Bradley Zimmer, Tim Esmay

2014 MLB Draft: Picks 21-34 – Indians, Tigers grab outfielders

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No. 21 pick: Indians select University of San Francisco outfielder Bradley Zimmer
Zimmer is the younger brother of 2012 first-round pick Kyle, a pitcher in the Royals system. He hit .368/.461/.573 with seven homers in 220 at-bats for San Francisco this season. He’s not a big power guy yet, though he could add more as he fills out his 6’5″ frame. He’s expected to move from center to right in the pros, though it may not happen immediately.

No. 22 pick: Dodgers select high school right-hander Grant Holmes
Holmes, a native of South Carolina, is a right-hander with a top-notch fastball in the high-90s. He doesn’t have a whole lot to go with it yet, but he’ll continue to polish up his curveball and changeup in the pros.

No. 23 pick: Tigers select high school outfielder Derek Hill
Hill is a pure center fielder with Gold Glove potential, assuming he hits enough to get to the majors in the first place. He has a big leg kick right now in an effort to hit for some power, but he’d probably be better off trying to hit the ball on the ground and using his speed to reach base.

No. 24 pick: Pirates select high school shortstop Cole Tucker
Tucker is considered quite a reach here, but his stock had been on the rise of late because of the progress he’s made with his bat. He’s a legitimate shortstop with good speed, so he won’t need to be all that great offensively to make it as a regular.

No. 25 pick: Athletics select Cal State Fullerton third baseman Matt Chapman
Another real surprise here, Chapman hit .312/.412/.498 with six homers in 205 at-bats for Cal State Fullerton this season. He has a huge arm and he might have been a better prospect as a pitcher, though he didn’t pitch at all this year. Given the fact that they already have a very good third baseman under control for a few years, the A’s must really like his offensive potential. Scouts don’t seem especially optimistic, though.

No. 26 pick: Red Sox select high school shortstop Michael Chavis
Chavis was announced as a shortstop, though he might fit better at second or third for the long haul. A 5’10” right-hander with a line-drive swing and surprising pop, he looks like a really good value here, and he’s already helped himself in Red Sox fans eyes by saying that his favorite player is Dustin Pedroia.

No. 27 pick: Cardinals select Florida State right-hander Luke Weaver
Weaver has a 91-94 mph fastball with sinking action and a plus changeup, which helped him go 8-4 with a 2.62 ERA and an 85/23 K/BB ratio in 106 1/3 innings this season. He probably lacks top-of-the-rotation upside, but he’s a good bet to become a useful starter and he should move pretty quickly, not that the Cardinals really need him to do so.

No. 28 pick: Royals select high school left-hander Foster Griffin
The Royals opted for a second left-handed starter at No. 28 after grabbing Brandon Finnegan at No. 17. Griffin is further away, of course, but he’s advanced for a high school pick, possessing a low-90s fastball, a slider and a changeup. He’s a future middle-of-the-rotation guy if all goes as hoped.

No. 29 pick: Reds select Stanford shortstop Alex Blandino
Blandino is expected to end up at either second or third. The 21-year-old was Stanford’s best hitter this season, coming in at .312/.399/.540 with 12 homers in 215 at-bats. If his power holds up with wood bats, he’ll prove to be  a bargain here.

No. 30 pick: Rangers select high school right-hander Luis Ortiz
Ortiz’s stock fell this spring after he missed time with a forearm injury, but he was able to get back on the mound and entice the Rangers to draft him here. If his arm holds up, he could be an excellent starter someday. He throws in the mid-90s with a big-breaking slider and a subpar changeup.

No. 31 pick: Indians select high school left-hander Justus Sheffield
Sheffield is a classic left-hander with an 89-92 mph fastball, curve and changeup. The package doesn’t give him the kind of ceiling one wants from a high first-round pick, but he’s a nice choice this late. 

No. 32 pick: Braves select high school outfielder Braxton Davidson
Davidson likely would have been selected in a similar range as a pitcher. He’s not necessarily safer as a hitter; while he has huge power potential, he’s probably going to struggle to hit for average and get on base early in his pro career. 

No. 33 pick: Red Sox select high school right-hander Michael Kopech
Kopech has a rather unusual delivery with a big leg kick, but his stuff is legit, with a fastball that reaches the mid-90s and a sweeping slider. The idea will be to bring him along as a starter, but if that doesn’t work out, he could prove to be a heck of a reliever someday. 

No. 34 pick: Cardinals select high school right-hander Jack Flaherty
Flaherty could be a tough sign if he’d prefer to go to the University of North Carolina and play third base, where he’s also a prospect. As a pitcher, he’s all about upside, with a 6’4″, 205-pound frame and the potential to add velocity. If he gives up on hitting and focuses on pitching, he could be a great value pick here for the Cards.

What’s on Tap: Previewing Thursday’s action

Chicago Cubs' Anthony Rizzo, left, and Kris Bryant celebrate a 7-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates in a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, May 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
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The Phillies and Cardinals got started a little early, finishing up their four-game series on Thursday afternoon. In the evening, we have 10 games on our slate, including Cubs-Nationals.

The Cubs have jumped out to a 20-6 start, looking like baseball’s best — and scariest — team. Entering Thursday’s action, the Cubs have a +93 run differential (runs scored minus runs allowed). That’s by far the best in baseball. The next best are the Nationals at +50, the Mets at +44, and the Cardinals at +41. In fact, the Cubs’ run differential is so good that they have under-performed relative to their expected won-lost record of 22-4.

This is without Kyle Schwarber. This is with Jason Heyward hitting a miserable .211/.317/.256, Jorge Soler hitting .185/.276/.292, and Addison Russell hitting .224/.356/.329. It’s with John Lackey pitching to a 4.32 ERA.

What makes the Cubs so good? They’re on-base machines. The club’s aggregate .364 on-base percentage is second best in the majors behind the Pirates. Dexter Fowler has an outstanding .470 OBP and Anthony Rizzo is at an elite .403. In fact, of their regulars with 100-plus plate appearances, Heyward is the only one with a sub-.350 OBP. The league average is .319. The Cubs steal bases, too, as they’re 17-for-24 (~71 percent) in that department.

The Cubs have baseball’s best pitching staff, which has yielded a major league-best 2.54 runs per game. Only four teams are below 3.00 runs allowed per game. Of course, reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta is the big contributor to that with a sterling 0.84 ERA, but Jon Lester has put up a 1.58 mark and Jason Hammel 1.24. Closer Hector Rondon has found himself in only four save situations but has converted each of them with an even 1.00 ERA and a 15/0 K/BB ratio in nine innings. The Cubs’ aggregate bullpen ERA of 2.66 is fifth-best in the majors.

It’s too early to use defensive statistics with any degree of certainty, but even the eye test shows the Cubs to be elite defenders at the important positions, particularly shortstop (Russell), right field (Heyward), and third base (Kris Bryant).

The Cubs’ success isn’t exactly surprising. The club rode five consecutive fifth-place finishes into some high draft picks and that talent is starting to establish itself in the majors. Whether it was fans, writers, or Vegas oddsmakers, the Cubs were preseason darlings.

Kyle Hendricks starts for the Cubs opposite the Nationals’ Joe Ross at Wrigley Field tonight at 8:05 PM EDT.

The rest of Thursday’s action…

Detroit Tigers (Michael Fulmer) @ Cleveland Indians (Trevor Bauer), 6:10 PM EDT

New York Yankees (Masahiro Tanaka) @ Baltimore Orioles (Kevin Gausman), 7:05 PM EDT

Texas Rangers (Derek Holland) @ Toronto Blue Jays (J.A. Happ), 7:07 PM EDT

Arizona Diamondbacks (Robbie Ray) @ Miami Marlins (Adam Conley), 7:10 PM EDT

Milwaukee Brewers (Chase Anderson) @ Cincinnati Reds (Alfredo Simon), 7:10 PM EDT

Boston Red Sox (Henry Owens) @ Chicago White Sox (Erik Johnson), 8:10 PM EDT

Seattle Mariners (Wade Miley) @ Houston Astros (Chris Devenski), 8:10 PM EDT

New York Mets (Jacob deGrom) @ San Diego Padres (Colin Rea), 10:10 PM EDT

Colorado Rockies (Chris Rusin) @ San Francisco Giants (Matt Cain), 10:15 PM EDT

The Phillies are seeing to it that their minor leaguers eat well

Crop of vegetables. Potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and other vegetables.
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For years we’ve talked about how odd it is that baseball teams are in the extraordinarily competitive business of developing highly-trained athletes yet, for whatever reason, it pays minor leaguers virtually nothing and all but forces them to subsist on junk food and other cheap options.

As Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, however, the Phillies are changing that. Indeed, they’re plowing serious money into nutritious food options for their minor league players:

The Phillies are teaching their minor leaguers how to play baseball, so why not teach them how to eat well, too?

“We want them to not have to worry about anything other than baseball,” assistant general manager Ned Rice said. “When they’re playing for the Phillies, they’ll have that stuff taken care of for them.”

 

That this is a news story — and it is a good and novel one — is kind of sad in some ways. How teams haven’t been on board with this approach for decades is beyond me.

Tracking baseball’s “Naturals”

The Natural
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Rob Neyer has a great column in today’s New York Times in which he tracks the real life players who, at one time or another, were dubbed “The Natural.” A la Roy Hobbs in the book and movie of the same name.

There are some that a lot of people probably remember: Jeff Francoeur and Ken Griffey, Jr. as “The Natural” come to mind easily. There are some who I don’t ever recall being called “The Natural” but were, apparently, like Terry Pendelton and Karim Garcia. There are also some whose stories were far odder and far more tragic than any version of Hobbs’ tale (oh man, a Toe Nash sighting!). Then there’s Rick Ankiel, whose path may be the closest one to Hobbs’ of them all, at least broadly speaking.

Fun stuff that, in addition to being a walk down memory lane, is also an instructive lesson about how the power of narrative works in sports.

 

Sure, Carlos Gomez is the problem in Houston

Houston Astros' Carlos Gomez (30) reacts after hitting a double in the second inning of a baseball game against the Minnesota Twins, Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
Associated Press
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No one will claim that Carlos Gomez is playing up to his ability. He’s got a .634 OPS in the 65 games he’s played for the Astros between last year and this year. Not good at all.

Still, he seems to be taking an outsized amount of the blame for the Astros’ slow start to this year. I do a weekly radio hit on a Texas station and Gomez has been the talk for three weeks when the Astros’ troubles are mentioned. Today Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle spends a whole column going at Gomez, with the usual dash of “you can’t be flamboyant if you can’t back it up” sentiment often given to players like Gomez when they struggle but which is seemingly never given to players whose act is more “tough guy.” Funny that.

More notable: nowhere in the column is it mentioned that, overall, the Astros’ offense is above league average and that, in reality, it’s the pitching that’s killing them. Gomez may not be carrying his weight, but his teammates in the lineup are for now, as teammates do for every hitter at one time of the year or another. Meanwhile, Smith doesn’t seem to be writing columns about how three of the Astros’ five starters have ERAs above 5.00 and how the bullpen has been a disaster. Gomez, however, gets a “Rally Killer” subheading in reference to his performance in a game his team actually won, primarily due to the offense.

There’s also an unfortunate quote in the article. Specifically, Smith quotes Gomez as saying “For the last year and this year, I not really do much for this team. The fans be angry. They be disappointed.”

I’m sure that’s what he said, but it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the quote’s imperfect English fits satisfyingly into a column designed to rip Gomez and that it’s going to play right into stereotyping a certain sort of reader who has just HAD it with those allegedly lazy, entitled Latino players likes to engage in. For the record, its not uncommon for other players whose grammar is less than perfect to get [the bracket treatment] to make the mistakes less noticeable. Or, if the quote is less than clear or enlightening, to get the paraphrasing treatment and have his sentiment conveyed in keeping with the intent of the sentiment. I guess Gomez doesn’t get that treatment. He gets to be portrayed in such a way that a certain sort of reader will unfortunately interpret as him being too dumb or too lazy to learn proper English or something.

And no, it’s not just sensitive old Craig noticing that:

Empathy is the key word here, I think. Smith as no interest in portraying Gomez as a player who, like all players, struggles from time to time. He has to be the bad guy who is responsible for all of the Astros’ woes, it seems.