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.

Royals pay tribute to late Yordano Ventura during spring training opener

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 12: Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of the game on August 12, 2016 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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The Royals honored former pitcher Yordano Ventura prior to their first Cactus League game against the Rangers on Saturday. Ventura was killed in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic in late January.

Rangers’ third baseman Adrian Beltre and center fielder Carlos Gomez paid their respects to the pitcher with a floral arrangement that was laid on the mound. Both teams stood along the foul lines during a pregame video tribute that highlighted Ventura’s tenure with Kansas City. Following the game, Gomez spoke to the media about his relationship with Ventura, describing their frequent conversations during the season and commending the pitcher for having “the same passion that I had early in my career” (via WFAA.com’s Levi Weaver).

A plaque dedicated to the 25-year-old was also presented to club manager Ned Yost as a more permanent commemoration of Ventura’s contributions to the sport. Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star reports that the plaque will be mounted in the club’s spring training facilities alongside tributes to members of the Royals’ 2014 and 2015 playoff teams.

The full text of the plaque is below, via MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan:

A brother and a teammate, Yordano Ventura, passed away on the morning of January 22 in his native Dominican Republic, at the age of 25. He signed with the Royals as a 17-year-old, eventually making the big league team in 2013 as a 22-year-old. On most days, he could be found laughing and joking with his baseball family in the clubhouse. However, on days when he pitched, that smile was replaced by a quiet confidence and an intense fire, which he brought to the mound for every start. He had many highlights in his abbreviated career, not the least of which was throwing eight shutout innings in Game #6 of the 2014 World Series to force a Game #7 vs. San Francisco.

Gerrit Cole named Pirates’ Opening Day starter

BRADENTON, FL - FEBRUARY 19: Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates poses for a photograph during MLB spring training photo day on February 19, 2017 at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.

The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.

Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.