Next stop, stardom: 2011 breakout picks – Brandon Morrow

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With the fifth pick in the 2006 draft Seattle chose Brandon Morrow over local boy and University of Washington ace Tim Lincecum, who quickly became one of the elite pitchers in baseball while Morrow bounced back and forth between the Mariners’ rotation and bullpen before being traded to the Blue Jays for Brandon League in December of 2009.

Toronto made Morrow a full-time starter, stuck with him in the rotation despite a 6.66 ERA through 10 outings, and then watched as he put together a three-month stretch of dominance. In his final 16 starts Morrow had a 3.36 ERA, .232 opponents’ batting average, and 113 strikeouts in 96 innings.

With a 4.49 ERA overall his 2010 performance looks modest at first glance, but Morrow was the only pitcher in baseball to strike out more than 10 batters per nine innings while starting at least 25 games. And he racked up 11.0 strikeouts per nine innings, easily topping the 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings from the second-place finisher … Tim Lincecum. Of course, Morrow has always missed tons of bats and always had overpowering raw stuff, totaling 382 strikeouts in 344 career innings while averaging 94.4 miles per hour with his fastball.

What kept him from dominating prior to the middle of last year was an inability to consistently throw strikes, but Morrow made major strides with his career-long control problems by walking 3.1 batters per nine innings during that 16-start stretch after previously handing out 5.8 free passes per nine frames. He’s never going to have pinpoint command, but if Morrow can keep his walk rate around 3.0 per nine innings–and bounce back quickly from his current arm soreness–he has a chance to be a true top-of-the-rotation ace for the Blue Jays and is still just 26 years old.

My other 2011 breakout picks: Carlos Santana and Colby Rasmus.

Yoenis Cespedes blames a lack of golf for his early season slump

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Back during the 2015 playoffs the sorts of New York media types who love to find reasons to criticize players for petty reasons decided to criticize Yoenis Cespedes for playing golf the day of a playoff game. The Mets won the series with the Cubs during which the controversy, such as it was, occurred and it was soon dropped.

It was picked back up again in 2016 when Cespedes, while on the disabled list with a strained quad, was seen playing golf. Despite the fact that everyone involved said that golf did not contribute to his injury and that golf would have no impact on his injured quad, it was deemed “a bad look” by a columnist looking to get some mileage out of bashing Cespedes for having a hobby that probably half of all ballplayers share. They did it when he showed off his fancy cars too, by the way, even though just about every ballplayer has a fancy car or three. When you’re a superstar in New York — especially when you’re one with whom the media is not particularly close for various reasons — you’re going to catch hell for seemingly nothing.

Now there’s a new twist to the Cespedes golf saga. Yoenis himself says that his poor start — he’s hitting .195/.258/.354 and leads the league in strikeouts — is due to . . . not enough golf! From the New York Times:

He gave a possible reason for the poor start this weekend: not playing enough golf, a hobby beloved by many baseball players. And, yes, he is serious.

“In previous seasons, one of the things I did when I wasn’t going well was to play golf,” he said after a game on Friday in which he struck out four times but still drove in the go-ahead run in the 12th inning. “This year, I’m not playing golf.”

The story says Cespedes quit golf last summer because he worried that it was contributing to hamstring problems. He’s thinking about going back to it soon, as he thinks it’ll help his swing. Given that he’ll catch hell either way, he may as well do what he wants.