Tag Archive | "Big Leaguer"

Although injured, Jason Motte might hold key to St. Louis Cardinals bullpen

The man who closed out the 2011 World Series championship for the St. Louis Cardinals and saved 42 games for them a season later has not pitched in a competitive situation in more than a year, but he might turn out to be one of the most important pitchers on the 2014 team’s staff.

JasonMotte

Jason Motte tore a ligament in his right elbow during spring training in 2013 and had Tommy John surgery to fix it, but that operation requires about a full year of rehab before a pitcher can return to the mound in a Major League Baseball game.

Motte has thrown bullpen sessions and batting practices in spring training camp this year, but he had the surgery May 7, 2013, so the Cardinals will most likely be about one month into their 2014 regular season before Motte is available.

Indications are Motte will become the eighth-inning setup reliever for closer Trevor Rosenthal once he is fully healthy, and that should make the back end of the team’s bullpen extremely dangerous, if not dominant.

However, the Cardinals likely have to get through the first month of the season, which includes 12 games against their top divisional opponents, the Cincinnati Reds or Pittsburgh Pirates.

Those first several weeks of the season are certainly important, even though the team survived the Mitchell Boggs disaster in April a year ago, and the Cardinals have potentially better pitchers set to again try to fill an April void left by Motte, but those options carry nearly as many questions.

The pitcher who starts the season as the righthanded setup reliever in the bullpen could easily be the one who loses the battle for the fifth and final spot in the starting rotation that has waged between rookie Carlos Martinez and third-year big leaguer Joe Kelly.

Martinez has had an exceptional spring training with a 1.76 earned-run average with nine strikeouts in four starts, while Kelly struggled in his first two starts before he settled down for 5.1 innings Saturday when he allowed one run and struck out three in a 6-2 win over the Atlanta Braves.

Martinez has made a Shelby Miller-like impression on the spring training mounds this year, but he still might be the better choice to start the season in the bullpen than Kelly.

For one, Martinez shined as the eighth-inning pitcher during the 2013 postseason with 11 strikeouts in 12 appearances, while Kelly started four games, including a 5.1-inning outing in Game 3 of the World Series against the Boston Red Sox to lead the Cardinals to a 5-4 victory and one of their two wins in the series.

Kelly was also not particularly stellar as a bullpen pitcher during the first half of the 2013 season after he lost the race for the No. 5 spot in the rotation to Miller in spring training. Kelly’s ERA was at 6.75 through 16 appearances before he got his first start of the season June 5 and gave up one run in 5.2 innings in what turned out to be a 10-3 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Much of that debate won’t matter on the bullpen side when Motte comes back because he should be able to fill the eighth-inning role and take some pressure off of Martinez, Kelly or anybody else Cardinals manager Mike Matheny wants to use in the meantime.

The challenge then will likely be to get enough appearances in middle relief for whichever pitcher does not get the fifth spot in the starting rotation.

And if that is the biggest problem the Cardinals have once May begins, they will probably be off to a pretty good start.

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St. Louis Cardinals reliever Kevin Siegrist having success as if he’s Yasiel Puig

Away from all of the excitement and attention directed toward Los Angeles Dodgers rookie outfielder Yasiel Puig, the St. Louis Cardinals have a rookie who has arguably had an even better start to his career.

KevinSiegrist

Cardinals left-handed relief pitcher Kevin Siegrist appeared in his 13th career Major League Baseball game Friday against the Chicago Cubs and finally became like every other pitcher in the game, one that has allowed at least one run.

Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro homered off of him in the bottom of the eighth to cut the Cardinals’ lead from 3-1 to 3-2, but Siegrist recovered in typical Siegrist fashion: He struck out the next three hitters.

Siegrist, now with a 0.69 earned-run average, has been simply dominant in his brief career. He has struck out 20 hitters while walking just three and giving up three hits in 13 innings. He also became the first Cardinals player since 1900 to not allow a run in his first 12 appearances.

Viewed through the narrow lens of the 2013 season, Siegrist’s performance as a big-leaguer came at nearly the perfect time for the Cardinals. The team called the 23-year-old up from the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds on June 6 in exchange for Maikel Cleto, who had 2.1 horrid innings when he gave up five runs in his only appearance of the season the night before against eh Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Cardinals pitching staff was in strong need of a boost at that point in the season. Yes, the team was 18 games over .500 and had the best record in baseball, but the pitching staff was in the midst of major changes.

Right-handed starter Jake Westbrook went on the disabled list May 12 with elbow inflammation, and left-handed starter Jaime Garcia succumbed to shoulder inflammation the next day. Then, left-handed replacement starter John Gast went on the DL with a shoulder strain two weeks later.

In the meantime, the Cardinals called up seven rookie pitchers, including Siegrist.

By and large, those pitchers did a fine job. Left-handed starter Tyler Lyons got rocked a few times before the Cardinals sent him back to the minors, but Seth Maness, Carlos Martinez, Keith Butler, Michael Blazek and Michael Wacha each made positive contributions to the team.

But none more than Siegrist, who could’ve made a case he should have been an all-star if the fans had voted Puig into the game as the Final Vote winner.

The Dodgers called 22-year-old Puig up to the big leagues just five days before Siegrist, and Puig set the baseball world aflame with dramatic plays in the field and at the plate, which caused a large segment of the baseball community to say Puig should be an all-star even though he has only been in the league for six weeks.

Well, so has Siegrist. Puig has a .397 batting average with eight homeruns and 19 runs batted in during his brief career, but Siegrist has arguably played even better.

It is difficult to compare the two players because they play different parts of the game. Puig played in 37 games from June 3 through Friday while Siegrist appeared in 13, but each has surpassed even the greatest expectations for a rookie at their respective positions.

Had the National League Final Vote included middle relievers, as the American League Final Vote did, Siegrist would’ve had a strong case to be a candidate.

Nonetheless, he figures to be a vital part of the Cardinals bullpen in the second half of the season.

The Cardinals haven’t used left-handed specialist Randy Choate much at all (he’s pitched just six more innings that Siegrist although he’s been on the active roster since Opening Day), and they sent left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski to the minor leagues April 29 for ineffectiveness.

That decision left a gaping hole in the bullpen that Siegrist has filled as well as possible, although he has done much of his work in anonymity up to this point.

The pressure will increase when he ends up in a tight situation late in a ballgame against the Pittsburgh Pirates or Cincinnati Reds in the pennant race, but right now he should be the Cardinals go-to reliever when they need to shut down an opponent’s rally even though he received absolutely zero consideration as a potential all-star candidate.

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Wilmington Rocks Matsuzaka In 7-2 Win

Salem, VA – On frigid night with penetrating winds that shattered the warmest of layered clothing, the cherry on top had the Wilmington Blue Rocks (8-8) facing a rehabbing big leaguer in Daisuke Matsuzaka.  What appeared to be a recipe for offensive anemia instead cooked up a healthy helping of 12 hits and three home runs, both season-high marks, in a 7-2 defeat of the Salem Red Sox (7-8) on Monday night.  Wilmington’s third straight win, its fifth in seven games, lifted it to .500 for the first time on the young season.

Whit Merrifield found himself down 0-2 in the count against the two-time World Baseball Classic MVP to begin the game.  He then found himself rounding the bases, as he sent a ball over the 25-foot high wall in left for his first home run of the season.  Two batters later, Cheslor Cuthbert doubled and Brian Fletcher followed with a lengthy at-bat.  He fouled off pitch after pitch before sending a single to left that scored Cuthbert for an early 2-0 lead.

Geulin Beltre got in on the act when he slammed Matsuzaka’s first pitch of the second over the left-field fence for his first homer and a 3-0 margin.  Matsuzaka (0-1) gave up three runs on six hits over four innings in his first rehab outing since undergoing Tommy John surgery last June.

Wilmington starter Jason Adam saw an infield hit, a soft single and a walk all come with two outs to load the bases in the second.  But the 20-year-old induced a fly-out to center from Jackie Bradley, Jr. to leave the bases loaded and cruised to his first win as a Blue Rock.  Adam (1-1) tossed five scoreless frames, struck out five and lowered his league-leading ERA to 0.40.

Cuthbert provided run-scoring hits in the fifth, seventh and ninth.  They combined with Brett Eibner’s first Wilmington homer in the eighth to make it 7-0.  Cuthbert, a highly-touted 19-year-old third baseman, went 4-for-5 with two doubles and three RBIs in his best game as a Rock.

After Sam Runion held the Sox scoreless in the sixth and seventh, Jon Keck did the same in the eighth.  In the ninth, Chase Boruff had two outs and two strikes on the board when he gave up a two-run double to Brandon Jacobs that spoiled the shutout.  He struck out Travis Shaw thereafter to end the game.

Yordano Ventura (0-1, 3.86) looks for his first win as a Blue Rock when the series continues at 7:05 p.m. on Tuesday night.  He will face fellow right-hander Keith Couch (2-1, 3.38).  Broadcast coverage begins at 6:35 p.m. as studio hostRob Cunningham brings fans the Rocks Report Pre-game Show, presented by Wawa, on 89.7 WGLS-FM and online at wgls.rowan.edu. 

PEBBLES OF KNOWLEDGE:
According to the National Weather Service, winds gusted in excess of 30 mph during the course of the night.  The flags showed the wind flowing toward left field most of the game, where two of the Rocks’ three homers cleared the fence. Brett Eibner’s blow went into the wind in right-center field.

Whit Merrifield’s leadoff homer was the third of his two-year tenure with the Blue Rocks.  He fell a triple short of the cycle and scored four runs.

Sam Runion’s two scoreless innings lowered his ERA to 1.17.  The former starter has allowed just one run in four relief appearances and 7.2 innings.

Over their first 13 games of the year, the Blue Rocks scored a total of 36 runs.  In their last three they have plated 22.

While the stats from Sunday’s suspended game will not count until the game is completed and official on June 8, consider this.  A Wilmington club that entered the weekend as one of baseball’s two teams sans home run now has seven over the last three days.

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2012 Key Players: Moustakas hopes to establish himself in year two

When Mike Moustakas banged a homer in just his second game as a big leaguer, hopes soared. And when he had a .385 average with four walks after four games, it looked like he was on his way to a great rookie season.

Mike Moustakas by Erika Lynn

But things went sour from that point on. By the time September rolled around, you had to wonder if Moustakas could hit big league pitching. He had not homered since his second game and had just 18 RBIs and an anemic .232 average.

But the big third baseman had struggled to adjust at every level, so the Royals stuck with him.

The show Moustakas put on in September is, the Royals hope, a preview of things to come. He batted .352 for the month and popped 4 homers, driving in 12 runs.

We all know what we WANT from Mike Moustakas. We WANT another George Brett. We want 30 homers and 100 RBIs and a .300 average every season.

But rather than talk about how it’s unfair to expect Moose to be George Brett, Royals fans might look around to see what other, mere mortals are doing at third base.

More specifically, Royals fans can ask “What are other teams in the division getting from their third basemen?”

The Royals sights should be set on becoming the best team in the division. They need some of the parts of their whole to become the best in the division. And believe it or not, Moustakas is not that far off from being the best third baseman in the division.

This season, the Tigers plan to play Miguel Cabrera at third. No one can expect Moose to be Cabrera at the plate, but Cabrera’s work at third remains to be seen. This experiment may not turn out as well as the Tigers hope.

The third basemen in the division consist of, basically, four youngsters trying to develop into solid big leaguers, and one of the best hitters of the last decade who isn’t really a natural third baseman.

For Chicago, 24-year-old Brent Morel has a couple of years of big league experience to build on, but hasn’t blossomed yet. In Cleveland, 23-year-old Lonnie Chisenhall hopes to take the position from last year’s starter, Jack Hannahan. And in Minnesota, the Twins look to 26-year-old Danny Valencia to provide the power they lack in their lineup.

It may not tell a lot to analyze last year’s numbers. But based on them, Moustakas wasn’t far from the others in the division, even with his struggles to adjust to the majors. If you average the numbers posted last season by Morel, Hannahan, Valencia and Brandon Inge of Detroit, you get numbers Moustakas could easily match.

The averages of Morel, Hannahan, Valencia and Inge, compared to Moustakas:

Games: Others – 123, Mousatakas – 89
Hits: Others – 93.5, Moustakas – 89
Doubles: Others – 18, Moustakas – 18
Home Runs: Others – 9, Moustakas – 5
RBIs: Others – 44, Moustakas – 30
Walks: Others – 31, Moustakas – 22
Average: Others – .238, Moustakas – .263

If Moustakas plays 123 games this season, there is no reason to think he can’t blow those numbers out of the water.

Interestingly, the guy being drummed out of a job – Hannahan – actually put up the best OBP, SLG, OPS and WAR: .331/.338/.719 and 2.2. The guy who played the most – Valencia – posted the lowest WAR (-1.1) even though he led the group with 15 homers and 72 RBIs.

The Royals find themselves in the same position as the Twins, White Sox and Indians. Each has a third baseman with minimal experience who they hope can make dramatic improvement.

Moustakas has started slowly this spring, but he won’t be moved out of the lineup by anything but injury this year. The Royals, like three other teams in the division, will wait patiently for their third-base prospect to develop.

Cabrera may post big offensive numbers this year, but the Royals hope Moustakas is the division’s best long-term.

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Cleaning Up The Scrap

Many times during off-season articles, writers like to focus on lists over the history of the franchise. These articles focus on the best players at each position, the best players over a time frame, and the best seasons the team put together.

If there has been one type of player that the Tony LaRussa Era has introduced to St. Louis, it has been the “Scrappy” player. That little guy that overachieved. That player that never leaves the field clean. The guy the fans love because he leaves everything on the field when the game is through.

Here it is folks, the five scrappiest players of the Tony LaRussa Era in St. Louis.

Number 5 – Scott Spezio
The son of former big leaguer Ed Spezio, Scott Spezio burst onto the St. Louis scene complete with a Cardinal Red soul patch. Prior to falling victim to the drug and alcohol bug that seemed to be the bane of the Cardinals existence in the mid 2000′s, Spezio was a go to pinch hitter and all around fill in player.

When Scott Rolen went down injured and then tried to come back too soon, he found himself squarely in the dog house of the skipper, which would eventually see him run out of town. Before he could leave, however, he would sit on the bench and off the post season roster while Spezio would see the playing time instead of him. This type of move has defined the scrappy ball players over the years, seeing them gain the manger’s favor when someone else has fallen from his light.

Spezio would hit 13 home runs and drive in 52 runs in limited duty for the 2006 World Champion Cardinals, earning him the fifth spot in the all time Scrappiest countdown.

Number 4 – Fernando Vina
Vina took over the role of lead off man when LaRussa arrived in town. His diminutive stature and his wild defensive play would be enough to land him on the list, but there is more to this story.

Vina was the personification of the character “Coach” from the hit television series Cheers. You see, Coach was a former pitching coach to lead character Sam Malone during his career. During Coach’s playing days, he was famous for being able to be hit by a pitch no matter where the ball was thrown by the pitcher. He would demonstrate these feat to the waitresses of the bar, taking a ball to the head despite it being thrown to what would be the other side of the plate.

Vina seemed to be able to channel this ability. If you thought you might just be imagining him being hit an abnormal amount of times, fear not. He would lead the league in 2000, being hit by a pitch 28 times that season. Through the end of his Cardinal career in 2003, he would successfully reach base 79 times from being struck by a pitch. His sheer ability to “take one for the team” earns him the number four spot in the all time Scrappiest countdown.

Number 3 – Brendan Ryan
The recent Cardinal shortstop seemed to fall into, and out of, the manager’s preference quicker than most players in recent memory. Despite his comical exploits both on and off the field, it was hard to deny the little guys Scrappiness when he took the field of play.

Not since Ozzie Smith had this town seen a player that could cover the amount of ground that Ryan could. Despite there being times that most people would hope that he would not throw the ball after getting to a particular grounder, there were just as many times that he would make the throw and get the putout that no one believed he could.

All that aside, Brendo was also the player that tended to look like a deer in the headlights and the kid that got caught with his hand in the cookie jar. His personality never waned and he reminded more people of being a hyper active puppy than he did a major league shortstop. The best defensive shortstop over the last few seasons, Brendan now plays in Seattle due to his rift with the manager, but his chihuahua ways land him in the third spot in our all time Scrappiest countdown.

Number 2 – David Eckstein
Eckstein may be the human equivilant of “The Little Engine That Could”. While Vina held down the leadoff spot in the beginning of the millennium’s opening decade, Eckstein would inherit the spot for the middle years. The shortstop would immediately tie his career high in home runs with eight in his first season as a Cardinal in 2005.

The little shortstop that could would chug along during the World Championship season and go on to win the World Series MVP Award, being given a shiny new Chevrolet Corvette for his winnings. He would be a two time all star in his three season with the Cardinals and would win fans heart and soul every time he took the field.

All of his success notwithstanding, he would ultimately be remember as the starting shortstop that was more of a short-stuff. Listed as 5’7″ tall, many would tell you that he stood on his tip toes for that measurement. That Corvette that he was awarded in 2006? He gave it to his brother, citing that he was too short to drive it comfortably. The diminutive overachiever earns the second spot in our Scrappiest countdown.

Number 1 – Aaron Miles
Miles, also dubbed “Scrappy Doo” around most Cardinals circles, is indeed the epitome of scrap. He has overachieved in a Cardinal uniform on multiple occasions, played so many positions that Jose Oquendo is proud, and pitched his way to success more than a few times.

Very seldom would Miles leave a field without a dirty uniform, he would inexplicably make plays that no one expected him to get anywhere near, and he would find a way to do exactly what you should do at the plate, simply place the ball where the defense did not exist. In 2010 alone, Miles would register 39 hits, with only five extra base hits. A player who’s lifetime slugging percentage is only 33 points higher than his lifetime on base average, Miles has made a career of getting on first base.

Combine his slap hitting with his short stature, he’s only 5’8″ tall, and his gritty defense and it is easy to see why Miles checks in at the top our our all time Scrappiest countdown.

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

PLAYER PROFILE
Eric Hosmer
First base
AA-Northwest Arkansas Naturals
20 years old
Bats: Left
Throws: Left
Height: 6’4”
Weight: 215 lbs.
Drafted by the Royals in the 1st round of the 2008 MLB Draft

To get to know the third overall pick in the 2008 draft, one needs to look no further than this:

That’s Eric Hosmer. And to Royals fans, he represents the middle-of-the-order power hitter the team has been sorely lacking since the days of Bo Jackson.

The 20-year-old first baseman not only hits like a big leaguer. At 6’4’ and 215 pounds, he’s also built like a big leaguer.

Hosmer was a star at American Heritage High School in Plantation, Fla., when he was selected third overall by the Royals in 2008, which could go down as one of the best baseball draft classes in years. Besides Hosmer, the first round also featured Pedro Alvarez (2nd overall), Brian Matusz (4th), Buster Posey (5th), Gordon Beckham (8th) and Ike Davis (15th), all of whom have already made huge impacts for their respective big-league teams.

But Hosmer’s slower progress should not be a point of concern. First of all, he’s younger than all of those players, who were drafted out of college. Second, he has dominated this season at two levels in the minor leagues.

With the A+ Wilmington Blue Rocks, Hosmer batted an eye-popping .354 and slugged .545, earning a mid-season promotion to AA-Northwest Arkansas. With the Naturals, he’s been even better, bashing 12 home runs (19 total for the season), and his slugging percentage has climbed to .614. He’s also driven in 83 home runs on the season and has stroked 42 doubles.

What’s next for the young first baseman? The road ahead is chock-full of obstacles. At the major league level, Billy Butler seems to have the first base job sewn up until someone takes it from him. Kila Ka’aihue, another first baseman, is likely going to be the leading candidate to be the DH out of Spring Training next year.

Between the Majors and Double A, though, there’s not much competition. In fact, Hosmer and first baseman Clint Robinson, who’s also been raking this year (.33 average, 28 home runs, 94 RBIs), are both likely candidates to take over the starting first base job at Omaha.

After that, the sky’s the limit. If Ka’aihue flames out, Hosmer could quickly become a viable option. Also, there’s an above-average chance that Hosmer could be converted to a corner outfielder.

Either way, look for him to make a play for the big league team as early as 2012.

MiLB WEEKLY ROUNDUP
AAA – Omaha Royals
Record to date: 78-62, third place in the PCL American North
The past week: 5-2, including a 23-5 victory over Round Rock (see “Position Player of the Week,” below)
Transactions: Luke Hochevar was sent from Kansas City to Omaha on a rehab assignment.
Coming up: The O-Royals are visiting Oklahoma City this week to finish the season. Currently sitting in third place, Omaha will likely miss the playoffs.

AA – Northwest Arkansas Naturals
Record to date: 41-25 in the second half (first place), 83-53 overall
The past week: 5-2, with a doubleheader sweep against Arkansas
Transactions: None.
Coming up: The Naturals finish the regular season at home against Tulsa. They are guaranteed a playoff spot.

A+ – Wilmington Blue Rocks
Record to date: 34-31 in the second half (second place), 66-69 overall
The past week: 3-4, splitting a four-game series with Myrtle Beach
Transactions: None.
Coming up: The Blue Rocks finish the regular season at home vs. Frederick. Wilmington is one game out of first and could grab a playoff spot over the last series of the season.

POSITION PLAYER OF THE WEEK

Mike Moustakas

Mike Moustakas, Third base, AAA-Omaha Royals

.400 (12-for-30), seven home runs, 21 RBI

This is a no-brainer. Mike Moustakas may have had the best week by a Royals minor leaguer in… well, ever. Moustakas clubbed seven dingers over the one-week stretch, including Monday night’s game against Round Rock, which included three round-trippers and a cool 11 RBIs in a 23-5 Omaha victory. Not too shabby for the player who may be the Kansas City Royals’ starting third baseman next season.

PITCHER OF THE WEEK

Everett Teaford, AA-Northwest Arkansas Naturals

1-0, 6.1 IP, 1 earned run

Teaford leads the Royals’ organization in victories this year with a 14-4 record. His most recent victory, at home vs. Arkansas, was a quality start where Teaford fanned six and walked only two.

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