View My Stats

Thursday, March 24, 2011

AL West not AL's best

As I begin my second post previewing each division , I will look at the division that fielded a club in the ALCS for the second straight season, and three in the last five years; the AL West. In 2009 the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim came a couple wins short of the Fall Classic, and in 2010 it was the Texas Rangers who won the ALCS. Before that, in 2006 Nick Swisher and the Oakland A's came up short against the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS. Even though this division isn't the best in baseball or best in the American League, it is still a good division with three good, but not great, teams.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Last year the Angels suffered a crushing blow on May 29th from the Seattle Mariners. It looked like a bittersweet win for the Halos as Kendry Morales hit a walk off grand "salami" against the Mariners. Once he reached home plate he broke his ankle by jumping into the mob pile at the plate and since then, he has yet to play in a game. Since then, Angels manager Mike Scoscia has announced that Morales will start the 2011 season on the disabled list. In the off season, the Angels added a key offensive peace to their lineup when they signed Vernon Wells. Last year, Wells bounced back with a 30 homerun season after going three straight seasons without hitting more than 20 homeruns in a season. In addition, Wells has always played spectacular defense, which includes his 2010 season in which he didn't commit a single error. The Angels are loaded in the outfield, as they bring back fan favorite Torii Hunter, Bobby Abreu, and youngster Peter Bourjos. However, the infield is a little shaky. Morales will start the season on the DL, so he will probably be filled in by youngster Mark Trumbo--who is batting .340 in 47 spring at bats. The Angels have a number of light hitting speedsters in their infield that include the off-injured Howard Kendrick, Macier Izturis, Alberto Callaspo, and Erick Aybar. The Angels are still feeling the effects of allowing Chone Figgins to leave via Free Agency to the Seattle Mariners. His replacement, Brandon Wood, batted .146 with a .174 on base percentage in 226 at bats. The Angels also lost catcher Mike Napoli in the Vernon Wells trade, so Jeff Mathis and Bobby Wilson will be the team's primary catchers. However, the strength of this team is in their pitching. American League strikeout leader Jered Weaver leads the way, behind veterans: Dan Haren, Joel Pinero, Ervin Santana, and Scott Kazmir. If all of those guys pitch to their potential, which I think they will, look for the Angels to win another AL West title. In the bullpen they aren't quite as strong, but they aren't weak. The Angels lost in the Rafael Soriano sweepstakes, their consolation prizes are: lefties Hisanori Takahashi, and Scott Downs. Although Downs may start the season on the DL with a broken toe, he'll be a good piece for this ball club. The Angels still have hard throwing closer Fernando Rodney, and reliever Kevin Jepsen. The question for the Angels is; what will they get offensively out of their infield? They have a lot of light hitters in the infield spot, and with the Kendry Morales injury, they'll be looking for some pop from an unexpected source. Look for the pitching to carry this team in the beginning, but when Morales comes back look for a lot of power in that lineup.

Oakland Athletics: The A’s have missed the postseason every year since 2006; and the sole reason why is due to their lack of offense. It clearly wasn't the pitching, as they have been in the top half in ERA in the major leagues since then, including a fourth place mark in 2010. The A's feature a tremendous starting rotation featuring Trevor Cahill who posted an 18-8 record with a 2.97 ERA, and earned his first AL All Star bid. The rotation also features Gio Gonzalez, who went 15-9 with a solid 3.23 ERA. Also, you may want to consider that these two starters may be the best 1-2 combo in the American League. I say this because in the 63 starts between them, 43 of those starts were quality starts. And in the 397 innings between them, they allowed just 326 hits. Look for these two to continue to grow; Cahill and Gonzalez are just 23 and 25 years old, respectively. Behind the two aces are Brett Anderson, and “Mr. Perfect,” Dallas Braden, who reached baseball immortality on May 9th, as he pitched a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays. But, that wasn't his only good outing because he had 18 quality starts in 30 overall starts. And in 192.2 innings pitched, he allowed just 180 innings, while posting a solid 3.50 ERA. Equally impressive, In 19 starts Anderson impressed with a 2.80 ERA, while having just a 1.20 WHIP in 112.1 innings pitched. This rotation may be a strength for the A’s, but its bullpen may be better. In the 'pen the A's brought in veterans Grant Balfour (former Ray), and Brian Fuentes, former Colorado Rocky, Angel, and Minnesotta Twin, to join All Star closer Andrew Bailey, who suffered a forearm strain, which will hold him out a few weeks going into the regular season, but, don't expect him to miss too much time. The A's also have sidewinding righty Brad Ziegler to go along with righty Michael Wuertz, and lefty specialist Craig Breslow. The question is obvious for the A's; how much production will they get out of their offense? The A's added former Yankee Hideki Matsui to be the team's DH. The "Swingin' A's" also have catcher Kurt Suzuki and Kevin Kouzmanoff who combined for just 29 homeruns. They'll need to get more out of those two hitters, to go along with corner outfielders Conor Jackson and Ryan Sweeney, who combined to play just 142 games between them. If they can get good production out of those two, expect the A's to win the division, however, I don't believe they will. Expect Oakland to finish second in the AL West.
Texas Rangers: Last season's Rangers team was the best team in franchise history, but that was last year when the Rangers had Cliff Lee. The Rangers were also successful last year due to starting pitchers C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis. This year the American League has seen those guys and should be able to handle them better. Obviously, the Rangers don't have Cliff Lee, thus they don't have a bonafide ace. C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis are good, but neither one of them is a number one starter. Last year Wilson, who converted from a set-up reliever, pitched 204 innings after pitching just 73.2 innings out of the 'pen. Although I don't like to predict injury, I think that big of a jump will take a toll on his arm this season. But, not only did he pitch 204 innings in the regular season, he pitched 24.1 innings in the postseason. And last year Wilson had a solid 3.35 ERA, but he lead the league in walks with 93. Expect that ERA to shoot up in the fours this year. And the other Rangers surprise was right hander Colby Lewis, although he had a losing record at 12-13, he did post a quality 3.72 ERA. Similarly, like Wilson, Lewis had pitched over 200 innings, with an even 201 innings pitched mark. He struck out 196 batters in that time frame and also pitched 26.1 postseason innings. I don't expect much out of Lewis this season. Lewis pitched in Japan for a few seasons, and had a career 6.75 ERA in the big leagues before returning to America. I would expect Lewis to have an ERA closer to that 6.75 mark than the 3.72 mark. These two guys will be heavily depended on and I do not believe they will come through. The Rangers bullpen is still pretty good, with AL Rookie of the Year Neftali Feliz in the fold. But, not so fast, Feliz has been used as a starter this spring. Nothing is official, but don't be surprised if he makes the rotation. Thus far this spring, the hard throwing right hander has pitched in four games, three starts with a 1.93 ERA in 14 innings with 12 strikeouts. I think this would be a very idiotic move on the part of the Rangers if they move Neftali Feliz out of the bullpen. Feliz has a fastball that often touches 100 mph. This guy empties the tank each time he pitches, thus he can blow hitters away with a 100 mph fastball. Plus, this guy has a closers mentality that no one else on the Rangers likely has. The main contender for the Rangers closing job could be Alexi Ogando, probably the favorite for the closing job if Feliz becomes a starter, posted an impressive 1.30 ERA in 44 games, while striking out 39 batters. But, the Rangers do have a stacked bullpen. Last year they were second in the American League with a 3.88 bullpen ERA. The Rangers bullpen this season includes the aforementioned Ogando, along with Darren Oliver, Darren O'Day, and Pedro Strop, and a couple of former Seattle Mariners Mark Lowe and Arthur Rhodes as additions. The bridge to the closer shouldn't be a problem, but if they take Feliz out, the closer spot will be a problem. But, the offense for the Rangers shouldn't be much of a worry. The Rangers still have American League MVP Josh Hamilton, who batted .359, with 32 homeruns and 100 RBIs. But, the slugger missed 29 games due to a rib injury last year. With that in mind, the Rangers moved Hamilton from center field to right field. The Rangers do have sluggers Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler to go along with the AL MVP, both of whom combined for just 31 homeruns, but they combined for 211 games. They'll need to stay healthy in order to have a chance in this division. The Rangers also added third baseman Adrian Beltre and catcher Mike Napoli. Beltre had a great year last year, earning an All Star bid by batting .321, and belting 28 homeruns and driving in 102. Napoli, who was with the Angels last year, had 26 HRs with just a .238 average. But, Napoli proved he can play first base, as well as catch and since the Rangers have a weakness at first base, look for Napoli to spend some time at first. The question for the Rangers is; how will their starting rotation perform? I expect the stats of both C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis to drop off this season, I've been wrong before, but I wouldn't be surprised one bit if last season will take a toll on these two arms. The Rangers aren't great after these two. They added two time NL Cy Young award winner Brandon Webb, but injuries have plagued him as he has made just one start the last two seasons. Also, the Rangers have veterans Tommy Hunter, Scott Feldman, and Matt Harrison that could all contend for rotation spots. No one out of that group blows me away. I believe this Rangers team will have a hangover effect and slip into 3rd place in the AL West.

Seattle Mariners: These days the Seattle Mariners only have three good things going for them; one of those being Ichiro Suzuki. In Ichiro's first 10 seasons in the majors he has had at least 200 hits, a Gold Glove, and an All Star berth in each one of them. In his career he has collected 2244 total base hits and in 2004, he set the record for most hits in a season with 262. In his rookie year, he won the AL Rookie of the Year and the AL MVP, and what's even more amazing is that he has led the majors in base hits in five consecutive seasons, and seven of his ten seasons in his illustrious career. This guy is a sure fire first ballet Hall of Famer, and Mariner fans are definitely happy to have him in town. It's great for the game. The second thing going right for the Mariners is ace Felix Hernandez. King Felix won the 2010 AL Cy Young award, despite only winning 13 games. But, Hernandez had a major league best 2.27 ERA and 249.2 innings pitched, while facing the most batters in the game with 1001. And, in 2009 he could have easily won the Cy Young that year as he won 19 games, while having a 2.49 ERA. At just 24 years old this guy is clearly the best pitcher in the game, in my opinion. King Felix is a total work horse who has three well above average pitches to strike batters out. He has an electric fastball that is consistently in the upper 90's, a wicked curveball that can fool both lefties and righties, and a Bugs Bunny changeup that has the best bats fooled. Look at what this guy did against the Yankees last year; in three starts he pitched 26 innings, two complete games (one of which was a shut out), and an eighth inning performance. But, in those three games he allowed just one run, a Nick Swisher home run and struck out 31 batters, while allowing 24 base runners. He performs at his best when he pitches against the best, which is truly something Mariner fans love. Finally, the last parts going well for the Mariners are those clever commercials. The Seattle Mariners have been airing new commercials every year since 1994, and they never disappoint. My personal favorite is the mustache growing contest with Felix Hernandez in 2008; it gets me every time. But, other than those three things, the Mariners don't have much at all and this is especially true with their offensive numbers. The Mariners were near the bottom or at the bottom in every major offensive category. After Ichiro, the Mariners have zero offense 2-9. Chone Figgins was a big disappointment last year as he batted just .259. The Mariners had Matt Tuiasosopo start at third base for them a few times this year. Why is that worth mentioning? Because that is the first time he has started a game in his entire life. Before this year Tuiasosopo had not started a game even going back to little league, which should tell you how putrid this Mariners offense is. The Mariners power bats this season could be Milton Bradley and Jack Cust, who combined for just 21 homeruns last year. The Mariners will struggle mightily for offense throughout the year, so the question for the Mariners is; will they trade Felix Hernandez? Let's not kid ourselves. This team is a lock for last place, and as close as a lock as you can get to losing 100 games this year. King Felix is locked up until 2015, and if the Mariners want to re-shuffle the deck, they'll trade this guy right as he is peaking. The Yankees are obviously interested, as they called for the King after they missed out on the Cliff Lee sweepstakes. Look for the Mariners to demand five very good prospects for this guy. So, the Yankees would probably have to give up catcher Jesus Montero, pitcher Manuel Banuelos, pitcher Ivan Nova, infielder Eduardo Nunez, and probably pitcher Andrew Brackman or pitcher Dellin Betances, which is a steep price to pay for one ace pitcher.

There you have it. Although this division could be the worst in the American League, there are three teams that could make the playoffs. But look for the Angels to run away with it in August. The A's don't have enough hitting, the Rangers don't have enough pitching, and the Mariners don't have enough of either of those. Look for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to win the AL West for the sixth time in eight years. Up next in my division previews, the National League Central. Stay tuned!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

NL West certainly not NL worst

As I begin my six part series on previewing each division in the Major Leagues, I start out west where there are several intriguing teams in the senior circuit. Today I'll start out with the National League West. I will list the teams in the order in which I think they'll finish.

Los Angeles Dodgers: I know the majority of you are thinking; "Is this guy crazy?!" but I really like the Dodgers this year. Los Angeles has a strong 1-5 in its starting rotation with Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly, Hiroki Kuroda, and Jon Garland (although Garland will be placed on the 15-day DL because of a left oblique muscle suffered on March 9th) Also, the bullpen should be strong; led by Hong Chih Kuo and closer Jonathan Broxton even though Broxtan had an ERA over seven in the second half of the season, he should be able to bounce back. Broxton has a fastball that’s 97+ mph and a wicked slider that should keep him in the closer role. However, the guy I look at for the Dodgers is Clayton Kershaw. This guy is an ace already, and he's just 22 years old and not even at his prime. Last year he posted a 2.91 ERA in 32 starts. Also impressive is his 204.1 innings pitched where he allowed just 160 hits, while striking out 212. On the offensive side the Dodgers have a nice core of players including center fielder Matt Kemp, right fielder Andre Ethier, and first baseman James Loney. But, out of those three the Dodgers need Matt Kemp to have a bounce back year. Although Kemp had good power numbers, his batting average and stolen bases took a dip; dropping 48 points and 15 stolen bases when compared to the 2009 season. The real question for the Dodgers is with the departure of manager Joe Torre can the new manager, Don Mattingly lead the team to a championship? If Mattingly doesn't screw things up for the Dodgers they should be primed to make the playoffs for years to come.
San Francisco Giants: The defending champs will come into the season once again with more than their fair share of pitching across the board, but weak on the offensive side. The Giants got lucky last year in the postseason by getting clutch postseason performances out of unexpected sources including castoffs Edgar Renteria, who won the World Series MVP, Aubrey Huff, and Cody Ross, along with rookie Buster Posey, among others. But, the backbone of this team is its pitching with Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain in the front end of the starting rotation, to Sergio Romo and Brian Wilson in the back end of the bullpen. Although Tim Lincecum failed to win his third straight NL Cy Young Award, he was able to earn his third straight All Star appearance, and lead the league once again in strikeouts with 231. Also, in the World Series against the Texas Rangers, Lincecum was able to win two games, including the clincher; while posting a 3.29 ERA in the Fall Classic. Is this tough to top? Not really, just ask Matt Cain. Yes, Matt Cain won 13 games with a 3.14 ERA, but in the postseason he was in a league of his own because he didn't allow a single run in 21.1 innings pitched. He was clearly the best pitcher in the playoffs last year, and it will certainly be a tough act to follow. The question for the Giants is; will they have a hangover effect this season? The Giants were the clear underdogs going into the playoffs, so it will be interesting to see if they don't get ahead of themselves. I don't see them doing this, as I believe they finish second, and fail to earn the wild card.

Colorado Rockies: The Rockies failed to have another magical season, but they do have two magical players on their roster with shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez. Last year Tulo batted .315 with 25 homeruns, and drove in 95. But, his September was one to remember, as he belted 15 homeruns and drove in 40, while batting a solid .303. Because of his tremendous season, and his so far great career, he earned a new contract extension that will keep him in Denver through the 2020 season. In the outfield Carlos Gonzalez had a tremendous season as well; leading the National League in batting average and hits with .336, and 197, respectively. Also, Cargo hit 34 homeruns, drove in 117 runs, and stole 26 bases. All of that was good for third in the NL MVP voting. I believe these two guys could carry them to a National League West crown, but because of the Rockies lack of pitching the best they'll get is third place. They have a solid front four starting with Ubaldo Jimmenez--who struggled a bit in the second half with a 3.80 ERA when compared to the first half with a 2.20 ERA, and an impressive no-hitter. Behind the All Star is Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin, and Jason Hammel. The fifth spot in the rotation is currently up for grabs because former All Star Aaron Cook suffered a broken finger and could be out until May. Besides, Cook struggled quite a bit in 2010, posting an ERA of 5.08 while going 6-8 in 23 starts. Last year the Rockies starting pitchers ERA and bullpen ERA's were both in the middle pack at 18th place and 16th place, respectively. They'll need to improve on those two categories if they want to win the pitching heavy NL West. The question is simply; will they be able to get more out of their 2-5 spots in the rotation? The Rockies need to have Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin, or Jason Hammel step up and be an elite number two starter that can go out, eat innings, and win 15-17 games this season. If they can't, they will not win this division.

San Diego Padres: If the Padres didn't go on their 10 game losing streak last year from August 26th to September 5th they could have won their division. The losing streak really killed this team, especially when they averaged just 2.3 runs per game and is probably why the Padres will finish fourth this year due to their lack of offense. Also, the loss of Adrian Gonzalez is absolutely a crushing blow. He was pretty much their offense; hitting nearly a quarter of the teams homeruns, and 16% of the team's RBI total. That is an insane amount of production out of one player for one team, and his loss is essentially a death blow to this team. But, something the Padres didn't lose this offseason was their pitching. Guys like Mat Latos and Clayton Richard will bolster the rotation. Both Latos and Richard had 14 wins this season, and Latos had a sparkling 2.92 ERA, while Richard had a solid 3.75. However, with the loss of Jon Garland, the Padres will have to get more out of Wade LeBlanc and newly acquired Aaron Harang in order to even have any hope of winning this division. One strength the Padres do have is their bullpen. Closer Heath Bell, setup men Mike Adams and Joe Thatcher all posted ERA's under two. Meanwhile, Luke Gregerson led the team in appearances with 80, and a WHIP of 0.83 and Edward Mujica led the team with a strikeout/walk ratio of 12. This bullpen is clearly the strength for the Padres, and it could be the best in all of baseball. The question for the Padres is really obvious; what will they get out of their offense? With Adrian Gonzalez now in Boston, everyone on their roster will have to step up big time if they want to make the playoffs.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Last year the Diamondbacks had the worst bullpen in the majors by far with a 5.74 ERA, over a run more than the second worst team in the Chicago Cubs, who had a 5.74 ERA. But, the D'backs added veteran closer J.J. Putz to bolster the back end of the 'pen. However, the D'backs do have a very underrated starting rotation. One of those underrated arms includes Daniel Hudson who was acquired by the Chicago White Sox and had a 7-1 record, with an impresive 1.69 ERA. This guy should be starting on Opening Day for Arizona. Behind him are a couple of former American League hurlers in former New York Yankee Ian Kennedy, and former Los Angeles Angel Joe Saunders. Kennedy had a solid year last year for Arizona; posting a 3.80 ERA in 32 starts. And in his 194 innings of work, Kennedy gave up just 163 hits. Look for Kennedy to build on last year's performance. Also, Saunders has shown he can be a good pitcher in the big leagues. In 2008 and 2009 for the Angels, Saunders won 17 games and 16 games, respectively. Like Kennedy, watch for Saunders to have a good season. But, the which was once a strength for the Diamondbacks, could now be a weakness. With the losses of third baseman Mark Reynolds and first baseman Adam LaRoche, the Diamondbacks could have a season long power outage. I wouldn't count on outfielder Chris Young to setup up and be the teams main hitter, due to the fact he strikes out way too much. In 2010 Young struck out 145 times, and he's struck out over 130 times in a season four seasons in a row. Plus, shortstop Stephen Drew can't be that guy either, over the last four seasons Drew has averaged just 63 RBI. Due to all the weaknesses across the board, look for Arizona to finish last in the National League West, but possibly improve.

There you have it; The National League West preview. This division is better than people give them credit for, I believe. I also believe there is a lot of good talent in this division like Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Andre Either, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Clayton Kershaw, and Heath Bell, among many others. In my next preview I'll take a look at the American League West. Stay tuned!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A look at the Yankees by position: Relief pitchers

As we move along in the Yankees spring training season I will be looking at probably the main strength of the 2011 New York Yankees team, the bullpen. I will look at guys like future hall of famer Mariano Rivera to lefty specialists like Boone Logan and Pedro Feliciano.

Closer Mariano Rivera: Ho-hum, just another season for the future hall of famer in which he posted 30 or more saves and an ERA under two. Last year Mariano posted a 1.80 ERA and saved 33. Another amazing statistic that doesn't involve strikeouts, or saves, or ERA, is the fact that for his 15th straight season, Mariano Rivera has allowed less hits in a season then innings pitched. The last time he allowed more hits than innings pitched was in 1995, which was his very first season in the big leagues, where he allowed 71 hits in 67 innings pitched. Last season with an even 60 innings under his belt he allowed just 39 hits. The guy is truely amazing, and at 41 years old the Panamanian keeps going strong. But if there is one thing that concerns you just a little it's the fact that he only struck out 45 batters in his 60 innings of work. The last time he had less strikeouts than innings pitched was in 2006 where he pitched 75 innings and collected 55 K's. The only question for Rivera is; will he be able to keep it going now that he's over 40 years old? He's had 10 different seasons in his career where he has had an ERA below two and has collected more than 30 saves in the same season, and last year was one of those years. The guy is human, or at least we think so, and he'll eventually have to slow down. But, based on his 2010 performance he shows no signs of slowing down at all.

Set-up man. Rafael Soriano: After losing on the Cliff Lee sweepstakes, the Yankees looked to bolster their bullpen. And although GM Brian Cashman may not have approved of it, the Yankees front office stepped up and signed the former Tampa Bay Ray to be their set-up man until Mariano Rivera retires, even though they had to give up a 2012 first round draft pick up to their rivals. Rafael Soriano is probably the best free agent signing the Yankees had during the offseason. Last year for the Rays, Soriano posted a 1.73 ERA with a league high 45 saves, thus earning his first All Star appearance, Cy Young vote, and MVP vote. Soriano has proven he can be a closer or set-up. You know he can close, but as a set-up man with the Atlanta Braves in 2007 he had an even 3.00 ERA, but allowed just 47 hits in 72 innings pitched. And the year before with the Seattle Mariners he had a 2.25 ERA in 60 innings pitch, allowing just 44 hits. So the only question for Soriano is; how will he be able to handle New York? It's a whole new ball game pitching in the Bronx than it is Tampa Bay, Atlanta, or Seattle. But Soriano seems like a smart guy, he knows what he's doing, and the guy that follows him, Mariano Rivera, will be able to help him out like Mo did with Kerry Wood last year.

7th inning man. David Robertson: David Robertson is entering his third full season with the Yankees, and he's proven he can be a very solid reliever. Over the last two seasons Robertson has struck out 134 batters in just 105 innings pitched. That’s a very good stat especially with relievers who only pitch a short amount of time. Robertson is very valuable to this team because he can come in to face a batter or three and get a key strikeout or three to get out of a jam. The only concern for Robertson is in the first two months of the season in his career that spans from 2008, he has an ERA of 5.78 while having a WHIP of 1.83. But come June through September his ERA drops more than two runs to 3.61, and his WHIP falls to 1.37. So, the only question for Robertson is; will he be able to get off to a better start so he can have a really great season? It would be even bigger if he did, because the Yankees would have a 1-2-3 punch in the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings of games in Robertson, Soriano, and Rivera.

Middle relief. Joba Chamberlain: After adding 25 pounds to his already bulky frame, Joba Chamberlain doubters came out quickly, especially for someone who had taken a lot of heat last season. But from seeing him a handful of times this spring, it looks as though he gained muscle on the upper part of his body, which could help with his inconsistent velocity on his fastball. So far this spring, in three innings of work, Joba has given up two runs and struck out a batter. Obviously, it's a little early for the jury to decide on this one, but we'll evaluate as the season goes along. As to be expected, the question for Chamberlain is; how will the added weight affect him? It will be interesting to see if he can stay consistent with his velocity on his fastball. If the Yankees can get him anywhere near what he did in 2007 they will be in good shape.

Lefty specialist. Pedro Feliciano: Feliciano switched sides in the Yankees/Mets rivalry by signing a two year, $9 million dollar deal to be one of the lefties for the Yankees out of the 'pen. This was a necessary move that the Yankees needed, because Damaso Marte will be out the majority, if not all, of the 2011 season. With the Mets, Feliciano set the Major League record for appearances from 2008-2010 with 86, 88, and 92, respectively. I don't know if the Yankees will use him that many times out the bullpen because the Yankees have another lefty specialist, Boone Logan that they can turn to. The real question for Feliciano is; will the combined 266 appearances out the bullpen finally take toll on his arm? Even though he probably won't be used as much, it will be interesting to see if it affects him.

Lefty specialist. Boone Logan: Logan was a pleasant surprise for the Yankees last year when he got called up because of the injury to Damaso Marte. In 51 games last year the lefty Logan pitched to a strong 2.93 ERA, and in his 40 innings pitched he allowed just 34 hits. The second half of the season for Logan was even better; In 34 games Logan pitched to a 2.08 ERA. Also, in his 21.2 innings pitched he struck out 25 batters and allowed just 14 hits. Unfortunately for Logan he struggled in the postseason, most notably in the ALCS against the Texas Rangers. In two thirds of an inning of work Logan gave up two runs, and he couldn't get Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton out, as he gave up hits both times he faced him, including a homer. The question for Logan is; will he be able to repeat his performance from last season? He may be competing with Feliciano as the primary lefty out of the bullpen, but he's pretty much a lock to make the trip up north with the rest of the team come later this month.
There you have it, the final Yankees preview by position. The spots in the bullpen are pretty much locked up unless someone gets injured. Stay tuned, as I will go outside the Yankees organization by looking at each division and giving a brief preview about each team.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A look at the Yankees by position: Starting pitchers

With Spring Training underway the Yankees biggest question throughout the spring season is their starting pitching. Basically after CC Sabathia there are question marks, some big and some small. Today I'll be previewing the Yankees starters and potential starters from ace CC Sabathia to prospects like Manny Banuelos and Andrew Brackman.

CC Sabathia: The hefty lefty had another big season for the Bombers last year, winning a career high 21 games while pitching to an ERA a dash above 3.0 in 237.2 innings pitched. For Sabathia, that is his fourth consecutive season pitching at least 230 innings, so clearly he has plenty of miles under his belt. Some wonder if that amount of workload over the years could lead to him slowing down a bit. So, to answer the critics CC slimmed down by losing 30 pounds in the offseason. Essentially, the question for the big man is; how will he handle the weight loss, and will he be able to continue his streak of 230 innings pitched? It will be key this year for the Yankees due to their lack of depth in the pitching rotation. Expect CC to reach the 230 inning mark and win around 17-21 games again, they need it. And not to mention, this spring Sabathia pitched two scoreless innings against the Detroit Tigers, the same team he'll face opening day at Yankee Stadium.

Phil Hughes: After a season in the bullpen Phil Hughes was given the opportunity to prove that he could pitch in the starting rotation. He entered into camp in 2009 battling with Joba Chamberlain, Sergio Mitre, and Alfredo Aceves for the fifth spot. He won that battle, and as they say; the rest is history. In the 2010 season Hughes won 18 games while earning a solid 4.19 ERA, and earning his first career All Star selection. However, despite the good season for Hughes he did have some troubles in the second half, going 7-6 with an elevated 4.90 ERA. The 24 year old also struggled in the ALCS against the Texas Rangers going 0-2 with a bloated 11.42 ERA in just 8.2 innings in two starts. In the second half of last year Hughes pretty much abandoned his changeup, which was a very effective pitch for him. I believe Hughes will have to stick with his changeup the entire season if he wants to build on his performance from 2010.This spring Hughes pitched two scoreless innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates, throwing three changeups in his outing. So, the question for Hughes is; will he be able to grow as a pitcher? Being the number two starter behind CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes will have to be a three or four pitch pitcher if he wants to be a solid number two starter. Hughes also throws a changeup and a cutter to go along with his hard fastball and his curveball. Not to mention, given his impressive first season he is going to have higher expectations set on him. Hughes is coming off a season where he logged 176 innings, this probably means he can reach the 200 inning mark without any special rules to skip his starts, another reason why he may have slowed down in the second half.

A.J. Burnett: A.J. Burnett's 2010 season can be summarized in one word: terrible. A.J. had the worst season of probably any pitcher in the major leagues, and one of the worst single seasons ever by a Yankee. The big right hander went 10-15 with a horrific 5.26 ERA in 33 starts. In addition, Burnett pitched only 186.2 innings while allowing 204 hits and 27 home runs. Burnett needs to take all the memories from that season and just throw them out the window. Although that’s easier said than done it will have to be done if he wants to rebound. So, how does AJ rebound? There is one guy the Yankees added that could help him and that is pitching coach Larry Rothschild. Rothschild is the former Chicago Cubs pitching coach from 2002-2010 that came over following the unexpected firing of last year’s pitching coach Dave Eiland. On Wednesday, Burnett faced the Houston Astros, and in two innings the right hander allowed two hits and no runs in two innings of work. So, this warrants the question; will A.J. Burnett be able to bounce back following last season’s struggles? Maybe Burnett just needs another voice? Or could it be because Burnett supposedly went through a very ugly divorce? According to ESPN's Colin Cowherd; he did have to go through an ugly divorce. But, Burnett's agent, Darek Braunecker, denied the report. We'll never really know for sure. But what we do know is that the Yankees need A.J. Burnett more than ever. Can he put everything behind him and rise to the occasion?

Ivan Nova: The young Nova got called up last year in the heat of a pennant race in place of an injured Andy Pettitte, and he pitched well. The young right hander pitched in 10 games, seven starts, and posted a solid 4.50 ERA. But he has one major Achilles heel that he'll need to fix, which is pitching to batters the third time around. After batters saw Nova twice, he allowed opponents to hit .400 against him, compared to .196 in the first time around, and .246 the second time around. This spring training he hasn't allowed an earned run in five innings, so clearly he's off to a strong start, especially being part of a battle for the number four and five spots in the starting rotation. There are two questions for Nova; will he be able to win the four or five spot in the Yankee rotation? So far he has, it could be his spot to lose. And the second queston is; if he does crack the rotation how will he do the third time around? Like I mentioned before Nova is very good the first two times around, but the third time around he seems to get knocked around. Being a pitcher of his age, 24 years, it could just be something he'll learn as he gets more experience.

Freddy Garcia: "The Chief" signed a minor league contract during the offseason to join in the battle for the fourth or fifth spot in the starting rotation. He made his Grapefruit League debut on Thursday against the Tampa Bay Rays, and he pitched well. In two innings he pitched two shut out innings with one strikeout. The problem for Garcia is that he will give up hits and runs and he hasn't had a season in which his ERA was under 4.20 since the 2005 season with the White Sox. He has missed a lot of time since then, but last year he was healthy and made 28 starts with a 4.64 ERA. In 157 innings the big right hander allowed 171 hits and struck out just 89 batters, so we know he's a contact guy and if he pitches with the Yankees he'll have to keep the ball on the ground in order to survive. Last season with the White Sox Garcia had just a 0.72 ground ball/ fly ball ratio, he'll have to improve on this or else we could see a lot of homers leaving the ball park at the new house. So, the questions for Garcia are; if he makes the rotation, will he be able to stay healthy? Will he be able to keep the ball on the ground? His changeup will be a key pitch for him that could get him a lot of ground balls and double play balls as well.
Sergio Mitre: Of all the Yankees over the years I think Sergio Mitre is one of the more hated ones. This guy keeps on getting knocked around by fans and the media left and right. However, he has a pretty good arm. Last season Mitre pitched to a solid 3.33 ERA in 27 games, 24 of those were in relief appearances. But in the postseason he did get knocked around, in the 2010 ALCS against the Texas Rangers he allowed two homers in a little more than two innings, thus pitching to a 10.13 ERA, mostly in mop up relief. Now I know this is the starting pitcher preview, but because he is competing for a starting spot, he cracks the starting pitcher preview. But either way, I believe he is a better fit in the bullpen. Mitre is a sinker/slider guy who pitches to contact. In a deep bullpen he would be a nice fit in the long relief role, so he can come in when someone has a poor outing. The question for Mitre is; will he carry his good regular season last season into this season? Remember, he had a 3.33 ERA in 54 innings, so he's proven he can pitch for the Yankees, and he can pitch in the new Yankee Stadium. Plus, I’m sure he wants to prove the Yankee fans and media wrong too.
Bartolo Colon: Like his counterpart Freddy Garcia, Colon signed a minor league deal to get a shot in the rotation. This spring he made the first start for the Yankees by allowing one run in two innings against the Phillies. Colon even touched 93 mph in his first game and he showed a nice changeup too. But, Colon does have a weight issue. Colon says he's about 25 pounds overweight, but some might argue he has even more weight to lose even though he is very tall. The question for Colon is; will he be able to drop his weight during spring training while being effective on the mound? It will be tough for Colon to trim 25 plus pounds off during camp. He's had issues with injuries, 19 starts in two years, excluding 2010 where he didn't pitch so maybe his weight has something to do with that.

Prospects: Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos, Andrew Brackman, Hector Noesi, David Phelps, and Adam Warren are currently minor leaguers for the Yankees who haven't pitched in the major league yet. All of them have potential in the show, especially with Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos catching a lot of attention. Betances is just 22 years old but he has great stuff. He possesses a fastball near 94-97 mph with a sharp breaking ball and a tough changeup. When scouting minor league players, scouts use a scale from 20-70, 20 being bad and 70 being great. All three of Betances' pitches are in the 60 range so, Betances has plenty of potential. On the other side lefty Manny Banuelos is just 19 years old, yet like Betances, he has a pitching repertoire that is ready for the big leagues. Banuelos has a fast ball around 93-94 mph with a sharp breaking curve, and a nasty changeup. Banuelos has plenty of talent, and like Betances he'll be highly coveted in a possible trade for an elite starting pitcher for the Yankees. Don't be surprised if general manager Brian Cashman is reluctant to hold on to these two because of their potential. However, all of these guys will also have to compete with Noesi, Phelps, and Warren who are are all going to start in the minor leagues barring injuries to CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, or A.J. Burnett. The question for all of these guys is; how much will we see them in the big leagues? If the number four or number five starters for the Yankees struggle don't be surprised if Cashman calls up one of these guys. Both Banuelos and Betances will start in AA so they'll need some more seasoning to be ready. Watch out for Brackman, Noesi, Phelps, or Warren to get the call if the Yankees need an arm or two.

So, there you have it. All of the Yankees starters this season from aces like CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes to minor leaguers Adam Warren and David Phelps. By seasons end we could see every one of these guys get a chance in the rotation in the regular season. But, right now in Spring Training everyone will get a chance to prove themselves. I believe Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia will earn the last two spots. Yes, Ivan Nova has trouble the third time around, and he's only pitched 42 big league innings and Freddy Garcia is a fly ball pitcher, and if he makes the Yankee rotation he'll be pitching half of his games in a bandbox at Yankee Stadium, and he's had injury issues. However, I think these two are the best bets because Bartolo Colon has a serious weight issue, and he hasn't pitched since 2009, and the six minor league guys haven't thrown a pitch in the major leagues yet. Look for Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia to make the rotation, with Sergio Mitre earning the long relief spot in the 'pen. The fifth and final part of my series will be the bullpen. Stay tuned!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Cervelli out a month, could open door for Montero

Today the Yankees announced that backup catcher Francisco Cervelli will be out at least four weeks, if not four weeks in the regular season, due to a broken foot. Although this won't affect the regular starting lineup for the Yankees this season, it could open the door for top prospect Jesus Montero to make the Opening Day 25-man roster.

Cervelli suffered the injury on Wednesday against the Houston Astros when he fouled off a pitch on his left foot. In Spring Training Cervelli batted .600 (3-5) in limited time, but he was clearly off to a strong start. With this in mind top Yankee prospect Jesus Montero should be the leading candidate to be the backup catcher for the Yankees, now that grizzled veteran Jorge Posada is more than likely going to be the full time DH for the Yanks. So far this spring Jesus Montero has batted just .125, (1-8) but obviously in limited time, he'll see more action as the spring goes along. And if he plays his cards right, he'll make the Opening Day roster.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A look at the Yankees by position: Catchers

As we near the start of Spring Training games I'm going to take a look at the Yankees catchers this season. I'll look at veterans from Jorge Posada and Russell Martin, to top prospects like Jesus Montero and Austin Romine.

C/DH. Jorge Posada: This could be Jorge Posada's last season in the major leagues, or his last season in the Bronx for the 39 year old backstop, whose contract is up at the end of the 2011 season. Posada is pretty much a legend here, winning five World Series championships and being a key leader for the dynasty teams in the '90s, but now times have changed. Posada will more than likely be a full time DH with Russell Martin being the primary guy behind the plate. The question for Posada is will he be able to adjust in being a DH? He'll need to because the Yankees care about his bat more than his glove.

C. Francisco Cervelli: Cervelli may benefit from hitting coach Kevin Long's magic. Cervelli was brought up in 2009 because of his defense when Jorge Posada and Jose Molina went down. In that '09 season Cervelli batted .298 with one of the many walk-off hits during the championship campaign; but his 2010 season can best be described in one word: rollercoaster. Cervelli batted .360 in April, but come June, July, and August he batted .180, .214, and .233, respectively. In September, Cervelli was red hot again, batting .394, thus making his batting average for the season a solid .271. However, the side Cervelli is supposedly good at, his defense, isn't quite as good as advertised. Although he has ninja like reflexes behind the plate and a rocket arm, Cervelli had 13 errors in a limited role. He also threw out just 14% of base runners, a very alarming rate for a guy of his caliber. In 2009 Cervelli threw out 43% of base runners, and committed just one error in 40 games. It is still uncertain if he will or will not have a spot on the roster once the season heats up. The question for Cervelli is can he return to his '09 form defensively? Will he even have a spot on the team this year?

C. Jesus Montero: Montero is the top prospect in the Yankees farm system and the number nine prospect in all of Major League Baseball according to's Top 50 Prospect list. Montero is supposed to have a plus bat because when he has a bat in his hand, he can be lethal; but his skills behind the plate are something he still needs to work on. Montero batted .289 with 21 homeruns and 75 RBI's for the AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees in 123 games. The question for Montero is will we have more Jesus Montero references in the trade front, or on the field with the New York Yankees? Montero would be a key piece in a deal for an ace type starter, like Felix Hernandez or Chris Carpenter. Last year he was involved in trade talks between the Yankees and Seattle Mariners in a deal that fell through at the last minute for Cliff Lee.

C. Austin Romine: Austin Romine is the second Yankee catching prospect that has a small chance to make the club but, since he has less experience he probably won't get called up this year, but Romine has plenty of potential. Unlike Montero, Austin Romine is stronger behind the plate then he is with the bat, but can definitely still hit. Austin batted .268 with 10 homers and 69 RBI's for the AA Trenton Thunder. Like Jesus Montero, the question for Austin Romine is will he be subject of trade rumors as the season goes along? He's probably the second option, if not the third Yankee catching prospect option. Gary Sanchez, another Yankee catching prospect, is on the Top 50 Prospects list while Romine is not. I have a feeling by the time July 31st passes one of these guys will be in another uniform while an ace comes to town.

C. Russell Martin: Because of Jorge Posada's age and ineffectiveness behind the plate, Francisco Cervelli's lack of bat, and the lack of experience from Jesus Montero and Austin Romine, GM Brian Cashman brought in the former Dodger to be the primary catcher. Russell Martin had a rough season last year in LA suffering a hip injury while batting just .248 in 97 games. However, Martin's play behind the plate is the reason why he was brought in after he threw out 39% of the runners who tried to steal against his team. Since the Boston Red Sox have speedsters Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury on their team it is key that Martin can keep that up. The question for Martin is, how will he be able to handle New York? Martin played in relaxed Los Angeles, how will he be able to handle the scrutiny of New York? Also, Russell Martin will have to deal with his knee injury that could force him to miss his first spring training game. That will be another thing to watch closely with Martin.

There you have it. Those are the Yankees catchers this season, from future hall of famer Jorge Posada to guys like Jesus Montero and Austin Romine who may or may not make next years catching preview article if they are still in the Yankees organization. Next time I'll break down the Yankees starting pitchers. Stay tuned!

Friday, February 18, 2011

A look at the Yankees by position: Outfield

In my second part of my five part series I will look at the Yankees outfield and potential outfield players. Like last edition I broke down everyone from lock starter to guys possibly not even getting a job, I will do the same with this edition. This time i'll look at the outfielders from sure starters like Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson, to more of minor league guys like Greg Golson and Colin Curtis.

RF. Nick Swisher: In July of the 2010 season the Yankees were in Seattle to play the Mariners. It was a Friday afternoon in downtown Seattle and I got a chance to meet the Yankee All-Star, and Home Run Derby contestant. He was very nice and I was fortunate enough to take a picture of him. Believe it or not on that day when he was about to leave I told him "hey get a homer off of King Felix tonight!" He kinda chuckled and said OK and walked off. And dog gone it he hit a homer of the AL Cy Young Award winner, and my favorite pitcher. But enough of my story. Nick Swisher had a bounceback year last year raising his average from 2009 from .249 to a career high .288 in 2010. He also matched his homerun total from '09 with 29 dingers in '10. And he also added seven RBI from 2009, 82 to 89. The thing with Swisher is he has had low points in his career. He batted .219 in 2008 with the Chicago White Sox. And his previous career high batting average was .262 in 2007, his final year with the Oakland A's. But the alarming statistic for Swisher is how he does in the postseaon. In his five individual series he has played with the Yankees he's had a batting average .150 or below in four of those. The one series where he had a batting average above that mark was in last years Divisional series against the Minnesota Twins. He had a .333 average while hitting one solo homerun. Swisher also had an OPS of 1.135 in that series. But in the ALCS that year against the Texas Rangers he batted just .091 with one solo homerun. He also struck out seven times in the six game set while having an OPS of just .473. The question for Swisher is can he be more of a consistant guy who can carry his regular season numbers into the postseason? This is a big year for Swisher and could be his last. If he has another poor postseason, assuming the Yankees make it, he could be on his way out.

CF. Curtis Granderson: "The Grandy Man" had a rough first season for the Yankees. He batted just .247 in his first year in pinstripes and he struck out 116 times in 136 games. Also Granderson had to prove that he could hit left handed pitching. Grandy batted .237 last year in the regular season against left handed pitching. Thats an improvement of the 2009 season where he batted just .183 against lefties and he hit only two HRs. Granderson missed time in the middle of the season due to a groin injury, which obviously didn't help with his baserunning ability, as he stole just 12 bases. But in the middle of the year when Granderson was really slumping he worked with hitting coach Kevin Long. Granderson had a bit of a helicopter type of swing. He'd always let go of his top hand after he finishes his swing and he doesn't have much of an uppercut on his swing. So, Long made him hold onto his top hand through his swing. They started this in late July into early August and the results showed. Granderson hit 14 of his 24 homeruns in August and September. Also, in the postseason Granderson shined by batting .357 against the Minnesota Twins in the ALDS and the Texas Rangers in the ALCS. He hit one homerun and drove in seven. Granderson also had a good eye of the strikezone in October as he drew seven walks. Thats a good sign going into the season because I believe when right Granderson should be at the number two spot in the order hitting infront of Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, and Robinson Cano. The question for Granderson is; will he be able to carry his August/September/October momentum into this season? He'll be a key part in the Yankees offense. And if he plays to the best of his capabilities he can be a five-tool type of guy. I expect him to have a 30-30 season, raise that average above .275, and contend for a Gold Glove.

LF. Brett Gardner: Out of every Yankee on this team Brett Gardner confuses me the most. He is able to slap the ball pretty much wherever he wants to, mostly left field, and he has killer speed. He's probably the fastest player in the game. He can spark a rally at any moment of the game, see ALCS game one. But hes a .270ish hitter. I don't get that. Also in the postseason he has struggled. Gardner batted .175 in the span of five postseason series in two years. An alarming stat for Gardner is in 40 at bats he has struck out 12 times, definantely something you arn't so excited about since Gardner is not a power hitter. Also, Brett Gardner has had to miss time with injury the last two years. He's had trouble with thumb and wrist issues so that could play a roll into him have not so steller seasons. The question with Gardner is can he stay healthy and improve so he can be a .300 hitter? He'll also need to improve in the postseason because, like Swisher, he could be on his way out.

OF. Andruw Jones: Ah remember the days when Andruw Jones was with the Atlanta Braves? Where in a 10 year stretch from 1998-2007 he averaged nearly 35 homeruns, and 103 RBI's, he also won 10 Gold Gloves, one Silver Slugger, and was elected to five All Star Games. But in 2008-2010 he had fallen completely off the map averaging just 13 HR's, including just three in 2008 with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He also averaged just 35 RBI's in that stretch, including a whopping 14 in that '08 season in LA. Andruw Jones is at best a fourth outfielder, and thats what the Yankees got him for. If right he can be a nice power bat off the bench. He had a decent season last year with the Chicago White Sox where he had 19 homers and drove in 48 in just 278 at bats. So he has proven that he can hit off the bench in the American Leauge is what he'll have to do with the Yankees. So the question is, can he? He should be used to, doing this of late.(He did the same with the 2009 Texas Rangers hitting 17 HR's and driving in 43 in just 281 at bats.) He could be like a Marcus Thames like of guy except Jones can play in every outfield postition and can play it well.

OF. Greg Golson: Golson will be remembered most for his game ending outfield assist of Carl Crawford, of the Tampa Bay Rays on September 14th. Other then that no one would really remember him. Hes a good defensive outfielder with good speed and a rocket arm. In limited action with the Yankees he hit .261 in 23 at bats, but he went 0-2 in stolen base chances. The question really for him is; can he make the team? Its unlikely with Andruw Jones having a huge advantage over Golson as being the teams fourth outfielder.

OF. Colin Curtis: Like Greg Golson, Colin Curtis will be remembered for pretty much just one moment. On July 21st against the LA Angels Curtis hit a pinch hit three run homerun to spark the Yankees to a 10-6 win that afternoon. The impressive thing is he was pinch hitting for a previously ejected Brett Gardner who left with an 0-2 count. Other then that Curtis is just a .186 hitter with 59 career big league at bats. He's probably down on the pecking order behind Andruw Jones and Greg Golson as the teams fourth outfielder.

There you have it. Those are the Yankees outfielders from the guys who are a lock to make the majors to guys who have a slim chance to make it. Part three will be the catchers. Should be interesting. Stay tuned!