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.

Evan Gattis undergoes surgery for hernia; recovery is 4-6 weeks

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Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle shares the bad news

One of the Astros’ big bats won’t be taking hacks when the Astros hold their first full workout on Feb. 23.

Astros designated hitter Evan Gattis recently underwent surgery to repair a hernia, the Chronicle has learned, taking away most of his spring training at a minimum. The recovery is four to six weeks but fortunately for Gattis and the Astros, the injury is not considered severe.

Gattis was working hard on his overall conditioning this winter, even telling MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart in late January that he had already dropped 18 pounds. It sounds like the big slugger might have gone a bit overboard with those workouts, and now he is in real danger of missing the first couple weeks of the 2016 regular season.

Gattis batted .246/.285/.463 with 27 home runs and 88 RBI in 153 games last season for the Astros. The 29-year-old is arbitration-eligible for the first time in his career and has a hearing with the Astros scheduled for February 16 to determine his salary for 2016. He requested $3.8 million and was offered $3 million when figures were exchanged a little over three weeks ago.

Suddenly the Astros’ front office might have a new talking point for those arbitrators.

Seung-Hwan Oh finally receives his work visa, will be on time for Cardinals camp

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At last check, new Cardinals reliever Seung-Hwan Oh was still awaiting a work visa from the United States Embassy in South Korea and there was some worry that he might not be able to arrive on time to spring training in Jupiter, Florida.

But that is now officially a non-story.

Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Oh has recieved his work visa and is expected to report to Cardinals camp next week along with the rest of the club’s pitchers and catchers. Oh might even show up a bit earlier than the Cardinals originally asked him to, per Goold.

Oh saved 357 games in 11 seasons between Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball and the Korea Baseball Organization before inking a one-year contract with St. Louis this winter. He also registered a stellar 1.81 ERA and 772 strikeouts across 646 total innings in Asia, earning the nickname “The Final Boss.”

Oh is expected to work in a setup role this year for Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal.

John Lamb had back surgery in December, will likely get off to late start in 2016

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John Lamb was part of the Reds’ return package in last July’s Johnny Cueto trade and he had a strong showing at the Triple-A level in 2015. But the young left-hander posted a 5.80 ERA in a 10-start cup of coffee with Cincinnati late last season — his first 10 appearances as a major leaguer — and now comes word from MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon that Lamb will probably have to get off to a late start in 2016.

Lamb underwent surgery in December to repair a herniated disc in his back — a surgery that went unreported by the Reds until Tuesday afternoon. Reds manager Bryan Price acknowledged on MLB Network that Lamb is behind the team’s other starting pitchers and will likely open the coming season on the disabled list. The hope is that he might be ready by mid-April.

It’s a small but frustrating blow for a rebuilding Reds team that will be looking to establish some foundational pieces in 2016. Once he is recovered, Lamb will be expected to fill the Reds’ fifth rotation spot behind Raisel Iglesias, Anthony DeSclafani, Brandon Finnegan, and Michael Lorenzen.

This is going to be an ugly year for Cincinnati baseball fans.

Yu Darvish will report to spring training on time, hopes to begin mound work in March

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Rangers ace Yu Darvish missed the entire 2015 season after undergoing Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery last March 17. Most starting pitchers take 13-15 months to fully recover from that procedure, and the Rangers aren’t counting on Darvish until sometime this May.

His rehab so far has gone on without issue.

Darvish offered some very positive updates Tuesday to Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram …

Darvish, 29, boasts a 3.27 ERA and 1.196 WHIP in 83 career major league starts. He can also claim a whopping 680 strikeouts in 545 1/3 career major league innings.

Texas has him under contract for $10 million in 2016 and $11 million in 2017.