2015 MLB Season Preview · AL Central · Kansas City Royals

Kauffman Stadium

Kansas City Royals

Home Ballpark: Kauffman Stadium

2014 Finish: 89-72 · 2nd AL Central

Over/Under Wins in 2015: 83 · Push/Under

What We Love:

 

  • Gold Glove Defense: With an above average defender manning every defensive position on the field, the Royals may very well have the best defense in MLB. The 2014 season saw the trio of Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez and Alex Gordon win back to back Gold Gloves at their respective positions; for Alex Gordon it was his 4th in a row. In fact, if it wasn’t for J.J Hardy’s glove in Baltimore, the Royals could very well have had a fourth Gold Glover in the fold, as SS Alcides Escobar has been an exceptional defender these past few seasons. The Royals also have the glove (and wheels) of OF Jarrod Dyson waiting on the bench. Dyson’s speed allows him to patrol the spacious outfield of Kauffman with relative ease. The Royals love being able to move Cain to RF to allow for Dyson’s glove and wheels to roam freely in CF.

Royals-Gold-Gloves

  • The K.C Bullpen: Not too sure if you were aware of this or not, but the Royals bullpen may have played a small role in their 2014 success. The power armed trio of closer, Greg Holland, and setup men, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera, combined for a 1.27 ERA over 204 innings pitched and helped the Royals to a MLB best 65-4 record when leading after six innings. Behind those three, the Royals have a duo of righties, Jason Frasor and Luke Hochevar, and a lefty, Brian Flynn, who was brought over from the Marlins and will replace the injured Tim Collins (Tommy John). Meanwhile, postseason revelation, Brandon Finnegan, is slated to open the season AAA Omaha, as he gets stretched out to start. The K.C bullpen is SO deep that there was talk in the offseason that the Royals were entertaining offers on Holland, who had just won the Mariano Rivera Award for being the best reliever in MLB.

Royals bullpen

 

Honourable Mentions:

  • Thievery on the base paths: 153 stolen bases led the MLB
  • The low risk/high reward signing of SP Kris Medlen (2 yrs/$8.5 mil) which, if healthy, could be an ABSOLUTE steal of a deal.
  • Yordano Ventura’s Pedro-esque arsenal.
  • Kauffman Stadium’s waterfalls.
  • Kansas City BBQ over the other main types of BBQ (Texas, Memphis and North Carolina).

 

 What We Hate:

  • Odds of Replicating 2014 Success: Anyone who predicted the run the Royals had in 2014 is either a prophet, or a liar. The Royals came out of (seemingly) nowhere last season to make both the playoffs and the World Series; ending their 29 year old playoff drought in the process. Unfortunately for the Royals, while other teams in the AL Central went out and added depth to their roster, the Royals were more concerned in replacing the pieces they had lost. Gone from the 2014 AL Pennant winners are the likes of SP “Mediocre Game” James Shields, OF Nori Aoki and DH Billy “Country Breakfast” Butler. Replacing them will be a trio of free agent signed in the offseason: SP Edinson Volquez, DH Kendrys Morales and OF Alex Rios. Those additions, while decent replacements for the departed, are a slight downgrade and come with more question marks. Can Volquez make the transition from NL to AL? How many at bats will the oft-injured Morales get? And, which Alex Rios did the Royals get? The biggest issue for the Royals though this season will be just competing in, what could be, a very tough AL Central.

royals ws

Honourable Mention:

 

  • Not a whole lot of power in the lineup. Additions of Alex Rios and Kendrys Morales won’t be huge difference makers in a lineup that hit an MLB low 95 HR in 2014.
  • Lack of catching depth (Erik Kratz and Francisco Pena) could result in an eventual breakdown of Sal Perez.
  • Ability to draw walks – lead the MLB in fewest walks (380) in 2014.
  • Waiting for Mike Moustakas to (ever) have a breakout season.

 

Player to Watch: SP Danny Duffy. The Royals have been waiting for Duffy to enjoy a breakthrough season since he made 20 starts for them in 2011. Unfortunately for Duffy and the Royals, the left hander has been plagued with durability issues. He was sidetracked by Tommy John surgery in 2012 and struggled with oblique and shoulder injuries down the stretch last season. If he remains healthy though, you can expect Duffy to build on an impressive 2014 that saw him make 25 starts, post a 9-12 record with a 2.53 ERA and strikeout 113 batters over 149.1 innings. A double digit win total is definitely in the cards for 2015, especially with the Royals looking to increase his workload to the 180-200 inning mark.

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Top Pitching Prospect:  Sean Manaea · LHP · MLB ETA: 2016

manaea

Top Positional Prospect: Raul Adalberto Mondesi · SS · MLB ETA: 2017

mondesi

 

Top 30 Prospects (MLB.com): http://m.mlb.com/prospects/2015?list=kc

 

Final Prediction: 4th AL Central

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2015 MLB Season Preview · AL Central · Detroit Tigers

Comerica Park

Detroit Tigers

Home Ballpark: Comerica Park.

2014 Finish: 90-72 · 1st AL Central.

Over/Under Wins in 2015: 86.5 · Under

What We Love:

  • The Man They Call Miggy: What is not to like about a guy who plays in 159 games, hits for a .313 average with 25 HR and 109 RBI, and is considered to have an “off” year? Even despite getting off to a slow start and being hobbled by an ankle injury, Miguel Cabrera enjoyed his 11th straight season driving in 100+ RBI. Entering his 32nd year, Cabrera is still one of the top players in the game today and with his move to back to 1B last season, and ability to DH, he should continue to play at a high level for the foreseeable future. And that is great news for the Tigers, who will need Cabrera to continue his MVP style of play if they have any hope of holding off the Indians and White Sox for the AL Central title. Not to mention they’ll need/want him to stay healthy and productive as they are paying him a small fortune ($240 million) over the next eight seasons.

 

Detroit Tigers batter Miguel Cabrera watches the ball as he hits a two-run, two-strike, two-out, home run to tie the game in New York

 

Honourable Mentions:

  • Best front office in the game: Owner Mike Illitch and GM Dave Dombrowski.
  • Manager Brad Ausmus’ 90 win rookie campaign.
  • Anibal Sanchez rebounding from a subpar 2014 season.
  • Potential DP combo of Jose Iglesias and Ian Kinsler.

 

 

 What We Hate:

  • Verlander’s Arm and Velocity Woes: In 2009, Justin Verlander’s average fastball speed was 95.6 mph, the second best in MLB. In 2014, his average fastball was down to 92.6 mph, which had him outside of the top 25 qualified pitchers in MLB. It’s not uncommon for a pitcher to lose a few ticks off of his heater as he ages, but to seemingly fall apart overnight is another thing. Verlander’s 2014 was his worst statistical season since 2008, in fact, both seasons are extremely similar:

2008: 33 GS · 201 IP · 11-17 W/L · 4.84 ERA · 108 ER · 163 K · 1.40 WHIP

2014: 32 GS · 206 IP · 15-13 W/L · 4.54 ERA · 104 ER · 159 K · 1.40 WHIP

Verlander was also the American League leader in Earned Runs in 2014; finishing 2nd behind A.J Burnett for the overall MLB lead.

So what is the cause for this sudden drop off? Could it be “dead arm” (which is, hands down the most awesome, old timey name for a legitimate medical condition) aka arm fatigue? That is a pretty plausible scenario, especially given that Verlander has thrown at least 200 innings in every season since 2007. Perhaps it could be attributed to the core-muscle surgery he underwent before the 2014 season. The surgery might not be the culprit when it comes to the diminishing velocity, but it could be the reason why Verlander has started to experience arm issues. If he was unable to use his proper pitching mechanics and drive from his core and legs, that could have forced him to alter his mechanics and put more stress on his shoulder/arm. It could also be the reason why he was unable to locate and have solid command of his secondary pitches (curveball and slider).

In order for the Tigers to return to the Postseason they cannot afford to have another down year from Verlander. Even with David Price and Anibal Sanchez behind him, this is a starting rotation that will be weaker than it has been in years past. The bigger fear for the Tigers, if Verlander can’t return to his old form, is that they will be paying $28 million a season (through 2020) for an average to above average starting pitcher

*Now with all of this being said, there is ABSOLUTELY no reason NOT to believe that Justin Verlander can and will come back from this. He is still (only) 32 years old and is still one of the top tier starting pitchers in the game. Every pitcher eventually loses their fastball; even the greats. It’s what you do to re-shape your game after that happens which separate the good from the great.*

Verlander pulled

  • A Less Than Watertight Bullpen: In the past four seasons, the ERA of the Tigers bullpen has had them ranked 27th, 24th, 18th and 25th respectively in the entire MLB. The bullpen was one of the key contributors to the Tigers being bounced from the playoffs by the Orioles in 2014. What’s astonishing is that while GM Dave Dombrowski made the moves to replace departed starting pitchers Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello, he neglected to address his bullpen in any way. In fact, it is almost exactly the same bullpen returning that was to blame for that dismal 2014 campaign. 40 year old, Joe Nathan, returns as the incumbent closer, a year removed from saving 35 games while posting a 4.81 ERA. Behind Nathan, the Tigers will have a pair of experienced setup men in Joakim Soria and Joba Chamberlain. Soria, who was acquired from the Rangers at last season’s trade deadline, has experience closing games and could replace Nathan if he falters. Even though they didn’t add anyone in the offseason, the Tigers bullpen may get a big mid-season upgrade if and when RHP Bruce Rondon returns from Tommy John Surgery. Rondon, who was viewed as a future closer, struggled in his first MLB performance in 2013 before missing all of last year following Tommy John surgery. The Tigers will take any kind of upgrade they can get and a healthy Rondon would be an immediate upgrade to that bullpen.

nathan

Honourable Mention:

 

  • V-Mart’s knees: torn meniscus during offseason workouts could force him to miss Opening Day. Bigger concern for Tigers should be that it’s same knee that forced him to miss all of 2012.
  • Attempting to replace Max Scherzer’s and Rick Porcello’s outputs with the likes of Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene.
  • Jose Iglesias’ durability.
  • Alex Avila’s long term health: the catcher suffered upwards of four concussions in 2014.
  • That collective sick feeling that I and every Blue Jays fan will get if Anthony Gose somehow manages to put it all together.

 

 

Player to Watch: 3B Nick Castellanos. Playing in his first full MLB season in 2014, Nick Castellanos enjoyed the highs and lows of life in the big leagues. Offensively he had a pretty decent season at the plate, hitting .259/11/66 in 533 AB. However, his defensive game left something to be desired, as he ranked near the bottom of every defensive metric. The reason for him being a defensive liability could be because he has bounced around between multiple positions since being drafted. Originally drafted as a shortstop by the Tigers in the supplemental first round (44th overall) back in 2010, Castellanos was first asked to move to 3B so his bat would not be blocked by Jhonny Peralta. However, when the Tigers signed Prince Fielder to play 1B, Castellanos path to the majors became blocked by Miguel Cabrera, whom had moved across the diamond to accommodate Fielder. With Cabrera at 3B, Castellanos was then asked to ply his trade as a LF; which would only last a season. Following the 2013 season, Fielder was whipped out of the Motor City, Cabrera moved back to 1B, and Castellanos was asked (again) to switch back to 3B. While the Tigers have always known that Castellanos can hit, they’ll need him to make bigger strides defensively. Perhaps now that he has an established position, he’ll be able to fine tune his defensive skills. On the offensive side of things, it wouldn’t be outlandish to believe a 20 HR/75 RBI campaign is possible.

 

castellanos

Top Pitching Prospect: Buck Farmer · RHP · MLB ETA: 2015

 

farmer

Top Positional Prospect: Steven Moya · OF · MLB ETA: 2015

 

Moya

Top 30 Prospects (MLB.com): http://m.mlb.com/prospects/2015?list=det

 

Final Prediction: 2nd AL Central.

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2015 MLB Season Preview • AL Central • Cleveland Indians

Progressive Field

Cleveland Indians

Home Ballpark: Progressive Field

2014 Finish: 85 – 77 · 3rd AL Central

Over/Under Wins in 2015: 81 · Over

What We Love:

  • Power Arms and Rotation Depth: With as strong, and deep, of a starting rotation like Cleveland has, it’s no wonder they’ve been receiving so much preseason love and hype to make some BIG noise in the AL Central this season. Heading into 2014, it was the young flame throwing, Danny Salazar, who was garnering all of the preseason hype. By the season’s end, it would be another hard throwing righty that would be getting all of the press (and awards); Corey Kluber. Kluber, who came out of (seemingly) nowhere, went 18-9 with a 2.44 ERA and struck out 269 batters over 235 innings, on his way to edging out King Felix (Hernandez) and capturing the 2014 Cy Young Award. This season, Kluber will be (heavily) relied upon to anchor a starting rotation that has tremendous upside, but is also unproven. Even after optioning the highly talented Salazar to AAA, the Tribe (still) have a duo of hard throwing righties (Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer) that could be poised to take a big “next step” in 2015. Both Carrasco and Bauer, whom were (former) top pitching prospects for other teams before being acquired by the Tribe, set career highs in appearances, starts, innings pitched and strikeouts, in 2014. Behind that trio of righties, the Indians rotation will be rounded out by the combo of LHP T.J House and RHP Zach McAllister. Meanwhile in AAA, the Indians have the aforementioned Danny Salazar, along with RHP Josh Tomlin, waiting in the wings.

kluber1

  • The emergence of Yan Gomes: As a Blue Jays fan, this is a very sore topic to discuss. Let me take you back to the days (2012) when the Blue Jays had too many young catching prospects (like that’s ever a bad thing!) in their farm system and ended up including the versatile Gomes, as a THROW IN nonetheless, in a trade for a pitcher (Esmil Rogers). In the two seasons since that trade, the Blue Jays have seen the likes of JP Arencibia, Josh Thole, Dioner Navarro, Henry Blanco, Mike Nickeas (who?) and now Russell Martin, play at least one game behind the dish for them. Meanwhile, the acquisition and emergence of Gomes as an everyday catcher in Cleveland, has allowed the Tribe to move the versatile Carlos Santana to other positions of offensive need (1B/3B/DH). Besides being an above average game caller and defender, Gomes has also proven that he is no slouch at the plate. In his two seasons in Cleveland, Gomes has hit for a .284 average with 32 HR and 112 RBI in 778 AB. Bat and glove aside, the most underrated aspect about Gomes is that he may be one of the best bargains in baseball, as he is locked up through 2020 on a 6yr/$23 million dollar deal. On behalf of Indians fans around the World… THANK YOU TORONTO!

 

MLB: Houston Astros at Cleveland Indians

 

       Honourable Mentions:

  • Potential of a Francisco Lindor sighting before seasons end.
  • The likelihood of a BIG bounce back campaign by 2B Jason Kipnis.
  • A full season of SS Jose Ramirez’s glove and wheels.
  • Fading out Chief Wahoo for the more culturally sensitive “C” logo.

 

What We Hate:

  • The (remaining) Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher Contracts: In the 2012 offseason, the notoriously tight pocketed Indians opened up their chequebooks and signed a pair of big name free agents to four year contracts. CF Michael Bourn was the recipient of a 4 yr/$48 million dollar deal, while 1B/OF Nick Swisher was brought in on a 4 year deal worth $56 million dollars. Now two seasons into those deals and it looks like the Indians wish they had the ability to get a mulligan on those two signings. Both players have struggled with injuries and inconsistent play, and both are still owed a small fortune for the remaining two years of their contracts. Swisher, who has batted .231/30/105 in 909 AB in two seasons, is owed $30 million over the next two seasons ($15 mil per year). While Bourn, who is owed a remaining $27.5 million over the next two seasons, has hit .260/9/78 in 969 AB and has seen his stolen base numbers drastically decline (33 steals in two seasons) thanks to hamstring injuries. Besides getting a poor return on investment, the biggest issue with these two contracts is that it prevents a mid-market team like the Indians from making in-season moves to add depth to a position of need or replace an injured player. Not to mention that it prevents them from going out and splurging on the bigger free agents available. Imagine if the Tribe had the money this offseason to go out and sign one of the big name starting pitchers?

Swish and Bourn

Honourable Mention:

  • Besides Cody Allen, bullpen could be trick or treat.
  • Potential for some historically bad defensive numbers.
  • Sandy Alomar Jr’s inability to find a role as a big league manager.
  • Replacing Wesley Snipes with Omar Epps… like we wouldn’t notice.

 

 

Player to Watch: SP Trevor Bauer. It seems like it has been a lifetime since Bauer was drafted 3rd overall in 2011 by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Bauer, who was viewed as an extremely polished starter coming out of UCLA, cruised through the minors and wound up making four starts for the Diamondbacks in 2012. What seemed like a very bright future in the desert soon grew into a bitter relationship over Bauer’s unwillingness to alter his workout regime (long toss and stretching over weightlifting). The Diamondbacks viewed Bauer as “uncoachable,” quickly soured on him and flipped him for a 70% return rate (Didi Gregorious). Bauer, who is listed as 6’1, 190, modelled his delivery and mechanics off another lean and wiry starting pitcher, Tim Lincecum. It doesn’t matter who is right or wrong in this argument, what matters is that the Indians absolutely pilfered Bauer from the Diamondbacks. Last season marked Bauer’s first full season in the majors and he enjoyed a bit of an up and down season. Bauer made 26 starts for the Indians, went 5-8 with a 4.18 ERA and struck out 143 batters over 153 innings. Even with his win/loss record and ERA, there was more good than bad for Bauer in 2014 and there is no reason not to expect Bauer to take another big step forward in 2015.

 

Bauer

Top Pitching Prospect: Justus Sheffield · LHP · MLB ETA: 2018

Sheffield, Justus 1408 (Mitchell).jpg

 

Top Positional Prospect: Francisco Lindor · SS · MLB ETA: 2015

 

Francisco Lindor

Top 30 Prospects (MLB.com): http://m.mlb.com/prospects/2015?list=cle

 

Final Prediction: 1st AL Central

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2015 MLB Season Preview • AL Central • Chicago White Sox

US Cellular

Chicago White Sox

Home Ballpark: U.S Cellular Field

2014 Finish: 73 – 89 · 4th AL Central

Over/Under Wins in 2015: 82 · Over

What We Love:

  • Jose Abreu: Remember when there was talk that the White Sox may have made a mistake by inking Cuban slugger, Jose Abreu, to a 6 yr/$68 million dollar deal without him never having faced an MLB pitcher? That talk was quickly silenced as Abreu smashed 10 HR and drove in 32 RBI, all before the calendar flipped to May. What Abreu did, as a rookie nonetheless, in 2014 was (nearly) historical. By the All Star Break, Abreu was on pace to break both Mark McGwire’s Single Season HR total for a rookie (49) and Ted Williams single season RBI total by a rookie (145). Unfortunately for the record books, Abreu’s power dropped off after the All Star Break (mustered only 6 HR for remainder of season) and he finished the season with a tremendous stat line of .317/36/107 in 556 AB over 145 games. In fact, in the entire history of baseball, only a dozen players have enjoyed a rookie season of 30+ HR and 100+ RBI. Part of the power drop off could be attributed to general wear and tear, as the MLB season being (almost) 40% longer than the Cuban Baseball season. To combat further wear and tear on Abreu, the White Sox picked up 1B Adam LaRoche in the offseason. The signing of LaRoche should allow for Abreu to see more time at DH, and help him refrain from suffering a late season power outage; something the White Sox will need to happen in order for them to battle for a playoff spot in a tough AL Central.

Cleveland Indians v Chicago White Sox

  • Flurry of Offseason Activity: While everyone in the baseball world was talking about AJ Preller and the moves the San Diego Padres were making, White Sox GM Rick Hahn was having himself quite the nice offseason too. The White Sox signed three high profile free agents (Melky Cabrera, Adam LaRoche and David Robertson), one under the radar signing (Zack Duke) and one high profile trade (Jeff Samardzjia). Cabrera should fit nicely as the team’s two-hitter and help set the table for Jose Abreu, while LaRoche will offer protection in the lineup, and days off for the Cuban slugger. Robertson and Duke were brought in to help the White Sox bullpen refrain from losing another 32 games this season. Meanwhile, the acquisition of the Shark (Samardzjia) gives the Chi Sox a right hander to pitch between their dangerous duo of lefties (Chris Sale and Jose Quintana); perhaps giving the Pale Hose one of, if not the best, front end rotations in the American League. That’s a scary trio to have to run into IF they make it to October… and that is a big IF.

White Sox

        Honourable Mentions:

  • Everything Adam Eaton does – legit leadoff hitter, fearless defender and now a bargain contract for the next 5 years (5yrs/$23.5 mil).
  • Chris Sale being (perhaps) the 2nd best LHP in the game.
  • Potential for 2014 top pick, Carlos Rodon, to make an appearance in 2015.
  • Avisail Garcia (FINALLY) having a breakout season!
  • The Hawk’s HR call, “Stretch. Stretch. You can put it on the booooooaaarrrd… YEEEEEESSSSSSS!”  –  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dY6McvgeHAo

 

What We Hate:

  • Black holes at 2B and C: For someone who was not afraid to open up the chequebook this offseason, it is rather odd that GM Rick Hahn failed to address the pressing need for an everyday 2B and an upgrade behind the plate. When the Sox drafted 2B Gordon Beckham out of the University of Georgia back in the 1st round of the 2008 MLB draft, they believed they had found their 2B of the future. Wrong. After playing parts of five (subpar) seasons in Chicago, Beckham was shipped to the Angels in 2014, before being brought back to Chicago on a 1 year deal in the offseason. Beckham will look to compete with other 2B candidates (Micah Johnson and Carlos Sanchez) for the Opening Day spot; although it looks like Micah Johnson has already grabbed that spot with a torrid Spring Training. As grim as the 2B outlook is, the catching one isn’t much better. Sure Tyler Flowers hit 15 HR and drove in 50 RBI, but he also struck out an incredible 149 times in 407 AB. The C battle will most likely come down to a coin flip between Flowers and the recently acquired, Geovany Soto; with 2014 backup, Adrian Nieto, being the odd man out. I would not be shocked to see either one of, if not both, these positions being addressed as the season wears on.

flowers

        Honourable Mention:

  • Chris Sale’s ankle/foot injury – hopefully it doesn’t rob us of seeing one of the best in the game work his craft.
  • The 4 and 5 spots in the starting rotation – some combo of John Danks, Hector Noesi and Erik Johnson will end up here, at least keeping the spot warm until Carlos Rodon is up.
  • Potential power output from 3B (Conner Gillespie and Emilio Bonifacio).
  • Jeff Samardzia getting paid to be an MLB ace in the offseason – he is a solid #2 at best.

 

Player to Watch: SP Jose Quintana. Quintana has posted back to back seasons with 30 starts and 200 innings pitched, but he seems to get the short end of the stick when it comes to wins and losses. In his past two campaigns, Quintana has failed to reach double digits in wins, despite having above average numbers in ERA, WHIP and K/BB ratio. Most teams would be blessed to have a LHP with Quintana’s arsenal as their #2; the White Sox have him as their #3. With all the additions the White Sox made in the offseason, especially in solidifying a leaky bullpen, it is not hard to envision Quintana easily winning double digit contests for the first time in his career. In fact, I believe that Quintana could conceivably win 13-15 games… if everything falls into place. Honourable Mention: OF Avisail Garcia.

Quintana

Top Pitching Prospect: Carlos Rodon · LHP · MLB ETA: 2015

Carlos Rodon

Top Positional Prospect: Tim Anderson · SS · MLB ETA: 2016

anderson

Top 30 Prospects (MLB.com): http://m.mlb.com/prospects/2015?list=cws

Final Prediction: 3rd AL Central

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2015 MLB Season Preview · AL East · Toronto Blue Jays

Skydome Panorama

Toronto Blue Jays

Home Ballpark: Skydome… Does ANYONE seriously call it the Rogers Centre?

2014 Finish: 83 – 79 · 3rd AL East

Over/Under Wins in 2015: 83.5 · Over

What We Love:

  • Offseason Additions: Hard not to be (real) excited about the trio of players that the Blue Jays brought in during the offseason. First, the Jays landed one of the biggest fish in the free agent market when they signed Russell Martin to a 5 year deal. Although 2014 backstop (Dioner Navarro) did a more than admirable job, in Martin, the Jays receive one of the game’s premier defenders, a proven winner and a clubhouse leader. As big of a signing as the Martin deal was, it (nearly) took a backseat to the move that followed. In late November, the Blue Jays and Athletics pulled off a blockbuster of a trade that saw the Athletics receive oft-injured, but highly athletic 3B, Brett Lawrie; along with a trio of minor league prospects (Sean Nolin, Kendall Graveman and Franklin Barretto). The Blue Jays, on the other hand, received one of the game’s premier players and elite 3B in Josh Donaldson. Even though Donaldson is only entering his third full MLB season, he has already finished in the top 10 in MVP voting in back to back years; as well as getting his first All Star nomination last season. Donaldson already draws rave reviews for his durability, leadership and defensive capabilities, but you have to figure that his offensive stats will also get a boost as he leaves the cavernous Oakland Coliseum, for the more HR friendly confines of the Rogers Centre. Not to be left out of the shuffle was the acquisition of OF Michael Saunders from the Mariners, in exchange for LHP J.A Happ. Saunders has already endeared himself to the Blue Jays and their fans, when he opted to have his meniscus removed, opposed to surgery, after tearing it early on in Spring Training. Although the decision will leave him more open to long term injury, it’s a move that will allow him to return by mid-April rather than after the All Star break.

martin

  • Youthful Starting Rotation: Losing Marcus Stroman was a HUGE blow, but thanks to a well stocked farm system, that blow should be softened. Stepping up in the place of the “Stro Show” will be a pair of the Blue Jays top prospects, Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris. Sanchez, who thrived out of the bullpen a year ago, was originally looked at as a candidate to reprise his role and help solidify a (weak) bullpen. Instead he will get the chance to take the mound every 5th day and show off his deadly arsenal of a high 90’s sinking fastball and a devastating, 12 to 6, curveball, that we refer to as; “the Dirty Sanchez.” He has also been working on a cutter and a slider in the offseason so he can become a more rounded starter. Daniel Norris, whom has been garnering more offseason attention for his living arrangements than for his pitching capability, was originally slated to open the year in Buffalo (AAA), but a combination of Stro’s injury and an impressive spring has made it near impossible to send him down. Norris also offers a lot more upside than the other pitcher in the running, Marco Estrada (who is more cut out for the ‘pen), and has more experience/polish than the duo of impressive youngsters; Miguel Castro and Roberto Osuna. Not to be outshone by Norris and Sanchez, Drew Hutchison will be leaned on (heavily) to help shoulder the workload. Record aside (8-11), Hutch had a solid, first season back from Tommy John surgery; making 32 starts and averaging a strikeout an inning over 184.1 innings. Not to count chickens before they hatch, but Blue Jays beat writer, Jeff Blair, believes that this particular crop of pitching prospects rivals the days when the Jays had Roy Halladay, Chris Carpenter and Kelvim Escobar as pitching prospects. It really is hard not to get excited about the prospects of these young arms.

Aaron-Sanchez-Daniel-Norris 

        Honourable Mention:

  • The 1 thru 5 in the batting order: Reyes, Martin, Joey Bats, Edwing and Donaldson.
  • Daniel Norris’ claim to being the Most Interesting Man in Baseball.
  • The Argos signing a lease with BMO field = One small step closer grass in the dome.
  • Having TWO young, high ceiling, Latino, power arms: Roberto Osuna and Miguel Castro.
  • Three Canadians on the 25 man roster (Martin, Saunders and Pompey).

 

 What We Hate:

  • Marcus Stroman’s ACL: I honestly still cannot bear to think or talk about this. Stro’s blown ACL was an absolute gut punch of an injury. Even though he was only about to enter his sophomore season, Stroman had the stuff and confidence of someone far beyond his years. In fact, there were some (myself included) who believed that Stro would end the season as the teams de facto ace. What makes the matter worse, if that was possible, was seeing such a severe, freak injury befall someone with so much charisma and “swag,” as the Stro Show exudes. Silver lining time:

 

  • At least it wasn’t Tommy John (knocks on wood).
  • Stro’s work ethic, tenacity and drive, will pay HUGE dividends while he rehabs.
  • Stro is young enough that it shouldn’t impact his long term future (knocks on wood.)
  • You know he will be the Jays biggest cheerleader all season; especially if/when the post season comes around.

I look forward to tuning into the Stro Show when it returns in 2016. Best of luck in rehab!

Stro

  • Lack of Depth: Who is our Opening Day 2B? Are we really planning on a full season of Kevin Pillar in LF? What happens if Dalton Pompey falters? Who is our back up 1B? Are we really entertaining the thought of carrying Daric Barton on the 25 man roster? Will Brett Cecil be our closer all season? Are we looking at carrying three LHP in the bullpen? Is Todd Redmond and Chad Jenkins really set for a big workload? These are questions that you have to face/ask when you’re team lacks depth. Unfortunately all of these questions and scenarios could be ones that the Blue Jays face in 2015. You know what would have been really nice? Having Melky Cabrera to be our opening day LF. The Melkman would have allowed Pillar and Pompey to platoon in CF and would’ve been a perfect bat for the two-hole in the lineup. The Blue Jays would love for Justin Smoak to find his bat and be able to allow Edwing to focus more on DH, but he would have to hit consistently in order to do that. As for the 2B situation, as of right now it looks like its Devon Travis’ job to lose. Travis, who was acquired from the Tigers in exchange for Anthony “the Chain” Gose, has enjoyed a great Spring Training with both the bat and the glove, yet he has never played a Major League game. The other candidates to take that job are: “all glove-no bat,” Ryan Goins and the 35 year old Macier Izturis, who is coming off a blown out knee. The biggest head shaking decision was why no one was brought in to help fortify the bullpen. In fact, the closest they came was the deal with Ronald Belisario that fell apart at the last minute. How have they not called Rafael Soriano? Dude, has pitched in the AL East and would give the Jays a RHP out of the bullpen. Don’t you find it odd that GM Alex Anthopolous went out and made the big trades and big signings, but neglected to address his team’s depth? Seems like the guy who buys an expensive car, but neglects to splurge for power windows and locks.

        Honourable Mention:

  • The rest of the lineup (2B, LF, CF and DH) will be comprised of some combo of: Dioner Navarro, Justin Smoak, Daric Barton, Macier Izturis, Devon Travis, Ryan Goins, Dayan Viciedo, Kevin Pillar and Dalton Pompey.
  • Imagining what Melky Cabrera could have brought to this lineup: legit two hitter and starting LF/occasional DH.
  • That whole Duquette saga: imagine we traded Hoffman, Pentecost AND Mitch Nay for an executive?!
  • That ridiculous looking Ted Rogers statue. 

 

Player to Watch: SP Drew Hutchison. Sure there are a lot of candidates for us to pay attention to on the Blue Jays this upcoming season, but none may be as important as Hutch. In Hutchison, the Blue Jays have a young, battle tested starter, whom put up impressive numbers in his first season back from Tommy John: 184 strikeouts in 184.1 innings and a 1.26 WHIP. The main knock against Hutch is that he can struggle with his location, which can leave him prone to getting hit and hit hard (23 HR in 2014). Despite having command issues, Hutch does not issue a whole lot of free passes (60 BB in 2014) but in failing to consistently hit his target, he leaves himself open for batters to put a good swing on his mistakes. Personally, I see Hutch pitching 200+ innings and maybe winning 13 or more games.

 

hutch1

Top Pitching Prospect: Daniel Norris · LHP · MLB ETA: 2015

daniel-norris 

Top Positional Prospect: Dalton Pompey · OF · MLB ETA: 2015

 

Dalton Pompey

Top 30 Prospects (MLB.com): http://m.mlb.com/prospects/2015?list=tor

 

Final Prediction: 2nd AL East

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2015 MLB Season · AL East · Tampa Bay Rays

Trop

Tampa Bay Rays

Home Ballpark: Tropicana Field

2014 Finish: 77 – 85 · 4th AL East

Over/Under Wins in 2015: 77.5 · Over

What We Love:

  • Evan Longoria: What’s not to love about Longo? The guy is arguably the best 3B in the game today and his defense is worth the price of admission alone. Even with his power numbers dropping last season, he still managed to hit 22 HR and drive in 91 runs, for a Tampa team that struggled to put up runs all season. The real impressive thing about Longo’s 2014 was the fact that he was able to avoid spending time on the DL and played on a career high 162 games. The Rays will need Longo in the everyday lineup as often as possible, as he may be one of the only Rays driving in runs this season. The only downside to being Longoria, is that his talent is (almost) wasted on the fans of Tampa Bay… you know the ones who flock to the Trop in droves. Here’s hoping that (when) the Rays relocate, they do so to a city with a thriving fan base that can FULLY APPRECIATE what a stud they have…. calling Montreal.

Longoria

  • Pitch to the Postseason: It wouldn’t be a season preview unless we discussed the depth of the Rays starting rotation. Even though they no longer have David Price and are missing Matt Moore until after the All Star break, this is still a rotation that could make some noise in the AL. The rotation is anchored by righties, Alex Cobb and Chris Archer, and is rounded out by a trio of (former) highly touted, high ceiling pitching prospects; Jake Odorizzi, Alex Colome and Drew Smyly. Cobb has been garnering a lot of preseason buzz about being a potential contender for the Cy Young, but he’ll have to manage to stay healthy and pitch 200+ innings in order for that to happen. Archer, on the other hand, might have the best stuff and highest ceiling of the entire rotation. Entering both his 27th year and 3rd full season, Archer is a prime candidate to have a breakout year. Both he and Cobb will be heavily relied upon, especially with a trio of unproven arms rounding out the back end of the rotation. If both Cobb and Archer can pitch to their potential, followed by a little help from the rest of the staff, then the Rays could get to the post season on the strength of their pitching staff alone.

Alex Cobb

  • Cash is King: Hard to say that it won’t be strange to look into the Rays dugout and not see the bespectacled face of Joe Maddon. With Maddon becoming the new bench boss for the Cubs, the Rays hired former big league catcher, Kevin Cash. In Cash, the Rays are hoping they have found a manager who will find similar success like other catchers turned managers such as Mike Scioscia, Mike Matheny and Brad Ausmus to name a few. Cash, who will be the league’s youngest manager at 37, gets praise for his high baseball IQ and natural leadership ability. He’ll need both as he attempts to turn the Rays back into a contender.

kevin cash

 

      Honourable Mentions:

  • Mid-season return of Matt Moore to the starting rotation.
  • Rays-Red Sox being the new “MUST WATCH” rivalry.
  • Alex Cobb’s splitter-changeup hybrid known as “the thing.”
  • The makings of a sneaky good bullpen.
  • The potential for a Grant Balfour freak out.

 

 What We Hate:

  • The Wil Myers trade: Nothing against Steven Souza, who will probably be a decent little ballplayer, or Burch Smith, who may stick in the bigs as a reliever or spot starter, but the two of them don’t even come close to adding up to the player that Wil Myers is. Myers, who won the AL Rookie of the Year in 2013, was shipped off to San Diego as part of a three way deal that saw the Rays land the aforementioned Souza and Smith. The trade came on the heels of Myers abysmal sophomore season (.222/6/35 in 325 AB compared to .293/13/53 in 335 AB in 2013); one in which he was hampered by a wrist injury. Two years removed from being the “winners” in the James Shields/Wil Myers trade, the Rays have flipped Myers for a return that is (almost) significantly less than what the Royals got for Myers in the first place. Isn’t it just a little odd that the Rays were so willing to give up on a 24 year old with what seems like an unlimited ceiling, just because he had one bad season; perhaps even the first bad stretch of baseball he has ever played in his life? At least Myers was able to see the humour in it all as he tweeted out, “Probably safe to say Padres are the final winner in the Shields trade. Should be an exciting year in San Diego!” this of course coming after the Padres inked the free agent Shields to a 4 yr/$75 million dollar deal.

wil myers1

  • Everything to do with the Trop: If baseball is a religion, then baseball parks are its cathedral(s). They are meant to be warm, inviting and intimate. There is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING warm, inviting or intimate about Tropicana Field. In all honesty, it has the intimacy of a World War II bunker (Skydome/Rogers Centre isn’t much better). The Trop takes you back to the days of Astroturf, concrete soulless stadiums and V-Neck jerseys, aka the 70’s. Amazingly, despite having a roof to prevent delays from weather, the Trop still suffers from power outage delays related to the weather per year. Oh, and then there are the infamous catwalks that hang from the ceiling and play God with fly balls and tall HR’s. There hasn’t been a roof that turns more fly ball outs into misplayed adventures since the old Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis. Even televised games from the Trop look dingy and faded, similar to televised hockey games from the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island.

Honourable Mention:

  • Seriously, where are the runs going to come from?
  • Potential contender to finish at the bottom of every power category.
  • Depleted farm system, especially in the starting pitching category.
  • The loss of one of baseball’s brightest minds, Andrew Friedman, from the front office.

 

 Player to Watch: SP Chris Archer. As mentioned above, Archer is entering both his 27th year and his 3rd full MLB season. He is also blessed with an exceptional arsenal of pitches and no shortage of confidence, as demonstrated by his dustup with Big Papi last season. Last season, Archer went 10-9 with a 3.33 ERA in 32 starts; he also struck out 100 (173) more batters than he walked (73) over 194.2 innings. There is no reason not to think that Archer will not only match, but pass his numbers from last season. A 15+ win is definitely not out of the question. Honourable Mention(s): Drew Smyly and Steven Souza Jr.

 

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Tampa Bay Rays

Top Pitching Prospect: Brent Honeywell · RHP · MLB ETA: 2017

 

honeywell

Top Positional Prospect: Justin O’Connor · C · MLB ETA: 2016

 

oconner

Top 30 Prospects (MLB.com): http://m.mlb.com/prospects/2015?list=tb

 

Final Prediction: 5th AL East

2015 MLB Season Preview · AL East · New York Yankees

Yankee Stadium

New York Yankees

Home Ballpark: Yankee Stadium

2014 Finish: 84 – 78 · 2nd AL East

Over/Under Wins in 2015: 80 · Over

What We Love:

  • Bulletproof Bullpen: For the second time in as many years, the Yankees will be turning the ball over in the 9th inning to a new face. With Mariano Rivera retiring two seasons ago and David Robertson now closing games for the Chi Sox, the Yankees may be imploring a closer by committee for the upcoming season. Usually teams who lack a definitive closer turn to a closer by committee in the hopes of finding one reliable arm to whom they can trust. This is not the case with the Yankees. The back end of the Yankees bullpen is (perhaps) their biggest area of strength heading into the season. The imposing 6’8, 260lb, figure that is Dellin Betances, was an absolute revelation in relief for the Yankees in 2014. The former starting pitching prospect used a wicked combination of a 96+ fastball, and an absolutely devastating knuckle curveball, to strikeout 135 batters in 70 appearances; spread out over 90 innings of work. In addition to Betances and his filthy arsenal, the Yankees brought in left handed specialist, Andrew Miller, on a 4 year deal. Miller, another former starter, looks to have found his niche as a premier set up man and was one of the highly sought after relief pitchers available in the offseason. Miller, who split time between Boston and Baltimore in 2014, pitched in 73 contests and struck out 103 batters over 62.1 innings. As of right now, instead of handing the ball to just one guy to close the door in the 9th, it looks like Joe Girardi has the luxury of being able to turn to either one of Miller or Betances; depending on who is standing in the batter’s box.  The Yankees ‘pen is rounded out by Adam Warren, David Carpenter, Justin Wilson, Chasen Shreve and long man/spot starter, Esmil Rogers.

081313Yankees046RA.JPG 

        Honourable Mentions: 

 

 What We Hate:

  • Paper Mache Durability Concerns: Tanaka’s UCL, C.C’s knees, Pineda’s shoulder, Tex’s wrist, Beltran’s elbow… and these are just a few of the injury highlights that plagued the Yankees in 2014. Do we seriously believe that none of these will flare up/worsen in 2015? What about Jacoby Ellsbury? For someone whose durability was a concern heading into 2014, he managed to play in the most games (149) since 2011. Still, this is a guy who has had chronic rib and shoulder injuries throughout his career, and his aggressive style of play leaves him one slide or diving catch away from re-aggravating those injuries. What are the odds he plays in 130+ games this season? We still haven’t mentioned Chase Headley’s knees or even the return of the near 40 year old A-Rod. Can we expect full seasons from them? These are merely speculations but it is hard not to factor in injury/health concerns, especially on an aging roster, when it comes down to predicting where teams will finish come October. Speculations aside, I strongly believe that if any team is susceptible to breaking down from wear and tear over the course of a 162 game season, the Yankees have to be at, or near the top of that list.

injured yankees

  • The Return of a Villain: If last season was about writing the final chapter in the Derek Jeter fairytale, than this season will be about writing the next column in the tabloid magazine that has become Alex Rodriguez’s career. Lost in the shuffle that was the never ending farewell tour that marked Derek Jeter’s last season, was the blessing in disguise that was Alex Rodriguez’s season long suspension. That will not be the case this year. There is no feel good story, final farewell or well deserved suspension to keep A-Rod off the field and out of the headlines this season. To simply put it: Alex Rodriguez is a heel; he is the kind of guy that (almost) EVERYONE roots against. Hell, even his own team can’t stand him. He has been the best villain in baseball since Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds hung up their needles… err… I mean cleats. Kind of sad to see a guy who was on the path to being one of the all time greats, slowly fading toward the Jose Canseco realm of clown shoes.

arod pouty

Honourable Mention:

  • Not hearing the (recorded) voice of Bob Sheppard say, “At shortstop, number two. Derek Jeter, number two.” –  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKpK0Ao0A6Y
  • Having what might be the oldest roster and being compared to the current Phillies.
  • Rotating 1B/DH duties between Tex, A-Rod, Beltran and Garrett Jones.
  • Thinking that Carlos Beltran is still an everyday OF
  • Having to hear “SEE YA” and “AN A-BOMB FROM A-ROD” during Yankees telecasts.
  • Didi Gregorious’ bat.
  • Watching the Yankees make the playoffs with this roster…. (God, I hope not.)

Player to Watch: SP Nathan Eovaldi. The former Marlins starter was acquired by the Yankees, along with Garrett Jones, in exchange for Martin Prado and David Phelps, this past offseason. Although his overall numbers don’t jump off the page (6-14 · 4.37 ERA · 1.33 WHIP), what does jump off the page is his 95.5mph average fastball; good for 4th overall in the MLB in 2014. Wins, losses and earned runs aside, Eovaldi did make 33 starts for the Marlins, where he managed to strikeout 142 batters over 199.2 innings. What Eovaldi really brings to the Yankees is depth for their rotation and they will need it considering the past injury history of Tanaka, Sabathia and Pineda; as well as the aging of Chris Capuano.

Colorado Rockies v Miami Marlins

Top Pitching Prospect:  Luis Severino · RHP · MLB ETA: 2016

severino

Top Positional Prospect: Aaron Judge · OF · MLB ETA: 2016

judge

Top 30 Prospects (MLB.com): http://m.mlb.com/prospects/2015?list=nyy

Final Prediction: 4th AL East

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