Tag Archive | "Offensive Players"

At least we aren’t Pirates fans…right?

The Pittsburgh Pirates today clinched their 20th consecutive losing season, a mark that surpasses even the futility of our Kansas City Royals. That brought to my mind a pretty good question, which franchise is really more hopeless? To start I’ll look at the recent performance of the two clubs, as putrid as it is, and then I’ll finish with the future prospects.

While it’s true that the Pirates haven’t had a winning season in 20 years, it’s easily arguable that they’ve been more competitive than our Royals. For one, they’ve only lost 100 games twice in the last 26 years, while the Royals have done it four times in the last eleven. However, in terms of actual wins, it’s ridiculously close with the Pirates averaging 68.2 wins to the Royals 67.7 since 2000. The Pirates have a more recent playoff appearance, with three straight from ’90-’92 but they’ve gone six years longer without a championship winning their last in 1979. Trying to compare these teams based on their past performances is like a race between a Prizm and a Sunfire, so let’s move on to what the future looks like.

It might be easy to think that since the Pirates have won more games in 2012 they’re better set up for next year, but I’m not sure that’s necessarily the case. For one thing, the Royals are much younger. The average position player for the Royals is a full year younger than the Pirates and their pitchers are an average of three years younger. The Pirates best two pitchers, A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez, are 35 and 33 respectively and it seems unlikely they’ll match this year’s performance. On the other hand, their best offensive players, Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez, are both under 26 and just entering the prime of their careers. Whit the Royals having club control of virtually their entire line up, and most of them at an age where improvement is expected, I think you’d have to give the position player advantage to the Royals. I’m not sure anyone has a worse prospective starting rotation in 2012 than the Royals though, so until David Glass actually opens his pocket book this winter, the starting pitching edge goes to the Pirates. Although the bullpen may be an advantage for the Royals, I’m not sure it’s enough to put them over the top.

Looking at the minor leagues doesn’t offer a much clearer picture. Wil Myers is the best prospect in either organization, but the Pirates probably have the next three best is Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, and Starling Marte. While both clubs have exceptional talent in the minors, if anything I’d give the edge to the Pirates if only because their top two prospects are pitchers and we’ve all seen what a need that is for small market clubs.

Essentially there’s no separating these two clubs because they’re almost mirror images. Young players, hungry fans, embarrassing recent history and cheap owners. I guess you could call them our sister club in the National League, and that should be depressing enough for both fan bases.

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Fall League Wraps Up In Surprise

SURPRISE, AZ – The Salt River Rafters topped the Surprise Saguaros last Saturday to claim the Arizona Fall League crown. But that doesn’t discount the strides the Royals’ prospects, particularly the offensive players, made during their eight weeks in Arizona.

Surprise finished with the best record in the 20-year history of the circuit, posting a 26-10 record during the Fall League season. The Saguaros lost consecutive games only once, and the Royals’ three offensive players on the squad, Wil Myers, Christian Colon, and Anthony Seratelli, all fared pretty well. But Myers in particular impressed, as he was named to the Arizona Fall League’s All-Prospect Team.

Myers’ accomplishments for the Fall League season came after a injury-riddled disappointing campaign during the regular season with the Naturals, and may have set the Royals’ top hitting prospect on the fast track to Kansas City. During early October, Royals’ brass was quoted in the Kansas City Star indicating the Myers would begin the 2012 season back in the Naturals’ lineup, but might have turned that timetable over after batting .360 with Surprise. Myers tied for the league lead in walks (20), and triples (5), ranked second in on-base percentage (.481), third in slugging percentage (.674), sixth in both average and runs (24). Even more impressive, he reached base safely via hit or walk in 22 of 23 games he played with Surprise, and scored a run in 18 of 23 contests. He also went 3-for-5 with a double, two RBI’s, a run, and a stolen base during the Rising Stars Game.

Myers describes his production as a product of better poise in the batter’s box, which has allowed him to lay off of pitches outside of the strike zone and drive the ball when opposing hurlers are forced to throw strikes.

“Basically, I’m having more confidence at the plate,” Myers said. “Just going up there knowing I can get hits is important. This year (in Northwest Arkansas) I swung at a lot of pitcher’s pitches…now I’m recognizing what they’re throwing and going deep into counts.”

Myers’ plate discipline has also caught the eye of J.J. Picollo, Kansas City’s Assistant General Manager of Scouting and Player Development.

“He’s seeing the ball very well right now,” Picollo explained. “He’s really maturing as a hitter, being more patient and not being so anxious. People in Double-A knew how good he was, so he got a lot of pitches off the plate. Now when they pitch him that way he’s getting into 2-1, 2-0 and 3-1 types of counts.”

Picollo pointed out that Myers’ improvement is even more exciting because the talent level in the Arizona Fall League is so high.

“Pitching in the fall league is a little better than Double-A,” he said. “Arm after arm coming out of the bullpen are good arms. To do what Wil is doing against a high-caliber type of pitching is great to see.”

In addition to his improved plate presence, Picollo thinks Myers’ power will catch up shortly.

“We all know he has a tremendous amount of power,” Picollo said. “That he hasn’t put up huge home run totals is just reflective of a young player in an advanced league. Remember, he’s one of just three players from his high school draft class to reach Double-A. The power will come out at some point in time. Right now he just needs to worry about hitting doubles, finding gaps, hitting to all fields. That’s part of the natural progression hitters make.”

Through three full seasons in the minor leagues, Myers has connected on 27 long balls, including eight homers in 99 games this year in the Texas League. He hit five in 22 games in 2009 and belted 14 in 126 games in 2010, while also ripping 37 doubles that season for Advanced Class-A Wilmington.

Those numbers were enough to rank him No. 10 on Baseball America’s Top-100 Prospects list entering the 2011 season, just behind fellow Royals’ cornerstones Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. While it’s too early to tell if Myers will make the same type of year-four jumps those two made, his confidence is bolstered because of Kansas City’s willingness to call guys up when they are deserving.

“The Royals have a plan for me,” Myers said. “It’s cool to see those guys (Hosmer and Moustakas) move up, knowing that they like to promote from within.”

Picollo said Myers’ work ethic will serve him well as he tries to make his case for a promotion to Kansas City in the future.

“Wil’s competitive nature will help him. He wants to get to the big leagues, but at this point he just needs to worry about things he can control. He needs to work hard every day and play hard every day.”

Both Seratelli and Colon also finished with solid numbers. Colon, playing mostly second base, heated up late and lifted his average from the low-.200s to nearly .300, while Seratelli faded a bit with more playing time late but still finished with a .317 average and .436 on-base percentage against more advanced pitching. Seratelli hopes that the solid showing in the fall league can help his chance to make Triple-A Omaha next spring.

On the pitching end, Jeffress and Lafferty both fanned over a batter per inning but had a couple of rough outings that tainted their numbers. Jeffress was also victimized for four runs in a relief outing during the Championship Game that put the game squarely out of reach for Surprise.

Here is a look at the final statistics for all of the Royals prospects in Surprise.

BATTING

AVG

G

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

BB

SO

SB

CS

OBP

SLG

OPS

Colon, Christian

.299

19

77

12

23

4

0

2

10

5

10

1

2

.365

.429

.793

Myers, Wil

.360

23

86

24

31

5

5

4

18

20

18

1

1

.481

.674

1.156

Seratelli, Anthony

.317

18

63

9

20

1

0

2

6

14

14

3

3

.436

.429

.864

PITCHING

W-L

ERA

G

GS

SV

SVO

IP

H

R

ER

HR

BB

SO

WHIP

AVG

Adcock, Nathan

2-2

4.44

6

6

0

0

24.1

27

13

12

1

4

23

1.27

.276

Jeffress, Jeremy

0-1

4.91

11

0

0

1

11.0

16

10

6

0

8

15

2.18

.333

Lafferty, Brendan

0-0

7.16

11

0

0

0

16.1

18

13

13

3

8

17

1.59

.273

Paukovits, Bryan

1-1

5.91

10

0

0

1

10.2

12

9

7

1

7

9

1.78

.267


Naturals/Texas League Notes

Springfield names new manager: Mike Shildt was named Monday as the new skipper of the Springfield Cardinals. He replaces Ron “Pop” Warner, who advances up a level to manage their Triple-A affiliate in Memphis. The remainder of the Springfield field staff remains intact from 2011. Shildt comes to Springfield after three seasons managing their rookie-level Appalachian League club in Johnson City. With Springfield’s announcement, four teams in the Texas League have announced their staffs for next season, with two of them bringing in new managers.

Winter League Report

Several other current and former Naturals are honing their craft this off-season playing in various winter leagues that span the globe.

Puerto Rico: Rey Navarro (Crillos de Caguas) appeared in just one game this past week but his hitless streak continues as his average slumped to .053… Irving Falu (Indios de Mayaguez) has a three-game hitting streak, with three-hit efforts in two of those games including three RBI’s on Sunday… Angel Sanchez, teammates with Falu in Mayaguez, is batting .237 in ten games thus far. He may be in line for more duty next year with the Astros as their starting shortstop from 2011, Clint Barmes, signed with Pittsburgh.

Venezuela: Mario Lisson (Navegantes de Magallanes) had a 2-for-3 effort Sunday to raise his average to .258… Former Natural Jose Duarte (Leones de Caracas), who is currently a minor league free agent, hasn’t had a hit since November 8th, but during that time his playing time has dried up and he’s received only three at-bats, being used primarily as a defensive sub… Ernesto Mejia (Aguilas del Zulia) has hit in five of six games, a couple being multi-hit efforts, as his average lifts to .297. As typical, Mejia is feasting on winter league pitchers, as he has four homers and has 23 runs driven in so far…Manny Pina (Bravos de Margarita) has struggled in 14 games thus far, batting .129.

Dominican Republic: Manauris Baez (Estrellas de Oriente) fanned seven in six scoreless innings in his most recent start, and now has a 1.64 ERA in six outings, including five starts… Mario Santiago (Tigres del Licey) allowed a pair of runs in five innings in his start on Sunday. Santiago has 27 strikeouts and eight walks in 35 1/3 innings…Willy Lebron, Santiago’s rotation-mate in Licey and fellow Royals’ farmhand, hasn’t pitched since leaving a game with an arm injury on November 6th Kelvin Herrera (Leones del Escogido) continues to mount a resume for 2012, as he’s gone scoreless in all nine of his outings. He’s teammates with Everett Teaford, who pitched 5 2/3 scoreless in his last outing on November 16th to lower his ERA to 3.57 in four starts.

Mexico: Federico Castaneda (Tomateros de Culiacan) continues to be one of the busier relievers in winter ball, as his outing Friday was already his 15th of the winter league season. After a couple rough early outings, Castaneda has settled in, keeping the opposition scoreless in his last five games to lower the ERA to 6.97.

These teams and respective leagues will play the round-robin Caribbean Series which takes place in February just before early reports for Major League Spring Training.

Transaction log: Ryan Verdugo, the southpaw the Royals acquired from the Giants in the trade that also brought southpaw Jonathan Sanchez to Kansas City was added to the 40-Man roster on Friday, protecting him from the Rule 5 Draft which will occur December 8th at the Baseball Winter Meetings in Dallas.

Check nwanaturals.com every two weeks beginning Friday, December 2nd for our Hot Stove Report, where we’ll continue to follow Royals’ minor leaguers in winter ball as well as cover other off-season baseball information that pertains to the Naturals and the Texas League.

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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Looking At The Rookies – NL

As we enter the final month and a half of baseball and teams start to divide into the really good and the falling apart. Players are starting to heat up across the league and the cream of the crop is rising to the top.

Daniel Descalso by Erika Lynn

Most fans keep a close eye on the names they know, but it is the names you do not know that start to become important in the stretch run. Not just for the teams that are playoff bound, but those that are looking to their future as well.

Here are three offensive players and three pitchers in the National League that qualify for the Rookie Of The Year award. If you are not watching these guys by now, it is time to start.

Taking a look at the offensive guys in the National League leads to a few names that may be worth examining. Danny Espinosa of the Nationals and Freddie Freeman of the Braves have both clubbed over 15 home runs. Darwin Barney of the Cubs is hitting .288 and has over 100 hits already this season. The Mets Justin Turner can boast 20 doubles to his credit and Dominic Brown of the Phillies has a .393 slugging percentage in limited action. Here’s the top three as I see it:

The Odds On Favorite For Rookie Of The Year
This is becoming a two-horse race but, in my opinion, Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves is pulling away from the competition. Freeman may not lead rookies in home runs, but he has put up a respectable 15 dingers to this point in the season. Add in a .296 batting average, .362 on base percentage, .474 slugging percentage, 55 runs batted in and 40 walks and you have a first baseman that is among the best in the league, not just one of the best rookies in the league.

The Runner Up
Danny Espinosa has been wrecking pitchers with power numbers that are impressive for a young man playing shortstop for any organization. The Nationals’ shortstop has launched 17 balls out of stadiums this season while tying Freeman for the lead among rookies with 55 runs batted in. Equally impressive is 12 stolen bases, showcasing that he is not a one trick pony and will apply some speed to his career as well. His on base percentage is 86 points higher than his batting average, which would be very impressive if he was not hitting .228 meaning he is reaching base at a .314 clip. His .422 slugging percentage places him second when ranked next to other rookies in the league.

He Deserves A Look
The Nationals have put together quite the young team and anchoring it all down behind the plate is Wilson Ramos. Ramos is putting together enough of an offensive season to get himself some looks in the rookie races. Hitting .248 with a .322 batting average and a .405 slugging percentage while parking 9 balls over the fence and driving in 34 runs can get you some press time as a rookie. Back it up with a fielding percentage of .992 and throwing out 35 percent of would be base stealers and a lot of teams would like to have a guy like that on the roster.

What may be more impressive in the National League is the crop of rookie pitchers that will be vying for a Rookie Of The Year nod this season. The obvious stats will see people talking about New York’s Dillon Gee and Atlanta’s Craig Kimbrel due to their dominance in wins and saves. Stat heads will point out Josh Collmenter from Arizona and Brandon Beachy of Atlanta as an under-appreciated players due to the lack of punch in the obvious categories. San Diego’s Cory Luebke may have the same problems on top of playing on a under-performing team that will keep him hidden from most fans’ eyes.

The Odds On Favorite For Rookie Of The Year
The Atlanta Braves may be cornering the market on this year’s award, depending on if it goes to an offensive player or a pitcher. It is hard to argue against Braves closer Craig Kimbrel. He does not just lead rookies, but leads the National League with 34 saves in 39 chances. His sub 2.00 earned run average has earned him three wins and two losses in the five games that he did not save and has been dominant over his 56 innings pitched. So dominant that he finds himself third in strikeouts by a rookie pitcher with 87, behind pitchers with more than 30 innings more than himself. His 87 strikeouts far outweigh his 22 walks and he has only allowed one ball to leave the yard all season.

The Runner Up
Coming in second to a player of that caliber is not a bad effort and if it was not for the season Kimbrel is putting up, it is possible that Cory Luebke would turn a few more heads in San Diego. A swingman pitcher who has appeared out of the bullpen 29 times and as a starting pitcher eight times, he is putting together a solid season for a team that is falling apart. His earned run average is just over 3.00, has pitched in 88.1 innings, and has struck out 91 hitters on the season. Only 22 walks to his credit and a measly six home runs shows that he can be dominant and stingy with the best of them and lands him second on this list.

He Deserves A Look
The New York Mets have struggled to win, been surrounded by rumors of trading their star shortstop and have faced financial ruin this season. In the middle of all of that stands Dillon Gee. He leads all rookies in innings pitched with 112.1, in games started with 18, and wins with 10. His earned run average is under 4.00 and he has struck out 74 batters to only 46 walks. The frustration with Gee is his hit batters, of which he has 11, and his home runs, he has surrendered 11 of those too.

Around the league there are pitchers and hitters that will look to capitalize on solid rookie seasons and avoid the Sophomore Slump. While these players are showcasing themselves around the National League, it is important to take a look at one player that is not on this list that will mean something more to our i70baseball fans. Here is our honorable mention.

i70baseball Honorable Mention
The Cardinals have produced more than a few rookies this season, on the mound and at the plate, but it has been one player that has shown that he not only belongs in the big leagues, but also that he is getting better as the season goes on. Daniel Descalso has built his average up to a respectable .262 while getting on base to a .339 average. His power numbers are low but his value to the team, playing multiple positions and putting the ball in play on a regular basis, is mounting and he is becoming a typical Tony LaRussa type player for many seasons to come.

As the season comes to an end, keep an eye on these seven players and their impact on their teams and the league when the dust settles. One of these players will take home a Jackie Robinson Award and etch their name into the history books. The rest will attempt to build on a solid rookie campaign and make a career out of it. Time will tell how well these names will become known.

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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Looking At The Rookies – AL

Royals fans are no strangers to watching rookies this season. Many teams are starting to give young players a chance to prove themselves but there are a few players that have been hanging around all season that are starting to turn heads.

Aaron Crow

As we enter the end of the season and look forward to the playoffs for some teams and towards 2012 for others, it is time that the rookies of this season start getting some recognition and find the spotlight falling on them.

Here are three offensive players and three pitchers in the American League that qualify for the Jackie Robinson Award given to the top rookie in each league. If you are not watching these guys by now, it is time to start.

The offensive rookies in the American League are a bit more clear cut. The Royals own Eric Hosmer is putting together a solid season with a balanced attack and showing Royals fans that first base is a position they can get behind. Angels fans would tell you that first base is definitely the position of the future for them as well as Mark Trumbo is killing the ball in Anaheim. Toronto, on the other hand, has a catcher that is showing the he can handle the bat as well, and J.P. Arencibia is getting noticed quickly.

The Odds On Favorite For Rookie Of The Year
Sorry Royals fans, it is hard to argue with what Mark Trumbo is doing for the Angels. He leads the American League rookies in Games Played and At Bats but there is a reason for that. His .261 batting average and .301 on base percentage leave some room for improvement, but his power numbers are nothing to sneeze at. With 20 doubles, 22 home runs, 63 runs batted in, and a .495 slugging percentage have him well in place to grab the Jackie Robinson Award in the American League this year.

The Runner Up
Royals fans can relax a little bit as Eric Hosmer is not too far behind Trumbo. Hosmer is posting a .282 batting average while knocking 10 home runs and driving in 47 runs batted in. Add in 19 doubles and a total of 93 hits and you can bet that the future has arrived in Kansas City and the future looks bright.

He Deserves A Look
Toronto’s young backstop, J.P. Arencibia may not be hitting for a good average, his is only .216, but what he is hitting is going a long way. He is second to Trumbo for the most home runs by a rookie in the American League with 18 and pairs that with 52 runs batted in. The drop off from there is tremendous, however, as he only posts 13 doubles and 3 triples, leaving him with a .452 slugging percentage. His on base percentage plunges below .300 and he is striking out at an alarming rate. The Blue Jays have a solid power hitter on their hands, they just hope he can learn some patience.

If it seems the offensive rookies are a bit sparse in the American League, the pitching prospects across the league are enough to get any baseball fan excited about the future. The Royals put their share of pitchers into any conversation with Aaron Crow, Danny Duffy, and Tim Collins. Jeremy Hellickson and Ivan Nova are both posting double digit wins for the Rays and Yankees, respectively. Jordan Walden, meanwhile, is closing games at a solid pace for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Up north in Seattle, Michael Pineda is racking up the innings, and strikeouts, at a rapid pace.

The Odds On Favorite For Rookie Of The Year
Speaking of Michael Pineda, he is running away with this category in 2011. He leads all rookies with 130 innings pitched and 133 strikeouts. He has only walked 43 batters and given up 12 home runs. He is posting a 3.53 earned run average and has won 9 games for a team that is struggling to win games as it is. Pineda is showing some dominance at times and not showing any signs of slowing down, at least until his pitching arm falls off.

The Runner Up
It is Jordan Walden of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim that is equally as impressive as Pineda. Walden has posted 25 saves in 32 chances, posted a 3 wins, 3 losses record. Over the course of 45 innings pitched, he has struck out 48 hitters and only walked 18. With only one home run allowed and a 2.80 earned run average, the Angels have a closer they can count on for a long time to come.

He Deserves A Look
Call me old fashioned, but I still like a pitcher that wins games without giving up a ton of runs, even if he is not striking out everyone he faces. For that reason, take a look at the Rays’ pitcher Jeremy Hellickson who has won 10 games over 7 losses while posting a 3.15 earned run average. He is going deep into games with 122.2 innings pitched and has struck out 79 hitters while walking 45. He will not bring home any hardware, but he’s worth keeping an eye on.

Around the league there are pitchers and hitters that will look to capitalize on solid rookie seasons and avoid the Sophomore Slump. While these players are showcasing themselves around the American League, it is important to take a look at one player that is not on this list that will mean something more to our i70baseball fans. Here is our honorable mention.

i70baseball Honorable Mention
The honorable mention here goes to a player that is pitching impressively despite not being in a key role, which will keep him out of discussions based on stats. Aaron Crow may be the closer of the future in Kansas City after pitching his way to an earned run average below 2.00 and striking out 49 hitters in 51.1 innings pitched. Crow has allowed five home runs this season. He has scattered 37 hits over his innings of work and taken the mound 43 times. Crow will keep fans excited to see the bullpen doors swing open in Kansas City for many future seasons.

As the season comes to an end, keep an eye on these seven players and their impact on their teams and the league when the dust settles. One of these players will take home a Jackie Robinson Award and etch their name into the history books. The rest will attempt to build on a solid rookie campaign and make a career out of it. Time will tell how well these names will become known.

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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Prince Albert Does Not Belong in Royal Blue

Talking about Albert Pujols is like treading on sacred ground, so I’m going to avoid the other thoughts that come to mind when you think of the Cardinals slugger – thoughts about his Christian image, his approach to contract negotiations, how his numbers just seem too good to not be steriod aided, etc.

Instead I’ll limit my commentary to this: Pujols belongs in St. Louis for the remainder of his career, and he definitely does NOT belong in Kansas City.

There have been ruminations that KC might be a good spot for Pujols to land. The reasons for such speculation? 1) He’s sort of a native of the city (he graduated from Fort Osage High School in 1998 after moving there from New York in 1996), 2) the Royals have lots of money to spend, having just cut Gil Meche and Zack Greinke off the books and chronically under-spending, and 3) the thought that Pujols could anchor a lineup of budding young stars.

Now I don’t speak for all Royals fans, but I for one feel this would be a disastrous idea for everyone involved. I am under no such delusion that the Royals are about to start spending money willy-nilly, but for the sake of argument, I say Prince Albert has no business wearing the Royal Blue. My reasoning may not be compelling to a big league GM, but here’s my case:

1) Pujols, who turned 31 in January, is about to experience a natural decline in production. There are many studies out there that clearly indicate that beyond the age of 30, the average baseball player’s production declines rapidly. You can search for your own results, but one such study put it this way:

The age curve in general suggests that overall offensive performance peaks at a young age. Very few individuals have a peak age of more than 32 (only 8 out of the top 50 offensive players)… the peak age for home run hitting was 29 and the peak age for batting was 27. It seems that in terms of offensive player performance, any benefit gained by experience is offset by the deteriorating effects of age. (Michael R. Smith, Brigham Young University, 2006)

The only player of the top 100 studied by Smith that defied this curve to a significant degree was, you guessed it, Barry Bonds. Bonds’ arc continued upwards into his late 30s while everyone else declined. Wonder why?

Pujols is by no means average. He’s one of the greatest of all time. But he’s also proclaimed to be steroid-free. If that’s true, one would assume his career will follow the trend of Ruth, Gehrig, Musial, Williams, and every other elite slugger you care to study. If he follows the trend of Bonds… well then, you draw your own conclusion.

2) I don’t want to stir up rumors, but there is unfortunately a bit of uncertainty about Pujols’ true age. Those who saw him play in his amateur days complained that he just looked too mature physically to be a high schooler. That has been an issue with natives of the Dominican Republic. Not to stir the pot to much, but here’s a quote from the Independence Examiner’s Bill Althaus from 2001, before Pujols debuted in St. Louis:

The first time I saw Albert Pujols, I thought to myself, ‘What’s that man doing out there with those kids?’ . . . He had a Mark McGwire body, and he was a junior in high school. When he hit the ball, it made a sound that high school players aren’t supposed to make.

If Pujols isn’t truly 31 it doesn’t make him a bad person. But based on the age/decline projections, it might make him a bad investment.

3) Eric Hosmer. Billy Butler. Kila Ka’aihue. The Royals have a budding superstar, an established big league hitter, and a youngster with potential, all jockying for the first base job. The Royals have no need to spend $30 million a year on a first baseman/DH when they have so many other needs.

4) My favorite reason of all, and I’m not even a Cardinals fan: it would be nice if the greatest player of the current era spent his entire career in one city. I grew up in the days when you looked at the back of a baseball card and saw that great players played for one team their entire career. Or at least it seemed they did. It is a true pleasure to look back on George Brett’s career and not have to remember seeing him bat .220 in a Florida Marlins uniform. He was loyal to one team, they were loyal to him, and he knew when to walk away.

I can only imagine that Cardinals fans would like to say the same about Pujols. He’s been great for the city of St. Louis, and St. Louis has been great for him. For the sake of the great game of baseball, I hope he stays.

I also hope another I-70 Series is just a couple of years away, and that when it happens, manning first base for the Cardinals is none other than Prince Albert.

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25th ANNIVERSARY: The Cardinals’ 1985 Pitching Staff

Yesterday, I-70 Baseball took a look at the1985 St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals starting lineups. Today, we will take a look at their respective pitchers. Here are the starters and relievers from the National League Champions, the St. Louis Cardinals.

Starting Rotation

Most of the Cardinals 1985 starting rotation were returning from the 1984 season, and as such were largely a known quantity. The one exception was the lone lefty in the group, Dave LaPoint. LaPoint had come to the Cardinals in the blockbuster trade with the Milwaukee Brewers following the 1980 season. He had become a very dependable pitcher, both in long relief and finally in the rotation, always posting a winning record. With the addition of another left handed starter in John Tudor, LaPoint became a part of the five player deal that brought slugger Jack Clark to St. Louis. LaPoint would pitch well for the Giants in 1985, but suffer a severe case of lack of run support.

Even with only one change, the Cardinals had some questions about their rotation entering the 1985 season. Would Danny Cox take the next step after a somewhat inconsistent sophomore season ? Did Bob Forsch have enough left in the tank to contribute, and if not, who would be the fifth starter ? And what about this Tudor guy – will he be any good ?

Spring training did not provide many easy answers, although the one that was answered turned out to be significant late in the season. Bob Forsch was able to earn the fifth spot in the rotation, at least to begin the season. The rest took a while to sort out.

Joaquin Andujar (21-12, 3.40 ERA, 10 CG, 2 SHO, 269 2/3 IP)

One Tough Dominican

When the Cardinals acquired Joaquin Andujar from the Houston Astros, they knew they had gotten “One Tough Dominican”. After all, it was Andujar himself that made the proclamation. He backup up that bold claim when he returned to pitch Game 7 in the 1982 World Series after being knocked out in Game 3 by a wicked line drive off the bat of former Cardinal, Ted Simmons, and pitched well enough to win the game.

He had struggled in 1983, but had returned to form in 1984, winning 20 games and logging over 250 innings for the first time in his career. It was hoped that Andujar could repeat some of that magic in 1985.

From the first pitch of the season, Andujar was a force in the National League. By early June, he had run his record to 12-1, the best record since Elroy Face’s improbably 17-0 in 1959, but those were all in relief. Andujar was logging a huge number of innings.

That’s when some of the trouble started. He had been experiencing shoulder pain, but each time the concern was raised, he would go out and shut down the opposition with a stingy performance. As a result of his 15 wins, Andujar was invited to the All Star Game. San Diego’s Dick Williams, manager of the National League squad, did not name Andujar immediately as his starter, leaving open the possibility of the Padres newly acquired LaMarr Hoyt (12-4) starting instead of Andujar. The two would face each other just before the All Star Game break, with Hoyt getting the better of the two in an amazing pitching duel. Prior to the game, Andujar announced that he would not attend the All Star Game, leaving everybody scratching their heads. It was at this point that Andujar lost any chance he had at the Cy Young award for 1985.

Determined to get some of his reputation restored, Andujar pitched the best game of his 1985 season, an 11 inning win against those same San Diego Padres. He only allowed on run in 11 innings, but that win took it’s toll. From that point, Andujar would be less effective and his ERA would soar from 2.31 to 3.40 by the end of the season. August would be rough month, and September would be just brutal. Andujar would earn his 20th win against the Braves at the end of August, and it would take almost three weeks for him to win his 21st, against Pittsburgh.

Andujar’s late season fade would continue during both the NLCS and World Series. After being almost unhittable in 1982, he was anything but that in 1985. In two starts against the Dodgers, Andujar would post an 0-1 record with a 6.97 ERA. In one start and one relief appearance, Kansas City would rip him to a tune of a 9.00 ERA in just 4 innings of work.

That would be the end of Andujar’s career as a player in St. Louis as he would be traded following the World Series to the Oakland A’s.

John Tudor (21-8, 1.93 ERA, 14 CG, 10 SHO, 275 IP)

John Tudor

In a deal that went largely unnoticed by the national sports media, the Cardinals sent fan favorite, “Silent” George Hendrick to the Pittsburgh Pirates for left handed pitcher John Tudor. Manager Whitey Herzog and pitching coach Mike Roarke had been impressed by Tudor when he pitched in Boston. They noticed that he was not afraid to throw inside to right handed hitters, which was somewhat lost in Fenway Park but might be a huge advantage in the cavernous Busch Stadium.

Initially it did not appear that the trade was a good one. Tudor would be hit hard during spring training, but would earn the number two spot in the rotation on the hopes that he would figure it out. Eventually. In his first two starts, it appeared that he, like the pitcher he was replacing, would be the victim of no run support. In two games, Tudor would allow just three runs, but would walk away with an 0-1 record.

In early May, Tudor would turn heads with an eye-popping complete game, allowing just 1 run on 5 hits and striking out 5. For the first time in 1985, he had some run support and showed that he knew what to do with it. Unfortunately that was short lived, and he would go back to his tough luck losing ways, eventually running his record to 1-6.

This would all change on June 3 when Tudor made a minor correction to his pitching motion, and he had immediate success, beating Houston on another outpouring of run support, 9-5. That would earn him his second win of the season. He would follow that up with a brilliant 3 hit shutout against the Mets, in New York. This would not be the only time the lefty would beat the Mets by a score of 1-0 in their home ball park.

Tudor and his amazing changeup would continue baffling National League hitters for the remainder of the 1985 season. He would only lose one more game in 1985, a 3-0 shutout against the Dodgers in late July. Once again, lack of run support proved to be the difference.

Tudor would save his best for last. His 10 shutouts were the most since Bob Gibson’s legendary 1968 season, but it was the 4 shutouts in September when the division title was still up for grabs that earns makes Tudor’s season all the more unbelievable. Tudor’s greatest pitching performance would come in New York, against the eventual Cy Young winner, Dwight Gooden. The two pitchers were unbelievable. Neither pitcher would budge, but Gooden tired in the 9th, and that was the difference in the game. Cesar Cedeno would hit a solo home run against Jesse Orosco in the 10th, for the only run in the game. Tudor would strike out Darryl Strawberry, with the tying run on first base to end the game, and ultimately the Mets playoff chances.

Tudor would continue his mastery in both the NLCS and the World Series. He would take a hard luck loss in the first game of the NLCS, but would come back and earn a win in the now infamous “tarp” game in Game Four. Tudor would also throw two impressive games in the World Series, winning Game One and throwing a shutout in Game Four. He would be the unfortunate victim in Game Seven, but we will be talking more about that later in the week.

Danny Cox (18-9, 2.88 ERA, 10 CG, 4 SHO, 241 IP)
After an impressive start to his career in 1983, Danny Cox had become inconsistent in 1984, sometimes relying on his fastball a bit too much. Occasionally he had to be reminded that he had three other pitches, that honestly were much better than his heater. He had shown that he might be an inning eater on the mound, and it was hoped that he would take the next step in 1985. He did that, and more.

Never really going into a prolonged slump, Cox would throw a career game on May 31 against Cincinnati. He would take a perfect game into the 8th inning, against former Cardinal John Stuper. Cox would only give up two singles in that inning, before finishing strong and earning a shutout.

More important than that near-perfect game, as Joaquin Andujar faded late in the season, Cox became the other big game guy, eating up a ton of innings and giving his team a chance to win in nearly every start.

Cox would extend his reputation as a big game pitcher in the postseason. He would throw a gem and earn the win in NLCS Game Three, the first win against the Dodgers. He was also ready to go in case there was a Game Seven, but Jack Clark and Ozzie Smith put an end to things before we got that far. With Andujar’s continued struggles, Cox took over the number two spot in the rotation for the World Series, with Andujar moving down to number three. He would throw a gem in Game Two, keeping the Royals damage limited to just two runs. Ken Dayley would earn the victory in relief, but it was Cox throwing inning after inning of zeros that made that possible. And speaking of throwing zeros, the infamous Game Six blown call overshadowed another brilliant performance by Cox. What wasn’t known at the the time was that the big right hander was in considerable pain while he threw all of those innings. Big game pitcher, indeed.

Arm troubles and freak injuries would impact the rest of his career, but in 1985, Danny Cox was a big time pitcher.

Bob Forsch (9-6, 3.90 ERA, 3 CG, 1 SHO, 2 SV, 136 IP)

Bob Forsch

One of the questions entering spring training, the elder statesman of the pitching staff showed still had some game left in his right arm. He would start the season as the fifth starter, but would struggle early on. He would bounce between the bullpen and rotation until mid-June when he was permanently assigned as the right handed long reliever. With John Tudor, Danny Cox and Joaquin Andujar pitching well, Whitey Herzog went with a 4 man rotation for most of the summer. As Andujar started to fade in August, Forsch was put back into the rotation and he responded with some of his best pitching of the year. He would win five of his last six decisions, running his record on the season to 9-6. He would also throw a masterful 4 hit shutout against the Philadelphia Phillies in September when the team really needed a win.

In a bit of an unusual move, Herzog would keep Forsch in the rotation for both the NLCS and World Series. He would get one start in each, but not pitch particularly well in either. Maybe if Andujar had been more effective, Herzog might have gone with a three man rotation, but he wasn’t and Forsch was given the ball.

The dean of the staff would catch a second win after the 1985 season and turn in two more solid season, nearly all as a starter. His biggest contribution in this period would come in the 1987 NLCS when he plunked the notorious Jeffery Leonard. That woke up the Cardinals and they turned the series around, eventually winning in seven games.

Kurt Kepshire (10-9, 4.75 ERA, 153 1/3 IP)

Two words describe the season Kurt Kepshire had in 1985. Jeckyll and Hyde. You never knew from one game to the next, which Kepshire you would get. One of them might only last an inning, putting a terrible strain on the bullpen. The other might take a shutout into the 8th inning.

To appreciate how frustrating this was, you just need to look at the game against the Phillies on August 10. Kepshire gives up a home run to Von Hayes in the first inning, which is not necessarily the makings of a bad outing. When the Cardinals score 4 runs the next inning, the young right hander responds with two walks and an RBI single. Herzog immediately removes Kepshire in favor of Rick Horton. Horton goes on to throw a gem, finishing the game with 8 innings of relief. The Cardinals offense would explode and make this a laugher, to every but Kepshire and Herzog. He would follow that poor performance up with a brilliant 8 inning game against Pittsburgh, only to have an early exit in his next start. He would take the next game into the eighth inning with another win, but leave after 1 inning the next game. After two bad starts on September 9 and 14, Kepshire would be moved to the bullpen for the remainder of the season, and only used in a mop-up capacity. He would also be left off the post-season roster, in favor of another bat to supplement an ailing Jack Clark.

Bullpen

While the starting rotation sorted itself out rather quickly, the bullpen was the exact opposite. In a move that surprised everybody in Cardinals Nation, Bruce Sutter signed a big free agent contract with the Atlanta Braves. While he maintained early on that it was his best chance to return to post season, everybody knew that it was the size and length of the contract that lured him out of St. Louis and down to Dixie.

While that move proved to be disastrous for Sutter, it left a huge hole in the bullpen that needed to be filled. For the last three years, the starting rotation has been just the opening act for the Bruce Sutter show. Now, Herzog and Roarke found themselves in need of a closer. And quickly. Or a Plan B.

Jeff Lahti (5-2, 1.84 ERA, 19 SV, 68 1/3 IP)

The hard throwing and fidgety Jeff Lahti was the first choice as a closer. The problem for the Cardinals was that he had been experiencing severe neck and back troubles throughout spring training, and that bled over into the start of the regular season. As a result, Herzog would go with a “Bullpen by Committee”, using a combination of Lahti, when healthy, and left hander Ken Dayley. It was hoped that Neil Allen would be a part of that, but his troubles continued until he was finally sent to the Yankees for a player to be named later, which turned out to be just some cash to offset the bulk of his huge contract that the Cardinals ate in the deal.

As for Lahti, he was absolutely brilliant in a Ryan Franklin way. He would post a 5-2 record with 19 saves. It was his low ERA, under 2 runs per game, that made people take notice. The problem was that he was wasn’t striking out a lot of batters, and a pitch to contact type hurler could be a scary thing in the postseason, when the opposition gets to see you night after night. All of this would sort itself out in late August, but that is the story of another hurler.

Lahti would pitch two scoreless innings in the NCLS, earning a win in Game Three. He would not fare so well in the World Series as Kansas City would light him up. He would develop arm troubles after this and would only throw 2 1/3 more innings as a major leaguer.

Ken Dayley (4-4, 2.76 ERA, 11 SV, 65 1/3 IP)

Ken Dayley had been one of the best gambles in Cardinals history. Originally a starter in the Atlanta system, and an unimpressive one at that, the Cardinals picked up the quirky left hander midway through the 1984 season. The Cardinals put him in the bullpen, and that’s when the career of Ken Dayley took off. He had absolutely electric stuff. His fastball was overpowering, and his curve was as good as anybody in the game. Left handed hitters feared him, and righties weren’t exactly thrilled to face him either.

For most of 1985, Dayley and Lahti would alternate as closers, with the other being the setup man. Dayley’s vast repertoire of pitches allowed him to be used for longer outings, not quite long relief, but a three inning save was not out of the question.

If Dayley was good in the regular season, he was super-human in postseason. He would appear in 9 games, for a total of 12 innings. He would not surrender a single run in either series.

Dayley would undergo Tommy John surgery after the 1986 season. He would come back even stronger than before, and in an amazing 7 months. His fastball had more life and his curve had even more bite. He would continue to pitch well for the Cardinals for the rest of the decade, and would nearly duplicate his postseason domination again in 1987.

Todd Worrell (3-0, 2.91 ERA, 5 SV, 21 2/3 IP)

The experiment with the “Bullpen by Committee” would all come to an end on August 28. Three days before the postseason roster eligibility deadline, Dal Maxvill gambled and called up a young hard throwing right hander named Todd Worrell. He had been looking for another bullpen arm, and had tried Pat Perry, Joe Boever, and there was even talk of Doug Bair coming back (in a Jeff Suppan kind of way). Shortly before his callup, Worrell had been moved from the starting rotation to the bullpen, and he became a totally different pitcher. His control improved, and he started striking out batters at a frightening pace.

That would continue for the rest of the 1985 season, but with the big club. In just 17 appearances, Worrell would earn 5 saves to go with a nice 3-0 record. He wasn’t striking out major leaguers at the same rate as he did in AAA, but that would come soon enough. More than anything else, it gave Herzog a strikeout type of closer and it allowed him to move Ken Dayley into the setup role. And the two were brilliant together. If the starters could get to the sixth inning with a lead, the game was over. And for the times they didn’t, Herzog still had Jeff Lahti, Bill Campbell and Rick Horton to get it there. And they often did just that.

As the bullpen settled in, a pattern started to develop – one that would play itself out in the postseason as well. A good start would get Dayley and Worrell in the end, and a poor start would get Lahti, Campbell and Horton. The problem was that between Danny Cox and John Tudor, there just weren’t that many bad starts in September (and the postseason for that matter).

Worrell would not accumulate enough innings to qualify for Rookie of the Year consideration. That would go to the other super-sub of 1985, Vince Coleman. Worrell would earn those honors with an outstanding full-season performance in 1986.

The big right hander’s biggest moment in postseason would come in Game Five of the NLCS, the now famous “Go Crazy Folks” game. He would combine with Ken Dayley to throw five shutout innings, eventually giving way to Jeff Lahti who would take the win, thanks to Ozzie Smith’s miraculous home run. Worrell was also the pitcher victimized in the infamous blown call in Game Six of the World Series.

Worrell would continue to dominate the National League until developing arm troubles in 1990. He would rehab in the Cardinals farm system, losing two years before returning as a setup man. He would move on to Los Angles where after a few mediocre seasons, he would return to his previous form, leading the league in saves with 44 in 1996. He would pitch one more year with the Dodgers, retiring after the 1997 season.

Bill Campbell (5-3, 3.50 ERA, 4 SV, 64 1/3 IP)

Bill Campbell was the wily veteran in the bullpen and defined the term, journeyman. Soup was a dependable arm out of the bullpen and frequently led the league in appearances. He had logged an incredible number of innings the previous two seasons. The right hander came to the Cardinals as part of a defensive trade when the Cardinals acquired shortstop Ivan DeJesus from the Phillies, in case they were not able to resign Ozzie Smith. Just before the home opener, Smith signed a long term contract, making DeJesus a utility role player for the Cardinals. As it turned out, Campbell was best part of the trade.

As he had done before with the Cubs and Phillies, Campbell became one of the go-to arms out of the bullpen, appearing in nearly the same number of games as Jeff Lahti.

Like Ken Dayley, Campbell was untouched in the NLCS, sporting a cool era of 0.00. He was nearly as good in the World Series, until getting hit hard in relief of John Tudor in Game Seven.

Rick Horton (3-2 2.91 ERA, 1 SV, 89 2/3 IP)

Rick Horton was the unsung hero of the bullpen in 1985. He didn’t have the flash of Ken Dayley, the quirkiness of Lahti or the electric stuff of Todd Worrell. But he methodically went about his business and excelled in each role he was asked to perform. To begin the season, he was the long reliever, which meant a lot of appearances in Kepshire and Forsch starts. He continued to rack up lots of quality innings. When Kurt Kepshire was eventually removed from the starting rotation in September, Horton would take his place. That seems somehow fitting as it was Horton relieving him most of the season.

Next Up

Now that we have looked at the two teams lineups and pitching staffs, it is time to look more into a few of the individual performances.

Bob Netherton covers Cardinals history for i70baseball.com and writes at Throatwarbler’s Blog. You may follow Bob on Twitter here or on Facebook here.

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Double-A Championship Is Meaningless – But Not Worthless

The Northwest Arkansas Naturals have won the Double-A Texas League championship, powered by a whole slew of exciting young prospects. And that’s terrific, but of course it’s completely meaningless to the Kansas City Royals.

That’s right – minor league titles are meaningless, unless you happen to be a fan of that particular team and not the franchise as a whole. The minor leagues exist purely, solely for the purpose of supporting the major league team.

And, based on that criterion, the Kansas City Royals’ minor league system has been a complete and utter failure over the past two decades.

But…

Just because the Texas League title is meaningless doesn’t mean there’s not value in it. Those may sound like conflicting ideals, but let me explain.

Mike Moustakas was a star for the Naturals early in the season before being promoted to Triple-A

The Naturals team is a simply collection of individual players. It’s not a team in the true sense. And that’s really true of all minor league organizations. Just look at the transaction logs for each minor league team and you’ll see that it’s a constant revolving door, with players being shipped in, shipped out, shipped up and shipped down on a daily basis. At the major league level, players stay together for a much longer time and are able to form a team. And we’ve seen over and over and over again that the best teams are not necessarily made up of the best players.

But it sure as heck helps. And it bodes well for the Royals that the Double-A team this year was made up of superb individual players.

Clint Robinson won the Texas League Triple Crown this season

And the star offensive players on the Naturals this year are much different than any players we’ve seen on the big league team in recent years. Northwest Arkansas’ lineup was composed of headlining sluggers, including the likes of Mike Moustakas (who was shipped to AAA halfway through the season and excelled there, too), Eric Hosmer (who was promoted from Single A halfway through the year and became a playoff hero for the Naturals) and Clint Robinson, who was arguably the best of the bunch this year.

For crying out loud – Clint Robinson won the Texas League Triple Crown award, leading the league in batting average, home runs and RBIs.

All of those guys could be contributing at the major league level soon – perhaps even as soon as next season for Moustakas.

Another benefit: it gives these young players a sense of what it means to play for something, even if what they’re playing for is only a meaningless title. Perhaps in a few years, some of them will be in Kansas City, playing for a much more meaningful purpose: a World Series.

Matt Kelsey is a Royals writer and the content editor for I-70 Baseball. He can be reached at mattkelsey@i70baseball.com.

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