Dispatches from Kansas City: “You have to see batting practice”

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HardballTalk’s Drew Silva is filing regular reports from this year’s MLB All-Star festivities in Kansas City, Missouri. Part OnePart Two. Part Three

Kelly’s Westport Inn is a wooden-floored Irish-style pub occupying the oldest standing structure in KC. Completed in 1850 — when the population of the United States was less than 25 million — the building has served as a trading post, a hardware store, a drug store, a hotel and a hiding place along the Underground Railroad (well, that part’s just a rumor). Last night, it housed an impromptu get-together for a pack of thirsty baseball media types.

I drank Boulevard Single-Wide IPAs and shots of Jim Beam and I stood with jaw agape when ESPN anchor Steve Berthiaume not only recognized my name but said he “really enjoyed” my writing. I chatted about minor leaguers and music with Jason Parks and Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus. I met Matt Meyers, the editor of the MLB page on ESPN.com. I was explained lifelong frustration by local Royals podcasters.

The experience might have been overwhelming, but I’d been slugging bourbon and last call arrived quickly.

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“Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older, then we wouldn’t have to wait so long.” I couldn’t get that lyric out of my head as I watched baseball’s best prospects crush souvenirs into the seats before today’s Futures Game.

source:  “You have to see batting practice,” Meyers had told me over beers the night before at Kelly’s. The kids aren’t jaded yet by the major-league environment and they’re not used to warming up for a game surrounded by so much media, so they try to put on a show in the half-cage and then offer long, thoughtful answers afterward in on-field interviews.

Cardinals outfield prospect Oscar Taveras — referred to by a scout recently as the best offensive talent in the minors — spoke to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for a couple of minutes as I stood by, watching two pros at work. Taveras, 20, is batting .322 with a .968 OPS, 17 homers, 25 doubles and 63 RBI in 79 games this season at Double-A Springfield. Goold is the best beat writer in the country.

I introduced myself to ESPN’s Keith Law, who called HardballTalk a “great, great blog” and referred to our editor playfully as “Grumpy Craig.” He spoke with enthusiasm about the starting pitchers on Team USA and indulged my followup questions. We talked about the legendary sauce at Gates — which I basically bathed in last night at dinner — and about the inconvenient hours at a barbecue shack named LC’s, which is the best place to get burnt ends if all the Kansas City natives I’ve spoken to on this trip are to be believed.

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The Futures Game was a slugfest, paced by the American bats. Tigers prospect Nick Castellanos went 3-for-4 with a homer and three runs scored. Fleet-footed infielder Billy Hamilton — property of the Reds — zoomed around the bases in the third inning for an RBI triple. Astros youngster Jonathan Singleton, who is built like an outside linebacker, finished the day 3-for-4. The Royals’ own Wil Myers collected three RBI with a run-scoring groundout, a sacrifice fly and a seventh-inning single. Everything he did drew a loud ovation from the hopeful sellout crowd at Kauffman Stadium. He’ll be back here for good by mid-September.

I took it all in from the press box while cracking salted peanuts and getting to know industry veterans.

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Next up is the Legends & Celebrity Softball Game, featuring “Mad Men” star Jon Hamm, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self, Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel, nearly-undefeated UFC figther Jon “Bones” Jones and former major league players like George Brett, Bo Jackson, Ozzie Smith and Joe Carter. I’ll stay for a few innings to scout Don Draper’s swing before heading back downtown to check on the city’s supply of Boulevard Wheat.

Michael Bourn opts out of his minor league deal with the Orioles

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Outfielder Michael Bourn was traded by the Diamondbacks to the Orioles late last season and hit a solid .283/.358/.435 in 55 plate appearances with them through the end of the season. While that’s not enough to outweigh the miserable season he had in Arizona, it was enough to get the O’s to give him a look in spring training with a minor league deal. They signed him to one in late February.

Then, a couple of days later, Bourn broke his finger while playing catch with a football. Unable to play, the O’s cut him. In early April, once Bourn healed, the O’s signed him again. He played 11 games for their Triple-A affiliate and went 9-for-41 with ten walks in 51 plate appearances. While that makes for a decent OBP, his lack of any sort of pop or good contact suggests that if someone throws him strikes, he can’t do much with the ball.

As such, the O’s had not called him up to Baltimore. And as a result of that, Bourn exercised his opt-out rights and became a free agent.

Someone may take a look at him given that his batting eye seems to be intact and given that, in an admittedly small sample size, he still performed last season. But if he does get a look, it’ll likely be back at the minor league level.

Rob Manfred talks about playing regular season games in Mexico

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The new Collective Bargaining Agreement commits the players and the league to regular season games on foreign soil. Most of the focus of this has been on games in London, for which there has been a lot of activity and discussion.

Yesterday before the Astros-Tigers game in Houston, however, Commissioner Rob Manfred talked about playing games in Mexico. And not as just a one-off, but as a foot-in-the-water towards possible expansion:

Commissioner Rob Manfred said Tuesday that the time had come to play regular-season games in Mexico City as Major League Baseball weighs international expansion.

“We think it’s time to move past exhibition games and play real live ‘they-count’ games in Mexico,” Manfred said. “That is the kind of experiment that puts you in better position to make a judgement as to whether you have a market that could sustain an 81-game season and a Major League team.”

A team in Mexico could make some geographic sense and some marketing sense, though it’s not clear if there is a city that would be appropriate for that right now. Mexico City is huge but it has plenty of its own sports teams and is far away from the parts of the country where baseball is popular (mostly the border states and areas along the Pacific coast). At 7,382 feet, its elevation would make games at Coors Field look like the Deadball Era.

Monterrey has been talked about — games have been played there and it’s certainly closer — but it’s somewhat unknown territory demographically speaking. It’s not as big as Mexico City, obviously. Income stratification is greater there and most of the rest of Mexico than it is in the United States too, making projections of how much discretionary income people may spend on an expensive entertainment product like Major League Baseball uncertain. Especially when they have other sports they’ve been following for decades.

Interesting, though. It’s something Manfred has talked about many times over the years, so unlike so many other things he says he’s “considering” or “hasn’t ruled out,” Major League Baseball in Mexico is something worth keeping our eyes on.