All-Star Futures Game preview

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Unfortunately, the All-Star Futures Game, while a great idea, still
hasn’t really caught on as an event because of MLB’s insistence on
playing it while all of the major league games are going on the Sunday
afternoon before the All-Star Game. On the plus side, at least they
treated it like a real game for the first time last year and played
nine innings. The previous nine contests were all seven innings in
length.

Since the series began, the U.S. and World teams are tied 5-5, with
the World winning the last two contests. Futures Games MVPs have
included Grady Sizemore, Jose Reyes and Alfonso Soriano. Last year; it
was Red Sox prospect Che-Hsuan Lin, who hit a two-run homer as part of
the 3-0 victory at Yankee Stadium.

This year’s contest will feature 50 players, including at least one
from every team. Here’s a quick look at some of the top prospects to
keep an eye on:

U.S. Team

Madison Bumgarner (LHP Giants) – Bumgarner, the 10th overall
selection in the 2007 draft, has taken over as the game’s No. 1
pitching prospect while going 9-2 with a 1.66 ERA, 64 H and 68/20 K/BB
in 81 1/3 innings between Single-A San Jose and Double-A Connecticut
this year. He has exceptional command for a 19-year-old, which is one
reason I think he could help the Giants next month if the team is
willing to rush him to the majors.

Jason Heyward (OF Braves) – The 19-year-old Heyward gave Atlanta
fans a taste of the future when he hit .300/.364/.475 in 40 at-bats
this season. The Braves played it safe anyway and assigned him to
Single-A Myrtle Beach, where he hit .296/.369/.519 through the end of
June. Since his recent move up to Double-A, he’s hit .346/.438/.615
with no strikeouts through 26 at-bats. He’s baseball’s best prospect,
and it looks like he’ll be ready to make an impact at some point during
2010.

Mike Stanton (OF Marlins) – Stanton and Heyward could face
comparisons throughout their career, given that they’re natural right
fielders with big power potential born two months apart. Stanton had
been posting the bigger numbers: he hit 39 homers last year and he was
at .294/.390/.578 through 50 games at Single-A Jupiter to begin this
year. However, he has fallen to .216/.319/.431 in 116 at-bats since
moving up to Double-A. The big concern with Stanton is strikeouts, and
though he has lowered his K rate this year, he’s still fanned 80 times
in 80 games. Odds are that he’ll have some 40-homer seasons in the
majors, though they probably won’t come with particularly strong OBPs.

Brett Wallace (3B Cardinals) – The U.S. team is loaded at third
base, with the third overall pick in the 2007 draft (Josh Vitters) and
the second overall pick in the 2008 draft (Pedro Alvarez) joining
Wallace. Wallace is the most advanced prospect of the group, but he’s
also the least capable of handling third. He’s hit .294/.375/.443
between Double- and Triple-A this year. Since first base is pretty well
blocked off in St. Louis, Wallace’s name could keep coming up in trade
rumors.

Chris Tillman (RHP Orioles) – Tillman and fellow Orioles prospect
Brian Matusz were both deservedly named to the team. Tillman, who was
part of the Erik Bedard deal with Seattle, should be the first to
arrive to the majors, perhaps next month. He’s 7-5 with a 2.50 ERA, 72
H and 88/22 K/BB in 86 1/3 IP for Triple-A New Orleans.

World Team

Jesus Montero (C Yankees) – Like Heyward and Stanton, Montero is a
19-year-old who opened this year in high-A ball and has since moved on
to Double-A. He has the most impressive numbers of the trio, as he hit
.356/.406/.583 in 180 at-bats at Tampa and is at .285/.353/.472 since
moving up to Trenton. If only he were a legitimate catcher, he’d rival
Heyward as the game’s top prospect. Even viewed strictly as a first
baseman/designated hitter, he’s clearly right up there.

Carlos Santana (C Indians) – Santana, who was acquired from the
Dodgers in the Casey Blake deal last year, started out as an
outfielder, but there’s little doubt now that he’ll make it as a major
league catcher. That he’s a switch-hitter isn’t the only reason he
deserves comparisons to Victor Martinez: he’s hitting .266/.394/.494 in
Double-A this season. He has all of the tools defensively and only
needs to add more polish.

Alcides Escobar (SS Brewers) – The only one of the 50 players with
major league experience, Escobar spent last September on Milwaukee’s
bench. He may not be much more than a singles hitter in the majors, but
he has Gold Glove potential at shortstop. The Brewers will consider
playing him at second base in the second half if Craig Counsell loses
his hold on the job.

Neftali Feliz (RHP Rangers) – The Rangers recently opted to send
Feliz to the bullpen to see if he could be of use later this year. He’s
since allowed one run and posted a 9/1 K/BB ratio in 8 2/3 innings.
Feliz, a former Braves prospect who was picked up as part of the Mark
Teixeira trade in 2007, has one of the best arms in the minors.
Durability is a question mark, which is one more reason the Rangers
made the move now. He still projects as a starter for the long haul.

Junichi Tazawa (RHP Red Sox) – Last winter’s controversial import
has gone 8-5 with a 2.79 ERA, 72 H and 79/25 K/BB in 87 innings for
Double-A Portland. If the Red Sox needed help, he’d seem to be about
ready to get a look as a middle reliever. As is, they can continue to
groom him as a starter in Double-A and see what develops. It might be
that he’ll fit best as a setup man.

There will be Under Armour logos on the front of baseball uniforms

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Under Armour
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Yesterday’s announcement that Under Armour will be taking over the MLB uniform business brought with it an added bit of news: for the first time, beginning in 2020, baseball uniforms will feature the maker’s logo on the front of the jersey. From Paul Lukas of UniWatch:

While the Majestic logo has appeared on MLB sleeves, the Under Armour logo will be appearing on the upper-right chest area.

Lukas has a bunch of Photoshopped images of MLB players wearing uniforms with UA logos on it to give us a sense of how it will likely look.

It’s certainly weird and in some cases even a bit jarring. It would be my preference not to see baseball uniforms go this route as I think they’re aesthetically pleasing parts of the game in and of themselves. But it’s inevitable. If there is a chance for leagues and sponsors to make money and if it doesn’t cause them to lose fans (i.e. lose money) they will take it. You can say you’ll give up baseball if they put corporate logos — including paid advertisements, not just the logos of the companies which make the gear — but you’re lying to yourself about that. You and I will complain and grumble and then we’ll get used to it. At some point, after a couple of years, we’ll start talking about which ads look better and which ones look worse and applaud particularly savvy and pleasing looking logos.

As I wrote back in April when the NBA approved ads on uniforms, there may even be a bright side to all of this.

Sports teams have had it both ways for a long time. They’ve worked to make a buck off of anything that isn’t nailed down all the while pretending to be something greater than any other business. They play on our nostalgia and our loyalty in order to portray themselves as something akin to a public trust or institution, entitling themselves to perks no other businesses get and the avoidance of regulation. By turning players into walking billboards, perhaps the four major North American sports will inadvertently make some folks realize that they are just businesses and that they aren’t deserving of such special treatment.

I’m not holding my breath about that, but anything that takes away even a bit of the faux public trust luster that sports leagues and teams use to manipulate their fans is a good thing. Maybe it’ll make, say, the Yankees or the Dodgers look less venerable and sharp. But maybe it’ll remind people that they’re just business units of a $10 billion industry, not some fourth branch of government or whatever.

Bud Selig is still, laughably, pleading ignorance about the Steroid Era

COOPERSTOWN, NY - JULY 27:  Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig speaks at Clark Sports Center during the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony on July 27, 2014 in Cooperstown, New York.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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Yesterday I raked Bud Selig and the Hall of Fame over the coals. Selig for his considerable responsibility for the prevalence of performing enhancing drugs in baseball during his tenure and his failure to take responsibility for it, the Hall of Fame for inducting Selig while continuing to bar the door to players who used PEDs.

Later in the day yesterday a remarkable story was written by Jayson Stark of ESPN. It was based on a one-on-one with Selig in which his legacy with respect to steroids was discussed. It was framed by Selig talking about how the students in the baseball in history seminar he teaches at The University of Wisconsin recently grilled him about what he knew and when he knew it with respect to PEDs and what could have been done to stop the proliferation of the stuff in the game.

What makes it remarkable is that, until yesterday’s interview, Selig believed that he had done everything he possibly could have done to deal with PEDs. It took Jayson Stark telling him that, maybe, he could’ve done more:

“Now let me ask you a question,” he said. “And I’m being serious. If you had been me then, what would you have done?”

Frankly, I was amazed that he asked . . . So that, I told him, was what I thought he could have done. He was the commissioner. So the one thing he could have done, without needing a bargaining table to do it, was raise this issue, speak about it more, admit to it earlier and bring it to the forefront.

And Selig, as if he had never considered the notion, agreed:

“That’s fair,” Selig replied. “That’s very fair.”

A moment later, he looked me right in the eye again. “Maybe you’re right,” he said. “Maybe I should have said more.”

It’s incredible that a man as honored and lauded as Selig has been — a man who has been praised for his savvy and effectiveness as a leader and, eventually, a negotiator — had never considered using the bully pulpit to deal with what he has claimed to be his most vexing problem as commissioner before yesterday. And when I say “incredible” I do not mean “amazing.” I mean “literally not credible.” As in, I believe he is simply lying when he implies that the thought never occurred to him.

Rather, I believe that he had little if any interest in speaking out about steroids until, years later, he had no choice but to thanks to Jose Canseco and BALCO and all of the rest. Steroids served baseball admirably. They increased offense and made big stars out of marketable men and helped everyone forget that, just a few years before, Selig and his fellow owners drove baseball off a cliff and cancelled a World Series because of it. The men who employed Bud Selig, baseball’s owners, made a lot of money off of that juice and, as such, Bud Selig standing up in, say, 1998 and saying that Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were cheaters and that PEDs were a scourge that must be addressed was simply never going to happen. Not because Selig was in the dark or at a loss, but because, as it was with the players who used the drugs, it was in Bud Selig’s own self-interest not to speak.

Selig’s mendacity in that interview yesterday was even more remarkable than that, actually. Indeed, in addition to claiming he had no idea how to act back then, he claimed that, back in 1998, he was totally in the dark about why Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were shattering Roger Maris’ home run record:

“I talked to the Cubs about Sammy,” Selig recalled. “The Cardinals were thrilled with McGwire. It was a big civic celebration.”

And no one on either team mentioned a word, he said, about what was really driving those two men toward the threshold of history. So Selig said he turned to his “baseball people” in the commissioner’s office.

He says he asked, “What’s causing this?” And they reeled off what we would now describe as the usual, everything-but-the-elephant-in-the-room, theories: Expansion. The dilution of pitching. Questions about whether there was something different about the baseball.

“They gave me a whole bunch of reasons,” Selig said. “And I kept asking about steroids.”

Why Selig was asking people about steroid use in 1998 is a mystery, because Selig knew damn well that Mark McGwire was using PEDS as early as 1993, several months after he took over from Fay Vincent and became acting commissioner.

We know this thanks to an interview with former FBI agent Greg Stejskal, who was extensively quoted about his investigations into steroids in the early 1990s. Investigations which revealed Mark McGwire’s drug use dating back to 1989, which Stejskal told Major League Baseball about:

Stejskal said federal authorities, through their undercover operation, learned of McGwire’s steroid usage by 1993. A year later, Stejskal recalled that he shared information from the investigation related to baseball players with Major League Baseball’s then security boss, Kevin Hallinan, though the sport had no drug testing program at the time.

That story was written nearly seven years ago, by the way. No one associated with Major League Baseball has ever explained how the league did not know that McGwire was using PEDs in 1998 as a result. They clearly knew for five years by then. Unless you think that an MLB security chief, when informed of player being caught up in an FBI drug probe, wasn’t going to tell anyone about it.

Despite all of this, Bud Selig is walking around the Winter Meetings this week, getting his attaboys for his Hall of Fame induction and spinning unadulterated bull crap about what he knew and when he knew it with respect to PEDs in baseball. He’s gotten away with doing so for so long, so why should he change course now?