Jaime Garcia leads strong cast of NL ROY candidates

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Cardinals rookie Jaime Garcia put on a show Sunday afternoon in St. Louis, tossing a three-hit shutout against the Giants in what became a 9-0 Cards victory.

The young left-hander needed only 89 pitches to get through his nine innings of work and he did not allow a runner past first base.  According to Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, it was the first shutout by a Cardinals rookie since Bud Smith fired a no-hitter against the Padres in September of 2001. 

Garcia has been fantastic all year for the second-place Redbirds with an incredible 11-6 record, 2.42 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 111/54 K/BB ratio through 24 starts.  He must be considered the front-runner for the National League Rookie of the Year Award at this point, but he does have competition:

Starlin Castro – SS – Cubs:  The 20-year-old shortstop was thrown into the fire in early May and has done everything that the Cubs have asked.  Through 94 big-league games, he’s batting .316/.363/.438 with three home runs, 37 RBI and six stolen bases.  Castro has also shown improved range at the shortstop position.

Jason Heyward – OF – Braves:  An early favorite for the ROY, Heyward may still win it if he is able to finish the year strong and lead his Braves to the postseason.  The 21-year-old has posted an .830 OPS with 14 homers and 57 RBI in 104 games for Atlanta this year.  His .378 on-base percentage ranks ninth in the National League.

Buster Posey – C – Giants:  Posey got a late jump on his competition thanks to a delayed call-up, but he’s been truly excellent since finally landing that late-May promotion.  Over 74 games this season he owns a .341 batting average, a .903 OPS and nine home runs.  The 23-year-old has begun playing catcher more with Bengie Molina out of the picture.

Mike Stanton – OF – Marlins:  Stanton was called up to the majors on June 8 with a reputation for taking pitchers deep.  He’s done just that, blasting 14 home runs in only 227 major league at-bats and posting an impressive .848 OPS along the way.  His plate discipline does need work, but Stanton has legitimate 40-homer pop and he is already showing it age 20.

Mike Leake – SP – Reds:   The Reds have already shifted him to the bullpen in an effort to limit his innings total, but Leake’s performance this season is certainly worthy of all sorts of accolades.  He currently boasts an 8-4 record, a 3.85 ERA and a total of 90 strikeouts over 138 innings.  Garcia’s numbers are far better, but Leake has defied the odds in going from a college pitcher to a successful major leaguer without a hint of affiliate baseball and his Reds are headed for their first postseason birth since 1995.

Fringe Candidates: Chris Johnson (3B, Astros), Jonny Venters (RP, Braves), (Stephen Strasburg (SP, Nationals), Gaby Sanchez (1B, Marlins), Tyler Colvin (OF, Cubs).

Reid Brignac is trying to become a switch hitter

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL - FEBRUARY 26:  Reid Brignac #4 of the Atlanta Braves poses on photo day at Champion Stadium on February 26, 2016 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images
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Veteran utilityman Reid Brignac is in camp with the Astros on a minor league deal. The 31-year-old is close to being done as a major leaguer as he owns a career .219/.264/.309 triple-slash line across parts of nine seasons. In an effort to prolong his big league career, Brignac is now attempting to become a switch-hitter, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart reports.

I’m going to try it out this year. It was something that I just thought long and hard about and I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to try and see how it goes.’ I used to switch-hit when I was younger off and on, nothing consistent. I could always handle the bat right-handed. I play golf right-handed, so I do a lot of things that way that feel natural.

I just want to get to the point where I’m trying to stay in games, not get pinch-hit for, not starting games because a lefty is starting. … That could help me stay in the games longer. I’m trying to add a new element. I play multiple positions and now if I can switch hit and be consistent at it, then that can only help me.

As Brignac mentions, he’s also verstile. He’s a shortstop by trade, but has also logged plenty of innings at second base and third base, and has occasionally played corner outfield.

There aren’t any examples — at least that I can think of — where players began switch-hitting late in their careers and actually succeeding in the major leagues. As the saying goes, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But here’s hoping Brignac bucks the trend.

Video: Andrelton Simmons makes a heads-up play to catch Carlos Asuaje off first base

ANAHEIM, CA - AUGUST 03:  Andrelton Simmons #2 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim returns to the dugout after scoring in the second inning against the Oakland Athletics at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on August 3, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
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Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons fell off the map a bit last year due to a combination of the Angels’ mediocrity, Simmons’ lack of offense, and a month-plus of missed action due to a torn ligament in his left thumb.

Simmons is still as good and as smart as ever on defense. That was on full display Monday when the Angels hosted the Padres for an afternoon spring exhibition.

With a runner on first base and nobody out in the top of the second inning, Carlos Asuaje grounded a 2-0 J.C. Ramirez fastball to right field. The runner, Hunter Renfroe, advanced to third base. Meanwhile, Asuaje wandered a little too far off the first base bag. Simmons cut off the throw to first base, spun around and fired to Luis Valbuena at first base. Valbuena swiped the tag on Asuaje for the first out of the inning.