Category Archives: Interviews
Our friends over at Seedlings 2 Stars were kind enough to answer a couple questions about the 2012 Prospect list they put out. The questions were sent out before the trade but I think the answers are still interesting to hear.
For a bio on both the writers who answered these questions click the below links.
Q1: Tell us what you feel about the projections of Jesus Montero. You ranked him pretty low, in my opinion, on your 2012 Prospect list at #42. I feel that will be the lowest ranking we will see of him all year from any source.
Nathaniel: Montero is likely to be a very good major league DH. The reason he’s ranked 42nd on the list is because he’s not going to provide any value aside from his bat, so he’s going to have to be one of the top dozen or so hitters in the game if he’s going to attain true stardom. He’s not going to grow much more, and his statistics got worse as he advanced through the minors, so it would seem to be awfully difficult to be confident that he’s going to be a top-15/20 hitter. That said, he’s still just 22 and has a very good track record. He should be a very good hitter. The thing is, there’s a significant chance his offensive production is closer to Billy Butler‘s than Miguel Cabrera‘s.
Q2: A prospect that won’t make many lists is Jorge Vazquez. While he can mash the ball, he tends to strike out quite a bit and doesn’t seem to take many walks. I feel he could be a MLB player (like a Shelly Duncan) but he is blocked by Mark Teixeira at 1B and DH by Montero. Could you see a team wanting him in a trade? Or is he a career minor leaguer?
Wally: Jorge Vazquez is 29-years old and has a dreadful career SO-to-BB of 710-to-173. In 2011 with Triple-A he drew just 30 BB to 166 SO in 118 games. If you’re a fan of percentages his K% was a whopping 33.2 and that’s just not major league material, especially coupled with a 6.0 BB%. The other thing that limits his value on the market is that there are no shortage of younger 1B/DH type guys with better plate discipline and a better track record scattered around the minor leagues. Off the top of my head we have; Clint Robinson (26) – Royals, Bryan LaHair (29) – Cubs, Kila Ka’aihue (27) – Athletics, Brandon Allen (25) – Athletics, Chris Davis (25) – Baltimore. Then you have guys that may be a little older but have a better profile like Luis Terrero (31) – Mexican League. Vazquez may get a look as a bench bat at some point but he’s awfully long in the tooth and with his issues on the plate discipline front, the presence of Teixeira really doesn’t impact his chances of getting major league at bats. The Yankees could be starting Travis Ishikawa at 1B and Vazquez would still be blocked. Bottom line, he has little trade value and is most likely a career minor leaguer who may get a cup of coffee at some point.
Q3: You have Gary Sanchez #17 ranked ahead of Manny Banuelos #26. The majority of Yankees projections will have Banuelos ahead of Sanchez. Can you explain to our readers why you have your rankings this way and how you see Sanchez and Banuelos as MLB players?
Nathaniel: Sanchez has more upside than Banuelos does, and, being a position player, he also has less of a chance of suffering a career-altering injury. His track record, at least on offense, has also been excellent thus far, whereas Banuelos hit some serious speed bumps in the upper minors with his command. I absolutely love Banuelos–he was top-10 on my list last year–but he’s not physically projectable, so his stuff probably “is what it is,” so to speak. Therefore, it could be a couple of years before he refines things enough to get his walk rate back down, and he’s almost certainly not an ace in the end–more of a #2/#3 starter. Sanchez, on the other hand, could be the best catcher in the American League if he can figure out the defensive side of the game. Of course, the same could be said for Montero, but while there’s skepticism surrounding Sanchez’s defensive capabilities, I don’t think it’s quite at the level of the disregard for Montero’s catching.
Wally: I believe in the value of having major league bloodlines and selecting a player of his profile 51st overall was far from head scratching to me. In fact I was surprised he didn’t go earlier. That said, I was surprised by how quickly he transitioned his game to affiliated ball. He was one of a select few players to hit better than 0.300/.400/.500 in 2011 and he did so at 18 years old. I don’t think there is any question that if he puts forth another strong season in 2012 he will land in the 51-100 range of the vast majority of Top-100 lists. He’s got the bat, the projectable power, a strong throwing arm, decent speed and a strong work ethic. In short he’s an outstanding prospect that just needs to show what he did in rookie ball will translate to A-ball and beyond.
Nathaniel: Tough to say. Betances has very good stuff, so there’s always the chance that he figures out his mechanics, gets the ball down and in the zone more, and takes off. At this point, though, he looks more like an eternal frustration a la A.J. Burnett. He could be a Burnett-type starter with his fastball/curve mix, but probably fits better as a power reliever. If he doesn’t get things together in 2012, he won’t be on the list again.
Wally: For Baltimore there just aren’t a lot of options close to the majors that are likely to have an impact. In fact there’s really just one and that is 2B-turned-outfielder L.J. Hoes. He doesn’t have any standout tool but he is coming off of hitting 0.305/.379/.413 for Bowie (AA) in 2011 with his typically strong SO-to-BB rates. While he lacks the pop you’d like to see in a corner OF, his bat is legit and he should hit for average in the majors. He will likely get on-base at an above average rate and bring good speed to the table.
Like the Orioles much of Boston’s top tier talent is further down in the system but there is one player in particular that will most likely make an impact for the Sox in 2012. C Ryan Lavarnway made his major league debut in 2011 after hitting 32 HR between AA and AAA. Once in the majors he didn’t shrink from the spotlight and handled himself well hitting 0.231/.302/.436. He should push for playing time in Spring Training and have a chance to become a “Napoli-esque player” (to borrow a phrase from Nathaniel’s lexicon).
Tampa Bay has the top-pitching prospect in all of baseball and there is no player I am looking forward to watching more in 2012 than LHP Matt Moore. Everyone knows about him by now but he’s going to make a loaded Rays rotation even better. I may be over the top but I consider Moore a serious threat to win the AL Cy Young Award this year.
Toronto has the best farm system in the division and Brett Lawrie and J.P. Arencibia have already made their presence felt in the majors. There is more impact talent on the way. C Travis d’Arnaud and OF Anthony Gose will likely both start in Triple-A and be just a step away from making an impact on the major league roster. Gose will likely take a little more time to round out his game but d’Arnaud could advance quickly and make Arencibia a tradeable commodity in short order.
Q7: Based on the recent trades of Gio Gonzalez and Mat Latos, could the Yankees have come up with a prospect package to match what Washington & Cinncinati gave up WITHOUT including Montero and Banuelos?
Wally: Well to recap. For Washington it took RHP A.J. Cole, C Derek Norris, LHP Tom Milone and RHP Brad Peacock to get Gio and Robert Gilliam from the Athletics. Cincinnati needed to give up C Yasmani Grandal, 1B Yonder Alonso, RHP Brad Boxberger and RHP Edinson Volquez to pry Mat Latos away from the Padres. Those are 2 serious prospect hauls that the Nationals and Reds surrendered respectively and it’s hard to imagine that the Yankees could have gotten a deal done without including one, if not both, of Montero and Banuelos. If they had packaged Banuelos with Gary Sanchez and probably two other guys a bit further away I think they could have pulled it off for either starting pitcher. Likewise a package fronted by Jesus and Betances and some other guys further away may have worked but Montero’s value to the Padres was significantly less due to the uncertainty surrounding his ability to play catcher.
To put it more bluntly, no. I don’t think they could not have pulled off either deal without giving up either Montero or Banuelos.
Q8: Would a package of Betances, one of Romine or Sanchez, one of Warren or Phelps and another C-level prospect be enough for the Cubs to trade Matt Garza?
Wally: Ah, see now were getting to a more realistic target as Matt Garza isn’t on the same level as Mat Latos or Gio Gonzalez. He’s several years older and closer to free agency which makes him a less valuable trade commodity. If the Yankees were to step up with a Betances, Sanchez package and maybe another C+ prospect I have to believe the Cubs would jump at the chance. If they opted to try and move Romine instead of Sanchez than I think Phelps, Betances and another piece would have to be involved.
Q9: I love Tyler Austin as a sleeper prospect. I think he possesses the same skill set of Dante Bichette but doesn’t get near the publicity. Have you seen him play? What do you think of him? And is there a sleeper or two you like in the Yankee organization that might not get a lot of press?
Nathaniel: I’ve seen a bit of video of Austin. I agree that he’s definitely worthy of being talked about along with Bichette and Williams–they form a formidable trio of short-season guys you don’t find in many organizations. I think Nik Turley and David Phelps are two good sleepers. I see both as capable fourth starters in the big leagues.
Q10: With most of their top pitching prospects in the upper levels (AA and above), what young pitchers in the Yankee system do you like to step forward in the coming years to replace Banuelos, Betances, Noesi, Nova, Phelps, Warren, etc…
Wally: Of the guys pitching below AA the two I think have the best chance to step forward are RHP Brett Marshall (21) and LHP Nik Turley (22). Both have now reached High-A and both could develop into mid-rotation guys. Outside of those two there’s not a whole lot else to dream on right now in the lower levels.
Q11: I expect to see Mason Williams crack a lot of Top 100 lists this yr. BA rated him the top prospect in the NY Penn Lg and he’s got all kind of tools in his shed. Was he considered for your top 100 and what is your overall opinion on him?
Nathaniel: Yes, Williams was considered for the top 100. He was around the 110s on my list, and that’s no insult. I was very hesitant with a lot of short-season guys on the list this year, sort of as a reaction to going too crazy with them on the list the year before. I do think he was the top prospect in that league, he has a very good skillset, and he’s certainly a prospect to watch. He, Austin, and Bichette will all rise up my rankings next year if they continue to hit in A-ball.
Over the course of the next month or two, we will be previewing the Yankees’ competition in the American League. To do this, I will interview one blog for each team in the league.
Today we’ll take a look at the Chicago White Sox. I was able to interview Anders Johanson of Southside Showdown.
1. In 2011, the White Sox went finished 79-83, 16 games back from the 1st place Tigers. What do you think the team could have done a better job at? What do you think was a definite strength of the 2011 ChiSox?
I feel like the 2010-2011 offseason encouraged Sox fans to set the bar unreasonably high as far as expectations go. I won’t lie, I was one of thos guys. We brought back Konerko and Pierzynski, we signed Dunn, all signs pointed to Peavy being healthy, everything looked good on paper. The problem with baseball, though, is that the game isn’t played on paper. It’s played on the field. Dunn was a shocking disappointment, Rios was terrible, the starting pitching wasn’t there, the bullpen was spotty, there were a handful of consistent players, and the three basic aspects of the game (offense, defense, and pitching) didn’t all work at the same time. The offense would be great for a few weeks while the defense and the pitching couldn’t keep us in a game. Defense and pitching were there when the offense couldn’t score runs. For a team to do well all three aspects need to function at the same time. That never happened in 2011.
With that much going wrong on a team it’s hard to pick a definite strength. We saw the versatility of Brent Lillibridge, the second coming of Joe Crede in Brent Morel, the emergence of Alejandro De Aza, and another good year out of Konerko. The 2011 Tigers got to a point in the season where they could just smell the playoffs and nothing was going to stop them from getting there. Not the Twins, not the White Sox, not the 1927 Yankees.
2. Towards the end of September, the White Sox released Ozzie Guillen from his duties as manager. How different do you think the team will be without the presence of Ozzie Guillen? What do you think the new manager, Robin Ventura brings to the table?
From what I’ve read it seems like Ozzie was the source of a lot of tension in the White Sox locker room. A character like that is entertaining for a little while but after a certain point it just gets repetitive and even annoying. It was a good run with him as Sox manager but the honeymoon had to come to an end at some point – you can’t live off of 2005 forever. I wish him and Mark Buehrle all the best in Miami.
I’m looking forward to have Robin Ventura in the dugout, if not just for the fact that it brings a fresh brain to the managerial position. Ventura flew under the radar of literally everyone except Kenny Williams so when he was hired it was a big surprise. After a week or two it started to sink in and make sense. Even though the Sox are supposedly rebuilding/retooling there are enough veterans on the team for Ventura to breathe a little bit. Robin has never managed before so the naivety might be frustrating for the first two or three months. It’s tough to predict how a manager will manage. Everyone thought Mike Quade was going to save the Cubs last year and that was a train wreck. We’ll just have to wait and see on this one.
3. Just days after GM Kenny Williams said the team was in full-blown rebuilding mode, he extended John Danks to a 5 year / $65MM contract, despite trading away Carlos Quentin and Sergio Santos. How do you feel about the White Sox seemingly strange offseason?
Kenny Williams’ offseason plan is usually clear by this point. I can’t quite figure out what he’s going for in 2012. Maybe he has some master plan that nobody but him can see? I’m hoping that’s the case because we gave up a lot this offseason and didn’t get much in return. Quentin to the Padres was a salary dump, letting Buehrle go was a risk, and trading Sergio Santos and Jason Frasor killed our bullpen. Chris Sale is going to move to the rotation and Dayan Viciedo will now be our everyday right fielder so this season will be an adjustment for both of them. It’s the Danks extension that throws the whole rebuilding thing out the window. Danks’ 2011 season (8-12, 4.33 ERA) didn’t earn the money he received. There was talk that Williams was shopping both Danks and Gavin Floyd but his asking price was way too high. Apparently his solution to that is to give a lot of money to a mediocre left-hander in hopes that said lefty somehow becomes Randy Johnson? If you’re going to rebuild then rebuild. That means dealing Danks, Floyd, and whoever else so that the team can start fresh.
4. What is the general confidence level in the team moving forward, both in the short-term and long-term?
Right now it’s difficult to say. I think the fanbase is equal parts excited and terrified for both short-term and long-term. The Sox at a major league level will still be competitive because it’s not like Kenny completely cleaned house this offseason. The minor leagues – which I’ll get to in a moment – are what bother me the most. There are two or three guys who are major league ready and then everyone else is still years off.
5. How do you feel about the current state of the White Sox’ prospects, and minor-league system? Are there any prospects that you think could have an impact on the 2012 team?
The Sox are quite weak in the farm system. A couple years ago I would’ve been more confident in the kids we have down in the minors but right now even our Top 10 list isn’t that impressive. Nestor Molina, the pitcher we got from Toronto for Sergio Santos, looks to be our number one prospect and a guy who could potentially be in the starting rotation a year or two from now. Two other pitchers to watch out for who are ready to make an impact are Dylan Axelrod and Addison Reed. Both guys were September call-ups in 2011 and have a ton of upside. They’ll be good replacements for Sale and Santos.
6. Lastly, how do you project the team will do in 2012?
As I said earlier this game is played on the field and not on paper. That being said, on paper we look decent. Obviously we lost a good bit of power, a solid starting pitcher, and some arms out of the bullpen. With the big move the Tigers made to pick up Fielder they’re the clear favorite in the Central so hopefully the Sox can finish second or third. I’d like to be optimistic and give a huge “anything less than first is a waste” speech but second place is honestly what we’re shooting for this season. A record above .500 and good baseball in August and September should take us there. First place would be a pleasant surprise, though.
Over the course of the next month or two, we will be previewing the Yankees’ competition in the American League. To do this, I will interview one blog for each team in the league.
And here we go…
1. The Twins have consistently been a pretty successful team. However, in 2011 they took quite a step back, finishing in last place with a 63-99 record. What do you think caused the Twins to struggle so much in 2011? In the midst of a poor season, were there any bright spots that may fuel some optimism heading into 2012?
The 2011 season was derailed not just by injuries, but injuries to the Twins’ key players. Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Denard Span, Jason Kubel, Joe Nathan, Alexi Casilla, Denard Span and Tsuyoshi Nishioka all missed significant time while on the Disabled List (7 of their opening day starting 9, and their franchise closer). While Nishoka’s absence from the line up may have not been detrimental to the success of the team, the Twins were still without their opening day second basemen and lacked any sort of contingency plan for the middle infield (see: Trevor Plouffe). While injuries are certainly not the entire story of 2011, the lack of consistency in the Twins lineup certainly robbed them of any opportunity to settle into a routine, likely affecting the performance of the remaining, healthy regulars like Danny Valencia and Michael Cuddyer.
While 2011 was pretty much a lost year for the Twins, Ben Revere received extended Major League playing time and provided spectacular center field defense while Denard Span was recuperating on the DL. Not only was Revere’s outfield defense amazing, but at times watching his joy and excitement for playing the game of baseball was one of main reasons to tune into Twins games. Because the Twins were so injury prone, Twins fans were able to see a glimpse into the future as several Minor League Players were given ample playing time down the stretch, including Joe Benson, Rene Tosoni, Brian Dinkelman (who is quickly becoming a fan favorite, even though he’s unlikely to make it back to the MLB in 2012), and the flame throwing reliever, Lester Oliveros (obtained in waiver wire deal from the Detroit Tigers for Delmon Young).
2. It seems as if the two major stars of the Twins, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are always injured. How have their constant injuries taken a toll on the team, especially considering the pricey contracts they have?
Recent Twins chatter indicates that Joe Mauer is as healthy as he has been since 2009 after an offseason void of surgeries, and he should bounce back nicely in 2012, even if the Twins move him to 1B every now and then to give his knees a rest. The more troubling injury is the concussion that Justin Morneau sustained in 2010 that not only kept him out of the 2nd half of 2010, but also portions of 2011, and may have been an underlying factor in a couple of his nagging injuries from this past year, especially after his concussion symptoms flared up after Morneau made a dive for a ball at first base late last summer. Defensively the Twins have several players that could fill in at first if Morneau is unable to go, but none of them have even remotely comparable skills as hitters. Moving Mauer to 1B to compensate opens up a similar hole behind the plate, and the Twins are unlikely to move Mauer unless he sustains another injury of his own.
Definitely a lot of 2012 rides on the shoulders of the M & M boys, because if they’re not healthy, then the team will lose not only two of its best hitters, but also two of their most veteran players.
3. This offseason, the Twins lost two important components to their offense – Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer, though they were able to re-sign closer Matt Capps. They also signed Josh Willingham to make up for some of the lost production. How do you feel about the Twins’ offseason to this point? Has the front office done an adequate job to prepare for 2012?
In addition to Kubel and Cuddyer, the Twins will also be without the services of the most prolific closer in franchise history, Joe Nathan. Matt Capps can hopefully bounce back and perform at 2010 levels, but he certainly has an uphill battle if he hopes to replace Nathan, both on the mound and in the clubhouse.
Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit will both help Minnesota replace Kubel and Cuddyer, and between the two of them they can provide some of the power and extra base hitting lost to free agency. The Twins will likely start the 2012 season with Ben Revere in left field, Denard Span in center, Josh Willingham in Right Field and Doumit will most likely replace Kubel as the DH. Willingham will have to acclimate a switch from left field, but Cuddyer was never a great fielder, so as long as he hits well he will be an adequate fill in. Doumit is certainly not the hitter that Kubel is, but his defensive versatility gives the Twins increased flexibility, which was clearly important to the front office coming off an injury plagued season.
The Twins’ signing of the aging Jamey Carroll to be their everyday short stop speaks as much to their desire to add versatility as it does to their lack of Major League ready middle infield talent in the organization. Carroll is likely miscast as a short stop, but he has played significant injuries there in the past, and has plenty of experience at second and third base as well. If Alexi Casilla ever turns into the player the Twins have been hoping he’d be for the last for years, then they could swap Casilla over to short and put Carroll over at his more natural position, second base.
While Minnesota’s offseason has certainly addressed many of their needs for position players, the Twins’ only real pitching acquisition is Jason Marquis, who comes in to give the Twins stability and eat up innings as a starter. The Twins bullpen is essentially Brian Duensing, Glen Perkins, and Matt Capps, plus Rule 5 draftee Terry Doyle, long man/Emergency starter Anthony Swarzak, and their most recent acquisition, the oft injured, flame throwing, Joel Zumaya.
Given the Twins’ reduced payroll in 2012 ($100 million, down from nearly $115 million a year ago) the front office did a nice job filling the holes of free agency. There are rumors out there that the Twins may still be looking to add another starting pitcher, which would certainly push the Twins over their projected 2012 budget, and leave someone like Nick Blackburn on the outside looking in.
4. Building off of the previous question, what is the general confidence level in the team moving forward?
I think Twins fans are cautiously optimistic heading into 2012. After nearly a decade long run competing for the AL Central crown, last year seems like an anomaly and many fans still think the Twins have an outside chance to contend again in 2012. If the team can stay healthy and catch all the right breaks that is not too far-fetched, but this is basically the same team that lost 99 games a season ago, with the same rotation, the same question marks in the bullpen, and with health concerns for two of their biggest stars.
5. How do you feel about the current state of the Twins’ prospects, and minor-league system? Are there any prospects that you think could have an impact on the 2012 team?
The Twins Minor League cupboard is not bare, but most of their high end talent is still a couple of years away from being ready to put on a Minnesota Twins uniform. Having said that, RHP Liam Hendriks will be waiting in the wings in Rochester and Brian Dozier may very well be the Twins’ short stop of the future, but neither player has spent a full year at Triple-A, and would likely only come up before September because of a serious Twins injury or because the team has fallen completely out of contention. Chris Parmelee is a first basemen that played well in 2011 with the Twins late in the season, but he too could benefit from additional AAA seasoning, and would likely only be called up if Justin Morneau was shut down for the season.
6. Lastly, how do you project the team will do in 2012?
The Detroit Tigers, despite the recent injury to Victor Martinez, are the front runners for the 2012 AL Central crown. After the Tigers, the rest of the AL Central is pretty wide open. The 2011 2nd place Cleveland Indians have a lot of questions to answer after they faded down the stretch a year ago, and they will need Ubaldo Jimenez to return to dominance after gutting their farm system to acquire him. The Kansas City Royals are the darlings of the Central, but they lack quality starting pitching, and are likely a year or two away from competing for a championship in the AL Central. The Chicago White Sox are an interesting team right now, they’ve been both rebuilding and reloading their roster during this off season, and will need a string of good luck in 2012 to finish higher than 4th place in the division. The Twins, with most of their 2011 troubles behind them, are likely to rebound and be a competitive team in 2012. I do not expect the Twins to win any more than 85 games (22 more than they won a year ago), and that leaves them short of the 90ish wins that the Tigers are likely to collect. 85 wins, while not great, is a world away from the 63 wins they had a year ago, and sets them up for a run at the Division Title in 2013 when a couple of their Triple-A pieces could be ready for the show.
We’re going to take a short break from the AL East and preview the reigning AL Central champs, the Detroit Tigers. I had the pleasure of interviewing Lee Panas of Tiger Tales.
Now as you may have heard, Victor Martinez was recently reported to have torn his ACL and will be out for the 2012 season. This interview took place before that came out, so I was unable to ask Lee about the impact of the injury. However, he does have a good piece out about how much the Tigers will be losing without Martinez in the everyday lineup.
Keeping the injury in mind, let’s get started…
1. The Tigers certainly excelled in 2011, reaching the ALCS (after ousting the Yanks, I might add). Could you reflect on why you think they were able to achieve success? In extension, what do you think the team could have done better at, in order to get beyond the ALCS?
The 2011 Tigers were able to win because they had a core of star players which allowed them to overcome a few weak spots. They had one of the highest-scoring teams in the league primarily because of four players – first baseman Miguel Cabrera, catcher Alex Avila, shortstop Jhonny Peralta and designated hitter Victor Martinez. This allowed them to score consistently, despite offensive voids at second base, third base, center field and right field. On the pitching side, they had the best pitcher in the league in Justin Verlander. He allowed them to survive gaping holes in the fourth and fifth spots of the rotation. The acquisition of Doug Fister, who actually pitched better than Verlander down the stretch, was also huge. They relied upon Jose Valverde and Joaquin Benoit to do the bulk of the relief work while trying to fill the back of the pen with youngsters.
Luck also played a factor in their success. They had the good fortune of playing in a division in transition where no other team won more than 80 games. They also won more games than their run differential suggested they should have won. This was the result of a great record in close games. Valverde was partly responsible for that, but good fortune also probably played a role.
I consider the playoffs to be mostly a crap shoot. The Tigers happened to have some key offensive players – Avila, Martinez and Delmon Young – get hurt at the same time, which put them at a disadvantage versus the high-powered Rangers offense in the ALCS. The Tigers also could have benefited from a deeper bullpen.
2. The story of 2011, or at least the end-of-the-year awards, was Justin Verlander. Fans of other teams have an outside look at how terrific a pitcher he is, but from a Tiger fan’s perspective, what does he mean to the organization?
As indicated above, the Tigers 2011 success was largely due to a group of star players. Verlander was obviously one of those players and he can be counted upon to excel again for the next few years. Because the Tigers have an ace in Verlander, they can afford to carry a young developing pitcher in the number five slot as they may do this year. Verlander’s ability to pitch deep into games all season long also helps to save the bullpen for other pitchers. Finally, one of the best things about Verlander is that fans know that the team is likely to get a great performance and probably a win every fifth game.
Miguel Cabrera plays a similar role among position players. They are pretty much guaranteed an outstanding season from him, so it’s not too much of a concern if they have one or two sub-par hitters elsewhere in the line-up.
3. Although they have shown some interest in several starting pitchers, the Tigers have had a relatively quiet offseason. Why do you think that is? Is it that the team doesn’t really have any gaping holes or weaknesses?
The quiet off-season has been a bit surprising, but I don’t think they are done yet. They have been relatively inactive partly because their biggest offensive needs – second baseman, third baseman and lead-off hitter – are not easy things to find this winter. I expect them to be heavily involved in the Yoenis Cespedes sweepstakes. They have scouted him for a long time and I believe owner Mike Illitch is willing to open up his wallet to sign a potentially exciting young player. That doesn’t mean they will get Cespedes, but I believe they will be one of the finalists. If they fail to get him, I think they may get more aggressive in pursuing a trade for a lead-off hitter or third baseman. They have now pretty much settled on a Ramon Santiago / Ryan Raburn platoon at second.
The Tigers have made a couple of smaller moves which should help. The addition of Gerald Laird gives the Tigers a real backup catcher which allows them to rest Avila more often. Hopefully, with fewer games played, Avila will be stronger at the end of 2012 than he was last year. The move also means that Martinez can be a full-time designated hitter which should help keep him healthier. They have also addressed their bullpen depth with the signing of veteran reliever Octavio Dotel.
4. What is the general confidence level in the Tigers going into the 2012 season?
I still want to see the Tigers make more improvements, but I think they are the favorites to win the AL Central even if they stand pat. The Indians should be better and the Royals have an emerging young offense, but I believe the Tigers still have the most talent in the division. An upgrade at third base, a lead-off man or a proven fifth starter would certainly add to a fan’s confidence in the Tigers. One of the biggest factors in every season, of course, is health. An injury to one of their star players especially Verlander would change everything, but that is something you can’t worry about too much until it happens.
5. How do you feel about the current state of the Tigers’ prospects, and minor-league system? Are there any prospects that you think could have an impact on the 2012 team?
In general, the Tigers do not have a lot of prospects who project to be stars in the majors. However, their top prospect Jacob Turner has the potential to eventually be a top of the rotation starter and could make an impact as early as this season. He’ll probably get an opportunity to make the club as the fifth starter coming out of spring training. If he doesn’t make the opening day roster, then we can expect him to get starts later in the season. Other prospects with a shot at the fifth spot include Duane Below, Andy Oliver, Drew Smyly and Adam Wilk.
None of their hitting prospects figure to play much of a role in the Tigers 2012 season. Their most promising position player in the minors is third baseman Nick Castellanos, but he is probably a couple of years away. Other youngsters include outfielders Danry Vasquez and Avisail Garcia, and catchers Rob Brantly and James McCann, all of which need more development time.
6. Lastly, how do you project the team will do in 2012?
It’s too early for my final projection but, at the moment, I project 92 wins and a division title. As I said earlier, I think the playoffs are a crap-shoot generally won by the team which gets hot at the right time. The Cardinals were a perfect example of that last year. Hopefully, it will be the Tigers turn this year.
Over the course of the next month or two, we will be previewing the Yankees’ competition in the American League. To do this, I will interview one blog for each team in the league.
Remaining in the AL East, let’s take a look at the Toronto Blue Jays. I had the pleasure of interviewing Jared Macdonald of Jays Journal.
1. Finishing 4th in the AL East, the Blue Jays actually had a pretty good year this past season, going 81-81. What are your thoughts on how the 2011 season went?
For the Jays, I really divided the season into two parts: before and after the All-Star break. I was content with the progress that the Blue Jays organization made as a whole in 2011, but the second half of the season was far more exciting that the first.
Before the break, they had Kyle Drabek and Jo-Jo Reyes at the back end of their rotation. I was of the mindset that Drabek should not have been rushed to the Majors since I felt that he could have improved in a variety of areas with more minor league seasoning. Instead, he broke camp out of spring training as the Jays’ No. 4 starter and limped to a 5.70 ERA/5.50 FIP in 14 starts, including 52 walks in 72.2 innings for a Major League-high 6.4 BB/9. Reyes didn’t fare much better as the Jays’ No. 5 starter, either, with an 11.5 H/9 and 5.40 ERA/4.63 FIP in 20 starts. Midway into the season, Drabek and Reyes were replaced with Henderson Alvarez and Dustin McGowan, two intriguing pitchers that will be exciting to watch in 2012.
From a position player standpoint, the Jays had lackluster players like Juan Rivera, Corey Patterson, Jayson Nix, and Aaron Hill all log a significant amount of at-bats in the first half of the season. Things got better in the second half, though, as Rivera and Nix were designated for assignment, Patterson was traded to St. Louis in the package that brought back Colby Rasmus, and Hill was traded for Kelly Johnson later in the year. Even though Rasmus didn’t hit with the Jays in 2011, he’ll be exciting to watch next season as a potential core piece going forward. Add the addition of Rasmus to full seasons of Brett Lawrie, Kelly Johnson, and either Travis Snider or Eric Thames, not to mention another season of Jose Bautista, and it’s quite possible that the Jays could be better offensively in 2012.
2. The Blue Jays have added several bullpen pitchers to the mix already, including Darren Oliver, Jason Frasor, and Aaron Laffey. What do you think of the moves the Jays have made so far this offseason to strengthen the ‘pen? Additionally, do you think there are other moves the team could make before Spring Training?
I think that the moves Alex Anthopoulos made to strengthen the bullpen, overall, were fantastic. Acquiring a legitimate closer in Sergio Santos has solidified the position for, hopefully, years to come. Adding Darren Oliver as a setup man adds a much-needed proven southpaw to the bullpen and also brings a veteran presence to a young club. In Jason Frasor, a familiar face returns to the organization and he’ll give you a quality inning anywhere from the fifth to the eighth. More importantly, though, Anthopoulos’ three offseason additions have clearly defined the bullpen roles for next season, which was something that the team sincerely lacked in 2011.
Anthopoulos has said he’d like to add at least one more reliever via trade, but it’s hard not to be impressed that he revamped the back end of the Jays’ bullpen at the expense of just three prospects, with only one of them being close to the Majors or notable at all.
3. The Blue Jays are a talented team with what seems to be a good GM in Alex Anthopolous. However, it seems as if the tough AL East competitors- the Red Sox, Yankees, and the Rays, make it difficult for the Jays to surpass 3rd and 4th place. Any thoughts on the overall unluckiness of being in a division with three other great teams?
Sure, being in the same division as the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays could be considered unlucky, but I view it as a plus, especially from a player development perspective. The Blue Jays are stockpiling so much talent in the minor leagues right now, including some pitchers that will make an impact in 2012, so what better than to test them against some of the best teams in baseball? Given the way that the Jays are headed as an organization under Alex Anthopoulos as well, the fact that they’re in the AL East likely shouldn’t be as much of a factor or emphasis in the future.
4. What is the general confidence level in the Blue Jays going into the 2012 season? Are there any definite strengths or glaring weaknesses that you foresee moving forward?
Overall, I would say that the confidence level in the Blue Jays for next season is high, seeing as the club did not lose anyone of value but successfully overhauled the bullpen and added talent or upgraded at at least three defensive positions. The one potential weakness, however, that prevents the confidence level in some fans from being higher is the starting rotation. Ricky Romero will lead the charge again and Brandon Morrow is primed for a breakout season with the introduction of a cutter to his repertoire, but there are question marks behind those two. The Jays do need to give innings to Brett Cecil, Alvarez, and McGowan right now in order to assess exactly what they have in them, but acquiring a top starting pitcher wouldn’t hurt, either.
5. How do you feel about the current state of the Jays’ prospects, and minor-league system? Are there any prospects that you think could have an impact on the 2012 team?
In a nutshell, it’s hard to imagine the Blue Jays’ minor league system being any better than it already is. Everyone has a tendency to hype their own prospects , but the group of players that the Jays have in their system is easily top 10 in the Majors, if not top five. I remember talking to one of the Jays’ Major League scouts in August who said that the talent level of the Jays’ system is “downright silly”, and that their system is full of talented, under-the-radar types that don’t get mainstream attention as well.
There will be a couple of prospects that could have an impact for the Jays in 2012, and the first one that comes to mind is 21-year-old right-handed pitcher Drew Hutchison, who pitched at three minor league levels in 2011 and had a 42-inning streak in high-A without surrendering an earned run. He has tremendous command of his fastball and is on the cusp of being MLB-ready after the significant progress that he made this past season. Other names that could make an appearance with the Jays are Travis d’Arnaud, Anthony Gose, and Adeiny Hechavarria.
6. Lastly, how do you project the team will do in 2012?
Tying in to what I mentioned in the fourth question, the fact the Jays upgraded their bullpen and at other positions around the diamond without losing anyone valuable implies that they’ll be a better team next year. Starting pitching remains somewhat of a question mark, but it’s unlikely that their rotation will have as bad of a first half in 2012 as they did in 2011. I think that the Jays will certainly be competitive next season, say, in the neighborhood of 85-87 wins and perhaps even challenge for a playoff spot if everything goes right. That being said, though, it’s not all about wins and losses in 2012. Things will become clearer as an organization in terms of what exactly the Jays have at the big league level, and the slew of prospects in the minors will inch closer to the big leagues. As a Jays fan, it makes me excited for the upcoming season, but also next year’s offseason and what’s to come in 2013.
We now move all the way down the East Coast to the Tampa Bay Rays. I had the pleasure of interviewing Devon Rogers of Rays Colored Glasses.
Let’s get started…
1. The Rays had an excellent 2011 season, including a 91-71 record, and making the playoffs. What do you think was their greatest asset that helped them achieve success? Conversely, what do you think the Rays could have done a better job at, in order to go farther into the playoffs?
Their greatest asset was by far the starting rotation. The Rays had five, and sometimes six, starters capable of going deep into games last season. The starters kept the Rays in many games the Rays had no business winning. The Rays could’ve done a better job with timely hitting. The offense as a whole struggled last season, but they did have their good games. The problem was getting hits with runners in scoring position in close games. Had the Rays got timely hits, they could have won a few more games and most likely would’ve made it deep into the playoffs.
2. The highlight of the Rays’ offseason, at least to this point, has been the extension of lefty-starter Matt Moore, who we saw pitch Game 1 of the ALDS. The Rays now have one of the best rotations in baseball, with Shields, Price, Hellickson, Moore, and Niemann/Davis. Do you think it is a better idea to leave the rotation be – or, do you think the Rays should trade one of them for some offense?
I would like to see the Rays trade either Jeff Niemann or Wade Davis, or both. I think Alex Cobb is a better option at the fifth spot than either of those two, so I think the Rays should try to find a way to get rid of them. They need help at first and they could use one of the two as a cornerstone piece in a trade for a good first baseman. If they don’t trade one or both, the Rays will find themselves in the situation of having three good starters for one spot while still having holes in the offense.
3. What is the general confidence level in the Rays going into the 2012 season? Do you think the strong pitching staff is enough to balance out the lesser offense?
The general confidence level is very high. Many feel this could be the year the Rays make a strong push for the World Series. Buster Olney recently ranked the Rays as the best team in his New Year’s power rankings, saying that their rotation is good enough to carry the team if the offense stays the way it is now. I tend to agree with him since the Rays have the rotation to go deep into most games and have a good back end of the bullpen to shut down close games. If the offense can score a couple runs, that should be enough in most games for the pitching staff. If the Rays do get one or two more power bats the Rays have a very good chance of winning the World Series with their rotation.
The current state of the Rays farm system is pretty good, as it always is. The biggest prospects are Single-A and Double-A players, like Hak-Ju Lee and Chris Archer, so not much in the way of impact in 2012. Matt Moore and Desmond Jennings should have huge impacts on the team as recently called-up prospects, but beyond them I don’t see much of an impact from the minor league system. You may see guys like Brandon Guyer or Alex Torres as fill-ins in case of injury, but that is about it.
5. Lastly, how do you project the team will do in 2012?
I project the team as a 95-100 win team in 2012 with a deep run into the post season. I could easily see them winning the division, but it is hard to predict how the AL East will play out since there are four teams that have a chance to win. If the Rays add another bat or two, which I am guessing they will, the Rays will be a very good team in 2012 and will contend for a championship.
What better team to start off with than the Boston Red Sox? I had the pleasure of interviewing Derek Stykalo of BoSox Injection.
Let’s get started….
1. The Red Sox didn’t exactly end the season the way they would have liked, falling out of contention for the playoffs. What are your thoughts about the “meltdown”?
Despite the final night of the 2011 regular season being one of the greatest night’s for baseball, it was also gut wrenching that brought on days of misery for myself and all Red Sox fans. To spend six months loyally following your club and to have them shut down and basically quit playing for Terry Francona for the last month was downright despicable. It was frustrating, maddening and tragic all at the same time and when Joe Girardi decided to rest his regulars on the final day against Tampa Bay, well that was like rubbing salt in the wound. They say time heal’s all wounds, we’ll see about that. The 2011 collapse will come up and linger over this team all season long until they make the postseason again.
2. With Terry Francona and Theo Epstein gone, the Red Sox went out and brought in Bobby Valentine and Ben Cherington. How do you think this new regime might bring a new dynamic to the Red Sox organization?
I think the new regime was needed. It was no secret that Epstein was gone after this season anyway thanks to his riff with Larry Lucchino. It’s went from bad to ugly between the two and Theo couldn’t wait to leave. Cherington is a nice replacement, although no one is really sure who is making the decisions, with Cherington being a puppet for the three headed monster. None the less, he’s taken the conservative approach this offseason and has made some nice additions in Melancon and Bailey. It’s been a difficult adjustment to not have the team go out and bring in the top free agents, but that’s life with the luxury tax threshold.
Bobby V will be the more scrutinized move once the season gets going. I personally wanted Bobby V to be named the new manager after Mike Maddux withdrew his name. Bobby V is a no BS type of manager and that is what this club needs. They have too many primadonna’s and egos and last year’s epic collapse just won’t be accepted. As I said, changes were needed and whether Bobby V is a bridge until John Farrell is finished with his contract in Toronto, he’s going to demand a better work ethic from his players. He tends to get the best out of his players and if they don’t respond, they won’t play. He’s a little old school which is needed, but at the same time he’s adjusted to the new era of baseball with the whole sabermetrics etc.
3. Ex-Red Sox Jonathan Papelbon signed with the Phillies early in the offseason. Ben Cherington then went out and acquired former-Yank Mark Melancon from the Astros, and Andrew Bailey from the Athletics. Do you and other Red Sox fans believe that (a) these were fair trades from a Boston perspective, and (b) that Bailey and Melancon will be able to provide a similar level of late-inning assurance that Papelbon did?
I think these trades were excellent for the Red Sox, in fact I did a piece on whether or not the Red Sox stole Bailey from Oakland. They receive a closer who’s successfully closed 75 games through his first three seasons and that’s for a less than stellar Oakland club. His ERA spiked last year which is a concern as is his drop in velocity on his fastball, by more than 1mph. His cutter was also inconsistent, but he did have a stint on the DL early on last season. But he’s young, under team control for a few more years and if he can regain his control, he’s going to do great things in Boston. Giving up Josh Reddick was a loss, but he showed late last season he needs more plate discipline, often swinging at pitches outside the strike zone. But the Red Sox got Ryan Sweeney in return which will help from a defensive standpoint. The Sox did give up prospects Miles Head and Raul Alcantara, but both are many years away from being major league ready. Cherington did well on this one and he satisfied the fan’s burning desire for a closer.
The Melancon deal was another nice trade for Boston. While we parted ways with Jed Lowrie, we get a great set up man who can also close should Bailey struggle or go down with injury. Lowrie has a ton of potential, but his inability to stay healthy is a concern and was reason enough to part ways with him. The club picked up Marco Scutaro’s option for this year and Jose Iglesias could become the fulltime shortstop next year, so Lowrie suddenly became expendable. Kyle Weiland is another young arm that needs some seasoning, but could become a valuable piece out of the bullpen or as a starter. None the less, it was a good deal for Boston as they solidified their pen and now have options with Daniel Bard who wants to start.
4. It’s been going around that the Red Sox may try to use Daniel Bard as a starter in 2012. Do you think he is the kind of pitcher who is able to handle the switch from the bullpen to the rotation?
Yes, I believe he has what it takes to start. He has developed a nice changeup to go with his fiery fastball and is still working on his slider. It has been his desire to become a starter and when Papelbon left, if Bard wanted the closer role he would have stepped up and asked for it. Rather he asked to be a starter so the organization has no choice but to give him a shot. I think he’ll stick as the number four maybe five guy. C.J Wilson did it in Texas and look at the promising career he has in front of him. With a new training staff in Boston along with a new pitching coach, they’ll be sure to monitor Bard’s arm and be weary to not wear him out. He’ll likely be on a pitch count as we’ve seen this become the norm with young arms, just like the Yankees did with Joba a couple years ago.
5. How do you feel about the current state of the Red Sox prospects, and minor-league system? Are there any prospects that you think could have an impact on the 2012 team?
I feel the Red Sox did a nice job of making a couple deals without touching their top 10 prospect list. Guys like Will Middlebrooks, Ryan Lavarnway, Jose Iglesias are very close to being ready and Cherington couldn’t afford to strip the farm any further than what Epstein did over the last couple of years. It’s still thin, don’t get me wrong, but there are a couple guys who could see action with the big club throughout the season. Ryan Kalish is likely to remain with the big club once he returns in late May, early June. Lavarnway could challenge for the backup job providing he has a solid spring training which would make the newly acquired Kelly Shoppach expendable. Iglesias needs to improve at the plate and if he can do that by August, he could find himself as a September callup. Middlebrooks is the one to watch however. With Kevin Youkilis breaking down, Middlebrooks has been pegged as the third baseman of the future. Coming off injury, Middlebrooks will be under much scrutiny and if he can’t produce, he could be used as leverage in a trade while he still has some value.
6. Finally, how do you project the team will do in 2012?
This is a tough question simply because Cherington could add another starter before spring training. If he does and it’s a guy like Roy Oswalt who, if he stays healthy, could be a great number four guy and add a veteran presence to the locker room and the top three in Lester, Beckett and Buchholz can regain their dominating form, I think the Red Sox could push the Yankees for the division. This of course is dependent upon whether the Yankees bolster their rotation and whether Phil Hughes can regain his form. So lots of of “what if’s.” This Red Sox offense isnt’ a whole lot different than last year so scoring runs shouldn’t be a problem. The new look bullpen will be tested, but the biggest concern is the starting pitching. If the front three can stay healthy and in shape (shot at Beckett) then I honestly feel the postseason is a viable expectation. Of course if the ego’s remain and don’t want to buy into Bobby V then it’ll be another third place finish in the division, maybe even fourth. But for this article’s sake, I project the Red Sox with 94 wins and making the playoffs via the Wild Card.