Draft blog: Picks 16-50 – Cubs, Yankees pull off surprises

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Cubs selected RHP Hayden Simpson with the 16th pick in the draft.
A big surprise. Simpson, a product of Southern Arkansas, wasn’t viewed as a first-round arm. Most didn’t see him going in the first three rounds. The Cubs must see something special about him, but as far as we know, he’s a low-90s guy with no standout offspeed pitch.
Rays took outfielder Josh Sale with the 17th pick.
Sale offers plenty of power, but it will be up to his new team to turn him into a hitter, as he has a couple of holes in his swing right now. The question on defense is whether he’ll last in right field or if his lack of speed will put him at first base.
The Angels selected 3B/RHP Kaleb Cowart (18th), RHP Cam Bedrosian (29th) and OF Chevy Clarke (30th) with their three first-round picks Monday.
Three Georgia high school products. Cowart was announced as a third baseman, which is what he prefers. Many teams, though, were higher on him as a pitcher. Bedrosian has the big fastball-slider combo to follow in the footsteps of his father Steve, who saved 184 games as a major leaguer. Clarke is a speedy center fielder with some power potential. None of these guys will help the Angels for a few years, but there wasn’t a reach in the bunch.
The Red Sox selected 2B Kolbrin Vitek (20th), OF Bryce Brentz (36th) and RHP Anthony Ranuado (39th) with their three picks Monday.
Vitek, rumored to the Padres at No. 9, has already agreed to terms and is expected to move to third base immediately. The hope is that he’ll stay there, though it’s possible he’ll end up in the outfield. The Ball State product has a polished bat that should allow him to move through the minors quickly. He’s a future 20-homer guy. Brentz was another one of the best hitters in college this year. He has on-base skills to go along with possible 20-homer power, and he should be a pretty good defender in right field. Ranuado, an LSU product, was one of the players the Red Sox were often connected with at No. 20. His stock took a hit due to an elbow injury that took a toll on his velocity this year, but he has a great fastball-curveball combo when he’s on.
Twins took RHP Alex Wimmers with the 21st pick in the draft.
Wimmers to Minnesota was considered the surest thing of the second half of round one. A lack of velocity kept him from going in the top 10, but he has a plus curve and changeup to go along with his 88-92 mph fastball and the command is there for him to move quickly. The Twins aren’t usually aggressive with their prospects, but if they have need of him, Wimmers might be ready to help by mid-2011.
Cardinals selected third baseman Zack Cox with the 25th pick in the MLB draft.
A draft-eligible sophomore, Cox could be a tough sign, since he’d lose little leverage by returning to Arkansas for another year. That he didn’t go in the top 10 as expected would seem to increase the chances that he’ll head back to school. Cox has a promising left-handed bat that should allow him to hit for average and power. However, his defense at third base is rather rough and he might end up in the outfield.
The Yankees took high school shortstop Cito Culver with the final pick in the first round Monday.
The last time the Yankees took a high school shortstop in the first round was 2005, and C.J. Henry proved to be a complete bust. Of course, the one before that worked out better. Culver wasn’t a first-round pick in the eyes of most, but he has the range to stay at shortstop and he’s a switch-hitter. He’ll be quite a project.
The Tigers chose third baseman Nick Castellanos (44th) and RHP Chance Ruffin (48th) with their two supplemental first-round picks Monday.
Detroit lost its first-round pick for signing Jose Valverde, but that didn’t slow the team down. Castellanos may have gone in the top 15 if not for his University of Miami (Fla.) commitment. He could displayed 25- to 30-homer power in time. Ruffin, the son of former major leaguer Burce Ruffin, was viewed as one of the draft’s top relief prospects. His fastball-slider combination could get him to the majors in a hurry.

The Mets are a mess

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The Mets lost again on Thursday afternoon, suffering a 7-5 defeat at the hands of the Braves. It’s their sixth consecutive loss and the club is now in last place in the NL East. Not exactly the start the Mets envisioned.

Matt Harvey got the start, but lasted only 4 1/3 innings. He gave up six runs on five hits and five walks with only one strikeout. After the game, Harvey said he was tight and that he threw yesterday expecting to start on Friday instead, per Matt Ehalt of The Record. Sounds like no one communicated to Harvey that he’d be starting this afternoon until it was too late for him to properly prepare.

Harvey started because Noah Syndergaard was scratched due to a “tired arm.” Syndergaard blew reporters off after the game, according to Mike Puma of the New York Post. Puma then added that Syndergaard ripped Mets P.R. guy Jay Horwitz for letting reporters approach him.

By the way, the Mets also lost outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to a hamstring injury. Not much else can go wrong in Queens.

Joey Votto isn’t on board with the latest fly ball trend among hitters

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If you haven’t heard, fly balls — not ground balls or line drives — are all the rage among hitters these days. Tigers outfielder J.D. Martinez summed it up perfectly last month when he said, “I’m not trying to hit a [freaking] line drive or a freaking ground ball.” The goal is to maximize damage. Last year, for example, fly balls became hits about 17 percent less often than ground balls (7.4% versus 24.6%), but hitters had a slugging percentage more than twice as much as on ground balls (.539 versus .267). This refocusing has helped hitters like Martinez as well as Ryan Zimmerman reinvigorate their careers.

Reds first baseman Joey Votto, who is as much a student of new age analytics as anyone in the game, doesn’t feel that this approach is necessarily a good one, as Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Votto said:

Where I get concerned is the guys that make this attempt and burn out too much of their time and don’t get a chance to be their best selves, and either don’t make it to the big leagues or don’t perform their best in the big leagues because they’re always attempting this new style of hitting. I see it with a lot of guys. Everyone tells the good stories, but there’s a lot of s—ty stories of guys who are wasting their time trying things.

Votto added that while the fly ball approach is working right now, pitchers will soon adapt and the fly ball approach won’t be so good anymore. And he’s right. Baseball has always been a game of adjustments. For example, as teams have gotten comfortable with shifting their infield, hitters like the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber have both dropped bunts down the third base line for easy hits. Knowing that hitters are aiming to hit fly balls now, pitchers may stay higher in the strike zone more often as one possible solution.

Votto is just trying to stay as well-rounded as possible. He says that he wants to become “unpitchable.” Votto wants to be like Angels outfielder Mike Trout, whom he describes as a guy “who can do absolutely anything he wants” and “at all times [has] all options.”

So far, Votto is having another productive season despite a relatively pedestrian batting average and on-base percentage. He’s hitting .238/.330/.563 with seven home runs and 16 RBI in 94 plate appearances. Coincidentally, he’s been hitting way more fly balls than usual as he’s currently carrying a 42.3 percent rate compared to his 33.1 career average, according to FanGraphs. His line drives are way down to 16.9 percent compared to his 25.4 percent career average.