Picking the 2016 National League All-Stars

Yesterday, I revealed how I would put together the AL All-Star team, if I was given full authority to pick all 34 players. Today, let’s tackle the NL, and for efficiency reasons, I’ll just copy and paste the intro I wrote yesterday. If you already read that piece, you can just skip right on down to the picks themselves.

The All-Star Game is just a couple of weeks away, so it’s time for the annual tradition of deciding which really good players get acknowledged and which really good players get left out. The fact that there’s no shortage of ways to define who should make the All-Star team doesn’t help; is it about just gathering as many big name players as possible every summer, about rewarding the players who have performed the best so far this year, or some combination of the two?

I tend to lean towards rewarding in-season performance, while using career track record as secondary variable to help make the decision when picking between multiple worthy players. Yes, some guys are going to have great half-seasons and end up on the team despite not truly being long-term stars, but I prefer that over jogging out the same 34 names every summer just because they’re the guys we’re used to recognizing as stars, regardless of what they’ve actually done that season. To me, the All-Star Game is a reward for the players who are playing at a high level, and what you’ve done this season is the most important variable in selecting the rosters.

For my selections, I’m adhering to the MLB rules, so we’re picking 22 position players and 12 pitchers, and every team has to have a representative. Yes, even the Twins. Because some positions are performing much better than others — I’m looking at you, sorry sack of 2016 AL catchers — I did take some liberties with how many players get carried as reserves at each spot, but overall, I tried to pick a team that would satisfy the requirements of how the game is managed and still rewards 34 guys who deserve to make the trip to San Diego this summer. And injured players aren’t eligible for my picks, as I’m just going with players who are healthy enough to play in the game in a couple of weeks.

On to the roster!

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 7/1/16


The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects

The Fringe Five is a weekly regular-season exercise, introduced a few years ago by the present author, wherein that same author utilizes regressed stats, scouting reports, and also his own fallible intuition to identify and/or continue monitoring the most compelling fringe prospects in all of baseball.

Central to the exercise, of course, is a definition of the word fringe, a term which possesses different connotations for different sorts of readers. For the purposes of the column this year, a fringe prospect (and therefore one eligible for inclusion in the Five) is any rookie-eligible player at High-A or above who (a) received a future value grade of 45 or less from Dan Farnsworth during the course of his organizational lists and who (b) was omitted from the preseason prospect lists produced by Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo, and John Sickels, and also who (c) is currently absent from a major-league roster. Players appearing on an updated prospect list or, otherwise, selected in the first round of the current season’s amateur draft will also be excluded from eligibility.

In the final analysis, the basic idea is this: to recognize those prospects who are perhaps receiving less notoriety than their talents or performance might otherwise warrant.

*****

Chad Green, RHP, New York AL (Profile)
This represents Green’s second consecutive appearance among the Five and third overall this season. He entered the week having produced two excellent starts, recording strikeout and walk rates of 40.8% and 2.0%, respectively, over 14.0 innings of work. The 25-year-old right-hander didn’t reach those same frenzied heights in his most recent appearance, but continued to exhibit the same sort of fielding-independent dominance nevertheless. Facing Nationals affiliate Syracuse, Green produced a 6:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 21 batters over 6.0 innings, conceding just three hits and no runs (box). And again, this doesn’t appear to be a case of mere polish or deception: Green sat at 95 mph during his only career major-league start and 97 mph about a month later while appearing in a relief capacity for the Yankees.

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Scouting Chris Paddack, San Diego’s Return for Rodney

The Miami Marlins have traded white-hot RHP Chris Paddack to San Diego in exchange for Fernando Rodney. Paddack was an eighth-round draftee in 2015 and was signed for a $400,000 bonus. He dominated prep competition at Cedar Park High School in Texas, striking out 134 hitters in 75 innings during his senior year. He fell to the eighth round, in part, because he was 19-and-a-half on draft day. He was also a fastball/changeup guy without great breaking-ball feel. Arms like that tend to slot after fastball/breaking-ball pitchers because orgs think it’s easier to develop a changeup over time than it is to learn how to break off a curveball.

Paddack was solid during Gulf Coast League play after he signed last summer but looked so good this spring that Miami let him bypass the New York-Penn League and sent him straight to Low-A. He had made some physical strides, strengthening his lower half and repeating a delivery that was often inconsistent and stiff in high school. The results this season have been staggering: 48 strikeouts and just 2 walks — plus only nine hits allowed — in 28.1 innings over six starts. Paddack hasn’t allowed a hit in his last three starts and two of those came in consecutive appearances against a Rome lineup that failed to make adjustments to his stuff or sequencing.

A broad-shouldered 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds, Paddack has a well-paced, easy delivery. He commands a low-90s fastball – with terrific plane and run, which help the pitch play as plus – to both sides of the plate and has been up to 95. The meal-ticket secondary pitch here is the changeup. It’s already plus and Paddack will use it against both lefties and righties. It’s difficult to identify out of his hand, dies as it reaches the plate.

Perhaps one of the key components of Paddack’s step forward this season has been the development of a curveball. Paddack struggled to find consistency with any sort of breaking ball in high school and public-sector reports on what he was throwing were all over the place. Dan Farnsworth’s offseason Marlins prospect list had Paddack presciently ranked as the #2 player in the system but listed the breaking ball as a slider. The curveball Paddack throws is of the 12-6 variety and rests in the 73-77 mph range. It’s a fringe-average offering right now but is flashing average and should mature there, though Paddack’s expedient breaking-ball improvement might be a sign that the pitch has more development in the tank than is typical.

When pitches get away from Paddack they do so up in the zone, and while pitch movement has been his saving grace in those situations — and while he’s still been able to miss bats — it may become more of an issue at the upper levels. He’ll also have to improve upon sequencing and pitch usage, but Paddack is just a year removed from high school and it isn’t reasonable to expect much more than he’s shown to this point.

There are also those who think sudden upticks in velocity like the one Paddack has experienced over the last several months are harbingers of ulnar-collateral doom but there’s nothing beyond anecdotal evidence to support that and Paddack’s build and delivery don’t sound any alarms.

I think, given Paddack’s relatively short track record of success and the fact that he’s just a year removed from high school, there’s still a good bit of risk associated with his prospectdom, but he has mid-rotation stuff right now and that changeup might just continue to improve.

Grades
Fastball: 60/60
Changeup: 60/65
Curveball: 45/50
Control/Command: 45/50+
FV: 50


Rangers Hitters Couldn’t Be More Clutch

Thursday afternoon, I wrote about the Mets’ offense, and about how it’s been remarkably unclutch. It’s not the only thing that’s been going wrong for them, but it’s been a big deal, and it’s one of the reasons why the Mets feel like they’ve lost a lot of their momentum. Consider this a companion piece, as everything came out of the same research. If things were to keep up, then by one measure, the Mets would have the least-clutch offense since at least 1974. Similarly, if things were to keep up, then by the same measure, the Rangers would have the most-clutch offense since at least 1974.

The Rangers own the best record in the American League. As the majors go, they’re hanging around with the Cubs, and the Rangers have also staked out a massive lead in the AL West. It would be a shocker if they didn’t win the division, and whenever you have a team playing this well, there’s a lot that goes into it. What’s interesting is it’s not like the Rangers have been particularly lucky with health — players have seemingly dropped left and right. But replacements have stepped in, and the Rangers are blowing away their estimated BaseRuns record. The biggest contributor has been offensive timing.

I know this verges on coming off like a bad word; no one wants to think of their team as being sort of fluke-y. That’s really not the point I want to drive home, anyway. The Rangers deserve credit for what they’ve done. What they’ve done has been almost unbelievable.

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Orioles Bench Coach John Russell on Not Following the Ball

“Keep your eye on the ball” is one of baseball’s oldest adages. According to John Russell, it doesn’t apply to managers and coaches. The Baltimore Orioles bench coach and his professional brethren have responsibilities that go beyond watching the flight of the cowhide sphere.

Russell, who skippered the Pittsburgh Pirates prior to joining Buck Showalter’s staff in 2011, expounded on the subject during a mid-June visit to Fenway Park.

———

Russell on watching the game: “I think different managers do different things, but you run little checklists in your mind. First, there’s a lot of preparation involved before the game begins. Once it does, you obviously keep an eye on your pitcher. But one of the biggest things — we talk to young managers about this when they first start out — is that you don’t want to be caught following the baseball. When the ball is hit, you don’t want to just lock in on it. If you do, you’re going to miss a lot.

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Mets Hitters Couldn’t Be Less Clutch

Let’s face it: As the Mets go, there’s no shortage of things to worry about. The team overall remains in a decent position, but now there’s concern regarding two pitchers’ elbows. Meanwhile, Matt Harvey still doesn’t quite look like himself. David Wright is probably done for the year. And the lineup just isn’t producing runs. Injuries haven’t helped, and Michael Conforto‘s collapse didn’t help, but the pitchers are getting so little margin of error. Things in New York are frequently tense. They’re tense today. It feels a little like last season, before the season turned beautiful.

I can’t say anything about Steven Matz. I can’t say anything about Noah Syndergaard. I can’t say much about the various injuries, or about Conforto’s chances of getting it going. I don’t know where the Mets are going to go, and their struggles have helped open the door for the Marlins. What I can say is this: Offensively speaking, the Mets have been impossibly unclutch. It shouldn’t continue like this. Of course, what’s done is done.

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Dodgers and Marlins Kick Off Trading Season

Well, we’re almost to July, and teams that need pitching help have decided not to wait any longer. According to reports, two small trades for pitching help are being completed this afternoon.

Neither Fernando Rodney nor Bud Norris are the kinds of guys that are going to single handedly carry you to the playoffs, but both also have their value in providing useful depth, and both are having excellent starts to the 2016 season. Rodney’s strikeout rate has spiked back up this year, allowing him to be an effective pitcher even with his command problems, and will likely slide into the Marlins bullpen, allowing them to ride A.J. Ramos, David Phelps, and Kyle Barraclough a bit less in the second half. Though, if Keith Law is correct that the Marlins gave up a “good prospect” to get a half season of Rodney’s inconsistency, that seems like a steep price to pay. But we’ll have to wait and see what price they paid.

For the Dodgers, this was very likely a reaction to the news that Clayton Kershaw is heading to the DL, weakening the team’s rotation even further. Norris has been pretty good of late, and as Jeff Sullivan recently noted, that’s coincided with him getting rid of his garbage change-up and replacing it with an effective cutter. If that swap continues to pay dividends, he could be a nice back-end starter for the team in the second half.

That said, Norris also has a pretty long history of underperforming his peripheral numbers, with +11 WAR in his career if you go by the FIP-based WAR, but only +6 WAR if you go by RA9. With over 1,000 big league innings, it’s pretty likely that a good chunk of that difference is due to Norris’ own weaknesses and not just bad luck, so we shouldn’t expect him to be as good as his FIP suggests. But even with some BABIP issues, a guy with average walk and strikeout rates and some groundballs can be useful, and Norris is good enough against RHPs that he could be an effective situational reliever in the playoffs, if the Dodgers manage to get there.

Like with the Rodney deal, we don’t know what the acquisition cost was, but the Dodgers certainly needed to add an arm with Kershaw going down for at least a few weeks. Norris isn’t an ace, but he can help the team survive for a little while, and if this new cutter proves effective, maybe even do more than that.


The Great Yankees Bullpen… Sale

The New York Yankees aren’t completely out of the 2016 postseason race, but they’re also not trending up. The team has done little this season to make anyone think they’re playoff-bound or anything more than a .500 team. Masahiro Tanaka has been good and CC Sabathia is having a nice bounce-back season, but Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, Luis Severino and Ivan Nova haven’t been able to keep the ball in the park, giving up 52 homers in 274.1 innings. On offense, the only above-average hitter is a 39-year-old Carlos Beltran, and he’s having trouble staying on the field. The strength of the team is an historically great bullpen, and if the team is willing to give up on this season, they could get quite a return over the next month by dealing Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and maybe even Dellin Betances.

The Yankees are currently 37-39 with a negative-34 run differential*. They’re nine games back in the division and six games out of the last wild-card spot, needing to pass six teams to get there. Our projections have them going 44-42 the rest of the way, thereby ending the year at exactly .500. BaseRuns says the Yankees have played like a team that should be 33-43. While the team’s peripheral pitching stats suggest the team has outperformed their results a little bit (4.43 ERA and 4.00 FIP), we’re still talking about a team that might be .500 if things had worked out better, not a team that looks like a contender. The team’s best playoff odds are likely behind them and the team has a roughly 6% chance at the postseason right now.

*Numbers before play on Wednesday.

chart (2)

So in all likelihood, the team should be sellers. That said, a team of veterans with long-term contracts doesn’t generally make for the most appealing trade partner. If he’s still healthy, Carlos Beltran should be in demand, and it’s possible that Nathan Eovaldi might bring something back, but the strength of the Yankees has been the bullpen, and if they’re going to sell, that’s where they’ll get the greatest return.

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July 2 Scouting Reports, Prospects 11-25

Below are scouting reports on the prospects ranked 11-25 on my 2016 July 2 Sortable Board which you can find here. Most of the players discussed below, as you’ll see on the board, are of the 35 FV variety. So too are the unranked players listed below them on the board. The group highlighted here separated themselves from the rest primarily because of (a) a more realistic likelihood to play a premium defensive position and (b) perceived upside. Scouting reports on the top-10 players will run tomorrow. We’ll also have a “best of the rest” rundown of other players in the class next week.

11. Yordy Barley, SS, Dominican Republic (Video)

Barley is a plus runner with twitchy and athletic defensive actions, a lightning quick transfer and a plus arm. His footwork and hands need polish but he has the physical ability to be an above-average defensive shortstop at maturity. Offensively, Barley is smooth and graceful, he has loose, whippy wrists and sprays contact to all fields. The body has some room to fill out and add some power while retaining the speed for shortstop, and Barley’s swing has the natural loft to hit for some power in games. The feel to hit is a little raw and Barley probably won’t ever have more than fringe-average bat-to-ball and game power, but that kind of offensive profile from a good defensive shortstop who also provides value on the bases is a good everyday player. He is expected to sign with the Padres for about $1 million.

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Congress Is Asked to “Save America’s Pastime”

Rightly or wrongly, minor-league baseball teams believe the ongoing, class-action lawsuit over minor-league players’ wages presents something of an existential threat. As has been previously discussed here on a variety of occasions, the litigation contends, in short, that many minor league players’ salaries — which can run as low as $3,300 per year — violate the federal minimum wage and overtime laws.

Even though minor-league teams are not actually responsible for their players’ salaries — minor leaguers are instead paid by their respective major-league franchise — they still fear that a ruling in the players’ favor could be vitally injurious to their interests. As the argument goes, if major-league teams are forced to incur higher payroll costs, then they will likely cut back on other subsidies that they may currently provide to their minor-league partners.

Moreover, the minor leagues worry that, in some cases, MLB teams may potentially even decide to terminate their relationship with one or more of their minor-league affiliates in order to reduce costs. While most of the higher-level minor-league teams would likely survive such an scenario, the minor leagues fear that a victory for the players could spell doom for some of their lower-level franchises, especially those residing in particularly small metropolitan areas.

As a result, the minor leagues announced 18 months ago that they would petition Congress for relief, asking the legislature to pass a law protecting the industry from the federal minimum wage and maximum hour laws. A year and a half later, these efforts finally came to fruition, when a bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives last week proposing to formally exclude minor-league baseball players from the federal minimum wage and overtime protections. Read the rest of this entry »


Picking the 2016 American League All-Stars

The All-Star Game is just a couple of weeks away, so it’s time for the annual tradition of deciding which really good players get acknowledged and which really good players get left out. The fact that there’s no shortage of ways to define who should make the All-Star team doesn’t help; is it about just gathering as many big namem players as possible every summer, about rewarding the players who have performed the best so far this year, or some combination of the two?

I tend to lean towards rewarding in-season performance, while using career track record as secondary variable to help make the decision when picking between multiple worthy players. Yes, some guys are going to have great half-seasons and end up on the team despite not truly being long-term stars, but I prefer that over jogging out the same 34 names every summer just because they’re the guys we’re used to recognizing as stars, regardless of what they’ve actually done that season. To me, the All-Star Game is a reward for the players who are playing at a high level, and what you’ve done this season is the most important variable in selecting the rosters.

For my selections, I’m adhering to the MLB rules, so we’re picking 22 position players and 12 pitchers, and every team has to have a representative. Yes, even the Twins. Because some positions are performing much better than others — I’m looking at you, sorry sack of 2016 AL catchers — I did take some liberties with how many players get carried as reserves at each spot, but overall, I tried to pick a team that would satisfy the requirements of how the game is managed and still rewards 34 guys who deserve to make the trip to San Diego this summer. And injured players aren’t eligible for my picks, as I’m just going with players who are healthy enough to play in the game in a couple of weeks.

On to the roster!

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Eno Sarris Baseball Chat — 6/30/16

12:49
Eno Sarris: Listen I heard this on Jason Schwarzman’s show and it’s some sort of Doobie Brother cover played on like a casio and I know that sentence is way up its own ass but I dunno I like it.
12:00
Bork: Hello, friend!
12:00
Eno Sarris: Hello!
12:00
Bob Dobolina: Worried about Samardzija? Dude’s getting knocked around.
12:00
Eno Sarris: here’s the weird thing, if you look at his peripherals, they are exactly the same as last year. The balls in play results are different.
12:01
Eno Sarris: I think he’s a highish ERA okay WHIP meh strikeouts guy basically. 3.75/1.25/7k9

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Who Will Hate Robot Umps the Most?

Ever since Eric Byrnes used a computer to help umpire an independent-league baseball game last year, and then Brian Kenny took up the mantle of #RobotUmpsNow on the MLB Network, I’ve been fascinated with the idea that robot umpires will soon call strike zones in baseball. The more I talk to players about it, though, the more I doubt that it’s an eventuality. Because the players, well, the players are going to hate it.

I can’t speak for all players, obviously. I haven’t talked to all of them. But I’ve talked to plenty on both sides, even ones I can’t quote here, and the biggest endorsement I could get was a tepid version of “It’s going to happen.”

So instead of asking each player what they thought about robot umpires, I changed the question a bit. Instead, I asked pitchers, catchers, and hitters, “Who will hate robot umps the most?”

The short answer? Everyone. The long answer? Much more interesting.

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NERD Game Scores: Examining the R.A. Dickey Question

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by sabermetric nobleman Rob Neyer, and expanded at the request of nobody, NERD scores represent an attempt to summarize in one number (and on a scale of 0-10) the likely aesthetic appeal or watchability, for the learned fan, of a player or team or game. Read more about the components of and formulae for NERD scores here.

***

Most Highly Rated Game
Cleveland at Toronto | 19:07 ET
Carrasco (56.0 IP, 80 xFIP-) vs. Dickey (95.2 IP, 109 xFIP-)
More than one reader over the past month-plus has suggested — in only the most congenial possible terms, naturally — that perhaps Toronto right-hander R.A. Dickey isn’t entirely worthy of his high marks here. This is a fair sort of criticism to make. If one looks into his or her heart and finds that it’s unmoved by the prospect of R.A. Dickey, regardless of whatever charms Dickey’s knuckleball possesses — this is, essentially, a kind of Truth.

Here’s why Dickey is so well received by the haphazardly constructed pleasure-algorithm featured here. When the author first introduced a sort of prototype of NERD to readers at this site, there was something resembling consensus among those same readers — or at least those compelled to raise their internet voices — that Dickey, who has never possessed great velocity or the promise of youth or excellent fielding-indepedent numbers, ought to receive a bonus for the knuckleball. The solution: to provide a bonus to all pitchers calculated by multiplying the frequency with which they threw a knuckleball (KN%) by five. Since then, only Dickey and (now) Steven Wright have benefited from the adjustment, essentially receiving about extra four points above and beyond their leaguemates.

Ought the knuckleball bonus to be eliminated? Ought it, at the very least, to be decreased slightly? Perhaps. Readers are invited to comment on the matter with civility in the space below. Or invited to dismiss the entire matter as an absurd thing in an ocean of absurd things.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Cleveland Radio.

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This Might Be the End for Alex Rodriguez

Two opposing things can be true, I believe. Superstar players are probably the last to know when they’ve come to the end of the line. Declines can be so gradual they’re tough to detect if you’re just taking things day by day. If you listen to the players, they’ll insist they remain capable, even after they’re probably not. On the other side of the coin, no one loves to bury good players too early more than writers. We’ve all probably done it at some point. I did it way too early to Raul Ibanez. Countless people did it way too early to David Ortiz. We start looking for any signs of age-related decline, and then when one or two show up, we tend to assume that’s it. Good players know how to make adjustments. That’s what allows them to be good players.

So with Alex Rodriguez, right now, we’re…somewhere. Rodriguez says he’ll be okay, and he says he loves to prove doubters wrong. Not that Alex Rodriguez has much of a history of being doubted, but, anyway. Rodriguez has his pride, and he also has terrible numbers. He’s 40 years old! But then, the Yankees’ best hitter is 39 years old. It would be very easy to conclude that Rodriguez is finished. The Yankees have started to put him on the bench. We should probably be more patient — this is still Alex Rodriguez we’re talking about. The talent is in there. It’s just, the numbers paint a picture, and it’s a picture of a changed and worse ballplayer. That much cannot be argued.

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The Best and Worst of Maikel Franco

Maikel Franco had one of the better games in baseball Tuesday. Facing the Diamondbacks, he came up in the third inning and doubled, and then he came up in the fifth inning and homered. It’s extraordinarily difficult to have a bad game when you hit a home run. It’s almost impossible to have a bad game when you homer and double. The Phillies would take that performance eight days a week — Franco’s single-game wRC+ easily cleared 300.

There was just one little thing, though. Franco’s a young power hitter, so the fact that he had two extra-base hits shows that that was Franco at his best. Yet there was also a sighting of Franco at his worst. In the end, the Phillies won, and Franco did do his damage, so spirits are high. But Franco did something that’s hard to forget.

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Marcus Semien Deserves Our Admiration

First, Marcus Semien worked hard, every day, with Ron Washington and various tools of the trade in order to improve his defense. He’s now an above-average defender, if you believe the stats — or at least a competent defender, if you prefer your eyes.

The newest evidence of his behind-the-scenes toil comes from his production at the plate. If you look at his overall line, a little bit more patience and power has pushed his weighted, park- and league-adjusted offense up about 10 percentage points. If you look at his overall peripherals, even, it doesn’t look like much has changed. He’s pulling a bit more, but he’s hitting about the same mix of grounders and flies.

You might just chalk it up to getting a little bigger, and picking his pitches a bit better. But if you did that, you’d miss that there’s been a rapid and drastic change to his batted-ball mix this season. It’s almost a tale of two seasons.

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Jay Bruce Might Finally Get Traded

Jay Bruce‘s tenure with the Reds has reached the kids in the back seat asking “Are we there, yet?” stage. It feels like he should have been traded a while ago, yet here is, again a trade target and again a player Cincinnati can move to help its rebuilding process. The team has a $13 million option on Bruce for next year, so they theoretically still control him for another year and a half. That said, now is really the time the Reds need to trade him.

Figuring out when the Reds could have traded Bruce isn’t difficult. Determining if they should have is more so. Jay Bruce signed his current contract back before the 2011 season. The deal guaranteed him $51 million, buying out his arbitration years and potentially three years of free agency. The Reds were coming off a division-winning season, and while the 2011 season was disappointing, the team made the playoffs in 2012 and 2013. Heading into the 2014 season, the Reds had reasonable expectations of contending.

That edition of the Reds featured one of the best players in baseball, Joey Votto; a still decent Brandon Phillips; a nice, young player in Todd Frazier; and promising guys like Devin Mesoraco and Billy Hamilton, who were potentially ready to step forward. With a rotation of Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake, and Alfredo Simon — and Tony Cingrani with Aroldis Chapman in the ninth — the team looked like it might have a decent shot at postseason contention. At the very least, there wasn’t the obvious need to blow things up and rebuild. The 2014 season proceeded to become a bit of a disaster, however. Votto got hurt, Phillips got worse, Bailey and Latos couldn’t pitch full seasons, and Jay Bruce had the worst year of his career, putting up a wRC+ of 78, a 40-point drop from his previous four seasons.

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Brock Stewart: A Dodgers Project Set to Debut

On rare occasion, I’ll interview a player and end up not writing about him — at least not right away — despite fully intending to. This happened with Brock Stewart, who will be making his major-league debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers later tonight.

Stewart was more of a project than a prospect when I talked to him last summer. A sixth-round pick in 2014 out of Illinois State University, the converted infielder was having his ups and downs pitching for Rancho Cucamonga in the High-A California League. But his potential was apparent. Not long after we spoke, it was speculated that Stewart would be part of the three-team, multi-player deal that sent Mat Latos to L.A.

After a sophomore season at Illinois State that saw him hit .330/.402/.496, Stewart thought he’d go on to be drafted as a position player. That changed late in his junior year. The Normal, Illinois, native was scuffling at the plate, and opening eyes in occasional appearances out of the bullpen. One of his coaches suggested that he focus more on pitching, and his father, a pro scout for the Padres (and now the Rays), agreed. Jeff Stewart told his son “a lot of scouts, myself included, think your arm is your best tool.”

The youngster was a little surprised — “I always thought I was going to be playing in the infield for a big-league team someday” — but he heeded the advice. As he put it, “You have to go with the flow, and for me, that flow was toward the mound.” Read the rest of this entry »