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MLB Spring Training: Each Team’s Top Prospect in Camp Who’s Not Quite Ready

Each year spring training shows a glimpse into the season ahead, but also a glimpse into the future.  We get to see the heroes of today shake off the rust of winter, but we also get to see the heroes of tomorrow take their hacks and show us what’s to come.

With these guys, it can be hard to get too excited, because a lot can happen in professional baseball, and best case scenario we’re not seeing these guys for at least another year.

All we can really do is, as Dick Vitale might say, “remember the name.”  Baby.

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MLB 2011 Predictions: Brandon Belt and 30 Rookies to Watch in 2011

The San Francisco Giants are currently the toast of Major League Baseball.  Featuring the best rotation in baseball and coming off a World Series championship, the Giants look to become the first team since the 1999-2000 New York Yankees to win consecutive World Series.

A crucial contributor to the 2010 San Francisco Giants was NL Rookie of the Year Buster Posey, a can’t-miss prospect who made good on his potential with the Giants by becoming one of the team’s leaders both on and off the field.

In 2011, the Giants have another such player in Brandon Belt, a five-tool first baseman (how often do we say that?) who ripped up the minor leagues in his first season of pro ball and is looking to make the Giants out of spring camp.

Belt will not be the only impact rookie in the majors this season, though.  

Here we take a look at 30 rookies looking to make an impact at the major league level in 2011.

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MLB Power Rankings: Each Team’s Greatest Player to Never Win a Championship

Ted Williams, Ernie Banks, Don Mattingly.  You know the names because you’ve heard them a million times, and strung together you probably already know what the topic is: great players who never won a World Series.

In basketball, football and even hockey to a certain degree, greatness is measured with rings.  Despite complete and utter statistical dominance, Wilt Chamberlain is considered by knowledgeable basketball fans to be inferior to Bill Russell.  Why?  Count the rings.

Dan Marino’s offensive statistics blew away those of Joe Montana, Tom Brady, and John Elway, and yet we remember all three of those guys as better quarterbacks than Marino.  Why?  Count the rings.

But this is not the case in baseball.  Ted Williams was the greatest hitter of all time, regardless of the fact that he never won a championship.  Walter Johnson was the greatest pitcher of all time, regardless of the fact that he made the postseason exactly once during his career.  In baseball, we measure ability based upon performance, which is why we have players whom we consider great who nevertheless never won a championship.

Let’s take a look at the team-by-team power rankings of the best players never to win a World Series championship.

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MLB Power Rankings: Randy Johnson and the 25 Most Intimidating Pitchers Ever

What are the keys to being a successful pitcher?

A good fastball?  Sure.  A nasty curve?  Yeah.  A change-up, slider or cutter?  Okay.

But in the history of baseball, there can be no doubt that there has been an extra element which so many of the game’s most successful pitchers have employed.  It has very little to do with pitching skill or ability or training and everything to do with moxie, with attitude, with personality.

A clear line can be drawn through baseball history connecting the pitchers who added the element of intimidation to their game.  It has made mediocre pitchers good, good pitchers great and great pitchers immortal.

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2011 MLB Story Lines: Do Ichiro, Pujols, and Dunn Have Ten More Years?

In professional baseball, unlike the other major professional sports, twenty years is a benchmark of sorts for a career. 

Sure, a player can go to the Hall of Fame having played 18, 15, or even 10 seasons, but 20 seasons is generally held out as the symbol of full career as a major league baseball player.

To that end, then, the 2011 season represents the beginning of the second half of the careers of three of the most unique players of all time: Ichiro Suzuki, Adam Dunn, and Albert Pujols.

It is hard to believe that it has already been ten years since the 2001 baseball season. 

With President George W. Bush only recently inaugurated, and before Barry Bonds set the world on fire and then turned it on its head, Suzuki, Dunn, and Pujols all reported to camp in the spring of that year hopeful for things to come.

For Adam Dunn, spring training 2001 was just the next step in the progression towards inevitable super-stardom. 

Drafted in the second round by the Cincinnati Reds in the 1998 draft, Dunn had ripped apart Single-A in 2000, hitting 16 home runs and scoring 101 runs in 122 games.  He also had 100 walks and 24 stolen bases.  His batting average of .281 was fine, but his .428 on-base percentage jumped off the page. 

Dunn pretty much knew he wouldn’t be joining the Reds out of camp, but he knew his days as a minor leaguer were numbered.

Ichiro Suzuki entered spring training of 2001 as a Japanese superstar and a burgeoning international celebrity.  Already a veteran of nine seasons of Japanese ball by the age of 26, Ichiro came to the U.S. with nothing left to prove in Japan but everything to prove to an excited but slightly skeptical American public.

All eyes were on Ichiro as a curious Mariners fanbase wondered what to expect.

All eyes were not, however, on Albert Pujols in the spring of 2001.

Drafted in the 13th round of the 1999 draft, Pujols an excellent season split between Single-A and A-plus ball, with a cup of coffee at Triple-A.  But at 21 years of age, Pujols came into the spring just hoping to find a spot on a team that was coming off of a division title and trip to the NLCS the previous year. 

Indeed, that spring all eyes would have been on the aging and injured Mark McGwire, who’d hit 32 home runs in just 89 games, and was hoping to be able to stay healthy for one more great season.

The rest, as they say, is history.

In his first game as a major leaguer, Ichiro went 2-for-5 with two singles, a strikeout, and a run scored.  He would end up living up to every top billing, leading in the American League in plate appearances, at-bats, hits, and stolen bases and winning the batting title with a ridiculous .350 batting average while leading the Seattle Mariners to an absurd 116 wins. 

He also became only the tenth player since 1901 to win a batting title while leading the league in plate appearances.

For his 2001 performance, Ichiro won the American League Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year Awards, the second player in history to accomplish that feat.

Dunn did, in fact, start the season in the minors, with the Reds’ Double-A affiliate.  But he wasn’t there long; in 39 games Dunn hit 12 home runs, scored 30 runs, and batted .343 with a 1.113 OPS. 

Progressing to Triple-A, he then hit 20 more home runs in 55 games with 53 RBI and 44 runs scored, while batting .329 with a 1.117 OPS.  By late July, he was in Cincinnati, where he hit 19 more home runs with 54 runs scored in only 66 games. 

Dunn had arrived.

As for Pujols, he did break camp with the big club, and in his major league debut he went 1-for-3 with one caught stealing while playing left field in an 8-0 loss to the Colorado Rockies

The next day he went 0-for-5 while playing right field. 

Two days later, he went 3-for-5 with a home run and two runs scored, and two days after that he was moved to third base full time. 

By the end of April, the rookie was batting .370 with a 1.171 OPS and eight home runs. 

By the end of May, he was still hitting .351 and had 16 home runs. 

The 21 year old kid no one had ever heard of stay hot all summer and into the fall, and by the end of the season he had 47 doubles, 37 home runs, 130 RBI, 112 runs scored, a .329 batting average, a 1.013 OPS, and a Rookie of the Year Award.

A new era of major league baseball had begun, just in time for the 21st Century.

Incredibly, what began as an amazing and delightful 2001 season for Ichiro, Pujols, and Dunn has essentially continued for ten years. 

Ichiro has continued to rack up hits, score runs, and hit .300 or higher at a record breaking pace. 

Dunn has become one of the purest expressions of all-or-nothing power in baseball history, hitting 38 or more homeruns for each of the last seven seasons while drawing 100 walks and striking out nearly 200 times, seemingly, every season. 

Meanwhile, Pujols has emerged as nothing less than one of the greatest overall hitters of all time, already having hit 408 homeruns in only 10 seasons, while batting .331 with a 1.050 OPS, and nearly 300 fewer strikeouts than walks for his career.

The Baseball Hall of Fame’s requires a player to have ten years of playing time at the major league level to be eligible for entry into the Hall, which means that Ichiro, Pujols, and Dunn all became eligible when they played their first game last season.

Incredibly, Ichiro and Pujols are almost certainly already slam-dunk Hall of Famers.

And so on this, their collective 11th season, it would be tempting to ask the question “Where are they going?” and to attempt to answer that question by simply multiplying their stats by two.

Incredibly tempting, in fact.  Afterall, if Ichiro, Pujols, and Dunn can do for the next ten years what they have done for the last ten years, they will put up the following staggering statistics:

Ichiro : 4,488 hits; 2094 runs scored; 788 stolen bases.

Dunn : 1,730 runs scored; 1,660 RBI; 708 homeruns; 1,980 walks; 3,264 strikeouts.

Pujols : 2,372 runs scored; 3,800 hits; 852 doubles; 816 homeruns; 2,460 RBI; 1,828 walks; 7,060 total bases.

It simply boggles the mind.

But “simply” is an appropriate word, because this kind of analysis is far too simple.

After all, we’ve all been here before.

What was it that we thought Ken Griffey, Jr., was on his way to accomplishing as he entered his thirties. 

Every statistic Sandy Koufax ever compiled came by the age of 30; he retired before he turned 31 because of a chronically injured elbow. 

Addie Joss died at the age of 30.  Dale Murphy simply stopped hitting at the age of 32.  Shawn Green stopped hitting at 31. 

Dwight Gooden went over 200 innings for the last time at the age of 28. 

Darryl Strawberry played over 63 games only once after the age of 29.

And there are, of course, other factors. 

Ichiro, for example, is already 37 years old. While we wouldn’t put it past him to play ten more years, it would certainly be surprising. 

Dunn, meanwhile, has a style of play that seems tailored to the previous power-centric era in a league that appears to be moving into a pitchers’ era.

As for Pujols, well, it would appear as though only injuries can stop this guy. 

Albert Pujols is the 21st Century’s answer to Stan Musial, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, and Rogers Hornsbyguys who never stopped being able to hit, and just got too old, tired, or sick to keep going to the ballpark every day. 

Pujols is Musial’s only challenger for greatest Cardinal of all time, Gehrig’s only challenger for the greatest first baseman of all time, Hornsby’s only challenger for greatest right-handed hitter of all time, and Williams’ only challenge for greatest hitter of all time.

And after that, there is only one thing left to challenge, and only one player left to challenge for it.

Might Albert Pujols one day surpass Babe Ruth as the Greatest Player of All Time?

I dunno.

Ask me again in ten years.

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Derek Jeter, Buster Posey And The 2010 MLB Team-by-Team Hall Of Fame Tracker

Derek Jeter has been the subject of much debate in the off-season so far, ranging from his value as a fielder in the Gold Glove voting to his overall value as a player and icon to the New York Yankees.

Here’s a debate that won’t rage long with respect to Jeter: there can be no doubt that Derek Jeter is a no-brainer, first ballot Hall of Famer.

Now that the 2010 season, playoffs, post-season, and award season are all in the books, we have everything we need to take an extended team-by-team look at today’s players and their Hall of Fame potential.

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Philadelphia Phillies: 10 Big Answers to 10 Big Questions for the 2011 Season

What’s that bad taste in my mouth?

No, it’s not left-over Thanksgiving turkey. It is the taste of left-over October Turkey, as in, the bad taste that has been left in my mouth since watching Ryan Howard end the Phillies season with his bat in his hand as he watched a full-count strike three go by him.

Isn’t it crazy how quickly we forget that the Phillies finished the 2010 regular season red-hot and with the best record in baseball?

Looking ahead to the 2011 Phillies season, the Phils have a lot of unanswered questions, the most important of which is: can we do it all again next season?

Let’s have a look.

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Josh Hamilton and the 10 Biggest Home Field Heroes to Win the MVP

Josh Hamilton won the 2010 American League Most Valuable Player award this week, and it would be difficult to argue against the selection.

Hamilton led the Texas Rangers to an incredibly rare playoff appearance and in the process continued one of the great comeback stories in sports.

He hit 32 home runs with 100 RBI and 95 runs scored in only 133 games and won the batting and OPS titles as he threatened to win the Triple Crown.

The other candidates—such as Robinson Cano of the Yankees, Evan Longoria of the Tampa Bay Rays and Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers—all had an Achilles heel of some sort, whether playing on stacked teams or playing on teams that weren’t in playoff contention, so Hamilton was the right pick.


There is a frustrating aspect of Hamilton’s story that has come to a head with his winning the MVP award, and that is the absolute refusal of any members of the sports media to acknowledge the fact that his numbers are incredibly inflated by playing in Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

In Hamilton’s case, it didn’t make much difference; even considering the inflation, he was a good MVP candidate. Nevertheless, there have been years in which an inadequate player has won the MVP award based on numbers whose credibility was questionable because of his home field.

Let’s have a look at the Top 10 Home Field Heroes to Win the MVP Award.

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Josh Hamilton and the Most Successful No. 1 Overall Picks in MLB History

Josh Hamilton won the American League Most Valuable Player Award this week, putting the cap on an amazing year and an amazing comeback.

Hamilton has firmly established himself as one of the great hitters in Major League Baseball.

Hamilton’s accomplishment is unique for an interesting reason: Hamilton becomes just the sixth player in the history of the June amateur player draft to be picked number one overall, and then go on to win the Most Valuable Player award.

Indeed, Hamilton’s season already puts him on the list of the Top 10 Most Successful No. 1 Overall Picks in baseball history.

Let’s have a look.

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Jayson Werth’s Free Agency: Is Hitting 5th for Philadelphia Phillies Difficult?

Jayson Werth’s free agency and impending contract is one of the hot topics in Philadelphia these days. Recently, Werth’s agent Scott Boras (maybe you’ve heard of him) was on talk radio and had the following to say about his client and his time in Philadelphia:

“I think, hitting in the fifth spot in Philadelphia is very difficult. To have the people behind you, certainly [Ryan] Howard and [Chase] Utley enjoyed having Jayson behind them. It’s hard to score a lot of runs. When you’re scoring 100 runs from the fifth spot, you’ve done something pretty unique.

“For a guy with great speed and stolen base efficiency—over the last five or six years, it’s one of the best in baseball—you’re talking about a situation for him where he’s performed very, very well offensively and frankly had very good production numbers even though he’s hitting in the fifth hole.”

So, granted, Boras is just trying to create value for his client. And yes, it’s clearly harder to score 100 runs from the five-hole than it is from the one-to-four holes, but in what universe is doing that in Philly harder than anywhere else in the National League?

Obviously, a lot of guys had off years, but isn’t “American League-like” an adjective often used to describe the Phillies lineup?

What other NL team has a Carlos Ruiz type in the eight-hole? Are we missing something?

At the end of the day, is this a truth about Philly? Or is this just Boras being Boras?

On the one hand, it would be easy to say his point is that although hitting in Philly’s fifth spot is better than most NL fifth spots, it is still not the third spot (where Boras thinks he would normally be hitting). So he’s arguing that because Utley and Howard were in front of him, he was really unable to truly showcase his three-hole talent (speed). Yet he still scored 100 runs, which is impressive.

Basically, he’s arguing that Utley and Howard have inflated runs numbers (particularly Utley) while Werth scores less runs than he should due to his slot in the order. So imagine what he’d score hitting third! He’s trying to counter the impression that Werth has inflated numbers due to the Phillies’ “AL lineup,” etc.

It does work a bit with the runs argument, but the alternate argument is that he should be knocking in 100 RBI in his sleep with those guys ahead of him.

But let’s go deeper.

In one sense, he actually does have a very good point (as much as I hate to admit that).

The natural trend in baseball is that hitters perform better with more men on base, and they perform better the further along the basepaths they are.

Thus, a hitter’s batting average should be higher with a man on first than with the bases empty, and higher still with a man on second, etc.

Now Philadelphia has two guys in Chase Utley and Ryan Howard who have a tendency to clear the bases.  Hitting fifth behind Ryan Howard—who regularly leads the league in RBI and hits tons of home runs, but also strikes out a ton—is going create a lot of bases-empty plate appearances. In the alternative, it will create a lot of two-out plate appearances for Jayson Werth.

Consider this: Jayson Werth batted in the first inning 67 times in 2010 (which strikes me as high for a five spot hitter), which in all likelihood were at-bats where there was at least one out and probably two outs.  Mix in the fact that there are likely men on base AND outs if the five spot hitter is batting in the first, and we all know how well Werth does in those situations.

In those 67 at-bats, Werth hit .094 with a .413 OPS and one home run with 10 RBI.

That’s just one example.

The irony, of course, is that this doesn’t necessarily hold up, because…anyone?

Given what we know about Jayson Werth’s hitting with runners in scoring position (appalling) compared to his hitting with the bases empty (wonderful), he goes against the trend in baseball, and really Werth wants to hit without guys getting on base ahead of him. He wants Utley and Howard to clear the bases. He wants Howard to strikeout or hit home runs.

So, really, when Scott Boras says that hitting fifth is difficult in Philadelphia, what he is really saying is “Jayson Werth has a hard time hitting in Philadelphia because the guys ahead of him get on base so damned much. If the hitters hitting ahead of him were less talented, and he had more bases empty plate appearances, his performance would go through the roof.”

Or something.

At the end of the day, Scott Boras is only interested in overstating Jayson Werth’s value to get some team to pay way too much money for him.

The fact that he makes a relevant point on the way to that is, suffice to say, a coincidence.

Asher B. Chancey lives in Philadelphia and is a co-founder of

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