Mike Stanton

The NL home run race heats up

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With Mike Stanton going deep again last night, there’s now a three-way tie atop the NL home run leaderboard:

1. Matt Kemp (Dodgers): 31
1. Albert Pujols (Cardinals): 31
1. Mike Stanton (Marlins): 31
4. Lance Berkman (Cardinals): 30
4. Dan Uggla (Braves): 30
6. Prince Fielder (Brewers): 29
6. Ryan Howard (PhIllies): 29
8. Jay Bruce (Reds): 28
8. Troy Tulowitzki (Rockies): 28

Stanton, playing this season at 21, could become the youngest player ever to lead the National League in homers, overtaking Eddie Mathews, who was a slightly older 21 when he first did it.  Tony Conigliaro was just 20 when he led the AL in homers in 1965.

Stanton would also be the first Marlin to ever lead the NL in homers.

Pujols, on the other hand, is trying for his third straight crown, a feat unaccomplished in the NL since Mike Schmidt won three straight from 1974-76.  Pujols never led the league in homers during his first eight years with the Cards, but he was tops in 2009 (47) and 2010 (42).

Kemp would be just the second Los Angeles Dodger to lead the league in homers, joining 2004 champ Adrian Beltre.

Uggla would be the first second baseman to win the crown since the Cubs’ Ryne Sandberg in 1990.

Johnny Monell signs with KBO’s KT Wiz

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JULY 06:  Johnny Monell #19 of the New York Mets runs back to the dugout after he scored in the ninth inning against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park on July 6, 2015 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Former Mets catcher Johnny Monell signed a contract with the KT Wiz of the Korea Baseball Organization, per a report by Chris Cotillo of SB Nation. The 30-year-old originally struck a deal with the NC Dinos on Thursday, but the deal appeared to fall through at the last minute, according to Cotillo’s unnamed source.

Monell last surfaced for the Mets during their 2015 run, batting a dismal .167/.231/.208 with two extra bases in 52 PA before the club DFA’d him to clear space for Bartolo Colon. While he’s had difficulty sticking at the major league level, he’s found a higher degree of success in the minor league circuit and holds a career .271 average over a decade of minor league play. He played exclusively in Triple-A Las Vegas during the 2016 season, slashing .276/.336/.470 with 19 home runs and a career-high 75 RBI in 461 PA.

The veteran backstop appears to be the second MLB player to join the KT Wiz roster this offseason, as right-hander Donn Roach also signed with the club last month on a one-year, $850,000 deal.

Phil Bickford suspended 50 games for drug of abuse

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 10:  Phil Bickford of the U.S. Team pitches during the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game at PETCO Park on July 10, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Brewers’ right-hander Phil Bickford received a 50-game suspension after testing positive for a drug of abuse, per the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Shaikin. This is the second time Bickford has been suspended for recreational drug use, as he was previously penalized in 2015 after testing positive for marijuana prior to the amateur draft.

Bickford was selected by the Giants in the first round of the 2015 draft and was later dealt to the Brewers for lefty reliever Will Smith at the 2016 trade deadline. He finished his 2016 campaign in High-A Brevard County, pitching to a 3.67 ERA, 10.0 K/9 rate and 5.0 BB/9 over 27 innings.

Two other suspensions were handed down on Friday, one to Toronto minor league right-hander Pedro Loficial for a positive test for metabolites of Stanozolol and one to Miami minor league outfielder Casey Soltis for a second positive test for drugs of abuse. Loficial will serve a 72-game suspension, while Soltis will serve 50 games. All three suspensions are due to start at the beginning of the 2017 season for each respective minor league team.

Brewers’ GM David Stearns issued a statement after the Commissioner’s Office announced Bickford’s suspension (via Vince Lara-Cinisomo of Baseball America):

We are very disappointed to learn of Phil’s suspension, but we fully support the Minor League Baseball Drug Prevention and Testing Program and its enforcement by the Commissioner’s Office. Phil understands he made a mistake, and we fully anticipate that he will learn from this experience.