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2012 Organizational Rankings: #13 – Milwaukee

Read the methodology behind the ratings here. Remember that the grading scale is 20-80, with 50 representing league average.

2012 Organizational Rankings

#30 – Baltimore
#29 – Houston
#28 – Oakland
#27 – Pittsburgh
#26 – San Diego
#25 – Minnesota
#24 – Chicago AL
#23 – Seattle
#22 – Kansas City
#21 – Cleveland
#20 – New York Mets
#19 – Los Angeles Dodgers
#18 – Colorado
#17 — Miami
#16 — Diamondbacks
#15 — Reds
#14 — Cubs 

Milwaukee’s 2011 Ranking: 22nd

2012 Outlook: 57

Six months after clinching the organization’s first division pennant since 1982, the Brewers appear poised for a chance at a repeat performance. The overall pitching staff should rank among the National League elite, as the entire starting rotation and the back-end of the bullpen — which features shutdown relievers John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez — all return for another season in Milwaukee after compiling a team 3.59 FIP in 2011. That ranked fourth-best in all of baseball a season ago.

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Possible 2013 Free Agent Targets in LA

A collective sigh of relief spread across the baseball community last night, as Frank McCourt officially sold the Los Angeles Dodgers to the partnership group headlined by former Laker great Magic Johnson.

The deal is historic for many reasons. It marks the end of the McCourt era in Los Angeles, in which he ran one of the most storied franchises into the ground and transformed it into a laughingstock across the league (and, unfortunately, still made a healthy profit in the end). The final sale price of $2.15 billion also is the most any U.S. sports franchise has ever commanded.

For more information about the details of the sale, be sure to read this article written by Mike Axisa.

This transition of ownership should not only translate into a more professional baseball franchise, but it also should signify the end of thriftiness in Los Angeles. Ned Colletti should no longer be cash-strapped when attempting to accumulate talent to build a winning team. No longer sitting on the sidelines while other big-market organizations acquire talent such as Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, and Jose Reyes. Starting next winter, the Los Angeles Dodgers project to be serious players in the free agent market once again.

But which players could the Dodgers target next offseason?

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Royals Shock World, Send Giavotella To AAA

Since the 2011 season ended and the offseason began, people largely assumed that Johnny Giavotella would break camp as the starting second baseman for the Kansas City Royals. He mashed Triple-A last year to the tune of .338/.390/.481 and was named player of the year in the Royals’ minor league system. Furthermore, the organization benched starter Chris Getz late last year in favor of Giavotella in hopes of grooming the 24-year-old for extensive big league action in 2012.

Despite those facts, the Royals optioned Giavotella to Triple-A Omaha yesterday and will begin the season with some combination of Chris Getz and Yuniesky Betancourt at second base.

You read that correctly. On Sunday afternoon, the Kansas City Royals actively chose a pair of players who both compiled an identical wOBA of .278 last season (average wOBA for an American League second baseman was .312) to split time at second base over a young player who posted a .390 and .381 wOBA in his past two minor league stops, respectively.

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Who Is Left Standing at Second in Philly?

It has become a war of attrition at second base in Philadelphia.

On Monday, we heard that Phillies second baseman Chase Utley has plateaued in his rehab. He is not expected to be healthy by Opening Day. To make matters worse, utility infielder Michael Martinez broke a bone in his foot after being struck by a pitch from Orioles’ reliever Jim Johnson on Tuesday afternoon. The 29-year-old Martinez is not projected to be available for Opening Day, either.

So who will handle the keystone duties opposite shortstop Jimmy Rollins to begin the season?

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Bryce Harper Optioned To Triple-A

The Washington Nationals optioned top prospect Bryce Harper to Triple-A Syracuse on Sunday afternoon, ending the discussion of whether or not the 19-year-old phenom would begin the season in the major leagues or back down in the minors.

Harper lost some time due to a calf injury this spring. Although the injury was deemed nothing serious, it appears that it may have affected his performance. After all, he has only gone 3-for-17 with nine strikeouts at the plate since returning to the lineup. Everything needed to go perfectly this spring for Harper to break camp with the Nationals’ big league club. Both the injury and plate discipline issues made the decision to option him to Triple-A for more seasoning extremely easy.

In Triple-A, the Nationals will reportedly attempt to groom Harper in center field. With Mike Morse entrenched in left field and Jayson Werth in right field for the foreseeable future, squeezing Harper into center field is a natural fit for the organization. Most scouting reports believe he possesses the natural athleticism to survive in center — though a corner outfield position will still be his eventual home — and his bat profiles as plus-plus in center, as well.

The time frame for a potential big league call up for Harper remains unclear. If he dominates Triple-A pitching as he did in the Arizona Fall League — where he hit .333/.400/.634 with six home runs — his time with the Syracuse Chiefs will be relatively short-lived.

Keeping the seat warm in the big leagues will be 27-year-old Roger Bernadina. Last season, Bernadina hit .243/.301/.362 and was worth +0.8 wins in 337 plate appearances. ZiPS projects approximately the same output in 2012, which follows historical precedent as the young man has not been worth a single win in any season throughout his career. He also plays poor defense in center field, too, which makes his lack of bat a bit more concerning.

Of course, Rick Ankiel could also see some time in center field. His bat leaves quite a bit to be desired, as well. He only hit .239/.296/.363 last season with the Nationals. Defensively, though, he does play a much better center field (+6.9 UZR in CF in 2011) than does Bernandina (-5.2 UZR). That significant upgrade could net Ankiel more playing time than currently projected at this point in the spring.

Whether Bernadina or Ankiel plays the majority of innings in center field for the Nationals this season, though, they will merely serve as a placeholder for Harper. The organization is perhaps only a few months away from trotting out a big league lineup with both of their hyped young players, Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. The future of the organization is almost now.


Why Aren’t We Talking About The San Jose A’s?

The Oakland Athletics have pined for a move to San Jose for some time. Bud Selig and Major League Baseball recently have put the issue onto the front burner, yet no resolution seems to be within reach at this point in the negotiations.

This potential move to San Jose is not simply another example of a professional sports franchise strong-arming the league and the public sector into building a new stadium. Instead, the potential move is about money. The organization desperately wishes to leave Oakland because the profitability of the area has waned. In fact, the Athletics reportedly lost money last season, despite healthy revenue sharing checks.

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Spring Position Battles: Hannahan vs. Chisenhall

After sniffing success through the first half of last season, the Cleveland Indians have fully shifted into contender mode. Trading away promising, young starters Drew Pomeranz and Alex White for right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez cemented that transition for the organization, and the thirst for a postseason berth continued this winter with an early acquisition of veteran Derek Lowe.

Due to their expectations to contend in the AL Central and for a postseason berth, the spring training battle between Jack Hannahan and Lonnie Chisenhall for the starting third baseman role this year is incredibly interesting. It pits an average guy in Hannahan (who offers little in terms of upside or, historically, offensive production) against a former top prospect in Chisenhall (who is inexperienced and struggled last year, but has legitimate upside).

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Positional Power Rankings: Left Field

For an explanation of this series, please read Dave Cameron’s introduction from Monday. All the posts in the series can be found here.

Left field has traditionally been a power of power for big league lineups, and for the past decade, it has also been a place for teams to hide poor defensive players. Think Barry Bonds, Manny Ramirez, Carlos Lee, Adam Dunn, and Pat Burrell.

In 2011, however, that standard has begun to shift. The league-average wOBA for left fielders (.320 wOBA) was lower than both center field (.324) and right field (.334). Players such as Brett Gardner, Desmond Jennings, and Alex Presley project to start in left field for their respective teams. Those are not the traditional left field types that we grew accustomed to watching over the past ten or fifteen years, but as we will see, that does not mean the teams with those players rank near the bottom of the positional rankings.

Let’s take a look …

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MLB Draft: High School Bats To Watch

The 2012 MLB Draft is largely considered to be a prep-heavy draft. Many of the impact players will not be drafted out of the college ranks. Instead, they will come from various high schools across the country.

While it’s certainly not uncommon to have a prep-heavy draft class, the concentration of talent on the high school side of the board provides an intriguing backdrop to the draft as a whole. How will teams draft and sign the best talent — which appears to be prep talent — and yet adhere to the spending restrictions imposed by the new Collective Bargaining Agreement? Will teams be more budget-conscious and draft collegiate players to lessen leverage, or will teams simply draft the best players available (as they have in the past) and deal with the monetary ramifications as they come?

Certainly something to watch as the draft moves closer.

Last week, we profiled a handful of high school pitchers who could potentially be drafted in the first round of this year’s MLB Draft. This week, we shift gears and focus on the high school position players and which prep bats could be selected throughout the early rounds in early June.

Here are ten bats to keep tabs on this spring, in no particular order (these short scouting reports are an aggregate of watching video and reading various online scouting reports):

OF Byron Buxton, Appling County (Baxley, GA)

Buxton continues to draw lofty comparisons to both Justin and B.J. Upton. While it is always difficult for such a young player to be saddled with such high expectations, the outfielder possesses the similar potential to develop five above-average tools across the board. Some scouts believe he can stick in center, while others see him settling in right field down the road. Teams love his power potential, his quick wrists, and his overall athleticism. Many see right-hander Lucas Giolito going first overall in the 2012 Draft, but ESPN’s Keith Law ranks Buxton as the number one draft prospect this year.

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MLB Draft: High School Arms To Watch

After such a talent-laden draft class last year, it is quite easy to feel a bit underwhelmed with the upcoming crop of players for the 2012 MLB Draft. That does not mean the draft class is bereft of big league talent or necessarily poor. It simply reflects just how good the ’11 group of draftees was largely thought to be. Plenty of quality players exist in the ’12 draft class.

Much of the talent lies within the high school arms. The hype surrounding prep pitchers tends to increase as we inch closer to June, as reports stream in throughout the high school baseball season regarding increased velocity, growth spurts, and improved control of offspeed pitches. Thus, the rankings will ebb and flow with unknown names climbing the list after stellar high school seasons, impressive private workouts, and well-established pitchers falling after mediocre seasons. It happens every single year.

Despite the fluidity of the overall rankings, certain names routinely top the charts. They will be the ones to watch this spring. Here are ten names (featuring brief scouting reports based upon online video and various online scouting reports) in no particular order with which to familiarize yourself prior to spring baseball:

RHP Lucas Giolito — Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, CA)

Giolito is largely considered the best prep arm — if not the best arm, period — in the draft. He sits in the low-to-mid 90s with his fastball, but can reportedly run it up to 97 MPH (or higher) on a good day. His curveball is a legitimate out-pitch with two-plane break that can be thrown for strikes or spiked into the dirt, while his changeup remains a work-in-progress. Scouts love his 6-foot-6 frame and believe he has some room to fill out.

On Tuesday 2/28: Giolito threw 6.1 IP of one-hit baseball with eight strikeouts and no walks. He reportedly hit 100 MPH on the radar gun multiple times in the first and second innings.

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MLB Draft: First-Round Trends

Take the best available player.

That refrain continues to be the draft philosophy espoused by all thirty major league organizations throughout each summer. It does not matter if the player is 18-years-old and in high school or if the player is 21-years-old and in college. Simply evaluate the talent on the field and draft accordingly. As Mariners’ scouting director Tom McNamara stated last June in preparation for the 2011 Draft:

“If we think the high school player is the best player at No. 2, we’ll take the high school guy. If we think it’s a college guy, we’ll take the college guy.” (source)

Seattle eventually selected collegiate left-hander Danny Hultzen with the second pick in the draft. In 2010, Seattle selected prep right-hander Taijuan Walker in the supplemental first round, which happened to be their first and only first-round pick of the draft. The year before, they had three first-round picks and selected one collegiate player and two high school players.

Echoing the best player available approach, the Mariners have not shown preference toward high school or college. In fact, the organization has drafted seven prep players and six collegiate players since the 2000 Draft. Essentially an even split.

All organizations are not like this, though. I gathered all of the first-round draft picks (including the first supplemental round) since the turn of the century, and noticed a few trends that have developed.

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Trade Retrospective: Sabathia to Brewers

In 2008, the Milwaukee Brewers were one of the feel-good stories of the baseball season. They ended a 26-year postseason drought and brought October baseball back to the land of beer and cheese.

Milwaukee also made headlines when they orchestrated the blockbuster trade of the summer. To augment a starting rotation that lost young right-hander Yovani Gallardo earlier in the year to a torn ACL which he sustained in a freak injury against the Chicago Cubs, the Brewers sent first baseman Matt LaPorta, center fielder Michael Brantley, left-hander Zach Jackson, and right-handed reliever Rob Bryson to Cleveland in order to acquire their ace, CC Sabathia.

At the time, the four-prospect package was largely considered a steep price to pay for a half-year rental. Over three years later, though, how does that trade look?

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Building Through the Draft: Worst of the Worst

On Monday morning, I wrote an article that revealed the top five teams in Major League Baseball at drafting and developing talent for their big league club over the past decade, starting with the 2002 Draft.

Several people commented that they wished to see the entire list of teams, ranked by total accumulated WAR and also including average WAR per homegrown player. Here is the entire league:

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Building Through the Draft: Best of the Best

Prospects have never been trendier amongst baseball fans than they are right now. The MLB Draft is now televised, most baseball blogs and online publications now publish at least a Top 10 Prospects list for each organization, and struggling fan bases such as that of the Kansas City Royals have begun to see their attendance rise as their prized minor leaguers begin to reach the majors.

The same can be said for their popularity within major league organizations, too.

Teams have begun pouring so much money into the draft that the new CBA contains specific limitations to curb the spending spree. Teams now often value control years more than overall talent and have become extremely cautious in parting with top prospects to acquire proven talent. This generalization goes for both big-market and small-market franchises, too, which is something that was not often said in previous years.

Which teams have benefited most from homegrown talent in recent years? Which teams have drafted amateur players and developed them into major league talent the best?

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High School Draftees and Elite Seasons

Over the weekend, I stumbled upon this article that quoted some thought-provoking numbers from agent Scott Boras. In the article, he voices his support for increased collegiate baseball scholarships and lays out a few statistics that his agency has unearthed:

  • >>  79% of collegiate first-round draft picks reach the major leagues for at least one day.
  • >>  62% of high school first-round draft picks reach the major leagues for at least one day.

That is a significant 17% difference, though not necessarily surprising. High school draftees come with increased risk. Generally, their skill sets remain more unrefined than their collegiate counterparts. Thus, predicting the future talent for those players becomes much more difficult. This uncertainty causes teams to miss on a greater portion of high school players.

So, what continues to draw teams into drafting a high school player over a collegiate player every year?

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Overspending on the Cuban Market

The Chicago Cubs have long been connected to Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes this winter, but last week, they came to terms with another Cuban free agent, 19-year-old left-hander Gerardo Concepcion.

Concepcion flew under the radar for the majority of the offseason. The focus has been on the higher ceiling Cubans, which left much of the baseball community slackjawed at the $7M price tag the Cubs had to pony up to land the southpaw. Teams simply do not spend that much money on a prospect that is largely considered to be nothing more than a back-end starter … tops.

That is, unless one factors in the fact that international spending will now be capped, starting this upcoming July. Rick Hahn, Assistant General Manager of the Chicago White Sox, predicted a week ago that teams would be “extraordinarily aggressive on Cespedes, Soler and Concepcion” due to the upcoming limitations. He turned out to be right on the money.

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South Korea, Japan and The MLB

Earlier this week, the Baltimore Orioles announced the signing of 17-year-old South Korean pitcher, Kim Seong-min, amidst little fanfare.

At least, little fanfare in the United States.

The Korean Baseball Organization, on the other hand, strongly rebuked the Orioles and Major League Baseball for “indiscriminately signing [Korean] players.” Kim was the nation’s top left-handed pitching prospect and was expected to join the KBO upon his completion of high school. Instead, he becomes just another face amongst the hundreds of young men from across the globe in Major League organizations who are all trying to realize a life-long dream of playing in the big leagues.

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Stress and Anxiety in Baseball

Baseball is a team sport. Between the foul lines, however, the outcome of the game is inextricably composed of multiple individual performances, and in today’s hyper-analytical and overly-critical society that places each individual performance under a microscope, stress amongst baseball players has — by all accounts — risen to never-before-seen levels.

For some players, that stress lacks a healthy outlet. It builds and builds until mental disorders begin to bubble to the surface, and in some cases, they can become debilitating for players.

Taylor Buchholz became the latest major league baseball player to come forward and announce that he will take time away from baseball due to anxiety and depression issues.

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Francisco Cordero, The Blue Jay

Right-hander Francisco Cordero sat on the sideline as every other available closer on the free agent market found employment this winter. On Tuesday afternoon, however, it was reported that the 36-year-old native of the Dominican Republic agreed to a one-year, $4.5M deal with the Toronto Blue Jays.

He is expected to serve as the set-up man for the newly-acquired Sergio Santos, which will be the first year in a non-closer role for Cordero since he set-up for Ugueth Urbina for half of the 2003 season. Dave Cameron adroitly illustrated why Cordero was left on the outside of the closer’s market looking in — mostly due to a troubling decline in the ability to miss bats over the past few years — in this article.

It’s beneficial for the Blue Jays that Cordero will not be relied upon to be the team’s closer, because that declining strikeout rate was not the only red flag raised in 2011. The vast chasm between his 2.45 ERA and 4.02 FIP last season has been well-documented, but the other major concern stems from what appears to be a huge improvement from last year: his walk rate.

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Younger Is Not Always Better in the Dominican

Age falsification continues to be a thorn in Major League Baseball’s collective side. Cleveland Indians’ right-hander Fausto Carmona was taken into custody in the Dominican Republic last week for using a false identity. Reports state that he is 31 years old (three years older than advertised) and that his real name is Roberto Hernandez Heredia.

This latest arrest not only dredges up questions regarding the effectiveness of the current system of international free agency, but also whether or not organizations are prudently investing money in young, high-risk Dominican teenagers. Melissa Segura of Sports Illustrated explains that, since 2003, 16-year-olds out of the D.R. have been given 50% more in bonuses than 17-year-old players.

Segura goes on to argue that organizations are mistakenly placing a premium on youth in the Dominican because only six players that were signed at age 16 made big league debuts between 2008-2011, while 17-year-old signees had 23 debuts and 18-year-old signees had 24 debuts.

Organizations do not sign Dominican teenagers to six-figure deals merely to have them scratch the big leagues, though. They wish to exploit the perceived inefficiencies of the Latin American market and buy premium talent at a fraction of the market value.

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