Archive for April, 2014

Justin Smoak – The Most Important Man in Baseball?

Posted on April 30th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Players

When you think about the most important players in baseball today, Justin Smoak is probably not a name that comes to mind. After all, he owns just a .704 career OPS in almost 500 games – not exactly the start to his career that most expected. Smoak was a highly-touted prospect in the Rangers organization who found his way to Seattle in a trade which included Cliff Lee. A few years later, Seattle is still waiting for the ability that Smoak possesses to match with his production on the field.

So why is he so important in the 2014 season? Smoak has been tabbed as the Mariners clean-up hitter – smoakmeaning he has the duty of hitting behind Robinson Cano. When Seattle invested nearly a quarter of a billion dollars into Cano this past off-season, many wondered who would be used to protect him in the lineup. Smoak has been charged with that job, and how successful he is will have a large say in what kind of season Seattle achieves.

Without a doubt, the tools are in place for Smoak to breakout, and there have actually already been some positive signs. During the 2013 season, he was an above-average performer from the left side of the plate, but poor numbers as a right-handed batter drug down his overall line. Also, he managed to hit a total of 20 homers last season, even with spending a little bit of time on the disabled list. If Smoak is able to come through for Seattle, it won’t be completely out of nowhere.

Rediscovering his stroke from the right side of the plate is what stands between Smoak and a productive career. He is naturally right-handed, yet that is the side which has plagued him over the last year+. The large expanse that is left field at Safeco Field surely has something to do with it, but he’s struggled on the road as well.

There is no doubt that Robinson Cano is going to see more than his fair share of intentional walks during the months to come. When the M’s have runners on 2nd or 3rd late in the game and Cano comes up, most teams will give him four and take their chances with Smoak. Cashing in on those chances is what will define the Mariners season.

In the early going, the signs have been positive for Seattle. In the first six games, Smoak already has two homers and eight RBI. Not only that, but he’s already make an opposing manager pay for the intentional walk strategy. The Angels chose to put Cano on and load the bases early in the second game of the season. Smoak, hitting right handed, stung a double into the gap and scored all three runners. With just a couple more successes like that one, teams will think twice before giving Cano the pass.

Most analysts don’t love Seattle’s chances this year, but they increase dramatically if Smoak comes into his own. The tools are there, and the early signs indicate that he is rather comfortable hitting behind Cano. If there Mariners are going to return to contention for the first time in a decade, it will have a lot to do with the production they get from their big first baseman.

The Billy Hamilton Experience

Posted on April 23rd, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Baseball Team Apparel

Billy Hamilton of the Reds is one of the most-interesting players in all of baseball. As a minor league player, he made big headlines with his base-stealing prowess. In 2012 alone, he stole a ridiculous 155 bases. He followed that up with swiping 75 in AAA during the 2013 campaign. So we are looking at the next coming of Rickey Henderson, right?

Maybe not so fast. There is just one big problem with Billy Hamilton and getting his game to translate to the major league level – you can’t steal first base. In order to make his speed a real threat, Hamilton will need to find his way on base. If his minor league batting numbers are any indication, that might not be so easy. In hamiltonAAA, he hit just .256, with a .308 OBP. Neither of those numbers are very good in the major leagues, let alone in AAA against lesser competition. If he is going to be able to you his speed to drive opponents crazy as part of the Reds’ outfield, it is clear that his batting skills will need to improve.

Despite a questionable record at the plate, the Reds made the decision to make Hamilton their leadoff hitter to start the new 2014 season. With speed to burn in the outfield, he can certainly cover some turf on defense. However, the only question that everyone wants an answer to is whether or not Hamilton can carry the load at the top of a major league lineup.

In the very early going, the answer has been a resounding ‘no’. In 13 plate appearances, he has registered one walk and no hits. Additionally, he has six times in those 13 PA’s. For a speed player, putting the ball in play and running hard is a fundamental element of the game. Hamilton has been walking back to the dugout almost as often as he has been sprinting down the first base line.

Should you find some collectibles?

With a young player, it is anybody’s guess where their career will go. That is certainly the case with Hamilton. On the positive side, he is only 23 years old and already in the major leagues. If he can simply improve his hitting and get the ball in play more, he could become a force to be reckoned with. On the other hand, his stats in the minor leagues aren’t encouraging when it comes to batting, and his speed is likely to decrease with time. As the years go by and he loses a step or two, there might not be enough left to constitute a major league-quality player.

That said, now might be a good time to pick up a couple Billy Hamilton cards or other collectibles. Since there are so many questions about his game, collectors haven’t taken to him like they do with other, most-established prospects. If Hamilton does blossom into a quality player, there could be great value in his cards. If not, you will at least have a piece that helps you remember one of the most interesting players in recent baseball memory.

The Growing Jose Fernandez Bandwagon

Posted on April 16th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Baseball Cards

You really can’t be blamed if you have no paid much attention to the Miami Marlins over the last couple of seasons. They haven’t been particularly relevant or interesting, with the exception of power hitter Giancarlo Stanton. However, there is a new reason to watch the Marlins, and he is taking the National League by storm over the past year+. His name is Jose Fernandez, and you should expect to see a lot of him in coming seasons.

Just 21 years old, Fernandez hails from Cuba and is already one of the best strikeout pitchers in baseball. In only 185.1 innings in the major leagues, he has already K’d an impressive 204 batter, while walking only 60. fernandezHe started 28 games last season for Miami, recording a 2.19 ERA along with a 12-6 record. He won the Rookie of the Year award, was an All-Star, and finished third in the Cy Young voting. Not a bad start to a major league career.

Fernandez dominates games with classic stuff that you would expect from a big right-handed pitcher. His fastball is intimidating, and he has the control over his secondary pitches necessary to make batters respect them. He hasn’t been doing it with smoke and mirrors – this kid has all the tools to be one of the best pitchers in baseball for years to come.

When you start talking young Marlins players, the natural question is whether or not they will stay with the team long-term. Miami has made some big trades over the years, and seen some impressive players head off for new cities. However, Fernandez is young and under many years of team control, so it seems likely he will remain in South Florida for the foreseeable future. Also, the Marlins have expressed interest in keeping Stanton around for the long-term, giving them the possibility of having a star player on offense and in the pitching staff.

Picking up some Jose Fernandez collectibles soon would be a great idea for any collector. Rookie cards should be easy to find since he was just a rookie last season and, given good health, his stock seems to be headed nowhere but up. Beyond his ability on the field, he has already gained many fans with a quick smile and great story. If you have a collection of cards or other items that highlight some of the best power pitchers in history – names like Clemens, Ryan, Johnson, and more – you will want to make sure Fernandez is represented sooner rather than later. He hasn’t earned a place among the greats just yet, but his ability is of that caliber.

Things seem to be turning around for the Marlins, who just might have a better 2014 season than most would expect. They probably aren’t ready to contend for a playoff spot in a tough division with Atlanta and Washington, but the Marlins are starting to build around two of the best players in the game in Fernandez and Stanton. With that kind of a base in place, winning seasons may be just around the corner.

The Dodgers’ Outfield – One Man Out

Posted on April 9th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Baseball Cards

According to just about everyone who is anyone in baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers are the early season favorite to win the pennant and head to the World Series. With the highest payroll in baseball and a long list of star players both in the field and on the mound, the Dodgers aren’t exactly a surprise pick. In fact, it will be a surprise if they don’t contend strongly come playoff time.

However, that doesn’t mean it’s all fun and games in Southern California. One of manager Don Mattingly’s biggest issues is how to divide up playing time among four very capable outfield options. In a league with no DH, Mattingly doesn’t have the option of keeping the odd man out happy by getting him at bats in the DH slot when not in the lineup.

The four outfielders in question are Carl Crawford, Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, and Andre Ethier. All four of the players are very well paid, and would be starters on just about every team in the league. In addition to that logjam, the Dodgers havepuigkempstar prospect Joc Pederson waiting in the wings to get his chance as well. It’s a good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless.

Previously, this issue has been solved by the poor health of superstar Matt Kemp. When healthy, Kemp is the best of the four players, but his health has been fickle in recent years. He is back in action now, and if he is able to perform like his old self, will be safe bet to land in the lineup on a nearly daily basis.

With Puig, the issues have been more behavioral than performance or health related. Puig has had a series of minor incidents like speeding tickets and tardiness that have left him in the dog house from time to time. Also, on the field errors like overthrowing the cutoff man and getting picked off on the base paths have taken attention off of his amazing natural talent.

Crawford has had his own health issues, and Ethier has been hit and miss with the bat over the last couple seasons. Both players can be strong contributors when right, and sitting either is a hard pill to swallow considering their large salaries.

So what can Don Mattingly do? Is a trade inevitable?

While there might be a trade coming down the road, Mattingly can probably make do for the time being just by rotating these four players around. For one thing, the injury history of Kemp makes him a good candidate for a rest every few days. If Ethier doesn’t hit up to his previous level, it will make it a little easier for Mattingly to justify his time on the bench. Also, Crawford has been in the league for many years now and could also benefit from some rest on his legs throughout the course of a long season.

To be sure, the Dodgers are loaded with talent. Whether they choose to hang on to all four of these outfielders, or if they trade one to address another area of weakness is yet to be seen. Either way, it seems like a good bet that the Dodgers will be playing into October this season.