Tag Archive | "Backstop"

Cardinals Position of Interest: Organizational Catcher

As our look around the Cardinals’ system, from the roof to the basement continues, we’ll move onto catcher, where the club is in a familiar situation. In Yadier Molina, the direction of the team is set with perhaps the face of the entire organization, yet even in as secure of a situation has there is, there still have to be contingencies. So what is the scenario behind Yadi? And is the future potentially as certain as the immediate past and present has been? Here’s how the current situation for the Cardinals’ backstops is playing out.

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St. Louis: The scene is set with the big league squad, and isn’t changing for a while. Molina is arguably the best catcher in baseball currently. Since inheriting the job from now manager Mike Matheny in 2005, he’s grown into the best defensive player in baseball, a winner of five consecutive Gold Gloves and two Platinum Gloves as well. His bat has also began to rise up the level of his prodigious defense as well, has he has hit .310 over the past three seasons. This balance helped him finish fourth in the National League MVP vote a year ago. At 31, he’s the cornerstone of the team, and is an unapproachable role as the team’s top catcher.

Although the opportunities behind Molina are sparse, Tony Cruz made a solid impact in his part-time work and is a fairly good athlete. He’s in a good position to hold the spot for a while, as he is low cost, young and has an ability to play other positions if needed.

High Minors: At Memphis, the club currently has some veteran backstops stashed to provide depth, and most importantly, help groom the young arms reaching the brink of St. Louis. Rob Johnson and J.R. Towles are currently lining up behind the plate. While neither is much more than an extreme fallback option in case of an injury to Molina or Cruz, Johnson did perform well in the spring.

At Double-A Springfield, 26-year- old Audry Perez has been the part-time backstop for two years, splitting the duties three ways in 2011. While not a major prospect, in five seasons through the organization, he has hit .275.

Low Minors: Cody Stanley and Jesus Montero are the prime talents at the Class-A level, both at Palm Beach currently. A former pitcher, Montero the 21-year-old hit .308 at Low-A Batavia in 33 games a year ago. Of all the catchers in the system currently, he has among the best chances of breaking through into St. Louis. While he projects favorably, but needs to get healthy to starve off his teammate this season, Cody Stanley. The 24-year-old is hitting .250, with a home run and two triples, and while he isn’t a great threat to make an impact in St. Louis, he can be a solid player in the minors.

Steve Bean, the team’s second round pick a year ago, showed some potential as well. He split his first professional year at Johnson City and the GCL Cardinals at the Rookie level. After a slow start at Johnson City, he hit .320 in 50 plate appearances in the Gulf Coast League, and at only 19 years old, he has a decent amount promise to still deliver on. He’ll continue in the GCL when season play starts June 21.

Prognosis: In a lot of ways, it’s really Yadi and then everybody else. And while that would be the case regardless of the talent behind him, it’s a rather extreme difference. From veteran backups to young, but one-dimensional prospects, there’s not a clear player that is “next” in the organization right now. While Cruz is talented, he’s not displayed himself to be a candidate for much more of a role than he carries now, for any club. And while Montero and Bean are showing potential, they are some way off from being even among the better players in the system as whole. So for the time being, in Molina’s value is even greater than is seen daily, just due to how much taller he is than the pool he’s standing in.

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Mo’ money, mo’ problems, Mo’…lina?

Yadier Molina and the St. Louis Cardinals announced on Thursday that they’d reached an agreement to extend the two-time World Series Champion, three-time All Star, and winner of four consecutive (and counting) National League Gold Glove awards.  Oh, and it’s the second-richest contract for a catcher (Mauer, MIN) in baseball history.  Or any history for that matter, I suppose.  Molina will be the backstop for St. Louis from 2013-2017, and the deal includes a mutual option for 2018, when Molina will turn 36, which could make the deal worth $88MM in total guaranteed money over 6 years.

But, was it a good signing?

Like most signings, we may not know the answer to that until 2016 or 2017.  I can tell you this much, though: the list of people who like this deal include John Mozeliak & Bill DeWitt.  Obviously, Yadi Molina likes it, and I imagine Brian McCann and Buster Posey were wearing pretty big smiles when they heard the news too.  For what it’s worth, you can add me to the list–I like this deal, and I like it a lot.  (Side note: I’m betting the days of Lincecum, Cain & Posey playing together in San Fransisco are numbered.)

Photo Courtesy: Erika Lynn

$15MM is a lot of money for a catcher, there’s no denying it.  The difficult thing about quantifying that, as Mozeliak pointed out, is that this is not an offense-driven dollar figure.  For all the talk about intangibles, leadership, and clubhouse presence that a guy like Yadi brings to the team, there’s no column on his baseball-reference page for those type of things.  Sure, you can count his pickoffs, or compare his caught stealing rate to other catchers his age, but there are no metrics for the way catchers handle a pitching staff, or in Yadi’s case, handing down knowledge collected through Tony LaRussa, Dave Duncan, Chris Carpenter and others to young pitchers like Shelby Miller, and Carlos Martinez.

It’s difficult to compare apples like Johnny Bench to Oranges like Yadi Molina.  But know this: His compensation was not based on his offensive production.  Though it was a factor, his defense was the primary driving force behind the numbers in this contract, and anyone who ignores, overlooks, or tries to downplay that is making a mistake.

When you ask yourself what the Cardinals’ realisitic, legitimate alternative options were, had they not locked Yadi up long-term, you don’t find much to feel good about.  You can talk about Tony Cruz & Bryan Anderson all you want, but they’re both a far cry from bringing what Molina can to the table.  It was imperative that the Cardinals spend money for a catcher, and in my opinion, far better to spend what they did and get what they got, than the alternatives the organization faced.  To put so much on the shoulders of younger guys in the organization, or pay McCann or Ianetta free agency money primarily for offensive-production, when that’s clearly not a deficiency on this team, would’ve been mistakes in my mind.

Not to mention, whose shirsey are you going sell if you lose Pujols AND Molina to free agency within a year of each other?  There’s a lot of revenue generated there, folks, don’t kid yourselves.

The organization has not stashed the supposed “truckloads of money that they were going to pay Pujols”.  Berkman, Beltran and Molina will attest to that.  What’s more, I believe the Cardinals have been smart with these deals, and not gone long-term with guys that they shouldn’t have.  Remember, Beltran (and his new agent, Dan Lozano) originally sought a three-year deal.  Consider that now it’s only Holliday & Molina that are signed through 2017, and that Garcia just signed a deal last year.  Add to that the facts that Waino has two years to go, as does Carpenter, and that Lohse & Westbrook’s salary is coming off the books this year, and it puts the organization in pretty good shape, financially.  Also, they’re fresh off a World Series Championship, which is good for the bottom line to say the least, and that many of the other pieces to the puzzle are arbitration eligible, with a little ways to go before entering free agency, and the financial picture improves even further.

Jason Motte is scheduled to become a free agent in 2015, a year before Mitchell Boggs and David Freese, and those are the young guys who are closest to free agency.  Mo has said said, as recently as last season, that he’s not seen the farm system this healthy since he joined the organization…which was in 1995.  1995.  This Yadi deal is just one piece to a very good-looking puzzle for the long-term success of this Cardinals franchise, and I can’t wait to see where it goes from here!

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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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Here We Go Again…Maybe

This week, Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch caught up with St. Louis Cardinal catcher Yadier Molina to talk about, among other things, his contract situation. Molina’s current deal is set to expire after the 2012 season, which would make the backstop a free agent for the first time in his career.

Unfortunately, this story is starting to sound a lot like the one told by Albert Pujols leading up to his eventual departure from the Cardinals. Obviously, in situations like this one, it is expected that the player will mention that the deal is about business. When it comes to free agency, a lot of monetary figures get thrown around that most regular folks just can’t comprehend. But, to be fair, these players want to get paid what they believe they are worth. And when one team is willing to come closer to that figure than another, and the difference is significant enough to outweigh anything else, then yes—it really is all about business. It is the business of baseball. There may be feelings involved, but business is what ultimately drove Pujols to the LA Angels. And Molina is now faced with similar prospects.

But another cliché Molina tossed into the interview also matched Pujols’ cadence months earlier: the dreaded “It’s out of my hands.” Seriously…this again? Actually, Yadi, no…it is not out of your hands. It is directly in your hands. You are the player. Your performance on the field drives your worth to the Cardinals and any other team that wants to sign you. You and your agent talk about what you believe your worth is, and then you take it to these teams. Maybe you don’t directly negotiate with the team; we get that. But “It’s out of my hands?” Sorry…not buying that bill of goods again.

At any time, Molina and his agent could start throwing numbers at the Cardinals. He is due to make $7 million this year, and is only 29. He is climbing into the upper echelon of catchers’ salaries and figures to get one more lengthy deal. He is still one of the top defensive catchers in the game, remains a clutch hitter, and is a leader in the clubhouse. The cards are on the table—no pun intended. So is the old “It’s out of my hands” routine just a benign way of saying “I’ll go with whoever pays the most” or what?

It is hard to tell, really, because Molina is one of the toughest players to read. He keeps a pretty low profile when it comes to speaking out publicly. One thing mentioned in the article is that he does not plan on imposing the same Spring Training negotiating deadline Pujols did last year, which definitely helps the process. The Cardinals, for their part, have some significant salary room in 2013 but also some significant holes to fill, at least as of now. That team will need a first baseman, at least one starting pitcher (and maybe two), and some hefty arbitration raises may be due to guys like David Freese and Jason Motte. But do they still have enough room for a bigger contract for Molina? And more importantly, does Molina really want to stay in St. Louis?

Speculation that Molina may also bolt for Anaheim to join his chum began to surface before the ink on Pujols’ contract was dry. And the Angels would certainly appear to have the salary space to take on Molina or anyone else they think can get them back to a World Series. But the Cards may have an ace in the hole with Mike Matheny, Molina’s old mentor, at the helm of the team. Or maybe not. It’s entirely possible Molina already knows exactly what he wants to do, and no amount of money or personal lobbying will change that. Of course, that could be the case from either side…at least until the Mystery Team steps in.

The Cards probably shouldn’t let this one get to the free agency deadline. Molina is a core member of the Cardinals, and now represents the old guard—he’s one of the longest-tenured players on the team. And this next contract is as much in his hands as it is anyone else’s.

Chris Reed also writes for InsideSTL Mondays and Bird Brained whenever he feels like it. Follow him on Twitter @birdbrained.

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Cooperstown Choices: Javy Lopez

With the Hall Of Fame election announcement coming on January 9, 2012, it is time to review the ballot, go over the names, and decide who belongs in the Hall Of Fame.

There are twenty seven men on the ballot this year and we will take a look at each one individually prior to official announcements. You can find all of the profiles in the I-70 Baseball Exclusives: Cooperstown Choices 2012 menu at the top of the page.

Tune in Saturday, January 7, 2012 as I-70 Baseball Radio will host a panel of writers discussing the Hall Of Fame Ballot in a 2-hour special.

In this article, we take a look at Javy Lopez.

Javy Lopez
The backstop that spent the majority of his major league career in the Atlanta Braves organization, finished his 15 season as a member of the Baltimore Orioles in 2006. A catcher that was known for his presence at the plate, this will be Lopez’ first time on the Hall Of Fame ballot.

Year Tm G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
1992 ATL 9 16 3 6 2 0 0 2 0 0 1 .375 .375 .500 .875 140
1993 ATL 8 16 1 6 1 1 1 2 0 0 2 .375 .412 .750 1.162 203
1994 ATL 80 277 27 68 9 0 13 35 0 17 61 .245 .299 .419 .718 84
1995 ATL 100 333 37 105 11 4 14 51 0 14 57 .315 .344 .498 .842 117
1996 ATL 138 489 56 138 19 1 23 69 1 28 84 .282 .322 .466 .788 100
1997 ATL 123 414 52 122 28 1 23 68 1 40 82 .295 .361 .534 .895 129
1998 ATL 133 489 73 139 21 1 34 106 5 30 85 .284 .328 .540 .868 124
1999 ATL 65 246 34 78 18 1 11 45 0 20 41 .317 .375 .533 .908 127
2000 ATL 134 481 60 138 21 1 24 89 0 35 80 .287 .337 .484 .822 104
2001 ATL 128 438 45 117 16 1 17 66 1 28 82 .267 .322 .425 .747 89
2002 ATL 109 347 31 81 15 0 11 52 0 26 63 .233 .299 .372 .670 74
2003 ATL 129 457 89 150 29 3 43 109 0 33 90 .328 .378 .687 1.065 169
2004 BAL 150 579 83 183 33 3 23 86 0 47 97 .316 .370 .503 .872 127
2005 BAL 103 395 47 110 24 1 15 49 0 19 68 .278 .322 .458 .780 106
2006 TOT 94 342 36 86 20 1 8 35 0 20 76 .251 .297 .386 .683 75
2006 BAL 76 279 30 74 15 1 8 31 0 18 60 .265 .314 .412 .727 87
2006 BOS 18 63 6 12 5 0 0 4 0 2 16 .190 .215 .270 .485 22
15 Seasons 1503 5319 674 1527 267 19 260 864 8 357 969 .287 .337 .491 .828 112
162 Game Avg. 162 573 73 165 29 2 28 93 1 38 104 .287 .337 .491 .828 112
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
ATL (12 yrs) 1156 4003 508 1148 190 14 214 694 8 271 728 .287 .337 .502 .839 113
BAL (3 yrs) 329 1253 160 367 72 5 46 166 0 84 225 .293 .343 .468 .811 112
BOS (1 yr) 18 63 6 12 5 0 0 4 0 2 16 .190 .215 .270 .485 22
NL (12 yrs) 1156 4003 508 1148 190 14 214 694 8 271 728 .287 .337 .502 .839 113
AL (3 yrs) 347 1316 166 379 77 5 46 170 0 86 241 .288 .337 .459 .796 107
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/15/2011.

Why He Should Get In
Javy Lopez put up some impressive career numbers for a catcher. With 1,527 hits and 260 home runs, 267 doubles, as well as 864 runs batted in and a .828 OPS (On Base Plus Slugging Percentage), he proved that he could handle the bat during his career. Lopez would finish tenth in the 1994 voting for the Jackie Robinson Award, given to the top rookie in each league. He would make appearances in the All Star Game in 1997, 1998, and 2003. He won the Silver Slugger Award in 2003, his final season with the Braves. His run with the Braves was during the highly successful decade of the 90′s, which will keep him known as a key part of a winning ball club as well.

Why He Should Not Get In
Javy Lopez was never known as an overly defensive catcher and that will hurt him. Had he won a Gold Glove or two, he would be a virtual lock for Cooperstown. His numbers, while impressive for a catcher, are not overly impressive overall. Another guy that ends up on the bubble, Lopez may find his way in someday, but many voters will keep him from going in the first time on the ballot.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball as well as the Assignment Editor for BaseballDigest.com.
He is the host of I-70 Radio, hosted every week on BlogTalkRadio.com.
Follow him on Twitter here.

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Royals Farm Report: September 2nd

Royals Farm Report: August 25th
Naturals, Storm Chasers, Cougars solidify playoff chances

Triple-A

Omaha

The Omaha Storm Chasers (Pacific Coast League) had a night to remember on Wednesday, as their win over Round Rock combined with Memphis’ loss allowed the Storm Chasers to clinch the American Northern Division title. This marks the first time since 1999 that the Royals’ Triple-A affiliate has made the postseason.

Who’s Hot

As he has all season, Luis Mendoza delivered for Omaha this week. He went six innings in each of his two starts since last week’s report, allowing a total of three runs. The 2011 PCL Pitcher of the Year has now won his last four starts, lowering his league-leading ERA to 2.18 in the process. Outfielder Lorenzo Cain had a big week at the plate. Though his 13-game hitting streak was snapped on Tuesday, Cain responded with a 5-for-5 performance in Wednesday’s crucial contest.

Who’s Not

Former Natural Cody Clark has slumped in recent days, as the catcher is just 1-for-23 in his last six games. Clark has not driven in a run since Aug. 18 and did not homer at all in the last month. Fellow backstop Manny Pina has just three hits in five games since rejoining Omaha following a stint in the big leagues.

Double-A

NWArk

Seven days ago, the Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Texas League) had a commanding six-game lead in the circuit’s North Division. At the time, the club’s magic number stood at seven. Since then, however, the Naturals have lost six of their last seven games and have fallen into a first-place tie with the red-hot Tulsa Drillers, winners of nine straight. The division’s second playoff spot will be decided from Sep. 3-5, when the teams meet in Tulsa on the final three days of the regular season.

Who’s Hot

The Naturals’ recent struggles are no fault of Tim Smith and Ben Theriot, as the two left-hand batters have hit well in recent days. Smith is 6-for-10 with a homer in his last three games, while Theriot is 8-for-11 in his last four. Third baseman Mario Lisson hit his 30th home run as a Natural on Wednesday, establishing a new franchise record. On the mound, southpaw Will Smith showed why he was selected as the Naturals’ Pitcher of the Year in his last start, allowing just an unearned run while racking up 10 strikeouts in a game for the first time this season.

Who’s Not

Promoted from Wilmington early this week, Elisaul Pimentel made his Double-A debut on Wednesday and got a rude welcome to the level. Pimentel allowed five runs in three innings, including back-to-back homers in a four-run first inning. Reliever Edgar Garcia allowed four home runs in the course of one outing on Monday, including two in the decisive tenth inning as the Drillers finished a sweep of the Naturals.

Class-A Advanced

BlueRocks

The Wilmington Blue Rocks (Carolina League) have been eliminated from playoff contention but did not go away quietly, posting a 4-3 record over the last seven days. The Blue Rocks have four more games in their 2011 campaign, which concludes at home on Labor Day against the Frederick Keys.

Who’s Hot

Allen Caldwell has pitched well since joining the Wilmington rotation about a week ago. In his most recent start, Caldwell allowed just one hit in 5 2/3 scoreless frames, striking out six in a win over Myrtle Beach. AZL Royals Pitcher of the Year Andrew Stueve made the jump to Wilmington last week and has not allowed a run through three innings with the Blue Rocks. Though he is hitless in his last two games, Yem Prades racked up a pair of multi-hit games within the last week and leads the team with a .297 batting average.

Who’s Not

In what has been another up-and-down season for the right-hander Tim Melville had a rough start on Tuesday, as he was tagged for four runs on six hits in just 4 2/3 against the Pelicans. Melville also issued five walks in the contest. Offensively, outfielder Whit Merrifield went just 3-for-20 in six games since last week’s report.

Class-A

KCC

Like Triple-A Omaha, the Kane County Cougars (Midwest League) wrapped up a playoff spot on Wednesday, in their case with a win over the Cedar Rapids Kernels. Former Natural and Northwest Arkansas resident Vance Wilson has a chance to get his club a Midwest League title in his first year as a minor-league manager.

Who’s Hot

Though he endured an 0-for-12 stretch earlier in the week, former Arkansas Razorback Brett Eibner helped Kane County secure their postseason future with a pair of multi-hit games in the last two days. Between Tuesday and Wednesday, Eibner went 4-for-8 with a double, a triple and three walks. On the mound, right-handerJason Adam has excelled of late, allowing just one run over five innings in each of his last two starts.

Who’s Not

Though his league-leading ERA remains below 2.00, Greg Billo has now been roughed up in three consecutive starts. On Aug. 27 against Peoria, Billo yielded four runs on a season-high 11 hits. The right-hander is expected to have one more start to right the ship before postseason play begins. 18-year-old Cheslor Cuthbertis experiencing the grind of a full professional season for the first time, and the lengthy schedule may be taking its toll. Cuthbert hit just .124 with four extra-base hits in the month of August, but his season stat line still shows a player who is holding his own as one of the youngest bats in the league.

Short Season/Rookie

Idaho

The Idaho Falls Chukars (Pioneer League) are the team in the organization that will play the deepest into September during the regular season. While all the full-season teams will wrap up by Labor Day, the Chukars’ 2011 campaign does not conclude until Sep. 8. Still technically alive for postseason play, the Chukars must make up a six-game deficit in a little over a week.

Who’s Hot

Right-hander Edwin Carl put the finishing touches on a ridiculous Pioneer League campaign with three strikeouts in two innings on Aug. 26 before a promotion to Kane County. Carl departs the Chukars with an absurd total of 71 strikeouts – against three walks – in 33 innings out of the Idaho Falls ‘pen. Named Idaho Falls Player of the Year, Runey Davis notched a hit in all but one of his games last week to keep his batting average level at .331 with an impressive .437 on-base percentage. Challenged by a promotion to this level, 2011 draftee Cameron Gallagher is 2-for-7 with a homer early into his stint with the Chukars.

Who’s Not

Reliever Jose Sanchez was tagged for a pair of losses in his last two appearances, allowing a total of nine earned runs in five innings of work. Even though nine of the runs he has allowed have been unearned, Sanchez still has a bloated 9.19 ERA. At the plate, catcher Tyler Smith has one hit in his last nine at bats and is hitting just .188 with a lone double in his time in the Pioneer League.

Burlington

One of two affiliates to conclude their respective seasons this week are the Burlington Royals (Appalachian League), who dropped their final three contests to finish the year at 24-44, tied with the Bristol White Sox for the worst record in their league.

Who’s Hot

Selected as Burlington’s Player of the Year, outfielder Jorge Bonifacio finished the season with hits in nine of his last 10 games. Bonifacio led the club with 20 doubles and finished tied for second with seven home runs. On the mound, Nick Graffeo ended his run with the B-Royals with a win over Greeneville in his final start. Posting a 2.04 ERA while splitting time between the ‘pen and the rotation, Graffeo was deservedly honored as the club’s Pitcher of the Year.

Who’s Not

Though he homered in the season finale, Murray Watts finished the season with just two hits in his final eight games. After struggling at Kane County earlier in the year, Watts hit just .222 with Burlington and will work through the offseason to realize the power potential residing in his 6’7” frame. Reliever Andrea Pizziconiended the season by allowing six runs between his last two appearances, taking the loss against Johnson City on Aug. 28.

AZL

The AZL Royals (Arizona League) also concluded their season this past week, finishing the complex league season in last place at 22-34. Still, the true purpose of the circuit should not be forgotten, as the past two and a half months have given recent draftees and international signees valuable reps in their first taste of professional baseball.

Who’s Hot

Terrance Gore put the finishing touches on a solid run with the AZL Royals with a three-hit game on Aug. 28 against the Padres’ affiliate. In 35 games in Arizona, Gore hit .340 with a .447 on-base percentage and was not caught in 17 stolen base attempts. D’Andre Toney matched Gore with a .340 average and finished the season even better. Toney had three hits in each of the last two games and totaled two triples, a homer and six RBI in those contests.

Who’s Not

Collectively, the club’s pitching staff had trouble finding consistent success, thanks in part to the notably hitter-friendly weather down in Arizona. The team’s pitchers combined for a 6.11 ERA. Cesar Ogando finished the season by allowing three runs in four innings, wrapping his stint in Arizona with a 10.52 ERA. With that said, at just 19 years old, Ogando’s best days of baseball are undoubtedly still in front of him.

Former Naturals outside the Kansas City organization

Last week brought one of the proudest moments in the baseball career of Juan Abreu, who made his Major League debut with the Astros on 8/29. Abreu became the 23rd player to reach the big leagues after playing for the Naturals. Though he allowed a run in two-thirds of an inning, Abreu fanned a pair and will have a chance to establish himself in the season’s final month.

In departing for Houston, Abreu left the Pacific Coast League, the circuit in which Blake Johnson is currently plying his trade. Johnson currently has a 6.17 ERA for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, allowing a run in each of his last four appearances. Over in the International League, Jordan Parraz has continued his solid season for the Yankees’ Triple-A club. Parraz has hit safely in four of his last five games and carries a solid .361 on-base percentage with Scranton/Wilkes Barre. In the same league as Parraz is Ben Swaggerty, who so far has an 8.02 ERA in 14 games with Gwinnett.

At the Double-A level, Jeff Howell is hitting at a .370 clip with five extra-base hits through his first seven games with the Portland Sea Dogs, Boston’s Eastern League club. He now plays in the same league as Chris McConnell, who is now hitting just .213 for Harrisburg.

Down in the Southern League, Ernesto Mejia continues to lead the group of former Naturals now playing for the Mississippi Braves. Mejia knocked in three runs within the last week, giving him 89 RBI to go along with his 35 doubles and 22 homers. Among Mejia’s teammates with the M-Braves are Ed Lucas (.263 AVG, .335 OBP) and Rowdy Hardy (3.14 ERA).

At the Advanced-A level, Harold Mozingo has a solid 3.26 ERA for the Dunedin Blue Jays. Finally, a pair of former Naturals remains among the walking wounded, asDan Cortes (Seattle Mariners) and Jose Duarte (Jupiter Hammerheads) both reside on the disabled list.

The Northwest Arkansas Naturals are the Double-A Texas League affiliate of the Kansas City Royals and play at state-of-the-art Arvest Ballpark, located in Springdale. Visit our website, nwanaturals.com, for information on season tickets and ticket plans.

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Press Release: Salvador Perez Promoted To KC

The following is a press release from the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, provided here in its entirety.

Salvador Perez promoted to KC
Affable, able defender to get extended look

KANSAS CITY, MO – MLB.com is reporting that the Kansas City Royals have promoted former Naturals’ backstop Salvador Perez to the major leagues.

Salvador Perez

Perez is expected to join the Royals for Wednesday night’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays and is expected to remain with the club for the rest of the season.

He’ll replace catcher Brayan Pena, who is going to Miami for the birth of his child and is on paternity leave. That left the Royals with only Manny Pina, another former Natural, to catch because veteran backstop Matt Treanor is on the disabled list with a concussion.

Perez, called up from Triple-A Omaha, has adapted well since his promotion to the Pacific Coast League. In 12 games, he’s batted .333 (16-for-48) with five doubles, a home run and 10 RBIs. With the Naturals, Perez hit .283 with eight homers, 43 RBIs in 79 games.

Perez also represented the Naturals in San Antonio at this year’s Texas League All-Star Game, having wowed the circuit’s voting personnel mostly with his defense and game calling ability. At the time of his promotion, Perez was the best catcher in the league at throwing out runners, gunning down 47.8% of runners attempting to steal against him (43 CS in 90 attempts). Signed by Kansas City as a non-drafted free agent in September of 2006, the Valencia, Ven. resident was ranked prior to the season as the Royals’ 17th best prospect by Baseball America.

The Royals cleared room on the 40-man roster for Perez by placing right-hander Kyle Davies on unconditional release waivers Wednesday. Davies made two rehab starts for the Naturals in the season’s first half.

Perez’ arrival in Kansas City marks the 11th player on the current Royals 25-Man big league roster to have played for the Naturals since their inaugural season in 2008.

The Northwest Arkansas Naturals are the Double-A Texas League affiliate of the Kansas City Royals and play at state-of-the-art Arvest Ballpark, located in Springdale. Visit our website, nwanaturals.com, for information on season tickets and ticket plans.


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A Bro-Mance For The Ages

It was 2004 when the Cardinals handed the reigns of their pitching staff over to a young, talented, and defensively sound Yadier Molina. The younger brother of Major League catchers Bengie and Jose, Yadier arrived in St. Louis being regarded as a player who was defensively ready, however, fans were warned that he would be learning to be a hitter at the Major League level.

APandYadi

Very early in Molina’s career, the Cardinals’ up-and-coming superstar, Albert Pujols, seemed to have taken the backstop under his wing. It was not long before the St. Louis organization had a behind the scenes “bro-mance” on their hands.

A baseball bro-mance should yield some results for the fans, writers, and followers of the ball club. Two players being connected on the same team for such a long period of time begs the question of their combined production. Not just the production of their combined season statistics but also a look into just how they feed off each other in individual games.

The interesting standpoint here is that we are dealing with two very different players. This is not Joe Dimaggio and Mickey Mantle. This is a player that is regarded as the best in Major League Baseball defensively at his position. It is another player that is regarded as possibly the best hitter baseball has ever seen.

That defensive player has seen himself evolve into a player that is becoming respected for his bat. That reason alone led this writer into researching just how many times the members of this relationship had achieved the pinnacle of power, the home run, in the same game.

Molina was brought to the big league club in 2004, but it was not until his third career home run on May 18, 2005 that he and Albert Pujols would go deep in the same game. It would happen in the top of the third inning as Pujols, with Larry Walker on first base, would put the Cardinals ahead 2-0 on a two ball, two strike delivery from Jon Lieber of the Philadelphia Phillies. The home run was the 170th of Albert’s still young career. Later in that same inning, Molina would drive the first pitch he seen out of the park with Mark Grudzielanek and Abraham Nunez on second and third, putting the Cardinals ahead 5-0. It is the only time to date that the duo has gone deep in the same inning. The team would go on to win the game 8-4 and our bro-mance begins to take hold.

The tandem would not wait long for a repeat performance and would not waste the curtain call on a road crowd this time. Back in the confines of Busch Stadium, it would be Molina who would put his name in the box score first with a solo shot off the Pittsburgh Pirates starter Mark Redman in the bottom of the third inning of a scoreless game on June 25, 2005. The Cardinals would be ahead 5-0 when Pujols would step to the plate against reliever Ryan Vogelsong. Chris Carpenter and David Eckstein would score from second and third on Albert’s dinger, his 180th of his career, and the final runs of the Cardinals 8-0 win that day.

Two years and a combined 114 home runs would pass before the two hitters would find themselves going yard in the same game again. During a game in St. Louis that the Cardinals would go on to win 6-4 on August 22, 2007, Albert’s two run homer in the bottom of the first inning off Florida Marlins’ starter Scott Olsen would plate So Taguchi and mark the 280th career long ball of his career. It was the 20th home run of Yadier Molina’s career, a solo shot in the bottom of the fifth off of Olsen, that would put the duo’s name in the box score side by side for the third time.

May 3, 2008 would mark the first time the pair would go deep in the same game with no one on base as the Cardinals would drop a game to the rival Chicago Cubs 9-3. Molina would touch the Chicago Cubs’ Ted Lilly for a solo shot in the bottom of the fifth while Albert would follow suit in the bottom of the sixth.

Albert would once again reach the thirty home run plateau on September 1, 2008 as he would take one of the best left handed hurlers of the time, Randy Johnson, out of the ballpark in Arizona in the top of the third inning with Ryan Ludwick on second base. While Johnson could seem untouchable at times, it was Molina that actually reached him first with a solo shot in the top of the second that day, his sixth of the year and 28th of his career. Johnson would get the last laugh as the Diamondbacks would hold on to win 8-6.

The Pittsburgh Pirates starter Ian Snell would take the mound in St. Louis and yield a two-run home run to Albert Pujols in the bottom of the third, scoring Colby Rasmus. The game was already out of hand with the Cardinals leading 8-1 by the time Yadier Molina would take relief pitcher Donald Veal deep for a solo shot in the bottom of the fifth, but the teammates had left the ballpark in the same game for the sixth time and the team would hold on to win 9-3.

Not quite a month later, the subjects of our discussion would again enjoy some home cooking and find themselves producing a pair of solo shots on Cinqo De Mayo 10-7 loss against the Philadelphia Phillies. It was Molina taking Brett Meyers out of the park in the bottom of the fourth and Albert greeting his old friend Brad Lidge in the bottom of the ninth to achieve the feat this time.

The eighth such game would occur once again in St. Louis, this time against the Colorado Rockies. The Cardinals would lose 11-4 but it would mark the third time in one season that the pair would go deep in the same game, more than any other year to date. Rockies starter Jorge de la Rosa would give up solo shots to the pair in the bottom of the sixth for Pujols and bottom of the seventh for Molina.

The only time the two would leave the yard in the same game in 2010 would also be the only game featuring multiple home runs from one of them. The Cardinals would visit the Cincinnatti Reds to open the season on April 5, 2010 and Aaron Harang would find himself in trouble early, giving up a solo home run to Albert in the top of the first. Albert was not done for the day and would hit a two run homer in the top of the seventh off Mike Lincoln, driving in Brendan Ryan from first. Yadi would get to put the nail in the coffin on this day as he would take Nick Masset out of the yard in grand fashion, emptying the full bases and driving in Matt Holliday, Colby Rasmus and Felipe Lopez, giving the Cardinals an 11-6 opening day victory.

June 16, 2011 in the Nation’s capital would find the backstop and first baseman reaching the bleachers once again. It was the Nationals’ Tyler Clippard surrendering a solo shot to Albert in the eighth and his bullpen mate Drew Storen who could not contain Yadier Molina in the ninth from a solo shot of his own. The team did not fair as well, dropping the game 7-4.

The eleventh and most current game to feature the two men hitting home runs in the same game would occur on July 22, 2011 in Pittsburgh. Pirates starter Paul Maholm would serve up a two run bomb to Pujols, his 430th of his career, scoring Jon Jay from first. Chris Resop would be on the mound in the eight when Yadi would find a way to drive the ball over the fence for the 47th time in his career, giving the Cardinals a 6-4 victory over the suddenly competitive Pirates.

The duo will continue to grace the field in the same uniform for the remainder of 2011. Beyond that, the story has yet to be written, but time will tell if the career numbers might continue to coincide for years to come or fans may need to relish the few games they have left with two superstars in the same lineup.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball as well as the Assignment Editor for BaseballDigest.com.
He is the host of I-70 Radio, hosted every week on BlogTalkRadio.com.
Follow him on Twitter here.

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The Best Kind Of Revenge

August 10, 2010 was Jason LaRue‘s last day on a Major League field.

Most know the story: a fight that was incited by comments from Brandon Phillips the night before led to an all-out brawl that caused the mob of red-clad ballplayers-turned-fighters to crash into the backstop. One of the first ones to hit the wall was the Reds’ starter in last night’s game, Johnny Cueto.

Cueto started kicking–with his spikes on–at the two people closest to him: last night’s Cards starter Chris Carpenter and backup catcher LaRue. Carp got scratches on his back. LaRue got concussed and was rendered unable to play pro baseball ever again.

Cueto was suspended for seven games. One start.

The next time he was due to pitch against the Cardinals, he conveniently had family matters to attend to. But he made an appearance in St. Louis tonight. God knows what was going through the Cardinals players’ heads.

Carpenter remembered. He probably still has the scars Cueto gave him on that August afternoon in Cincinnati. He does remember what kind of impact Cueto had that day. After all, he had a front row seat to it all.

Maybe he was just carrying over his recent success. Maybe he was filled with the desire to beat that guy pitching the other halves of innings. Probably both. But he matched him for seven innings. Seven innings of shutout ball from each starter. There were close calls and amazing plays on both sides, but the score remained stagnant for both sides for seven long innings.

As the game progressed into the Fourth of July night, you got that tightness in your gut of pure excitement every time someone on either team made it on base. Both pitchers seemed extremely vulnerable and unstoppable at the same time. But one of them would stand, and one would fall. The one that would make it through had to be Carp. He couldn’t let that dirtbag shove gis team into a deficit in the NL Central standings. Not this time.

Carpenter finished off the Reds again in the eighth inning with 119 pitches right after his longest Cardinals outing ever four days ago; the score still 0-0. Then Cueto became the one who fell.

Colby Rasmus led off with a single. After Yadier Molina finally got a bunt down after five pitches, Cueto bobbled it and was forced to throw to first instead of getting Razz out at second. Skip Schumaker flew out to get him to third, bringing in Mark Hamilton who was hitting for Carp. With two outs, Mark hit a grounder to Scott Rolen at third, who slid to catch the ball and fire it to first in what is being called one of the best plays all year. One problem: Hamilton beat the throw. 1-0 Cardinals.

Fernando Salas had a one-two-three ninth, ensuring Cueto’s defeat as news poured in that the Brewers had blown yet another game, this time in Arizona. The Cards were now alone in first place while the Reds stood at 43-43 and a game and a half behind the Pittsburgh Pirates.

But most importantly, Johnny Cueto lost. He didn’t get throttled, chewed up and spit out in the first inning. No, he pitched a great game, got so close to beating Cincinnati nemesis Chris Carpenter. But he fell about one foot short. That was probably the best revenge of all.

Postscript: Hit me up at my site

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BBA All Star Ballot

I-70 Baseball is a proud member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance in both the Kansas City and St. Louis Chapters.

As members of the BBA, we are all asked to compile All Star Ballots once a year. The BBA compiles all of the ballots and announces the All Star Teams as picked by the group of almost 300 baseball writers.

As the midsummer classic converges on Arizona, the lineups that I would suggest are reflected as follows (editor’s note: Angela Weinhold selected the National League squad):

American League National League
Starting Pitcher
Justin Verlander – Detroit Tigers Roy Halladay – Philadelphia Phillies
Verlander is silencing critics on his path to super stardom. One of the American League’s first ten game winners and is dominating the strike zone. Hitters are reaching at a paltry .178 average against him and a 0.84 WHIP makes him a hands down favorite to star in the mid-summer classic. Ten game winners are not growing on trees around the majors this year, but Doc Halladay has laid claim to his first ten victories. Not as dominant as his American League counterpart, he has held hitters to a .241 average and holds a 1.03 WHIP.
Catcher
Alex Avila – Detroit Tigers Yadier Molina – St. Louis Cardinals
Let’s give the Tigers the starting battery on the idea that this young backstop has earned hit. Throwing out over 63% of would be base stealers he has been a force at the plate as well. He is hitting .303 with 10 home runs and 45 runs batted in. Yadi’s production behind the plate has declined drastically this season seeing him catch less than a third of baserunners. His production in the lineup, however, has found a surge. The Cardinals field general is hitting .294 on the season with four home runs and 29 runs batted in. He deserves a starting nod.
First Base
Adrian Gonzalez – Boston Red Sox Joey Votto – Cincinnati Reds
The big offseason pickup for the Red Sox has not disappointed at all. With Most Valuable Player type numbers, Gonzalez is putting together one of the best seasons in either league. A .361 average, 1.026 OPS, 16 home runs and 71 runs batted in makes this pick the easiest of the ballot. The strangest feeling of the All Star voting process in 2011 is the absence of Albert Pujols’ name. Votto is putting together a respectable season while the annual appearance of Albert is more than a bit absent. Votto’s .318 batting average, 11 home runs, .950 OPS, and 49 runs batted in make him the NL choice on this ballot.
Second Base
Robinson Cano – New York Yankees Rickie Weeks – Milwaukee Brewers
Speaking of players that have their names show up on these types of lists constantly, meet Yankee second baseman Robinson Cano. He hits .290, boasts an .836 OPS, has hit 14 home runs and driven in 48. He strikes out a bit, but every general manager in baseball would choose him over their own second baseman given the option. The man at second in the frozen north has established himself as one of the premier at that position everywhere. A leadoff man with some pop, Weeks brings a .360 OBP with his .290 average and compliments it with 14 home runs. A strong defender as well, he is easily the best in the National League.
Third Base
Adrian Beltre – Texas Rangers Chase Headley – San Diego Padres
Beltre went to Texas to prove that he could still hit, and hit he has. With 14 home runs, 56 runs batted in, a .263 average and .769 OPS, the Rangers have a third baseman in the middle of their order that pitchers fear. His potent bat, strong arm, and solid glove will serve the American League squad well. There is no clear cut choice at the hot corner in the National League, so let’s go out on a limb with a Padre here. Headley plays in the pitcher friendly Petco Park and is finding it more than double friendly, posting 21 two-baggers already this season. A .296 average and .793 OPS is worth giving him a solid look at an all star appearance.
Shortstop
Asdrubal Cabrera – Cleveland Indians Jose Reyes – New York Mets
Is this a changing of the guard or just a good season for the Indians’ shortstop? Time will tell, but Cabrera is putting up a season that does not need to be ignored. A .293 average, 12 home runs, 44 runs batted in and .833 OPS puts him high on every chart at his position. The most pure lead off hitter in the game today, Jose Reyes has spent 2011 proving that he is worth a look as the starting shortstop in this game. His average is .341, he has a .385 on base percentage, an .899 OPS and has stolen 28 bases while only being caught five times.
Outfielder
Alex Gordon – Kansas City Royals Ryan Braun – Milwaukee Brewers
Gordon promised before this year that he would dominate. That may have been a stretch, but he certainly has arrived as a key part of the Royals’ bright future. His hot start has cooled a bit, but he is still hitting .293 with a .844 OPS. Nine home runs and 44 runs batted in put him in the conversation for the All Star Game. Ryan Braun has made his way into this lineup and the hearts of many fans in Milwaukee. Most players that hit .308 with a .943 OPS, 16 home runs, 59 runs batted in, and 17 stolen bases will do that for a fan base, though, and Braun is just that guy.
Outfielder
Curtis Granderson – New York Yankees Matt Kemp – Los Angeles Dodgers
Curtis Granderson might be the most impressive Yankee so far in 2011. Of course, 21 home runs, 56 runs batted in, .933 OPS and 12 stolen bases might just make Granderson one of the most impressive players in baseball, period. Kemp is taking his place at the top of the outfield conversation in the National League and he deserves it. His glove work is stellar and his bat is impressive. With 21 home runs and 60 runs batted in, the team may be going bankrupt but he is trying to win some games. No slouch on the basepaths, 21 stolen bases make him that much more of a threat.
Outfielder
Jacoby Ellsbury – Boston Red Sox Hunter Pence – Houston Astros
The speedy young outfielder from Boston gets the nod in the outfield here for his impressive work on the basepaths and solid bat. A .303 average, .827 OPS, and 25 stolen bases are enough but add in nine home runs and 39 runs batted in and you have got an All Star. Hunter Pence has played himself into this conversation despite his team’s inability to play themselves into any conversation. Nine home runs, 52 runs batted in, and a .315 average will most likely land him Houston’s loan spot in the mid summer classic.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball as well as the Assignment Editor for BaseballDigest.com.
He is the host of I-70 Radio, hosted every week on BlogTalkRadio.com.
Follow him on Twitter here.

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