Tag: Spring Training

Cubs Spring Training 2017 Preview: Predictions, Players to Watch and More

The Chicago Cubs will enter the 2017 season as marked men, looking to undertake the uphill battle that is repeating as World Series champions.

Just three times in the last 30 years has a team managed to win consecutive titles, as the New York Yankees won three in a row from 1998 to 2000 and the Toronto Blue Jays won it all in 1992 and 1993.

The Cubs have the talent to join that exclusive club.

Even with the departures of Dexter Fowler, Aroldis Chapman, Jason Hammel, Jorge Soler, Travis Wood and a handful of others, it’s hard to find a hole in the roster without nitpicking.

Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo will once again anchor a dynamic young offense, while the trio of Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks atop the rotation stacks up to any staff in baseball.

The bullpen lost one of the game’s best closers in Chapman and replaced him with another in Wade Davis, and the relief corps as a whole looks deeper than it did a year ago.

To put it simply, all signs point to another exciting season of baseball on the North Side.

Spring training is now roughly a month away, with pitchers and catcher set to report on Feb. 14 and the first full-squad workout scheduled for Feb. 18.

As we come down the homestretch of another long, cold offseason, ahead is a full preview of what to watch for out of Cubs camp this spring.

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What the New York Mets Have Left to Prove in the Last Week of Spring Training

The New York Mets will try to ease worries about the middle of their defense before the end of spring training.

The reigning National League champions boast a prolific lineup that was eighth in the league in home runs last season. They also have one of the best starting rotations in baseball.

The defense behind that excellent starting pitching, particularly up the middle, is the Mets’ area of greatest concern before the beginning of the season. They were minus-5 as a team in defensive runs saved (DRS) last season, No. 18 in the majors, according to FanGraphs.

Many of the issues last year could be traced back to the defense at shortstop, second base and in center field. They have two new players at those positions this year, but the outlook doesn’t look much better.

Yoenis Cespedes, playing center, is the returning starter from the middle of the Mets defense last season.

He’s a solid defender but does not have great range, and the Mets aren’t good on defense with him in center field. He was minus-4 last year in defensive runs saved above average (DRS) in center field for the Mets, according to Baseball-Reference.com. His DRS in left was just 4.

That showed in the Mets’ World Series loss to the Kansas City Royals. He misplayed a fly ball in the fifth inning of Game 4 to put the Royals’ first run of the game on base.

Mets manager Terry Collins toyed with the idea of playing Cespedes in center field with Juan Lagares in left when the team plays lefty pitchers. Last season the Mets would move him to left field and allow Lagares to play center against left-handers.

The rationale was that letting Cespedes stay at one position would help him be a more consistent defender. Collins said Tuesday, however, that he will “probably” stick with the conventional alignment he used in 2015, according to ESPN.com’s Adam Rubin.

Having to split time between both left and center instead of focusing on one position probably won’t help him. For the Mets to get back to the World Series, Cespedes needs to show he can get closer to the Gold Glove defense he once played.

Cespedes is not the main issue in the middle of the Mets defense, though. Their middle infield could be problematic too.

They signed shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, another inconsistent defender, to a two-year deal. Cespedes at least had a DRS of 11 between his time with the Detroit Tigers and Mets last year, per FanGraphs. Cabrera was minus-8 in DRS in 2015, according to FanGraphs. That mark was second-worst in the league among shortstops.

The situation at second base is not much better. The Mets traded for Neil Walker in the offseason, whose DRS was also in the negative last season.

When looking at Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), Cespedes actually looks really good compared to the other two. His UZR of 15.6 was third in the league among outfielders. Meanwhile, Walker and Cabrera were both well below average.

Any one of those players’ deficiencies could be hidden if he was surrounded by plus defenders. Instead, the Mets are taking a chance by playing them all on defense at once. Their hope is that their offensive production and great starting pitching will mask those issues.

They’re trying to address those concerns now, and they will have to answer those questions all season.

They have three games remaining this spring, starting with Wednesday’s matchup with the Washington Nationals. Over those remaining games, they need to continue to show improvement in the middle of their defense and prove it won’t be as much of a liability as people expect.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Former Big-Name Prospects Making Waves in 2016 Spring Training

Established veterans shaking off the rust and heralded prospects trying to make an impression alongside big league talent—that’s generally the storyline during spring training.

But what about the guys who fall somewhere in between?

Each team has a handful of players fighting for a spot on the 25-man roster, and mixed in with those bubble guys there are always at least a few former top prospects who are still trying to break through.

Not all highly touted prospects pan out, but the flops don’t simply disappear either.

Even if a former top prospect doesn’t live up to his lofty billing, he’s still capable of carving out a role at the MLB level and enjoying a productive career.

With that in mind, what follows is a look at 10 former big-name prospects who are making waves this spring.

In order to qualify for inclusion, a player had to have appeared at some point among the top 10 prospects in an organization, according to Baseball America.

Since the focus here is on post-hype guys, they must also no longer appear among their team’s top 10 prospects heading into the 2016 season.

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Scott Miller’s Starting 9: Yankees Try Building Without Opening Their Checkbook

TAMPA, Fla. — Pass the sunscreen, it’s getting hot here amid the palm trees…

1. The “Rebuild” Begins in New York

Not only is it the most mind-warping number of the winter, but guaranteed you will not find a statistic this summer that trumps it (sorry, meant that apolitically), either.

The Yankees spent zero dollars in free agency.

Nada. Nothing.

So while former Yankee hero Paul O’Neill spent his time supporting Donald Trump at an election night shindig last week in Jupiter, Florida, maybe you spent some time wondering when general manager Brian Cashman is going to make the Yankees great again.

Answer: Possibly this year, according to several of those wearing pinstripes.

“Aroldis Chapman the last two or three years was one of the highest-paid relievers in baseball,” Yankees bullpen ace Andrew Miller tells Bleacher Report. “That’s not exactly free.”

Neither is Chapman, who will begin the season serving a 30-game suspension under MLB‘s domestic violence policy.

But in adding the former Cincinnati closer, who will earn $11.325 million this year (minus what he’s docked for those 30 days) and second baseman Starlin Castro, who is guaranteed $38 million through 2020, the Yankees added two impact players, got younger and kick-started the closest thing to a rebuilding, or retooling, process you’ll probably ever see in the Bronx.

“I don’t think there’s any rebuilding or retooling with the Yankees,” Miller says. “You’d be wrong if you think anybody in this clubhouse has anything to do with that.

“It was a bittersweet feeling last year, the one-game playoff.”

Blink and you missed the Yankees in the “postseason” last October, as Houston’s Dallas Keuchel fired six scoreless innings and the Astros won 3-0.

Then came the winter of no David Price, no Yoenis Cespedes and no Zack Greinke.

“I think it’s one of those things where they do what makes sense for this team,” outfielder Brett Gardner says. “Guys on the big board made no sense.

“Starlin is 25, he’s already played in three All-Star Games, the kid has a lot of talent.”

As Gardner also points out, Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran, a couple of heavyweights, are already taking Castro under their wing and teaching him a few things. To Gardner, Castro is reminiscent of another player whom the outfielder was a big fan of, former Yankee Alfonso Soriano.

“I’m really, really excited about him, and Chapman speaks for himself,” Gardner says. “There’s only one person in the world who throws 105 mph left-handed, and he’s the man.”

The Yankees last year ranked second in the American League in runs scored, and this year’s lineup should be similar. Mark Teixeira’s health is vital with Greg Bird already having been lost for the season.

The key, of course, is pitching. But when Chapman returns, with him, Miller and Dellin Betances lurking, the Yankees don’t need more innings than Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia can realistically give them.

“I think Aaron Hicks is going to help us out, too,” third baseman Chase Headley says. “Even though he’s a fourth outfielder, if someone goes down…

“The Yankees didn’t spend, but we certainly improved.”

How much? We’re about to find out.   


2. Easy Lies the Crown

Everybody wears rose-colored sunglasses at this time of year, and it’s always best to take the happy talk with a grain of salt (preferably, that grain of salt should come on a margarita glass in these warm and carefree spring training days).

But when you’re talking the defending champion Kansas City Royals, who, as manager Ned Yost reminds, came within 90 feet two years ago of entering this spring with back-to-back world championships, the optimism is warranted.

There is no reason the core group of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Salvador Perez, Alcides Escobar and Co. cannot continue improving, Yost says.

“They’ve gotten better and better every year, and none of them have reached their ceilings yet even though it’s been a few years,” Yost says. “It’s such a special group. They like to have fun, but they know when to get after it.

“They know when to get after it better than any group I’ve ever had.”

Cain finished third in AL MVP voting last year, hitting .307/.361/.477 with 16 homers, 72 RBI and 28 thefts. Somehow, he’s yet to win a Gold Glove, but that’s only a matter of time. Everyone knows he’s as good as it gets in center field.

How high is Cain’s ceiling?

“It’s very high,” Yost quips. “You might need a pair of binoculars to see it.”


3. It’s One of Those Years in San Francisco

It’s cute and all (and, frankly, more than a little tired, as Bryce Harper might say), this thing about the Giants winning only in even years.

Fact is I could cite Hunter Pence alone and make a case that every year is an odd year in San Francisco (he wrote lovingly).

Whatever year it is, one enormous key this summer in San Francisco is free-agent starter Jeff Samardzija’s return to form. The right-hander was delivered on a five-year, $90 million deal and is looking to re-establish himself following a rough season in 2015 that saw him go 11-13 with a 4.96 ERA for the Chicago White Sox.

“Every year is a new year,” he says. “As a baseball player, you don’t look in the past much unless you’re looking at film.”

In that regard, he might especially want to stay away from last August and September. After the Sox elected not to trade him to a contender last July, Samardzija answered by going 1-8 with a 9.24 ERA over his next nine starts.

“It didn’t end up numbers-wise the way I wanted,” he says, though he notes that he did throw 214 innings.

“The most frustrating thing last year was giving up a bunch of early runs and putting my team in too much of a hole to come back,” Samardzija says.

He denies that his impending free agency affected him, noting that to go out and try to find an extra gear in a given start “is ridiculous because usually there’s nothing more to find; you’re leaving it all out on the field.”

The prediction here is that Dave Righetti, San Francisco’s sensational pitching coach, will help Samardzija find both his old self and perhaps some new ground that he hasn’t yet been able to traverse in his career.

“Rags has been awesome,” he says. “We’re taking our time with each other. He’s got two new guys [Samardzija and Johnny Cueto] and we’re trying to get to know each other. He’s been great sort of standing back and evaluating as we go.

“You’ve got to have a foundation first.”


4. High Hopes in the Desert

We all know that recent history shows that teams winning the winter don’t exactly win the summer. Arizona is the next team up taking aim at changing that.

Zack Greinke made his third start of the spring Monday, Shelby Miller is expected to team with him to give the D-backs a strong one-two punch, and starter Robbie Ray has been outstanding so far.

Meantime, a couple of young outfielders, Socrates Brito and Peter O’Brien, are pushing Yasmany Tomas hard for an outfield spot.

“The last four days, I’d say Peter has really blossomed in front of us,” Arizona manager Chip Hale says. And with Brito and Tomas, “we’re going to have a whole lot of decisions to make in the outfield.”

As we know, teams that look sexy on paper at this time of year are not automatic winners in the summer. But beyond Greinke, Miller, Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock and more, Arizona’s depth is what is most impressive. Right now, Chris Owings is projected to start at second, with Nick Ahmed and Jean Segura battling for the shortstop job, but Owings can slide over to short if need be, too.

“I think we have three shortstops on this team who are above-average major league shortstops,” Hale says. “Owings, Segura, and Nick is a difference-maker.”

Says starter Archie Bradley: “From a team aspect, it’s awesome. You can feel the excitement in this club. Even in spring training games, there’s a different feeling.”


5. When Catchers Run Hard

In Cleveland’s camp, manager Terry Francona was raving about catcher Yan Gomes—not for a home run he hit the other day, but for nearly beating out a ground ball to shortstop.

“This is our catcher, and he runs like his pants are on fire,” Francona says. “If you’re ever going to give someone a pass [for not running hard], it would be your catcher.

“The way you run the bases sets a tone for how you play the game. Jason Kipnis is another one. You want it and expect it, and when it happens it’s really good. And it’s going to help us win a game. [Gomes] will run a guy into an error one day.”


6. Weekly Power Rankings

1. Bryce Harper and sleepy baseball: Tired sport needs more virtuoso individual performances with flair, says the Nationals outfielder. Old-timers rush to take their blood pressure medication.

2. Goose Gossage and old fire: After ripping Toronto outfielder Jose Bautista for the bat flip and Harper for being young and brash, the Yankees call the Hall of Famer into the principal’s office and threaten to enroll him in an etiquette class.

3. NCAA brackets: The most important moment of my school years might have been junior year of high school, when Brother Ronald LaLonde, yearbook moderator, ran an NCAA bracket pool. Talk about education opening up an entirely new world. Upset special!

4. Matt Harvey’s crazy velocity: His fastball was clocked at 97 mph in Port St. Lucie, Florida, the other day. Then, the stadium scoreboard clocked another fastball at 47. Conventional wisdom has a pitcher needing at least a 10 mph difference between his fastball and changeup to screw with a hitter’s timing, but that’s a little extreme, isn’t it? Or, maybe, ahem, the scoreboard is tired.

5. St. Patrick’s Day: In one of spring’s most charming traditions, green caps and bases are on deck. As opposed to the green rookies, who are beginning to be shipped back to minor league camps throughout the game.


7. Gray Is Good

Speaking at a Society for American Baseball Research Analytics Conference in Phoenix over the weekend, new Los Angeles Angels general manager Billy Eppler absolutely nailed it when discussing the analytics/scouting divide.

In fact, he spoke in Bryce Harper terms that everyone can understand.

“The analytics vs. scouting thing, it’s so tired,” Eppler said, per Pedro Moura of the Los Angeles Times. “It’s so East Coast-West Coast rap. Uncle. Uncle, you know what I mean?

“It’s almost like you have to be Republican or Democrat. Are you East Coast rap or West Coast? Are you for stats or are you for scouting? I don’t know. Can I really be in between? Because I am.

“It’s only black and white. Nobody wants gray, but gray’s the best. That’s what makes this game great. There is no absolute.”


8. Chatter

 Outfielder Jon Jay is bringing a little bit of that famous St. Louis Cardinals culture with him to San Diego. “His leadership qualities are off the charts,” new Padres manager Andy Green says. “Him and Manny Margot [the big outfield prospect San Diego acquired from Boston in the Craig Kimbrel trade] are joined at the hip.”

• Todd Frazier on his years with the Reds: “I had a blast in Cincinnati, but that time is over. It’s a new chapter in my life. I’m looking forward to it, man. I’ve been in Chicago when we played the Cubs, it’s exciting.”

 White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton says he is as strong as he’s ever been, though he lost some muscle mass in his back following nerve compression surgery in his left shoulder. The muscle is expected to regenerate in 12 to 16 months. “You look at my back and I have a huge dent in it,” he says.

 Yes, you can credit (or blame, depending on how things turn out) in part Jon Lester for delivering free-agent starter John Lackey to the Cubs. “It definitely was a big factor,” Lackey says of his old Boston buddy. “He was texting me this winter, recruiting me. It definitely had a bearing.”

 Padres bench coach Mark McGwire returned Monday after missing most of camp to tend to his ill wife in Southern California. San Diego has not said what’s ailing Stephanie McGwire.


9. Put Me In, Coach

No, No. 81 for the Cubs doesn’t stand a chance to make the team, so any fantasy players who might have been in attendance Saturday at the Cubs-White Sox, settle down.

But if he was evaluated on enthusiasm alone, the man wearing the high-numbered Cubs uniform could become the team’s cleanup hitter.

Mark Stein is his name, and he is the longtime manager for Max Weinberg, Bruce Springsteen’s drummer in the E Street Band. The seeds for his day in uniform actually started a couple of days earlier, when the Chicago resident and Cubs fan reached out to manager Joe Maddon and invited him to last Thursday night’s Phoenix concert as a special guest.

Maddon and his wife, Jaye, not only went to the show, but they went early and met Weinberg backstage, and even had their picture taken on stage at his drum kit (yes, very early, way before the show).

“It was great. They played for three-and-a-half hours, high energy, without even taking a break. Phenomenal,” says Maddon, who is a longtime Springsteen fan and, in return, invited Stein to spend a day at Cubs camp.

Though he didn’t get any action, Stein did get to take some dry swings in the batting cage just after the Cubs left the field. Maybe positioning himself to be a September call-up?


9a. Rock ‘n’ Roll Lyric of the Week

Jake Peavy’s Hero Jam, designed to “celebrate the service and honor of our U.S. military personnel,” was a rockin’ good time at Live Wire in Scottsdale on Sunday night. Proceeds went to the United Service Organizations’ Transition 360 Alliance, and Peavy was backed by a band of crack musicians, including Doug Pettibone, longtime guitarist for Lucinda Williams; Jimmy Hall, former lead singer of Wet Willie (“Keep on Smilin'”); and Coy Bowles, guitarist for the Zac Brown Band. Peter Gammons, the legendary baseball writer, even joined them on stage to play guitar and sing one song. Nice set list, too, including Peavy taking the vocals on this gem…

“Now me and my mate were back at the shack, we had Spike Jones on the box

“She said, ‘I can’t take the way he sings, but I love to hear him talk’

“Now that just gave my heart a throb, to the bottom of my feet

“And I swore as I took another pull, my Bessie can’t be beat

“Up on Cripple Creek she sends me

“If I spring a leak she mends me

“I don’t have to speak, she defends me

“A drunkard’s dream if I ever did see one”

— The Band, Up On Cripple Creek


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Winners and Losers of 2016 Spring Training’s First 2 Weeks

With two weeks of spring training action in the books, it’s time to take a look around the MLB landscape and name some winners and losers.

As bubble players continue to battle for the few available roster spots, injuries open up new opportunities for players to make an impression in 2016.

Spring is also a time for contract extension negotiations, and we’ve already seen two prevalent stories on that front—one ending in a new deal and one fizzling out as quickly as it started.

The waning free-agent market is also a factor, as it becomes harder and harder for a player to latch on with a team the closer we get to Opening Day. A few players have still managed to find good money since spring began, though.

So, with all of that in mind, here is a quick rundown of some winners and losers of the first two weeks of Grapefruit and Cactus League action.

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Patience or Panic on 10 Early 2016 Spring Training Concerns

Spring training is often a time for overreaction.

On-field results don’t always match expectations as players look to shake off the rust and work on refining their game for the season ahead.

If a team struggles to get into the win column or a player gets off to a noticeably awful start, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are doomed—but it does raise a few red flags.

We have highlighted 10 areas of concern teams are facing this spring and given our take on whether the team and its respective fanbase should be patient or panic.

The focus here is not so much on individual players but instead on injury concerns and potential areas of weakness that have popped up.

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Mets Generation K 2.0 Rotation Ready ‘To Win World Series, Not Just Get There’

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Look at them.

Far end of the New York Mets spring clubhouse, short row of lockers, crawling around like scorpions in a box. The most lethal rotation in the game, just waiting to sting someone.

There’s Matt Harvey, unleashed from last year’s innings limit. There’s Jacob deGrom, all hair and deception. At the locker next door, Noah Syndergaard, as if he isn’t dangerous enough already, is polishing the new weapon he started throwing in last fall’s World Series.

“Cutter, slider, depends on what day it is,” Syndergaard tells Bleacher Report.

End of the row, whiz kid Steven Matz, baby-faced assassin, all of 24, six whole regular-season starts on his resume. Next to him, Zack Wheeler, who didn’t even factor into last year’s runaway success story. The Tommy John rehab is entering its end stages, and Wheeler hopes to return to the rotation by July.

Yes, with a bit more growth, learning and depth, baseball’s best rotation will be even better in 2016.

“I don’t think we all reached our potential yet,” Wheeler says during an early-morning conversation. “We all throw hard so we can get away with certain things.

“But we can get better by throwing a slider here or front-hipping a two-seamer to a left-hander.

“It’s something I’ve learned from watching Bartolo [Colon], throwing a front-door slider to lefties.”

Ah, yes, Bartolo Colon. He’s back as Wise Old Sage, dispensing advice to these kids and continually leaving everyone wide-eyed with his straight-out, uptown funky repertoire of athleticism usually foreign to chubby, jolly men over 40.

“You can learn something from each guy,” Harvey, who turns 27 on March 27, says. “The core four or five of us, you can pick up something from each of them. Mechanically, I always watch them—and Bart, too.

“One thing I always pick up from Bart is the fun that he has. And how loose and relaxed he keeps it.”

Together, there are more reasons to believe in the Mets this spring than there are palm trees in Florida. And as far as whether this collection of kids can live up to what already are enormous expectations, the way they handled the Chicago Cubs and the World Series pressure in October is a pretty good indicator of how they will handle what’s just up ahead this summer.

“I think so,” pitching coach Dan Warthen tells B/R. “I think some people might believe these guys would come in overconfident, maybe a little bit lackadaisical, and it’s been just the opposite.

“Everybody has come in ready. They feel that they want to win the World Series, not just get there. They’ve got that year under their belt, they know how good they are, but they realize that the other teams are going to be expecting that and they’re working hard and expecting a lot more out of themselves than maybe even I do.”

Harvey, the Dark Knight, went 13-8 with a 2.71 ERA over 189.1 innings in 29 starts last season, slamming, at the end, into controversy over his workload following Tommy John surgery. By the time the postseason ended, he was at 216 innings, and this spring he thinks he’s left the restraints behind.

“I feel like last year I did a pretty good job at establishing my role in the rotation, establishing the confidence that [manager] Terry [Collins] has in me now, going out every fifth day and putting the team in position to win a ballgame,” Harvey says. “I feel like that was step one right there.

“Now it’s just being able to maintain the routine. Ever since I’ve gotten into professional baseball, the one thing everyone’s been harping on is, establish a routine. When things start to spiral out of control you can always go back to your routine and it will put you back on track.”

Considering this is a guy who already has started one All-Star Game (2013) and starred in one World Series, Harvey still appears like he’s just getting started.

“I think we’ll see [an] even better Matt Harvey this year,” Warthen says. “You’re going to see a full arm-strength guy, you’ll see a more explosive fastball on a regular basis and he’ll have his slider back.

“He didn’t have his slider for much of last year. And he didn’t have that second-gear fastball. I expect Harv to have a huge year.”

Score that slider as one more extra weapon for Harvey this year, just like Syndergaard’s cutter/slider (depending, as he says, on whether this is Thursday, Friday or whatever).

“I started toying with it last year, and then I started throwing it during the World Series,” Syndergaard, 23, says. “It helped me in Game 3. It’s a very unique grip. Dan showed it to me. It puts no pressure on the [finger] joints.

“It’s the same one Harvey and deGrom throw.”

Says Warthen: “This kid has come on in leaps and bounds. His confidence is at an all-time high, and it should be. Because not only does he have the great arm, but he locates extremely well and has four pitches he can throw for strikes.”

When deGrom starts, of course, the radar gun can take a breather. After Harvey and Syndergaard make it sizzle, along comes deGrom, who turns 28 in June, and his array of non-awesome individual pitches (fastball, curve, slider, sinker) that almost always add up to a whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts blockbuster.

“We’re going to protect him as much as we can, give him the extra days, because he still wore out a little bit in September, October last year, which is understandable,” Warthen says. “But we want to make sure, strength-wise, he stays solid all year long, keeps his arm in a good angle and works the ball in the bottom of the zone.”

Fact is, the Mets intend to protect each of their young starters every bit as much as they did last year, minus the 2015 six-man rotation. Make no mistake: If they need to spot-start someone to give everyone else an extra day of rest, that’s on the table again this year, too. But just like last year, Warthen, Collins and general manager Sandy Alderson will be watching for potential frays in the fabric and make subtle adjustments on the fly.

The first of those tweaks was visible this week, when Matz (Monday) and Co. made their first spring starts one week later than normal. This, of course, is related to all of the extra pitches last October and the continued aftercare for the three of them who already have undergone Tommy John surgeries (Harvey, deGrom, Matz).

It is a point of pride for Warthen that a Mets starter threw more than 110 pitches in a game only “seven or eight times last year, which was remarkable because they were going seven innings.”

The Mets will keep a sharp watch on pitches this year, hoping to limit each starter to 110 in a game and, more importantly, no more than 330 pitches over any three-start sequence.

“We’re already handling the spring differently,” Warthen says. “We’re starting these guys at later dates. We’ll probably cut back on [spring] innings, but they’ll still get their volumes up like they’re supposed to.

“We’ll discuss the rest of it. We have targets for each and every one of them. We’ll abide by our targets but still adjust with what it takes in September and October to make sure we’re all healthy.”

Last year’s late-comer, Matz, will get a formal unveiling in what should be his first full season. Crazy thing is, he made half as many postseason starts (three) as he did regular-season starts (six) in his debut last summer. In those six regular-season starts, he went 4-0 with a 2.27 ERA.

Those six starts were the third-fewest of all time for a man who started in that year’s World Series, according to Baseball Prospectus, trailing only Joe Black in 1952 (two) and Marty Bystrom in 1980 (five).

“I think it’s huge for anybody to experience that type of atmosphere,” Matz says of October, in which he started a National League Championship Series game against the Cubs and Game 4 of the World Series against Kansas City. “In that setting, I don’t care what happens.”

Time spent at Triple-A Las Vegas last summer maybe helped hasten his development, because the ball flies in the dry air and a pitcher must adapt and survive or end up on the desert floor as vulture food.

“I always liked pitching inside, but I took it to a new level there,” Matz says. “Owning the inside part of the plate. You’ve got to open up that outer half of the plate.”

Says Warthen: “He’s kind of the dark horse here. He’s healthy, he’s throwing free and easy, and all three pitches are working great right now. I’m very excited.”

Then there’s Wheeler, who turns 26 in May and should arrive along about midsummer like a rocket booster and launch this crew to even greater heights. He was last seen in 2014, going 11-11 with a 3.54 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP in 32 starts.

“His stuff might be as sneaky, and more electric, than any of them,” Warthen says. “Because his fastball’s got that ease, kind of that whippy deGrom-type that just gets on top of you. He’s got the great curveball, a changeup, and he’s a guy who I think is going to be more determined than ever.”

Wheeler, understandably, is excited about his return. “The first thing that comes to mind is, it’s going to be fun,” he says. “I was a fan watching these guys all last season, and it was fun watching them. To be able to be a part of it, it’s going to be so much more fun.

“And you get to go compete against them.”

As in, Harvey sets the tone one night, so let’s see what you’ve got, Syndergaard, tomorrow, and then Wheeler will step in and see whether he can upstage them.

Internal competition leads to an even higher level of external competition. Scorpions, out of the box. Look out.

“They’re all wonderful individuals,” Warthen says. “That’s the fun part. A lot of people should be envious of my job right now because they’re all great kids, they all want to learn, they all want to go out and work hard and they’re all great setters for the rest of the organization.

“The other people watch the way these guys work, and they understand what it takes to be in the big leagues.”


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.

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Scott Miller’s Starting 9: David Price Works to Pitch Past Familiar Faces

FORT MYERS, Fla. — A little sugar on your Grapefruit?…


1. He’s Got Friends in Low (and High) Places

He is the Rick Steves of the American League East, a man so well-traveled he could author a guide, rate beaches in St. Petersburg and tell you where to get the best Szechuan in Toronto’s Chinatown.

So while other starting pitchers work on command and secondary pitches this spring, David Price has one other item on his to-do list.

How to send his friends back to the dugout, grumbling bitterly, after an at-bat.

The Boston left-hander with the impressive collection of baseball passport stamps and new $217 million deal now is working for this third team in the division. He started in Tampa Bay. He finished last season in Toronto after being traded there from Detroit in July.

Only advance scouts have worked their way through the AL East more than he has. And, oh, the friends this friendly guy has made along the way.

“Pitching against your friends, for me, is hands down one of toughest things to do,” Price told B/R during spring training. “I want to see guys do well, especially my friends and ex-teammates. I’m cheering for them.

“When we’re not playing them, I’m definitely hoping they do extremely well. When we’re playing against them, I don’t want to see them do bad.”

Come again, on that last part?

“I want us to win, but if there could be a scenario where we win a really good game and everybody has a good game, I’m OK with that,” Price said. “I still want to see my friends and ex-teammates do well.”

Now in his eighth year in the majors, and given that the Red Sox will play the Rays and Blue Jays 19 times each this season, Price will be seeing old friends more often than you see Friends reruns on TBS.

“So I need to get over that pretty quick,” he said, flashing his trademark infectious smile.

The sooner, the better, is surely what the Red Sox are thinking.

And from Price’s perspective, as this new relationship begins, this also is a completely different spring in another respect: For the first time in years, he knows exactly which uniform he will be wearing for the foreseeable future.

“Absolutely,” Price said. “I’ve got comfort in knowing I’m going to be somewhere. I haven’t had that in probably three years, maybe four.

“Going back to the offseason after 2012, there was some speculation I was going to be traded then [from Tampa Bay]. I didn’t know if I was going to make it through the entire 2013 season. Then after that season I definitely thought I was going to be traded before 2014.

“To know I am going to be somewhere, I haven’t had this feeling for a long time. And it feels good.”

He has enjoyed these early days of camp, getting to know some of his new Red Sox teammates, reacquainting with others and getting past the big hurdle with Big Papi. Price and David Ortiz, two of the game’s nicer men, had developed an ornery history together based on pitching inside in the heat of competition.

Now, with their very first meeting, Price has added one more friend to his ever-growing smartphone contact list.

So there’s peace of mind as Price begins work to bring another title to Fenway Park from many different avenues.

It will be fascinating to watch, because even when he didn’t have that peace, when trade rumors were swirling, Price was cool enough to remain one of the game’s best pitchers.

“I feel like I did a pretty good job of not thinking about it,” Price said. “I wasn’t thinking about a contract extension last year [in Detroit] or free agency or being traded.

“I feel like I’ve done a good job of being in a lot of experiences in which I guess I needed to focus on [the] right now. Going back to my junior year at Vanderbilt—with the expectations of being the No. 1 player heading into the draft—through my sophomore and junior seasons, staying in the present and not looking ahead to the future.   

“I feel like it started a while ago for me, and I’m very thankful to have those experiences. I’m just focusing on the present.”


2. Meanwhile, in Detroit…

There was very little that was memorable for Justin Verlander in 2015. He started the season on the disabled list for the first time in his career (strained triceps), didn’t make his first start until June 13 and finished with some of the worst numbers of his career (5-8, 133.1 innings pitched).

Yet…while the Tigers fell so far that they became sellers, trading Price and Yoenis Cespedes, Verlander quietly picked up steam in the latter part of the season. In 15 second-half starts, he posted a 2.80 ERA and 1.000 WHIP.

This spring, he’s healthy, working hard and the indicators all look good.

“I’m not going to put numbers on it,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. “My gut tells me Ver will re-establish himself as one of the better pitchers in the American League.”

From Glendale, Arizona, his former catcher agrees. Alex Avila, now with the Chicago White Sox, said, “He looked great at the end of the year last year, the way he was throwing the ball. The last two months, he was 98, 99 mph, consistently.”

Though much of the conversation surrounding Verlander the past two seasons has been about his lost velocity, the fact that the Detroit ace was battling a core muscle injury two years ago and the triceps strain last year undoubtedly took its toll. So, too, the fact that he is now 33.

“I don’t put much stock in velocity, anyway,” Avila said. “When he won the Cy Young and MVP awards (in 2011), he pitched at 90, 91 and bumped it up to the mid- and upper-90s when he needed to.”


3. Family Feud in the AL Central

No more spring training dinners for Tigers general manager Al Avila and his son, catcher Alex Avila.

With the emergence of James McCann behind the plate and financial resources that needed to be allocated elsewhere, the Tigers essentially cut the catcher loose over the winter. So you can imagine the family conversations now that Alex has signed with the White Sox, Detroit’s AL Central rivals, while his father is in his first full season as the Tigers GM, having replaced Dave Dombrowski.

Alex is training in Arizona while the Tigers are in their 80th season in Lakeland, Florida. Dad and son formerly lived together during spring training, sharing dinners and cigars on the back patio following long days at the ballpark.

Now, Al jokes about living alone in Florida while Alex learns a new pitching staff in Arizona, and how the Avila family works toward splitting its loyalties.

“I’ve got the kicker,” Alex quips. “I’ve got the grandkids.”

His mother started spring training with the Sox instead of the Tigers, and what grandmother wouldn’t be enticed by a couple of granddaughters? Avery is now three years old and Zoey is one.

“We’ve had fun with it,” Alex said. “I’ve given out some White Sox gear. Problem is, my cousin is a Tigers scout, one of my best friends is a Tigers scout and my brother works for them.

“I used to give my extra gear to them. But now when I have extra White Sox gear, I can’t go there.”


4. The Way Things Work

So the White Sox signed veteran Austin Jackson the other day, and they talked about how he will play center field much of the time, particularly against lefties, and Adam Eaton will play some corner outfield.

Eaton, the White Sox’s primary center fielder for each of the past two seasons, is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and said manager Robin Ventura has yet to say anything to him.

“I haven’t talked to Robin,” Eaton told B/R on Tuesday. “I wish he would come and talk to me. Hopefully, I’ll talk to him in the next couple of days about what my role will be.”

Not that Eaton was grumbling…too much. An upbeat, talkative personality, Eaton said he welcomes Jackson and whomever else can help turn the Sox into winners.

“The more the merrier,” he said. “I think he’s a great addition to our team. I want to win a championship.

“I’ll play anywhere.”

One other note about these 2016 White Sox: When general manager Rick Hahn held exit interviews with several veterans late last season, the overwhelming consensus was: Keep this team together; we can win as is.

But ultimately, Hahn made a decision that not only did the club need a talent upgrade, but also a change in the clubhouse vibe. The additions of Todd Frazier, Avila, Brett Lawrie and now even Jackson all were made with the goal of bringing more energy to the club (which, they hope, will turn into more victories).


5. Cactus League Names of the Week

These are some easy folks to root for, because how awesome would it be if these names were playing in an MLB park near you: 

  • Socrates Brito, Diamondbacks outfielder: Lefty contact hitter who hit for average and stole 20 bases at Double-A last season.
  • Balbino Fuenmayor, Royals first baseman: Participating in his first major league camp this spring, “The Great Balbino” has recovered from last year’s knee surgery and is hoping his big power translates to the Cactus League.
  • Jabari Blash, Padres outfielder: Trying to make the big club out of spring as a Rule 5 pick from Oakland, Blash, 6’5″, could become a power source for a club in desperate need of it.
  • Jett Bandy, Angels catcher: The Los Angeles Angels’ 31st-round draft pick in 2011, Bandy was a September call-up last year and got into two games. 


6. Red the Ageless Wonder

One of the coolest sights of the spring is watching Red Schoendienst, 93, tool around St. Louis Cardinals camp in Jupiter, Florida, in his role as special coach/sage. Since signing with the Cardinals in 1945, Schoendienst has attended every spring training except one. He was felled by an intestinal illness last spring.

“Just having Red Schoendienst here in uniform every single morning, it’s awesome having him around and hearing his stories,” Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha said. “He doesn’t miss a day, and he’s got 70 years in baseball.”


7. Weekly Power Rankings

1. Domestic Violence Policy: Proving it isn’t messing around, MLB comes out strong in its first ruling, suspending Yankees reliever Aroldis Chapman for 30 games. The NFL could learn a few things.

2. Pedro Alvarez and Austin Jackson: The trickle-down effect of free agency finally finds Alvarez (who signed with the Baltimore Orioles) and Jackson (White Sox). Maybe the Great Freeze-Out finds David Freese next.

3. Josh Collmenter: On Tuesday, which was National Pancake Day, Collmenter took a break from teaching in the Diamondbacks clubhouse to make flapjacks in an effort to raise money for Phoenix Children’s Hospital. If the veteran right-hander’s repertoire on the mound is as versatile as it is off the field this spring, here’s predicting a Cy Young Award.

4. Try Not to Suck: Ahem, Cubs manager Joe Maddon’s new slogan for his players could sell millions of T-shirts everywhere while fitting all walks of life.

5. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band: Thursday night’s show in Phoenix is expected to draw a large Cactus League crowd. From Camelback Ranch (home of the White Sox and Dodgers) to Cadillac Ranch, seamlessly.


8. Singles Day in Houston

The job is his to win, it appears, but is this finally Jon Singleton’s year at first base in Houston?

One reason the Astros did not offer a contract to Chris Carter over the winter is because Singleton, at 24, should be ready.

Of course, some folks thought he would be ready in 2014, but he hit only .168 in 95 games. Then he played in only 19 games in Houston last year, hit .191 with a homer and six RBI and was left off the postseason roster.

So here we are again, minus Carter, plus expectations. Still, manager A.J. Hinch stops short of saying this is a make-or-break year for Singleton.

“I think it’s hard to say that about somebody in his early-to-mid 20s,” Hinch said. “I don’t think it’s career-defining as much as I think this is the best opportunity he’s had to be a contributor on a good team as a potential starting first baseman.”

But given that the Astros finally stepped back into the winner’s circle last year, this isn’t charity. They are in no position to give jobs away, so Matt Duffy, Tyler White and hot prospect A.J. Reed, rated as Houston’s second-best prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, are all in the mix this spring.

Singleton signed a five-year, $10 million deal in 2014 and still has options left, which gives the Astros options, too.

“Jon Singleton enters with the most experience and, certainly, the most eyes on him,” Hinch said. “Other guys are going to factor in as the spring goes on, depending on [how] his goes.”

But, the manager said, Singleton gets the first look.

Now we’ll see what he does with it.


9. Chatter

A couple of stats from guru Bill Chuck over at Billy-Ball.com:

  • When the Cubs’ Kris Bryant (199) and the Dodgers’ Joc Pederson (170) each fanned 170 or more times last season, it marked the second time ever that two rookies crossed the 170-strikeout threshold. The first? It was in 1986, when Pete Incaviglia (185) and Jose Canseco (175) did it.
  • Why Todd Frazier could turn around the White Sox: Over the past four seasons, he’s hit .258 with 102 homers and a .787 OPS. During the same time period, Sox third basemen combined to hit .229 with 54 homers and a .635 OPS.


9a. Rock ‘n’ Roll Lyric of the Week

Mets pitcher Jenrry Mejia, banned for life for failing a third performance-enhancing drug test, said he was set up by MLB. I say here’s a dedication to those who consistently perform misdeeds from the late, great Warren Zevon:

“I started as an altar boy, working at the church

“Learning all my holy moves, doing some research

“Which led me to a cash box, labeled “Children’s Fund”

“I’d leave the change, and tuck the bills inside my cummerbund

“I got a part-time job at my father’s carpet store

“Laying tackless stripping, and housewives by the score

“I loaded up their furniture, and took it to Spokane

“And auctioned off every last Naugahyde divan

“I’m very well-acquainted with the seven deadly sins

“I keep a busy schedule trying to fit them in

“I’m proud to be a glutton, and I don’t have time for sloth

“I’m greedy, and I’m angry, and I don’t care who I cross”

Warren Zevon, “Mr. Bad Example”


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Scott Miller’s Starting 9: Yadier Molina, Cards Holding Breath for Healthy Year

JUPITER, Fla. — Is that coconut smell sunblock or a pina colada? Tough to tell in the Grapefruit League…


1. Yadier Molina Is All Thumbs

Along about December, Yadier Molina noticed his left hand just didn’t feel right.

Now, here is where it may have been a blessing that he damaged his right thumb enough to warrant surgery in 2014. Because when he did the same thing to his left thumb—a torn ligament, a year later—and underwent surgery just after the 2015 season ended, he recognized a few weeks later that the surgery didn’t take. Because in recovery, it wasn’t feeling like the right thumb had.

So he underwent the knife a second time, in December. And now here baseball’s best catcher is, rehabbing 45 minutes a day, working his hand through a bucket of rice, racing the calendar to be ready for Opening Day.

“It was discouraging,” Molina told Bleacher Report the other day on the subject of being forced to undergo a second surgery this winter; and after all this, thank goodness he doesn’t have a third thumb.

“You’re always nervous. Every time you have surgery, there are always risks.

“Right now, I’m happy where I am. The thumb is responding to all of the therapy work they’re doing.”

The Cardinals are determined to take it slow with their prized catcher. If he misses Opening Day, so be it. They want him for the long haul. And after a couple of consecutive injury-plagued years, keeping Molina on the field is one of the chief priorities for St. Louis this spring.

Molina is as valuable to this team as any single individual player to any other club in the majors. He is the quarterback in a baseball town that just lost its NFL franchise, an eight-time Gold Glove winner, a seven-time All-Star and a permanent security blanket for manager Mike Matheny and pitchers from Adam Wainwright to Michael Wacha.

“I will tell you this: As far as catching goes and the manager-catcher relationship, he has been a priceless asset to me as a manager and to us as a club,” Matheny said. “For him to do his job as well as he does it makes just about everybody around here better.”

Talk about freak stuff. Molina, 33, suffered the injury to his left thumb on a play at the plate when tagging Anthony Rizzo as the Chicago Cubs first baseman slid last Sept. 20.

Just 14 months earlier, in July 2014, he suffered a torn ligament in his right thumb while sliding into third base.

“It happens; it’s baseball,” Molina said. “It’s weird, but it can happen.”

He is walking, talking, squatting proof. He eased into a few light catching drills Friday, and while the Cards will keep a tight leash on him, Molina is determined to be ready by Opening Day.

Meanwhile, playing the role of the catcher few in St. Louis want to see (nothing personal, of course) is veteran Brayan Pena, whom the Cards signed over the offseason.

And don’t worry, Cardinals fans. He knows you don’t prefer him in the lineup very often, and he understands.

“Yadier is one of those guys who is so great and so awesome that everybody is pulling for him,” said Pena, 34, an 11-year veteran who also has spent time with the Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Royals, Detroit Tigers and Cincinnati Reds.

“Me, personally, I understand my role. I have a responsibility to be ready whenever my name is called. I’m excited about it. You’re excited to have the opportunity.

“But I understand I have a future Hall of Famer in front of me, and I’m playing next to a legend.”

While the rice bucket is one key to Molina whipping his hand back into shape, he’s also using weights and laser therapy to try to push things along.   

The big worry, of course, is that Molina is creeping toward his mid-30s, and he’s playing one of the game’s most punishing positions. The right thumb cost him 40 games in ’14, and his 110 games played that summer were his fewest since his rookie season in 2004 (51 games).

Last year, he played in 136 contests but came up lame at the end and was nowhere close to himself while gallantly playing three games in the National League Division Series loss to the Chicago Cubs.

“You spent the whole year healthy, and then at the end you get hurt,” he said. “Two, three years in a row now (he spent time on the disabled list in August, 2013, with a knee sprain).

“I’m not giving up on myself. I’m trying to get better. I’m trying to get back on track with my thumb. I’m looking forward to the season.”


2. New Program for the Panda

We’ll see how this turns out: Maybe going grim-faced and laser-focused will help Pablo Sandoval produce a strong bounce-back season in 2016.

But following some unfortunate introductory comments upon his arrival to camp this spring, the Panda has shut things down. He is not talking to the media—at least, that’s what he told B/R on Monday—after his weight again tipped the scales of poor PR against him.

Sandoval told Boston reporters when he arrived that he didn’t worry about losing weight over the winter:

He also didn’t seem that bothered by his disappointing 2015 season, basically saying, hey, that’s baseball; sometimes you have good years, and sometimes you don’t.

That is exactly what they don’t want to hear in Boston, where the 2013 World Series title barely has made up for last-place finishes in three of the past four years.

Stay tuned.


3. Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood Has Gone Cuckoo

New sliding rules take effect this year—call it the Chase Utley Rule—and it is something else for everyone to try to figure out this spring.

The biggest issue is the “neighborhood play,” which now is subject to instant replay, which means second basemen and shortstops will need to actually touch the base with a foot instead of swiping the general area before throwing to first.

The reason they’ve been allowed to brush past the base without touching it for so long is self-preservation: With a baserunner barreling in, everybody agreed it was in the infielder’s best interest to get out of the way quickly.

The new rules force the runner to slide into the base and not target the infielder, which isn’t a bad thing. But as sure as cheeseburgers are delicious, you can be sure that subjecting it to instant replay is going to bring unintended consequences this season.

“We’re making a slide rule that keeps you on the bag…and now you’ve got to make a decision on the neighborhood play that you’ve got to stay on the bag,” Mets manager Terry Collins, a former infielder, said the other day in Port St. Lucie, Florida. “You know what that is going to mean? Somebody is going to get their clocks cleaned.”

In Jupiter, Florida, Matheny said he is still digesting the rule but that the team will continue to teach its middle infielders the same things it always has in terms of technique around second base.

“Protect yourself and do what’s expected,” Matheny said.

As for veteran Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia, he says he hasn’t paid much attention to it yet and will figure it out as he goes along. Surely, he won’t be the only one.


4. Clayton Kershaw Left His Impression on Cuba

Cardinals catcher Brayan Pena traveled along with Clayton Kershaw, Yasiel Puig, Miguel Cabrera, Nelson Cruz, Jose Abreu and others on an MLB goodwill trip to Cuba in November and still cannot get over Kershaw’s kindness and accessibility.

“I really love that guy because he was unbelievable in the way he embraced kids and my people,” Pena, a native of Cuba, told B/R. “You have to appreciate that. He’s a future Hall of Famer, he’s taking time away from his family to help kids, he’s speaking Spanish.

“The guy stole my heart. I know why God put him in that position. I was so impressed with the way he embraced the Cuban people.”


5. Rumbling Afield with Miguel Sano

It is 8 a.m. on a chilly Florida morning, and there Twins phenom Miguel Sano is, out in right field on Field 6, with newly minted coach Torii Hunter as his tutor.

Sano, 22, is in the midst of one of the game’s most fascinating transitions. He is 6’4″ and 260 pounds with a big enough body and an important enough bat that you wonder two things: Can the man who primarily has played third base throughout his professional career play right field without hurting the Twins defensively? And can he do it without hurting himself?

The Twins like Trevor Plouffe at third base, and with Joe Mauer at first and newly signed Byung Ho Park ready to step in at designated hitter, right field was the natural move for Sano.

“We feel the move is doable,” Twins general manager Terry Ryan told B/R. “Miguel wants to play; he doesn’t want to DH. We don’t want him to DH. He’s athletic enough. He’s a surprisingly good runner for the size of the man.

“We understand it’s going to take time.”

The recently retired Hunter, in camp as a special instructor, is charged with attempting to shorten that time. Sano told Hunter that back home in the Dominican Republic, he played shortstop, third base, first base, outfield and whatever else was asked of him.

“He’s not afraid because he’s been there before,” Hunter said. “I’m trying to show him things like how to block the lights, how to line up, how the ball comes off of the bat differently from a left-hander than from a right-hander, the spin, slice, topspin. Trying to help him recognize that.”

Hunter and Butch Davis, who is the Twins’ outfield coach, are working overtime, and they have a willing student.

Given that Sano slammed 18 homers and racked up 52 RBI in just 80 games for the Twins last year, the possibilities are tantalizing.


6. Heart of 29

The most touching moments of the week were watching Hall of Famer Rod Carew in uniform as a special coach for the Minnesota Twins. Carew nearly died after suffering a massive heart attack five months ago.

Carew was in uniform Saturday while the Twins held their first full-squad workout, and in tribute to him they all wore red “Heart of 29” T-shirts, citing the name of the charity through which Carew is working to raise money for the research and prevention of heart disease.

“I wanted to be here real bad,” said Carew, 70, who is four months away from a heart transplant. “I knew it would help as far as my spirits went to be around all of the guys.”

The Twins have been pushing Carew’s Heart of 29 cause since they nearly lost the man who took a serious run at hitting .400 in 1977 when he hit .388 to win the sixth of seven batting titles.

“I told them I want to save lives,” Carew said. “I want people to understand that they’ve got to take care of their ticker.

“The worst thing I did was not take my medication. I just threw it away. And I never went back to the doctor. You think you’re healthy, and it knocked me on my butt, just like that.”


7. Weekly Power Rankings

1. New Sliding Rules: Utley should tour Grapefruit and Cactus League camps to demonstrate.

2. Academy Awards: #OscarsSoWhite, #ChrisRockSoFunny.

3. Ian Desmond: The loss of Josh Hamilton (sore knee) is Desmond’s gain in Texas. Still, a hollow gain it is on a one-year, $8 million deal after Desmond declined a seven-year, $107 million extension offer from the Nationals before the 2014 season.

4. Exhibition games: Welcome back, games. Who isn’t ready to take this thing onto the field this week? But, hey, who is No. 75? And 81? And 92?

5. Grouper: Thanks for being so delicious during spring training in Florida, grouper. Now, can someone please pass a slice of key lime pie?


8. Mets Look to Ride Yoenis Cespedes’ Coattails

Lou Truppa is on the front lines of what has been the biggest story going on right now with the New York Mets.

No, he is not the latest phenom for the defending National League champions. He is 80.

And he stands sentry at the gate to the players’ parking lot in Port St. Lucie.

“It is on everybody’s mouth,” Truppa, now in his eighth year guarding the players’ parking lot, told B/R. “They’re all looking for him.

“What’s he driving today?”

First day here, the flamboyant slugger stopped and asked Truppa where he could park his Ford F-250 pickup truck.

“He stops to say hello every day,” said Truppa, who since has watched Cespedes roll by in a three-wheel Polaris Slingshot, a fire-breathing Lamborghini and, Thursday, a $250,000 cherry red, two-seat Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione, complete with his No. 52 on the wheels.

Some of the Mets are amused by the show; others simply do their best to ignore it.

Come April, the only thing the Mets will care about Cespedes driving is fastballs. They did not sign him to a three-year, $75 million deal following their inspirational run to the World Series in October simply to drive up the value of their parking lot.

Cespedes already had a reputation as something of a diva, which some in the industry said over the winter is why he wasn’t getting the expected five- or six-year monster contract offers.

The gaudy cars will do nothing to quell that.

Nor will the fact that he sent someone to Target the other day to purchase a round waffle-maker for the clubhouse chefs. Previously this spring, the Mets had been forced to eat, horrors, square waffles.

Quirky is amusing early in camp, and who doesn’t love waffles (ahem, round or square); and, yes, the auto show has given Cespedes the attention he apparently craves.

From here on out, though, it’s all about parking baseballs.

Not whatever Cespedes is parking in the Mets’ lot.

“Always different cars,” said Truppa, whose favorite Mets in 16 years of working spring training here are Mike Piazza, John Franco, Al Leiter and Pedro Martinez.

Meanwhile, over there in a space under a palm tree is Truppa’s car: a 2009 dark blue Kia with 165,000 miles on it.

“I’ve never had a more comfortable ride,” he said, smiling, as the Mets shifted hard into 2016 gear.


9. Joe Girardi Will Take Depth from Anywhere

But can this little guy hit?

Guess he won’t be in today’s lineup…

9a. Rock ‘n’ Roll Lyric of the Week

Don’t blame me for this one. I’m just passing along what I heard in the Minnesota Twins clubhouse at 7:30 a.m. the other day in Fort Myers, Florida (and, why, yes, it is jarring to hear this blasting that early in the morning)…

“Cottonwood fallin’ like snow in July

“Sunset, riverside, four-wheel drives

“In a tail-light circle

“Roll down the windows, turn it on up

“Pour a little crown in a Dixie cup

“Get the party started

“Girl you make my speakers go boom boom

“Dancin’ on the tailgate in the full moon

“That kinda thing makes a man go mmm hmmm”

—Luke Bryan, “Drunk on You”


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Matt Harvey Poised to Put Up Cy Young-Worthy 2016 Season

Even out of context, the numbers were fine. Matt Harvey finished 2015 with the sixth-lowest ERA in the National League (2.71), with a strikeout an inning. He had 11 starts where he didn’t allow an earned run, and three others where he allowed only one.

For a lot of guys, that’s a career year. For Harvey, it was Year 1 after Tommy John surgery, a season filled with questions and restrictions and distractions.

Some of them, for sure, were self-imposed. Some of them will always be there.

But as you start thinking about Harvey and 2016, you begin with the idea that some of those questions have already been answered, and most of those restrictions and some of those distractions will go away.

You realize that Harvey had to make history to do what he did in 2015, that he had to outdo what pitchers normally accomplish in the first year post-Tommy John. Normally, it’s the second year when you see the true pitcher return.

Matt Harvey isn’t normal, but that just means his second year back could be something special.

His 2015 season earned him a trophy as the National League’s Comeback Player of the Year. Now 2016 could well earn him something bigger.

Is it crazy to think Harvey could win the Cy Young? No, it’s not. Not at all.

He finished fourth in the voting in 2013, even though his season ended in August with the elbow injury that would require surgery. He finished far behind winner Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and at this point, it’s worth noting Kershaw is the guy who will go into 2016 as the Cy Young favorite, as he does every year.

Kershaw has won the award three of the last five years, but he doesn’t win every year. He didn’t win last year, when Jake Arrieta and Zack Greinke finished ahead of him.

This year, it could be Harvey.

He should be stronger than he was in 2015, even with the long season and short winter that comes with going to the World Series. His winter was actually more normal than the one before, because it didn’t come with the final stages of rehab from surgery.

His spring training should be more normal, too, because last spring, Harvey’s starts were each taken as a referendum on whether he could come back strong. I remember making plans to watch his spring debut last year; I couldn’t tell you (and don’t care) when he’ll take the mound in Port St. Lucie next month.

The early reports out of Florida say Harvey looks stronger, which is hardly a surprise.

As good as he looked last year, he did have some of the first-year-back effect, with somewhat reduced velocity and life.

“To me, Harvey had the best year of all of them last year, if only for the fact he didn’t have his electric fastball,” Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen told Ken Davidoff of the New York Post this week. “He didn’t have his slider for a good part of the year. But he learned how to pitch. With that, that second-gear fastball that he has comes into play this year.

“Right now, he looks in great shape,” Warthen added. “That’s special.”

It’s special, because Harvey with top-gear stuff can be the best pitcher in the game. A motivated Harvey with top-gear stuff could be special.

The motivation should be no problem. As memorable as his 2015 season was, it ended with the inning Harvey would rather forget. He talked Mets manager Terry Collins into letting him try to finish Game 5 of the World Series, only to see the Kansas City Royals rally and celebrate their championship at Citi Field.

In the bigger picture, though, that game, and even that inning, are part of why Harvey can be great. He craves the big stage and all that comes with it.

He opened spring training by saying he would consider a contract extension with the Mets, according to Kevin Kernan of the New York Post, but few believe he would bypass the chance to make news and history in free agency. The $150,000 Maserati he showed up in told more about him than anything he said.

He’ll make $4.325 million this year, but he knows there can be much more ahead. Harvey has three more seasons of arbitration to go, but already everything he does comes with one eye on the eventual riches of free agency.

This is a challenging year for the Mets, the first one this group will face with true expectations of winning. The long season and short winter are real issues for a great young pitching staff that carried the team, but also exceeded previous workload highs in 2015.

Many Mets fans weren’t happy when I predicted those issues could be enough to keep this team out of the playoffs entirely. It was a prediction, not a guarantee, just as this is.

But no matter what happen to the rest of the Mets, Matt Harvey is headed for a big year.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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