Ryan Howard is “very optimistic” he’ll begin rehab assignment in the next week

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Chase Utley may soon have some familiar company in the minors.

According to Jake Kaplan of MLB.com, Ryan Howard said in a podcast on his website that he is “very optimistic” he’ll begin a minor league rehab assignment “in the next week or so.” I may have buried the lede here, as the bigger news might be that Ryan Howard has a podcast.

Anyway, Howard has been rehabbing his surgically-repaired left Achilles tendon in simulated games in Clearwater. He recently began running the bases and playing the field. He’ll need to feel comfortable with both before being cleared for competitive game situations.

Position players are given a 20-day rehab window in the minors and Howard figures to need most or all of it. Assuming he can get into a game by next weekend, that would put him on track to rejoin the Phillies shortly after the All-Star break.

Howard, who is in the first year of a five-year, $125 million contract extension, batted .253/.346/.488 with 33 home runs, 116 RBI and an .835 OPS last season. The Phillies have combined to bat .265/.325/.425 with 10 homers and a .751 OPS from the first base position this year.

Javier Baez: “This is a game. It’s not as serious as a lot of people take it.”

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Infielder Javier Baez is back in camp with the Cubs after helping Puerto Rico to a second-place finish in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. He was the focal point of what was, to many, the most memorable play of the entire tournament: Baez pointed at catcher Yadier Molina, who was attempting to throw out a would-be base-stealer, before applying the tag for the final out of the eighth inning.

While Baez didn’t receive much criticism for his theatrics, aside from an insignificant handful of spoilsports, he is one of the players who most exemplifies the emotional, celebratory culture that foreign players bring to Major League Baseball. U.S. (and Tigers) second baseman Ian Kinsler is on the other side of that spectrum, as he said prior to the WBC final that he hopes kids mimic the solemn way U.S. players play the game rather than the emotional, passionate way players from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic play the game.

Baez isn’t about to apologize for the way he and his teammates play the game. Via CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney, Baez said, “We do a great job playing and having fun out there. That’s what it’s all about. This is a game. It’s not as serious as a lot of people take it. but, you know, everybody’s got their style and their talent. I have a lot of fun.”

He continued, “It’s their choice to look at how we play, how excited we get. To us, it’s really huge what we did, even though we didn’t win. All of Puerto Rico got really together. We were going through a hard time over there and everything got fixed up for at least three weeks. Hopefully, they keep it like that.”

Mike Trout proposes change to spring training umpiring

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Angels outfielder Mike Trout came up with an idea that would allow less experienced umpires an opportunity to call some major league spring training action. As ESPN’s Buster Olney reports, Trout thinks the veteran umpires should only call five or six innings as they get back into regular season shape. The rest of the innings could be called by minor league umpires.

According to Olney, baseball officials loved Trout’s idea when they heard about it last week. One official said, “It makes a lot of sense for a lot of different reasons.” Another said, “That’s Trout — he’s always paying attention to stuff beyond what he’s doing.”

Of course, I have to agree that the suggestion is a great one. As Olney notes, the turnover rate for umpires every year is relatively low, so younger, less-experienced umpires have few opportunities to get a feel for what it’s like calling major league action. Even beyond the actual interpretation of the rules, interacting with big league personalities would also be helpful for minor league umpires.