Rickie Weeks: All-Star

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We know who the NL’s best second baseman is, and Chase Utley doesn’t figure to lose his title any year soon. Second in line is an open question. Brandon Phillips is an excellent defender and a solid hitter, albeit one who is miscast as a cleanup man in Cincinnati. Dan Uggla last year reached the 100-home run mark faster than any second baseman in major league history, doing so in his 502nd career game. However, he’s a liability defensively who probably belongs at the hot corner.
It’s possible we’re seeing a couple of new All-Star candidates emerge this year. Martin Prado, who overtook Kelly Johnson for a starting job in Atlanta last year, went into Thursday with a .400/.469/.545 line in 55 at-bats. Rickie Weeks has been even better. He’s batting .339/.473/.610 after Thursday’s 20-0 rout of the Pirates. In 15 games, he’s scored 16 runs and knocked in 12. Only Matt Kemp has more runs scored among National Leaguers.
Of course, Weeks has always scored runs, even when those whining about his subpar batting averages wanted him removed from the leadoff spot in the Brewers order. In 497 major league games, Weeks has scored 350 times. He’s scored 0.163 runs per plate appearance in his career. Let’s compare that to the rest of the guys who have spent the bulk of the last five years batting leadoff:
Career runs scored per plate appearance
Rickie Weeks – 0.163
Johnny Damon – 0.157
Grady Sizemore – 0.152
Rafael Furcal – 0.151
Jose Reyes – 0.150
Ichiro Suzuki – 0.147
Jimmy Rollins – 0.146
Chone Figgins – 0.146
Brian Roberts – 0.143
Juan Pierre – 0.132
If you want to throw Derek Jeter into the mix, he’s also at 0.163 in his 608 career games as a leadoff man, but much of that was achieved during a higher-scoring era. In 160 games since he returned to the leadoff spot last year, he’s at 0.151, even though he’s a better hitter than Weeks batting at the top of a better lineup.
Weeks’ knack for finding home plate really is remarkable. He hasn’t played for particularly strong offenses, and while he has more power than most leadoff men, he doesn’t match Sizemore and Rollins in the department.
What remains to be seen is whether this will be the year Weeks puts it all together. He was off to a fine .272/.340/.517 start in 37 games last year, only to be undone by the latest in a string of wrist injuries. Weeks averaged just 95 games per season from 2005-09.
Weeks also has a poor defensive reputation, though the numbers say he’s gotten a lot better and I think most scouts would agree. UZR has him at negative 24.4 runs from 2005-08, but at positive 5.1 runs in 49 games since the beginning on 2009. It’s far too early to say that he’s now an above average second baseman, but I do believe he’s a whole lot better than he was.
If Weeks stays healthy, then I fully expect him to be the NL’s second-best second baseman this year, even if he ends the year hitting .270 or so. He’ll have a nice OBP regardless, and he could well score 110-120 runs. He’s also a possibility to hit 20 homers. Maybe Phillips has more upside if he turns in a career season, but I don’t think anyone else does.

The Mets are among six teams that help Dominican prospects earn high school diplomas

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND - APRIL 19:  A detailed view of the blackboard with theoretical physics equations in chalk by Alberto Ramos, Theoretical Physics Fellow and visitor, Antonio Gonzalez-Arroyo from the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid (both not in frame) at The European Organization for Nuclear Research commonly know as CERN on April 19, 2016 in Geneva, Switzerland.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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In a special for USA TODAY Sports, Mike Vorkunov details how six teams — the Mets in particular — provide an education program that helps their Dominican prospects earn high school diplomas. It seems like an obvious win-win: smarter players make smarter decisions, making them more likely to achieve their potential as athletes. That, of course, requires spending money, which is why only six teams make the investment. For the players, if baseball doesn’t work out, they are better able to support themselves in other ways.

Vorkunov lists the Pirates, Tigers, Phillies, Diamondbacks, and Mariners as the other teams who provide an education program for their Dominican prospects. We learned earlier this month that the Phillies were also investing in making sure their minor leaguers eat healthy. As Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, “few teams” supply their minor league players with healthy food options.

Juan Henderson, the head of the Mets’ Dominican academy, said, “We see the benefit of it. I gotta tell you, we’re working with a new generation of baseball players. You see in the past that players just carry a bat and a glove and a helmet on the baseball field and in the academy. Those years, I think, are going to be pretty much over. Now they also do that, but they also carry books, they also carry an iPad, they also carry a laptop.”

Kudos to the six teams for making a great decision and here’s hoping the other 24 teams follow suit.

Video: Albert Pujols hits 569th career home run, tying Rafael Palmeiro

ANAHEIM, CA - MAY 22:  Albert Pujols #5 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim returns to the dugout after scoring in the third inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on May 22, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
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Angels first baseman Albert Pujols cranked out a two-run home run in the third inning against Rangers starter Derek Holland, breaking a scoreless tie. It’s the ninth homer of the season for Pujols and the 569th of his career, putting him into a tie with Rafael Palmeiro for 12th on baseball’s all-time home run leaderboard.

Harmon Killebrew is Pujols’ next target at 573, followed by Mark McGwire at 583 and Frank Robinson at 586.

Pujols hadn’t homered since May 13. He entered Monday night hitting a mediocre .228/.309/.395 with eight home runs and 28 RBI in 188 plate appearances.

Alex Gordon to miss three to four weeks with a fractured scaphoid bone

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 22:  Alex Gordon #4 and Mike Moustakas #8 of the Kansas City Royals collide going for a foul ball against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field on May 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The White Sox defeated the Royals 3-2.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Monday has unfortunately been a day of injury news. Royals outfielder Alex Gordon is the latest to hit the 15-day disabled list, as he has been diagnosed with a fractured scaphoid bone in his right wrist. The club has recalled infielder Cheslor Cuthbert from Triple-A Omaha.

Gordon suffered the injury colliding with third baseman Mike Moustakas attempting to catch a fly ball on Sunday afternoon. He is expected to miss three to four weeks, MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan reports.

Gordon was having a tough 2016 campaign and the injury only makes it worse. He’s hitting .211/.319/.331 with four home runs and 10 RBI in 166 plate appearances on the year.

The Royals will likely use Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando in left field in Gordon’s absence.

Orioles trade reliever Brian Matusz to the Braves

BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 17:  Brian Matusz #17 of the Baltimore Orioles pitches against the Seattle Mariners during the fifth inning on May 17, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The Orioles announced on Monday night that the club has traded reliever Brian Matusz to the Braves in exchange for minor league pitchers Brandon Barker and Trevor Belicek. The Braves are also receiving a Competitive Balance Round B pick (76th overall) in the 2016 draft.

Matusz, 29, made his season debut on April 23 after battling a back injury since early March. It’s been a struggle, as the lefty has yielded eight runs on 11 hits and seven walks with just one strikeout in six innings. He is earning $3.9 million and can become a free agent after the season.

MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports that the Braves are expected to designate Matusz for assignment. Essentially, the Braves bought the draft pick for Matusz’s remaining salary of $3 million of $3.9 million total.

Barker, 23, has been pitching at Double-A Mississippi after getting a taste of Triple-A last year. So far this season, the right-hander has a 2.00 ERA with a 40/12 K/BB ratio in 45 innings spanning eight starts and a relief appearance.

Belicek, a 23-year-old left-hander, has spent most of the year with Single-A Rome, compiling a 2.49 ERA with a 29/1 K/BB ratio in 25 1/3 innings over 11 relief appearances.