July 2012

Dealing Astros Stockpiling for the Future

Jose Altuve Image: http://www.mlb.com

Well, we are right in the midst of the craziness that surrounds the July 31st MLB trading deadline.  You have your share of teams making moves to increase their chances of winning (you go Pittsburgh Pirates).  You have teams that are sellers because of an utterly disappointing season (that’s you, Miami Marlins).  There is one team that is wheeling and dealing now in the hopes of contending in two or three years.  I am fascinated by all of the moves being made by the Houston Astros.

Over the last four weeks, the ‘Stros have parted with Carlos Lee, J.A. Happ, Brett MyersBrandon Lyon  and Wandy Rodriguez.  In return, Houston received a total of  15 players, most of them prospects.  Even if only five of them become regular players for the Astros,  2012 will be known as the Summer the team built their foundation for success.  In addition to all of the action on the big league level, Houston drafted Shortstop Carlos Correa with the first pick in this year’s draft.  Correa at age 17 already has had 95 at bats in the Gulf Coast League.   First year General Manager Jeff Luhnow has an excellent background having spent nine seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals.  The organization seems to be in capable hands with Luhnow in charge.  Houston already has budding stars in Jose Altuve and Lucas Harrell.  The drafting of Correra and the stockpiling of prospects indicates that this team is feeling giddy about its short and long-term future. 

In 2013, the Astros move into the rugged American League West.  The well-regarded organization of the Rangers and the young superstars of the A’s and Angels will pose problems for the newcomers.  However, I expect Houston to contend very shortly and give those guys a run for the money at this time next season. 

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at http://venomstrikes.com

Cameron Maybin Slowly Becoming Noticed

His team plays in San Diego and is 17 games under .500. That is two reasons why Cameron Maybin  has flown under the radar.  Another is  that .221 batting average.   Still only 25 years old, the Padres still think he has tremendous upside and showed it with a 5 year, $25 million dollar contract extension through 2016.

Maybin was originally drafted by the Tigers in the first round of the 2007 amateur draft out of Roberson High School in Asheville, NC.  He (along with Andrew Miller) were the centerpieces of the deal for the Marlins in the trade that sent Miguel Cabrera to Detroit.  Maybin was the starting Center Fielder for Florida in 2009 but was sent down to the Minors only a month into the season.   Surprisingly, the Marlins quickly ran out of patience with Maybin and shipped him to San Diego after the 2010 season. 

In his first season with the Padres, Maybin was selected as the team MVP in a season which he stole 40 bases and was named the San Diego nominee for the Hank Aaron Award, given to the top hitter in each league.  Maybin’s power output of 9 home runs and 40 RBI’s in 2011 was slightly skewed because he plays in spacious Petco Park.  His value is more on defense because he plays Center Field in San Diego, where he is asked to cover an awful lot of ground.  He is on pace to at least match his 2011 offensive  numbers and he continues to produce highlight reel plays every night.  Although Maybin has only four homers in 2012, he hit one almost 500 feet earlier this season in Arizona.  Check out the mammoth blast here

Cameron Maybin has all of the tools to remain one of the building blocks as the Padres continue to rebuild.  Considering he was once the 10th pick in the country, you have to believe he will eventually be a .260 hitter.  That along with his blazing speed and superior defensive skills will make him one of the best Outfielders over the next ten seasons.

Follow me on Twittr @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at www.venomstrikes.com

MLB Highlights (In Case You Missed Them)

It has been a while since this blog has featured some of the best defensive plays Major League Baseball has to offer.  I say defense because most offensive highlights these days are home runs, guys staring at their home runs or end of game moments that range from a walk to a grand slam and all finish with a sea of home team players streaming onto the field.  Then again, maybe we can get a 450 foot blast in here once in a while, can’t we?

On to the clips.

Josh Reddick-Reddick was plucked by Oakland in a trade that sent the now injured Andrew Bailey to Boston.   He has been the A’s best offensive player so far which resulted in his being selected to this season’s All Star Game.  However, the one play that stood out for me was this laser he fired during a game in April that reminded me of Ichiro’s throw in 2001 that is still shown today.  Click here and watch this cannon. 

Mike Baxter-MLB Network recently ran the Top 75  Plays in the First Half as voted on by Facebook users.  I watched the last 35 minutes of this program and it is incomprehensible that this catch to preserve Johan Santana’s  no-hitter did not make the top 44.  Baxter literally sacrificed his body on this play as he was taken off the field and hasn’t been seen since then.  If you haven’t seen it, please watch it now. 

Brandon Phillips-Double plays are fun to watch.  Watching Brandon Phillips play defense is fun.  So why not combine the two?  Phillips is a magician in the field and a pretty fine offensive player as well and is a major reason why the Reds are in first place at the moment.  Here is one of the many plays that make the 2nd baseman a nightly highlight reel.

Cameron Maybin-Like Phillips, Maybin is a bet to make the highlight reel every night.  He is the perfect guy to play in the vast outfield of Petco Park.  His glove and now his bat are showing people why the Marlins wanted him when they traded Miguel Cabrera to the Tigers.  What follows is one of the best catches that will be made in 2012.  Click here and enjoy the play calling of the great Dick Enberg

I hope you enjoyed the videos.  There are countless others out there but these are the ones that stick out for now.  I’ll get some more to you soon.

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at http://venomstrikes.com

Reggie Jackson’s Raw Deal?

Image: sportsillustrated.cnn.com

This post needs a disclaimer.  Before Don Mattingly came on the scene in 1983, Reggie Jackson was my favorite player.  I had a head-to-toe, Yankees uniform with his number 44 on the back.  I still have his Scrapbook which was published in 1978.  But when he left New York to go to California, I stopped following him.  On the other hand, Jason, one of my best friends on Earth, stayed with Reggie and became an Angels fan.   Reggie will always be my pal’s idol.  I will always consider Mr. October #2 behind Donnie Baseball.

As you may have figured out by now, the rest of the piece concerns the recent Sports Illustrated feature about Reggie and his comments that have caused a ruckus.  The article, written by Phil Taylor, is excellent and is recommended reading for everyone.  Out of the five and a half page (when printed) story, it is two quotes that have everyone around baseball buzzing.  These are straight from the story, not second-hand reporting.

Quote #1:  “I didn’t see Kirby Puckett as a Hall of Famer,” he says. “I didn’t see Gary Carter as a Hall of Famer. I didn’t see Don Sutton as a Hall of Famer. I didn’t see Phil Niekro as a Hall of Famer. As much as I like Jim Rice, I’m not so sure he’s a Hall of Famer.”  

Of the above names mentioned, the one that caused grief for lots of people was Carter.  As you know he died in February at the age of 58 after a courageous battle with brain cancer.  Many felt his comments were insensitive given that Carter’s death is still fresh in their minds.  While I understand their feelings, can we step back for a minute?  He didn’t attack Carter as a player.  There was no malice in his quote.  Reggie’s point was that he felt the writers had set their standards too low in evaluating who belongs in Cooperstown.  All he did was rattle off names from his era that he felt were not Hall-worthy.  That’s it.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Should fans of Puckett feel disrespected as well?   Although he died six years ago, his passing was just as tragic, plus he was 12 years younger than Carter.  Is there a waiting period after someone dies before we can critique their career?   Again, I can see why people’s feathers were ruffled but they need to understand there was nothing personal in Reggie’s statement.

Quote #2:  And A-Rod? “Al’s a very good friend,” Jackson says. “But I think there are real questions about his numbers. As much as I like him, what he admitted about his usage does cloud some of his records.”

This was the quote the made the entire Yankee organization fume and earned Jackson a “suspension” from the team.  Read the quote again.  Now tell me what was so bad about it?  That was an honest and fair statement.  Again, nothing malicious about it, nothing personal to it.  Rodriguez admitted he took steroids.  Many people still feel he will get in simply because he admitted taking them for three years and even if you strike them from the record, his numbers are still good enough for enshrinement.  What Jackson said in public would probably be said in private by every member of the Yankees who threw a hissy fit once they read the SI piece.  The real reason the Yanks lashed out is because A-Rod is still the Golden Boy.  He is the one that may break the all time Home Run Record and finally fill the seats that stay empty in the Stadium during the regular season.  If Rodriguez does break the record, how many times will YES show the game within the first 48 hours?  50?  60?  Then again, if the Yanks lose the game, all bets are off.  By the way, I have my own feeling about Alex Rodriguez but I will save that for a later date.

Reggie Jackson has had many controversial quotes attributed to them over the years.  These two don’t belong in that category.  Because of his name, he is an easy target.  Everyone that was upset. particualry by the Carter comments needs to understand that Jackson was just being open and honest and no ill will was intended.  Once again Reggie Jackson became the straw that stirred the drink.

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at http://venomstrikes.com

Overlooked MLB All Stars From the Past

 Growing up, I couldn’t wait for the All Star Game.  It was a chance for me to see all of the best players I would only see once or twice per season.   Since the advent of instant highlights and additional channels, some of that novelty has worn off.  I also am not a fan of the game determining World Series home field advantage.  That being said, it is without question the premier All Star game in sports.  With that in mind, here is a look at some former All Stars that deserve some more recognition.

Greg Luzinski-“The Bull” was a four-time All Star who was a vital member of five playoff teams with the Phillies and one with the White Sox.  He finished second in the 1975 MVP race when he led the league in RBI’s with 120.   His best year came in 1977 with 39 home runs, 130 RBI’s and a .309 batting average.  After winning the World Series with Philadelphia in 1980, he moved to Chicago where in 1983, he helped the Sox win their first ever American League West title.   He retired after the 1984 season with career numbers of 307 homers, 1,128 runs driven in and a .276 batting average.

 

 Richie Zisk-This two-time All Star’s appearances came in 1977 with the White Sox and in 1978 with  Texas.  His start to the ’78 season and as a member of the Rangers was a memorable one as he launched a game ending home run off  of Rich Gossage who was making his first appearance as a Yankee.  Ironically, not only did Zisk and Gossage share the same agent, Jerry Kapstein, but they were also traded for each other prior to the 1977 season with Zisk going to Chicago and Goose going to Pittsburgh.   The Outfielder/DH’s best season was with the Sox when he batted .290 with 30 homers and 101 runs batted in.  His last three seasons were productive ones with Seattle and after the 1983 season he retired with 207 home runs, 792 RBI’s and a .287 average.

 

Al Oliver circa 1971 Image: Pirates’ MLB websiite

Al Oliver-“Scoop”  was one of the best players of his era, a career spanning 18 seasons and six teams.  At age 24, he was the starting Center Fielder for the 1971 World Champion Pirates, a team that featured Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell who flanked him in the outfield.  Oliver was a seven-time All Star who sported a superb .303 lifetime batting average.  His best season was in 1982 when he led the National League in batting (.331), RBI’s (109), hits (204), doubles (43) and total bases (317).  His outstanding playing days finished after the 1985 season in which his lifetime numbers included 219 home runs and 1,326 runs batted in while appearing in 2,368 games.   Oliver is definitely one of the most underrated players of the last 40 years.

There are plenty of other former All Stars who often get overlooked.  These three guys I saw play while growing up and immediately came to mind when the idea for this post was formed.

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at http://venomstrikes.com

Pirates Are In It to Win it

Image: sportsillustrated.cnn.com

Has anyone else noticed that the Pittsburgh Pirates are 10 games over .500 and in first place?   I knew that after a sluggish start they were playing good ball but I didn’t realize just how good.   Unlike last season when the team collapsed at the end of July, this year’s edition of the Bucs are a serious threat to win the division.

Andrew McCutchen has vaulted into the air of elite player status.  His .356 batting average is tops in the National League and he has knocked in 54 and has scored 53 times.  Right now, he would be the NL MVP.   James McDonald has put together an outstanding season, finally living up to his vast potential.  He has nine wins to go along with an ERA under 2.50 and over 100 strikeouts.  A.J. Burnett has been a tremendous pickup, firmly entrenching himself at the top of Pittsburgh’s rotation.  He also has nine victories after missing the first two weeks of the season with an eye injury.  At the back end of the bullpen is “The Hammer”, Joel Hanrahan, who is making his second straight All Star appearance.  He has 22 saves, on pace to exceed last season’s total of 40.  Pedro Alvarez has finally been living up to his status as the second pick in the draft.  Some of his tape measure home runs have been highlight fixtures.

In 2011, the Pirates traded for Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick at the deadline to bolster a sputtering offense.  There may not be a need for a bat this season.  This team led the Majors in runs scored in June.  However, management did show last season that they will make in-season moves to bolster the team’s playoff chances.   That is a welcome departure for a  fan base that has too often seen its team be sellers instead of buyers.   The pirates may or may not make the postseason.  What I can say for sure is that their 20 consecutive seasons of below .500 finishes will come to an end come October.

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at http://www.venomstrikes.com

Don Mattingly and My Other (Sort Of) Facebook Friends

I am sure all of us have had interactions with players in one form or other.  Most of them have occurred during the process of getting an autograph at a book signing, before a game or some other place that may or may not be out of the ordinary.  The following are three players who that if Facebook were around back in the day, I might have become friends with these guys.

Don Mattingly-What a way to begin this list.  Donnie Baseball is my favorite player of all time.  The only occasion where I have ever had chills at a sporting event was before Game 1 of the 1995 American League Division Series.  As I heard his name announced during the introduction of the starting lineups, I felt goosebumps up and down my body.  The real Yankee Stadium was electric and I remember feeling so good for Mattingly as he sprinted out to the field, running away from all the memories of all those previous horrible Yankee seasons. 

Anyway, the first non-autograph encounter with my baseball hero occurred before a game at the Stadium in 1984.   About 35 minutes before the game, the players were warming up and Donnie was in my and my sister’s line of sight as he was playing a game of catch.   There was  a decent amount of fans hanging around when all of a sudden my sister screamed out, “M-A-A-A-T-T-I-N-G-L-Y-Y-Y-Y!!”.  He turned toward us and as my sister and I were waving frantically at him, he shielded his eyes and waved back.  She was so loud, Bob Sheppard probably heard her.

My other contact with Mattingly took place roughly three years later as we were driving over the George Washington Bridge.   While cruising on the upper deck of the bridge heading back to New York,  my Dad glanced in his rear view mirror and said, “I think Don Mattingly is in the left lane”.  I turned and saw that it indeed was him so I told my father to beep his horn.  He obliged and when I waved at Donnie, he acknowledged me with a salute and kept on driving.  Two waves, two moments I will never f0rget.

Ron Kittle-He was the 1983 American League Rookie of the Year with the White Sox.   In the middle of the 1986 season, was traded by the Chisox to the Yankees and it was the following February at Spring Training where I “met” Kittle for the first time.  After a workout, fans always used to wait for players in the parking lot in the hopes of getting an autograph or to say a quick hello.  Kittle soon emerged and and a bunch of us went to greet him.  He was signing for everyone when he came to me as I handed him his Fleer or Topps 1984 card.  He looked at it and said, “I am sorry but I don’t do business with them, I can’t sign it”.  Confused, I asked him to sign something else which he happily obliged.  I didn’t understand then and I still don’t now as his picture was used on both cards, why couldn’t he sign one of them?

My second story about Kittle doesn’t involve meeting him.  Instead, on June 29, 1987, my fourteenth birthday, Ron Kittle hit the only inside-the-park home run of his career during the first inning.  The Yankees would go on to beat the Blue Jays 15-14 in a wild affair that was decided thanks to a Dave Winfield grand slam in the top of the eighth inning.  Perhaps this was a makeup by Kittle to me for not signing my baseball card.

Dell Alston-He had a short career from 1977-1980 but did come up through the Yankee organization.   I think it was in 1982 when my other sister was still in high school when Alston made an appearance at her school one night for a charity basketball game.  I don’t remember much about him other than getting his autograph and saying hello.   I found out later on that he did attend Concordia College and played ball there.  Concordia was the school my wife graduated from some 25 years after Alston was there.  While it wasn’t direct contact like Kittle and Mattingly, the family connections are enough to make him a “friend”.

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at http://venomstrikes.com

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