Return of B.J. Upton's power stroke the best news for Rays

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b.j. upton swinging.jpgWhile I’m pretty excited about David Price’s performance through two starts, the most promising development for the Rays during their 10-3 run to begin the season has been B.J. Upton’s power surge.
Upton, of course, looked for all of the world like a future superstar when he hit .300/.386/.508 with 24 homers in 474 at-bats as a 22-year-old in 2007. He went backwards in 2008, when he hit just nine homers, but he got on base 38 percent of the time again and then he rediscovered his power when he hit seven postseason homers.
As it turned out, Upton spent the 2008 season playing with a torn labrum in his left shoulder. Still, judging from the power he showed in October, he seemed in position for a strong 2009 after shoulder surgery the previous November.
His power, though, was again missing in action, and this time the rest of his game fell apart with it. He hit just .204/.297/.290 in 45 games through the end of May. A big June followed (.324-5 HR-22 RBI), raising expectations yet again, but he was a complete bust the rest of the way. Outside of June, his best OPS in any month was 622. He had just six homers and 33 RBI in his remaining 455 at-bats for the season.
The ugly season, combined with the likelihood that the Rays would need to free up salary, led many to believe that Upton would be traded last winter. The Rays, though, never appeared to entertain serious conversations with other teams. Upton stuck around, enjoyed a nice spring and has opened the season with four homers and 11 RBI through 13 games. He’s hitting just .234, but he’s walked seven times and he has an 865 OPS.
Besides maybe Evan Longoria, Upton is the most gifted hitter on a Rays team that also features the 2009 AL co-home run leader in Carlos Pena, 2009 MVP candidate Ben Zobrist and three-time All-Star Carl Crawford. He’s not only a threat for 30 homers and 30 steals, but in two of his three full seasons, he’s had signiificantly better OBPs than Crawford has ever managed.
If this is the year the now 25-year-old Upton puts it together, then the Rays just might have the AL’s best offense. Zobrist and Jason Bartlett are in for sizable declines, but the Rays are bound to get better production from catcher and DH and Upton could very well go from a 686 OPS to something in the 900 range.

Joe Mauer reveals he’s had blurred vision since 2013 concussion

Joe Mauer
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After a decade as the best all-around catcher in baseball Joe Mauer suffered a concussion in August of 2013 that forced him to change positions and marked the end of his time as a great hitter.

Mauer was doing his usual thing at the time of the concussion, hitting .324 with a .404 on-base percentage and .880 OPS. Since returning from the brain injury he’s hit .270 with a .348 on-base percentage and .725 OPS while seeing his numbers decline across the board.

Mauer revealed today to Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press that “lingering symptoms occasionally blurred his vision at the plate the past two seasons” and “he will experiment hitting with sunglasses for the first time to improve his pitch tracking” this season.

Here’s more from Murphy:

Bright sunshine sometimes triggered blurred vision that Mauer links to the concussion with which he was diagnosed in August 2013 after absorbing at least “two significant blows” from foul tips while he was still catching.

“I don’t want that to be kind of an excuse. If I’m out there, I’m out there. That’s just the way I am,” Mauer said. “There are times I’ve gone up to the plate and I just couldn’t pick up the ball. That’s part of the frustration because I’m trying to do everything I can to get back. It just takes time.”

There are more quotes along those same lines and Mauer’s numbers in night games were much better than his numbers in day games last season.

I live in Minnesota and it has been incredibly frustrating to see such a large (or at least vocal) segment of the Twins fan base treat Mauer’s steep decline as if it has nothing to do with the significant brain trauma he suffered. I’m hopeful that Mauer going public about literally struggling to see the baseball while at the plate will convince fans to treat him more humanely, but that’s probably wishful thinking at this point.

What a shame, on every level.

Masahiro Tanaka can’t say for sure if he’ll be ready by Opening Day

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Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka said today that he “can’t say for sure” whether he’ll be ready for Opening Day.

Tanaka underwent arthroscopic surgery in late November to remove a bone spur from his right elbow. Tanaka threw off a bullpen mound Tuesday for the first time since undergoing a cleanup procedure on his right elbow last October and, while healthy, may be behind other pitchers.

Tanaka posted a 3.51 ERA and a 139/27 K/BB ratio across 154 innings last season. He also has a partially torn UCL he’s been pitching through for some time which is always something the Yankees have on their mind when it comes to schedules and workouts for their ace.

Denard Span, not Angel Pagan, will be Giants’ center fielder and leadoff hitter

Denard Span
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Making official what was assumed when the Giants signed Denard Span to a three-year, $31 million contract last month, manager Bruce Bochy announced that Span will start in center field and bat leadoff.

That means 34-year-old Angel Pagan, who’s been the Giants’ starting center fielder and primary leadoff hitter for the past four seasons, will slide to left field and bat further down in the lineup. About a month before the Span signing Bochy said Pagan would remain in the center fielder/leadoff role, but the situation obviously changed.

It’s a move that makes sense, because Span–if healthy following hip surgery–is a superior defensive center fielder with better on-base skills. And if Pagan doesn’t bounce back following a rough 2015 season then having him in left field will make it easier for the Giants to platoon him or bench him in favor of, say, Gregor Blanco or a bigger bat.

Pitchers to receive new visor-like protective headgear

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MLB/MLBPA
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For the past few years MLB, the MLBPA and cap and helmet manufacturers have been working on various models of protective headgear for pitchers. Some of the models have been unworkable, some of them have not met the satisfaction of pitchers and others have, well, looked a little odd. At present the only pitcher who routinely wears any headgear is Alex Torres, who wears the bulky isoBLOX helmet.

Now, however, there is a new option. And, as you can see above it’s a bit different than what we’ve seen before. It’s more or less like a visor, which will have a nylon top on them to give a full cap-like appearance. The ear flaps will be lefty and righty-specific, given that righties are more likely to be hit on the right and lefties on the left given their follow-throughs.

The new caps will be given out to players this spring and, like the old ones, will be used or not used at the choice of the players. You can read more about the new helmet at ESPN’s Outside the Lines report.