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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Boston Red Sox: The Prospects That Got Away

The Boston Red Sox have developed an excellent reputation in recent years for their ability to identify, scout and draft/sign top-notch amateur talent. As a result, current key contributors like Dustin Pedroia, Clay Buchholz and Xander Bogaerts are all products of their player development system. Despite such strong examples, the organization hasn’t nailed every player development move—nor should they be expected to.

Just because a player has been drafted doesn’t mean they are in the fold. It can be a difficult proposition to come to terms with the dozens that are selected annually, and there are always some that go unsigned—typically because they are going to college or because they want more money than the team is willing to give. For the fun (and agony) of it, let’s take a look at some of the best players the Red Sox have drafted over the past decade, did not sign but have gone on to have success with other teams.

Steve Pearce, First Baseman- Drafted 10th Round in 2004: 10 years and four organizations after being selected by the Sox, Pearce finally made a splash in the majors this season at the age of 31, hitting .293 with 21 home runs for the Baltimore Orioles. It took nine minor league seasons and parts of seven major league seasons before he was finally able to find a regular gig. However, he looks like he has finally stuck and may be a better-fielding Brian Daubach for a new generation.

Pedro Alvarez, Third Baseman- Drafted 14th Round in 2005: A major prospect coming out of high school, Alvarez passed on signing in order to attend Vanderbilt. The move paid off, as he polished his game enough to become the second overall selection in the 2008 draft. Although he has 104 home runs in five seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates, he has also hit just a combined .235 with 678 strikeouts in 592 games. Nevertheless, now playing third base, he has few peers in the big leagues that can match his power at the position.

Charlie Blackmon, Pitcher- Drafted 20th Round in 2005: Boston thought enough of his pitching prowess to draft this future major league outfielder as a hurler. Electing instead to attend Georgia Tech, he ultimately became a 2008 second-round pick of the Colorado Rockies and developed into a starter for them midway through last year. This was a  breakout season for him, as he hit .288 with 19 home runs and 28 stolen bases, numbers that would have been a big help to the anemic production the Red Sox got from their outfielders in 2014.

Jason Castro, Catcher- Drafted 45th Round in 2005: The Red Sox appear to have their catchers of the future on the horizon in Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart, but if they had retained Castro they could have had real a log jam on their hands. A solid receiver, Castro is better known for his bat, which has launched 32 home runs over the past two seasons and helped earn him a 2013 All-Star nod.

Brandon Belt, Outfielder- Drafted 11th round in 2006: Passing up a chance to join Boston to go to school (community college and then the University of Texas), Belt became a fifth-round pick of the San Francisco Giants in 2009. Monster minor league numbers, including a collective .350 batting average have not yet fully translated at the big league level. Still, the large left-handed hitter is just 26 and has a career 125 OPS+ in his four seasons by the bay.

Yasmani Grandal, Catcher- Drafted 27th Round in 2007: Following a standout career with the Miami Hurricanes, Grandal was taken by the Cincinnati Reds with the 10th overall selection in the 2010 draft. He was then flipped to the Padres in a trade the following December. Sandwiched around a 2013 suspension for PEDS, he has managed a combined 120 OPS+ in parts of three seasons for the offensively-challenged Padres. On the other hand, his lack of defense has led to him seeing more time of late at first base where his bat doesn’t play up nearly as much.

Nick Tepesch, Pitcher- Drafted 28th Round in 2007: A career record of 25-12 with a 3.45 ERA in four minor league seasons in the Texas Rangers’ system carried the big right-hander to the majors in 2013. He is just 9-17 with a 4.56 ERA in 42 games (39 starts) over the past two years in the majors but is still young, and having already held his own, may see brighter days ahead.

Alex Meyer, Pitcher- Drafted 20th Round in 2008: Just 24, the right-hander has long been considered one of the top prospects in all of baseball, including placement in MLB.com’s top-100 list in each of the past three years. Following a star turn at Kentucky, he was selected in the first round of the 2011 draft by the Washington Nationals but was traded to the Minnesota Twins following the 2012 season. He has struck out 10.4 batters per nine innings in his three minor league seasons, and having just completed a successful 2014 campaign in Triple-A should be a good candidate to join the Twins’ rotation in 2015. With the Red Sox in full rebuild mode—especially with their starting pitching, having a prospect the caliber of Meyer would be nice—even with the youngsters they already have competing for openings.

Yan Gomes, Catcher- Drafted 39th Round in 2008: Yet another catcher that couldn’t come to terms with the Red Sox. After being drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays and looking like a fringy prospect at best, he was traded with infielder Mike Aviles to the Cleveland Indians in November, 2012 for pitcher Esmil Rogers. Since then, Gomes’ emergence has been nothing short of amazing, as he has paired surprisingly solid defense behind the plate with impact offense. Playing full time for the first time in 2014, he batted an impressive .278 with 21 home runs and 74 RBIs in 135 games for a Cleveland team that was in contention until the final weeks of the season.

Statistics and draft information via Baseball Reference.

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You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Monday, October 20, 2014

2014 World Series Prediction Podcast

My buddy Ron Juckett joins me to break down the 2014 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals?
Who do we pick? Find out on our 25 minute podcast.
(Spoiler: one of us is right. Shh.)
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You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Dave Roberts Stealing the Hearts of Boston Red Sox Fans: The Baseball Historian’s Notes for the Week of October 19

The 2014 World Series matchup has been determined with the surging Kansas City Royals taking on the battle-tested San Francisco Giants. The Royals are making the most of their first playoff appearance in 29 years while the Giants will now have appeared in three of the past five Fall Classics. Some don’t think that it’s much of a matchup but no matter how exciting it is, it will go down as another chapter in the annals of baseball history. That being said, on to this week’s notes…

*The eleventh anniversary of the “Steve Bartman game” has passed, marking an improbable Chicago Cubs loss in the playoffs to the Florida Marlins that was attributed to a hapless fan. Five outs away from a Chicago trip to the World Series in 2003, Bartman reached for a foul ball, a movement which impeded Cubs’ leftfielder Moises Alou from making the catch. Despite holding a commanding 3-0 lead, Chicago went on to give up eight runs in the inning and lose the game and eventually the series. This AOL.com article commemorates the game, but the real treat is the embedded video for “Catching Hell,” the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary about that game and the role of scapegoating in sports.

*Better late than never, a Wisconsin banker has returned a banner to the Royals that he “borrowed” as a college student in 1985 during their last World Series appearance. He kept it all these years as a conversation piece and because of embarrassment. However, the team’s recent success prompted him to return the flag, a gesture much appreciated by the organization.

*University of Delaware English professor Bernard McKenna is in the process of researching baseball during the time when the game was still segregated. Having grown up in the Baltimore area, his interest focused on that particular region. Recently, his work turned up a long-forgotten 1930 photo from the archives of the Baltimore Black African showing Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige in the uniform of the Baltimore Black Sox—a team which he spent just one year during a lengthy career that saw him suit up for numerous squads. This rare find portrays Paige in just one of the many uniforms he donned during his lengthy and transitory career.

*Want to incorporate a little baseball history in your next vacation? Beth J. Harpaz from the Miami Herald has you covered, recently compiling a list of some of the best museums around the country that focus on that subject. Now that the heavy lifting has been done, gas up the Family Truckster and hit the road in search of these treasures.

*Former third baseman Ken Caminiti was one of baseball’s most recently polarizing players. He was talented and tenacious, who won the 1996 National League MVP in 1996 with the San Diego Padres but also openly past admitted steroid use in 2002 shortly after his career ended. His story became all the more tragic and complicated following his untimely death in 2004 at the age of 41. His career and demons have been explored in great depth and detail by Bleacher Report’s Scott Miller, which provides a lot more insight into one of the game’s great competitors, who also happened to have a very dark side.

*These days, when a player struggling at the plate wants to turn things around they might put in extra work with a coach or change up the equipment they are using. Times have changed, as the Baseball History Daily recently dug up a Hugh Fullerton article from a 1911 edition of The Chicago Examiner describing how former Detroit Tigers’ second baseman Jim Delahanty correlated receiving a blow to the head with increased success at the plate. The weirdness that is this story is best summed up by one of the former player’s teammates—’If I were you,’ said Davy Jones, ‘I’d hire a mule to kick me three of four times, and maybe I’d hit 1000 per cent.” A career .283 hitter, Delahanty must have taken a knock or two to the old noggin to have had success like that…

*The Boston Red Sox are an organization made up of many great moments and memories. However, perhaps none of them top the stolen base pinch runner Dave Roberts had in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS against the New York Yankees. With his team down three games to none at the time, his successful theft led to him scoring the tying run late in the game and jumpstarted the team to a historic comeback that culminated in them winning the World Series—the first time they had done so in 86 years.

Unbelievably, October 17th marked the 10-year anniversary of Roberts’ play. This clip from the ESPN 30 for 30 film Four Days in October bring the magic of the moment back to life.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

2015 MLB Free Agent Predictions

Although the 2014 MLB postseason is still being battled out on the field, many teams have started looking towards next year. Once this season concludes, the gates to the free agent market will swing open and allow interested bidders to rush in like early birds at a swap meet.

Here is an early list of speculative predictions as to where the top 2015 MLB free agents might land:

Pitcher Max Scherzer- Chicago Cubs: Having won 70 games over the past four seasons with the Detroit Tigers, the right-hander is deservedly about to come into a large sum of money. However, with the $180 million extension rotation-mate Justin Verlander signed with the Tigers last year starting to look very iffy, the team may reluctant to go all in on Scherzer, who is just a year and a half younger. Additionally, this may be the team’s line in the sand when it comes to picking between re-signing him and left-hander David Price, who is slotted for free agency next offseason.

Look for the Cubs, who have declared their intentions to compete in 2015, to swoop in with their dump trucks full of money and snag a pitcher who can potentially lead their rotation for the next decade.

Pitcher Jon Lester- Chicago Cubs: Why have just one shiny new toy when you can have two? The veteran lefty’s history with Chicago president Theo Epstein should create a mutual level of comfort. Locking in a pitcher of this caliber to pair with someone like Scherzer would make it difficult for the team, even with a roster of comprised mainly of young talent, to not be immediate contenders.

Red Sox fans who have hoped for Lester’s return following a 2014 mid-season trade to the Oakland Athletics need a reality check. If he was going to stay with Boston long-term, an extension would have been hammered out earlier in the year. Having him return now would be bad business given the extra money (quite a bit given his strong 2014 season) and draft pick they would need to give up to their prodigal son.

Pitcher James Shields- Boston Red Sox: About to turn 33, and with at least 185 innings in each of the last nine seasons, the right-hander has more wear and tear than most. However, he is a first-rate gamer and the type of pitcher Boston needs to start rebuilding their rotation. The Kansas City Royals would undoubtedly love to have him back but the Red Sox and their recent fondness of inking players of this ilk to lucrative deals in the range of three or four years will impede them.

Signing Shields smacks of a classic Boston move, as he won’t cost as much in dollars or years as the top tier pitchers, yet has the ability to come close to matching them in production over the next few seasons.

Catcher Russell Martin- Los Angeles Dodgers: There is little doubt that the Pittsburgh Pirates would like to retain their All-Star receiver. Problem is they don’t have the deep pockets of a team like the Dodgers, who could really use an upgrade behind the plate. Although he will be 32 next year, Martin may receive an offer from Los Angeles he can’t refuse to return to the organization where he began his career.

Shortstop/Third Baseman Hanley Ramirez- Los Angeles Dodgers: The career .300 hitter has played shortstop for most of his 10-year major league career. Given his age (31 next season) and reputation as a below-average fielder, his future is likely at the hot corner (where 35-year-old incumbent Juan Uribe is signed only through 2015). He has played well in his two-plus seasons with the Dodgers, who have the ability to beat any other offer the right-handed batter might receive on the open market.

Outfielder Nelson Cruz- Baltimore Orioles: Despite leading the American League in home runs with 40 in 2014, the right-handed hitter batted just .249 over the second half of the season. A 2013 PED suspension, a decided lack of defensive skills and an upcoming 35th birthday have all contributed to him never receiving a lucrative multi-year contract expected for most players with his offensive production. He and the Orioles seem to have hit on a good mutual relationship this season, so the likely lack of strong competition for his services should mean his return to the Birds.

Third Baseman Pablo Sandoval- San Francisco Giants: Kung Fu Panda has hit a combined .294 and may be playing in his third World Series during a seven-year major league career. However, the switch-hitter has battled weight problems and doesn’t possess elite power. The Red Sox are another team that could probably use his services the most but their caution of late on the free agent market may mean they will pass on Sandoval and allow him to return to the team with whom he has been such a big part of their recent success.

Designated Hitter Victor Martinez- Seattle Mariners: Believe it or not, even though Martinez is a legitimate 2014 MVP candidate, he may have a relative shortage of serious suitors. As a DH, he is limited to the American League, where many teams already have established players in the role or use the lineup slot to rest aging veterans. Detroit can likely afford to let him go, as they have a number of offensively gifted and defensively challenged players in their lineup that can have their gloves benched 162 times a season. On the other side, the Mariners made great strides in 2014 and could see their momentum push them into the playoffs next year by adding a hitter with of patience and ability of the switch-hitter.

Outfielder Yasmani Tomas- San Diego Padres: The Cuban slugger has been generating significant interest since it was announced he was an eligible free agent. The success of some of his fellow countrymen, particularly likely 2014 AL Rookie of the Year Jose Abreu, should have teams salivating over the 24 year-old prospect. The Padres have already outed themselves as an interested party, which should come as little surprise given their lackluster .226 team batting average and .342 team slugging percentage this season.. Although there is risk in signing such a relative unknown, this may be the Padres’ best chance to inject their lineup with a possible difference maker without breaking the $100 million mark.

Outfielder Melky Cabrera- New York Mets: Cabrera bounced back from a disappointing 2013 season and PED suspension in 2012 with a nice campaign this year for the Toronto Blue Jays. Although the 30-year-old switch-hitter has hit a combined .309 over the past four seasons, he might not receive the same attention as might be expected due to his poor glove work and sketchy past. Nonetheless, he will be a nice pick-up for somebody and this seems like the type of mid-level bargain the cash-strapped Mets may be able to fit into their budget. With Eric Young and his anemic bat patrolling left field for much of this year, adding someone like Cabrera would be a major upgrade.

Pitcher Ervin Santana- Seattle Mariners: Santana isn’t an ace but has averaged 12 wins and 188 innings pitched over the first 10 years of his career—all but last year spent with the Los Angeles Angels in the AL West. Prone to the long ball, pitching half his games in the Mariners’ spacious Safeco Field would help mitigate that flaw on his under-appreciated resume.

Shortstop Stephen Drew- New York Yankees: Drew was awful this season, hitting just a combined .162 in 85 games with the Red Sox and Yankees. He may have played himself out of a good chunk of money but his steady glove and reputation as a solid hitter in the past will still land him a gig. The most natural fit is returning to New York, which has a black hole at second base, no shortstop with the retirement of Derek Jeter, and a soon-to-be 40-year-old third baseman who won’t have played a regular season game in a year and a half. Drew’s ability to play all of those positions makes his return a strong likelihood.

Infielder Asdrubal Cabrera- New York Yankees: See above. Once considered a rising star, the 28-year-old Cabrera has merely been an average player over the past couple of seasons. However, he has positional versatility and as recently as 2011 hit .273 with 25 home runs and 92 RBIs. Although the Yankees are well-known for their free-wheeling spending, they have so many large contracts on file that this could be the offseason where frugality wins the day. He won’t come cheaply, but Cabrera could be more reasonable than other options.

Pitcher Jake Peavy- Pittsburgh Pirates: He’ll be 34 by next year’s All Star break but after going 6-4 with a 2.12 ERA in 12 starts with the Giants after coming over from the Red Sox in a mid-season trade, he showed he still has gas left in the tank and may be a better fit in the National League. Past arm issues and production that has been in decline since his 2007 National League Cy Young win will impact his offers. Enter the thrifty by necessity Pirates, who could offer him a reasonable multi-year deal, which could be all the more appealing for the veteran because of their playoff appearances the past two years.

Third Baseman Aramis Ramirez- Boston Red Sox: Even if 2014 Boston starter Will Middlebrooks has a major comeback in him, the team may have already decided to move on next year. A 17-year major league veteran, Ramirez still has a productive bat and would be available on one of those shorter contracts the team so enjoys.

The emergence of Brock Holt means Ramirez wouldn’t be required to play every day, which would hopefully maximize his impact.  The team has struck gold with third basemen in their 30s in the recent past (Bill Mueller and Mike Lowell), so it wouldn’t be a shock to see that happen again. The Green Monster at Fenway Park would be an inviting target for his bat, which has launched 464 doubles and 369 homers during his career.

Outfielder Nick Markakis- Baltimore Orioles: The left-handed hitter does a little bit of everything but never developed into a star. The current longest-tenured member of the Orioles probably won’t have enough outside interest to lure him away from the team where he has spent his entire nine-year MLB career, so a return seems imminent.

Pitcher Brandon McCarthy- Boston Red Sox: It’s hard to imagine the Red Sox beginning next year with a rotation predominantly made up of rookies and youngsters but unless they sign or trade for at least two veterans to join the returning Clay Buchholz, that’s exactly what would happen. The right-handed McCarthy was stellar (7-5, 2.89 ERA) after being traded to the Yankees this July.

Although McCarthy has struggled with injuries in the past, he reached 200 innings for the first time in his career this season, keeps the ball in the park and is very analytically driven—much like Boston. Having pitched into at least the sixth inning in all but four of his 32 starts in 2014, he is a solid veteran who could help firm up the Red Sox’s rotation—at a fraction of the price of some of his fellow free agents.

Pitcher Francisco Liriano- Kansas City Royals: Still prone to bouts of wildness, the left-hander reclaimed his career during the past two seasons with Pittsburgh after flaming out with the Minnesota Twins. With the Royals appearing World Series-bound and facing a likely uphill battle to keep current ace Shields, adding another impact arm may be a necessity. An added benefit of signing Liriano would be the ability of teaming him with Danny Duffy and Jason Vargas and giving the team a heavy southpaw theme in 2015.

*These are predictions based on speculation from reviewing team needs, history etc... No direct sources were utilized in the forming of these opinions.

**Statistics obtained from BaseballReference.com

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