Scouting Report, Jackie Bradley Jr.

Jackie Bradley Jr. was taken 40th overall by the Boston Red Sox back in 2011. Bradley was an exciting player at the University of South Carolina where he displayed his tremendous defensive prowess in centerfield. After his first two seasons with South Carolina, Bradley Jr. seemed destined to be a middle of the first round pick in the 2011 amateur draft, but after a poor Junior season with the Gamecocks, he fell to the supplemental round as the 40th pick. In just over one professional season, Bradley Jr. has posted a .311/.423/.473 (AVG/OBP/SLG) slash line between Single-A+ and Double-A. At 23 years old, Bradley was a non-roster invitee for the Red Sox this spring and opened a lot of eyes in Boston’s camp. Heading into the spring, many executives within Boston expected Bradley would need another season or so in the minor leagues in order to polish his approach at the plate. However, this spring Bradley Jr. has batted .441/.521/.644 slash line with 2 homers and 12 RBI in 26 games. Defensively, Bradley Jr. possesses a strong-arm which is made even better by a quick release. He can certainly stick to playing centerfield in the big leagues because of his range and strong-arm. Offensively, he has good contact skills that should allow him to hit near .300 at the big league level. Bradley Jr. has a tendency to get a little long with his swing, which leaves him exposed to inside pitching; this is something he must fix or else Major League pitchers will continuously pound him inside. His size and swing limit his power projections as it seems likely his home run potential will remain around 10 homers a year. Also, Bradley Jr. has above average speed and projects at about 15-20 steals per season. After his monster spring, many are speculating that Bradley Jr. will begin the season at the Major League level with the Red Sox. It would make more sense for the Red Sox to demote him for at least the first 7 days of the season in order to delay the start of his service clock and by waiting for the 8th day of the regular season, the Red Sox can delay his free agency by one year to 2018. However, all indications point to Bradley Jr. beginning the season with the Red Sox because he was on the team plane to New York where they will begin their season facing the Yankees.

Anthony Cacchione

Predictions of MLB Award Winners

Predicting 2013 Award Winners

AL MVP

Adrian Beltre – Coming off three straight years of at least 100 RBI, Beltre is primed for an MVP award. He finished third in the MVP balloting last season, with a .321/.359/.561 (Avg./OBP/SLG) slash line. Over the course of the last three seasons, Beltre has batted .314 with 96 homers and 309 RBI, while also winning two straight Gold Glove Awards. Adrian Beltre’s tremendous defense sets him apart from many of the other contenders and his importance to the Rangers’ offense has skyrocketed after the loss of Josh Hamilton, Michael Young and Mike Napoli.

Dark Horse – Yoenis Cespedes

AL Cy Young

Justin Verlander – Verlander is easily my choice for the best pitcher in the Majors. Three of the last four seasons, Verlander has led the Majors in both innings pitched and strike outs. He has also posted more than 15 wins in each of the last four seasons. Verlander is a safe bet for 200 innings and 200 strike outs, while also pitching to an ERA below 3. Last season, Verlander actually surpassed  David Price in WAR and ERA+.

Dark Horse – Brandon Morrow

AL Rookie of the Year

Wil Myers – Myers will certainly begin the season in Triple-A because the Rays would like to delay the start of his MLB service clock. Nevertheless, once that date passes Myers will be the starting right fielder for the Rays. The tools are there, as he has tremendous power and  great contact skills. Myers batted .314 with 37 homers and 109 RBI between Double-A and Triple-A last season. Jurickson Profar will likely reach the Majors sooner, but once called up his playing time will likely be more sporadic and unpredictable.

Dark Horse – Aaron Hicks

NL MVP

Joey Votto – Votto was the front-runner to win the MVP last season until his knee injury shortened his season. He has batted over .300 in each of the last 4 seasons and led the league in walks last year, while only playing 111 games. Other than his knee injury last season, Votto has been incredibly durable and consistent. Votto will also be hitting with a better lineup ahead of him, after the addition of Shin-Soo-Choo. The only concern with Votto is his power is not really MVP caliber, with only one 30 homer season.

Dark Horse – Jason Heyward

NL Cy Young

Stephen Strasburg – Everyone knows Strasburg has the most electric stuff in the Majors and now that he is pitching without an innings limit, he should be able to dominate for a complete season. In 159 1/3 innings, Strasburg had 197 strike outs and finished with a 15-6 record thanks to a 3.16 ERA. Strasburg has the lineup behind him to help get him to 20 wins and having already had Tommy John surgery, he should be healthy for the entire season.

Dark Horse – Kris Medlen

NL Rookie of the Year

Shelby Miller – Like many, my ROY pick was Adam Eaton until he went down with his elbow injury that will likely cost him 2 months of the season. Shelby is my new pick, after hearing that he will definitely be the 5th starter for the Cardinals. Miller has very good stuff and had a strong second half of the season last year in Triple-A. In his short stint with the Cardinals last season, Shelby pitched to a 1.32 ERA in 13 2/3 innings with 16 strike outs. Miller will get the opportunity to pitch every 5th day and with many other top prospects beginning the season in the minors, it is likely Miller’s full season in the Majors will separate him from the rest.

Dark Horse – Pete Kozma

Tell us what your picks are in the comments.

Anthony Cacchione

5 most underrated players in the MLB

5. Brendan Ryan, SS, Seattle Mariners

Now I realize that putting Ryan on this list will probably rub some people the wrong way because of the horrific offensive statistics he has put up the past few years but his defense is truly one of the most undervalued assets in the big leagues. FanGraphs shows that his defense was worth $12.4 million in 2011 and $7.7 million in 2012 (not saying that’s what he’d get on the open market) while posting a combined 4.5 WAR in those two years. He made a combined 5 million dollars in 2011-12 meaning that theoretically the Mariners saved about $15 Million dollars on his defense during those two years. He also lead the AL in defensive WAR in 2012 at 3.6 according to Baseball-Reference while also leading in UZR at 14.7. Also keep in mind that he put up a couple decent offensive campaigns in the past posting (.752 OPS) for St. Louis in 2007 as well as a (.740 OPS) in 2009. You might also want to consider the fact that he plays a defense first position and that because the Mariners play in such a spacious ball park runs come at a premium so every bit of defense counts.

4. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks

Coming into the big leagues Goldschmidt was viewed as a guy who, in the eyes of many talent evaluators, had decent pop but whose swing was too long to adjust to big league pitching and that he would become nothing more than a part-time player despite his minor league slash line of (.318/.409/.623). Thus far he has proved them wrong putting up a (.286/.359/.490) slash line in 2012 while hitting 20 dingers as well as stealing 18 bases. While the stolen bases may be a fluke you can certainly look for him to improve upon his power numbers as his career goes on.

3. Yadier Molina, C, St. Louis Cardinals

While he is widely recognized as the best defensive catcher in the game, his hitting, until recently has been quite overlooked. Considering how far he has come since his 2006 season (.216/.274/.321) as compared to his 2012 campaign (.315/.373/.501) it has been truly remarkable to watch him grow into one of the games best all around catchers. According to Fangraphs since 2008 (age 26-30) he has been worth a total of 21.3 WAR as compared to Johnny Bench‘s age 26-30 season in which he put up a 26.4 WAR. That is a pretty impressive comparable if you ask me. Yadier has quietly been one of the best on field as well as off the field leaders in the game and knows how to manage a game as well as handle a pitching staff which are invaluable. If he keeps up his current pace I believe he will go down as one of the best if not the best catcher to wear a Cardinals uniform.

2. Billy Butler, 1B, Kansas City Royals

Butler has quietly turned himself into one of the better First Basemen in the game over the past three seasons posting on base – plus slugging percentages of (.857), (.822), (.882) over the past three years at a time when teams like the Rays are relying on players such as James Loney as their everyday starter at a position where power comes first. Butler also provides a strong veteran presence in the Royals clubhouse for young position players such as Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer at time that is pivotal for the Royals franchise after their off-season acquisitions of James Shields and Wade Davis. If the Royals are to be competitive this year Butler will have to once more step up in his contributions and solidify himself as one of the best first basemen in the game.

1. Matt Holliday, LF, St. Louis Cardinals

Since 2009, Player A has posted a war of 24.7 while Matt Holliday has posted a war of 22.3. Since 2009, Player A has averaged an OPS of .946 while Matt Holliday has averaged an OPS of .905. Over the course of those four years, FanGraphs has pegged Holliday’s dollar value at an average of $24.5 million a year while he has been making $17 million, so in a sense his deal has been somewhat of a bargain for the Cardinals thus far and he has more than lived up to his contract but that is not to say that he could start to decline or spiral downhill during these next 4 years of his contract. Most of his criticism comes from the St. Louis fan base because he has not put up the same ludicrous numbers as Pujols during his time as the 3 hitter in St. Louis, but holding anyone to those Ruthian standards would be unfair and unreasonable. Holliday has put up all-star numbers during his time in St. Louis but is at a disadvantage because he had the fortune of replacing one of the best hitters of the last 50 years. Oh and if you are still wondering who Player A is your answer is Ryan Braun.

Ryan Kiernan

Cardinals’ Shortstop Situation

With the Cardinals having lost Rafael Furcal for the entire 2013 season due to Tommy John Surgery, many experts have suggested that they pursue a player from outside the organization. The biggest name that has come up in these discussions is Elvis Andrus, the shortstop of the Texas Rangers. Such an acquisition would certainly help the Cardinals overcome the Reds as division favorites, but it would also come at the cost of some of the Cardinals top prospects such as: Shelby Miller, Oscar Taveras, Trevor Rosenthal or Matt Adams. However, at the moment the Cardinals seem prepared to maintain their current roster as all four of those prospects are Major League ready and shortstop has never been a key position for the Cardinals. In Furcal’s season and a half with the Cardinals he posted a combined 2.0 WAR and only batted .262 in that time. This level of production is certainly replaceable without having to sacrifice any top prospects. Also, the Cardinals have made the postseason each of the past two seasons without great production from their shortstops and so this really is not as big of a loss for the Cardinals as many have made it out to be. However, the options within the organization to replace Furcal are very underwhelming as the Cardinals will look for Pete Kozma or Ronny Cedeno to take over at short. Pete Kozma is a 24-year-old former first round pick, who has never made the active roster out of spring training and has a career .236/.308/.344 (Avg/OBP/Slg) slash line. Many scouts regard Kozma as a defense-first shortstop, but the advanced defensive metrics suggest he is a below average fielder. Kozma was almost removed from the Cardianls’ 40-man roster last season, but was left on the roster and went on to be the starting shortstop when Furcal went down with his elbow injury. So far this spring, Kozma has hit .382 with 2 homers in 34 At-Bats. The other option is new arrival Ronny Cedeno, he has a career .247/.290/.357 slash line and is a fairly versatile player with experience all across the infield and outfield. However, Cedeno is only an average defender at best. Cedeno’s spring has not been as productive as Kozma’s spring as Cedeno is batting .240 with 1 homer in 25 At-Bats. Neither of these players seem like excellent options for a team hoping to reach the postseason, but they are not replacing much. Pete Kozma posted a 1.1 WAR in 26 games last season and Cedeno posted a 1.1 WAR over the past two seasons. If Kozma and Cedeno can make similar contributions for a full season, they will likely surpass Furcal’s 2012 production of a 1.2 WAR. While Kozma has not had much success in the minor leagues, he should be able to post an above replacement level performance. I believe that Kozma will be the starting shortstop for the Cardinals barring any new acquisitions at the position, and I do not expect any deals for a shortstop. I think if the Cardinals choose to keep Cedeno then he will be the backup at shortstop, but with Matt Adams putting up good numbers this spring, the Cardinals may cut ties with Cedeno in order to make run for Adams on the 25-man roster. Because most of Adams’s success this spring has come as a pinch-hitter, I believe he will make the 25-man roster and Cedeno will likely be released. The Cardinals did not lose much when Furcal went down for the season and do not need to go outside the organization in order to find the solution at short, but should stand pat with Kozma as the starter and hold their top prospects.

Anthony Cacchione

Scouting Report, Jameson Taillon

Jameson Taillon was the second overall pick in 2010 by the Pittsburgh Pirates, which is significant in itself, but even more so when considering he was a right-handed pitcher just graduating from high school. This is meaningful because right-handed high school pitchers are rarely taken in the first round because they carry such a sizable amount of risk. However, Taillon impressed the Pirates so much so that they were willing to take this risk and Taillon has rewarded them with two impressive professional seasons. Although the first pitcher we scouted, Dylan Bundy, was also a right-handed high school pitcher, these two top prospects are certainly exceptions to the rule. In Taillon’s second professional season, 2012, he pitched to a 3.55 ERA over 142 innings in High Single-A and Double-A combined. These numbers are not overwhelming, but are impressive for a 20-year-old playing against older players. Taillon throws four pitches including a fastball, curveball, slider and changeup. His fastball reached mid-to-upper 90’s and his slider and curveball are low-to-mid 80’s. I had the opportunity to watch him this past weekend when he pitched for Canada versus the United States in the World Baseball Classic. Taillon looked very sharp in this performance as he pitched four innings allowing one earned run and striking out three. His control of his fastball as well as his slider and curveball was very impressive. His changeup looked pretty far below average, but he has three plus pitches and good control of all three. The 6’6” Taillon’s mechanics are pretty solid. He has a long and loose arm action in back; however, his arm does go behind his back, but it should not be a problem as long as he continues to get his arm in position by foot strike. Bringing his arm behind his back could become an issue late in games as his arm gets tired and begins to lag. He has a hip tilt as he begins to go towards home plate. This tilt gives him deception as he also angles his shoulders, and this incline gets him good downward plane towards home plate. I believe Taillon will begin the season at Triple-A and with a strong season could make the Major Leagues when rosters expand in September.

Anthony Cacchione

Top 5 GM’s IN Baseball Right Now

1. Andrew Friedman, Tampa Bay Rays

Although Friedman’s real position with the Rays is Vice President of Baseball Operations, Friedman performs all the tasks of a General Manager. Since assuming the role in 2005, he has turned the Rays from basement dwellers to perennial contenders in one of the toughest divisions in baseball. He has also done this with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball because the Rays play in a small market with one of the worst stadiums in the Majors. This has not stopped Andrew Friedman from building a contender year in and year out as he has been able to field a quality team by strengthening the farm system and making brilliant business decisions (e.g. Extending his young stars). In his time with the Rays, Friedman has taken the Rays to the postseason three times including one World Series. His first and possibly his best move was hiring Joe Maddon as the Rays’ manager. This may seem insignificant, but Maddon’s unconventional style fit very well with the Front Office’s approach and he was able to change the culture in the clubhouse. Friedman’s top move related to players was drafting and extending Evan Longoria. The Rays took Evan Longoria in the first round of the 2006 season and then in 2008, just six games into his Major League career, Longoria signed a six year $17.5 million extension that had club options to make it as long as a 9 year deal. Friedman has also been able to continually replenish the Rays’ farm system by trading his top Major Leaguers, who are nearing free agency. Such trades have netted the Rays Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Chris Archer and Hak-Ju-Lee, all among the Rays’ top prospects.

2. Billy Beane, Oakland Athletics

Maybe the most well-known GM in the game following the movie, Moneyball, but he certainly deserves to be on this list as he has maintained success with a small market team for 17 years. Beane revolutionized the game of baseball with his use of sabermetrics and his ability to find attributes that other teams undervalue. The Athletics have made the playoffs six times under Beane, but have not reached the World Series since 1990. He is known for being able to make smart trades and key free agent signings at a low price. The greatest example of this is in 2006 when Beane signed Frank Thomas for a mere $500,000 plus incentives and Thomas rewarded him with 39 hrs, 114 RBI and a .381 OBP. This signing propelled the A’s into the postseason eventually reaching the ALCS. Many of Beane’s top trades came prior to the 2012 season when Beane traded away two of his top, young starting pitchers and his young closer. At the time, many viewed these trades as Beane giving up on the 2012 season; however, the returns that Beane received in these deals carried the A’s to become champions of the AL West. In return for his young pitchers, Beane received starting pitcher, Jarrod Parker; reliever, Ryan Cook; starting pitcher, Tommy Milone; catcher, Derek Norris; and Right Fielder, Josh Reddick. All of whom made great contributions to the team’s success last season and are all under 28 years old, which means they likely have not yet reached their prime.

3. John Mozeliak, St. Louis Cardinals

John Mozeliak was promoted to General Manager of the Cardinals in 2007 and took over for a team that had the worst farm system in baseball. Since then, Mozeliak has turned the Cardinals farm system into the best in baseball; although much of this success is due to former Scouting Director, Jeff Luhnow, Mozeliak still orchestrated many of the drafts. The Cardinals have made the playoffs three times under Mozeliak including a World Series Championship in 2011. Mozeliak’s first big move was trading an aging star in Jim Edmonds for David Freese. At the time this trade seemed insignificant, but Freese has developed into a tremendous third baseman and was the World Series MVP in 2011. In 2009, making a play for the postseason, he traded top prospect Brett Wallace and other minor leaguers to the Athletics for Matt Holliday. The Cardinals went on the make the postseason and then Mozeliak signed Holliday to a 7 year extension. Mozeliak made arguably his best move when he traded Colby Rasmus and others to the Blue Jays for Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel, Marc Rzepczynski and Corey Patterson. This trade propelled the Cardinals to the postseason and eventually to their 11th World Series Championship in team history. Only Marc Rzepczynski remained with the team beyond 2011, but the Cardinals received draft picks for Jackson and Dotel signing elsewhere. Mozeliak has been very conservative on the free agent market, only signing one player not already on the Cardinals’ roster to a multi-year deal. However, he did sign Lance Berkman to a one year deal when many others thought he was done and Berkman helped the Cardinals win the World Series in 2011. Following the 2011 season, Mozeliak made the bold decision to not pay superstar Albert Pujols, who went on to sign with the Los Angeles Angels. This choice set a precedent of allowing a team’s superstar to sign elsewhere. The Rangers’ GM, Jon Daniels, followed this precedent following the 2012 season, when he refused to match the Angels’ offer to Josh Hamilton.

4. Jon Daniels, Texas Rangers

When Jon Daniels took over as GM of the Rangers in 2005, he became the youngest GM in baseball history at the age of 28. The Rangers have made the postseason each of the past three seasons under Jon Daniels including two World Series appearances. Jon Daniels is most known for his aggressiveness on the trade market and that is where he has had his most success. Jon Daniels’s biggest move might have been trading superstar Mark Teixeira to the Braves for Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison, Neftali Feliz, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Beau Jones. Every player from the trade has appeared in the Major Leagues with the Rangers except for Beau Jones. Andrus, Harrison and Naftali Feliz are all still with the Rangers and a huge part of the Rangers’ young core of players. That same year, 2007, Daniels traded top pitching prospect Edison Volquez and Daniel Ray Herrera to the Reds for Josh Hamilton. Hamilton had just posted a strong first Major League season after being placed on the restricted list for drug abuse. Hamilton went on to become the face of the franchise until he signed with the Angels this past offseason. Daniels’s biggest free agent signing was Adrian Beltre prior to the 2011 season, who has put together two tremendous seasons for the Rangers since coming over. Jon Daniels was recently promoted to President of Baseball Operations for the Rangers.

5. Brian Sabean, San Francisco Giants

Brian Sabean is the longest tenured GM in baseball, having held the position since 1996. The Giants have only made the postseason six times in Sabean’s sixteen year tenure, but have won the World Series in two of the past three seasons. Sabean’s top trade came in 1996 when he dealt aging star and fan favorite Matt Williams for Jeff Kent and others. Kent was one of the best hitting second basemen of all-time and posted six consecutive 100 RBI seasons and won a MVP award in 2000. In 2001, Sabean made another astute trade when he sent Ryan Vogelsong and Armando Rios for Jason Schmidt. Schmidt pitched six seasons with the Giants and finished second in Cy Young voting in 2003 when he pitched to a 2.34 ERA. Sabean had to undergo a rebuilding period from 2004-2008, during which Sabean built up his farm system by success in the Amateur Draft. During these years, Sabean drafted Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey. These three players are all current stars of the Giants and at least two seem likely to remain for the foreseeable future. Prior to the 2012 season, Sabean traded Andres Torres for Angel Pagan in what seemed to be a change-of-scenery deal, but the Giants made out like bandits as Pagan posted career numbers in route to a 4 year, $40 million extension. Torres on the other hand had a .230/.327/.337 (Avg./Obp./Slg.) triple slash line.

Anthony Cacchione

Scouting Report, Dylan Bundy

To kick off the BaseballStooges’ scouting reports segment of top minor league prospects, we take a look at Dylan Bundy. Bundy was the 4th overall pick of the 2011 amateur draft by the Baltimore Orioles and likely would have been taken higher except that Bundy was only coming out of high school and many teams view high school pitchers as incredibly risky. Since being drafted, Bundy has pitched across 4 levels in 2012, his first full professional season. In the minor leagues last season, between Single-A and Double-A, Bundy pitched to a 9-3 record with a 2.08 ERA over 103 2/3. Bundy is the consensus, top pitching prospect in all of baseball with a mid-to-upper 90’s fastball, a big curveball and decent change-up. His best pitch is probably his low-to-mid 90’s cutter; however, the Orioles have not allowed him to throw this pitch in order to develop his other pitches. With a solid four pitch repertoire that has three plus pitches, Bundy has a legitimate chance to pitch for the Orioles’ big league club this season. I watched him in the Futures Game last season and he looked like he was overthrowing a little as his control suffered, but the stuff was clearly there, with the mid 90’s heat and big curveball. Mechanically speaking, Bundy has very sound mechanics and uses his lower half very well to generate velocity. When he comes to his balance point, he has a slight hip turn, which creates some good deception. The one issue I find in his delivery is he cuts off his arm motion off in back where he does not have a full arm swing. This arm action has been found to lead many pitchers to Tommy John surgery. For example, Adam Wainwright has a similar arm action and recently underwent Tommy John surgery. One example is clearly not enough to prove a point, but ESPN’s Lindsay Berra wrote a nice article last March about this issue. Here is the link: http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/7712916/tommy-john-surgery-keeps-pitchers-game-address-underlying-biomechanical-flaw-espn-magazine.

I have no concerns about Bundy in the short-term or long-term as he seems prepared to pitch in the Majors this season and his mechanics are very sound. I believe he will begin the season in Triple-A, but should be in the Orioles’ rotation by the end of the season.

Anthony Cacchione