Striking Distance.

Pirates have chance to gain ground in division.

By Steve Samek

 The Pittsburgh Pirates have started out strong in the first two games of a four-game set in Milwaukee. The Pirates have outscored the Brewer’s 15-four in what I think could be a pivotal point toward the rest of the season. The Pirates it just four games out of first place and a half game back from second in the NL Central. Even taking just one of the next two keeps them at four games back from first place in the division. Plus depending on what the Cubs do against San Diego, a move up to second place is possible. http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/standings/index.jsp.

 

This would then lead them into a series against St. Louis, a team they are currently tied with in the standings. Having momentum from a big series in Milwaukee, should help the Pirates do well against the Cardinals and add separation between the two for at least third place in the division. https://www.mlb.com/pirates/schedule/2017-06

 

Then the Pirates end June and enter July with series against the Rays and Giants. The Rays being similar to the Brewers in record can be hung with, more so being at home where the Bucs have a winning mark at 19-18. The Giants then come into town with one of the worst records in baseball and provide another chance to gain ground by beating them. The schedule keeps staying easy with the Phillies and Cubs rounding out the pre-all-star game slate. The Pirates realistically could go 11-6, or 12-5 during this stretch. This puts them at 44-44, or 45 – 43. This would then give them strong momentum going into the All-Star game, before seeing the Cardinals and Brewers immediately after the break.

Having the separation from before the all-star break would help a lot. Then With more games scheduled against the Giants and Padres, now could be the start of the big month that plays into a playoff spot. https://www.mlb.com/pirates/schedule/2017-07.

The Pirates are currently on a 7-3 run in the last 10 games. This includes a pair of wins against the Marlins after losing two games to the them. A two-one series win against NL West leading Colorado, a win over the Cubs and the two in Milwaukee. https://www.mlb.com/pirates/schedule/2017-06. Showing a sample of how teams better than the Pirates can be beaten.

The offense is picking up for Pittsburgh. Jordy Mercer has a 10-game hitting streak going. He is hitting .389 with a homer and five extra base hits during the streak. https://www.rotoballer.com/player-news/jordy-mercer-triples-to-extend-10-game-hit-streak/394648.  He hit his third triple of the year last night as part of a 2-4 effort. http://piratesbreakdown.com/2017/06/20/takeaways-throwaways-big-first-inning-carries-pirates-7-3-win-brewers/.

Andrew McCutchen is also hitting better in the sixth spot in the order. McCutchen went 3-3 last night with a home run, walk and three rbi. http://piratesbreakdown.com/2017/06/20/takeaways-throwaways-big-first-inning-carries-pirates-7-3-win-brewers/. This is part of a resurgence in which McCutchen is hitting .406 with six homers and 19 rbi in June. http://pit.247sports.com/Bolt/Andrew-McCutchen-hot-bat-has-ignited-surging-Pirates-53263897.

Jose Osuna, Josh Bell and Elias Diaz are developing well in the bigs, and break out second halves could be just what this team needs. Josh Harrison is also contributing with regularity. http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/h/harrijo05.shtml?utm_campaign=Linker&utm_source=direct&utm_medium=linker-piratesbreakdown.com

The Pitching is still a work in progress, but with Jamison Taillon back and Ivan Nova and Gerrit Cole pitching consistently this team has a chance.

Starling Marte is also due back in Mid -July. Having his glove and bat in the lineup is a major plus. http://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2017/04/21/pirates-react-starling-marte-suspension/. http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/m/martest01.shtml. This addition would put some confidence back into the outfield and combined with McCutchen and crew could keep the Pirates around in a weaker NL Central.

 

 

 

LA Lights Up

Rookie displays big power.

By Steve Samek

The American League and National League always seem to go head to head over which league is superior. This season is no exception. Taking the American League by storm is Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge. http://bit.ly/2rfv7tY

To counter punch for the national league it’s the LA Dodgers Cody Bellinger. Bellinger is bringing the power knocking 21 homers after a two-homer night on Monday. http://www.espn.com/blog/sweetspot/post/_/id/80520/real-or-not-cody-bellinger-makes-all-star-push-jose-ramirez-an-all-star-lock

 This continues a string of nine home runs in nine games.  Hes played in just 51 games this season after his April 25 call up.http://www.espn.com/blog/sweetspot/post/_/id/80520/real-or-not-cody-bellinger-makes-all-star-push-jose-ramirez-an-all-star-lock. Bellinger is the fourth player to mash 20 home runs pre-all-star break being younger than 21. The last person to do so was Miguel Cabrera in 2004. http://www.espn.com/blog/sweetspot/post/_/id/80520/real-or-not-cody-bellinger-makes-all-star-push-jose-ramirez-an-all-star-lock.

Bellinger is hitting .269 with 10 doubles and 47 rbi this season. http://m.dodgers.mlb.com/player/641355/cody-bellinger. The 21 home runs are tied for second in the majors behind only Judge and his 23 dingers. Though while Judge is doing well in the all-star balloting, Bellinger is not. He hasn’t ever cracked the top 15 in outfielders. http://www.baseballamerica.com/majors/2017-nl-all-star-game-voting/#mK2WsI8ikytlkRbg.97. In fact, in the ESPN article it looks like it would take quite a bit of work to get the man into the all-star game. http://www.espn.com/blog/sweetspot/post/_/id/80520/real-or-not-cody-bellinger-makes-all-star-push-jose-ramirez-an-all-star-lock.

While this would be a shame, I think it is going to happen and Mr. Bellinger will be staying home. Though I feel like the snub will only motivate the kid to do bigger and better things. Like win a rookie of the year award. He has a very early edge if nothing else.

Bellinger is another home-grown product. In 2016, he hit 26 homers in the upper two level of the minors while hitting .271. When he was called up this season he was hitting .343 with five homers and 15 rbi in 18 games for the Oklahoma City Dodgers. http://m.dodgers.mlb.com/player/641355/cody-bellinger?year=2017&stats=career-r-hitting-minors. He was a Double-A all-star for Tulsa and played in the AFL, where he was all-prospect team and an AFL rising star. He also owns two Dodger’s organization all-star nods.

Bellinger won last month’s rookie of the month award on the National League side. He also won the player of the week honor for the week of May 7th,2017. http://m.dodgers.mlb.com/player/641355/cody-bellinger?year=2017&stats=career-r-hitting-minors.

While Bellinger has caught a lot of national attention like Judge has. Bellinger may serve as a symbol of the new culture of baseball. https://www.sbnation.com/mlb/2017/6/20/15840078/cody-bellinger-homers-dingers-taters-salamis-bombs-bonkos-torts-cramalams-the-ol-aerial-tortoise

 The idea of drilling the ball hard, his average exit velocity is almost 93 mph, or failing he has 65 strikeouts proves this. http://m.dodgers.mlb.com/player/641355/cody-bellinger?year=2017&stats=career-r-hitting-mlb.

This is very true with all the advanced metrics of the game and obsession with pitchers that hit triple digits on the gun. Not a bad thing, as who doesn’t love seeing the ball go sailing 500 feet out for easy runs. Who doesn’t love to see dominant pitchers rack up strikeout numbers in the teens. It’s an evolution of the game. If seeing players like Judge and Bellinger come around by the hundreds over the years that would be great. It gets media attention and fans in the stands. I embrace Bellinger and wish him the best of luck this year, Judge too.

As for which is better, time will tell. It’s only been a small sample for Bellinger, and Judge is still less than a full season into his pro career. Open the debate back up in five years for a more fair comparison.

West Virginia Black Bears 2017

By Steve Samek

Tonight, the West Virginia Black Bears begin season number three. The Black Bears had a .500 campaign in 2016 with a 38-38 record. This was after taking the championship in 2015, their first year in the league as the Black Bears.

Taking a look at tonight’s opening roster. The team looks rather pedestrian.  One of the top 30 Pirates prospects have been assigned to the roster. http://m.mlb.com/prospects/2017?list=pit.

Mitch Keller is listed, but it is as a rehab assignment. He belongs with Bradenton.  Michael Suchy is also on a rehab assignment.

The rest seem to be call ups from the Gulf Coast league and Bristol.http://www.milb.com/roster/index.jsp?sid=t5020. No one stands out to even have done anything really worth noting. The closest thing to doing something is Jonathan Schwind. Schwind has seen time at the Double and triple a level. He just hasn’t done much with the bat and isn’t really considered a prospect. This just has to be lineup filler. http://www.milb.com/player/index.jsp?sid=milb&player_id=605462#/career/R/hitting/2017/ALL

Sandy Santos returns to the black and gold after spending last season with them. Santos was with the West Virginia Power, but struggles this season have led to a demotion back to Morgantown. http://www.milb.com/player/index.jsp?sid=t5020&player_id=642353#/career/R/hitting/2017/ALL. Santos tied for second on the team with 34 rbi, while hitting .281, also second best on the team. http://www.milb.com/index.jsp?sid=t5020.

A fast start with the Bears and it won’t surprise me if he gets returned to Charleston. Last season he showed a bit of dominance, but nothing not 30 worthy, yet. https://www.milb.com/milb/news/santos-flashes-potential-for-black-bears/c-185063200/t-185364810.

Though aside from the yawn fest of a line up, the Black Bears have an interesting addition to the coaching staff. Joel Hanrahan is an assistant pitching coach for the team. Hanrahan was a former all-star closer in Pittsburgh with 100 career saves. http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/h/hanrajo01.shtml. This gives that big league feel and experience to the young pitchers and should serve them well.

I will say though even with a lack of pedigree in the lineup I can see moves being made to improve this roster. Shane Baz, the first-round pick that recently signed with the Bucs could perhaps make an appreance here. Though the most likely spot for him would be the GCL. Recent draftees from the college ranks maybe sent here as well after signing. http://bit.ly/2s1uhUo.

 

Though it won’t surprise me either if top 30 ranked pitchers in Braeden Ogle, Travis MacGregor and Max Kranick see time in West Virginia after short, or successful stints in the GCL. http://m.mlb.com/prospects/2017?list=pit.

Plus, with no expectations comes the high possibility of a sleeper prospect emerging.  First pitch for the season is at 7:05 p.m.  against Mahoning Valley.

2017 MLB Draft round 1.

By Steve Samek

2017 MLB draft day one is in the books. The Pittsburgh Pirates had four selections from the initial 72. Starting with pick number 12. With the selection, the Pirates took right handed pitcher Shane Baz.

 Baz a high school pitcher from Texas. He came into the draft ranked as the fifth best right hander and 11th best overall prospect. http://www.baseballamerica.com/draft/2017-mlb-draft-position-rankings-righthanders/#dHcQ26fiFrvmZ2MG.97. Putting him at about where he was projected to be drafted.

Baz is a pretty hard thrower. His fastball hits 92-96 and has touched 98. Complementing that is a curveball, changeup and cutter. http://m.pirates.mlb.com/news/article/235982456/pirates-draft-prep-pitcher-shane-baz-at-no-12/.

Though it may be difficult to sign Baz and take him from his commitment at TCU. Though should Baz sign it will boost a strong, yet depleting pool of arms at the minor league level. This can help the system with the loss of Glasnow as a prospect, despite his struggles and Jameson Taillon.  Taillon was the last high school pitcher taken by the Pirates in the first round when he went number two overall in 2010.  Though a recent trend isn’t helping the chances to sign Baz. Last year Nick Lodolo picked TCU over the Pirates. Should be an interesting follow to see if Baz will sign. The Slot value for the pick is over four million dollars and would take up a large amount of the Pirates over 10 million in bonus money. http://m.pirates.mlb.com/news/article/235982456/pirates-draft-prep-pitcher-shane-baz-at-no-12/.

Reports are coming in that Baz may officially sign on Thursday. http://www.piratesprospects.com/2017/06/pirates-first-round-pick-shane-baz-reportedly-agrees-to-sign.html.

 

With the 42 pick Steve Jennings, another right hander joins in. Jennings can throw 95 mph heat and was a two-sport athlete.  Though not as hard of a thrower as Baz, with a fastball siting in the 89-92 range. Jennings is a Mississippi commit if he doesn’t sigh. http://m.pirates.mlb.com/news/article/235982994/pirates-take-rhp-steven-jennings-in-mlb-draft/

 

To me this is a nice arm to add to the lineup. The speed can be upped in the minors, or is serviceable as is. A curveball, slider and changeup compliment the fastball. Jennings should be sigh able.  Though he may have been a slight reach of a pick, as he was projected as the 49th best prospect in the draft. http://www.baseballamerica.com/draft-preview/.

Eight picks later and Calvin Mitchell was next to hear his name called by Pittsburgh. Mitchell was prospect number 79 by MLBpipeline.com and 74 by Baseball America. http://www.baseballamerica.com/draft-preview/. Making this selection at number 50 a bit of a reach. The high school outfielder hit .369 with 11 home runs and 34 rbi this season. Mitchell has an offer in place from the University of San Diego. For about a million and a half in bonus money from the slot pool Mitchell can join the Pirates. Potential yes, at this price, no. Though it would add to a system lacking a good, as in top 30 organization true outfield prospect and knock some weaker top 30 guys off the list. http://m.mlb.com/prospects/2017?list=pit

With their final selection of day one, number 72 overall the pick was another high school outfielder. This one in the form of Connor Uselton from Southmoore high school in Oklahoma. Interesting discrepancy in draft positions for this kid. MLBpipeline.com had him ranked 46th, Baseball America had him 89th. http://www.baseballamerica.com/draft-preview/

Though the kid adds another multisport athlete to the Pirates system. Though he is also 19 years old and a bit older than most high school players. A maturity that may help with the day to day grind of the minors and professional life. For just around 800,00 he can be placed in the Pirates system. I like this pick. If he can play like the mid second round projection of MLBpipline.com the Pirates have a steal. Though the upside is there even if it’s closer to the 89th ranked pick, which would come as a small loss. http://m.pirates.mlb.com/news/article/235983718/pirates-take-of-conner-uselton-no-72-in-draft/.

I like the stocking up on younger players. With a strong core in place and many fast-moving prospects in the minors, a lot of draftees don’t have to be MB ready now. Giving the high school player time to develop without the pressure of now or never is a plus. Though I’m still waiting on a stud lefty to complement the big-league rotation. Its’s one of the systems lacking pieces, even with three left handers in the top 20 organization prospects. None of them have the real dominance top of the rotation wow factor. http://m.mlb.com/prospects/2017?list=pit

 

 

 

 

 

 

His Honor

Yankees rookie is on many radars.

By Steve Samek.

The New York Yankees a team of money. Known to flash the cash at whatever free agent can come their way. Yet what if I told you the Yanks did it the old-fashion way and have a home-grown talent dominating the game today.

The domination comes in the form of rookie outfielder Aaron Judge. Judge is hitting at a .344 clip with 21 home runs and 47 RBI. All of those are top marks in the American League.  The 21 homers are a league-wide best. Throw in additional top marks for runs scored, walks, total bases and the dominance is real. http://m.yankees.mlb.com/news/article/235942730/aaron-judge-is-named-al-player-of-the-week/.

Judge is coming off a week where he hit .500. Got on base at a .600 while slugging 1.00. The Yanks won five of the six contests and led the American League East.  The impressive week gave Judge the nod as player of the week for the first time in his career.

http://m.yankees.mlb.com/news/article/235942730/aaron-judge-is-named-al-player-of-the-week/

This comes on the heels of Judge being named AL rookie of the month for both April and May. http://m.mlb.com/awards/history-winners/?award_id=ALROM&year=2017

If that doesn’t get your attention his power should. On Sunday June 11,2017 Judge hit 495 feet, clearing the left field bleachers at Yankee Stadium. It was the second longest tracked home run ever, sense 2015 and the longest homer in the majors this year. http://m.yankees.mlb.com/news/article/235942730/aaron-judge-is-named-al-player-of-the-week/.

 The power looks to be real too. By homering 21 times to date, Judge has already amassed a career high in homers. Judge hit 56 homers in the minor leagues, with 39 of them coming in the past two seasons. 27 of those round trippers came at the triple a level. http://m.mlb.com/player/592450/aaron-judge?year=2017&stats=career-r-hitting-minors. Think twice pitchers before throwing the high heat.

Judge was a great player in the minors. Three times he was selected as an Milb.com Yankees organization all-star. In 2014, he received an invitation to play for Scottsdale of the Arizona Fall League for advanced prospects. Judge made the AFL all-prospect team for his play with Scottsdale, while also being an AFL player of the week award. Then in 2015 Judge was selected for the Futures game as a member of the Scranton/WB Railriders. http://m.mlb.com/player/592450/aaron-judge?year=2017&stats=career-r-hitting-minors. The first call to the majors came on August 13,2016 when the Yankees selected his contract.

Judge suited up in 27 games during that final month of 2016. He hit .179, but had 4 home runs and 10 rbi. Though an oblique strain sent him to the 15-day DL. http://m.mlb.com/player/592450/aaron-judge?year=2017&stats=career-r-hitting-mlb. Now the injury looks to be behind him and the numbers are improving.

Judge’s stellar season has gained the attention of fans league wide. Judge has the led in the All-star game vote for the American league outfield. His over a million and 250 thousand and 500 votes is the top mark in the American league for any position. http://www.baseballamerica.com/majors/american-league-star-game-voting-a/#5ysDggDukcAhpHQC.97. To capitalize on this success Judge has earned his own cheering section. The section has been dubbed the Judge’s chambers and sits in right field. Fans wear judges robs and receive foam gavels that say “All Rise.” https://www.si.com/mlb/2017/05/22/yankees-aaron-judge-chambers-cheering-section-photos.  True intimidation factor for opposing right fielders. Judge approves of the section too. http://www.nj.com/yankees/index.ssf/2017/05/what_yankees_aaron_judge_thinks_of_the_judges_cham.html

 

Can’t wait to see this guy in the all-star game. Should he win the triple crown, Judge can easily put a stamp on Rookie of the Year as well. No jury deliberation needed on that one.

 

Logo Mania 2017

By Steve Samek

The chase for supremacy once again hits minor league baseball. This time in the form of Logomania 2017. A contest of 36 teams and four rounds naming one champ the best logo in minor league baseball. Here is how I voted in the first round of the contest and my thoughts on the included teams.
Pool A
Biloxi
Montgomery
Carolina
Beloit
Buffalo
Charleston
This pool features three good logos fighting for two spots in the next round. The Carolina Mudcats is a classic goofy logo that is much loved. The Biloxi Shuckers have made some waves sense rebranding from the Huntsville Stars. Either of these fine aquatic themes offering should end up advancing to the second round as pool A’s runner up. Beloit has a slightly better than average logo, but it’s in a strong pool and should not advance. So many negative points to whoever though to include the likes of the Charleston River dogs and Buffalo Bison in this tournament. They are so boring and uncreative that they don’t deserve a shot at the best logo title. The easy winner here is Montgomery. The Biscuits are the original food themed logo. Take that Lehigh Valley and Fresno. http://bit.ly/2njLZ0M. They will make you laugh and take the title belt with it. Vote Montgomery.

Pool B
Clearwater
Corpus Christi
El Paso
Eugene
Hillsboro
Las Vegas
This is the strong, but not strong enough bracket. With the likes of Threshers, Hooks, Chihuahua’s, Hops, Emeralds and 51’s in the house. Each with great local flare, but not really well known nationally. Except maybe the infamous little doggies. https://hammerdownsportsblog.wordpress.com/2016/09/26/el-paso-embraces-the-chihuahuas/ I vote for the aliens to back up the pups in this one. Vote El Paso
Pool C
Ashville
Binghamton
Chattanooga
Durham
Frisco
Jacksonville
Quirky meets classic in this bracket. Mr. Moon of Ashville graces a glow in the dark cap that does look really cool. A horse meets Rocky in another option. Famous Bulls put the classic in this grouping. Combined with a new rebrand effort, a weird look and a United States President and you have a pool C where anything can happen. Two of these names I talked about here and I agree with my thoughts today as I did before. http://bit.ly/2mBxu8e. Frisco owns the president on the cap and Teddy Roosevelt does hit hard in this competition. My vote goes to the RoughRiders over the most likely picked Jumbo Shrimp. Vote Frisco
Pool D
Stockton
Tennessee
Albuquerque
Salt Lake
Tacoma
Akron
A very underwhelming selection of teams. A standard script R logo yawn. A bee, a bear, an anchor, try no. An Isotope and the RubberDucks should be the picks to move on. I vote for the one mentioned on a long running cartoon. Vote Albuquerque.
Pool E
Rochester
Syracuse
Vermont
Modesto
Ogden
Richmond
A bracket that looks underwhelming at first. The Red Wings and Chiefs are a weak start to this bracket. The next four redeem this bracket. Nuts, Raptors, Lake Monsters and Flying Squirrels make this a tough pick. Lake Monsters advance as does Richmond. My vote goes to the super hero Squirrel. Vote Richmond
Pool F
Harford
Norfolk
Reno
Lansing
New Orleans
Portland.
Save the best for last as the saying goes. This bracket will see two strong players come out of it. Lansing, Portland and Reno could be sleeper picks to advance and surprise people. Hartford and Norfolk also look impressive, yet retain a certain comedy to them. As for New Orleans please do yourself a favor and not rebrand to something stupid. http://bit.ly/2mBxu8e. Read more there. Voting here for a tasteful rebrand. Vote Norfolk.
You can vote in the contest to crown a champion here. http://www.baseballamerica.com/2017-logomania/

 

Crossing The Line.

Promotions that may have been too edgy.

By Steve Samek

Minor League baseball embraces the crazy and unique to make for the perfect promotion. Though what if a promotion goes too far.
Enter the Ogden Raptors and their Hourglass appreciation night. http://www.baseballamerica.com/business/ogden-raptors-announce-quickly-remove-hourglass-appreciation-night-a/#LUOVb6EismcMMCm5.97
Yes, the promotion honored women’s bodies of the curvy variety. The promotion was to include models, 18 of them to be exact each calling a half inning of baseball in the booth. Fans can then take pictures with the beauties.
Sounds harmless, while being so offensive at the same time. You are promoting looks first and all the unhealthy things that women do to match the ideal body shape. Plus, it doesn’t seem like it has anything to do with baseball. I mean baseball doesn’t have a clock, or hour glass like in most other sports, but the connection to honoring that and an hourglass is weak at best.
Not helping the fact is that A.P Harreld a broadcaster for the Raptors has connections with the modeling agency in question.
The promotion was canceled and was never an official thing to begin with. Fans knew about it through social media and internet means, and have been voicing disapproval for the promotion. An apology has been given by the team. http://www.baseballamerica.com/business/ogden-raptors-announce-quickly-remove-hourglass-appreciation-night-a/#LUOVb6EismcMMCm5.97.
Though if you did have models at the ballpark, what’s not to say attendance wouldn’t rise. It’s the idea behind many a cheerleader, or dance team. They entertain and look good doing it.
Also brought up in the article was another failed promotion idea in White Heritage Night by the Orem Owlz.
Orem’s promotion was to celebrate the good and wholesome aspects of American living. A leave it to Beaver feel of the past. Fans didn’t take too well to that idea either. Mostly poking fun at how every day is a white appreciation day. Two days later was the church shooting in South Carolina. One that may have had racial motives. The promotion was canceled.
I think this promotion was more of a spoof than anything else. It made sense with the rest of the heritage night promotions out there to include whites. Though it does raise a lot of eyes for possible connections to white supremacy. That’s a no go. http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/20/us/caucasian-heritage-night/index.html
Sports should be a uniting factor. Even if your bitter rivals are to be hated, there is a line that doesn’t need to be crossed. These promotions may have crossed it.