The Inning #2
In our second weekly installment of the Inning, we have a number of things to cover early in Spring training. This will get easier, and significantly more interesting as the season matures, but for now, we will inject as much drama as we can.
1. Braves finally get their man – The Atlanta Braves have been actively chasing a middle infielder with a bat for years. A few years back they were heavily rumored to be acquiring Manny Machado at the deadline, but the front office lost access to their communications systems as the hour passed, and the deal was posted too late. At that point, there was a package consisting heavily of highly valued prospects who have since found new homes, Hideki Abe, Jong You Paek, Will Rainey, etc. Here is a small look at some of the names who have played up the middle for Atlanta over the last few years:
Paul Arrington, SS – never hit over .230, while he played great defense, he was a consistent hole in the lineup. He was not brought back.
Erik Lee, 2B – After hitting .260 in 2017, Lee took a monstrous step back and hit .233 in 2018. Again, solid defense up the middle, but his bat was a major issue. Lee remains on the roster, fighting for a spot in Spring.
Michael Gilmartin, MI – hit .222 in 2017, and was not resigned by the Braves front office.
John Ballard, 2B/SS – was great with the bat over 2 years in Atlanta, but was shipped off to Kansas City in exchange for Jose Rosario. Ballard was a victim of Atlanta focusing heavily on defense last season, as he lost his starting role to the struggling Lee.
This list goes on, but it is essentially a revolving door of players. Atlanta Brass now seems to think they have stopped that meri-go-round for good with the acquisition of Chad Scott. “Scott is a player we have been chasing for years now” Said GM Brenton Heffernan, “We wish Matt (Barnes) all the best, and cant thank him enough for what he has done for us over the years, but this was a move we had to make to sure up our infield.” Scott steps into an already loaded lineup featuring a number big bats. It should be a fun year in Atlanta.
2. Welcome to Good Burger… – The rebuild on the Northside is real, and it is raw. GM Justin Jabs has been as transparent as you could hope from a font office in his description of how this process is going. It is clearly takin a toll on him personally, as the typically jovial and free spirited Jabs has been seen drinking at games more frequently, and has become more volatile in his dealings with his fellow GM’s. But the good news is that the future has some bright spot. The one I want to talk about today is Jake Burger, 3B of the future in Chicago. While currently the hot corner is occupied by 26 year old Javier Baez, the utility man will likely be spending more time at 2B and SS in 2019 (assuming Jabs can justify benching 21 year old Eduardo Valles at any point), as Burger makes his arrival sometime in the summer.
This spring, the youngster is off to a solid .444 batting average, has seen some level of action in 6 straight games, and has a hit in each game he has started. The notoriously hard worker has been seen in the cages early, and taking grounders after games with the coaches. That said, it may not be for the reason Cubs fans would prefer…
“I need to get paid as fast as possible” Said Burger in an interview with ESPNMLBP, “and my clock wont start until I put on this blue hat in a game that matters. The only way to do that, is to work my tail off.”
I suppose you will take it anyway you can get it on the Northside, but that kind of attitude screams free agency battle down the line. Will Jabs attempt to sell him off in a few years to avoid the headache. The more realistic and immediate question is…. what does Jabs do with Baez. Guy was very good last year, and could be useful to a contender… but at this point is simply eating at bats for Valles or Burger. For now though, its an interesting story line to watch in what will otherwise be a lackluster season for the boys in blue.
3. Widner looks ready – Pitching is not as much of an issue as it used to be in the lone-star state. The Rangers brass has spent a lot of time and human capital suring up the rotation, and we are now looking at a formidable and young group. Headlined by recent acquisition, 24 year old James Kaprielian and two young lefties Reginald McMillan and Christopher Lee, Texas now has another youngster knocking on the door. Jamie Widner had been steadily rising through the New York Mets farm system before being dealt to the Rangers in the deal that sent former cult hero and steroid user Xue-Liang Wong to the Mets. Now the #10 ranked prospect according to OSA, Widner is primed for a break out season in Arlington.
“I feel great. Having young guys like Kap, Reggie and CL around really helps with the jitters.” Widner said. “I think the 4 of us can turn this division on its head”.
If any division needs turning on its head, its the AL West. While technically the NL West has had the least total amount of champions (2, Giants and Dodgers), the Angels have won 4 consecutive division titles, while Seattle has finished in second each of the last 4 years (much to the shagrin of GM Justin Kaiser). Over those same 4 years, the Rangers have finished 3rd each time, despite being over .500 3 of the 4 years. It is shaping up to be more of the same here in 2019… but Texas could make a run with some luck and if their offense can revert to 2015 levels.
1. Sun Sets on the East… – Boston is not a city that has any real hopes for a post season appearance this season, but it still sucks to watch one of their intriguing names go down for a chunk of the season. This is exactly what happened however, when Tsuramatsu Iguchi, 23 year old left handed rookie starting pitcher has been declared out for at least 4 months with “arm problems”. This is always a huge issue for pitchers coming over from Japan, and the managers in MLB refusing to adjust to the style of pitching in Japan. Remember the plight of Daisuke Matsuzaka, and how his arm deteriorated as the Sox refused to allow him to manage his arm in the manner he was accustomed to.
“Obviously we hate to see Guch go down for such an extended period of time” Said Bostons manager ___________. “He is going to be a massive part of our future.” Iguchi is also one of 7 players of Asian descent in camp with Boston this spring. Hideaki Hirose, Kazuya Takano, Tae-Hyeok Nom, Kenkichi Tanaka, Hiroshi Nakamura, Yasuhiko Taheda have all been brought in by GM Brett Jackson in an apparent attempt to woo the Japanese fanbase away from Seattle. While not all of these fellas will make the big league club (Nam and Tanaka both play 1B, currently that spot is projected to be filled by Geraldo Rodriguez) this intentional appeal to the international community is a very intriguing one. Come to think of it…. this would have been a good thing to cover in the 3 Up section…
2. The Also rans that will continue to run – Writing about the Rangers above got me thinking about the teams that have never won a division title. There are 10 teams in the MLB Pro universe that have yet to cross that threshold: Houston Astros, Chicago White Sox, Kansas City Royals, Philadelphia Phillies, Washington Nationals, Colorado Rockies, San Diego Padres, Arizona Diamondbacks, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Chicago Cubs. As I look at this list, there are a few that have legitimate shots at taking home their first crown, Colorado, San Diego, Philadelphia (how have they never won a title?), Kansas City most notably. But what about the others? The teams that have never won the title, some who have never been to the postseason. Lets look at a few of them now:
Chicago – We have touched on them briefly, and luckily they are under no delusions that the Northsiders will be putting up a penant next year at Wrigley. There are some right spots, but even in a division lacking a true super power, its tough to see the Cubs taking it home until 2021 at the earliest.
White Sox – The Southsiders aren’t in much better position to do any damage. Though they are in a shallow division, the Twins and Royals are heads and shoulders above the rest of the AL Central. Gm Johnathan Hodges cant be called complacent, as the man has attempted to move heaven and earth on occasion to drag this team kicking and screaming to a division title. In fact, they only boast 1 winning season to date.
Arizona and Houston – I lump them together, not out of disrespect, but because they are on such similar paths. They are both loaded with young talent, and they are on the brink of relevancy. Houston is likely a bit ahead of Arizona when it comes to pure talent level, but Arizona will be more likely to see post season play within the next few years, based on the division and league they play in.
Pirates – The Bucs are very much in the same world as the White Sox, one winning season to date, and no playoff appearances. The main difference is consistency of leadership. The Pirates have had a large number of GM’s over the years, and that inconsistency has led to their current state, and there doesn’t seem to be a lot to be hopeful about at this point.
3. Nolan Aredando remains hitless in the spring – Coming off his worst season to date, the last thing the folks in Cincinnati wanted to see was a struggling Aredando. He posted career lows in batting average and .OBP, while posting a career high in strike outs. After a stellar season in 2017, his first in the Queen City, NA fell apart during Cincinnatis nightmare 2018 campaign. Many of the Red’s players did the same, but this was different. The 27 year old hot corner staple seems lethargic at many points of the season, despite playing in 154 games. Reds leadership blamed the decline on Nolan’s offensive decline on his reinvigorated focus on his glove. There may actually be some truth to that, as he took a large step forward in 2018, posting a +12.8 ZR while handling well over 300 + chances.
At this point, he is 0-spring, which is about 14 at bats at this point. Small sample size to be sure, but the Reds have to be concerned at this point. Could his prankster ways be catching up to the spirited veteran?