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Spring Training Prospects Roundup: Updating Performances of All Top Names

Bryce Harper hopes to be back in the lineup for the Washington Nationals Tuesday after missing nearly a week with a tight left calf. He may already have watched his chance of making the Opening Day roster go by the boards, but Harper will join the Nationals fairly early in the season, and his spring training performance has set high expectations.

All around the league, prospects in league with Harper are vying for roster spots, looking to make an impression and fighting for major recognition. Some of the biggest names in baseball this spring have belonged to men yet to establish themselves as MLB players.

Here is a roundup of the most notable such players in spring camps and an update of the impressions they have made thus far.

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2012 MLB Spring Training: Chicago White Sox Season Preview

The Chicago White Sox went all in in 2011.

They busted.

When that happens, those who had losing hands are supposed to walk away from the table. Of the people principally responsible for the collapse, though, only two—manager Ozzie Guillen, hitting coach Greg Walker and pitcher Mark Buehrle—actually exited.

Those left—GM Kenny Williams, owner Jerry Reinsdorf, first baseman Paul Konerko, pitching coach Don Cooper and a few others—have more or less bought back into the tournament. They are diminished by their losses and humbled by their failure, but there their chips rest on the felt all over again.

Things will only deteriorate from here. Retaining Williams and Cooper was a mistake by Reinsdorf. Not trading Konerko, John Danks or Gavin Floyd over the winter was a mistake by Williams. The White Sox’s future looks bleak, maybe even black.

On the other hand, one could argue the team has nowhere to go but up. It will be a lonely adventure in a mostly empty ballpark for the White Sox this season, but it will be an adventure, nonetheless. Here’s a complete preview of the year they’ll call: “The Do-Over.”


This is the sixth of 30 team previews in 30 days, leading up to the start of the 2012 MLB regular season.

Check out ArizonaAtlanta, Baltimore, Boston and the Cubs.

Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Matt Trueblood offers insight on all facets of each club, profiles their manager, raise key questions, identifies risers and fallers and lays out run matrices for each team based on his proprietary 2012 projections. Check back daily for the next team in the series, or follow Trueblood on Twitter:

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Matt Garza MLB Trade Rumors: Why Detroit Tigers Should Grab Chicago Cubs Ace Now

Roy Oswalt turned down a one-year, $10 million contract offer from the Detroit Tigers this week, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Meanwhile, the Tigers continue to downplay interest in Chicago Cubs right-hander Matt Garza, and GM Dave Dombrowski said the team would not include top pitching prospect Jacob Turner in a package for Garza.

From an objective, big-picture perspective, Dombrowski’s public position is the right one. Turner is one of the top six or seven right-handed pitching prospects in baseball right now and looked pretty good in brief time with the parent club in 2011.

At 20 years of age, Turner is as advanced for his age as any pitcher in baseball. He could be a Garza archetype within three or four years, a front-of-the-rotation stud with a deadly breaking ball and great command. Dealing away six seasons of Turner (plus another prospect) to get two seasons’ worth of control over Garza does not make great long-term sense.

On the other hand, Dombrowski and the Tigers ought not to make the long term their primary concern right now. After signing Prince Fielder for nine years and $214 million last week, the team now has a two or three year window in which they have the star power they need to win an AL pennant. However, as cliche their choice of mottos for the season, it’s true: The Tigers are all-in.

That’s why they should trade for Garza right now. They should deal Turner and left-handed pitching prospect Alex Burgos and ask the Cubs to throw in some cash along with Garza. That deal would be palatable to both sides, and for three principal reasons, it’s the best the Tigers are going to be able to get in the near future.

The Pressure

The Tigers have to win in 2012. It became an organizational imperative the day they signed Fielder. That’s fine right now; they well deserve to be AL Central favorites. It might force them into a corner, though, if they have a glaring need entering July.

And they will. Justin Verlander is a regression candidate for 2012—so are Doug Fister. Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello are fine back-end or even mid-rotation starters, but Turner, Andy Oliver and Casey Crosby are all unready for the fifth starter’s gig. Duane Below is ready, but he isn’t good. 

The Tigers are going to need pitching help this summer. They’re going to need someone better than a fifth starter like Jake Westbrook or Jeff Niemann in order to field a rotation capable of leading the team deep into October. Ideally, it would be someone capable of striking out more than 20 percent of opposing batters because the Tigers’ defense is going to be atrocious.

Matt Garza fits the bill. In fact, it may well be that he will be the only guy who fits the bill. That will force the Tigers to go to the Cubs in pursuit of Garza. By then, though, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer should have three or four other teams interested. 

The Price Tag

That competition will be trouble for the Tigers. When summer comes, more than one team will be surprisingly good, and more than one team will need an extra starter. It might be the Toronto Blue Jays; it might be the Kansas City Royals.

Both of those teams have deeper and better farm systems than the one in Detroit, and both need a pitcher more than the Tigers. It’s possible the Tigers would be utterly unable to acquire Garza at the trade deadline. If they did manage it, it would cost them Turner, Crosby and Alex Burgos. It might cost them more. If they didn’t pony up with that package, the Blue Jays or Royals would easily outbid them.

Right now, neither of those teams is in the market for a new starting pitcher via trade. No other team is. The Tigers have leverage right now—at least it’s a buyer’s market. It will not be so in a few months.

The Precedent

Last season, the Colorado Rockies put Ubaldo Jimenez on the trade block during the summer. They were free-falling out of the race, and Jimenez was a luxury they felt they could no longer afford. They didn’t need to trade him, of course, but they had multiple buyers in place, and Jimenez was under control for a year and a half more, so they felt they could get top dollar in return for him.

Jimenez ended up in Cleveland, and he did, indeed, fetch a hefty price. The Indians sent the Rockies Drew Pomeranz, Alex White and a pair of lesser minor-leaguers in order to pursue a division title. They did it, somewhat, out of desperation. Pomeranz and White were the top two prospects in their farm system, and among the top 75 or so in baseball. 

That’s what happens when a team gets desperate. They overpay. The Rockies got more for Jimenez than he was worth, strictly speaking, since he had battled injuries most of the season. If the Tigers wait until the summer to pursue Matt Garza, they are going to end up giving the Cubs more for Matt Garza than he is worth, too.

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Jesus Montero Traded for Michael Pineda: 5 Dominoes Soon to Fall After Big Deal

Jesus Montero and Michael Pineda each rated among MLB‘s top 25 prospects entering the 2011 season, and after the New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners swapped them as part of a four-player deal Friday, their profiles are not shrinking anytime soon.

This was a big deal unto itself, but even bigger ones could now be on the way. In a market taking seemingly forever to fully develop, this deal might be the catalyst to kick many teams and players into gear.

The Yankees added Pineda and free-agent hurler Hiroki Kuroda to their rotation, but now, they may be in the market for a designated hitter. Meanwhile, the Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers and other elite teams throughout the league will try to answer the Yankees’ shot across their bows. Here are the next five big moves this deal could incite.

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New York Yankees Trade Jesus Montero: Ranking MLB’s Top 20 Young Impact Hitters

The Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees swapped Michael Pineda and Jesus Montero Friday night, in a trade that boiled down to a trade of two organizations’ most polished future stars.

It all began with a tweet, from Jerry Crasnick of ESPN: “The  are moving closer to a trade for a young impact hitter, two baseball sources confirmed.”

The details swirled forth relatively quickly from there, but for a few minutes, that left interested parties wondering: To whom could such a tweet refer? Who, in the game today, constitutes a “young impact hitter”?

Every source one would consult on the issue might give a different answer, of course, but it seemed safe to assume that player would have some MLB experience, however small an amount, and obviously, that his ceiling would be as a top- or middle-of-the-order batter.

Not that many such guys exist, of course; that’s what makes Seattle’s acquisition of Montero special. Of those who are out there, though, here are the 20 best “young impact hitters” in baseball today.

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Theo Epstein Officially Joins Cubs: 10 Steps for Cubs over Next 10 Days

In the days since the initial announcement that Theo Epstein would take over the helm of the Chicago Cubs, Tom Ricketts has had his engine open to full throttle. Unfortunately, thanks to the stall tactics and unreasonable demands of the Boston Red Sox, Ricketts and the rest of the Cubs organization has been spinning its wheels in the deep muck of unproductive negotiations.

Call this traction. Epstein’s resignation from the Red Sox and assumption of power at Wrigley Field is official, according to a joint press release from the teams Friday.

Compensation does not appear to be finalized, so we won’t know how good (or bad) a deal this is for Chicago until those details come to light over the next five days.

Still, with Epstein in the fold, Chicago can proceed with its plan to bring former Epstein assistant and current San Diego Padres GM Jed Hoyer in to fill the same role.

Timing is everything. Getting this front-office shake-up out of the way before the end of the World Series was a critical step. It seems Epstein, Hoyer and Jason McLeod (former Epstein assistant and current Hoyer right-hand man) will have time to get their house in order before the offseason begins in earnest next week.

Meetings must be held; decisions must be made. Epstein, Hoyer and McLeod will need to put their vision for the club’s future on the table, but not before hearing from critical incumbent parts Oneri Fleita, Tim Wilken and Ari Kaplan about the current states of the Cubs’ minor-league system, organizational hierarchy and big-league roster.

The Cubs figure to be very busy this winter, and they need to act quickly to make sure they have a cohesive operation come mid-November. Here are 10 things that must get done in the next 10 days under the new Cubs regime.

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Cardinals vs. Brewers: Full Game 6 Breakdown and Analysis

Albert Pujols reached base three times, Jaime Garcia fanned five without a walk in nearly five innings and the St. Louis Cardinals blew the game open late to take a 3-2 lead in the NLCS over the Milwaukee Brewers.

The series now heads back to Milwaukee, where Game 6 will take place Sunday at Miller Park.

Ryan Braun and the Brewers will not go quietly. Manager Ron Roenicke’s team won 57 of its 81 regular-season home games and is 4-1 at home thus far in the playoffs.

It does seem, though, that St. Louis’s advantage in depth is beginning to wear down Milwaukee. Game 6 will be pivotal because the Brewers are desperate to get Yovani Gallardo to the mound for Game 7, and if nothing else, the Cardinals would love to have Chris Carpenter ready to go in Game 1 of the World Series. 

They have to get there first. Read on for a look at Game 6.

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Seattle Mariners: Don’t Look Now, but Jack Zduriencik Has Gotten off the Mat

The Seattle Mariners rank ahead of only the San Francisco Giants in runs scored per game this season, and to move into third from last before the season ends is probably too tall a task. Dustin Ackley would need a .900 OPS, Justin Smoak would need to notch a 1.000ish figure.

As dire as the situation appears, though, things are getting better in Seattle. Ackley’s strong rookie showing has been a pleasant surprise. Kyle Seager has been well above average since being called up, as has Casper Wells since the trade that brought him over from Detroit. Trayvon Robinson, who the team inexplicably extracted from the Dodgers in a three-way trade at the end of July, has been roughly average since and shows real promise.

The Mariners are averaging roughly 3.75 runs per game on the season, but since ending their 17-game losing streak on July 27, that number has risen to 4.25. Wells was acquired July 26. Robinson arrived on July 31. Seager came up for good on August 2. Since then, the Mariners’ .736 team OPS ranks 19th in baseball.

A disclaimer: That middle-of-the-pack figure came largely courtesy of a .338 team average on balls in play, easily the highest in the league over that span. But then again, this is a BAbIP lineup. They are athletic, and most have some speed. At a scrawny 6’2″, Wells is the biggest man in the bunch. These guys succeed if, and only if, they can consistently make contact, and then make trouble for opponents with their athletic gifts.

Robinson, Ackley and Seager are not a bad crop of rookies. Ichiro Suzuki and Smoak still haven’t even hit this season, yet things are getting better. Smoak has been hurt, in fact, and though Mike Carp hit well in his absence, one has to figure that Smoak will be back and better than any replacement Seattle could readily muster. Another prospect general manager Jack Zduriencik seemingly conjured from air, Francisco Martinez (actually acquired in an apparently lopsided trade with Detroit) should be a part of the equation by the end of 2012 as well.

Nor has Zduriencik abandoned his commitment to defense in rehabilitating the lineup. The new guys are all adequate defenders. Wells is above-average in the corner outfield spots. Seager has been solid at third base, and surprisingly adequate at both middle infield spots in brief auditions. Robinson’s arm and sheer athleticism make him a high-ceiling defender.

Meanwhile, Seattle has retained A-plus defenders at two crucial positions in shortstop Brendan Ryan and center fielder Franklin Gutierrez. Both men are miserable hitters, but the same goes with the rest of Seattle’s lineup. Now that the others seem to be picking up some slack, it’s much easier to justify Ryan and Gutierrez as run-prevention stars.

It’s a long day living in the AL West these days, with the Texas Rangers already light years ahead and loaded in the farm system. The Angels may be hamstrung by some awful fiscal decisions, but Seattle could be stalled for a while if they try too hard to build the way they have this season. It may be time, then, to revisit the notion of trading Felix Hernandez.

There is no rush on that. In fact, the deal unequivocally ought not to happen in 2012. Once top draft pick Danny Hultzen establishes himself alongside Hernandez and Michael Pineda in the Seattle rotation, though, Zduriencik ought to at least explore a swap. Hernandez is a stud, but the Mariners have ridden his young arm way harder than is advisable, and anyway, he’s just one piece. If Seattle could extract two pieces equaling his value, one being a top-hitting prospect and one being a future mid-rotation starter, they would be wise to do so.

Building a winner in Seattle will be difficult, but the front office has taken major positive steps this year. If there is a market inefficiency in modern baseball, it is the industry-wide obsession with the next market inefficiency. Zduriencik wrestled that demon and lost, but he now has the chance to prove that run-prevention teams can win in pitchers’ parks. He just needs another slugger or two.

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MLB Predictions 2011: Who’ll Be Left Standing in League Championship Series?

The 2011 Philadelphia Phillies have had a rough spring so far, losing closer Brad Lidge and second baseman Chase Utley for indeterminate periods.

Luis Castillo could not even lock down the starting second-base job, which will now fall to Wilson Valdez for Friday’s season opener.

Still and all, the majority of those in the baseball pundit world view Philadelphia as favorites to reach the postseason, at which point some of their deficiencies become non-issues and their greatest strength—the starting rotation to end all starting rotations—becomes an even more critical advantage. Many still view them as the best team in the National League.

The Atlanta Braves might have something to say about that.

They enter the season in much better health, with a lineup as deep as Philadelphia’s at this point and with a far superior bullpen.

Atlanta’s farm system stands ready to provide further reinforcements throughout the year. The Phillies’ blue-chip prospects are all multiple years away from being impact players at the big-league level.

Like Philadelphia, Atlanta has a strong rotation, though its strength is more in its depth than in sheer top-tier talent. Adding Dan Uggla to the offensive core of Jason Heyward, Brian McCann and Chipper Jones was an inspired stroke for GM Frank Wren.

This team has to be the favorite over the long season to win the NL East.

Can Philadelphia win the Wild Card? Sure. They have to be the favorites, in fact. But a lot could go awry: Three of the vaunted top four in the rotation are on the wrong side of 31. Lidge has been fading for a long time, injured or otherwise. Utley may be back before Memorial Day or after Labor Day.

Organizational depth offers little immediate help, and they don’t have the payroll flexibility to fill any critical need that may arise over the balance of the season via trades for bigger names.

For argument’s sake, though, let’s say the Phils reach the second week of October.

That makes the NL playoff picture relatively clear: The Braves and Phillies, as the two best and most playoff-ready squads in the NL, will meet in the NLCS.

Now, then, let’s see about the AL. This is a bit trickier, because as ruthlessly efficient as the Red Sox and Twins look this year, neither is composed with postseason success as a top priority the way Philadelphia’s is.

Both teams play in divisions at least as tough as Philly’s. Overall, it is harder to build around starting pitchers in the hitter-friendly American League than in the NL, so both Boston and Minnesota have built instead around offense and will have the inside tracks toward their division titles.

Once they get there, though, they could run into trouble.

The Oakland Athletics, lurkers in baseball’s tall weeds, have a much better run-prevention profile than either of those teams, and the upside risk in Gio Gonzalez and Brett Anderson is huge.

Though I expect the Yankees or Rays to gobble up the Wild Card, the most interesting would-be match for Boston this side of Atlanta might well be Chicago, a team newly suited to threaten the Twins but not yet ready to beat them. 

For the sake of argument, let’s put the Twins, Red Sox, Athletics and Rays in the playoffs on the junior circuit side of the bracket. Minnesota and Tampa would be a fine series, but unless Wade Davis or Jeremy Hellickson morphs into a co-ace alongside David Price, Minnesota will win.

Oakland can give Boston trouble, but sooner or later, the Red Sox’s bullpen and offensive advantages would be too much.

To review, then, I see Boston, Minnesota, Atlanta and Philadelphia playing for the respective pennants in each league this season. Those picks are pretty bland, but realistically, why go out on a limb?

Could the Colorado Rockies—led by Ubaldo Jimenez, Jorge de la Rosa and Jhoulys Chacin—unseat one of the teams on the NL side?

Of course.

Colorado is a sleeper in league with the White Sox, and if fully healthy, either team could sneak all the way to the World Series.

Still, if anyone out there is making their annual friendly entertainment-only wagers on which combatants reach their LCS, be smart and bet on the proven entities involved.

These teams are favorites for a reason.

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2011 MLB Preview: 10 Things the Cincinnati Reds Must Do To Win the Pennant

From 2002 to 2009, the Chicago Cubs won three division titles. The St. Louis Cardinals took the other five. The Cincinnati Reds never had a winning record during that stretch. Then, in 2010, they figured it all out.

Outfielder Jay Bruce stayed healthy and broke out. Joey Votto stayed in the lineup all year and won the MVP award. Scott Rolen continued his career resurrection and continued to provide sturdy defense a third base. And the team’s pitching staff proved deeper and stronger than anyone expected. Cincinnati won 91 games and took the NL Central before falling flat in the NLDS.

Entering 2011, the Reds look to build upon a season in which they led the National League in runs scored and featured a bevy of young players with varied skill sets. They are no clear favorites to repeat as champs after the Milwaukee Brewers moved aggressively this winter, but they certainly remain in the mix. Here are 10 things that must go right if the Reds are to reach the playoffs again with greater success.

This is the seventh in a series of pieces listing 10 things that would have to go right for each MLB team to win a pennant this season. To find out when your favorite team’s article comes out, follow me on the twitter @MattTrueblood, or sign up for your team’s Bleacher Report newsletter.

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