Tag Archive | "Offensive Production"

Rookie Kolten Wong Expected to Be St. Louis Cardinals’ Starting 2nd Baseman

Kolten Wong’s journey has traveled many directions in his short time establishing himself on the St. Louis Cardinals’ roster. He was the prospect who was poised to take the position over late last season. He became the heir apparent during the offseason. He struggled at the start of spring training.

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Now he appears to be the starting second baseman when the season begins.

As spring training winds down for the Cardinals, most of their roster decisions have been made. One of the key positions that seemed to demand attention was second base.

General manager John Mozeliak acquired an insurance policy for his young prospect when he signed Mark Ellis to a contract in December 2013. Ellis would challenge the young Wong to produce immediately if he wanted to hold on to his starting role.

Wong responded early in spring training by pushing himself too hard and found himself without a hit in his first 10 at-bats. Speculation was rampant that Wong simply was not ready. The young man was doing very little to change the minds of his critics.

Then something clicked in his progress—Wong relaxed and started showing signs of the talent so many had talked about prior to this season. He finds himself leading the Cardinals this spring with a .372 batting average. He has an impressive .674 slugging percentage and is leading the team in OPS with a 1.100 mark. The offensive production that some predicted seems to have arrived.

Meanwhile, his challenger struggled to take the field often enough to truly create the competition that management seemed to want. Ellis was slowed by a left knee ailment that caused him to miss seven consecutive games, and now finds himself preparing for Opening Day.

Ellis is expected to be ready for the season opener on March 31. When discussing the situation with Rick Hummel the St. Louis Post-Dispatch,Ellis expressed frustration with the injury more than with not being the starter:

I’m always disappointed when I can’t play…. I never want to be the guy in the training room. I want to be the guy who nobody has to worry about. They don’t have to worry about, ‘Hey, is this guy going to be able to play today or not?’ That’s what is disappointing.

Wong seems ready to begin his rookie season, and Ellis is ready to be the veteran backup.

The Cardinals are ready to win with both of them.

Bill Ivie is the founder of i70baseball.com.
Follow him on Twitter to discuss all things baseball throughout the season.

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George Brett Takes Over As Hitting Coach

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KANSAS CITY, MO (May 30, 2013) – The Kansas City Royals announced today that George Brett and Pedro Grifol will assume the interim hitting coach and major league special assignment coach roles, respectively, effective tonight when the Royals play in St. Louis at 7:15 p.m.  In a corresponding move, the Royals have reassigned coaches Jack Maloof and Andre David to the minor league organization.

“Obviously things have not gone as we would have expected and in light of the downturn in offensive production and poor results we’ve decided to make a change,” said Dayton Moore, Royals’ Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager.  “First of all, I can’t thank Jack and Andre enough for accepting this challenge with the Major League club.  They are both tremendously knowledgeable and hard working men who have already made our organization stronger by their work in the system.  I’m thankful that this organization has one of the greatest hitters and more importantly one of the greatest competitors our game has ever seen in George Brett and he has accepted our offer to join the coaching staff on an interim basis.  We’ve also added Pedro Grifol, who brings a wealth of knowledge to our staff and will work various aspects of the coaching staff.”

Brett, 60, is the Royals’ all-time hit leader with 3,154 during a playing career that spanned 1973-1993 and was capped with his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999.  His familiar #5 was retired by the organization on May 14, 1994.  He is the only player in Major League history to win batting titles in three different decades, winning the American League crown in 1976, 1980 and 1990.  His 1980 season will always be remembered for his run at the elusive .400 mark, finishing the campaign with a .390 average and winning the American League Most Valuable Player Award.  A 13-time All-Star, Brett is the club’s all-time leader in every offensive category with the exception of stolen bases.  He was also a Rawlings Gold Glove winner for his work at third base.  Retired as a player following the ’93 season, this is Brett’s first-ever in-season coaching role in baseball.  He has served as a Vice President of Baseball Operations since his retirement and has worked on the field during spring training for the organization.

Grifol, 43, is in his first year in the Royals’ organization, initially assigned as the hitting coach for the Surprise Royals.  He joined Kansas City after 13 seasons in the Seattle chain, serving most recently as manager for High Desert (A) in 2012.  Previous roles have included area scout, manager at Everett (2003-05), Coordinator of Instruction (2006-08) and Director of Minor League Operations (2008-11).  Pedro was also on the Mariners’ major league staff for the second half of the 2010 season.  He was also the Winter League manager this past year for the Venezuela squad where Alcides Escobar played.  A Florida native, Grifol was the Florida State High School Player of the Year in 1988 out of Christopher Columbus High School and then helped Florida State University to the College World Series in 1989 and 1991, earning All-America honors in ’91.

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Best Defensive Team In AL Might Be In KC

The Kansas City Royals have built a team through the draft and player development, turning home grown players into Major League mainstays.  Many of the accolades afforded to the players coming through the system, as well as some players acquired from elsewhere, is focused on the offensive production they have produced.  Quietly the players that make up the starting eight have shown that they are a force to be reckoned with on the defensive side of the ball as well.

Catches like this one earned Gordon a 2nd consecutive Gold Glove.

Catches like this one earned Gordon a 2nd consecutive Gold Glove.

The voting for last year’s Gold Glove Awards consisted of votes cast by each manager and up to six coaches from each team.  Voters were given a list of players they could vote for and were restricted from voting for anyone on their own team.  When the dust settled, the Royals had four players finish in the top three of their position, more than any other team in the American League.  Only the Cincinnati Reds can claim more, having six players finish in the top three at the respective positions.  Beyond those four, a good case can be made for two more Royals to have received consideration.

During a recent interview with a local radio station, Royals manager Ned Yost made sure to point out the hard work and effort that third baseman Mike Moustakas had put forth in getting better defensively.  Long before the remainder of the team would report for batting and fielding practice prior to a game, Yost stated that you could find the man known as “Moose” taking ground balls at third base, determined to make himself a asset to the team when in the field.

Moustakas and his counterpart across the diamond, Eric Hosmer, both finished second in American League voting results for Gold Gloves at the close of the 2012 season.  The two talented infielders have represented the youth movement of this franchise for many years now and seeing them develop into strong defenders in 2012 has got to please the manager.

In addition to the corners, the Royals enjoy one of the most dynamic and talented shortstops in all of baseball.  Alcides Escobar was not recognized this year for his defensive talent, but most scouts and players will tell you that he is widely respected as one of the best at his trade.  His appearances on the nightly highlight reels across the country would support this claim as Escobar continues to become a large part of the Royals future success.

Behind the plate, another home grown talent patrols the field with a highly impressive arm and an ability to control the field the way most teams hope their backstop will.  Salvador Perez was given a substantial contract extension last year and, while his production at the plate is impressive enough, the way he controls the field and works with his pitching staff leaves very little doubt as to why the team extended the young man who had barely seen major league service before then.

The outfield reveals another player who finished close to a Gold Glove Award and one that took home a second consecutive Gold Glove of his own.  Alex Gordon has become one of the best left fielders in the game today and his counterparts rewarded him as such in 2011 and 2012.  His range, arm, and ability have solidified him as an outfielder that commands a lot of respect around the league.  He has quickly become known as a player that runners do not try to advance on and has established a presence that makes the fans pay close attention to any ball hit to left field.  Any ball that ends up within the range of Gordon quickly becomes capable of becoming that day’s “did you see that?” play.

The opposite corner of the outfield finds a player that many fans are ready to see the team cut ties with.  Offensively speaking, Jeff Francoeur is statistically speaking one of the worst players in Major League Baseball.  His veteran leadership, his glove, and his arm keep him on the field every day.  One of the most impressive throwing arms in recent memory, “Frenchy” routinely makes up for a lack of range with an impressive accuracy that holds runners at bay.

Six positions on the field are capable of amazing plays that everyday players can only dream of.  Four of those positions were considered to be one of the best three at their position in the American League last season.  The other two figure to be in that discussion for a long time coming.

While the Royals continue to find themselves offensively and with a rebuilt pitching staff, they know what they have on defense.  What they have is, in fact, golden.

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An in-depth look at the National League Wild Card

(Editor’s note: All stats used in this piece are as of Monday, 8/27)

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This past offseason, Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig expanded the playoff system. Two wild card berths were added, one to each league. A single elimination game would be played to determine the Wild Card winner. The current standings are like this:

Atlanta 73-55 (home field advantage for playoff)

San Francisco 71-57* (lead NL West by 1 game over LA Dodgers)

St. Louis 70-57

LA Dodgers 69-59* (1.5 back of STL, 1 game back of San Francisco in NL West)

Pittsburgh 68-59 (2 back of STL)

Arizona 64-64 (6.5 back of STL)

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It’s safe to say that Arizona is likely out of playoff contention, barring anything dramatic and unusual. The Wild Card will be a five-team race, and an exciting one at that. We’ll begin the preview with our own St. Louis Cardinals.

St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals took 2 of 3 from Cincinnati this past weekend, and gained a game in the NL Central. Still, the Reds hold a 6 game lead in the Central and should be able to maintain that lead through the rest of the regular season. If St. Louis can maintain their offensive production, they should have an advantage at maintaining a spot for Game 163. It will be interesting to see how the Cardinals’ rotation will play out, with Joe Kelly pitching in Lance Lynn‘s rotation spot for the time being. September’s expanded rosters may help the Cardinals in their quest.

The Cards have the toughest remaining schedule of any Wild Card contender. They have five series against teams with records above the .500 mark, three of which are against division leading teams (two against Washington, one against Cincinnati).

Cardinals fans will likely remain nervous from now until playoff time, and have good reason to be that way. Everything will have to be clicking for the Redbirds. They cannot afford to give many games away. It can be done, but they have a tough hill to climb to get there.

Remaining games vs WC teams: at PIT (Aug 28 & 29) at LA (Sept 13-16)

Los Angeles Dodgers

The Los Angeles Dodgers, in pursuit of the playoffs, may have just become the biggest threat to the Redbirds” Wild Card hopes.

A nine-player trade took place between the Dodgers and Boston Red Sox on Saturday. Boston sent Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Nick Punto to LA, while the Sox received James Loney and four prospects. For the Red Sox, the trade was a salary dump and concession for the 2012 season. For LA, the trade showed that the Dodgers are serious about the playoffs, and the near future, under their new ownership. The trade could turn out to be much like the Cardinals trading Colby Rasmus to Toronto last season, and we all know how that turned out for St. Louis.

The Cardinals, Nationals and Reds are the only non-division opponents that the Dodgers face in the rest of the regular season. Washington and Cincinnati have the upper hand in their respective divisions (4 1/2 and 6 games respectively). Of the Wild Card contenders, Los Angeles may be the toughest opposition St. Louis has for the next month and a half. The Dodgers’ dangerous pitching and newly-revamped offense, combined with the easy schedule, should strike fear in their opponents and give LA an edge in the race.

Remaining games vs WC teams: at SF (Sept 7-9), vs STL (Sept 13-16), vs SF (Oct 1-3)

San Francisco Giants

Tim Lincecum has been a huge disappointment in the otherwise stellar season so far for San Fran. The PED-suspension of Melky Cabrera will certainly hurt the Giants’ chances at an NL West title. Despite these events, the Giants have been able to hold a slight division lead on the Dodgers. The only non-division opponents remaining on the schedule for the Giants are the Astros and Cubs. The NL West is pretty much a two-team race between the Dodgers and Giants. The advantage, at least on paper, goes to LA because of the trade boost. The battle for the West (and subsequent Wild Card spot) should go down to the final days of the regular season, but don’t be surprised if LA runs away to a division title before then.

Remaining games vs WC teams: vs LAD (Sept 7-9), at LAD (Oct 1-3)

Pittsburgh Pirates

Other than St. Louis, the Pirates have just three series left with teams that have winning records (two with Cincinnati, one with Atlanta – one Reds series and the Braves series at home). The Pirates are much better at home than on the road (38-25/30-34). Pittsburgh’s contention will depend on their pitching, which has been a major plus for them in 2012. Led by James McDonald and AJ Burnett, the Bucs’ rotation has been one of the biggest surprises of the season. Barring a late season collapse or injuries, Pittsburgh should remain in the three-team race for Wild Card spot number two.

Remaining games vs WC teams: vs STL (Aug 28 & 29), vs ATL (Oct 1-3)

Atlanta Braves (current leader of first Wild Card spot, 2.5 games ahead of Cardinals for position)

The Braves have a big strength of schedule in the remainder of the regular season.  Thanks to a weak NL East, Atlanta faces only two opponents with winning records, Washington and Pittsburgh. It would take a Braves slump and Cardinals surge for St. Louis to take the number one spot and home field for Game 163. It happened in 2011, but given the schedule and sure-thing Braves pitching staff, don’t expect history to repeat itself. Atlanta should be hosting Game 163 in October. The only question they should have is who they will be facing on that day.

Remaining games vs WC teams: at PIT (Oct 1-3)

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The 2012 Wild Card race will be exciting to watch. It won’t quite have the excitement of the 2011 Wild Card, but the first year with the new system won’t disappoint. Expect some good baseball in the season’s last month and a half!

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It’s broke, fix it

The Kansas City Royals, coming off wins in ten of their last fifteen games with both great starting pitching and timely productive hitting from the offense, saw a change in the batting order.  Manager Ned Yost seemed to want to change it up in the three spot in the order, which has been a black hole for Royals hitters this season. The third spot in the batting order is supposed to be a position that a guy gets the opportunity to get guys who are on base in to score runs. But the problem is that the offensive production that the Royals lineup has put together this season is just not working.  The Royals are 11th in the American League in runs scored yet they are in the upper half of the league in both hits and batting average.  So what is the problem? A team that gets hits should be able to score runs but if they are not in the right order than the guys getting the hits do not have the opportunity to do so with guys on base.

The third spot in the batting order for the Royals this season is batting .223 with 57 runs batted in and only 30 extra base hits in 466 at bats. Putting that into perspective the nine whole in the lineup has driven in 55 runs.  It would be great for the nine spot to be two RBIs behind the three spot if the fact were that the three spot has lets say 80 RBIs or so.  But that would also mean that the Royals were scoring more runs and winning more games than they have this season.

The Royals have used numerous hitters in the three spot this season including Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Billy Butler and most recently Alex Gordon.  Gordon, who seems to be comfortable batting leadoff not only has a good batting average, .291, but it his on base percentage, .367, that makes him such a viable candidate for the number one spot in the order but if the guys behind him are not producing enough to get him in than his getting on base does not truly matter.  Some may say why mess with his psyche since he has had success at the leadoff spot the last two seasons but with the season lost the question to ask is why not? If the Royals truly are playing for the future then why not try out a few guys at the number three spot to see what they can bring to the table. Eric Hosmer proved that in his young career he is not ready for the role of run producer at the top of the lineup.  His production, or lack there of, this season has pushed him all the way to the bottom of the order.  He will turn things around and more that likely end up being the future three hitter for the Royals but something is going to have to change in his approach for that to happen. The Moustakas and Cain experiments were never going to stick because that is not what the future has in store for either of them.  Moustakas projects to be a solid five hitter with power and a batting average of .280 if not a touch under that.  Cain could fit into two different spots in the order.  He could be a six hitter with the pop that he has shown so far in his late entrance to the 2012 season but he seems to look more like a seven or eight guy with speed to get on for the top of the order.  Billy Butler is purely a number four hitter.  This gives the Royals three different guys to get on in front of him throughout the season.  The reason Butler is not a good fit at number three is his lack of speed.  If he gets on base with a double it is not a sure thing that a single will score him.  If he gets a single a double will more than likely never score him.

Ned Yost has a tough task of putting together a line up with the guys that he has on his roster this season.  With guys struggling and having three players, Alex Gordon, Alcides Escobar and Billy Butler, being the only to stay consistent all season long it is hard to put a line up together This all being said here would be the lineup for both the current and the future Royals that I would put together if I was signing the lineup card every night:

1.Current- Chris Getz (2B)                   Future- Alex Gordon (LF)

2.Current- Alcides Escobar (SS)         Future-Alcides Escobar (SS)

3.Current- Alex Gordon (LF)               Future- Eric Hosmer (1B)

4.Current- Billy Butler (DH)                Future- Billy Butler (DH)

5.Current- Mike Moustakas (3B)       Future- Mike Moustakas (3B)

6.Current- Salvador Perez (C)             Future- Wil Myers (RF)

7.Current- Eric Homer (1B)                 Future- Salvador Perez (C)

8.Current- Jeff Franceour (RF)          Future- Lorenzo Cain (CF)

9.Current- Lorenzo Cain (CF)             Future- Chris Getz (2B)

The problem that the Royals have faced this season is that the guys producing are not in the right spots.  Gordon may be the guy who leads off for this team in the future but if he can give this season a boost from the three hole that is all Ned Yost is trying to do.  Nothing from the three spot seems to have been working so why not put the guy who is hot in that spot.  Some will say if it not the future than why try it but if he continues to put a guy who is continually slumping in that spot there people will still be upset.  The players for the Royals have put their manager in a tight spot by not allowing him to put them in the three hole.  He is just trying something new and just because it may not work once does not mean it will not work over the rest of the season.  Trying something new that does not work once is better than leaving something old that has not worked for 117 games so far this season.

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Preseason concerns about St. Louis Cardinals offense prove to be unfounded

Heading into the 2012 season, the St. Louis Cardinals had lost the best hitter in the game during the past decade. Albert Pujols left the comforts of St. Louis to chase big money, and many thought the Cardinals’ offensive production would leave with him.

Instead, the opposite has been true. Going into play Saturday, the Cardinals were leading the National League in hits, homeruns, RBIs, batting average, runs scored and tied for the league lead in triples.

Simply put, the Cardinals are mashing at the plate so far this season. In fact, the team is on pace to put up offensive numbers far superior to the numbers the World Series champion club did a year ago, even though that team also led the National League in batting average.

That’s not to say people expected the Cardinals to be horrible, but certainly not this good.

Many thought the Cardinals’ pitching staff would have to be incredible for the team to just keep pace this season. Well, it has been great so far. The staff is second in the National League in ERA behind the Washington Nationals.

But the offense has made a strong case that it can carry the team.

Right fielder Carlos Beltran is tied for the National League lead in homeruns and is second in RBIs. Third baseman David Freese is tied for fifth in the league in RBIs. Center fielder Jon Jay is hitting .376. Utility man Matt Carpenter is tied for third in the league in triples. Catcher Yadier Molina is tied for second in doubles and shortstop Rafeal Furcal is tied for the league lead in hits.

Good grief, this team is hitting the tar out of the ball. Even the most optimistic fan had to expect a bit of a drop off from the offensive numbers of the 2011 squad, but the opposite has been true.

What’s also amazing is how the Cardinals have built this offense. Beltran is 35 years old, Furcal is 34 and first baseman Lance Berkman is 36. Granted, Berkman has been sidelined much of the year with a calf injury, but the Cardinals have resurrected these hitters’ careers the way former pitching coach Dave Duncan brought old pitchers back to life to throw for a few productive years.

Beltran, Berkman and Furcal all looked to be at the end of their careers right before they joined the Cardinals.

Berkman joined the team in 2011 after hitting .248 the year before with the Houston Astros and New York Yankees. Furcal was hitting .197 with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2011 before he joined the Cardinals at the trade deadline. Beltran is already more than halfway to his 2011 homerun total of 22 that he hit while playing for the New York Mets and San Francisco Giants.

What makes these hitters find a reserve tank of energy when they join the Cardinals? Might hitting coach Mark McGwire have something to do with it? In any case, each player has certainly enjoyed his time with the Cardinals, and the franchise has gotten much more than people expected out of these aging stars.

The Cardinals have excellent clubhouse chemistry right now under the leadership of rookie manager Mike Matheny. Just observe the homerun line that forms in the dugout after each homerun.

This team is having fun, and it is winning ballgames. That’s a recipe that could make for quite a ride throughout the rest of this season, especially since it was unexpected.

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Melkman sized shoes to fill

Last season the Kansas City Royals were able to put together arguably one of the best collective performances, both defensively and offensively, by an outfield committee that fans have seen in the organization’s history.  Some may say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, but the Royals had a different plan.

They needed some help on the pitching staff and that is what they got in the trade with the San Francisco Giants, sending center fielder Melky Cabrera to the Giants in exchange for left hander Jonathan Sanchez.  The reason that Cabrera was an expendable asset is because of the confidence that the Royals have in their young center fielder Lorenzo Cain. Many regard him as being a defensive upgrade in center since his speed will allow him to have a great amount of range in the oversized outfield of Kauffman Stadium. He will not make the amazing diving catches that can be seen in highlights because he will take a page out of the Willie Wilson handbook and get to balls in the gaps that other outfielders simply cannot get to. His offense in the past has shown that contact will not be a problem but the power will need to continue to develop and get stronger which will come as experience sets in.

It is not arguable that the increase of speed will help him to fill the shoes of Cabrera in the outfield but the offensive production is where the shoes are a little bit bigger to fill.

In 2011, Cabrera set career highs in many categories including batting average (.305), hits (201), doubles (44), home runs (18), RBI (87), and stolen bases (20) to name a few. Now to say that Cain will be able to pencil in all of these statistics in his first full season in the Majors would be a bit hasty. While he could develop into this kind of player in the future, the present is what the organization and fans are about.

In his minor league career of seven season, Cain averages 7 home runs, 47 RBI, 20 stolen bases, and a .295 batting average.  The stolen bases will come with the speed that Cain presents but the power, which has been low at best, is where Cain will need to improve to be a perennial player that the Royals need in center field. More power would equivocate to more run production and the more run production that he can bring to the table the less the pressure that hitters in the top half of the lineup will have to endure.

Manager Ned Yost has already revealed what his Opening Day lineup will look like and with history on his side he does not waiver much on the lineup throughout a season.  So Cain will have the lessened pressure of the bottom half of the lineup which will allow him to continue to get on base, steal bases, and score runs in front of hits from the batter in the top of the lineup. With the pressure off of his back he can develop that power and in years to come be a huge run producer for this team.

The positive that can be brought from this is a little bit of Billy Beane and Oakland A’s style.  The question is not whether Cain will have to fill the offensive hole that Cabrera leaves but can two or three players make up for the loss of offensive production.  This is a task that can be accomplished with the improvements of the young “sophomores” on the team.

No doubt not having Cabrera in the lineup again this season could hurt this team a little since he left such big shoes to fill with his production in 2011.  But will Lorenzo Cain be able to fill those shoes and become the resident citizen in center field will be a question on the future can answer.

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Second to Last

The Royals have been inactive again this week.  This week, will continue our look at the American League Central infielders by reviewing the second basemen of each team.  The following statistics will give us a view of each player’s 2011 season.

Team Player Avg. OBP SLG OPS H 2B 3B HR RBI SB
Chi Gordon Beckham .230 .296 .337 .633 115 23 0 10 44 5
Cle Jason Kipnis .272 .333 .507 .841 37 8 1 7 19 5
Det Ramon Santiago .260 .311 .384 .695 67 11 3 5 30 0
KC Johnny Giavotella .247 .273 .376 .649 44 9 4 2 21 5
Min Alexi Casilla .260 .322 .368 .691 84 21 4 2 21 15

                The Chicago White Sox will start one of the once highly touted prospect Gordon Beckham at second.  Beckham had a breakout rookie season hitting .270 with a .460 slg and a .347 obp.  Beckham has struggled to live up to the hype the last two seasons.  His offensive production has steadily decreased each year.  Will his bad streak have finally hit rock bottom last season or will become continue to digress.  The White Sox still have hopes Beckham can perform like he did his rookie season.

The Cleveland Indians will be starting Jason Kipnis.  Kipnis had his first taste of the big leagues last season.  In his first 36 games Kipnis hit .272.  Throughout the minor leagues Kipnis has always been a solid contributor with the bat.  In his three seasons in the minors Kipnis hit .300.  The Cleveland Indians plan on Kipnis being an everyday player for the next six seasons.  The Indians feel Kipnis will be a solid offensive contributor and continue to improve his numbers at the big league level.

The Detroit Tigers will start Ramon Santiago at second. Santiago is the most seasoned second basemen in the American League Central.  Santiago has never been an everyday player.  The most games he has played in a single season was 141 in 2003.  Since then, 112 in 2010 and 101 in 2011 are his next highest totals for games played in a season.  Santiago will really just be there to fill a position in the offensive line of an infield the Tigers will be trotting out everyday.  Santiago has been a .260 hitter over the past three seasons.  With Santiago you know what you are getting and that is not much production.  With that said in the Detroit offense, this should not be a problem.

The Kansas City Royals will start Johnny Giavotella.  Johnny forced the Royals hand last season with his hugely productive season at AAA.  Giavotella hit .338 in 110 games at AAA.  This followed up a season where Giavotella hit .322 at AA.  The Royals know the potential for Giavotella to hit is there, but in 46 games last season Johnny struggled to adapt to big league pitching.  He hit only .247 and got on base at only a .273 clip.  Throughout the minor leagues Giavotella showed better patience and the Royals see him as a potential staple in their lineup.  Giavotella will have to continue to improve his patience at the plate at the big league level.  He also must work on making contact at the plate, in the 46 big league games he played he struck out 32 times.  In AAA in 110 games he struck out only 57 times.  If Giovatella is able to make a few adjustments he will be a solid contributor for the Royals.

Johnny G

                The Minnesota Twins will begin the season with Alexi Casilla at second.  Casilla is another player who has never been an everyday starter.  Casilla played a career high 97 games last season.  Casilla is a prototypical second baseman.  Not much power, hits .250 and steals a couple bases.  The Twins may have a tough time scoring runs this year unless Mauer and Morneau are healthy.  Even then the middle infield for Minnesota has no power and hits for a low average.

Now that all second basemen have briefly been discussed, I will rank them from 1 to 5 in my point of view as to how their overall production for the 2012 season will stack up.

  1. Jason Kipnis
  2. Johnny Giavotella
  3. Ramon Santiago
  4. Gordon Beckham
  5. Alexi Casilla

From my point of view, none of the second basemen have ever shown much of a reason to get overly excited.  Jason Kipnis showed throughout the minors he could hit, and in limited big league time he proved he could hit at this level too.  If Johnny Giavotella makes a few adjustments and shows his is not a AAAA player, but a solid major leaguer he could easily move to #1 on this list.  With Santiago you know what you are going to get .260 a little pop, but just watching the Detroit infield is entertainment enough.  Gordon Beckham could be the best player on this list.  He proved for a full season that he could produce at the big league level.  If he can revert to his rookie form Beckham could easily head up this list.  As for Casilla, well he has never played 100 games hits .250, nothing to be excited about.  The second base position for the AL Central could be a battle of mediocrity, but only time will tell if any of the young players can have break out seasons.

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The Winter Warm Up Files: Spring Has Almost Sprung

Spring Training is about a month or so away for the St. Louis Cardinals, and plenty of intrigue surrounds the team as they head for Florida. Last weekend at the Winter Warm Up, much of that was discussed with Cardinal players, coaches, and members of the front office. But the fact of the matter is, much of the 2012 team promises to also have to answer questions of “living up” to predecessors. For instance, exactly how does one improve on a World Series Championship? And just for good measure, some competition for pivotal roles will be thrown into the mix as well.

Obviously, one of the major departures is Albert Pujols. And while that subject has been beaten to death from every possible angle, the Cards do have a quite capable replacement at first base in Lance Berkman. After proving he still had plenty left in the tank with a monster comeback season in 2011, Berkman is ready, willing and able to step back into the post he held for so many years in Houston. So with the on-field hole filled, what about the offensive production missing with Pujols’ bat no longer in the lineup? The Cards went out and signed Carlos Beltran, and he certainly will contribute power to the lineup. But he also brings an element of speed—albeit not what he once had in his prime—and versatility as a switch-hitter. Beltran can be dangerous and effective hitting anywhere from 2nd to 6th in the lineup.

Of course, Beltran and Berkman are not spring chickens any more, and both have a recent injury history that cannot be ignored. Such is the case with Matt Holliday, David Freese, and Allen Craig. All these players are expected to have major roles on the field for the 2012 St. Louis Cardinals, and every season’s success is dependent on the old axiom, “Well, if everyone can stay healthy…” No one can guarantee the health of any player or players. But with the lineup the Cards at least expect to run out onto the field on a daily basis, they have to stack up favorably with any team in the league.

What could be bigger than losing a Hall of Fame player? Why, losing a Hall of Fame coaching tandem, of course. And it just so happens the Cardinals lost both in the same offseason. Replacing Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan is impossible. But the Cards must find a way to move on, because they are not coming back but there are still games to be played.

Mike Matheny takes over as the team’s skipper and says he is ready to learn a lot. He has already spoken to most of the players and tinkers with potential lineups every day. He also appears to have a grasp on some of the Cards’ shortcomings from 2011 and wants to formulate a plan to remedy those issues for 2012 starting in Spring Training. “There’s going to be a lot of bunting going on,” Matheny said, when asked about his approach. “There’s going to be a lot of fundamental situational hitting. There’s going to be team fundamentals that are going to have a focus. I think it’s going to cover the whole gamut…We’re going to have some guys come in from the past who have been extremely good baserunners and are going to help us out for the first part of spring.”

Derek Lilliquist has some tough shoes to fill, too, taking over for Duncan as pitching coach. Adam Wainwright spoke of Duncan in glowing terms echoed by the rest of the staff: “Dave Duncan is the best big league pitching coach I’ve ever had. Dave’s philosophy has just been bred into us…Not that we don’t need Dave, but we understand what we want do out there now. I think Carpenter and myself, Lohse, Westbrook, Jaime…I think we’ve got five guys who have learned from the best in the business, and continue to learn from each other, too.” But he also thinks Lilliquist understands pitching really well, and believes his philosophy is a lot like that of Duncan. “When you look at what Lilly brings, we’re still really excited about our pitching coach,” Wainwright said.

Arguably the biggest unknown on the field going into Spring Training is the second base position. Both Matheny and John Mozeliak anticipate an open competition between Tyler Greene, Skip Schumaker, and Daniel Descalso for the starting job. Matheny spoke numerous times about “healthy competition” and how it would benefit the team and the players involved. Mozeliak also expects all three to challenge for the job, but feels the opportunity is Greene’s to seize. “We do want to see Tyler Greene get a strong opportunity there,” Mozeliak said. “We look at his athleticism and what he’s capable of doing and I do know we want to give Tyler a very good chance at playing and getting a lot of AB’s in Spring Training…(Greene) has never really had an opportunity at the ML level to be given that job. It’s understandable because we’ve always had competitive clubs and players that were playing better than him. So it’s just about opportunity.” But the GM stopped short of giving Greene any sort of leg up before the preseason gets underway. “It’s a different situation this year—second base is open so that’s where we’re going to try to give him a shot.”

Other positions remain unsettled until the team heads to Florida. Beltran, Craig, and Jon Jay figure to be a part of some sort of rotation or platoon in center and right. The Cards signed Koyie Hill to a minor league deal, and he figures to be the defensive dark horse for the backup catcher job. But the team already has two younger backstops in Tony Cruz and Bryan Anderson who have had a taste of the majors and are no doubt chomping at the bit to win that supporting role. And the bullpen has a lot of returning faces staring at a young corps who makes it increasingly difficult for the Cardinals to keep sending them back to the minors.

Expectations will be high for the Cards in 2012, but that is normal after a World Series win. These players have already proven they can execute. Now they have to go out and stay healthy enough to do it again. The NL Central appears weaker on paper than it did last season, aside from the overhauled Cincinnati Reds. But not many picked the Redbirds to make the playoffs last year, either. The Cardinals appear poised to make another serious run at the division title. Getting into the playoffs is tough for any team, but once you’re in…well, you know.

Chris Reed also writes for InsideSTL Mondays and Bird Brained whenever he wants. Follow him on Twitter at @birdbrained.

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Patrolling Centerfield

The song Centerfield by John Fogerty is one those songs that always reminds me that baseball is near. It reminds me of the days my coach would send me out to center field. to experience the smell of the grass and the crack of the bat. All of my senses aroused by my surroundings on the field? These were some of the best times of my life. Now I countdown to Spring Training and Major League Baseball season. Spring Training is getting closer, only 40 days away. That leads us to our topic centerfield. I will take a look and provide a comparison of the centerfielders in the American League Central.

Oh, put me in, coach – I’m ready to play today;
Put me in, coach – I’m ready to play today;
Look at me, I can be centerfield.

Team Player Avg. OBP SLG OPS H 2B 3B HR RBI SB
Chi Alex Rios .227 .265 .348 .613 122 22 2 13 44 11
Cle Grady Sizemore .224 .285 .422 .706 60 21 1 10 32 0
Det Austin Jackson .249 .317 .374 .690 147 22 11 10 45 22
KC Lorenzo Cain .273 .304 .318 .623 6 1 0 0 1 0
Min Denard Span .264 .328 .359 .687 75 11 5 2 16 6

The projected center fielder this year for the White Sox will be Alex Rios. The once Toronto Blue Jay All Star, has not been the same player since joining the Sox. Rios provided solid offensive production in 2010 and if he can return to similar production he could a contributing force to an aging White Sox offense. Rios’ defense has never been great and is also declining as he ages. Will Rios become the All Star Chicago traded for and finally get the production they thought they were acquiring? I for one don’t think so.

Cleveland brought back the once great, but now so often injured Grady Sizemore. Grady was an outstanding center fielder early in his career. For the past 3 seasons, staying healthy has been a huge struggle for Grady. His numbers have declined significantly as Grady has battled back from all his injuries. We know the production Grady can provide to his team, but the real question is can he stay healthy.

Detroit’s Austin Jackson may be the best of the bunch. Jackson has only played two full major league seasons. Jackson’s numbers have not been anything special, but as major league careers go last year may have been Jackson’s sophomore slump. If Austin is able to raise his average he could be the best centerfielder in the Central. Jackson’s free swinging nature may impede his ability to consistently hit for average, but the potential is there.

The Royals will be starting Lorenzo Cain. Cain has a ton of potential, but he is still a relative unknown. He provided Milwaukee with solid offensive production in 2010, but that was only in 43 games. It will be hard to predict what Lorenzo will provide, but if you look at his numbers from AAA last season, you can see why the Royals acquired Lorenzo in the Greinke deal. For a more in depth look at Lorenzo please read my past article Loco for Lorenzo.

The Minnesota Twins will be starting Denard Span in centerfield. Span also battled the injury bug last season, only playing in 70 games. Span’s first two big league seasons were full of hope as he hit .294 and .311. The past two years he has hit .264. Span provides great speed and defense. Span’s inability to consistently hit left handed pitching is the biggest thing that holds him back. If he can improve on this facet of the game Minnesota will have a solid top of the order producer.

The center fielders of the American League Central have a ton of question marks. In my opinion this is how the centerfielders stack up.

  1. Austin Jackson
  2. Grady Sizemore
  3. Denard Span
  4. Lorenzo Cain
  5. Alex Rios

Austin Jackson may be young, but has made it through his sophomore slump. I can definitely see his offensive numbers getting better and he is a great defensive centerfielder. If Sizemore can stay healthy he could be the best in this list, but his health is a huge question mark. Span has been consistent and provides solid defense and offense. As a player, he just does nothing for me. Lorenzo Cain is a relative unknown. His minor league stats give us Royals fans hope, but as of right now that’s all it is. As for Rios, he has never been a great defender and his offensive numbers have been steadily declining. I look for more of the same from Rios.

Hopefully for the Royals, Cain will produce offensively as he did in AAA in 2010. His speed and defensive ability should be a huge benefit to the Royals pitching staff. For the first time in years, maybe decades the Royals defense up the middle will be a formidable force. Let me end with this,

Got a beat-up glove, a homemade bat, and brand-new pair of shoes;
You know I think it’s time to give this game a ride.
Just to hit the ball and touch ’em all – a moment in the sun;
(pop) it’s gone and you can tell that one goodbye!

The crack of the bat is getting close, can you feel it? Thanks again to John Fogerty for the use of his lyrics to Centerfield.

On a complete side note, I feel like I want to share my opinions on Tim Tebow’s performance Sunday afternoon.

Tebow Time

How can I not address Tim Tebow? There were times during the AFC Wildcard game where Tim Tebow was highly inaccurate, but Tebow leaves everything out on the field. Obviously, someone powerful must be on his side. He showed signs of the strong arm everyone knew he had. When he is accurate you saw what can happen on the first play of OT. The threat of the running game pulled both safeties up to the line of scrimmage. The corners were stuck on an island on the outside with the wide receivers. To the Broncos credit they trusted Tebow and ran a play action pass. Tebow then threw a strike right down the middle to Thomas in stride and he did the rest. Tebow always finds a way to win and it is absolutely baffling. If only the Royals could find a #1 starter similar to Tebow. No matter what happened he would fight and do anything it took to win the game. Chris Carpenter in last year’s playoffs is the best example I can think of. An athlete of this breed only comes along once in a lifetime. Love it or Hate it, hang on and enjoy the show.

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