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Hotpage September 1, 2014 (Week 23) PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Lawr Michaels   
Monday, 01 September 2014 00:00

Amazingly, we are again  at another Labor Day, our 19th with you, and as usual I thank you for your support, and hope you are having a great and safe weekend with family and friends.

Out here on the West Coast, I am having trouble watching the Athletics--I just had to flip to "Oh Brother Where Art Thou?" as I could not handle watching Scott Kazmir lose it.

I still think the Athletics will work through this slump, and make it to the post-season, and with a rotation of Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija and Sonny Gray, that is formidable in a short series.

Similarly, the arrival of Adam Dunn is a good thing, for Dunn is a guy I have liked for a long time, and he is another fellow who fits well into the Oakland role playing scheme, of walks and dingers.

I do think the Athletics loss of Yoenis Cespedes had a bigger impact than the front office imagined, but I also think knowing the Athletics and the law of averages, the team was due for a flat period.

Better to have it now and work to get hot as the post-season begins.

Ok, so to the now, and since it is September 1, it is also roster expansion time. So, this time, let's take a look at some top prospects who might indeed make a first appearance at the show as the season rumbles to a finish.

Topping the list is the next in line for the Cubs--and an outfielder--to help lead the North Siders to the promised land with Jorge Soler.

Signed in 2012, the 22-year-old has blazed a path to The Show that includes just 151 games over two years, from Rookie Ball up, and the outfielder shot through four levels from Class A to the Majors, posting a minor league line of .340-15-57 with an incredible 1.132 OPS, and then picked it right up at Wrigley, going .533-3-7 over his first four games.

Yet another amazing Cuban import, I am not exactly sure just what it is that makes players from the island so much more Major League savvy that any other location on the planet, but it is certainly so. Don't be shy: grab Soler.

I admit to being a sucker for Stanford grads, just like those from UC Berkeley, and St. Louis, deep in young talent, has such an alum in Stephen Piscotty, the team's first round pick in 2012.

Now an outfielder (formerly a third sacker), Piscotty has hit a strong .287-8-66 at Memphis this year, with 31 doubles, 11 swipes and a very good 42 walks to 61 strikeouts (.353 OBP).

Quintessential Cards hitter, he is, making contact, getting on base, and so on. Piscotty should indeed get a call now, and similarly will make a bid for the big league roster next year.

Cleveland might well advance their top prospect, Francisco Lindor, this month. The 20-year-old has done well enough at Triple-A Columbus, hitting .277-5-14 over 37 games. Lindor has been exploited by Triple-A pitchers, having just nine walks to 34 strikeouts, but give him time to learn the zone along with the dazzle of stuff at the higher levels (he did get 40 walks to 61 strikeouts at Double-A Akron this year) and the young heir apparent to Asdrubal Cabrera should be fine.

Look for September time and a challenge to start at short in 2015.

The Mets could advance Noah Syndergaard, the Jays #1 pick in 2010, traded to New York as part of the R.A. Dickey deal. The 6'6", 240-pounder bagged 144 strikeouts at Las Vegas this year over 131 frames (473 over 424.6 minor league innings) though he has been vulnerable to the hits (153) this season.

Still, it is time to see what he can do at the top level, and perhaps the 21-year-old can join Zack Wheeler and Matt Harvey and make an exciting rotation core that might well lead to a Mets renaissance.

Talk about depth, the Dodgers have more outfielders than they know what to do with, hence which way does Joc Pederson go?

The Dodgers' first rounder in 2010 has really ripped it at Albuquerque this year, hitting .303-33-78 with 30 steals and 100 walks to 149 whiffs (.435 OBP).

An early L.A. clinch could indeed earn Pederson some time, but clearly, among Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier, one or more vets will be moved during the off-season to make room for Pederson.

Finally, Carlos Rodon was the #3 pick this year--and first rounder of the White Sox--who is on one of those Tony Cingrani drives to hit the Majors during his first professional year.

Rodon, who was drafted out of North Carolina State, has twirled 24.6 minor league innings since being signed, posting a 0-0, 2.92 record, with 38 strikeouts that includes three Triple-A Birmingham starts.

The 21-year-old southpaw is apparently on a mission, with talent to boot, though he still has some command aspects to tweak (13 walks over those 24.2 innings).

Still, sooner, rather than later.

Last Updated on Monday, 01 September 2014 13:23
 
Hotpage August 25, 2014 (Week 22) PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Lawr Michaels   
Monday, 25 August 2014 00:00

This week poses an interesting one for free agent selections in that we are just a week from September call-ups, meaning a week from now we will be anticipating the arrival of Francisco Lindor and maybe Maikel Franco along with a cluster of other odds and sods from the Minors.

As for this week, there is a prospect by the name of Rymer Liriano, now playing for the Padres, whom I should have covered last week.

Signed out of the Dominican Republic at 17, and now 23, Liriano fared pretty well at Double-A, hitting .264-14-53 with 17 swipes at San Antonio (where he played in 2012, but missed 2013 due to Tommy John surgery) this year before moving to Triple-A El Paso.

Over 16 games there, he hit .452 with 13 RBI and 11 doubles over 16 games, and that was enough to push the outfielder (and former pitcher) to Petco.

He is hitting .219-1-4 in the bigs, but he should be a starter next season as the Padres try in earnest to rebuild.

Looking locally, Oakland's Sean Doolittle had trouble putting away the Angels on Friday night, and after throwing 25 or so pitches--mostly fastballs--I wondered how inevitable it was that the hard throwing lefty might injure his wing.

Apparently not long, as the Athletics have set him down, which likely means Luke Gregerson will get the chance to close.

With three saves, a 2.17 ERA and a WHIP of 0.983 over 58 innings, and the right hander has served in this role before, so, he becomes the go-to guy.

That means the return of Dan Otero, who has been extremely effective as a set-up man with a 9-1, 1.96 mark for Oakland over the past two years and 110 frames. Otero was sent down so the Athletics could keep an extra stick in the Majors over the next week, but perhaps the acquisition of Yunel Escobar to spell the team in the injury absence of Jed Lowrie and Nick Punto will move Andy Parrino back to the Minors and open a slot for Otero to return.

Either way, both Escobar and Gregerson make good plays for the next week.

Across the Bay, it looks like the Giants second base situation might well be stabilizing with Joe Panik stepping it up and acting like he feels comfy in a Major League uniform, having hit .458-1-5 this past week, .421 over the past month, and now boasts a season line of .307-1-13 over 41 games and 137 at-bats. He makes a nice bet.

On the other hand, there is now talk that Tim Lincecum, who is 1-2, 7.94 with a 2.294 WHIP this past month, might be out of the Giants rotation for a spell, and that suggests Yusmeiro Petit might step into the fifth starting spot.

Maybe a move to the pen--Lincecum was more than effective there to end 2012, and the thought of him as a closer might not be a bad idea at all--would be good for Tim, who is now 10-9, 4.64 with a 1.411 WHIP over 143 innings, with 130 strikeouts for 2014: a far cry from the double Cy Young winner's peak years.

Petit always pitched well in the Minors, putting up Justin Duchscherer type control numbers, and using his control and ability to change speeds to his advantage, but I would not feel comfortable with Petit in my rotation at this point, no matter what. He does have some strong starts in his resume, but I see Petit getting knocked around more often than not come the final month.

Do I think Gordon Beckham will become the guy we had hoped for when he came up with the Sox now that he is on a new team?

Nope. Pass.

But, I do like Drew Stubbs, who had a hot week, going .429-2-6 over the past seven days, bringing his season numbers up to a more than respectable .297-13-38 with 15 swipes this season over 331 at-bats. Stubbs still strikes out more than I wish with just 21 walks to 104 whiffs, but I like him a lot in a deep league.

Finally, on the pitching side, I have been waiting all season for Alex Cobb to start pitching the way I knew he could, and over the past month, he has done just that, moving his season mark to 9-6, 3.01 with a 1.149 WHIP.

Over the past 30 days, Cobb has been 2-0, 1.04 over 26 innings with a 1.115 WHIP with 24 punchouts. A fine pickup if Cobb is still out there in your mixed format, and for sure in daily and monthly contests, a good play as well.

Last Updated on Monday, 25 August 2014 09:24
 
Hotpage August 18, 2014 (Week 21) PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Lawr Michaels   
Monday, 18 August 2014 00:00

It really seems like retread is the name of the game this year, with so many veterans--with hefty salaries, no less--being released by a team, and then grabbed by another squad.

The latest of this craze would be Jim Johnson, ex of the Athletics deep pen, now a member of the Tigers somewhat weak version of the same.

Johnson really did have it going pretty well with Baltimore over the past three seasons, with 110 saves, 101 of which were earned between 2012-13. Despite that, any number of analysts steered clear of the hard thrower who has had flashes of command problems, and those issues haunted the reliever all through his brief tenure in Oakland, and I would not expect those issues to dissipate with his new team.

If you are desperate for saves--and more important those saves are what you need to win--by all means, take a chance. Otherwise, steer clear.

Were I to gamble on a Tigers arm, that would be the one belonging to Buck Farmer, Detroit's fifth round pick in 2013. Farmer began this season at West Michigan, where he went 10-5, 0.60 over 103.6 frames, and then received a push to Double-A Erie, where he went 1-0, 3.00 over a pair of starts.

Farmer has 127 strikeouts over 115.6 innings this season in the Minors, with a 1.115 WHIP, so the 23-year-old has surely climbed the minor league rungs quickly, and I would expect him to take a few lumps (5.3 innings, four runs, five hits his first start), but he is a prospect who still has to prove he can't do it, and the quick drive to the Majors certainly means a player worth tracking, if not for now, for later. 

The White Sox Avisail Garcia is a player who was likely selected in most drafts and auctions last March, but when the right fielder tore his labrum two weeks into the season, Garcia was dumped as the Pale Hose determined he was gone for the year.

Not so, as the Sox reactivated Garcia over this past week, and that means he might well be available in any number of leagues as a free agent. The 23-year-old does have a .289-9-39 line over 104 games and is a great pickup right now, especially in an AL-only league.

The road to roto-Hell has been paved with disappointing prospects, so that brings me to Kyle Drabek, a first rounder in 2006 and son of former Pirate Doug Drabek.

Drabek was considered a top prospect into 2011 as he mastered the Class A and Double-A levels, but then hit the wall that year both at Triple-A Vegas (5-4, 7.44) and in the Majors (4-5, 6.86). 2012 was not much better (4-7, 4.67), and when he was not pitching, Drabek was hurt.

The former 18th overall pick has truly done nothing to convince anyone that he has transcended his difficulties over the past three years, so I would pass. Although, I would keep an eye on the guy: #1 pick means he did have some talent, and if not as a starter, it is not unusual for an arm like Drabek's to become a reliever, and even turn into a closer.

Another such underachiever would be Cord Phelps, now on the Orioles, but drafted by the Indians in the third round in 2008 out of Stanford.

Over 679 minor league games, Phelps has a line of .280-60-349, with a solid .368 OBP (346 walks to 389 whiffs), but like Drabek has been a washout at The Show, going .158-2-11 over 54 games.

I have to say that like Andy Marte, I also drafted Phelps for my Strat-O-Matic team, and though I froze Phelps as an uncarded player this year, my long term expectation is just like that of Marte, who I dumped this year. Fun? Yes. Speculative? Of course. Worth the gamble? Nope.

I will tell you that one hitter I have been tracking of late for next season is the Astros' Robbie Grossman. A pick of the Pirates (sixth round of 2008), Grossman was swapped at the trade deadline for Wandy Rodriguez at the deadline last year, and though the right fielder has a solid minor league line (.274 average and a solid .383 OBP) and though he did have a .337 average and a .417 OBP at Oklahoma City this season, he has been up and down in numbers and leagues this year, going .210-6-27 over 68 games.

However, over the past couple of weeks, the switch-hitting right fielder has gone .261-2-7 with nine walks to 13 strikeouts (.393 OBP), and I have a feeling he is becoming comfortable as a Major Leaguer.

I did see Grossman at the AFL a few years back, and he looked like he could hit, and run, and play, with a good eye, and though he won't be much of a power source, I do see runs and OBP and even 20-plus steals in his portfolio for next season. If you have room to get him cheap and freeze him for next year, do so. I want to nab him in my keeper Strat-O-Matic league if I can.

On the other hand, Adam Rosales has had the week of his life, hitting .333-3-9 over the past cycle. If you are thinking about grabbing him, think about Rosales as a stock tip that already peaked, and just walk away. I saw the guy a lot in Oakland. He is enthusiastic. He does have some pop. He will never get it for you when you need it.

Last Updated on Monday, 18 August 2014 00:56
 
Hotpage August 11, 2014 (Week 20) PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Lawr Michaels   
Monday, 11 August 2014 00:00

Another week is gone, and once again we are reminded about what a tough--and unforgiving game--baseball can be as three players, Ernesto Frieri, Nate Schierholtz and Dan Uggla (for the second time this year) were all released. Last year, Frieri had 37 saves while Schierholtz hit 21 homers. Uggla's struggles are well documented. Right now, none has a team. Tough.

The jettison of Schierholtz by the Cubs made the promotion of Javier Baez doable. Baez, who caused a stir during the spring, raising speculation the now 21-year-old would make the opening day Wrigley roster. Baez wound up back in Iowa to start the year, and posted a .260-23-80 line over 104 games.

This kid has a huge upside, but, he could face some lumps as Major League pitchers exploit his lack of plate discipline with just 88 walks to 350 whiffs over 314 minor league games, and he has yet to walk in the Bigs while having struck out ten times.

I have already started touting this, but the Cubs are indeed on the verge of serious redemption, with Baez, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Anthony Rizzo, Arismendy Alcalantara among their future choices, but there is more.

For the Cubs have Theo Epstein, the guy who ended the Boston World Series drought, along with arguably the best cluster of position playing prospects on Earth at this moment in time and space. In a year, that team will start to really coalesce, and in 2016 they will emerge as a serious contender, if not the dominant team in the National League.

Cleveland does not really have the same scenario ahead, though they too have some interesting players in the chain, though they are way ahead of the Cubs on the curve, with Jason Kipnis, Lonnie Chisenhall and Corey Kluber leading their renaissance rush. This past week, the Tribe promoted 21-year-old Dominican Jose Ramirez to fill the Asdrubal Cabrera void.

Ramirez already has a more selective stick than Baez, with 96 minor league walks to 114 strikeouts over 291 minor league games to go with 86 steals, a .306 average and 201 runs.

The diffficulty for Ramirez' future is that the Indians also have Francisco Lindor as a potential shortstop, and we should expect Lindor in Cleveland before the season is done, so again the question becomes who is playing where? Ramirez has played four games in the outfield at Columbus this season, so perhaps his future lies there, but the youngster is defintely in the future spin for the team. And, he could make an acceptable middle infielder in an AL format to finish off the year.

We will return to the prospects, but I want to look at a couple of pitchers I think could be a help to your team, starting with the Orioles' Ubaldo Jimenez. Now, I agree, he is crazy erratic, not just his year, but over his Saberhagen-metric career.

Jimenez went 6-5, 1.80 over 84 second half innings last year and he is coming back from the DL on a contending team that will surely drop him from the rotation if he cannot get the job done. I am betting he will harness some of that great stuff he does have, and concentrate, and keep his gig. As we have seen just this past week with Frieri and Schierholtz, Ubaldo is indeed fighting for his job in a merciless industry. I am betting he will get it together.

Similarly, Kevin Correia now returns to the NL West, where he got his start, first as a Giant, then as a Padre. Correia was drafted by San Francisco in the fourth round of the 2002 June fete, and I got to see him pitch a lot during his early Major League career. The righty does give up hits (1498 over 1380.6 innings) but he is going from a poor team to a pennant race, and gets to spend the bulk of the final six weeks of the season pitching against the Giants, Padres, Diamondbacks and Rockies--offensively challenged all--and that should be helpful to a veteran hurler. He is worth a couple of bucks of crapshoot in an NL-only league if you need innings or are chasing wins.

Correia's departure allowed the Twins to advance Trevor May, whose first big league start I watched on Saturday. A fourth round pick in 2008, May has pitched well this year at Rochester, going 8-6, 2.93 over 95.3 innings. He was not convincing to watch on Saturday though, and while he has pitched well this year at Triple-A, May, now 24, put in two years at Double-A, going 19-22, 4.69 over 301.3 frames, with a 1.437 WHIP. Pass.

Back to how tough the game is, both Brooks Brown and Corey Brown are former first round picks.

Southpaw Brooks was drafted #1 out of the University of Georgia, Athens, in 2006 and has an unimpressive minor league line of 50-65, 4.29 over 237 games (129 starts) and 931.6 innings with just 671 strikeouts and a 1.418 WHIP.

Corey, the Athletics #1 in 2007, was subsequently swapped for Josh Willingham. Now 28, this Brown has had his shots at the Show, going .175-2-4 over 40 plate appearances. Not much to cling to there.

As if that was not enough, Steven Souza, Jr. was a third-rounder of the Nationals in 2007, and he slowly climbed the minor league ladder, starting 2014 at Triple-A Syracuse, where he ripped it up to the tune of a .354 average with 18 homers and 70 RBI over 91 games. He walked 48 times to 61 strikeouts (.435 OBP), stole 24 bags and logged a 1.036 OPS. 

So at 25, he is brought to the Majors and after 12 uneventful at-bats (.083-0-0), he made it to the DL today.

Like I said: It's a tough game.

 

Last Updated on Monday, 11 August 2014 09:50
 
Hotpage August 4, 2014 (Week 19) PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Lawr Michaels   
Monday, 04 August 2014 00:00

Oh what a fun week, with a more than satisfying conclusion, though I must say I was very surprised to see Oakland swap Yoenis Cespedes, the closest thing they had to being a bona fide star on their roster.

On one hand, Cespedes, 28, has a career .318 OBP (319 strikeouts to 108 walks), something the Oakland organization would like to see higher, and he was going into his contract year worth $10.5 million this year, and next.

On the other hand, Oakland played 442 games with Cespedes on the roster since the start of 2012, and winning 255 while losing 169. But, with Cespedes in the lineup, the team is 228-131, which means when he is not in the lineup, the team is 27-38, so, even if Yoenis does not produce the numbers the team had envisioned, he might well have made those around him better hitters.

I do like Jon Lester--who had given Oakland fits anyway--in the rotation, but the question is can the runs Lester saves make the difference to what Cespedes helped produce?

To tell the truth, I am not sure. Oakland is good, but I suspect Cespedes was more important to the lineup that his meager OBP.

Cespedes was, if nothing else, a lot of fun to watch and I shall miss that. I wish him luck, too.

Of the moves Oakland made--among their many--the one that made me smile was the re-acquisition of Sam Fuld, a player the team signed as a free agent in the off-season, but then had to waive when Craig Gentry came off the DL. Fuld was picked up by the Twins, and now Oakland swapped the disgruntled Tommy Milone to get Fuld back.

It's fun to see Andy Marte, a top 40 prospect from 2006-2009, and who didn't even play in 2012, with Arizona. Now 30, Marte hit .330-13-62 for Reno before his call-up, and banged a homer since. The whole affair is kind of surreal--I carried him on my Strat-O-Matic team for three years--and I would not expect too much from him at this point. Though you never know.

Kind of the same with Jason Pridie, who is the same age as Marte, and was a #2 pick of the Rays in 2002. Pridie was hitting .275-10-43 with Colorado Springs when the Rockies summoned him. Not sure how long he will last, but it seems both players have whet our appetites for stats for so long. Baseball is a tough game.

If you doubt that, just ask Chris Denorfia, with nine years in the Majors, and a lot of injuries, and despite a pretty good bat, he never really worked himself into full-time play till last year. Since joining the Padres five seasons back, Denorfia was .275-33-154 over his 573 games in Southern California. I like him in Seattle at 33, where he does not seem so brittle, and can hit, and with Austin Jackson, makes the outfield a lot more respectable.

I love Justin Masterson with the Cardinals, a very good team, should well be able to use his good, if erratic skills, being as prime an example of Saberhagemetrics--that is a good year every other year--as we have had the past four years.

If you have tracked the big (6'6", 250 lb) Jamaican, even since his Boston days, you know what I mean. Tantalize, then disappoint, then tantalize, then disappoint. Meaning you draft him on the cheap as a risk, and he comes through one season, then pay a price and he helps you lose money the next.

I do think this trade will straighten Masterson out, going to a very good team, in a pennant race, where he need not be the ace, and where a former catcher will be his manager.

I see Masterson coming into his own a la Kyle Lohse, albeit sooner than the couple of seasons it took Kyle.

I talked about Jake Peavy last week some. Peavy is four years older than Masterson, and is much more looking at the downward curve of his career, but back in the NL West, with his former manager from San Diego in San Francisco. The Giants have become sort of a rag tag piece-mealed team, with the comings and goings of Dan Uggla and Aaron Hicks, but like Tim Hudson, Peavy is the kind of guy that San Francisco can squeeze some good innings from.

I don't like him as much as Masterson, but at age 33, Peavy is hardly at the end of his career: just a period of slowing, but, there is no reason he cannot perform as well as Hudson.

Finally, the Cards did well swapping Allen Craig, having Matt Adams to cover first, and a strong enough outfield for now, but he did average hitting .308-18-95 over the past two seasons. Craig is injury prone, we know, but he should take over first base/DH duties as the Red Sox rebuild around a bunch of great young players.

I think he will have a reasonable finish to the season, and next year will return to form.

I mean, he went to U.C. Berkeley: what else can I think?

PS: Keep an eye on Jordan Pacheco, who did hit .309 in 2012, and who qualifies at catcher and will soon qualify at third. He will get a chance to play the hot corner in Arizona, and I think he could close out the year on a high with low expectations on a team waiting for 2015.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 05 August 2014 09:19
 
Hotpage July 28, 2014 (Week 18) PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Lawr Michaels   
Monday, 28 July 2014 00:00

I really like that the trade deadline dovetails just a bit into Week 18, as that will make observing--and even participating in--FAAB for interleague swaps all the more interesting.

Of course there was the big Chase Headley swap of earlier in the week that I covered in AL or Nothing (the San Diego spoils of which were minimal) and now that of Jake Peavy to the Giants.

Now 33, a return to his division of origin--the NL West--could be just the boost the former Cy Younger needs to jump-start what has really been a disastrous season. It looked like the righty had regained his form in 2012, when he managed 219 innings for the Pale Hose, with 194 whiffs and a solid 1.094 WHIP coupled to a 3.37 ERA.

Then from slipping (12-4, 4.17 with a change of Sox last year) to worse, with a 1-9, 4.72 mark so far this year with a 1.427 WHIP and league leading 20 homers allowed. With 100 whiffs, Peavy still can dominate, but something is clearly amiss; however, a pitcher friendly park, new contending scene, and return to his roots (coupled with pitching alongside fellow vet Tim Hudson) all suggest a bit of a return to form for Peavy.

That would be a good thing, though I am not sure how much more than $40 of FAAB I would go, depending upon need of course.

Boston did get a couple of prospects in exchange, but I want to move to a couple of other veteran moves before we look at any of this week's interesting newbies.

The Tigers, whose bullpen has simply been their bane for the past few seasons, obtained Joakim Soria (for the interesting Corey Knebel, of whom we wrote last week) in order to get some depth and consistency.

With Joe Nathan struggling along with so many other closers this season (think Sergio Romo and the recently dumped Jim Johnson), adding Soria, who has really had a pretty good year in spite of his injury riddled team (17 saves, 2.67 ERA) as the newest pen member at Comerica is a fine gamble, provided he is still even available in your league.

In fact, the possibility of the workload being split could well improve Nathan's performance as well, both in terms of having some competition for a job, as well as evening out his workload.

St. Louis, trying to fill the nearly impossible void of losing Yadier Molina, signed A.J. Pierzynski to a deal. It is not fair to say Pierzynski's time with Boston (.254-4-31 over 274 at-bats) was a total failure, but in deference to the way the season was going, it is certainly understandable that the team would cut ties.

The Cards, however, should be a good fit, not unlike Peavy and the Giants. The veteran catcher is in the throes of a pennant race, and has a new manager who himself is a former backstop, along with a strong rotation, and even some bats up and down the lineup who can hit.

I am not sure how 2015 will fit in the Pierzynski scheme of things, but for the rest of 2014, I think he is a good bet.

Not so Jeff Francoeur, just brought back by the Padres, to fill their stretch gap. The last time Frenchy hit over .235 was in 2011, but even with that, a guy with a lifetime .306 OBP (908 whiffs to 251 walks) over 1,230 games is not likely to improve too much at this point in his career.

I must admit that Francoeur, who is still only 30 believe it or not, could learn some strike zone discipline as he is still young enough. But, I would not bet on it.

Wilmer Flores has to be the top prospect promoted this last cycle, by the Mets (who oddly are trying to land Troy Tulowitzki, it seems when they have a fun investment in Flores).

OK, so with 54 games played between last year and this, Flores is hardly a newbie, and the .214 average and .296 OBP in the Majors over that span has to have the Mets front office wondering if he can handle the load.

In his defense, Flores is still just 22, and he climbed the minor league pole fairly quickly, landing in Triple-A Las Vegas at the age of 21, and posted excellent .321-15-86 totals last year.

Better, Flores made a lot more contact, as while he walked just 25 times last year, he only struck out 63, and this year, after his demotion, the shortstop has kept it up, hitting .323-13-57 over 55 games.

The deal is Flores clearly will not get any better in the Minors, and giving him the rest of 2014 to simply play every day and prove to himself he belongs is a smart play. However, that does not mean I would bid a lot for his services, if available. Keep it modest, but remember there is a good chance he will play every day and the tools seem to be there.

The Phils brought back Phillippe Aumont, a former first rounder of the Mariners in 2007 who was then swapped as part of the Cliff Lee trade of 2009.

Over 35.3 Major League frames, Aumont has been pretty awful (1-5, 4.79 ERA, 1.682 WHIP), but like Flores, he cannot do much more in the Minors, having played at Triple-A Lehigh Valley the bulk of the past four seasons.

A reliever, with 43 minor league saves, Aumont also has 456 strikeouts over 406.3 innings, and he has allowed just 365 hits.

It is the free passes--249--that comprise a strikeout-to-walk rate of 1.83 that is the killer. However, since Jonathan Papelbon is probably near the end of his time in Philly, someone will need to pick up the gauntlet, and again, working in the Majors, the 25-year-old Aumont might well settle in and learn that control at the higher level.

Definitely worth consideration as it does look like the closer job for the Phils will be up for grabs with the departure of Papelbon.

Finally, Danny Salazar was among the most coveted young arms in most leagues this spring, coming off his fine 2-3, 3.12 performance in the second half last year for the Tribe, where he struck out 65 over 52 innings.

However, in the rotation to begin 2014, the 24-year-old hit the wall, going 2-4, 5.12 over 45.6 innings, sending him back to Columbus.

Salazar has not been too impressive there either, going 3-6, 4.02 with 67 strikeouts over 53.6 innings but having allowed 53 hits and compiling a 1.509 WHIP.

Salazar is a nice commodity, and he could have a pretty decent Hector Santiago-like return, but personally, I don't think the time is quite now. If you have him stashed in your Minors, and can keep him there, do so.

Last Updated on Monday, 28 July 2014 08:59
 
Hotpage July 21, 2014 (Week 17) PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Lawr Michaels   
Monday, 21 July 2014 00:00

Back from the break and discards seem to be the name of the game.

Let's start with Dan Uggla, released by the Braves just after returning from suspension. Uggla is signed through 2015, at $13 million a year, and at 33, his skill set is very clear: he can hit for power. Still, if Atlanta is going to eat the bulk of that salary, there are teams who could use some help up the middle. As in perhaps the Giants, despite the presence of Joe Panik (inexperienced) and Marco Scutaro (broken).

Or maybe Oakland, where a combo of Nick Punto, Alberto Callaspo and Eric Sogard patrol the keystone?

Now, you might blanch at this, but while Uggla has not hit over .235 in more than three years, he does walk, something the bay area teams like. And, he does have power.

Of course I am only speculating as a bay area guy, but rest assured: as long as Atlanta is culpable for that huge portion of salary, someone will take a chance, if only to get over the hurdles that lead to the postseason.

What now Brett Wallace?

Another former first rounder (2008) of the Cards has a Crash Davis-like .301-84-313 line over 553 minor league games, but is only .242-29-102 over 336 big league contests.

Wallace was traded to the Jays, who are reeling trying to fill the hole left by the Edwin Encarnacion injury. However, since being drafted by the Cards, Wallace was swapped to the Athletics (Matt Holliday deal), then to the Jays (Michael Taylor) and then Houston (Anthony Gose). Then, Houston released him, and Baltimore signed the corner infielder, who then sent him almost full circle, back to Toronto.

I suspect Wallace has a Steve Pearce hot streak in him, and maybe the time for that to reveal itself is now. But, unless you can afford to sit on him, or take a hit in case history that has more acumen than hunch, let him go. Even if he was a first rounder.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a piece in "Bed Goes Up" where we looked at first names. That was when between the Giants and Athletics, there were seven players named Brandon. And, in it, I suggested "Dylan" was the next big wave in players names, thanks to kids born to lovers of the music of Bob Dylan.

So, Dylan Axelrod, selected by the White Sox in the 30th round in 2007, became the first with that moniker, and now the 28-year-old finds himself with the Reds.

Like Wallace, Axelrod has fine minor league numbers (40-26, 3.04, with a 1.09 WHIP) but awful big league ones (7-13, 5.36, 1.6010). But, with a new team, in a new league, Axelrod could indeed do alright the first time around the circuit, and is an OK gamble for the short term.

Keep an eye on Paco Rodriguez, the hard-throwing lefty who racked up 66 whiffs over 45.3 minor league innings with six saves in the Minors and then had a great 2013 with the big club (3-4, 2.32 with two saves and an 0.92 WHIP last year). Elbow problems messed up the first half of his 2014, but Rodriguez could be a nice stat stabilizer who gets some whiffs (78 over 69.3 innings with the Dodgers) and maybe even a win or a save here and there.

Similarly, the Braves brought forth another southpaw, Chasen Shreve, a 2010 (11th round) signing with pretty good minor league totals. As in 19-15, 3.20 over 267 innings, with 264 strikeouts, and a 1.330 WHIP.

But, this year Shreve has been brilliant, with seven saves and 76 strikeouts to 9 walks (0.939 WHIP) and a 3-2, 2.86 mark over 54.3 innings.

As noted, this time of year, especially in a deep league, generating counting stats while balancing against hurting your WHIP and ERA are essential to winning. However, the tough part is judging when the right time to move as such, for you want to be conservative enough to not hurt your team, and yet remain aggressive with active players.

Either Rodriguez or Shreve can help your squad with that at this juncture.

On the other hand, the Tigers' Corey Knebel, a first rounder in 2013, might be a real find for the seemingly ever-struggling Detroit pen, and similarly, with 6-2, 1.26 totals over just 64.1 minor league innings, that includes 84 strikeouts and 18 saves, well, the numbers speak for themselves. More than worth a gamble.

Knebel could turn out to be a real source for saves, unlike his bullpen counterparts here. Bid aggressively.

Last Updated on Monday, 21 July 2014 09:07
 
Hotpage July 14, 2014 (Week 16) PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Lawr Michaels   
Monday, 14 July 2014 00:00

What a lot of transactions--particularly teams looking at the second half, and dropping dead weight--were placed during the last cycle.

So, let's start with Arismendy Alcantara, another of the young Cubbies who might just well lead the team out of their 100-year plus World Series victory drought.

A 22-year-old Dominican, Alcantara has literally advanced a level of play every season since he signed in 2009, going .271-15-69 with 36 doubles and 31 swipes at West Tennessee last year, prompting a promotion to Iowa this year where he went .307-10-41 with 11 triples and 21 Triple-A swipes.

With a minor league line of .284-40-254 over 530 games, with 41 triples and 112 swipes, Alcantara burst onto the Wrigley scene with a four-hit debut. Furthermore, with the ability to play second, short and the outfield, Alcantara really fits the mold of the new young player--a la Brock Holt--who can perform all over the diamond and help their team move forward.

In other words, I like him as a second half crap shoot.

OTOH...

...Let's see, Alfonso Soriano gets released and Carlos Pena gets signed. Joe Saunders is released and Jair Jurrjens is called up, and then Saunders is signed after all. So, of course Dan Johnson is signed by the Jays to fill the Edwin Encarnacion hole.

Now 35, Johnson has a wunderkind of minor league numbers with a .285-238-878 line that includes 794 walks to 893 whiffs (.393 OBP) and a ridiculous .903 OPS over 13 seasons, which translates to .236-56-194 and a .748 OPS over parts of eight years. Pass.

Then we have Grady Sizemore, again trying to jump-start something in Philly. Pass.

As for Marco Scutaro, he will probably not play full time now that he has returned to the Giants, meaning Joe Panik should get the playing time in the near term. Scutaro can hit, but similarly, he has been suffering with back issues. He could be a of some help. He could also break tomorrrow, but, I think if Scutaro shows any stick at all and can stay healthy through the end of July, those things could change.

OK, so old, new, A.J. Pierzynski gets sent packing, while Christian Vazquez was brought up. Vazquez was signed out of Puerto Rico, and he has a .265-38-251 line over 500 minor league games. Vazquez has a pretty decent .344 OBP (204 walks, 361 whiffs). He has had a nice start for the Sox and with David Ross as his only obstacle, he will get at-bats. And, though I do like Vazquez as a gamble, I cannot help but think Ryan Lavarnway and Jarrod Saltalamacchia and the ghosts of Boston catchers past.

Finally, I see the Pirates promoted Jaff Decker, and I don't really have an issue with that, but I have to wonder just how badly Jose Tabata must have pissed off the Pittsburgh front office (not that he is faring so well at Indianapolis with a .219-0-2 line over ten games).

*   *   *   *

OK, so it is the break and I usually dispense with some thoughts about how to spend it.

Like taking your partner out for the evening to some event of their choosing.

Like spending time with your kids, if you still have them at home with you.

Like, even take your own hiatus for a day or two from stats and trades and such.

In other words, it is a break.

So take one.

Your family will thank you, and so will your brain. And, that could help kick it during the second half.

Peace out.

Last Updated on Monday, 14 July 2014 08:07
 
Hotpage July 7, 2014 (Week 15) PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Lawr Michaels   
Monday, 07 July 2014 00:00

What an exciting weekend to be an Athletics fan as Billy Beane went for the roster jugular grabbing Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel without even remotely impacting his on-field roster. In fact, suddenly Oakland has a bounty of starting arms and a pitching staff that is as deep and flexible as the team's roster of position players.

On the Athletics side, Samardzija's great Oakland debut Sunday (seven innings, four hits, a walk, and five whiffs) is largely what the team and roto owners should expect as the team with the lowest team ERA in the league actually collected a legitimate top flight starter with a current three-year stat base.

For Samardzija, he gets a team that is both in contention and can score runs, which makes the deal win/win in every possible direction. Furthermore, the Athletics will have the rights to the former Cub for 2015 as well.

If you are in an AL-only configuration, and Samardzija is available for a FAAB pick-up, throw a max bid out for him, for if you need a starter, the tall right-hander is exactly what you need, and if you don't need pitching, you will have a surplus from which to trade, for one thing. For another, this will allow you to have more control over the distribution of talent within your league. (note he went for $85 in Tout AL.)

Much the same can be said for Jason Hammel, who at 31 is a couple of years older than Samardzija, is having the best campaign of his career, going 8-5, 2.98 over 108.6 innings with a 1.021 WHIP and a fine 104 strikeouts over 108.6 frames. Hammel steps into the same Oakland rotation that to a large degree has been piecemeal this year, and just makes the entire cluster that much more potentially stable and reliable over the course of the most challenging part of the year.

Hammel might not have the luster of Samardzija, but he is still a pretty good FAAB bet.

What about Tommy Milone, who just shut out the Blue Jays over six innings and who is 5-1 over his last six starts with a season mark of 5-3, 3.57, who has delivered 96 very strong innings stepping into the team breach left by injuries to A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker, and the ineffectiveness of the now traded Dan Straily?

Well, sending Milone down made administrative sense since he started Friday, and was unavailable to pitch for a couple of days anyway. I would expect that Milone will be back from Sacramento at the expense of Jesse Chavez as Brad Mills has already been moved to the bullpen.

Add in that Chavez is a great story, but he has already tossed 36 more innings than his career high in 2009, so a breakdown as the season progresses is not out of the question.

Meaning, in the event of an injury--because there haven't been any this year, right?--he is there, and if Billy still has his trading shoes on, Milone simply provides an extra chip. Irrespective, I suspect we have not heard the last of Milone this season.

What about the Cubs spoils of Dan Straily, Addison Russell and Billy McKinney?

Expect Straily to step into the Chicago rotation after a stint in Triple-A and help get some NL sea legs and working on command at Wrigley, despite the lumpy season he has endured thus far. As in a 4-3, 4.71 mark at Triple-A after being demoted from the Oakland rotation in May (1-2, 4.93 over seven starts).

Straily is pretty good at keeping runners off base with a 1.257 WHIP in the Majors, and he strikes out a reasonable share of hitters (8.0 per nine innings) but he does give up the long ball (1.4 over nine innings). He is just 25 years old, but surely has to work on the big fly, but otherwise he has a reasonable future out there, although I am not sure how much I would gamble this season.

In McKinney and Russell, the Cubs continue to add to their prospect riches for both are former #1 picks. Exactly where Russell winds up, in deference to  position, with Starlin Castro on the roster is a question, but not one to think about for the most part until 2015. Either way, the Cubbies are loaded with talented prospects. The only questions are when and if they emerge as we anticipate.

While we are on the path of Oakland hurlers, what about former Athletic, now former Diamondback Brandon McCarthy, who is now a Yankee? Well, if Samardzija and Hammel make good bets, McCarthy becomes a reasonable gamble. He has had good success in the American League, and now goes to a contender.

The reality is that McCarthy has never really rebounded from the bang on the noggin from a line drive he received in 2012. I don't mean this as a criticism, for I was at that game and it was indeed wicked. In fact, I don't see how he can even go back on the mound.

Irrespective, McCarthy is 8-21, 4.75 over 244.6 innings with a 1.361 since returning from the injury, hence the use of the word "gamble."

There is no way I can let the week pass without noting the same Yankees sent down Yangervis Solarte in deference to the equally deliciously named Zelous Wheeler.

Wheeler is hitting .299-7-31 at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this year, with 20 walks to 49 strikeouts. That means a .367 OBP and an .834 OPS. Wheeler might start out hot for the Pinstripes, but if you do select him, expect to exploit and then dump. I don't think the utility infielder will prove to be as successful as Solarte, even for half as long.

If you need to gamble on a middle infielder, however, I would rather risk it on Munenori Kawasaki. I really liked Kawasaki when I saw him in the spring in 2012 but he proved to be overmatched at the dish. But, now, with a couple of years in the Majors, he seems like a different guy at the dish, going with the pitch, and using his intrinsic skills and the edge now of his experience. Kawasaki should be starting at second base for a spell, and will not hurt your average and grab some swipes.

Finally, were I to gamble on a hitter this week who is likely floating around the free agent universe, it would be on new Blue Jay Nolan Reimold.

Reimold will likely step into a starting gig, with Edwin Encarnacion now down, and since Toronto has tried virtually every available piece in right field--assuming Jose Bautista grabs first base--Reimold has the cred and also tends to start out hot. He could give you a deadly season balance.

Last Updated on Monday, 07 July 2014 20:13
 
Hotpage June 30, 2014 (Week 14) PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Lawr Michaels   
Monday, 30 June 2014 00:00

As I write, the Athletics just swept the Marlins over three days, giving them 51 wins, and sealing the first half of the season for the team.

It has indeed been an intriguing run thus far, and while it is clear the Athletics are the best team going right now, the Fish have a very good young team, and they will get even better. In fact, Seattle, Kansas City and Houston have taken what appear to be steps forward which is just great.

Locally, it has been a fun week, and I must start by giving a nod to Tim Lincecum, who just tossed his second no-hitter earlier in the week. I saw the bulk of the game and Timmy did a great job, moving the ball around, changing speeds and showing that he can indeed be one of the best pitchers in the league.

I have always enjoyed watching Timmy and his game, so I truly hope this success indeed pushes Lincecum forward to the next big phase of his career.

Lincecum had his way with the Padres Wednesday, but San Diego tossed a couple of interesting pitchers out against the Giants the first part of the week, starting with Odrisamer Despaigne, the newest Cuban on the scene, and one who has caused a lot of virtual chatter largely because of his 1-3, 7.61 record over 23.6 innings at Triple-A El Paso.

Despaigne was the picture of command, changing speeds and fooling hitters with a giant curve ball, throwing very little more than 89 MPH, if that. I have to confess that the right hander reminded me a lot of Orlando Hernandez in that he looked hittable and wily at the same time. I am not sure about the prolonged success of the 27-year-old, but I would surely pick him up and watch him go through the league once, taking advantage accordingly, dropping him when and if he is figured out. But, for now, I think what he did to the Giants (four hits and nothing else over seven frames), he will do to his next half dozen victims.

The Padres also pushed Jesse Hahn, a sixth-round pick of the Rays in 2010 who was traded early this year as part of the Alex Torres deal to Petco land. Hahn has pitched well in the Majors thus far, going 3-1, 2.38, with 27 strikeouts over 22 innings and four starts. In the Minors over 45 games and 42 starts, he has been 6-4, 2.32, with 155 whiffs over 159.6 innings (1.117 WHIP). Probably, the 24-year-old has a longer potential career ahead of him than Despaigne, but hey, this is baseball, so who really knows what the future holds?

For the immediate future, however, I like Despaigne.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Red Sox promoted Mookie Betts (though I wonder just what Rubby de la Rosa did wrong?). Betts was hitting .345-8-48 over 77 games this year, split between Portland and Pawtucket, with 29 steals and a fantastic 51 walks to 33 strikeouts, good for a .437 OBP. In fact, Betts has recorded 164 walks to 120 whiffs over his 276 minor league games with a .408 OBP and .869 OPS. He can play the infield, but can also do the outfield, which is likely where he will get most of his time this time through. But, with Brock Holt, Xander Bogaerts, Garin Cecchini and now Betts up, the Sox have an exciting bunch of young players who will be fun to watch coalesce into a very good team.

Well, let's see, let's trade our crappy closer for yours, said the Pirates and the Angels.

That means Ernesto Frieri (0-3, 6.19, 11 saves) gets back to the National League (he started in San Diego). Frieri has 38 whiffs over 33 innings, which is good, but he has allowed eight homers, one about every four frames, which is not very good, especially for a closer. I have always liked Frieri, but the homers and strikeouts tell me he still throws hard, but in an Armando Benitez/it goes pretty straight way. Not good.

As for Grilli, his numbers seem better (0-2, 4.87, 11 saves and 22 whiffs over 21 innings, with just four dingers surrendered). But, Grilli  is seven years older than Frieri, and he moves in behind Joe Smith, who probably owns the closer role for now. If I were to gamble on one of the two, it would be Frieri.

Note that I took them both in the monthly Shandler Park format as they were each $2 (of a $300 cap) and holds count as do saves.

How tough are things in Texas? Well, the team just brought forth Carlos Pena to fill the Prince Fielder/Mitch Moreland first base abyss. If your league favors OBP, Pena could be an OK source of power. He hit .207-8-25 last year over 280 at-bats, but managed a .324 OBP. If you go average though, unless you can take the hit there, Pena probably is not worth the gamble.

To say that Oakland works miracles with pitchers is a bit of an understatement this year. And, he did have a good start, but I would draw the line with Brad Mills, no matter how much you need a starter or were impressed with his game the other day in New York. The guy has a 7.21 career ERA and though he has 59 whiffs over 63.2 innings, he has a WHIP of 1.696 (73 hits, 35 walks, 11 homers). I am not saying Oakland won't figure a way to get the most out of Mills, but I don't think the numbers will work out the same for your team.

Last Updated on Monday, 30 June 2014 14:55
 
Hotpage June 23, 2014 (Week 13) PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Lawr Michaels   
Monday, 23 June 2014 00:00

Here we are, Week 13 of the season, meaning we really are hitting the halfway point of the 2014 season, amazingly.

During the weekend, I watched a lot of the Red Sox and Athletics duke it out, and I must confess that I had not really noticed just how effective a couple of their middle relievers have been, starting with Burke Badenhop, who had gone 31.6 innings--since April 18--without allowing an earned run till Sunday when he ran into the Oakland hitters. Badenhop sports an 0-2 mark, but a sparkly 1.55 ERA to go with a save and a solid 1.181 WHIP (just one homer allowed) and this time of year, stabilizing numbers is as important as simply building a base of stats at the beginning of the season.

Similarly, I hadn't noticed just how effective lefty Andrew Miller of the Sox has been. Miller is 2-5, but with a 2.70 ERA and most impressive 40 whiffs over 30 frames (14.6 whiffs per nine innings) to go with a 1.00 WHIP and also just one dinger allowed. Either of these guys is a good pick-up, particularly in a deep AL-only setup.

Speaking of Boston, let's now say goodbye to Grady Sizemore and also to Daniel Bard, both released over the last week as was Raul Ibanez. Tough game, but again, the writing of the future path of the game is on the wall: the move towards giving lower-priced prospects a chance.

Which brings me to a couple of National League call-ups of interest, starting with the Giants, who finally bagged it with their post Marco Scutaro revolving door of Aaron Hicks/Joaquin Arias/Ehire Adianza and promoted their #1 pick of 2011 out of St. Johns, Joe Panik. Panik was hitting .321-5-45 at Fresno when summoned, and has 171 walks to 180 whiffs and a nice .365 OBP over 410 games.

Panik's pop is a little low with a .403 slugging percentage, but his 78 doubles suggest future pop, and well, I saw Panik belt a couple of lasers at the AFL and he does have a quick enough bat. He is a great gamble in just about any format.

Similarly, the Marlins brought up Andrew Heaney, their first rounder in 2012 out of Oklahoma State. With roughly a season's worth of work as a starter under his belt (199 innings) as a minor leaguer, Heaney has some very nice numbers with a 17-7, 2.31 to go with 198 strikeouts over 36 starts. Heaney has a nice minor league WHIP of 1.126 and really had nowhere else to go after blasting through both Double-A and then Triple-A this year with a combined 7-2, 2.47 record. It is no secret that the Marlins are doing a great job of drafting and developing a fine young team, and Heaney just adds to the scorecard. Again, a solid acquisition.

Speaking of the Fish, with the injury to Christian Yelich, the team also brought back outfielder Jake Marisnick, the Jays' third-round pick in 2009 who went to Miami as part of the massive Jose Reyes deal in 2012. Marisnick had a 40-game taste last year (.183-1-5), although the fact that his .558 OPS so far this year is nearly 100 points higher than last year is not such an accomplishment. Marisnick might get some playing time with Yelich down, but even at Triple-A New Orleans, Marisnick could only wrangle a .710 OPS (.264-6-27 with a paltry .306 OBP), so I would probably pass.

I cannot recommend Jumbo Diaz, but his profile is so delicious that I simply cannot let it go. Jose Rafael Diaz is a 30-year-old lefty from the Dominican Republic, signed by the Dodgers in 2001. With 321 relief appearances over his 12 years in the Minors, Diaz has 105 saves and 437 whiffs over 439.6 frames. Jumbo, who earned his moniker by virtue of his 6'4" 315 pound frame, will not close at all for the Reds as long as Aroldis Chapman exists, but in baseball, the names and background and lore of the game are as much as anything, and, well, congrats Jumbo!

The Twins' Yohan Pino, a Venezuelan, is just a couple of months older than Diaz, but he is also 125 pounds lighter. Pino has been on five teams, including the Twins twice, this being his second time in the system. However, like Diaz, Pino is a rookie reliever at age 30, although he has been a starter for 153 of his 292 minor league games. At Rochester this season, Pino was 9-1, 1.92 over 61 innings and seven starts (14 total appearances) with 61 whiffs and a fine 0.934 WHIP. The Twins surely need rotation help, however, and while I would shy away from Diaz, in a deep format, I would indeed give Pino a shot, especially if you are looking for a starter.

 

Last Updated on Monday, 23 June 2014 08:58
 
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