Arizona Fall League: Position Player Reports On Four Who Could Be In MLB In 2011

November 18, 2010

NOTE: This is a very long piece.

The Arizona Fall League is quite a place to watch games and to get glimpses of future major leaguers. According to the 2010 AFL media guide, over 1,800 former AFL alumni have reached the major leagues.

Last season saw Buster Posey, Jason Heyward, Stephen Strasburg, Starlin Castro and Mike Stanton play in the AFL, then star in the major leagues.

And the AFL is not just for budding MLB players. Current managers who got their start in the AFL include Dusty Baker, Mike Scioscia, Terry Francona, Jerry Manuel (an AFL Hall of Famer) and Texas Rangers skipper Ron Washington.

This season Don Mattingly is managing the hapless Phoenix Desert Dogs and Ted Simmons (who is on the Veterans Committee ballot for the HOF) is managing the Peoria Saguaros. Meanwhile, the Peoria Javelinas teams included Roger Clemens’ son Koby, and a couple of Cleveland Indians kids I liked.

However, the biggest drawing card was the Scottsdale Scorpions, who’s roster included 2010 No. 1 overall pick Bryce Harper. He was assigned late to the team, was technically on the taxi squad, and only was allowed to play twice a week, Wednesday and Saturday.

While my previous reports have been on New York Yankee prospects, here is a breakdown of several position players from other organizations who impressed during my week of watching 10 games in the AFL, including the Rising Stars Game.

Brandonbelt_original_crop_340x234 San Francisco Giants Brandon Belt shows his new power stroke

Eric Hosmer – 1B Kansas City Royals

Hosmer is a big (6’4″, 215 lb) first baseman who has shown ability at the plate. Unlike his early days of being an almost total pull-hitter, Hosmer has shown in the AFL a balanced swing and the ability to drive pitches the other way.

In two at-bats, both against Yankees pitchers, Hosmer lined a single to left field off Craig Heyer, then in the Rising Stars game he drilled a deep fly ball to left off of Manuel Banuelos. He let the ball get deep and used nice balance and bat speed to drive both pitches.  

He also showed a keen eye at the plate, repeatedly taking close pitches just off the plate, even with two strikes.

But I did notice that Hosmer had a tendency to drop his hands on several occasions.

Hosmer lacks even average speed and quickness, which showed on occasion around the first base bag. I thought his first step was slow and footwork around the bag just okay, while his tracking of foul pop ups were terrible. He made some nice plays at first, including a diving stop, but he did not have the range to get anything hit within a few feet of him.

But it is his bat which will make him a future major league all star. You may see Hosmer in Kansas City by the second half of 2012, but I wouldn’t rush the kid and (unless he dominated Triple A) would let him play the entire season in Omaha.

97569406_original_crop_340x234 Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Brandon Belt – 1B San Francisco Giants

It has been well documented that the Giants made adjustments to Belt’s swing, and he improved dramatically in 2010, his first pro season. He was a decent hitter at the University of Texas but has really belted the ball as a pro.

Over three levels this year, Belt slashed .352 BA/.455 OBP/.620 SLG with an amazing OPS of 1.075. He pounded out 43 doubles, 10 triples, 23 HRs and 112 “meaningless” RBI. He also showed great plate discipline by walking almost as much  as he struck out (93 BB vs 97 K’s).  

Seeing him for the first time as a pro in AFL games, I saw a polished hitter who can hit for average and power in the major leagues. Belt has a more open stance and has his hands much higher than he did in college. He is more balanced and his bat path to the ball is much more direct with the higher hands.

Belt adjusts great during at-bats, and on several occasions, a pitch which gave him trouble early was attacked much better later in the at-bat.

For example, a tight curve low and in caused him a bad swing, but later in the at-bat Belt hammered a similar pitch with two strikes to right field for a single.

However, the low and in pitch, both from RHP and LHP, consistently caused Belt trouble during the games I saw. That’s very unusual for the left-handed hitting Belt, as lefties normally dominate the low pitch.  

Jasonkipnis_crop_340x234 Jason Kipnis’ balanced swing

He does have immense power the other way. In Scottsdale Stadium, I saw Belt hit a home run over the left field fence near the foul line, and that fence down the line is 360 feet away. Belt also sent several long drives for triples deep into the left field gap off both fastballs and breaking pitches.

While he had 22 stolen bases this season, most (18) were at High A, where Belt took advantage of the weaker ability of lower-level pitchers in holding on runners. But, he did show very aggressive base running skills, going first to third on a ball hit to left center, and looking to stretch doubles into triples.

His four triples in 79 ABs in the AFL are a testament to his ability to drive the ball and his aggressive base running. I have always felt that triples were really doubles but with faster, more aggressive runners. Belt also has 10 triples during the regular season showing his aggressiveness is not a “small sample size.”

His speed and quickness apply to defense, too. Belt showed good range at first base, with good hands and a strong, accurate throwing arm. The arm is no surprise as Belt used to hit over 90 MPH as a pitcher at Texas.

Belt made two pretty nice plays, first coming down the line all the way into the catcher’s area to catch a foul pop. Next, he snared a hard-hit smash, then made a great throw over the runner to start a 3-6-3 double play.

Brandon Belt has star written all over him.

He is a superb hitter who makes adjustments, a plus fielder with good instincts and a good, aggressive baserunner who has above average speed.

Expect to see Belt during the 2011 season, probably after the All-Star break. If I were the Giants, I would not commit to more than one year for Aubrey Huff. No need for him in 2012.

Dustin Ackley – 2B Seattle Mariners

Ackley showed great plate discipline and a short, quick stroke during the times I saw. Combined with good hip rotation, it provided Ackley with a many hard hit balls and decent power for a guy his size.  

Not known as a power threat, however, Ackley works the entire field with his short stroke, shorter than what he displayed in college. He keeps his hands in tight to his body, innately putting the barrel on the ball on pitches both outside and over the inner third.

Ackley also continues to possess a good batting eye, walking at a 15.9% rate in Double A this season (in 344 PA), and although he had a reduced walk rate of 8.6% in Triple A, his AFL rate of 27% is amazing.

He possesses above average running speed, and although he had double digit steals in college, his speed has not yet translated to high stolen base numbers in the pros.

He played first base in college due to his inability to throw in recovering from Tommy John surgery, and was projected to play center field in the pro ranks. But his outfield defense was not especially strong and was moved to second base, where his good batting average, high OBP, lots of doubles and 15-20 home run power translates best.

Ackley has only one year of professional baseball under his belt, but has shown he can hit at the higher levels, and gets on base at high rates.  

He reminds me of Chase Utley of the Phillies. Similar build, ability to get on base and adequate defense at second base.

Expect Ackley to be in Seattle by the middle of 2011 as 3B Jose Lopez gets moved over the winter and Figgins moves over to 3B. But since Seattle is not expected to compete, Ackley might have to wait a few months to let his arbitration clock begin later.

Jason Kipnis – IF Cleveland Indians

One of the best things about watching AFL games is the opportunity to see players you have never heard of before, let alone seen live.

One of these kids is the Indians young infield prospect Jason Kipnis, a left handed hitter. While Kipnis played most of the 2010 season at 2B, he also played 3B here in the AFL.

He is not fully adept at either, but I do like his quickness better at third than I like his range at second.

Kipnis was a second-round pick by the Indians out of Arizona State, and also was a high draft pick a year earlier by the San Diego Padres, but did not sign.  

Kipnis can flat out hit. He has a very quick, compact swing which allows him to let the ball get deep before he attacks. And attack is the precise work for Kipnis, who looks to drive the ball on both the first pitch as well as an 0-2 offering.

And for a smallish guy (5″ 11″, 175 lbs), he can hit for power, too. Kipnis’ tremendously quick bat, good balance and rotation allow him to drive the ball over the fence. He hit 16 homers at two levels this year, his first pro season, and has hit three more in the AFL.  

He is an extra-base machine, banging out 11 doubles and three triples in the AFL. He aslo slugged .502 at Double A Akron with 20 doubles and five triples.

He is not a burner, but has good speed getting around the bases and his aggressive in taking the extra base. Due to being solidly balanced in his swing and follow through, Kipnis gets out of the box quick and motors to first base. On one of his triples I had him timed home to third in 11.07 seconds.  

He is very patient, does not chase pitches and handles the breaking ball very well. He keeps his hands back on off speed pitches and did not “buckle” his front side even one time, though I saw him swing and miss at a good curve ball.

I saw Kipnis play three different times and this was a typical good at-bat: He took a first pitch change-up just off the plate for a ball, then attacked at the same pitch on the outside corner, fouling it back.

He then took another outside change up for a called strike. He likely was looking for something in, and when he did not get a pitch in his zone, he took it. That is a sign of a real disciplined hitter, one that is comfortable hitting with two strikes.

On 1-2, Kipnis did get an inside fastball and fouled it off, then the 2-2 pitch was belted into left center for a triple. This is where he ran his 11.07 home to third.

He showed he adjusts well during an at-bat, handling both sides of the plate, and stays in very well versus left handed pitchers, hitting them for a .417 clip in the AFL with five extra-base hits in 17 ABs.

And his quick bat was never more evident than when he turned on a 99 MPH fastball from Chicago Cubs fireballer Chris Carpenter during the Rising Stars game, doubling hard down the right field line.

During his pro season, Kipnis has walked about 10% of his plate appearances, but had a 17.7% rate in his two full seasons at Arizona State. And he was very consistent his two years at Arizona State, generating almost the same amount of games, runs, hits, home runs, RBI, walks and stolen bases. Check out his full college career here.

And his consistency has translated to his pro career as he had nearly similar production at High A and Double A. He was hitting .173 in the AFL through last week, but a recent 14-26 surge, with eight doubles and seven RBI lifted his final slash line to .295 BA/.337 OBP/.628 SLG/.966 OPS.

Kipnis has all the hitting tools that you want in a player: patience, high contact rates, good batting eye, ability to hit for average and with surprising power. He runs well and appears to have a good “feel” and instincts for the game.

Plus his numbers in the High A Carolina League were also not inflated by the heavy hitting normally found in the California League, where many of these AFL hitters have put up great numbers. There is nothing really great about Kipnis’ game, it is just that he does everything pretty darn well.

Kipnis probably will start at Triple A Columbus*, and with the Indians having the likes of Jason Donald, Luis Valbuera and Jayson Nix on the current roster, he has a chance to be promoted to Cleveland if he has a good first half in 2011.

* In fact, as I was writing this extremely long piece, the AFL ended its regular season and stats were updated on the milb.com site. It now lists Kipnis as a member of the Columbus Clippers, so my prognostication was accurate.

COMMENTS

I will reserve my Bryce Harper analysis for a separate piece, mainly because I do not foresee him possibly reaching the majors in 2011—no matter how well he does starting in Low A ball at Hagerstown. While I can be greedy as I would get to see Harper play quite a bit, after his impressive AFL, though, if the Nationals had guts, they could start Harper in High A Potomac.

Also, there were other guys who warrant recognition, such as Cord Phelps of the Cleveland Indians, who makes good contact and gets on base, but has little power or speed. He does hold his hands a little low, but doesn’t seem to be affected by fastballs up or in. He will start at Triple A at second base (Kipnis at 3rd?) with a good shot of hitting the bigs after the Indians lose early.

The catchers were led by former top picks (and bigger names) like Austin Romine, Derek Norris and Kyle Skipworth, but I was impressed by Tony Cruz of the St. Louis Cardinals. I feel Cruz is a sleeper, who beside showing a great throwing arm behind the dish (he has thrown out a staggering 53% of the runners this season), also showed good range at third base in one game I saw.

He shows ability to hit for average and power, and in one game Cruz belted two doubles, one to the gap in left and one down the right field line, going very well with the outside curve ball. In another game, Cruz hit a long home run to left just after looking terrible on one pitch. A Jekyll and Hyde hitter who shows average patience.   

Cruz has a Molina-type body with a solid lower half, but runs better than any of the three. With versatility demanded by Tony Larussa’s Cardinal teams, don’t be surprised to see Cruz up by the end of the year if he hits well in Triple A in 2011.

I also saw a few speedster infielders in Jordany Valdespin of the New York Mets and Eduardo Escobar from the Chicago White Sox. Valdespin showed great tools, but little in the way of how to play.

He turned on a Jeremy Jeffress 99 MPH fastball like it wasn’t even an issue and showed good range and throwing arm on several plays. But he is inconsistent from play-to-play, showing a lack of concentration. He also swings at nearly everything and has poor hitting mechanics.

Escobar clearly has a future in the majors, mainly as a superior glove-first shortstop. He has good range and a well above average arm. But in the AFL, Escobar has shown some ability to drive the ball into the gaps and has terrific speed on the bases. He went from home to third on a triple down the left field line, and was in well before the throw.

If he becomes more disciplined at the plate and walks more often, the 21-year-old Escobar could become an offensive factor with the White Sox in 2013/2014 when Alexei Ramirez becomes too expensive as a FA.

Many people were enamored with Charlie Culberson, but I saw a guy who wraps his bat too much, doesn’t have a lot of bat-speed, doesn’t make consistent contact and chases pitches. I feel the numbers he put up in the California League were inflated and he will not have much power down the road.

However, I would like to see him during the Eastern League against consistently better competition this year to more accurately grade him.

Next up would be a report on up and coming pitchers.

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Cliff Lee, World Series 2010: How San Francisco Giants Took Lee in Game 1

October 28, 2010

Last night’s game was not the total shock many people think. I figured the San Francisco Giants would score a couple runs early against Lee, but was surprised the way they knocked him around.

The Giants pitchers also neutralized Mickey Mantle Jr, I mean, Josh Hamilton.

The Giants game plan with those two players were the key to winning Game 1. 

1) Cliff Lee vs. Giants Hitters

The key in getting to Cliff Lee is to be aggressive in the batters box. I have long discussed that on this site. Hitters cannot continue to take early strikes, get behind in the count and then have to react to any on of four different pitches he throws with two strikes.

Lee starts most hitters off with a fastball. He then mixes in cutters, curves and an occasional change up. He is also more likely to throw his curve ball with two strikes.  

And why not? It is harder to control that either the fastball or cutter and you do not have to throw it over the plate with two strikes, just get in low in the zone and you can be successful.

But the Giants are a very aggressive group of free swingers. They like to hack at lots of pitches early in the count, both in and out of the strike zone.

Against Lee, the Giants were aggressive, but mostly on pitches inside the strike zone, more specifically right over the middle of the plate.

They did not chase the high fastball. One of Lee’s important pitching traits is that he moves the ball around, changing the eye level of the hitters.

He works low and away, then up and in. He will throw the two-seamer or curve low, then throw a normal 91 MPH fastball up, many times out of the zone.  

But unlike the Yankees hitters, the Giants lineup did not chase the pitch up and out of the zone. The right-handed hitters also did not offer at the many pitches Lee threw just off the outside corner. That is why Lee probably threw very few changeups.

This forced Lee to work from behind in the count, and then have to come over the plate with his pedestrian fastball.

And that usually gets hit…and hit hard. While there were many hard hit balls, especially in that fifth inning, there were even more fat pitches which the Giants aggressively attacked yet fouled back.

Andres Torres, Juan Uribe and Cody Ross all missed fat fastballs over the middle. Lee threw too many pitches over the middle of the plate. The Giants hitters were also looking to hit the ball the other way, with right handed hitters hitting the ball to the right side.

That allows the ball to travel deeper and the hitter can see the ball longer. Going to right field hurts Lee’s pitching game plan. He thrives on teams like the Yankees who are looking to pull the ball, but the pesky Giants hurt him. Another reason why Lee likely threw very few changeups.

The Giants aggressive nature works well with pitchers who throw lots of strikes. That is why the Giants have beaten Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and now Cliff Lee in this postseason.

Watch for the Giants to continue to be aggressive on pitches in the zone, and their key to winning is to stay off the pitches out of the strike zone. Even Uribe took two pitches before hammering his three-run home run.

Credit the Giants hitting coach, Hensley Muelens, for putting together a good game plan for the hitters last night and will likely have another good one for tonight.

Tonight’s starter, C.J. Wilson, has one of the highest walk rates in the American League. The Giants will continue to be selectively aggressive.

2) Josh Hamilton vs. Giants pitchers

Right now Josh Hamilton has a long swing. He doesn’t have very quick hands and mostly swings with his arms. Does it have something to do with his rib injury from a month ago?

Since most teams pitch him away (like the Yankees always did in the ALCS), Hamilton continuously looks (and leans) out over the plate.

But the Giants pitches have worked Hamilton differently. They have thrown lots of off speed pitches away, but they also challenged Hamilton. 

And they challenged him inside where his long swing can not catch up even with a normal major league fastball.

In Hamilton’s first at bat, Tim Lincecum had to pitch to him with men on first and second.

But Lincecum got Hamilton to meekly ground out on pitches away.

Next time up, Lincecum jammed Hamilton on an 89 MPH fastball up and in.

Third time up, Hamilton was worked outside again and weakly grounded out back to Lincecum.

Fourth time up, Casilla blew an up and in fastball right by Hamilton then got him to fly out again on a fastball in.

The Giants pitchers got Hamilton out twice away and twice in, moving the ball around and not just trying to keep the ball away all the time.

Like the Yankees did, Joe Girardi worked scared against Hamilton. Most of the hard hit balls Hamilton had were on pitches out over the plate when the pitchers were constantly working away.

Look for Matt Cain tonight to continue to pound Hamilton inside with fastballs, but also showing him some stuff away for effect.

The Giants neutralized both of Texas‘ main weapons, Lee and Hamilton, and won big in Game 1. If they continue to play smart baseball and do the same things they did in Game 1, they will have an good time in Game 2.

Except for his high walk rate, C.J. Wilson is a similar type pitcher as Lee and can be approached the same way. Wait him out to come over the plate.

And the job of Cain and the able bodied bullpen is to bust Hamilton inside.

He can’t handle that pitch, and the Giants will continue to exploit it.


CC Sabathia vs. Tim Lincecum: Which Pitcher Is More At Risk for Injury?

July 21, 2010

Two pitchers with heavily decorated resumes.

The first, CC Sabathia, has more of a track record and is completing his 10th full season in the Majors.

The second, Tim Lincecum, affectionately known as “The Freak,” is in his fourth season, and has two Cy Young Awards.

However, both are known as workhorses, the proverbial baseball term that gives revered status to those pitchers who miss very few starts to injury and normally throw 200-plus innings per season.

Based upon their sizes, both Sabathia and Lincecum are on the opposite ends of the spectrum of pitchers you would consider workhorses.

CC is a hulky 6’7″ 290-pound behemoth, while Lincecum stands 5’11” and 170 pounds. Yes, even though Tiny Tim appears more slight, he is listed at 170.

Both have thrown a lot of innings in their careers. Sabathia has averaged 31 starts and 210 innings during his first nine full seasons, while Lincecum has averaged 32 starts and 226 innings in his only two full seasons.

In today’s game, those are huge amounts of innings…but somewhere Steve Carlton is laughing.

Both pitchers are headed for similar (if not higher) numbers this year. CC has made 20 starts and Lincecum 19, with both having double-digit wins once again.

Interestingly enough, Sabathia is the only active MLB pitcher who has double-digit wins and a winning record in each season of his career.

But with the similarities between the two pitchers (team workhorse aces) and their differences (body type), which hurler is the more likely pitcher to eventually break down?

I don’t think either one will break down anytime soon. Both have pretty good pitching mechanics. Their arm actions are great, putting less stress on their elbows and shoulders.

But history does provide a glimpse of those types of pitchers who have long careers, and they are not usually the slight of build guys.

There have been 70 pitchers in baseball history who have thrown 3500-plus innings. The leader, of course, is Cy Young, with a ridiculous 7,356 innings. It doesn’t matter what era you are pitching in, that is a preposterous amount of innings.

So, of all these 70 pitchers, only eight are of the recent era. They are Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine, Randy Johnson, Jamie Moyer, Dennis Martinez, Jack Morris, and Mike Mussina.

All of the other 62 pitchers played the bulk of their careers before the 1980s.

Almost all of these 70 pitchers were six feet tall or bigger. Ten were under six feet tall, and all but one played before the 20th century, when pitchers threw with less velocity but more often during a season.

The only pitcher under six feet tall who pitched in the modern era was Whitey Ford, who tipped the scales at a robust 5’10”, 178 pounds.

But Ford was a soft-tossing left-handed pitcher who would pepper the corners with moderate fastballs, change ups, and cut pitches (literally). Similar to Glavine, minus the cut balls.

There are not many smallish built pitchers who throw many innings, especially hard-throwing slight of build pitchers like Lincecum. Even Pedro Martinez and his lengthy career, has thrown only 2,827 innings, and he is similar in size to Lincecum with the same velocity.

Martinez, who had tremendous pitching mechanics, ended up having rotator cuff surgery in 2006. His rotator cuff issues began back in 2001 (at age 29) when he missed a good chunk of that year to the injured shoulder.

Lincecum is now 26 years old, but at the same age, Pedro had thrown about 300 more innings than Lincecum will throw this season.  

Sabathia, as of this writing, has thrown 2,027 innings. That is good for 404th place all time. At his current rate, CC will move into the 360th-place range.

He has a workhorse frame, and even with the seven postseason series (and 61 more innings), Sabathia looks as strong as the day he broke into the Majors.

With his slight build, Lincecum should not compile as long a Major League career as Sabathia. He may not break down for major arm surgery like Pedro, but I would not bet against it.

History shows us smaller guys do not last as long or throw as many innings as bigger guys.

But both smaller and bigger guys end up getting surgery. That is the nature of the beast with pitchers.

They say pitchers’ careers are made with their legs, and the arms are just along for the ride. When the legs get tired, the arm gets tired, and that is when injuries occur.

That is why a Major League pitcher who is throwing around 120 pitches can still throw more if his legs are strong, but a guy can be wiped out after 90 if his legs are weak.

From the looks of both pitchers, it appears Sabathia’s legs have a bunch more strength than Lincecum’s.

For that reason, his size, and the longer history of sustained work with no ill effects, I believe CC Sabathia will have the longer career, logging many more innings than “The Freak.”


Johnny Damon Needs the Yankees More Than the Yankees Need Damon

November 29, 2009

While every one is pondering why Roy Halladay is needed on the Yankees (he isn’t), I want to focus on the first free agent deal that Brian Cashman will attempt to get done.

After Johnny Damon finally helped the New York Yankees back to the World Series, and winning their first title since 2001, he is a free agent again. And every time Damon has been a free agent, he has changed teams. He was the good corporate guy who said all the right things before, during and after the big parade down the Canyon of Heroes.

Damon would “love to be a Yankee again,” and he wants “to end my career in New York.”

But after making the defining play of this years World Series with his double steal, smart dash to third base, it appears Damon does want more of the Yankees…more of their money and more years in his contract.  

Before his breakout in the 2009 post season, it was widely thought that the Yankees and Damon would agree to a one year deal with incentives, similar to what Andy Pettitte signed with New York last off season. That type of situation would work well for both sides; the Yankees would retain the popular Damon with reasonable dollar figures and Damon would continue to play his usual 150+ games per season.

Damon would play mostly left field and occasionally DH to give his 36-year-old legs a rest.

Now Damon (his wife, Michelle and agent Scott Boras) says that many teams are interested in his services, and he has told friends that he will not give the Yankees a discount to stay with the World Champs.

There is no other way to say this – Johnny Damon is a moron. Simply put, if he leaves the Yankees then he is a very stupid individual.

While a member of the Boston Red Sox, Damon was considered one of the “idiots” of their 2004 World Series title team.

That name aptly fits this older version of Damon, too.

After finally experiencing a World Championship in the best city to win a sports title of any kind, Damon wants more money. His agent has bandied about needing a four year deal for the 36-year-old outfielder. But Boras’ free agent rants never get his client wha he says they deserve.

In separate interviews Boras has said that Damon should get the same type of deal that Yankee catcher Jorge Posada (also 36 at the time) received prior to the 2008 season. Then Boras said that Damon “made Derek Jeter” by hitting behind him this season and his client compares favorably (saber and fantasy stat wise) to the Yankee Captain over the last three seasons. He stated that “whatever the Yankees plan on doing with Jeter long-term, Damon deserves similar consideration.”

Problem for Boras and Damon is that the decision on Johnny will come well before any work on Jeter’s new deal begins.

Also, Boras does not realize (or maybe he does and is just blowing his usual smoke), that the Yankees really needed Posada that off season, as they had nothing in their system at the catching position remotely close to the major leagues and the other choices available in free agency or via trades were terrible.  At that time Francisco Cervelli had finished his first full season in the minors at High-A Tampa.

In fact, the Yankees were willing to give Posada a three-year deal, but had to go the extra year because Jorge was being courted by Omar Minaya and the New York Mets, and at that time, the best available catcher was their own backup Jose Molina or free agent Paul LoDuca. Also, Alex Rodriguez had already opted out of his Yankee deal at that time, and the Yankees were in desperate need of  right handed power, something the switch-hitting Posada provided.

Also, Posada plays a more demanding position (although not as well as his younger years) and was a mainstay Yankee from their dynasty years, part of the vaunted Core Four.

Not quite the same situation as with Damon is it Mr. Boras? But when have you ever been reasonable in your free agent demands?

And in regards to comparing Damon to Mr. Jeter, a five-time World Series winner, de facto leader of the Yankees over the last 10 years, this generation’s version of Joe DiMaggio and a sure fire first-ballot Hall of Famer… well I guess I just said all their needs to be said.

As the title of the piece says, Damon needs the Yankees more than the Yankees need him. Their are quite a few left fielders available via free agency (Jason Bay and Matt Holliday) and within the Yankees own system – they can promote Austin Jackson, and have a trio of Jackson, Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner man center and left field. Lefty power can be supplied by Juan Miranda or re-signing Eric Hinske.

Or the rumored trade involving the Yankees and Detroit Tigers for center fielder Curtis Granderson would move Cabrera or Gardner to left field and Granderson in center will supply the lefty power Damon provided last season. While I personally do not like Granderson for the Yankees, it is another option for Brian Cashman.

According to reports Damon has options, too. Remember that even Damon said several teams have shown interest. Those teams include the San Francisco Giants and Chicago White Sox (very early reports). But lefty hitters are a dime a dozen. What most teams need is righty power such as Bay and Holliday. The Red Sox, Rangers, Rays and a dozen other teams fit this category.

And from what I remember, Damon hits left handed. So I do believe some teams are interested in a guy who put up a line of .284/.365/.489 this season with an OPS+ of 126. It is just that those teams are not good and would be in Damon’s worst interest to sign with them.

Damon needs to think about himself first, but not in the monetary sense, but in terms of legacy. It is what every person wonders – how will I be remembered in this game, business, job, family etc? And in major league baseball, legacy is determined by World Series Championships and the Hall of Fame.

According to baseball-reference.com, Damon has made a tick over $97 million in his baseball career. Assuming he hasn’t blown it all (and TMZ is more busy following Tiger Woods’ life), he is pretty well set, as are his children, his future grandchildren AND THEIR future grandchildren!

Unless you are Montgomery Brewster, a person can’t even begin to spend all that cash.

In other words Damon doesn’t need any more money.

What Damon does need is more career hits, runs, doubles,  HR’s and RBI’s. Evidenced by his never being in the Top 10 of any MVP vote, Damon has not been dominating in any aspect of his game during any part of his career.

Damon needs to accumulate stats to even get a whiff of the Hall of Fame. He has two World Series rings, but Damon needs to get 3,000 hits, needs to get to around 1,800 runs scored, needs 600 doubles, needs 300 homers and needs about 1,300 RBI’s.

Is Damon going to get to those numbers hitting second in the White Sox lineup? Will he get there hitting in spacious AT&T Park in San Francisco, hellish for a lefty hitter? No and no. The Red Sox might need a left fielder this year, but Damon can never go back there.

Damon bests interests  for HOF consideration (and a great legacy) in playing for the Yankees where he gets to hit in cozy Yankee Stadium, hitting behind a Hall of Famer in Jeter and in front of Mark Teixeira (potential HOFer) and Alex Rodriguez (lock HOFer). Hitting in that lineup, while in that park will get Damon more of the accumulated stats he needs to get serious Hall of Fame votes somewhere around 2020.

It would be great for Damon if they can work out that two year deal, and a TEAM OPTION for a third, which would keep Damon hungry for more.

Here is what Damon said during the parade, “I want to continue to be on a team that can win and to play in front of great fans – and we know that the Yankees fill both of those,” Damon said. “I think everyone knows my desire to come back. Still, every time I’ve been a free agent, I’ve ended up switching teams. It’s the nature of the beast. If people are interested, I’m going to listen.”

Go ahead and listen to them Johnny, because when you take that bigger contract in San Francisco for more money and years, but fall short in career numbers for the Hall of  Fame, you only have yourself to blame. Imagine a 70-year-old Damon sitting on the front porch answering another reporter’s question about his thoughts on falling short of the Hall of Fame?

Don’t be an “idiot” this time around Johnny, but be a man and tell your agent, Mr. Boras, to get a deal done with the Yankees.

It will be in your legacy’s best interest.


A Long Game Won on a Home Run by a Future HOFer

August 10, 2009

Two teams going at it for 15 innings with zeroes down the line. Two great lineups with future HOFers and former MVP’s.

But there were two equally as effective, and downright dominating, starters who went toe to toe, keeping those potent lineups at bay.

The game finally ended late with a home run off the bat of a future Hall of Famer, winning the game with a walk-off blast for the home team.

Friday night’s Yankee-Red Sox game won on an Alex Rodriguez two-run home run? Nope.

We are talking about the epic 16 inning contest between the Milwaukee Braves and San Francisco Giants on July 2, 1963 at Candlestick Park, which ended on a Willie Mays one-out, solo HR in the bottom of the 16th. 

The big difference between Friday night’s Red Sox-Yankees game and the game 46 years ago is while the most recent game used 14 pitchers, the game 46 years ago used 2.

Both starters, Juan Marichal of the Giants and Warren Spahn of the Braves went the distance. When the game ended it was 16 innings (and the win) for the Dominican Dandy and 15.1 innings (and the loss) for the 42-year old Spahn.

No bullpen needed, no lefty on lefty matchups, no strategy sessions between manager and pitching coach.

Marichal faced 59 batters, allowed seven hits, struck out 10 and walked four. He has said he threw 227 pitches in the contest. Spahn likely threw a far fewer amount because he only struck out two and walked one. He faced 56 batters and allowed only nine hits.

True iron men indeed!

Marichal also said that manager Alvin Dark came out in the 9th, 10th and 15th innings in an attempt to remove him from the game. In a recent interview, the 25 year old Marichal recalled the last meeting on the mound,  “I told Dark in the 15th, ‘I’m not leaving while that old guy is still on the mound.’ I remember I kept telling myself, ‘Okay just one more inning.’ I just didn’t want to leave before him. I didn’t want that old man lasting longer than me. But he was incredible, and I wound up staying there a lot longer than I thought I would.”

Marichal’s performance scored a Game Score of 112, the highest Game Score for any pitcher in the Post WWII era.

Both games are epics (how many times will we see the most recent contest on the YES network this off season?), having extended into the early morning hours of the next day, giving the remaining fans hope that their team will win.

After Mays’ homer, the game finally had a winner, but the real winners were the two iron men who dueled it out for 15+ innings each. With the prevalence of intense media scrutiny, agents overseeing that their pitchers aren’t “overworked,” Baseball Prospectus article such as this and Tom Verducci writing his yearly anti-pitching article, games like the Marichal-Spahn duel will never occur again.

Baseball Prospectus actually updated their findings five years later.

Both Marichal’s and Spahn’s intense will, determination, refusal to be removed and ability to throw strikes led to their success that summer night in San Francisco, as well as their eternal success in reaching the Baseball Hall of Fame.

They also are recognized as one of the greatest mano-y-mano pitching match up in baseball history.

It would have been great if AJ Burnett (7.2 IP, 118 P) and Josh Beckett (7 IP, 115 P) did the same, but they didn’t.

In addition to Marichal and Spahn, even Austin Wood is laughing.


Mets Need to Emulate The San Francisco Giants by Using Their Youngsters

July 13, 2009

Congratualtions to Jonathan Sanchez of the San Francisco Giants on throwing the first no-hitter of the 2009 season.

Pulled from the rotation a few weeks agao, Sanchez was pressed into duty when Randy Johnson went on the disabled list. However, reports already have Sanchez heading out of town via a trade.

It led me thinking about how the Giants are currently leading the NL Wild Card race. The are doing it with pitching, pitching and more pitching. They have Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain as a potent 1-2 with Barry Zito, Randy Johnson (now Sanchez) and Ryan Sadowski, who was called up from AAA to replace Sanchez. The best hurlers right now for the Giants are the three younger, homegrown talents.

Similar to the Mets and CitiField, the Giants have a big ball park with a few quirks out in right field. They use their pitching and defense to help them win games.

To coincide with their deep pitching, the Giants young hitters are beginning to shine. Pablo Sandoval is their best young slugger, but other hitters such as first baseman Travis Ishikawa and RF Nate Schierholtz also have begun to hit as well. The hitters aren’t as talented as the young pitchers, but the Giants are on the right track.

Ishikawa and Schierholtz both have been given time to adjust and improve to major league pitching, and each has held their own. And new call up John Bowker (.347 BA, 17 HR’s, 63 RBI’s  in AAA) has already homered for the Giants.

With the taste of the playoffs going on right now for the Giants, they have entrusted their first serious run for October baseball at the hands of many young players. And as the Tampa Bay Rays have shown the last two seasons, major league baseball has turned into a young man’s game.

That is something the Mets need to emulate. They are now 6.5 games behind the Philadelphia Phillies  (another team using their homegrown players), and need to leapfrog both the Atlanta Braves (6.0 games out, more developed players) and the Florida Marlins (4.o games out) to get into second place.

The Mets need to do it the way the other teams are; by getting younger and using better pitching in a bigger ballpark. The Jeff Francoeur trade was a step in the right direction in getting younger. Forget about the other big sluggers, who offer nothing but fly ball outs in spacious CitiField.

Let the young guys have at it, Omar! Bring up Jonathan Niese to replace Livan Hernandez and let Daniel Murphy and Nick Evans more playing time, but Evans was just sent down and replaced by Angel Pagan.

On the various radio shows I appear on as a baseball analyst, I have long documented how Omar Minaya’s moves as GM have always been about winning now, and not for the future.  Omar has systematically let the Mets minor league system fail as there were no top prospects to come up and help now and last season, when the team needed such players.

As a GM you can try and win now and still continue to build the farm system.

Now, if the Mets decide they are going to make a trade to get better players, they will have to further deplete the farm system. That is on Minaya’s head as the Mets did not have anyone to adequately replace Delgado, Beltran, Reyes, Maine and Oliver Perez.

Well…they actually performed better when Perez went down.

But you can’t say that the Mets traded a bunch of prospects for Johan Santana as the reason for their depleted base of ready young players, as only Carlos Gomez from that group would have stepped in for those injured players.

It is time for Minaya to reverse course and go with the youngsters and trade veterans for more young kids, specifically some better pitching. Give the kids time and lets see what they can do for a half season and into next year.

You aren’t catching the Phillies this season or maybe even next year, and that is a tough pill to swallow. Last time Minaya thought he could catch a powerful team ahead of him in the standings, he traded Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips and Grady Sizemore for Bartolo Colon. The Montreal Expos (also 6.0 games back at that time) only ended up 19 games behind the Atlanta Braves that season.

So Minaya needs to improve his current organization for the future…even if Minaya is not here to bask in the glow.