Futures Game: A look at the World Team

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We’ve already checked out the U.S. Team that will take the field this evening in Anaheim.  Now let’s get better acquainted with the squad representing the rest of the world:

World Team

2B Brett Lawrie, Brewers
SS Osvaldo Martinez, Marlins
1B Yonder Alonso, Reds
3B Alex Liddi, Mariners
LF Carlos Peguero, Mariners
RF Wilkin Ramirez, Tigers
C Wilin Rosario, Rockies
CF Gorkys Hernandez, Pirates
DH Francisco Peguero
, Giants

Starting Pitcher

Simon Castro, Padres

Notes

Brett Lawrie was selected 16th overall in the 2008 MLB June Amateur Draft and has already climbed his way to Double-A Huntsville.  The Canadian-born second baseman is batting .295/.359/.473 this season with six home runs, 11 triples and 24 stolen bases.  He should be a fixture atop the Brewers’ big league lineup very soon.

The Reds have enjoyed a breakout 2010 season and will head into the All-Star break at the top of the National League Central standings.  They’re also hoping that Yonder Alonso, a first-round pick in 2008, will begin to break out soon.  The Cuban first baseman has hit just .266/.333/.404 with nine home runs in 334 at-bats this season between Double-A Carolina and Triple-A Louisville.  Hopefully the Futures Game will be a launching pad for the revival of his still-young career.

Alex Liddi is the first Italian-born player to play professional baseball in the United States.  He’s batting just .265 with a .338 on-base percentage this season at Double-A West Tennessee, but the Mariners feel has a fairly bright future.  He doesn’t turn 22 until mid-August and he launched 23 home runs in 129 games at the Single-A level last year.

The Tigers signed Wilkin Ramirez at age 17 as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic and he is one of the few players on either Futures Game roster with a taste of the big leagues.  He went 4-for-11 with a home run and three RBI in a short stay in Detroit last season.  This year he has taken a step back, currently rocking a .219/.264/.368 batting line for Triple-A Toledo, but the 24-year-old still has time on his side.

Simon Castro will take the hill first for the World Team.  A top pitching prospect in the Padres’ system, he has thrown up a 2.74 ERA, a 1.08 WHIP and a 76/27 K/BB ratio in 85.1 innings this season at Double-A San Antonio.  The 22-year-old fanned 157 batters in 140.1 innings in 2009 for Single-A Fort Wayne.  To say the least, he has a bright future.

Jose Canseco to join NBC Sports California as an A’s analyst

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Hey, I have a new coworker: Jose Canseco has been hired by NBC Sports California as an Athletics pregame analyst.

OK, maybe he’s not technically a coworker, as the folks at NBC Sports California — formerly CSN Bay Area — and I do not hang out at the water cooler, have potlucks in the conference room or exchange secret Santa gifts at Christmas time, but dang it, I’m gonna TELL people I work with Jose Canseco. The only downside will be people assuming that, because he and I are on the same team, my performance is something less than authentic. Or, perhaps, Canseco may write another book and tell all of my secrets.

Anyway, Canseco will be part of NBC Sports California’s A’s Pregame Live and A’s Postgame Live shows. Live TV can be hard. I’ve done a bit of it, and there is certainly more to that gig than meets the eye. You can’t always prepare for what happens on the fly. I’m sure Canseco will do well, however, as he’s great with coming up with the best stuff off the top of his head.

2017 Preview: Cleveland Indians

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Cleveland Indians.

The Cleveland Indians almost won the World Series without their best hitter for the whole season and two of their starting pitchers for the playoffs. This year that hitter — Michael Brantley — is back and the starters — Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar — are healthy. Oh, and they added arguably the best free agent bat available in Edwin Encarnacion.

Baseball teams love to downplay their expectations, but given where the Indians are at the moment, anything less than another American League Pennant will have to feel like a disappointment, right? Fortunately for the Indians, they stand as the favorites to do just that.

They didn’t lose much in the offseason. Yes, World Series hero Rajai Davis is gone, but the Indians outfield will be fine if Brantley remains healthy. Mike Napoli‘s loss will be felt but it will be made up for with Encarnacion’s bat and probably then some. Coco Crisp left too, but he was not a key part of the equation.

The biggest losses are guys from last year who will start the year on the disabled list, most notably Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall. Kipnis is just starting to work out following time off to rest his sore shoulder. Chisenhall ran into a wall the other day and is being evaluated. There is no sense that either will miss extended time, however.

Otherwise, the lineup should score a lot of runs, with on-base machines Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor setting the table for Encarnacion, Brantley and Carlos Santana, who is entering his walk year. The Indians trailed only the Red Sox in runs scored in the American League last year and they should score a lot of runs this year as well.

The strength of the club, however, remains its pitching. Corey Kluber looked like his old Cy Young self last year, particularly in the playoffs. Danny Salazar built on his excellent 2015 season in the first half before falling prey to injury. Carlos Carrasco posted an ERA+ of 141 before breaking his hand and Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer both stood out for fourth and fifth starters.

The bullpen is excellent too, as relief ace Andrew Miller is joined by Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw and newcomer Boone Logan make up one of the relief corps in baseball.

Pitcher health is probably the biggest uncertainty for any contender, but the Indians have the best pitching in the AL if everyone stays healthy. And maybe even if one or two guys don’t.

It’s hard to find much fault with the 2017 Cleveland Indians. They are the class of their division and, while the slog of the regular season turns a lot of surefire contenders into hash before it’s all said and done, there is no reason to look at the Indians right now and think of them as anything other than the best team in the American League.

Prediction: First place, American League Central.