Tag Archive | "Ace Pitcher"

Pirates Gear Up For Playoff Run

A day after major changes for both franchises, the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Mets completed a trade that alters the remainder of the season for both.

Marlon Byrd

The Mets were told their ace pitcher, Matt Harvey, would miss the remainder of the season due to a UCL tear.  Meanwhile, the Pirates fell out of first place when the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Cincinnati Reds in dramatic fashion.  The events of yesterday got the gears turning for both clubs and an agreement was reached.

The news was first reported by Anthony DiComo, the Mets beat writer for MLB.com.

The Pirates have acquired Marlon Byrd and John Buck from the Mets in exchange for second base prospect Dilson Herrera and a player to be named later.

Byrd is the notable piece of the deal for the Pirates as his stellar play this season shores up an outfield that has struggled for consistency.  His bat plugs nicely into the heart of the Pirates order and he brings with him 21 home runs and 71 runs batted in.  He has continued to produce in a season that was all but written off before it started.  Byrd was not expected to be a key piece at his age but he has provided a consistent bat and above-average defense to Pittsburgh and, more than likely, play right field alongside Andrew McCutchen while Starling Marte continues to recover from hand issues.

Buck, meanwhile, is a depth move that adds veteran leadership, solid defense, and a inconsistent bat to the bench.  He continues to throw out 30 percent of would-be base stealers and can drive in runs from time to time when he is playing well.

The Pirates part ways with a minor league second baseman who projects to be a decent hitter when he arrives at the big league level.  Herrera is only 19 years old and ranks just outside of the top ten prospects in the Pirates organization.  He benefits well from above average speed and surprising power, according to Baseball America, who ranked him 20th among Pirates prospects prior to this season.

The Pirates added two veteran pieces and a solid bat to their lineup as they enter the final push of a playoff run.  It is the type of mood that the Cardinals would have made under the Tony LaRussa leadership.

Cardinals fans hope it is not worthy of the same results LaRussa normally found.

Bill Ivie is the founder of i70baseball.
You can find his work on Yahoo!InsideSTL, and here on i70.
Talk baseball with him on Twitter @poisonwilliam

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Very Impressive Weekend for the Cubs

Chicago Cubs fans know that their team will always keep them on their toes. In the last week the team traded away ace pitcher Matt Garza for a handful of prospects, and also traded away slugger Alfonso Soriano in a peculiar deal. That same trade left only Jeff Samardzija as the only remaining member from the 2008 team that won 97 games. Also, the team welcomed prospect Junior Lake to the mix. A brief summary of Lake, he is tall, strong, and quick. In a single game, he showcased his speed with two bunt singles and then showed the power with a crushing home run. Soriano himself said he saw a younger him in Lake. The changing of the guard was unfolding.

AlfonsoSoriano

If that was not enough, the Cubs had to make a weekend trip to the World Series Champion San Francisco Giants to end a ten game west coast trip. Not much could have been expected from that. But then in true Cub fashion, they kept the faithful on their toes and ended up sweeping the champions in arguably their most impressive three consecutive games in the last two seasons.

Friday night saw a great effort by Edwin Jackson nearly lost. Jackson was cruising for six innings until finding trouble in the seventh. Trailing 2-1 and down to the final strike, Anthony Rizzo hit a rocket down the first base line through the legs of Brandon Belt that scored two runs to take the lead and ultimately win the game.

Saturday’s game saw another great pitching performance by unlikely Chris Rusin who pitched seven shutout innings. But the pitching performance may have been by Pedro Strop. In the eight, Strop loaded the bases without recording an out and due up were MVP Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, and Hunter Pence. Cub fans likely had to turn away at that time. But with two infield ground outs to force runners at home and a strikeout of Pence, Strop got out of the inning without allowing a run. Nate Schierholtz proceeded to smack a home run in the top of the ninth and the Cubs won 1-0. That also happened to be the final score of three other Major League games that day as well.

No way could the Cubs sweep the defending champions on the road, right? Wrong. Sunday, saw lone all-star Travis Wood launch a homerun of his own and also pitch seven strong innings. Strop did his thing again in the eighth and Kevin Gregg recorded his third save in as many days with the Cubs winning the finale 2-1 and capping off the winning streak.

The way the team seemingly banded together out by the bay was impressive. It was a collective effort and everyone did their part. It was a team to tip your cap to. The Cubs now come back to Chicago to face the last place Brewers. A key point in the clubhouse will have to be keeping the momentum going. All the great work done out west will be all for not if they cannot beat the Brew Crew.

Following that series, they face the red hot Dodgers, struggling Phillies and a few divisional games. If the team can put a few weeks of good play together the record is getting close to the 500 mark. It is still a long shot, but can this unlikely bunch catch the Reds or Pirates and at least be in the consideration for a Wild Card spot? This past weekend was a great building block for that. Stay on your toes.

 

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Yahoo Sports: Carpenter’s Fire Will Be Missed

Carp Yelling

COMMENTARY | For the first time since 2004, the St. Louis Cardinals will enter the season without Chris Carpenter in the dugout. The absence of that competitive nature and fiery demeanor could lead to a completely different clubhouse chemistry.

Carpenter was known for his expletive laden outbursts, his upholding of the unwritten rules of baseball, his intense conversations with teammates when he felt they were not as focused as necessary, and a competitive nature that was seldom rivaled. It was his leadership both on the field and behind closed doors that will provide the most change for the team, however.

The intensity of the Cardinals clubhouse has been off the charts at times and much of that intensity flowed form the ace pitcher and veteran leader of the team. That leadership now falls to Yadier Molina, who may very well share in that same level of intensity, and a much more subdued and calm Adam Wainwright. Both of these players will have an impact on the pitching staff that will clearly define the tone of the team in the immediate future.

Read more about the changing clubhouse of the St. Louis Cardinals by clicking here.

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Yahoo Sports: Wainwright Is Not Pujols

AdamWainwright

COMMENTARY | The St. Louis Cardinals have come to terms with ace pitcher Adam Wainwright on a five-year extension that makes the term “lifetime Cardinal” a real possibility just two years after they failed to do the same with Albert Pujols. Doing so shows that general manager John Mozeliak understood that this deal made a lot more sense than the potential investment in the team’s former first baseman would have.

Editor’s Note: I have joined Yahoo Sports as a contributor to the St. Louis Cardinals beat.  You will find my content there on a regular basis, as well as the first few paragraphs and a link to it here on I-70 Baseball.  This is my debut for them…

Just like many fans, I was extremely disappointed when the Cardinals were unable to come to terms with Pujols and he eventually found himself playing in Anaheim. The dust has settled on that deal and clarity has shown that many factors made sense for the team to allow its franchise superstar to leave.

This spring, many fans became concerned that history would repeat itself as the team and Wainwright entered negotiations. The feeling that, for the second time in a span of three years, a foundation piece of the organization would play for another franchise seemed to be developing into reality. The Cardinals and Wainwright announced during a March 28 press conference that the right-hander has been signed to a five-year extension through 2018.

Why was Wainwright retained and Pujols was not?

Read more by clicking here…

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Who Is Number Two In KC Rotation?

The Kansas City Royals took huge measures this offseason to fix their number one on-field issue, the rotation.  The addition of James Shields gave them a legitimate ace pitcher at the front of their rotation.  The rebuilt rotation looks stronger but leaves the question open: Who’s number two?

Rotation

Throughout 2012 the opinion around the Royals fanbase was very similar.  Many people felt that the team was full of pitchers that projected as the fourth or fifth best pitcher in a rotation.  There was no clear cut “ace” nor was there anyone that the fans felt confident in taking the mound to stop a losing streak.  The team had major league quality pitching, it just was not elite.

Dayton Moore seemingly set out to fix that during the end of 2012 and into the offseason.  A three year contract was reached with Jeremy Guthrie, who had pitched very well after joining the Royals during the second half of 2012, and trades were made for Shields, Wade Davis, and Ervin Santana.  The fifth spot is up for grabs this spring and eventually Danny Duffy will join these four to round out the starting five.

Shields obviously will head line the starting rotation for the Royals and is the type of pitcher that would headline most rotations across baseball.  Last year was a team full of rotation guys that projected as four and five starters, this year, it appears that the rotation may be full of guys that are top-three style pitchers.

Looking at the four starters that are set into the rotation this season, where will they rank at the end of 2013?

Wade Davis: Number Four
WadeDavis
Davis has been a solid Major League pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays.  In four seasons he has proven to be a durable starter and a reliable relief pitcher.  The Royals brought him in as insurance and an upgrade over the pitchers they currently had, but he was never projected to be near the top of the rotation.  Davis will provide some inning-eating starts throughout the summer and be serviceable in his role, but ultimately will remain as a lower-rotation starter that may end up back in the bullpen before long if other pitchers are pitching well when Duffy returns.

Ervin Santana: Number Three
MARINEROS-ANGELINOS
Santana is the pitcher that the Royals most hope can realize his potential.  In eight seasons of starting pitching for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Santana has won 16 or more games three times in his career.  He has also lost 12 or more games three times as well.  An up-and-down career has seen moments of brilliance and frustration for Santana.  The Royals will hope that Dave Eiland can work with Santana on mechanical flaws in his delivery and help him regain his top-of-the-rotation form.  Santana should be able to be the number three starter when the smoke clears, though Kansas City may be hoping he is better than that.

Jeremy Guthrie: Number Two
JeremyGuthrie
Looking at past performance of all three starters would rank Guthrie much lower in this conversation.  However, in recent interviews Guthrie has talked very openly about a renewed confidence, a satisfaction with management and coaching and overcoming a mental block that he felt kept him for being a better pitcher in Colorado.  He has spoken to the fact that Kauffman Stadium is a pitcher friendly environment and that he feels that he has one of the best defenses in the league behind him.  The confidence shows in his statistics from last season, with nearly all of his stats showing best in his career type numbers.  He is pitching to contact, keeping the ball in the park, and letting his defense do the work.

By the time the smoke clears on the 2013 season, the Royals will be looking at a rotation that will feature top-tier players at most of the slots.  Jeremy Guthrie has every opportunity to become a great part of that rotation for the next three years.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball
Follow him on Twitter here.

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Felix Hernandez megadeal should actually help St. Louis Cardinals in Adam Wainwright negotiations

The St. Louis Cardinals enter spring training this week with another star player entering the final year of his contract just two years after the Albert Pujols contract circus. But the Cardinals suddenly have leverage in these negotiations they never got with Pujols.

AlbertPujolsAdamWainwright

Adam Wainwright will be a free agent at the end of the season if he and the Cardinals can’t agree on a long-term contract before the end of the season. This sounds similar to the Pujols situation, but the Cardinals should suddenly be more optimistic this time around thanks to an American League team on the West Coast.

The Seattle Mariners are close to signing pitcher Felix Hernandez to a huge contract that could range from five to seven years and $135 million to $175 million. Either way, Hernandez is going to be a very rich man, but he probably helped the Cardinals in negotiations with their own ace pitcher.

Hernandez could make somewhere in the neighborhood of $25 million to $27 million annually, which is close to the price tag many people figured it would take to keep Wainwright in St. Louis beyond this season. However, the Cardinals have a few good reasons not to pay Wainwright that much money, or at least not for that long.

See, Hernandez is just 26 years old even though he’s pitched in the big leagues for eight seasons, but he has never had a major arm injury. Wainwright is 31 years old, missed the entire 2011 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and struggled at times in 2012 to regain his dominant form.

The bigger concern for the Cardinals was when the San Francisco Giants signed righthanded pitcher Matt Cain to a six-year, $127.5-million contract extension before the beginning of the 2012 season. Cain was 27 years old at the time he signed the deal, but he also had a career record of 69-73.

Granted, the deal worked out last year as Cain led the Giants to a World Series title with a 16-5 record and a perfect game along the way, but Wainwright still looked like the better pitcher at the time.

Maybe it’s been good for the Cardinals to let negotiations with Wainwright drag on into the final year. The constant questions about the contract won’t be pleasant if they don’t get a deal done before the season begins, but the Cardinals would’ve certainly had to pay more for Wainwright if they had signed him to an extension two years ago, and probably even last year. There was a chance Wainwright could have made between $25-30 million per year up until the Hernandez deal.

Wainwright could still shoot for that type of money as a free agent in the offseason if he has a Cy Young Award-caliber 2013 season, but teams will likely be much more unwilling to give a 31-year-old pitcher with a history of arm problems more money than a 26-year-old pitcher who has never spent an appreciable amount of time on the disabled list.

Of course, time will determine if the Mariners made the right decision to sign their righthanded star pitcher. Hernandez could have a Cain-type season, or he could turn into Barry Zito, who hasn’t pitched above .500 since the Giants signed him to a $126-million deal in 2007.

No matter the long-term outcome, news of the Hernandez deal should make Cardinals fans more optimistic their team’s own righthanded star pitcher will take the mound at Busch Stadium in a Cardinals uniform to open the 2014 season, and God-willing, several more seasons beyond that.

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If the Orioles can do it, so can the Royals.

After the 2012 season, it’s easy to accept the Royals will always lose and nothing will change. It’s hard to be optimistic and defend a sports team who hasn’t been above .500 since 2003 and not in the playoffs since 1985.

So should I and other Royals fans be more optimistic? I think so. Look, if the Baltimore Orioles can make the playoffs, so can the Royals.

You could call the Orioles the Royals of the A.L. East. In 2011, the Orioles had a 69-93 record. The last time they won 70 games was 2006. The last time they went over .500 was 1997. This year, the Orioles went 93-69, winning the Wild Card play-in game against the Rangers before losing the ALDS against the Yankees.

The Orioles weren’t supposed to be this good. Their Pythagorean win-loss record was 82-80 and many figured the team would finish towards the bottom of the A.L. East.

The Yankees won the A.L. East, but only by two games over the Orioles. The Rays played well, but “only” won 90 games, missing the playoffs. The Jays were Royals-like at 73-89. The Red Sox finished 69-93 and showed Bobby Valentine the door.

So what made the Orioles so good? It had to be their top-shelf starting pitching. Well, not really. The starters had a 4.42 team ERA, ninth in the A.L. and 21st in the the Majors. Their “ace” pitcher, Wei-Yin Chen, had a 4.02 ERA, a 12-11 record, pitched 192.2 innings with a 2.70 SO/BB ratio.

The Royals starters had a 5.01 team ERA, 11th in the A.L. and 26th in the Majors. That’s not too far off from the Orioles. The Royals “ace” was Bruce Chen, with a 5.07 ERA, a 11-14 record, pitching 191.2 innings with 2.98 SO/BB ratio. If Luke Hochevar wasn’t Luke Hochevar and Jeremy Guthrie had a full season with the Royals, The Royals starting rotation could be better than the Orioles rotation.

How about the bullpen? The Orioles had a 3.00 team ERA, third in the A.L. and fifth in the Majors. Just behind them were the Royals with a 3.17 team ERA, fourth in the A.L. and sixth in the Majors. The Royals had 535 strikeouts, the most in the A.L., but the Orioles had a 1.21 WHIP, compared to the Royals 1.34 WHIP. The Orioles bullpen was a factor, but it wasn’t the main reason they made the playoffs.

How about the Orioles lineup? Center fielder Adam Jones led the team with a .287 average, 103 runs and 16 stolen bases. DH Chris Davis led with 33 home runs and 85 RBI. As a team, the Orioles had a .247 average, 677 RBI, 270 doubles, 214 home runs, scoring 712 runs while allowing 705 runs.

Meanwhile, DH Billy Butler led the team with a .313 average, 29 homers and 107 RBI. Alex Gordon led the team with 93 runs and Alcides Escobar stole a team high 35 bases. As a team, the Royals had a .265 average, 643 RBI, 295 doubles, 131 home runs, scoring 676 runs and allowing 746 runs.

The Royals had a better batting average and more doubles, but the Orioles had 83 more home runs and 34 more RBI. And the Royals gave up a lot more runs than they scored. Having a good team batting average and hitting doubles helps, but scoring more runs wins more games. The Orioles did a better job offensively than the Royals, but it wasn’t a big reason the Orioles played so well.

So what was it? The Orioles had something the Royals didn’t have much of: luck. There’s a stat called Pythagorean Luck, which is the difference between the actual win-loss record and the Pythagorean win-loss record. The Orioles were the best in the Majors with an 11 luck score and played way above expectations. The Royals were -2 and played slightly below expectations.

When the Orioles were in a close or extra inning game, they usually won. In one run games, the Orioles had a 29-9 record, the best in the Majors. The Royals were 27-26, which is at least above .500. The Orioles also had the best extra inning record in the Majors at 16-2. The Royals were 8-7, once again above .500. And the Orioles never lost a regular season game when they led after seven innings.

And love him or hate him, manager Buck Showalter did a good job managing the team. He’s obsessively detail oriented and after a while he usually wears out his welcome, but he’s a frontrunner for A.L. Manager of the Year.

Now the Orioles were far from perfect. The lack of an ace showed itself in the playoffs, even with the Yankees being offensively challenged. And a team can’t expect to win a majority of one run and extra inning games every year. And outside of pitcher Dylan Bundy and third baseman Manny Machado, the Orioles farm system is pretty shallow.

But the Orioles prove with timely performances, a average starting rotation and some luck, a team can win and make the playoffs, even in a strong A.L. East. There’s no excuses for the Kansas City Royals now. If the Baltimore Orioles can do it, the Royals can too.

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2012 Opening Day: A game of opposites

For the first time since the incredible evening of September 28th, 2011 the Kansas City Royals finally took the field for a game that counted. How much should I emphasize finally? Our roommates here at I70 Baseball, the St Louis Cardinals, had completed two games in two different cities before Alex Gordon dug in against Jered Weaver Friday evening. Finally we can quit speculating about what might happen. Finally we have real games to watch and react. Finally baseball can show us why we why love it so much. Baseball shows us that when we think we know stuff about baseball, we really don’t know anything about baseball.

Coming into the season we had this team figured out. The Kansas City Royals were going to hit. The Royals were going to be good defensively. The bullpen was going to be strong, and the starting rotation was going to be suspect. Then the first game of the 2012 season starts and the game unfolded like none of us thought it would.

Alex Gordon digs in and promptly flies out to center and begins a long evening for the Royals at the plate. Jered Weaver hamstrung the Royals for 8 innings, striking out 10, and never allowed a runner to reach third base. Granted Weaver is an ace pitcher and a lot of the Royals futility can be attributed to him. However, the top of the Royals line-up looked lost at the plate. Especially on Alex Gordon’s second at bat where he struck out with three check swings. The closest the Royals came to scoring was in the 7th when Jeff Francoeur doubled with one out…and promptly got picked off. There are some trends that seem to carry over from year to year. Horrendous base running appears to have not changed in the Royals organization. It was a disappointing offensive to performance. Oh well, we waited this long for the Royals to play a game. I guess we’ll wait a few more hours for the Royals to score a run.

Fortunately, there was a bright spot for the Royals. It was starting pitcher Bruce Chen, who threw six innings of shutout ball, striking out 4, and not walking anyone. A good performance from this starting staff is important. Since the Royals bullpen is supposed to the strength of the pitching staff I thought it was a good idea to not let a tired Chen face the heart of the Angels line-up. Chen was lifted, and Aaron Crow was sent out to pitch the 7th. To this point in the game there had not been a lot to cheer about. But then the fist pumping began. Aaron Crow struck out the side in dominating fashion. This performance was highlighted by a three pitch strike out that made the greatest active hitter in baseball; Albert Pujols, look flat out silly. I’ll take another inning of that please. Unfortunately, that was the high water mark for the Royals in this game.

Crow came back out to pitch the 8th. After retiring Kendrys Morales on a fly ball to left, Crow gave up three consecutive singles before being lifted for Greg Holland. OK, Holland is viewed by many fans to be the best arm in the bullpen. If anyone is going to put this fire out it’s Greg Holland. Instead, Alcides Escobar mishandled a weak grounder from Peter Bourjos allowing a run to score and keeping the bases loaded. Erick Aybar was the next hitter who uncorked a triple down the right field line and that was your ball game. The Angels beat the Royals on Opening Day 5-0.

This game just goes to show that in baseball anything can happen. That’s part of the sport’s mystery. This was a game of opposites for the Royals. The parts of the team we thought would be strengths; bullpen, offense, and defense let us down. The part we thought was suspect, the starting pitching, gave us something to cheer about. It’s too early to tell if this is a trend to buck the prevalent thinking, or it’s a one game, or even an entire series anomaly.

This was just one game of 162. It has been said that during a baseball season a team will win 50 games, lose 50 games, and their season will be decided with the middle 62 games. While I’m still irritated that Aaron Crow and Greg Holland didn’t hold down their end of the bargain. You have to remember the Royals did not score any runs for their pitchers. Because the Royals got shutout I have to put this game in the 50 they were going to lose anyway. Not every pitcher will be tough as Jered Weaver. It’s just tough when it’s the first game in six months. The good news is, the Royals get another crack at winning in less than 24 hours. This next is likely one of the coveted 62.

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Who are the backups to the St. Louis Cardinals backstop?

The St. Louis Cardinals are all in training camp and preparing for the 2012 season! Those are sweet, sweet words for Cardinal fans all over the world. This is the time of year where every team has hope for the upcoming season, and the joy of baseball fandom is at its highest. As has been much discussed on this site, there are a lot of questions the Cardinals face as they approach a new season: new manager, new pitching coach, no Albert Pujols at first base, ace pitcher (Adam Wainwright) returning after a missed year following Tommy John surgery, Yadier Molina entering final year of his contract, Lance Berkman moving to first base, David Freese trying to stay healthy for a full season, Tyler Greene trying to win the second base job, Allen Craig trying to get back on the field, Shelby Miller and Matt Adams trying to crack the big league roster, Carlos Beltran first season with the Birds, Holliday moving into the 3 spot in the batting order…have I left anything out?

News broke out of Jupiter earlier this week that the Cardinals and Yadier Molina are very close on a 5-year extension for a reported $70-75 million. As of the writing of this article, the deal has yet to be completed or finalized. Molina’s contract situation begs the question of just who would replace Molina should he leave after the 2012 season? Would it come from within the organization or outside the organization? This article will look at the three catchers in the Cardinal system that would be next in-line should Molina leave, or perhaps more importantly (based on news of a deal being close for Molina), which guy could provide serviceable backup starts when Molina needs a rest.

Bryan Anderson is a 25-year old catcher that was drafted by the Cardinals in the 4th round of the 2005 amateur draft. Anderson made his big-league debut in 2010 and has seen only 32 at-bats. He has played time at the AAA level all the way back to 2008. His batting average in the minors is .281 and he has hit between 3-12 home runs each season. While not a home run hitter, he does swing a pretty good bat with gap power that can produce a lot of doubles. Scouts say Anderson is athletic with good bat-speed and plate discipline. He has a quick release from behind the plate but only average arm strength. His blocking and receiving also need some work before he is major-league ready. He certainly has the right coach to help him in manager Mike Matheny, but he appears to be a guy that could get squeezed out of an MLB opportunity. He’s  not a good enough defender (yet) to play catcher but not enough of a power bat to become a DH.

Tony Cruz is also a 25-year old catcher. He was signed by the Cardinals in the 27th round of the 2007 amateur draft. Like Anderson, Cruz does not have many major league at-bats. Unlike Anderson, he was not drafted as a catcher. Cruz was drafted as a 3B, but was moved behind the plate because of his strong arm. His only time up in the big show came in 2011 when he accumulated 72 plate appearances in 38 games. Cruz stayed in the low minors longer than Anderson. He did not reach the AAA level until 2010.

Part of his development will be improving his slow release behind the plate (if only we could combine Anderson’s release and Cruz’s arm strength). Unfortunately, Cruz is a mediocre offensive weapon. His minors slash line is .264/.319/.414 and his AAA slash line is .232/.295/.389. He is a singles hitter that struggles to make consistent contact.

Koyie Hill was signed by the Cardinals to a minor-league contract during the 2012 off-season. Hill is 32 years old, was drafted by the Dodgers organization in the 4th round of the 2000 draft. He played sparingly at the big league level from 2003-2008. Then he played in 83, 77, and 46 games during the 2009-2011 seasons. Most of his playing time was received when Geovany Soto went down with injuries.

Hill was given playing time for his defensive abilities much more so than his offensive capabilities. Hill struggles to make contact, has a ground ball rate over 50%, and does not have a good eye at the plate (quite the combination). His best major league year season at the plate was 2009 when he hit .237 with with 2 HRs and 24 RBIs in 253 plate appearances. 2009 also marked the most plate appearances Hill has seen in a season to this point in his career.

A deeper look at these catcher’s skill sets and numbers makes it understandable why the Cardinals are willing to throw the years and dollars at Molina that is being reported. I did not even touch on all the intangibles a catcher brings to the team outside of the sheer numbers. The way Molina handles pitchers will ease the transition from Duncan to Lilliquist. The way he throws runners out and keeps runners from attempting to steal will keep many runs off the scoreboard. He is the guy you want behind the plate to groom Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez, and others in the coming seasons. Those who would call a five-year contract to Molina foolish must not fully understand all the intangibles he brings to the team that truly make a difference in the standings at the end of the year.

Another exciting aspect to Molina is that 2011 was his most productive season at the plate. For whatever reason, a lot of catchers are late bloomers offensively, and Molina was no exception. In 2011, Molina batted .304 with 14 HRs and 65 RBIs. He has excellent discipline at the plate, drives the ball well to the opposite field, and makes contact over 90% of the time. His numbers are trending in such a way that I would not put a .300-20-80 season beyond him in any of the next three seasons.

There is one last factor to take into consideration. In this age of advanced metrics, we sometimes reduce a players worth to numbers on a page. It has been a long time since I have seen a Cardinal play the game of baseball with more passion than Yadier Molina. The Cardinals need him in the clubhouse if for no other reason than that. Passion is contagious.

If for some reason, the deal does not get done with the Cardinals and Molina, you have to believe the club would look outside the organization for a starting catcher. At 25, Anderson and Cruz have time to continue to develop, but nothing they have done to this point in their careers lead you to believe they would be the long-term answer.

This writer hopes Molina wears the Birds on the Bat for years to come. Let’s make it happen Mo!

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The Process player profile: Mike Montgomery

8 Days: Until the Cactus League Opener

41 Days: Until Opening Night

When I came up with the concept of doing profiles of players in Dayton Moore’s process it occurred to me that “The Process” needed it’s own logo. I discussed the concept with James Tyree and he came up with this logo for what many Kansas City Royals’ fans have endearingly refer to as “The Process”

 

From this day forward any time “The Process’ is mentioned in one of my posts. Said post will proudly display this logo.

This week I’m going to focus on a player who I believe must blossom into All-Star caliber pitcher if “The Process” is going to get the Royals into the playoffs. I don’t mean a capable middle of the rotation innings eater. I’m talking about a Zack Greinke type, takes the ball every fifth day and you know the Royals have a better than even chance to win, ace pitcher. I am talking about Mike Montgomery.

The Royals drafted Mike Montgomery out of Hart High School in Newhall, CA with the 36th Pick in 2008 Amateur Draft. If you’ll recall that was the same draft Eric Hosmer was taken with the 3rd overall pick. A year ago I was really excited that the Royals had Montgomery in the farm system. Baseball America listed Montgomery as the #19 prospect on their Top 100 Prospects list. To add some shine to the varnish, Montgomery throws left handed. I was delighted to see Montgomery destroy the Cactus League last year. In April I attended the Futures Game at Kauffman Stadium. When I saw Montgomery pitch that day there was no doubt we would see him a Royals uniform by the All-Star Break.

However, the season started and the reports out Omaha become troubling, and that major league debut for Montgomery never came. Instead it was Danny Duffy who was called up when Bruce Chen went down with an injury. I’m not up to speed on how to bring a pitcher through a minor league system. Maybe the Royals organization had Montgomery “working on something” last season. I’ve heard that reason given for a spring training with terrible statistics, and I believe that would be the case. There’s plenty of pitchers who had terrible statistics in spring training that went on to have excellent seasons. I have yet to hear about someone “working on something” for an entire season. Of course, established major leaguers have bad seasons so it’s reasonable to assume that prospects can have them too. They have less of a track record in which to base their success.

Last season does not mean Montgomery is a lost cause, far from it. This spring Baseball America has Montgomery listed as #23 in their Top 100 Prospects List. That’s still good company. Montgomery is expected to compete with several other young arms for the two remaining slots in the Royals rotation. Based who has options, and who doesn’t, I don’t expect Montgomery to break camp with the Royals. I hope he pitches well enough this spring to force the Royals hand and put him in the rotation coming out of camp. If that does not happen I’m sure Montgomery will be up at some point this season. At least I hope so. The Royals need their number one prospect to be dominant. If the Royals are going to win the division, they need their number one prospect to turn into an ace. Not just an ace of a team, but an ace on a playoff team.

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