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.
The dust hasn’t quite settled after right-hander Dellin Betances‘ arbitration hearing with the Yankees on Saturday. The case was decided in the team’s favor, awarding Betances with a $3 million salary for the 2017 season instead of the $5 million he initially requested. Yankees’ president Randy Levine held a press conference to voice his outrage over the figure presented by Betances and his agency, saying it had “no bearings in reality” since Betances does not have the elite closer status required for a salary bump of that magnitude.
Needless to say, the comments caused some consternation within Betances’ camp. The reliever publicly addressed the outburst, telling the press that he was prepared to put his differences with the team aside until he heard what Levine had to say. Via MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch:
Players union executive Rick Shapiro and Betances’ agent, Jim Murray, also spoke out in the right-hander’s favor. Shapiro presented Betances’ case during the hearing on Saturday and called Levine’s comments “an absolute disgrace to the arbitration process and to all of Major League Baseball.” In a report from FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, Shapiro added: “The only thing that has been unprecedented in the last 36 hours is that a club official, after winning a case, called a news conference to effectively gloat about his victory – that’s unprecedented.”
Murray spoke exclusively to Rosenthal, accusing the president of effectively bullying the 28-year-old during the arbitration process and claiming that Levine had both mispronounced Betances’ name throughout the hearing and blamed the reliever for “declining ticket sales and their lack of playoff history.” Like Betances, Murray said that the agency was ready to accept the arbiter’s decision and move on before Levine’s decision to air his grievances to the media. “The only person overreaching in this entire situation is Randy,” Murray told Rosenthal. “He might as well be an astronaut because nobody on earth would agree with what he is saying. Even the others in the room would disagree with him.”
Royals’ manager Ned Yost is shaking things up in 2017, starting with left fielder Alex Gordon. Yost told MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan that “every scenario is open,” and expects to utilize Gordon in right and center field this spring while he figures out where to position Jorge Soler and Brandon Moss.
Gordon, 33, hasn’t manned right field since a three-game experiment with the Royals back in 2010 and has yet to play center field during any regular season to date. The focus, however, isn’t on Gordon’s capabilities. Among the three outfielders, he carries the best defensive profile and appears to be the most versatile of the bunch.
According to Flanagan, Soler and Moss are average on defense and will continue working closely with Royals’ coach Rusty Kuntz as the season approaches. One arrangement could see Gordon in center field, flanked by Soler in right field and Moss in left, though Yost foresees Soler taking some reps at DH if his defensive chops aren’t up to snuff.
While Moss is prepared to see starts at either outfield corner, Yost appears to be set on keeping Soler in right field, at least for the time being. The club is hoping for a bounce-back season from the 24-year-old outfielder, who was acquired from the Cubs in December after batting a lackluster .238/.333/.436 and sustaining a slew of minor injuries throughout the 2016 season.