Karma’s Out to Get You, Kris Bryant

Kris Bryant

Dear Kris Bryant,

Congratulations on becoming the top-ranked player in Minor League Baseball! I’m sure this is a very exciting time for you as you try to prove to your Major League affiliate that you are the perfect for for their long-term plans!

Over the course of your minor league career you have shown major growth, development, and SO MUCH POWER, proving that you are worthy of this #1 ranking, and what should be an everyday job in the Majors right out of Spring Training. Heck, with all the young talent in Chicago – coupled with the moves that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer made this winter – your skills could translate to a playoff appearance for the Cubbies if everything falls into place.

Pushing Chicago back into the playoffs – and potentially the World Series – would surely land a Rookie of the Year award on your mantle. We know this is obviously a part of your larger goals and we hope you obtain all the success in the world, but we have a warning for you, Mr. #1 Prospect in Baseball:

Watch. Your. Back.

This warning does not come lightly or without just cause.

You see, Mr. Bryant. There is some type of karma that has it out for the guy who is handed the title of the best prospect in baseball. Something doesn’t want to see them succeed; and whatever it is that is bringing the hammer down on these prospects, frankly, scares the hell out of me.

buxton001Let’s take a look at Byron Buxton, center fielder for the Minnesota Twins organization, and last year’s consensus #1 prospect in the game, according to Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, ESPN.com and MLB.com. Buxton is a solid five-tool player who manufactured a blistering .944 OPS in 2013, he was well on his way to making an impact for a very bad Twins team which has posted 90-loss seasons in four consecutive years.

Buxton was supposed to be the savior for the franchise. You don’t often come across a player who is a legitimate plus prospect in all five tools: hitting, fielding, running, throwing, and power. He and Miguel Sano were going to make an impact and reignite a once legitimate powerhouse in the American League Central.

…and then the injuries came.  And they didn’t stop.

Throughout the entirety of 2014 Buxton just couldn’t seem to stay healthy. As a result, he naturally produced less-than-stellar numbers, and certainly nowhere near “best prospect in baseball” territory. On the whole he put up a triple slash of .234/.307/.395 in only 30 games of High-A ball, and one partial game at Double-A.

It started out with a spring training wrist injury that cost him three months. After finally returning to the field he was eventually promoted to Double-A, where in his first game there he collided with teammate Mike Kvasnicka, making the hearts of each and every Twins fan skip a beat while watching him get carted off the field in an ambulance. Check out the nasty collision below:

Despite this initial shock and panic, this collision only resulted in a concussion, albeit one that ended Buxton’s already disappointing season in August.

Buxton was eventually cleared to participate in the Arizona Fall League in the hopes of recouping some of the lost playing time, but instead of re-establishing himself, he dislocated the middle finger on his left hand while diving for a ball in the outfield.

Needless to say, Buxton’s stock has fallen quite a bit and rather than hype and big expectations; Buxton, and Twins fans alike, are simply hoping for a healthy year in 2015.

If the proof of the baseball Gods striking down Byron Buxton isn’t enough, Mr. Bryant, then look no further than Buxton’s predecessor as the number one prospect in baseball, Jurickson Profar.

profar001Profar had already shown the Texas Rangers that he was their guy, hitting a home run in his first major league at bat.

He was added to their playoff roster in the 2012 postseason proving how professional he was as a 19-year-old playing on baseball’s biggest stage.

Profar was believed to be the “next big thing” before the 2013 season, he was ranked as the consensus #1 prospect in baseball by Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and the MLB.com. He started out that season at Triple-A Round Rock and demolished minor league pitching to the tune of seven doubles, two triples, four homers, and six stolen bases in only 37 games.

Profar finally got his chance to prove what he could do in an extended look with the Rangers when second baseman Ian Kinsler was put on the disabled list on May 19, with a strained rib muscle. Without a full-time position to play after Kinsler returned, Profar was moved all over the diamond over the final part of the 2013 season. At 20-years-old, he showed flashes of promise during an otherwise unsuccessful campaign, hitting .234/.308/.336.

Despite not tearing the cover off the ball in his brief big league stint, he’d shown enough for the Rangers organization to deal Kinsler, to the Detroit Tigers for slugging first baseman, Prince Fielder. Profar was slated to be the Rangers everyday second baseman coming into the 2014 season.

…and then the injuries came.  And they didn’t stop

Profar first felt pain in his shoulder during Spring Training of 2014. Later an MRI revealed there was a tear, but the only way to get better was with rest and relaxation. Texas shut him down for three months, being very conservative with Profar’s rehab. Unfortunately, shortly after beginning a throwing program in May, he aggravated the shoulder while rolling over in bed, requiring more rest and still no options for surgery. This marked the end of his season.

When Profar tried again for another throwing program in September the shoulder flared up for a third time. The Rangers decided to rest him for another three months, hoping he will be ready for Spring Training 2015. Recent MRIs have shown positive results, and he may have finally put this all behind him. Time will tell, but needless to say, it was a very long year for Mr. Profar.

harper001Then there is the wunderkind, Bryce Harper.

You may remember him as that kid who showed up on the cover of Sports Illustrated when he was just 16-years-old.  He graduated high school early so that he could attend one of the best junior college baseball programs in the nation, College of Southern Nevada, and make himself eligible for the draft as early as humanly possible.

Bryce Harper always had talent, aggression, charisma, and a certain flair for the game. All of that was on full-display during his season with CSN and it only further elevated his already soaring draft stock. He was drafted by the Nationals first overall in 2010, and showed so much promise after his first year of professional baseball that he became the number one prospect in 2011. He was bestowed with that title again in 2012.

Harper was called up to the Nationals in April of 2012 at a mere 19-years-and-195-days-old. He served as a spark-plug and helped propel the team to 98 wins and their first division title since the franchise moved to Washington. Although the Nationals were eliminated in the National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Harper ultimately went on to win the NL Rookie of the Year, proving just how right everybody was about him.

As you can see, Harper sustained great success during his rookie season, and looked on pace to be one of best the game has ever seen.

…and then the injuries came.  And they didn’t stop.

As a result, Harper was sapped of his power and was forced to tone down his aggressive, all-out playing style.

The injury that started it all was when Harper took on a wall – twice in a one month period – and the wall won both times. The wall shot that did the most damage was in May of 2013. Harper was tracking a deep fly ball hit by the Dodgers’ A.J. Ellis. He lost track of where he was on the field and crashed into the wall at full-speed. He suffered a jammed left shoulder and a cut under his chin that required eleven stitches.

This same collision with said wall was also blamed for knee issues that Harper fought on-and-off throughout the rest of the season, curtailing his power in the second half of the season. The knee eventually required Bursa Sac surgery in October of the same year.

It was expected that 2014 would finally provide Harper a clean, injury-free slate to continue his building the early stages of his “legacy.” Unfortunately, it was more of the same and 2014 wasn’t any kinder to the young outfielder.

Harper was benched in late April by new manager, Matt Williams for a perceived “lack of hustle,” despite nursing a tight quad. Less than ten days later, he suffered a left thumb injury sliding into third base in an attempt to leg out a bases clearing triple. An MRI later revealed that he had a torn ulnar collateral ligament that would require surgery on the thumb. Harper finally returned to have a rough month of July before righting the ship and hitting .279 with seven home runs in August.

Clearly, there is room for redemption and happy endings, but recent history has not been kind to top prospects.

Kris, if I were you, I would stay away from mirrors, ladders, and I would never, EVER, step on the foul line. It doesn’t help that you already play for the “cursed” Cubs franchise.

You have been the epitome of an amazing MiLB player, and I want to see these skills translate into the Major Leagues. Your 2014 Minor League season was one for the ages; hitting 43 dingers is not easy at any level, and I hope you will have a long, successful, and injury-free MLB career. It is time to break the injury streak and provide the Cubs organization a homegrown super star that they desperately need on their road to becoming relevant again.

Kris Bryant. Stay healthy my friend.

All the best,
Justin Kunkel

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Posted in Baseball, Bryce Harper, Byron Buxton, Cheap Seat Chronicles, Chicago Cubs, ESPN, Injuries, Jurickson Profar, Kris Bryant, Minnesota Twins, MLB, Texas Rangers, Washington Nationals | Leave a comment

Fastball Special

Pace of PlayRecently, it was announced that Minor League Baseball plans to institute a “pitch clock” during the 2015 season.

This will be used as a trial and – if it goes well – could be brought to Major League Baseball in an effort to speed up the game.

In 2014, the average length of a MLB game was 3 hours and 8 minutes, up from 2 hours and 51 minutes in 2004.

It seems three hours is the threshold length of tolerance for a sporting event. Anything longer is too slow-paced for fans and their dwindling attention spans.

Ideally, MLB could do some damage control to those that think their game is “boring” by making the games faster. I would think the actual plan would aim to get games to be in the 2 hour and 45 minute to 3 hour range.

But if faster = better, let’s make baseball the best game it can be with these suggestions:

1) No “Kiss Cam”. Commercials breaks matter. If there is less time between innings, the total length of game can be reduced. Just taking out 30 seconds between half innings saves around eight minutes. Less time for commercials means less time for gimmicks to keep the fans entertained during pauses in play. If you want to kiss someone, go find a plate of spaghetti in a back alley someplace.

2) Keep 100 baseballs behind the pitcher. When balls get scuffed or knocked out of play, the umpire has to put new baseballs into play. That supply comes from his “umpire satchel” or whatever the actual name is. If the satchel empties, a ball boy has to run out and give the umpire more balls. If we keep a giant case of baseballs right behind the pitcher, he can get his own ball. Think of the entertainment value of watching a pitcher scrounge around for a new ball from the case in disgust while the hitter rounds the bases. Anyone concerned about the ball case affecting any play of the field should calm down. There is a hill in deep center of Minute Maid Park. There is a giant wall in left field of Fenway Stadium. There are catwalks that get hit by batted balls in Tropicana Field. The ball case would be part of the fun.

3) Men with stun guns. Keep a man with a stun gun just outside the batter box, behind the batter. The batter is allowed to step out once per at bat. Anything more and the “stunner” is allowed to use the stun gun on the player. The pitcher is allowed to throw a pitch while the batter is convulsing.

4) No more than three pitches per at bat. A walk hasn’t always been four balls. Sure, it’s been four for well over a century, but the game is allowed to change. So from now on two balls is a walk and two strikes is a strikeout. Batters can “earn” a strikeout by fouling off a ball as well. This makes sense because the batter shouldn’t earn another try just because he couldn’t get the ball into the field of play. You don’t get an extra down in the NFL if you throw a pass out of bounds. If it’s a huge concern, just move the walls right up to the foul line (more fans = more money!).

5) One Relief Pitcher. Since a pitcher will be throwing less pitches per game, there needs to be fewer pitching changes throughout. Also, when the relief pitcher is brought in, he must pitch within twenty seconds. It’s not like bullpen is that much different.

6) Two substitutions (non-pitcher) per game. No more of this “double switching” and “defensive replacements” all willy nilly. The manager gets to make two non-pitching substitutions per game. However, injuries do happen. If the manager has to do a third change, the player being subbed for cannot play for the next seven days.

These are just starting points and hopefully we can try these out in the minor leagues before they get instituted in MLB.

If you have any additional ideas to improve the pace of play, share them in the comments.

Posted in Baseball, Cheap Seat Chronicles, MLB, Ranting | Leave a comment

WWE Royal Rumble Preview and Predictions

rumble event

The WWE’s Road to WrestleMania begins tonight with the Royal Rumble live on the WWE Network and pay-per-view.

The Royal Rumble emanates from the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and should be an exciting event.

The top two matches on the card are the annual Royal Rumble match and a triple threat match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship between the champion, Brock Lesnar, John Cena, and Mr. Money in the Bank, Seth Rollins.

The rest of the card is, um, happening to help kill time before the two marquee matches of the evening. To help you get up to speed on the event, Ryan Gehrke and I decided to tag-team our coverage of the Royal Rumble.

We’ve got some quick match previews and our picks for each match of the evening.

Enjoy.

Continue reading

Posted in Brock Lesnar, Daniel Bryan, John Cena, Kofi Kingston, Professional Wrestling, Roman Reigns, Royal Rumble, Seth Rollins, WWE | Leave a comment

Cubs Legend Ernie Banks Passes Away

Ernie Banks

Ernie Banks died Friday night at the age of 83.

Banks was a Hall of Fame shortstop and first baseman who spent his entire career with the Chicago Cubs from 1953 to 1971.

Over those 19 years, Banks hit .274/.330/.500 and hit 512 home runs. He took home back-to-back National League Most Valuable Player awards in 1958 and 1959.

In 1958, Banks hit .313/.366/.614 and led the National League with 47 home runs and added 119 runs scored, 11 triples, and 129 RBI. All of that was good enough for 9.4 WAR.

In 1959, he hit .304/.374/.596 with 45 home runs and a league-leading 143 RBI. He also posted a 156 OPS+ and drew a league-best 20 intentional walks. All-in-all, he posted 10.2 WAR.

The slugging shortstop also played in fourteen All-Star games during his prestigious career, won two Gold Glove awards, and led the NL in both home runs and runs batted in on two different occasions each.

In 1999, Banks was named to Major League Baseball’s All-Century Team.

Banks was a legend in Chicago and to this day is often referred to as “Mr. Cub.” He was also the first player in Cubs history to have his uniform number – No. 14 – retired by the team.

He was inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977 and is widely-regarded as one of the greatest players of all-time.

Beyond his on the field contributions, Banks was beloved throughout the sport and among the public for his bubbling personality.

He is credited with coining the phrase “Friendly Confines” in reference to Wrigley Field and could often be heard saying “Let’s play two!” upon arriving at the ballpark each day.

Between his on-field talent, positive attitude, and infectious spririt, Banks was truly a very special player and a wonderful man.

The baseball world lost one of the good ones today.

Posted in Baseball, Cheap Seat Chronicles, Chicago Cubs, Hall of Fame, MLB | Leave a comment

Oakland Closer Sean Doolittle Expected to Miss Opening Day with Shoulder Injury

Sean Doolittle

There is some unfortunate news coming out of Oakland this evening.

We’re learning that Athletics closer Sean Doolittle has a “slight” rotator cuff tear and significant inflammation in his pitcher shoulder.

The lefty received a platelet-rich plasma injection, but he is not currently expected to be ready for Opening Day.

This news is just breaking out of Oakland courtesy of MLB.com’s Jane Lee and Oakland Clubhouse’s Melissa Lockard:

Doolittle, 28, took over the closer’s role in 2014 and excelled, posting career bests across the board and making his first All-Star team.

On the whole he notched 22 saves with a 2.72 ERA, .734 WHIP, 137 ERA+, and an 89/8 K/BB ratio in 61 appearances.

Doolittle’s shoulder issues reportedly first flared-up when he began his off-season throwing program.

It’s not clear at this time if general manager Billy Beane was aware of the injury last week when he acquired reliever Tyler Clippard from the Washington Nationals in exchange for recently-acquired shortstop Yunel Escobar.

Whether it was shrewd planning or just good fortune, Beane has a fallback plan in place.

Clippard, 29, saved 32 games for the Nationals in 2012 and should get the first crack at the ninth inning in Doolittle’s absence.

Clippard has been an elite setup man in the Washington bullpen for years posting an aggregate 2.68 ERA, 1.047 WHIP, 148 ERA+, and averaging 10.3 K/9 during his seven-year stint with the Nationals.

Free-agent closers Francisco Rodriguez, Rafael Soriano, and Casey Janssen are all still readily available on the market should Beane feel the need to further solidify the back-end of the Oakland bullpen.

Doolittle suffered through a series of injuries and setbacks early in his career, before breaking through with the A’s in 2012. Here’s hoping he can work through this, avoid surgery, and return to the hill this season.

Posted in AL West, American League, Baseball, Billy Beane, Cheap Seat Chronicles, Injuries, MLB, Oakland Athletics, Sean Doolittle, Tyler Clippard | Leave a comment

Trade Brewing: Milwaukee and Philadelphia Discussing Jonathan Papelbon Trade

Jonathan Papelbon

In a move that makes very little sense for Milwaukee, the Brewers are reportedly deep in talks to acquire closer Jonathan Papelbon from the Philadelphia Phillies.

Philadelphia has been trying to move Papelbon for quite some time as the club is finally undergoing a long-overdue rebuild and digging its way out from under a mountain of bloated contracts.

There haven’t been many trade partners willing to take on Papelbon’s salary – or perceived attitude and ego – and thus far the trade winds have remained calm.

That all changed last night when Yahoo’s Jeff Passan reported that Milwaukee was suddenly in “serious discussions” to acquire Papelbon.

Papelbon, 34, is coming off his best season in five years with 39 saves, a 2.04 ERA, .905 WHIP, and a 183 ERA+

He has seen his strikeout numbers tumble and his velocity has diminished at an alarming rate in recent years, both factors have led many to wonder if his high-level of performance is sustainable.

Papelbon is owed $13 million in 2015 and has a $13 million option for 2016 that vests if he finishes 48 games, a feat he’s accomplished nine years in a row.

Papelbon can reportedly block a trade to the Brewers as part of his limited no-trade clause, but it’s believed that he would waive that if the vesting option for 2016 was guaranteed.

It’s possible that has already been worked out as ESPN’s Jayson Stark is reporting that the “last remaining obstacle” to this deal getting done is the vesting option. The clubs are reportedly trying to hammer out how much of the 2016 option Philadelphia would cover in the swap.

The move seems out of place for a Brewers club that just traded long-time ace Yovani Gallardo to Texas, a move that freed up $9 million.

It was widely-speculated that Milwaukee would use that money to add a frontline starting pitcher via free agency – James Shields’ name was bandied about quite often – or trade for a pitcher and use their new-found financial flexibility to offer an extension.

Papelbon would be an odd-use of resources as the club already has Jonathan Broxton on the roster as a potential in-house closing option and he’s already slated to make $9 million himself in 2015.

Francisco RodriguezIf the club wasn’t interested in Broxton taking the reins in the ninth inning, they could reunite with free-agent Francisco Rodriguez who has spent the better part of the last four years with the club.

Rodriguez, 33, was an All-Star for Milwaukee last season when he saved 44 games, with a 3.04 ERA, .985 WHIP, and a 125 ERA+. He’s also likely to cost about half of what Papelbon will, especially factoring in the 2016 option.

In addition to Rodriguez, former closers Rafael Soriano and Casey Janssen are both also available as free-agents and looking to restore their value after faltering late last season.

The Brewers could realistically sign two members of this free-agent trio – if not all three – for less money than Papelbon is likely to cost over the next two seasons.

In doing so, they’d save cash and avoid losing any players via trade.

It’s a move that seems to make very little sense for Milwaukee, unless we learn that Philadelphia is eating 95% of the salary – for both years – and the return for Papelbon is some holdover Prince Fielder merchandise and a dozen batting practice balls.

At that point, it seems like an alright deal. Anything less than that and I’ll still be left scratching my head.

More on this deal as it develops.

Posted in Baseball, Casey Janssen, Cheap Seat Chronicles, Francisco Rodriguez, Jonathan Papelbon, Milwaukee Brewers, MLB, MLB Trades, Philadelphia Phillies, Rafael Soriano, Trade Rumors | 3 Comments

Marlins to Sign Veteran Outfielder Ichiro Suzuki

Ichiro Suzuki

The Marlins are putting the finishing touches on a very busy offseason and are reportedly working to finalize a deal with outfielder Ichiro Suzuki.

It was rumored that Miami had offered the 41-year-old a one year, $2 million deal and it looks like the final numbers will match-up with that rumor, although it sounds as though there will be a number of performance bonuses added to the pact as well.

Suzuki will serve as a fourth outfielder in Miami as the club already has perennial MVP-candidate Giancarlo Stanton and burgeoning superstars Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna in place as starters.

Suzuki has been a below-average hitter since 2011, posting a meager .275/.308/.353 batting line split between Seattle and New York.

It’s a far cry from Suzuki’s first ten years in the league when he hit .331/.376/.430, made ten All-Star teams, won the 2001 Rookie of the Year and American League Most Valuable Player awards, and earned ten-straight Gold Glove Awards.

It isn’t surprising, given Suzuki’s age and the mileage on his body, that his once-blazing speed has diminished and his top-notch defense has been slipping steadily in the outfield.

What is surprising is that his strikeout percentage has nearly doubled from where it was early in his career, while his walk percentage continues to slide in the other direction. With his other skills eroding, losing his batting eye and patience has not done Suzuki any favors.

For what it’s worth Suzuki still grades out as a decent right-fielder, so if he’s not expected to cover in center field for long periods of time, he should be serviceable.

He also continued his trend – despite losing speed – of being incredibly efficient on the bases swiping 15 bags in 18 attempts.

At this point in his career, he’s a good fit as a light-hitting fourth outfielder and veteran presence on a young ball club.

Suzuki seems fully-aware of his role at this stage in his career and it’s not hard to imagine that he’s hanging around less for a playing time or salary and more for a chance to make history.

He currently sits at 2,844 hits in his big league career; just 156 shy of the hallowed 3,000 mark.

Suzuki has fallen short of that number two seasons in a row now, so it would require a bounce-back year and an unexpected amount of playing time for him to reach the milestone this season.

If a member of the Marlins dynamic outfield trio should go down with an injury, Suzuki would have an outside chance at reaching the mark with a healthy and productive season.

He’s given no indication that he’s interested in retiring, so he’s likely to reach the mark – even if it’s not in 2015 – but it adds another level of intrigue to each of his at-bats in Miami this season.

Posted in Baseball, Cheap Seat Chronicles, Free Agency, Ichiro Suzuki, Miami Marlins, MLB, National League, NL East | Leave a comment