New York Yankees Should Keep Kevin Russo in the Majors

May 28, 2010

The New York Yankees are expecting starting center fielder Curtis Granderson back for Friday’s game against the visiting Cleveland Indians. It will be a welcome sight to have Granderson back, and the Yankees could use his potential power bat back in the lineup. 

With Granderson out, Brett Gardner moved from left field to center, with a myriad of talent alternating in Gardner-land. Marcus Thames, Randy Winn and Kevin Russo have manned left field during the 24 games in which Granderson has missed.

You know my thoughts on Thames, and Randy Winn is done as a major leaguer. Nice career, though, with over 1700 hits and a .285 average in 13 seasons.

In Granderson’s absence, those two left fielders have hit a combined 16 for 64 (.250) with a home run, nine RBI and 15 strike outs.

Thames had to face a lot of right handed pitchers (not his strong smoot), and Winn just can not catch up with a decent major league fastball anymore. He literally swings through 90 MPH fastballs over the middle of the plate.

However, neither one has played much left field recently as rookie Kevin Russo has manned the position five straight games, starting four of them.

Russo has also hit .250 with  a pair of doubles and four RBI. He has come through twice in big spots, being in the middle of two Yankee rallies against the New York Mets, plus another in Minnesota. 

Big George must have loved those Mets moments, and if was the same blustery King, Russo would be the choice now to remain.

But no matter who is making the decision (Hal, Hank, Brian Cashman or General Joe), Russo still should be kept on the roster over Winn.

While Russo can hit for average (career .315 at Triple A), he will not hit for much power, cranking only six home runs in just under 500 Triple A at bats.

But Winn does not hit for average or power, either.

Russo also has a great approach at the plate and adjusts very well. For instance, his first time up against Francisco Liriano of the Twins, Russo struck out swinging on two straight sliders.

Next time up, Russo deposited another slider into the left field corners for a run scoring double, which tied the game up at 1-1 in the fourth inning.

In game adjustments are huge in helping teams win games.

Plus, despite being a middle infielder most of his minor league career, has taken well to left field. He has made several catches at or near the fence, including a long drive off the bat of JJ Hardy in the ninth inning of the first game in Minnesota.  

Does Winn catch that ball?

He also made a nice running catch off the bat of Joe Mauer in the second Twins game.

Russo also give the Yankees versatility due to his ability to play infield (Short, second and third) plus probably all the outfield positions in case another injury occurs.

Winn offers nothing more than does Russo and does not deserve to be a Yankee anymore. His reason for even being a Yankee was in playing all three outfield positions and providing a veteran presence.  

This is nullified with Russo’s versatility.

I have read where the Yankees are paying Winn over a million bucks this season, Plus Russo can be sent back to Triple A for “regular playing time,” and to keep his major league service time down.

When does money matter to the Yankees, and where is that playing against Triple A players helps you be a better player?

Russo has shown he can play in the majors by already collecting a few big hits, and playing good defense. After tow seasons in Scranton, he does not get better with four at bats for the next few months at Triple A.

Also, his service time should never be an issue, because Russo does not appear to be an everyday player in the majors since his power production will not be there. The Yankees have starting players at each position for about three seasons, and don’t need Russo for anything more than how he is used now.

If by chance several years down the line to where he needs to go to arbitration, then the Yankees will probably have another utility type of versatile player ready to take Russo’s place. He is an expendable piece when he gets too expensive.

But right now he is the best bet for that fifth outfielder. Russo is a nice complementary player who has a better game than Randy Winn, while making less money.

The easy move would be to send him back down to the minors, but the gutsy (and correct) move should be to keep him in the majors.


Ten Keys to Success in the Major League Baseball Draft

May 24, 2010

With the major league baseball draft about two weeks away, there are many teams still scrambling around trying to figure out what to do.

High School versus college? Power bat versus pitcher? Immediate help or projection player?

High school or prep talent is looked upon as what is their ceiling. There is a lot of projectability here, whereas college talent usually has almost all their tools in order. They basically need some refinement.

Those teams which usually pick at the top of the draft (also known as the worst teams) usually go for the best talent but longer term projects, since one player is not likely to help the parent club very soon.

But like the Tampa Bay Rays of three years ago, you can build a nice foundation with picks, get better, and still have that one last top pick to put you over the top.

The Washington Nationals have that opportunity this draft with their second No. 1 overall pick in consecutive seasons.

Top high school players could take up to five or six years to make an impact, whereas many recent top picks have shown that highly rated college players (namely pitchers) can make a parent team better much sooner.

Because of the time involved in development, the MLB is more of a crap shoot, as players need to master various levels before making “The Show,” and then comes the biggest test of all.

Many more “can’t miss” prospects taken very high in the draft often miss badly, sometimes due to lack of ability to adjust to the many levels and just plain not having the ability to actually play baseball.

That means no baseball instincts. I feel it is always better to take the best baseball player over the best talent over athleticism.

This years draft presents a plethora of prep talent, but also word that many teams will try to take lesser talent in hopes to sign them on the cheap.

Presented are some keys to developing a major impact through the draft.

1) Everything Being Equal, Take the Hard Worker

 Eric Duncan, the New York Yankees 2003 first round pick (27th overall), was a great hitter in high school for one of the best baseball teams in the state of New Jersey.

He has a quick, power bat, but a swing with lots of holes. Those holes did not get taken advantage of in high school or the lowest level of the minors.

But the higher Duncan rose in the system. the tougher the pitching became via pitch command, and those holes in Duncan’s swing were magnified.

Duncan was informed this in the low levels of the minors, and was told he would not make it unless he worked to correct a few hitting flaws.

The former first round pick did not take heed of this advice, preferring to “stick with what got me here.”

Well, “here” is not the major leagues, and Duncan now finds himself back in Double A, but with another organization.

His inability to listen to his coaches early in his career and work hard to correct any inefficiencies in his swing did not allow his game to improve.

He is one of many highly rated players who thought that talent alone would get them to the majors.

Talent is needed, but so is hard work.

Just ask any player who hits the cages earlier than other hitters, and stays later watching video of his swing.

When a player goes onto a baseball field, they never come off the field as the same player. They either get better or get worse.

The hard-working player will get better.

2) Take the Pitcher with Command over the Power Arm

Mike Leake was drafted out of Arizona State University eighth overall in the 2009 draft. He was considered the most polished college pitcher coming out of the draft since Tim Lincecum was taken 10th overall in 2006.

Leake made the Cincinnati Reds out of his first spring training and has never pitched in the minor leagues.

Leake does not overpower hitters with blazing speed or fancy pitches. His highest velocity is only in the upper 80’s.

However, he can throw the ball where he wants and the ball always has some type of movement.

Sounds like Greg Maddux.

Compare his success with guys like Dewon Brazelton (2001 No. 3 overall to Tampa Bay) who had a big-time arm and threw gas, but did not know where the ball was going.

There are tons of those types of guys in the first round who never made an impact.

When you have command AND velocity, however, now you are really talking.

Guys like Roger Clemens and Stephen Strasburg are/will be great because they has tremendous speed but could throw the ball wherever they want.

You know what they call that?

Unfair.

While guys like Clemens and Strasburg are a very rare breed, the guy with command of his pitches and command of the strike zone will most always be the better prospect over those throwers who have the big arm.

Location, location, location is the motto for real estate, but also for a quality pitcher.

3) Take the Baseball Player Over The Toolsy Athlete 

“The New York Yankees with the 17th pick in the 2005 major league baseball draft select Carl Henry, “toolsy” high school outfielder from Oklahoma.”

Henry never made it above High A, where he really struggled.

This guy was the five-tool player who can run, throw, hit, hit for power, and field. It was all great on paper, but the athletic talent could not translate to the baseball field.

Baseball is such a difficult game that toolsy and athlete really don’t matter when the game begins. The Rays are still waiting for former No. 1 overall pick Tim Beckham to play baseball, and not show all his talent.

Also, one of the greatest athletes in the world, Michael Jordan, couldn’t make it on the diamond, but was tremendous on the hardwood.

Why do the scouting directors continually believe that tools will bring benefits?

They mostly won’t.

That is just as bad as drafting someone based upon “upside.”

4) Draft Eligible Sophomore’s – Go for the Gusto!

The Yankees took the best college closer in the 2006 draft in the 17th round.

Yes, I said the 17th round! Then David Robertson, who closed at the University of Alabama, went on the win MVP of the prestigious Cape Cod Summer Baseball League.

Then he signed for well above slot money for a chance at pro baseball.

Why did the Yankees get such a talent in the 17th round and why did they have to give him earlier round money?

He was a draft eligible sophomore (DES), a four-year college player who turned 21 within 45 days of the draft. The reason why many DES are not taken is signability, as they have negotiating leverage with the selecting team.

Because they have the opportunity to go back to school for their junior year and re-enter the draft the next summer, DES have more negotiating leverage than most college draftees.

That is why teams must give much bigger bonuses to these selections.

But these DES are well worth the money and investment.

The talent is there. Go get them.

5) Draft Committed Major High School Talent In Later Rounds

The Yankees have done a great job at this.

They target major high school talent which has been committed to major Universities. Guys who have pretty much said they will go to college.

Taking these guys in much later rounds and giving them well above bonus money (many times into the high six figures to over a million bucks), could translate into getting that committed guy to sign to go pro.

The Yankees did this with Dellin Betances in 2006 (Vanderbilt), Carmen Angelini in 2007 (Rice) and Garrison Lassiter 2009 (North Carolina).

While these three examples have not yet materialized for the Yankees, it is good if the major league team hits on one of these.

This also works in taking high first round types who might fall into the late first round due to their college commitment.

They also took Gerrit Cole low in the first round in 2008 (he was a top five type player), knowing he was going to be a difficult signing, and Cole ended up going to college at UCLA.

While that did not work for the Yankees, this tactic did work for the Detroit Tigers who selected consensus first overall pick Rick Porcello with the 27th pick in the 2007 draft.

Porcello dropped due to his commitment to North Carolina and his advisor being Scott Boras.

Just like when a football player drops for unknown reasons, take the best talent.

If a top pick falls into your lap, draft him. It will only cost money.

6) If Thinking Long Term, Draft High End Prep Talent

Going over the 2001-2006 drafts, the numbers reveal that 35 of the 76 players drafted out of high school in the first round have reached the major leagues.

And a couple more are right on the doorstep.

That equals 46 percent, and includes some great names such as Zach Greinke, Prince Fielder, Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, Chad Billingsley and some guy named Joe Mauer.

College first round picks totaled 103 during this span with 45 making the major leagues. That equates to 44 percent, a smaller percentage than high school talent.

But 88 percent of that high school talent which made the majors were starting pitchers or everyday players compared to 79 percent of the college talent.

While high school talent takes longer to reach the majors, the results are well worth it, especially for teams which have the time and patience for the maturation process.

7) Draft Heavy in Key Positions Most Other Teams Need

Most teams need up the middle positions. They are the backbone to a team’s defense.

Guys who are steady glove men at these historically defense-oriented positions who can also rake are the ultimate prized possessions.

That is why Derek Jeter and Joe Mauer were two of the best draft picks ever. Both the Yankees and the Minnesota Twins received tremendous offensive production and good defense at the shortstop and catching positions.

Most teams do not have a good major league catcher who is adequate defensively but can also hit.

The Yankees have stockpiled catchers in their system with drafting Austin Romine and JR Murphy but also signing Jesus Montero and Gary Sanchez to International free agent contracts.

When Mauer went down with an injury in early May, the Twins called up 22-year-old Wilson Ramos, who provided adequate support behind the plate.

The Yankees also have an abundance of pretty good second basemen in their system who can play the field and hit for average and gradually improving power.

They also have about 15 good arms in their minor league starting rotations, highlighted by Zach McAllister at Triple A, David Phelps at Double A and Adam Warren and Graham Stoneburner at High A Tampa.

The major league club has Jorge Posada and Francisco Cervelli manning the plate, Robinson Cano shackled at second base and 60 percent of their starting rotation signed at least through 2011.

The possibility of another free agent pitcher signing next year exists when Cliff Lee becomes available.

Since all other teams needs up the middle personnel, the extra catchers, second basemen and starting pitchers provide adequate trade chips for the major league team to trade for needed talent at other positions.

The Twins have that same issue with their young catcher who could be turned into a key piece for the 2010 pennant chase.

Keep the backbone strong and the body will take care of itself.

8) Unless a Top Five Type of Pick, Avoid Prep Pitchers

I believe maturity is the biggest issue here.

Once a top prep pitcher is taken and signs, it is probably the riskiest pick type in the baseball draft.

Within the age years of 17-22, the biggest increase in maturity exists for young men. This is the time period where they could be drafted into the armed services, they can legally drink alcohol and they become more physically able to withstand the rigors of more stress.

Stress of the pro baseball scene in both the physical and mental aspects.

Taking a kid out of high school and putting him cross-country into an instructional league, then full season baseball can lead to more blowups than any other type of drafted product.

And with pitching being the prime baseball position, if these types blow up it can push back a franchise several years.

The recent drafts have produced some pretty good young prep pitchers such as Zach Greinke, Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, Phil Hughes, Chad Billingsley, and Clayton Kershaw.

What those guys all have is a tremendous secondary pitch to complement a pretty good fastball. High school hitters can’t catch up to the good fastball, but pro hitters can.

These prep pitchers need a good second pitch to succeed, and if it takes a few years to develop one, the confidence level and commitment can waiver for the teenager.

But unless the maturity level is already there, for every Cain, Hamels and Greinke there is a Jeff Allison, Chris Gruler, and Clint Everts, plus many more unrefined prepsters.

Even Greinke contemplated quitting baseball at the age of 20 because of anxiety issues.

The maturity level is simply not there to take such a gamble.

9) If Thinking You Need to Win Soon, Draft College Talent

The Washington Nationals had begun to build a pretty good young team prior to the 2009 draft.

They had a cornerstone position player in Ryan Zimmerman, and a bevy of young arms ready to get major league experience. They weren’t ace material, but the talent was there.

The team needed an ace to eventually carry the staff, and the Nationals drafted Stephen Strasburg No. 1 overall. He has done nothing to make the team worry about its pick in dominating every level thus far, now one step from the major leagues.

The Nationals also had another pick in that 2009 draft and selected the best relief pitcher available, projecting him to reach the majors very quickly.

Drew Storen, drafted 10th overall, has arrived in the majors and has already helped to fortify the Nationals bullpen, ranked last in baseball in 2009.

With the Nationals ready to draft another college player No. 1 overall in the upcoming 2010 draft, they might begin to contend as early as 2011.

Tim Lincecum made the same impact on the San Francisco Giants less than two-year after being drafted, as did Evan Longoria and David Price for the Tampa Bay Rays, Troy Tulowitzki of the Colorado Rockies plus Matt Wieters and Brian Matusz of the Baltimore Orioles.

No less than eight college drafted players from the 2008 draft have made it to the major leagues.

The college players are more polished, much more mature and ready to produce now in the majors.

And with the 24 hour news cycle available to all people, many teams feel the need to win now.

10) Don’t Cheapen Out

Set aside lots of cash for the draft. And spend it.

There are many instances where teams with money issues have cheapened out on their top pick, taking a player of lesser talent, with that player being easier to sign.

It will cost less in bonus money to sign lesser talent. But you get lesser talent than what is available.

The prime example of this tactic was when the San Diego Padres decided not to pay Justin Verlander’s big money demands when he was coming out of Old Dominion University.

Armed with a 99 MPH fastball and good command, Verlander was easily the best player in that draft, and his success thus far in his major league career has confirmed that suspicion.

Instead of taking the sure-thing Verlander, the Padres decided to go cheap, taking a very immature prep player named Matt Bush No. 1 overall in the 2004 draft.

(Remember our rule earlier about immaturity in high school kids)

Interestingly, while the Padres thought Verlander’s money demands were going to be very steep and out of their price range, Bush actually received a slightly higher bonus than did Verlander.

Too many teams can not compete with the big market clubs in the signing of available big-money free agents and are never able to trade for established stars already making lots of money.

The way these smaller market teams can compete is with the draft, not having to compete with other teams like the Red Sox and Yankees on players they draft.

Highly drafted players demand large multi-million dollar signing bonuses. That is a fact which is likely not going to go away.

Those who reach the majors pay for themselves as they are under team control at much reduced salary structure, while producing at the major league level.

That is saving money in the long run.

There is an old money adage that says, “You need to spend money in order to make money.” Many large companies need to invest in Research and Development in order to create many new products.

Baseball teams need to invest in highly prized drafted players in order to put a good major league team on the field.

But word is that many organizations this year will punt on certain players, and less talented kids in order to save money in bonuses.

Teams that win in the draft do not skimp on signing bonuses or punt on the best players available.


Carl Crawford: Why This Tampa Bay Ray Will Not Be a New York Yankee in 2011

April 4, 2010

Too many articles talked about Joe Mauer heading to free agency after this season and signing with the Yankees. That was never going to happen because of Mauer’s native roots and his homegrown status of being a Twins first-round draft choice and first pick overall.*

* Do you think the Twins feel good that they did not take Mark Prior first overall? Just before the draft, Prior was going all John Elway on Minnesota, saying he did not want to play for the Twins. Good thing for Minnesota they listened to Prior’s rants. However, if the homegrown Mauer was not available, the Twins were ready to take Mark Teixeira. Besides Mauer and No. 5 overall Teixeira, the 2001 draft might have the worst first round in history.

Now Yankee fans are clamoring for next season’s free agent list. I have seen articles preaching that the Yankees are going to go after and sign Cliff Lee (and if Lee is healthy, the Yankees will do just that), Jayson Werth of the Philadelphia Phillies (possible), but especially Carl Crawford of the division rival Tampa Bay Rays.

I have read that certain Web sites claim their sources have told them that the Yankees hierarchy “absolutely love Crawford.” Jon Heyman, a respected national baseball writer, also claims the Yankees love Crawford, and they want him to play left field for the Yankees—probably for the next five seasons.

With Crawford as a free agent after this season, it will take a five-year deal to land him. In addition to the Yankees, the usual cast of characters—like the Boston Red Sox and the New York Mets—would be in the running, too.

Most baseball executives and media people believe Crawford will sign with the Yankees. Financial estimates are that it will take a five-year deal for about $15 million per year to get Crawford. That is $75 million for a guy with a career split of .297/.335/.437/.772 with an OPS+ of 103, just above league average .

But he steals lots of bases, plays good defense, and has a little pop with his bat.

Except for the pop, with the same amount of plate appearances, that description could be Brett Gardner—and he will cost a whole lot less. I am not saying that Gardner is as good as Crawford, but he will do a lot of the things Crawford does—except for the power.

The Yankees do not need Crawford for 2011, and they will not sign him after this season.

Why? Because, like Mauer, Crawford will re-sign with the only team he has known—the Tampa Bay Rays. They can afford it.

There is so much talk about how the small-market Rays can’t afford Crawford and their other free-agent-to-be, Carlos Pena—and the Rays will lose both players.

The term “small market” is so overused, it is comical. First, revenue sharing reaps teams such as Tampa—and Pittsburgh and Kansas City—at least $25 million every year right at the start. Each team also receives at least $35 million for MLB through licensing agreements.

Second, at the end of the 2010 season—Bye, Tom Hicks—every owner of every baseball team will be stupid rich. The owners made their money outside of baseball, and they are part of the best restricted club in the entire country.

Tampa owner Stuart Sternberg is worth a ton of money. He made it on Wall Street and got out to buy the Rays just before the stock market fell in value.

The idea of the luxury tax and revenue sharing was developed so teams can put that money back into signing free agents—not other teams’ free-agents-to-be, but their own .

That is why the Florida Marlins ponied up the money for Josh Johnson, the Royals ponied up a couple of years ago for Zach Greinke, and the Rays will pay to keep Crawford. Although the Marlins appeared to be forced to pay Johnson, I still believe the Marlins never would have let him leave through free agency.

By having money from a wealthy owner—and revenue and licensing sharing funds in their coffers—the Rays will re-sign Crawford.

The second reason Tampa will re-sign Crawford is that he has been the face of the franchise for a few years now. Sure, Evan Longoria is the younger, power-hitting third baseman. But he has been with the franchise only two seasons, while Crawford will be entering his 13th season with Tampa—his 10th in the majors.

Crawford, who will be 29 this season, was even quoted in the Heyman SI.com piece that “I’ve been here since I was 17. This is all I know .” The Rays and Crawford’s agent, Brian Peters, tried to get a long-term deal done just after the 2009 season. But they were far apart, and talks were tabled until after the season.

That gives the Rays an exclusive negotiating window of about 15 days after the World Series ends to deal with Crawford.

The third—and maybe most important—reason Tampa will re-sign Crawford is that the Rays, excluding arbitration cases, are now only on the hook next season for $13 million in player salaries. Their best player, Longoria, is tied up for through 2016 at very reasonable rates. It is ridiculous that Longoria’s salary is only $2 million this season. It might be the best contract ever for a sports team based upon production received.

Rays who are free agents after this year include Crawford, Pena, Pat Burrell, Rafael Soriano, Grant Balfour, Randy Choate, and Gabe Kapler. There’s no way Burrell re-signs. Soriano is a maybe based upon his 2010 season—but not more than a two-year deal—while Balfour, Choate, and Kapler are replaceable spare parts.

The Rays have arbitration deals with many of their younger players, including BJ Upton, Matt Garza, Ben Zobrist, Jason Bartlett, JP Howell, and Dioner Navarro. I believe they get all those guys done for about $25 million—unless they deal Bartlett, who could be a free agent in 2012.

That is about $40 million—I rounded up—really tied up for next season. With a payroll of $70 million this season, Tampa’s obligations are about $30 million under what it is currently paying.

What the Rays do very well is promote their young talent. The have youngsters like Wade Davis, Jeremy Hellickson, Desmond Jennings, Sean Rodriguez, Matt Joyce, and Reid Brignac—who will make an impact this year or next. All will be playing at near league- minimum salaries for the next couple of seasons.

Some people are saying Jennings, a natural center fielder, is destined to take over for Crawford, who plays left field. Jennings is more likely to take over for Upton in center field, with the team moving Upton to right field or out of Tampa by trade.

I mentioned the hard-hitting Sean Rodriguez, one of the Rays younger players. He was obtained from the Los Angeles Angels in the Scott Kazmir trade, and he is expected to play a big role this year with his ability to play multiple positions. The Rays traded Kazmir mostly to rid themselves of his contract so they can afford to re-sign Crawford.

While many are saying the Rays could let Crawford go as a free agent and collect the two draft picks, they would not be getting the top draft picks—unless the Mets sign Crawford. The Rays made their current team by drafting near the top of the first round and by making shrewd trades. The pick from the Yankees or Red Sox would not be near the top.

Finally, I cannot see the Rays letting Crawford go as a free agent—knowing he will likely land with the Yankees or Red Sox—and have to play against him for the next five seasons. While Crawford is a player based upon his legs, he is good enough to give a team the same future production in the next five years as he has during the previous six full seasons.

But that production—an OPS+ of 103—is not good enough for a corner outfielder, and not at that asking price.

Not for a team signing another team’s free agent, but it is good to fit into the scheme of the current team.

The Rays can most certainly afford Crawford at $15 million per year.  They could even sign Crawford and Pena and still be at the same salary as last season—but with the versatile Zobrist and Rodriguez providing power, Pena is likely gone.

The Rays will compete this year—at some points this season, they will occupy first place in the AL East and could make the playoffs.

Crawford fits well with the Rays. He is the first homegrown star, the Rays want him back, and he is going to make a lot of money.

And that money is going to come from the Rays.


Jesus Montero: Why Can’t He Be Promoted To The Yankees Early in 2010?

April 3, 2010

I read the latest scouting report on Jesus Montero’s defensive skills. It might be the first decently positive report on his defensive talent—but the secondary reports by bloggers mostly reported the negative.

I bet those guys will be all over the Tiger Woods interview next week.

The biggest knock on Montero is that his big 6’4″, 225-pound body will not allow him to catch at the major league level. The immense size Montero projects will cause slow footwork, leading to incorrect throwing mechanics—leading to runners stealing bases at will.

While catching for High-A Tampa last season, Montero threw out 13 percent of base runners. But when his major league bat prompted a promotion to Double-A Trenton, his caught-stealing percentage improved to 32 percent. He improved his transfers—plus pitchers at the Double-A level hold runners better than they do in High-A ball.

In 2009, a total of 86 runners stole a base off Montero. His counterpart in Tampa, Austin Romine, split duties with him—and Romine took over full-time catching duties after the promotion.

Overall, in 2009, Romine threw out 30 percent of runners, allowing 87 stolen bases. Romine is widely considered the better defensive catcher, but he allowed one more stolen base last season than Montero did.

I know the catching position is more than just trying to catch runners attempting to steal—but in one area in which Montero was supposed to be hampered by his size, he is showing improvement.

In 2008, at Low-A Charleston—where both shared the catching duties—Montero threw out 25 percent of runners, while Romine cut down only 20 percent. With better CS numbers for Montero at two levels, why is Romine considered the better defensive catching prospect?

Is it due to Montero’s projections in size? It can’t be because of his desire to improve, as Montero has shown his willingness and the ability to get better.

Last year’s American League MVP was a catcher: Joe Mauer. He didn’t win the award for his defense, as he threw out 26 percent of runners attempting to steal against him.

Mauer also had three errors and allowed nine passed balls. His CS percentage was below average for the AL, and the nine PB’s were second-most in the league—and he missed the first month of the season.

Mauer stands 6’5″ and 230 pounds—bigger than Montero—but Mauer isn’t considered too big or nonathletic for the position.

As a Yankee fan, would you trade those below-average defensive numbers shown above for really good offensive production? I am not talking Montero putting up numbers like Mauer’s 2009 season—at least not in the first couple years in the majors.

I am talking maybe .293/.382/.426/.808 with 27 doubles, seven home runs, and 60 RBI in about 450 PA. Would you take those numbers for a young catcher?

Well, those were Mauer’s numbers in 2007. Montero has averaged better than those numbers his two full seasons in pro ball.

Before Mauer hit 28 home runs last season, the most he ever hit in any of his four previous full seasons was 13—and that was the only season he hit double-digit home runs or had a slugging average over .500 (barely at .507).

Mauer was only a high-average, low-power guy before 2009. He has grown into his offense, but his CS percentage has declined during the last three seasons.

The phenom Matt Wieters is also a big catcher, standing at 6’5” and 230 pounds. He threw out 24 percent of all runners last year, and he was just under 40 percent at three levels in the minors.

Again, a big catcher with below-average CS figures, he had five errors and three passed balls in 86 games behind the plate. But Wieters hit .288/.340/.412/.753 with nine home runs and 43 RBI.

I guarantee that Montero can put up those offensive numbers in the same 385 plate appearances that Wieters had.

Montero is all about offense right now, but he appears to be growing into his defense. The most recent scouting report I referenced in the first paragraph said, “Until he’s firmly entrenched in the big leagues, there will continue to be questions about Jesus Montero’s ability behind the plate.…footwork, however, is definitely still an issue. He tends to open up on his throws to second, and he needs to improve on shifting to his backhand side to block pitches…he’ll always need to put in extra work defensively .”

Those attributes that Montero needs to work on are all facets that regular reps will improve. Proper footwork and keeping the front shoulder closed on throws are items that can be easily fixed. But unlike a pitcher who will get better by actually pitching in a game, a catcher will improve more so by constant practice with a good coach.

And who might be the best catching coach in all of baseball? Tony Pena, a former MLB manager who is now on Joe Girardi’s coaching staff. Pena and Francisco Cervelli—like Montero, a Venezuelan native—would be working with Montero every day before games on the footwork and throwing mechanics.

Cervelli is an extremely positive, helpful person. Last season, when Cervelli was doing rehab in the Gulf Coast League, he would often tutor J.R. Murphy on proper catching mechanics.

That is why Montero needs to be in the major leagues as soon as his bat is needed—to learn the catching craft every day from the best teachers at the top level. He will not get the necessary training at Triple-A—even if the hitting coach, Butch Wynegar, is a former major league catcher.

Montero will get his at-bats in the majors—he is that good. Nobody questions that aspect of his game.

The Yankees have pretty much decided that in 2010, Marcus Thames will be the right- handed power bat off the bench. And Thames is likely to get a few starts every couple of weeks against tough left-handed pitching. He might spell Nick Johnson at DH or could— Ugh!—play left field in place of Brett Gardner.

While Thames has recently hit a few home runs late in spring and has good splits against lefties during his career, I do not believe he will carry this recent hot hitting into the regular season.

Therefore, because the Yankees want some value out of the $900,000 that Thames is due when he makes the Opening Day roster, his opportunity will continue into late May or early June. When his struggles continue two months into the season, he will be released.

And Montero will have been tearing up the International League by that time. There will be no sane reason not to promote him to the major leagues as that right-handed bat— and emergency catcher, too. If Jorge Vazquez is hitting the ball at Scranton, then he might be an option if Thames were the only issue.

But potential injuries are an issue, too.

The knee injury to Daniel Murphy of the New York Mets—and the pelting to the elbow that Mark Teixeira suffered—show how quickly things can change for a baseball team. An injury can occur while running the bases (Murphy and Chien-Ming Wang) or in any of the quick movements the game demands.

The Yankees are an aging team that withstood the injury bug last season, but are they a Nick Johnson pulled muscle or a Teixeira beaning away from drastically altering their well-laid plans?

Johnson has been injured throughout his career, and there is no reason to believe that he will stay healthy all season. I hope he does, but the odds are against it happening.

And Cervelli now has a tight hamstring—an injury which is really tough for a catcher. With Jorge Posada only projected to catch 110 or so games, the thoughts of Mike Rivera actually having significant time behind the plate would scare the hell out of any Yankee fan and have us wishing for the days of Kevin Cash.

But they wouldn’t need Rivera or even Cash back. The Yankees starting catcher at Triple-A will be OK.

If any injury occurs where the Yankees need a bat—but especially an injury to a catcher—I would roll the dice with Montero and take a chance.

Don’t worry about any arbitration eligibility crap about the team maybe saving a year’s contract. That is such a bunch of garbage.

If an organization has a stud player like Montero, Strasburg, Jason Heyward, or anybody of that talent, then you bring him up to the majors when you need him. A team would want to sign that type of talent long-term, anyway—like John Hart did with the Cleveland Indians in the early to mid-1990’s.

Like Tampa did with Evan Longoria and Colorado did with Troy Tulowitzki. The Yankees have done this, too, when they bought out arbitration years with Robinson Cano.

Even if Montero does become the Yankees’ full-time catcher in two to three years, I do not believe Montero will be a full-time catcher long-term—not because of defensive inability, but because the Yankees have too many good catching prospects in their system.

I can see a scenario in which the Yankees begin to use two full-time catchers to give their legs a break—similar to how NFL teams are using two and three lead-type running backs during the course of a game.

And all those young catching prospects will not be catchers for the Yankees. How many spots can catchers take up on the roster? If he continues to hit well, Murphy will probably be converted to outfield, and one of the others (Romine, Gary Sanchez, or Kyle Higashioka) will eventually be traded for another piece of the major league puzzle.

And if any of those catchers can play other positions, then they become more important—and the entire team becomes more versatile.

Montero’s defense is not that bad, and it appears to be improving. He is a hard worker— plus, he will always get the best instruction from the major league tandem of Pena and Cervelli.

It has also been proven by two current catchers, Mauer and Wieters, that big guys can play behind the plate, have below-average defense and still be productive.

Montero’s bat is very lethal, and if needed in the majors this season, it needs to be brought up to the majors—good defense or not, and arbitration years be damned.


Joe Mauer Signs Eight-Year Extension with the Minnesota Twins

March 21, 2010

On the day that the Minnesota Twin fans received terrible news about their closer Joe Nathan, they have good news from the receiving end of the battery, Joe Mauer.

According to many sources , the Twins have re-signed their 2009 American League MVP and three-time batting champion catcher to an 8-year deal for $184 million. The deal includes a full no-trade clause and keeps the homegrown (and hometown) All-Star with the team through the 2018 season. 

A press conference is scheduled for Monday evening.

Mauer is a Minnesota Twin for life.

There was much speculation that the small market Twins would never be able to afford Mauer, and he would go to the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees via free agency. But what these speculators did not realize is that the Twins ownership, the Pohlad family, is one of the wealthiest ownership groups in all of sports, with a net worth of $2 billion. 

The fact that the patriarch, Carl Pohlad, was a tightwad should not have reflected negatively on his sons who now run the team after his father’s death.

Jim Pohlad correctly knew that the Twins needed to sign their hometown son to be a Twins for his entire career.

That is the way baseball should be. The Twins drafted and developed a three-time batting champ/MVP, and he stays a Minnesota Twin forever.

I said this in a post to a Mauer to the Yankees article on Bleacher Report :

Mauer will sign an extension before the 2010 season begins, and the Twins fans will be happy .”

Even as a Yankee fan, I did not want Mauer to leave Minnesota. With all the catching prospects in the Yankee system, they didn’t need, and shouldn’t have wanted, Joe Mauer. 

Also, the Twins are no longer a small market team. (The term “small market team” is such a stupid term anyway because all the owners are filthy rich, and they can afford to sign their own players.) According to a report, the new Target Field and the Twins’ subsequent new TV and radio deals will give the Twins Top 10 ranking for outside revenue in MLB.

That fact, and the Pohlad’s vast fortunes, made the Twins signing Joe Mauer to a long-term deal to keep him a Twin for life a no-brainer. The Mauer deal, signing Justin Morneau long term, and having the smarts to draft and develop well (and actually play their young players), will make the Twins contenders in the American League for the foreseeable future.  

And that is good for baseball.


New York Yankee “Problems” for 2010 Are Actually No Problem

February 25, 2010

I have read a boatload of preview articles for the 2010 season, plus many articles on the 2010 Derek Jeter led New York Yankees and their attempt to be the first team to repeat as World Series Champions since, the Jeter-led Yankees of a decade ago.

Most pundits agree that the New York Yankees have the best team in baseball, and coming off a 103 win 2009 regular season and a World Series title, it is hard to argue.

But people always need things to write about. Many real baseball writer such as Jon Heyman and Buster Olney have written pieces about the Yankees chance to repeat. But hundreds of other bloggers have their viewpoints, too.

I believe most “bloggers” are just pissed off sports fanatics who could never play a major sport to any degree. Most of what they write usually is negative as they rip players, teams or GM’s. The writer never understands how difficult it is to do what those professionals go through on a daily or seasonal basis.

I even read one web site guy exclaim that the Yankees were too boring this off season and that he needed some controversy to write about. That guy has consistently provided material proving he is knows nothing about baseball.

The TMZing of baseball really galls me.

It was very difficult for Joe Girardi to walk in after Joe Torre was released, have many of his star players besieged by injuries, and be expected to win “because that is the Yankee way.” His team missed out on the playoffs in 2008 and Girardi was ripped mercilessly. Even after winning the World Series last season, many have wondered whether Girardi will be back for 2011 if the Yankees do not win a title again this season*.

*Truth is that Girardi will be the Yankees manager for at least as long as Torre, maybe longer. He is not inept. Girardi is a very intelligent as a baseball guy and as a former catcher, he knows the game pretty well. Most catchers make good managers as that position is involved in every single pitch made on the field, and the catcher is in the best position to see the entire field. That is one reason why scouts and front office brass sit behind home plate, it is the best place to see the game. Girardi also learns quickly on the job. His reversal last season of his 2008  totalitarian ways (with players and media) made for a better player/manager/media relationships.

Yep, Girardi will be the Yankees manager for a long time.

The non-extensions this off season of Girardi, Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter was one of the “stories” created by a tired and broken down media. Those people writing about the Yankees possible losing one of those guys, especially Rivera and Jeter, are the same guys who thought the New York Mets were waiting for Minnesota native Joe Mauer to leave his hometown Twins, become a free agent and sign with them next season.

Yeah, like that was going to happen. Maybe Albert Pujols will leave the St. Louis Cardinals, too.

The fact that the Yankee policy of not negotiating until the contract is over was given very little credence. Also, the professionalism of all three guys were never really spoken about much either. Anybody who reads my articles knows how I feel about Jeter’s next contract.

Other off-season controversies written about include the finally ended Johnny Damon saga, the lack of getting a power bat for left field and the competition for the fifth starter spot in the rotation.

But the biggest thing I read about the 2010 Yankees is the phantom issue of complacency.

Complacency about what? Winning? Are they serious?

The complacency issue is the biggest non-issue, because complacency does not exist with today’s professional athlete. There is to much at stake—another ring, that next contract, fame, embarrassment, but most importantly is that desire to win every game, all the time.

Do people really think that these professional athletes are not going to have the personal pride to try and win every game they are playing?

Once you win, like the Yankees did last season, you know how great that feeling is and as a player, you want to win all the time. Even before a player wins a World Championship, they want to win all the time.

It is why they are a professional athlete. That desire to compete and at a high level and to win. These guys want to win on the field, in front of the Xbox and at the clubhouse card table.

While it is true that at certain times during a baseball season that players might give away at bats or go through the motions in a blow out game (but never the Big Dago Joe DiMaggio), these professionals are NEVER complacent about their jobs.

I have always said that athletes are so competitive that they would still play a game just as hard in an empty stadium with no television coverage. If a mid-July Wednesday day game were played on a sandlot field in the middle of New Jersey, Brett Gardner would still sprint towards second base hard to break up a double play, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez would still dive for hot smashes down the lines and Jeter would hustle down to first base on a ground ball.

That is the mantra of the athlete. Compete and win. You want to beat the other guy and team.

Even on the level I used to play in summer semi-pro hardball, the games and season were ultra-competitive. We used to play 40 regular season games in 60 days, then playoffs. The season would stretch from Memorial Day to early-August, playing night games after work to Sunday double headers. The teams in our league were pretty much the same every year, the same core with a few new ringers.

We wanted to win, and were really not happy when we lost a game. I remember  a bunch of us sitting around for hours after losing the final game of the playoffs one summer. It was terrible. We worked even harder to have a better team the next season.

We weren’t complacent even in a summer league.

Do you think that the pro players would be complacent? No way.

Do you think that Nick Swisher is complacent after he won his first ring last season?

No. He went out, improved his hitting mechanics with hitting coach over the winter and changed his eating habits, losing 12 pounds. Swisher wants to become even better this season, knowing he is the starting right fielder. He wants another ring.

Do you think Jeter is complacent after working hard again on his lateral movements to continue his tremendous defense at short? Is Gardner complacent by working on his bunting to expand his game?

Even management was not resting on their laurels. Do you think GM Brian Cashman was complacent this year? Nope. He made a couple key trades to get the Yankees younger and less expensive.

I read somewhere that Cashman made his first inquiry to the Detroit Tigers about Curtis Granderson during last years playoffs. The Yankees did not even win the World Series yet and Cashman was already looking to improve the 2010 Yankee team!

And if complacency did occur like in the old days, it would only occur in the off season, as players maybe would celebrate too much, not work out enough to improve their game and not be in the same physical condition entering spring training. Most of the time players had to hold off season jobs to make ends meet.

But with the money in today’s game, the players’ full time jobs are their overall health and keeping in shape year round. Spring training is not like it used to be when players would use the spring to get into shape. Now all players keep fit during the winter, and the players use the six weeks prior to the season to get into BASEBALL SHAPE.

Complacency is not an issue for major leaguers and especially these Yankees. Cashman has put together a team of high constitution players, without egos and with a strong desire for commitment to the team concept. And that commitment includes working out all year to improve and be ready to play every day.

The Yankees do have the best team in the Major Leagues but may not win another World Series Championship this season, as it is just so hard to do that with the three levels of playoffs.

But it will not be because of complacency.

That does not happen in pro sports.

It is just another media creation.


Phil Cuzzi’s Missed Call Had No Effect on Friday Night’s ALDS Game

October 12, 2009

I waited a few days so I could read most of the reports on the great Friday night comeback for the Yankees. Most of the talk in the papers, on the sports talk radio stations and on television was about the missed call and how it cost the Twins the game.

Too many people now are wanting instant replay for even more baseball plays, but I thought we were stopping at only home runs. Technology creeping into the game, like Democrats saying the new Health Care Plan won’t cost very much…now, but wiat a few years when they need even higher taxes. Pretty soon replay will be wanted for close plays at first, every close tag on every steal attempt and every play at the plate. Might as well have a TV monitor right behind the home plate umpire so he can consult things quickly.

But no one mentioned that Phil Cuzzi’s call had no affect on the game’s outcome, and all the great baseball plays and performances Friday night played second fiddle to “the mistake.”

Alex Rodriguez hits a bottom of the ninth two-run homer off the Minnesota Twins closer Joe Nathan to tie the game, breaking his “drought” of clutch post season baseball, Mark Teixeira then hits a game-winner homer two innings later to win the game. That was important for Tex, because although he had a great, MVP-type season, New York fans incorrectly legacy your time in New York based upon how you do in the post season. Tex got the monkey off his back well before that animal was even born.

Other big plays included Nick Swisher throwing behind Carlos Gomez, with Derek Jeter getting that tag out on Gomez before Delmon Young crossed the plate on Nick Punto’s fourth inning single. Kudos to Jeter for being in the right spot on defense once again, and for Swisher noticing Gomez’ base running blunder. 

Also, David Robertson’s great pitching job in getting out of that bases-loaded jam in the top of the 11th inning might have been the biggest moment.

However, many people think that Robertson never should have had the opportunity to get out of that jam due to the missed call on Joe Mauer slicing drive down the left field line. The ball glanced off of Melky Cabrera’s glove, landed in fair territory and bounced into the stands.

The ball was called foul and no one on the field argued for the Twins. Mauer eventually singled in that at bat, but if the correct call was made by umpire Phil Cuzzi, there is a big difference in having a runner on second with no outs than on first.

Right?

Absolutely. After all the Twins then hit two straight singles after Mauer’s hit, so he definitely would have scored the go ahead run.

Maybe, but probably not.

If Mauer was correctly awarded a ground rule double, there would be a runner on second and no outs. As I said earlier, a much different scenario for the Twins…BUT ALSO FOR THE YANKEES. Do you really believe the Yankees would pitch the same way with a runner on second and no outs rather than a runner on first and no outs?

No way. The Yankees would realize that only a single would give the Twins the lead and their best way to get out of the inning would to get a double play. I venture that if the Yankees were in that situation, they would have pitched around the next hitter Jason Kubel while they had that garbage reliever, Damaso Marte, on the mound.

They would not have allowed Marte to even get a sniff of the strike zone against the power hitting Kubel, even if it was lefty versus lefty. At best, Marte would throw four straight pitches far away hoping Kubel would chase. The Yankees would rather have had the strike out machine David Robertson (yes, that is I who sponsors his BR.com page) face Michael Cuddyer with runners on first and second.

This would allow a better chance for a strikeout, and a good possibility of a double play if Cuddyer hits a ground ball.

So, the basic situation would be the same whether Cuzzi made the correct call or not. Kubel would not have had the chance at getting a hit, but would have been awarded first base when Marte threw the fourth straight pitch out of the strike zone.

The Twins would have had first and second with no outs, Cuddyer coming up and Robertson coming in to pitch.

It is the same situation the Twins (and Yankees) were in AFTER the blown call.

And Cuddyer singled to center field and the third base coach held Mauer at third base, even with the weak armed Brett Gardner now manning center field.

Mauer was held for two reasons. First, the Twins had the bases loaded with no outs, no reason to risk getting Mauer thrown out at home with no outs, even with the weak armed Gardner in center. Second, Mauer was suffering from a sore hip, one he aggravated during Game #163 against the Detroit Tigers when he slipped and fell around first base on a ball into right field. But no one really knew about Mauer’s injury until after the game.

After Cuddyer’s single the Twins went in order with no runs scoring due to the great pitching of Robertson and good defense by the Yankees.

The same situation which happened with Cuzzi’s bad call. 

Many people have said that because of the bad call, Mauer would have been on third with Kubel’s single and would have scored on Cuddyer’s single. What is not understood is that the game changes upon every at bat and many times with each pitch. What a certain batter does at the plate determines how the offense (and the defense) plays the next hitter, whether it be pitch selection, pitch location and defensive positioning.

So, if Mauer was correctly awarded second base, the Twins still would not have scored a run in the 11th inning.

But even if Mauer was sent in by the third base coach and scored, and the Twins tooka one runlead into the bottom of the 11th, do you really think the Yankees would have settled and only scored on Teixeira’s leadoff home run?

Me neither.


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