In an effort to get center fielder Austin Jackson to steal more bases the Tigers have brought Jeff Cox to spring training as a “baserunning consultant.”
Jim Leyland explained the plan to Tom Gage of the Detroit News:
I’m not being critical, because I don’t mean for it to be critical, but with Jackson, it’s been a confidence factor. What happens in general with players is that guys don’t want to get thrown out. They don’t want that embarrassment. …
But there are times you want to take that gamble, which means he should have a better feel for it. … I would [like Jackson to steal more bases]. That’s basically what we are saying. The better way to put it is that I would like him to steal more important bases. I’ve always said that to steal a base when everybody knows you’re going to try, that’s when you are a base stealer.
It’s not quite “Best Shape of His Life” territory as far as spring training cliches go, but wanting a speedy player to steal more bases is a very common plan for teams in February and March every year. Sometimes it happens, more often it doesn’t, and then everyone forgets about the whole thing by the time spring training rolls around the next year.
As for Jackson, he’s never really been an effective basestealer. Through three seasons in the majors he’s stolen 20 bases per 150 games while being successful just 75 percent of the time. Last year that included going 12-for-21, which is terrible. In the minors Jackson had a much better success rate, but hardly piled up big steal totals with 25 in 135 games at Triple-A and 19 in 131 games at Double-A.
Stealing more bases at a better rate would be nice for Jackson, but the much more important issue will be whether or not he can maintain last season’s .377 on-base percentage after getting on base at a .331 clip in his first two seasons.
With the 2017 World Baseball Classic around the corner, Team Israel has reportedly reached out to Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, per MLB Network’s Jon Morosi. Tournament rules stipulate that a player’s roster eligibility can be achieved in one of several ways: they were born in the country in question or hold citizenship/permanent legal residence there (or are simply capable of qualifying for citizenship), or one of their parents was born in the country or holds citizenship/permanent legal residence there.
For Kipnis, it’s the latter. Kipnis’ father, Mark Kipnis, is Jewish. That gives Kipnis the status he needs to suit up for Team Israel, despite the fact that he is a practicing Roman Catholic. He has yet to confirm or deny his participation in the competition.
Fifteen players have confirmed for Team Israel so far, including Mets’ infielder/outfielder Ty Kelly and free agents Sam Fuld, Nate Freiman, Jason Marquis and Jeremy Bleich. Per MLB.com’s Chad Thornburg, eight minor leaguers will also appear for the team. Like Kipnis, at least three other major leaguers are eligible for Team Israel’s roster but have yet to accept or decline involvement in the WBC: Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson, Mariners infielder/outfielder Danny Valencia and free agent left-hander Craig Breslow.
Free agent first baseman James Loney has reportedly signed a minor league deal with the Rangers, per FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman. The deal includes an invite to spring training and a $1 million salary if he makes the major league roster in 2017.
Loney picked up a one-year stint and starting role with the Mets in 2016, slashing .265/.307/.397 with nine home runs in 336 PA. While his numbers were down a hair from the .280/.322/.357 batting line he produced with the Rays in 2015, he provided the Mets with a necessary, if underwhelming upgrade over an injured Lucas Duda through most of the season.
The 32-year-old infielder is expected to have some competition at first base, with at least five other candidates in the mix: Jurickson Profar, Ronald Guzman, Ryan Rua, Joey Gallo and Josh Hamilton. Rumor has it that the team is planning on platooning Rua and Profar in 2017, barring any impressive breakouts or injuries during spring training, though Loney could still provide the club with some veteran depth and a decent left-handed bat off the bench.