pretty well so far and looks to be a solid DP combo with Nicky Lopez. Eaton has a shot at a starting outfield spot due to the injury to Drew Waters, who also had a shot at a starting spot, and will likely leapfrog Kyle Isbel over time. And then you also have Vinnie Pasquantino, who's a shoo-in at 1st or DH. 

I think the Royals really banking on these younger, lower-budget players is gonna make them a sleeper favorite in the AL Central. I mean, not only are they doing their usual dominating in Spring Training play, but the Royals have less contracts holding them back, less people that might leave in July, and less unsinkable type guys that could let them down. Bobby Witt is primed for a strong sophomore season, they're projecting great things from Brady Singer, and this could be at the very least a promising third place team that outdoes expectations.

The Nationals, similarly, are going with a lot of recent trade returns for starring roles, including C.J. Abrams, who they intend to start at shortstop this season, and MacKenzie Gore, who is now fourth in line for starters on the depth chart thanks to Strasburg and Cavali doing their thing. The Nats are at the point now where several of their big roster pieces, including Lane Thomas, Keibert Ruiz, Josiah Gray and Riley Adams, are returns from the deals that sent some of their biggest pieces, such as Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and Brad Hand, to competitors. 

And the interesting thing that sets them apart from the Royals is that now that they trust people like Thomas, Ruiz, Gray and Joey Meneses [mostly], they're beginning to supplant with cheap free agents, and getting Dom Smith, Jeimer Candelario, Trevor Williams and Corey Dickerson to fill crucial roles in the roster. Some of these guys are replacement level, there's the hope that Smith will spring into action now that he's actually on a team that has a role for him, but he's still Dom Smith. At the same time, the Nats do have some new mega-prospects, like James Wood, Robert Hassell and Elijah Green, but, with the exception of Hassell, they all seem to be a few years away. There are no huge prospects coming up immediately, like a lot of other rebuilding teams [O's, A's, etc]. 

I think the Nats might be a few more years away from really competing, but they do seem to be putting a little bit of effort here just on the basis of the people they've used to ensure they have competent choices at most positions. It's not a full tanking mentality, though it is close. 

The Royals probably have the better chance of these two teams, though who knows which players will catch fire and which won't.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Japan's Victory Lap


Very fitting that the year Japan takes down the US in WBC play, it also happens to be a big year for Japanese players in the US.

I mean, there have been more monumental years for Japanese exports, like the initial buzz of Hideo Nomo in LA, or the exaltation of the Yankees getting Hideki Matsui, or the gambit of the Red Sox nabbing Daisuke Matsuzaka and then winning a World Series with him, or even the Rangers being the ones to take Yu Darvish. But 2023 has three relatively big Japanese ballplayers touching down on American soil to begin the year, and in an era where Shohei Ohtani is one of the faces of baseball, it's an earned victory lap.

The Mets probably made the most waves signing Kodai Senga, especially considering that it came in the same offseason as their signing of Justin Verlander. Even with Jose Quintana hurt, their rotation is still looking like Scherzer-Verlander-Senga-David Peterson-Carlos Carrasco. Even with Carrasco being an older liability, that's still a strong matchup, especially with Peterson looking insanely good over his spring starts. 

While Verlander and Scherzer are sure to be the crowd-pleasers, Senga does look like an interesting case behind them. In 11 seasons with the Softbank Hawks, Senga sported a 2.42 ERA, a 104-51 record, 1486 strikeouts and a 1.096 WHIP. Those are some pretty solid numbers, even if the seasons are shorter in Japan. There is ultimately the worry of the initial adjustment to throwing stateside, as virtually every Japanese pitcher has had a year of surgeries after trying to adapt to MLB hitting, but the hope is that the Mets at least get some prime years out of him before this, and 2023 would be a nice season for Senga's a-material to aid the Mets.

At the other end of the spectrum is Shintaro Fujinami, who's notably struggled more often in his 10 seasons with the Hanshin Tigers. The 28-year old still has a 3.17 ERA and 80 wins, but a career 1.322 WHIP is a bit scarier to people. Fujinami is also suiting up for the Oakland Athletics, a team with direr needs and sparser run support. At the very least, Fujinami is 3-0 in his 4 spring training starts, and has 17 strikeouts...but he's also walked 13 people and given up 6 earned runs. He is a premeditated risk that could, in theory, pay off for the A's. 

And then, of course, you have Masataka Yoshida for the Red Sox. The dude was on full display during the WBC, people know how useful someone like him is even for a mid-tier team like Boston. In 7 seasons with the Orix Buffalos he has a .327 average, 133 home runs, 900 hits and 474 RBIs. Not bad at all, and close to the production of someone like Benintendi or Devers. In a team that's let so many homegrown contact hitters go, Yoshida is the closest thing to a compromise, a contact-hitting export that has cut out the 'coming to prominence' part of his journey and is right at his peak as the Red Sox need him.

I honestly think Yoshida's gonna have the best season of these three, just on the basis of his WBC production and his career to this point, but Senga could surprise me. I haven't counted out Fujinami either, he could be a tricky aspect of an already-interesting AL West.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Defying the Punchline in Anaheim


I watched some of the World Baseball Classic as it happened. I saw the end of the Puerto Rico/Israel game that was a total disaster for a fairly-alright Israeli team, I caught a few other matches that week, and I was watching last night during the final. I think they've done a good job with it overall, and the people who are complaining about seeing their favorite players get injured because of it...why is Jose Altuve your favorite player anyway? I don't wanna talk to you.

[I do agree with the Edwin thing, but that could have happened during the regular season or postseason as well, blaming the WBC on excessive celebration is an odd hill to die on].

The one talking point I heard a lot of during the WBC, especially last night during the final, was 'Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani are two of the best players in the world right now, imagine how good it would be if they played for the same team, OH WAIT'. As if everyone needed another excuse to slag off the Angels. And yes, I will admit, slagging off the Angels is kinda fun, I get that, they've spend so much money on free agents in the last 15 years, and have done diddly squat with them. But using the whole 'how do you not win with two of the best players in the world on your team?' thing, especially during the modern era of baseball when the playoffs are longer and more difficult for the actual best two teams to meet, is a little unfair.

The Angels know they need more than Ohtani and Trout to compete, and they've certainly tried, courting Anthony Rendon, Tyler Anderson and both Loup and Tepera, and bringing up surefire prospects like Jo Adell, Reid Detmers and Livan Soto. None of this has worked. Rendon has been hurt pretty much every contractual year he's had in LA, the relievers have soured in comparison to their pre-Angels work, Adell is still trying to figure out how to compete at major league level, and Detmers, even after a no-hitter, struggled to maintain a steady pace. 

The Angels also had an incredible first month of the season, struggled after mid-May and never recovered, even if Taylor Ward, Luis Rengifo and Patrick Sandoval still provided great work. While it is exceptionally hard to build a roster with big contract pieces limiting the surrounding budget, the Guardians proved how attainable that metric is with really only Jose Ramirez getting the big money. The Angels have more money than that, and have just come across truly terrible luck. Even the intriguing ideas they've come across, like landing Tucker Davidson in a trade, or using Andrew Velasquez as a starting shortstop, don't mean much if the majority of the lineup isn't performing.

I really do think this year is the year they make the playoffs and let Ohtani and Trout play in October, mostly because I don't even know if Ohtani will be playing for the Angels at all next year, but also because i feel like all of this, including the WBC, has built towards something like this, and it'd be really disappointing if it didn't happen. 

Then again, as always, these are the Angels. So you never really know.

Monday, March 20, 2023

A Word on Second-Generationers


We're...we're really at a larger peak of sons of MLB players right now than we were in 1989, when Ken Griffey Jr., Moises Alou and Barry Bonds were running around. How insane is that?

I think this new wave of second generation major leaguers was most evident during the draft last year, when Baltimore's choice for the top 2 picks were between Jackson Holliday, son of Matt Holliday, and Druw Jones, son of Andruw Jones. Either way, a second-generationer is going first, and so soon after Jack Leiter as well. We are really well in this, and it only seldom occurs to people.

Hell, prepping a custom post today I realized the next two I had ready were Cal Quantrill and Ke'Bryan Hayes, whose dads probably squared off at some point in the 90s. 

All this at the point where Hollywood is having a nepotism crisis, saying that people are succeeding because they have famous parents, all while one of the few *good* nepo babies, Jamie Lee Curtis, just won an Oscar. In the MLB it's different because we've obviously seen people be prized because of their name basis but struggle while making their own luck, like Tony Gwynn Jr., Tony Armas Jr., Josh Barfield, Eric Young Jr, etc. The second-generationers that become huge, like your Ken Griffey Jr's, your Fernando Tatis Jr's, your Vladimir Guerrero Jr's, they only bring so much from their father and they come into their own as different, intriguing players themselves. 

As is custom for a lot of Spring Training posts, I went through the rosters and tried to find a second-generationer for each team. Let's see how well I did.

Astros: Lance McCullers Jr., he of the tipped pitches and April injuries. 

Blue Jays: Your 2019 big three, Guerrero, Bichette and Biggio. Bo and Vlad have done a nice job outrunning the legends of their fathers, Biggio has struggled. There is now the addition of Daulton Varsho, whose dad Gary played for a bit.

Braves: Just Ronnie Acuna

Cubs: Just Cody Bellinger. He's at the very least eclipsed his dad's MLB work, but man is he in danger of losing his late-2010s clout..

Diamondbacks: I learned very recently that Buddy Kennedy is Don Money's grandson, which is honestly pretty cool. Way too soon to say if he eclipses that benchmark, though.

Dodgers: Does Trayce Thompson count if his brother's in the NBA? Probably not but it's definitely important.

Giants: Little known fact, Mike Yastrzemski's dad was drafted by the Braves, and played a few years for Durham and Birmingham. Even without the Carl factor he'd be a second-generationer by proxy, though having your grandfather be a Sox hero is a plus. Also, Joc Pederson's dad had a cup of coffee with the Dodgers.

Guardians: Plesac and Quantrill, though Plesac's uncle was the reliever, not his dad.

Padres: Tatis, but also Ryan Weathers, whose dad was a reliever in the 90s and 00s. 

Phillies: Most notably Kody Clemens, who is amusingly a decent pitching option despite probably not being credited as a two-way player [thanks a bil, Manfred]. 

Pirates: Just Ke'Bryan Hayes, but that's still a pretty awesome second-generationer

Red Sox: I keep forgetting Adalberto Mondesi is with the Sox now. Like I saw some BP at Fenway South and was surprised that Mondi was there. That's how low-key that trade was.

Rockies: C.J. Cron's dad famously had a few cups of coffee in the 90s. 

Royals: Bobby Witt Jr., of course, and he's looking like he's here to stay. 

Twins: Similar to Thompson, does it count if Jose Miranda's related to Lin-Manuel Miranda? If not, you've got Nick Gordon, son of Tom.

So that is 15/30 with second-generationers in the bigs that I know about, though there are probably a bunch I'm not aware of. That is a great deal, though a lot less than I figured. With all the prospects waiting to jump in, that number's probably gonna grow in the next few years anyhow.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Spring Training Trip: Blue Jays vs. Yankees 3/14/22


The last planned game of my Spring Training trip last week threw us a curveball almost immediately.

All the other games had been 1 PM matinees, and so we figured this game, at Steinbrenner Field, would similarly be a matinee, so my dad and I trekked down from our hotel in Clearwater towards Tampa. All the while, I kept checking Twitter and was puzzled as to why neither team had posted their lineups yet.

A further check of revealed that this was not, in fact, a matinee, as we'd planned, but a night game scheduled for 6 pm. We turned around, made the day into a well-deserved beach day, and rerouted our travels.

The main downside of this being a night game was that we were felled by rush hour traffic heading into Tampa, and directed towards a back way that made our eventual entrance into Raymond James Stadium's parking lot even more frustrating than initially speculated. The good news was that we were towards the front of the massive at the Bucs' stadium, which I've never attended a game at but have head good things. 

The complex itself is, similar to Fenway South, a higher-brow baseball experience for the traveling Yankee massive. This stadium was the closest approximation to a full MLB stadium, with well-constructed stands and concourses and very professional feeling elements. You could tell they spent a lot of money on this is what I'm saying. 

The evening's game had relatively full rosters- the Jays were missing Bo and Kirk but added Kiermaier. The Yanks unfortunately were without three of the people I'd hoped to see, those being Judge, Volpe and Dominguez, but at least had a relatively full lineup with LeMahieu, Stanton, Rizzo, Donaldson and March standout Willie Calhoun. 

The night's shortstop of choice was Oswald Peraza, meaning Cabrera, Kiner-Falefa and Volpe would have to watch from the sidelines to see if he messed up. 

The most telling aspect of the matchup? The Jays were starting Drew Hutchison, famed for his years as a depth starter with the Tigers and being the Opening Day starter in Toronto back in 2015. The Yankees, however, were starting Gerrit Cole.

These, folks, were our seats. Spring Training ticketing means getting second level seats and them still being awesome because they're less 'higher in the air' and more 'further back'. Like, to me this still counts as the main concourse. These were absolutely worth it. Look at how gorgeous that view is. 

The game quickly began, and any worries of Gerrit Cole's lack of tack usage holding him back were quickly extinguished, as the man looked absolutely dominant in his first inning. Despite some later slip-ups, Cole looked pretty confident overall. The trick with Cole is him not getting too overconfident, as he'll start throwing lay-ups after a while. Inevitably, one of those later lay-ups became a 3-run homer from depth 1st baseman Rainer Nunez.

However, it wasn't an especially pitiful outing compared to Drew Hutchison's night.

Okay. So Hutchison gets up there against the top of the order, right? Throws two pitches to DJ, he hits a home run. Walks Stanton. Gets Rizzo on base with a scorcher. Then Donaldson, his old teammate, gets up, and Donaldson murders the ball, with a 3-run bomb that, for the time being, restores some level of Yankee faith in him. 

THEN HE WALKS CALHOUN. Then he gives up a hit to Peraza, albeit a fielder's choice that nails the much slower Calhoun. And then Estevan Florial gets up, the guy that will most likely be making the team as a centerfield option...and Florial is now the one that lights Hutchison up.

So, to recap, Drew Hutchison gives up 3 home runs, 6 runs overall, doesn't strike anybody out, the only out is underneath an actual hit, and this is a team he won multiple games for in 2015. When he got pulled, I think a lot of the Yankee fans waved.

And so that was the cushion my team sat on for a bit. Look, we're not perfect, Rizzo made an error at 1st, Cole gave up that aforementioned softie to the 1st baseman, later on he gave up an RBI to Daulton Varsho who, now that I'm thinking about it, looked really damned good in both games I saw him in. 

But at the same time, there's enough of this team that still works. Michael King and Wandy Peralta looked excellent in relief. Calhoun eventually smoked a double and made sure that the crux of the lineup came away with hits. Oswald Peraza evened the shortstop race with a homer of his own against Tom Hatch. This is a team that's managed enough depth, even with whatever shenanigans Rodon and Cortes have gotten into.

It was around this point that I was glad that this was a night game. If you can do lights, and make it look good, and it's not too cold, then it's alright by me. And this was a very cool night game overall. We were positioned around a lot of friendly Yankee fans, including one from South Carolina who talked about meeting Catfish Hunter. Yes, more nice Toronto fans as well, even as they were getting battered. 

By the eighth, Junior Fernandez was giving up a homer to a Yankee deep minor leaguer. At that point, we had the cushion to head for the car. 

The Yanks won this one 10 to 3 against a Jays team that had won every other game I'd seen them at. I was expecting this team to disappoint me, as they had last year at the Stadium, but the bats came through thanks, mainly, to Drew Hutchison. Either he was tipping his pitches or he's just plain cooked. 

Ending the trip on a win was an excellent cap on a great week in Florida. We got some nice games in, saw some great players, some cool early season stuff, and had an excellent time. 

Not sure when I'll do Spring Training again. I'll keep you all posted. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Two Rack Packs of 2023 Topps Series 1 [Finally]

I was in a place the other day where I not only had enough saved up to get some baseball cards, but there were actually baseball cards present. I won't divulge where this was, nor how much the price was hiked up...but I went with it. It was Series 1.

Obviously I'd seen a lot of this on the blogs for the past month or so, but it'd taken me this long to have any in hand. I got 2 rack packs, and until I figure out eBay selling and/or make a breakthrough with work, that'll be enough. 

Pack 1-

101- Tyler Mahle
My first card of the year was a guy I'd seen pitch only a few days prior. He got chased, yes, but he's still a nice pickup for the Twins if he keeps at Cincinnati-era pace. 

I've probably said as such, but I have come around on this design. I wish it wasn't so fragrantly the photo day icon images that were being used, as they're not too interesting, but I like so many design elements that it counteracts that. 

73- Jon Gray
322- Luis Urias

215- Wander Franco
22- Clayton Kershaw

Two big pulls from a base perspective. As is evident on Kershaw's, full career stats are in play on the back, much to my amusement. 

214- Graham Ashcraft RC
50- Mookie Betts
293- J.T. Realmuto

I agree that there are too many rookies in the set, but at the very least a good majority of them are people that played a big enough part in the second half of the 2022 season, like Graham Ashcraft. Also nice that star cards aren't too rare, especially JT.

34- Zack Thompson
80- Tanner Rainey
277- David Villar RC

158- Kris Bryant
175- Liam Hendriks

Maybe it's because he was injured for most of last year, but it's still very weird to see Bryant in Rockies colors. I really hope Hendriks makes it to the mound at some point this year, he's awesome. 

12- Jeffrey Springs. Not showing his picture, not even collecting his cards. Ya done goofed, pal.
255- Cal Quantrill
257- Yadiel Hernandez

218- Jhoan Duran rainbow foil, unnumbered. I still don't see the point of these, and of making gold numbered cards rarer, but Duran is filthy.
88 Topps Brendan Rodgers. Pleased they finally did these, even if there are slight font issues. 

Stars of MLB Wander Franco
Stars of MLB Bryce Harper
Good subjects, but for a 'multiple-per-pack' insert, I would have preferred the 88s, honestly. This is at least cool design wise, but there are others similar, like 2019's Stars of the Game or 2018's Legends in the Making, that are more memorable to me.

226- Michael Harris II RC
One of the big rookies of the first series. And one hell of an image for it, too.

194- Josh Staumont
220- Cubs TC
292- Rangers TC
113- Dodgers CL
174- Mariners CL. These team cards and checklists are cool, but they feel like filler sometimes.

32- Jordan Montgomery
162- Isiah Kiner-Falefa
Even if I knew they had Gumby photos available, his card still looks photoshopped. The good news is both these cards show variance in the types of headshots we can see, like Montgomery's in-game shot and IKF's slight tilt. A little change-up goes a long way.
IKF's smug smile here says something along the lines of 'hey Anthony, you're really good and all but you know I'm making the opening day roster and you're not, right?'

37- Josh Smith RC
76- John Winckowski RC
105- Seth Beer

278- Aaron Nola
179- Carlos Rodon
290- Max Fried
Three of the best pitchers in the majors in one pack. Plus, Nola and Fried might actually pitch in the first half!

90- Korey Lee RC
286- Ezequiel Duran

53- Dylan Cease
236- Shane McClanahan
Two pitchers who had incredible 2022s start us off. I really hope Cease can sustain this. McClanahan too, but, y'know, division rival.

232- Ian Happ
13- Giovanny Gallegos
163- Miguel Vargas RC

21- Max Scherzer
313- Cal Mitchell
Scherz is Scherz. Mitchell I saw as an A-baller and have some pride in, even if he's not very good in the majors so far.

74- Tarik Skubal
171- Mychal Givens. I'll say this, the reliever presence in this set seems like an improvement.
132- Gavin Sheets
204- Manuel Margot
269- Steven Matz

182- Nick Pratto
68- William Contreras
Pratto's rookie is a decent pull. Contreras' is a great card even if it is already outdated.

66- Brandon Crawford
154- Jonathan Aranda

Home Field Advantage Bryce Harper.
I...had a reaction to this one. Didn't think I'd end up pulling one of these, so the fact that I do and it's the hometown superstar is...a huge deal. I love so much of this card. Rocky's boxing gloves, man. Penn and Franklin. As a Philadelphian, I wholeheartedly approve. As a Phils collector, I'm even more grateful. 

88T insert of Matthew Liberatore
Stars of MLB Rafael Devers
Stars of MLB Gerrit Cole
I still don't exactly see the point of bringing the rookies that aren't sure bets into the inserts but Topps is doing their thing. Good to get a Cole, seeing as he was on the mound when I was in Tampa [more on that later].

303- Checklist
190- Checklist
326- Checklist
I mean, the checklists do at least point out how well-done the photography in this set is. I just think the contractually-obligated MLB logo takes away from it a bit.

4 dupes from last pack including the Harris RC
191- Caleb Smith, who I believe just got demoted by the Pirates, which is an insult in itself.
49- Mitch Haniger
276- David MacKinnon

45- Gerrit Cole
87- Ethan Small RC
There's Cole again, given his own hero number. 

296- Cristian Pache
67- Travis Swaggerty RC
110- Randal Grichuk

So, not especially showy save for that Harper insert, but a nice array of base and fun details from this set. I'll try to get more when I can, and I'll see if I can build team sets and get the guys I collect. There's fun ideas here, and I think Topps can survive on this for the rest of the year.