Author: Matthew Pouliot

Xander Bogaerts

All-Star Futures Game wrap: U.S. beats World 4-2


Not that the score really matters, but the U.S. team topped the World squad in the All-Star Futures Game again this year, winning 4-2 and outhitting the competition 9-3. Of course, this game is more fun to watch for the individual performances that any sort of team effort. So, let’s get right to the prospects who shined and those that fell flat:

The standouts

– Xander Bogaerts (SS Red Sox): The world team’s best prospect, Bogaerts singled back up the middle in each of his first two at-bats and walked in the fourth. In the first, he fouled off a two-strike slider from Noah Syndergaard and then grounded a 96-mph heater back through the box. He was caught stealing in the first, mostly because of an odd slide that caused him to miss the bag with his front leg. He showed much better instincts in the fourth, when he raced home on a sac fly and evaded the catcher’s tag by going inside the baseline and hooking around it.

– Eddie Butler (RHP Rockies): The 22-year-old Butler turned in the most impressive inning of the game, even if he did allow a single before getting a double play. He topped out at 98 mph with his fastball, and he struck out Bogaerts on three pitches, including a 90-mph changeup with lethal movement down and in to the right-handed hitter. There are questions about how Butler will hold up as a starter, but he could probably help the Rockies as a reliever right now if they want to go that route.

– Arismendy Alcantara (2B Cubs): Showing his emerging power, Alcantara pulled an Anthony Ranaudo fastball into the second deck at Citi Field. Alcantara has 13 homers in 389 at-bats in Double-A this year after hitting seven in 359 at-bats in the FSL last year and two in 390 at-bats in the Midwest League in 2011. The Cubs just recently moved him from shortstop to second base to make room for Javier Baez on the Smokies. He’s always profiled better there anywhere, and he could be the team’s replacement for Darwin Barney next summer or in 2015.

– Christian Yelich (OF Marlins): A couple of other guys might have more potential, but Yelich is the best hitter, as of July 14, 2013, of anyone who was playing today. He showed it by doubling over center fielder Gregory Polanco’s head in his first at-bat and singling in his second. The Marlins might make room for him in the outfield soon by trading Justin Ruggiano.

– Jesse Biddle (LHP Phillies): It was a tough call whether Biddle or Archie Bradley showed the best curve of the day. Biddle’s is reminiscent of Barry Zito’s, and while he doesn’t have the ceiling of a Bradley or a Taijuan Walker, he doesn’t lack for polish. He stranded two runners in the fifth, and he was the one pitcher to get four outs today.

– Rafael Montero (RHP Mets): With the game being played at Citi Field, the Mets had the starting pitchers for both sides today, with Montero going for the World team and Syndergaard pitching for the U.S. Montero needed just nine pitches in his inning of work, but he still managed to mix in a couple of nice sliders.

The disappointments

– Michael Ynoa (RHP Athletics): After battling injuries, Ynoa, one of the biggest Latin American signings ever, broke through in the Midwest League this year, posting a 2.14 ERA in 15 starts (54 2/3 innings) for Beloit. However, he’s given up 11 earned runs in 7 2/3 innings since moving up to the California League and he didn’t impressive with his command or stuff today. He gave up a two-run homer to the Diamondbacks’ Matt Davidson in his inning of work.

– Reymond Fuentes (OF Padres): Fuentes was the World Team’s leadoff man because of his .412 OBP in Double-A this year, but he made first-pitch outs in two of his three at-bats today. One was a routine fly to center and the other was a pop to shortstop. Fuentes did have a better at-bat in between, battling back from an 0-2 count to eventually ground out on Archie Bradley’s seventh pitch.

– Byron Buxton (OF Twins): It was more a disappointment for us watching than any reflection on Buxton as a prospect, but Buxton saw 11 pitches today, swung at three and made contact just once, hitting a foul ball. He struck out swinging in both of his appearances.

– Henry Urrutia (OF Orioles): Some think the 26-year-old Urrutia, a Cuban defector in his first year in the minors, could come up and help the Orioles down the stretch, but he didn’t show much today. He grounded out in each of his first three at-bats, with the third going for a double play, before drawing a four-pitch walk from a wild Kyle Crick his last time up. Maybe that shouldn’t overshadow the fact that he’s hit .365/.427/.531 in the minors this year, but his tools aren’t all that impressive.

– Addison Russell (SS Athletics): I think Russell is a tremendous prospect, but he was overmatched at the plate today, particularly in his first at-bat against Enny Romero, when he went down swinging at a slider off the plate. He was also Ynoa’s lone strikeout victim. Russell, though, is just 19. He may well be back as the U.S. team’s starting shortstop in this game again next year.

Bryce Harper makes first career start in leadoff spot

Bryce Harper
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Bryce Harper has hit mostly third (51 times) and occasionally second (five times) this season, but manager Davey Johnson chose to mix things up today, moving him into the leadoff spot and dropping Denard Span down to seventh.

Obviously, this has more to do with Span’s poor play and the struggles of the Nationals’ offense as a whole than any desire to see Harper hit with fewer men on base. After an excellent first week and a half as a National, Span has hit .246/.293/.341 in his last 78 games. Although he’s been a fixture in the leadoff spot, he’s scored just 32 times in that span.

Harper has hit .265/.372/.526 for the season. The two hole seems like the ideal spot for his bat, but if Span isn’t getting on, the Nats might as well let him with the bases empty and no outs instead of the bases empty and one out. They have rookie Anthony Rendon batting second and Ryan Zimmerman batting third today.

Tim Lincecum could have an interesting Hall of Fame case someday

Tim Lincecum

With his fastball hovering around 90 mph these days, Tim Lincecum will probably never again be what he was when he first came up. Of course, that’s a remarkably high standard; Lincecum won Cy Young Awards in his first two full seasons and led the NL in strikeouts three years in a row. From 2007 through 2011, he went 69-41 with a 2.98 ERA and 1,127 strikeouts in 1,028 innings.

Unfortunately, even after Saturday’s 13-strikeout no-hitter, Lincecum is just 15-24 with a 4.82 ERA the last two years. He led the NL in losses last season, and he’s in the running to do it again if the no-no wasn’t the sign that a larger turnaround is coming. He’s still striking guys out, but he’s allowing more walks and homers in the process.

Just seven years and 84 victories down, we’re still a long way from knowing if Tim Lincecum might go into the Hall of Fame someday. Obviously, he’ll have to bounce back somewhat and hang around long enough to top 150 wins. Two Cy Young Awards will help a bunch, but it doesn’t make him a lock. Bret Saberhagen and Denny McLain won two apiece and never received any Hall of Fame support. Johan Santana has two, but if his career is over with a 139 wins, he’s probably not getting in.

One thing in Lincecum’s favor is his postseason record. In 2010, he went 4-1 with a 2.43 ERA for the World Series champs. Last year, he never started a game, yet he still played a key role in another championship, amassing a 2.55 ERA in 17 2/3 innings out of the pen. Overall, he’s 5-2 with a 2.47 ERA in October.

Right now, Lincecum’s best match would seem to be Orel Hershiser. Hershiser was on an obvious Hall of Fame path through six seasons, winning one Cy Young and receiving votes three other times. He was the ace of a championship team in 1988 and set a record for consecutive scoreless innings. Hershiser then blew out his shoulder four starts into year seven and was never the same pitcher afterwards, though he managed to hang around through 2000. Hershiser went 98-64 with a 2.69 ERA in his first six seasons and 106-86 with a 4.17 ERA afterwards.

That didn’t prove to be nearly enough for Hershiser, though. He was named on 11.2 percent of ballots in his first year and then fell off the ballot in his second year. Sadly for him, the standards for the Hall of Fame for starting pitchers are quite a bit higher than they used to be.

If Lincecum can pitch another 10 years and match Hershiser with something close to that 106-86 record, he should have a better shot. For one, the Hall of Fame standards will probably change a bit by then. Second, all of those sexy strikeouts should help. Lincecum has 1,442 right now, and he’ll finish the season at least third all-time in strikeouts through seven seasons. Only Tom Seaver (1,655) and maybe Bert Blyleven (1,546) will have more. The lone pitcher with a higher K rate through seven seasons (min. 1,000 innings) is Kerry Wood.

But first, Lincecum has to get to 160-170 wins or so. The lowest total of any starter in the Hall of Fame is 150 for Dizzy Dean. Addie Joss (160) and Sandy Koufax (165) are the only to other two under 175. Of the last 12 starters elected to the Hall of Fame, the lowest win total is Catfish Hunter’s 224. That Curt Schilling has just 216 is being held against him. Excellent pitchers like Kevin Brown (211), David Cone (194) and Dave Stieb (168) had their candidacies dismissed out of hand. Things will change some by 2025 and pitchers with more modest win totals should again be taken seriously. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Tim Lincecum hurls no-hitter against Padres

Tim Lincecum

It took a whopping 148 pitches, but Tim Lincecum recorded his first career no-hitter Saturday in the Giants’ 9-0 victory over the Padres.

It was the most pitches thrown in a game since Edwin Jackson got to 149 in his no-hitter for the Diamondbacks on June 25, 2010 and the second most since 2005. Lincecum’s previous career high was 138 pitches in a four-hit shutout, also against the Padres, back on Sept. 13, 2008.

Lincecum struck out 13, matching the second highest total of his career. His previous high was 15 in a complete game against the Pirates in 2009. It was his sixth career shutout.

With the Giants struggling of late — at least until they ran into the Padres — Lincecum’s name has been bandied about as a trade possibility of late. One wonders just how the huge pitch count will play into that. After Jackson threw his 149 pitches in 2010, he went five straight outings without turning in a quality start. Lincecum’s win tonight was his first in his last seven starts, though he did pitched better in June than he did the first two months of the season. The Giants also have the ability to give him plenty of rest after this one, what with the All-Star break set to begin.

But let’s not the pitch count overshadow the performance. Lincecum certainly wasn’t worried; he threw a 3-2 curve to walk Everth Cabrera on his 125th pitch of the night in the eighth. Alexi Amarista then came the closest of any Padre to getting a hit tonight; lining out to a sliding Hunter Pence in right field. It wasn’t only Lincecum’s first shutout in a long time, but it was his first complete game since May 21, 2011, when he pitched a three-hitter against the A’s. It had been almost exactly a year — since July 14, 2012 — that he had lasted more than seven innings in a start.

Lincecum is now 5-9 with a 4.26 ERA for the season. He’s tied for sixth in the NL with 125 strikeouts.

Josh Phegley is the new Yasiel Puig

Josh Phegley

Puigmania is over. It’s old news. Could there be any better illustration than the fact that Freddie Freeman beat out Yasiel in a popularity contest this week?

It’s OK, though. White Sox catcher Josh Phegley is the new big thing. He hit a grand slam Thursday in the White Sox’s 6-3 win over the Tigers, giving him three homers in his first five games.

The 25-year-old Phegley is the 29th player in major league history to hit three homers in his first five games. Only Mike Jacobs and Puig have managed four. Other recent players to hit three include Manny Machado, Yoenis Cespedes, Will Middlebrooks and Yasmani Grandal.

Phegley’s eight RBI through five games is tied for the 10th highest total in big league history. Jack Merson, Danny Espinosa and Puig had 10 RBI through five games. Hall of Famer Paul Molitor is among the players with nine.

A 2009 supplemental first-round pick out of Indiana, Phegley took a big step forward by hitting .316/.368/.597 with 15 homers in 231 at-bats for Triple-A Charlotte prior to his callup last week. He hit just .266/.306/.373 with six homers in 394 at-bats last year for the same team. While this year may prove to be something of a fluke for him offensively, he has overtaken Tyler Flowers in the White Sox’s plans, and he’s probably going to be the team’s primary catcher going forward.

Now if only Salvador Perez will back out so we can get him on the All-Star team where he belongs.