MLB Prospects Update: Hottest, Coldest Pitchers at Every Minor League Level

Few things thrill fans like watching a homegrown talent toe the rubber for their favorite big league club and shut down the opposition.

But before they can dominate in front of tens of thousands of fans every fifth day, pitchers need to prove themselves in the minor leagues.

More than three months into the minor league season, pitchers at every level are opening eyes with their performances on the mound, some more so than others.

That said, here's a look at the hottest and coldest pitching prospects at each level of the minor leagues.

 

Statistics are accurate through July 7 and come from MLB.comMiLB.comBaseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.com, except where otherwise noted.

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Under the Knife: MLB Injury Analysis on Encarnacion, Sabathia, Votto and More

I feel a bit more optimistic about injuries than I have in a while. I showed you the Motus Sleeve last week, but that's hardly the only new thing coming into baseball to try to help in the battle. I might have been a bit early calling 2014 the "Year of the Sensor," but things like the Sleeve and the new MLB Statcast (which really needs a catchier name) are going to revolutionize things.

But they won't do it all at once. The PITCHf/x system was introduced to baseball a couple of years ago, and it took a while before anyone really understood how to analyze the mountains of data coming out of it. Now, that system is changing, and the flood of data just keeps coming. Perhaps the next thing baseball needs after sensors is a big filter, but it's more likely that the "Big Data" solutions will be the first try. 

Bloggers, if you want your next chance to move to the front office, start prepping to parse sensor data. The first to get to interesting solutions will be the next Josh Kalk or the next Dan Fox. Overall, it's going to be very good for baseball, especially if this round of data helps us figure out how to stay healthier. We're not there yet, so let's look around the league...

 

Edwin Encarnacion

The Toronto Blue Jays aren't telling us much about the quad strain for Edwin Encarnacion, but they are giving us enough to understand what's going on. With Encarnacion on the DL and the Jays saying he'll miss two to four weeks, noted here by the National Post,  the likelihood is that he has a Grade II strain. The timeline fits.

The only thing that really doesn't fit is that Encarnacion said that he felt a pop. That's a very vague thing, but when it's meaningful, it usually indicates either a tendon or ligament coming loose. A full-on muscle tear (rupture) is usually so painful that the descriptions are more like "searing" than "pop." With minimal swelling, it looks like Encarnacion felt something but that he avoided the worst.

About that swelling: It's another sign. Early indications were that Encarnacion would need to wait until Monday or even later to have an MRI. Instead, they were able to do it early on Sunday, indicating that the swelling wasn't a problem or was easily controlled. 

All in all, there are more positives than negatives. Encarnacion is on the DL, but even that will be minimized by the All-Star break. The question now is whether Encarnacion can come back quickly enough to avoid a rehab stint and more lost time. Don't think that the home run chase won't enter into the timeline, either; it will. 

 

Joey Votto

Joey Votto heads back to the DL with what CBS Sports tells us the Reds are calling a "distal quad strain." This isn't a lie, but it's one of those terms that sounds informative but isn't. Distal is simply a direction. Closer to the body is proximal; farther from the body is distal. The knee is more distal than the hip, so the Reds are merely saying that Votto has an injury nearer the knee.

However, this is a clue. Also at the distal end of the quadriceps are a number of tendons. An injury to a tendon is a strain, the same term as an injury to a muscle. However, tendon strains tend to be more inflammatory (tendonitis) and can become chronic (tendonosis). A tendon strain usually indicates a traumatic injury, which we know isn't the case.

We also know that Votto is dealing with a situation that the Reds once said "couldn't get worse." That sounds like a manageable condition, something like a patellar tendonitis. We may not know what it is specifically, but there are clues.

More concerning is the functional issue. Votto hasn't been playing well, and during his series of knee surgeries a few seasons ago, he struggled to get back to normal function even after the knee was cleared. This seems precisely to that pattern, indicating that maybe this is much more about Votto's function than any significant setback physically.

There's no question he's on the DL and will be into at least mid-July. Everything past that is a relative unknown. Given what we do know and all we don't, Votto is suddenly very risky.

 

CC Sabathia

As Bob Dylan once sang, "things have changed." At this time last week, things looked pretty positive for CC Sabathia and the Yankees. He was heading toward another rehab start, and the team was mapping out how he'd fit back into the rotation. Then Wednesday, Sabathia's knees had swollen back up and he was shut down, with Mark Feinsand filling in the details.

Sabathia was scheduled to visit Dr. Andrews with initial reports signaling that would come on Monday. As yet, there have been no announcements, but no news isn't good news when it comes to this. It could be that Sabathia's knees are still too swollen to do a good exam and set of images. If so, that would be a huge negative.

Dr. Andrews isn't a microfracture guy, but it's easy enough to refer Sabathia to someonethat is, if that's the case. One source I have told me that Sabathia's agents consulted with Dr. Brian Cole, a White Sox doctor who has performed some advanced knee procedures, including a meniscus transplant on a minor leaguer. While Jose Martinez hasn't moved up much, he wasn't much of a prospect to begin with, and he hasn't had issues with his knees. 

Could Sabathia be heading toward being the first major leaguer to try it? That's unclear. Athletes seldom want to be the first or even early test cases. Tommy John's situation was unusual, but with the lack of success with microfracture in baseball, Sabathia may be forced to make a similar choice. At this point, it's safe to drop Sabathia in all formats, including keeper leagues. We won't know enough until spring training to make him a good lock.

 

Jaime Garcia

I'll ignore the drama here on Jaime Garcia as much as I can and focus on the physical. After coming back from shoulder surgery and struggling to stay healthy, Garcia developed symptoms of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. We're still learning about this condition, which is truly a repetitive stress injury. While you may know it as the injury that sidelined Chris Carpenter, it's often seen in actual carpenters. (Wonder why? Think about hammers.)

While TOS is little understood, one of the patterns that's developing is that there's two clear types of conditions that are both called TOS. Garcia is dealing with the type that impinges the nerves rather than the vascular system. Neither is good, but there seems to be a bit better return rate with nerve impingement, though given Garcia's other issues, it's tough to take this in isolation.

The drama with the communication and the frustration of GM John Mozeliak (noted by MLB.com) is interesting in ways, but probably won't have much of a bearing on this. Garcia is staying in St. Louis for surgery, a bit of a surprise given that this is relatively specialized and the likelihood that Garcia's Cardinal career is effectively over. That the Cards medical staff got anything out of him from his previous shoulder problems shouldn't be diminished by this last problem.

 

Brady Aiken

Since the news broke yesterday that Brady Aiken, the overall No. 1 pick in this year's draft, hadn't passed the Astros' physical, not much has changed, but the fact that Aiken isn't taking a reported $5 million tells us that there's some question. Either way, Aiken's not likely to head to UCLA this fall.

The question is really more one of risk. If a third of pitchers will end up with Tommy John surgery, there's plenty of pitchers signing without the discount that will lose a year. The Astros are smart enough to know this, and even the possibility of having two early picks in next year's draft isn't worth the headaches of losing a 1-1. 

Aiken (and all draftees) have until July 18th to sign, and this one might take that long. This is less about the elbow now and more a simple negotiation. While I'll be interested to see how they handle Aiken once he signed, I do think what we know about Tommy John surgery means that the risk is very limited.

 

Jeremy Hellickson

Jeremy Hellickson is back in the Rays rotation after missing the first half of the season while rehabbing from shoulder surgery. The Tampa Bay Times gave some nice notes on how the return was managed well, if conservatively, which is nothing new for the Rays. Hellickson's first start back on Tuesday night went well, though he didn't go very deep. There's little doubt he'll expand on that over the next few starts.

If he's solidly back in the rotation as expected, he will either solidify the Rays as they try to surge back into contention or anchor the rotation once David Price is gone. Either way, he's key to the Rays. This is probably your last chance to pick him up, though he's only owned in seven percent of Yahoo! leagues.

 

Gerrit Cole

Gerrit Cole came back from a shoulder issue and ended up right back on the DL. That's never good, but Cole's new problem isn't directly related to the old one. Instead, the lat strain is likely a compensation issue. Even a minute change, inside or outside, can create new problems up and down the kinetic chain. With as much force as Cole is generating on every pitch, this is an even bigger risk.

The interesting thing here is that this is a perfect test case for the Motus Sleeve, which we know is being tested by the Pirates. Using the Sleeve during his rehab would put the Pirates and Cole in a better position to succeed. Right now, it's a nearly singular advantage.

 

Jered Weaver

Jered Weaver left his Monday start with tightness in his lower back. Weaver has had minor issues in the past , but it never became much more serious. The Angels will give him a couple days of treatment to see how he responds and with the All-Star break coming, don't be surprised if they bump his next scheduled start back to give him even more rest, as the Los Angeles Times notes is being considered. Matt Shoemaker, who came in when Weaver left Monday, would be the most likely to take that spot start. 

 

Justin Masterson

Justin Masterson hits the DL with a knee injury that the Indians haven't given a lot of specifics on, as noted by Cleveland.com. It sounds like meniscus or maybe articular cartilage, but it's the effects that have been the problem.

Masterson has been bad for a couple weeks, and now, perhaps it was just adjustments to a sore knee. You could maybe wonder why Masterson pitched through it, but there are reasons to try up to a point. This one passed it, and we'll see if they can get him back to right.

Power sinker guys like Masterson haven't been durable, but he's more than a one-pitch guy. He's worth taking a chance on if someone bails out on him.

 

Michael Bourn

Another hamstring injury for Michael Bourn shows just how tough it is for a speed player to come back from a significant hamstring injury. Bourn has been able to get back on the field, but not stay there. The Indians are going to have to figure out how to keep him healthy, which is going to start with some rest. Lonnie Soloff is one of the best at dealing with precisely this injury—he worked with Ken Griffey Jr. in Cincinnati—so there's hope. What there may not be is time or speed. 

 

Ricky Nolasco

Ricky Nolasco has been pitching since spring training with a sore elbow. Tests showed it to be a flexor strain, which shouldn't be that big a deal. What is a big deal is that Ron Gardenhire basically came out and told everyone that he liked that Nolasco hid the injury. Mike Berardino let Gardenhire's words speak for themselves here. Comparing an injury to a broken bat? I don't even know what that means, but I'm not sure Gardenhire does, either.

Trust between players and a medical staff is key, and the longtime Twins manager essentially stuck a knife in his ATs. The macho culture of sports tends to feed on itself, but the old-school Gardenhire is proving that with a young and rebuilding team, it might be time for the team to say school's out.

 

Bronson Arroyo

There's no odometer on a pitchers's arm. Bronson Arroyo was one of the most durable pitchers in all of baseball, so when he went to Arizona this year, the thought was that he'd be a stable base for some of their young pitchers (at least the ones they hadn't traded away). Instead, he's headed for Tommy John surgery

My question is whether there's a proximate cause. Did Arroyo simply wear out his arm over time and the D'backs bought at the wrong point (and did Cincinnati know something?) or did something change?

There's no real answer here, and Arroyo's not the most introspective of pitchers, so we probably won't know. That lack of data capture is one of the reasons we haven't seen a real change in the injury rate. If nothing else, we need to at least ask why.

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2014 MLB All-Star Game: Game Info, Complete AL and NL Rosters

The times are changing in the MLB.

This is most apparent by the 2014 MLB All-Star Game rosters, which tout a noticeable 25 first-time All-Stars, a breath of fresh air in an event that does much to compete with similar festivities put on by other leagues.

To go along with the relative fresh take on the proceedings is the fact that the Baltimore Orioles will field three players in the contest, while the Oakland Athletics, owners of the best record in the league, will bring a total of six players to the roster.

Let's take a look at the full roster and details surrounding the event.

 

2014 MLB All-Star Game Roster

 

Game Info

What: 85th MLB All-Star Game

When: July 15, 5:30 p.m. ET

Where: Target Field, Minneapolis, Minnesota

TV: Fox Sports

Online: MLB TV

 

Debutants to Watch

Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers

Finally.

The spectacle in Minneapolis will be mostly remembered as Derek Jeter's final foray at the event, but Yasiel Puig leads a class of new entrants looking to leave its mark on the game.

A far cry from a year ago, when Puig had hardly been in the league a month and was the subject of a major push by fans to get him in—to no avail, obviously—the 23-year-old outfielder wound up being one of the three leading vote-getters in the outfield.

Given his elite numbers, it's no wonder:

Puig, in all of his bat-flipping glory at the plate, also happens to be one of the best defenders, routinely making highlight-reel plays in the outfield, such as the one captured by the MLB on Twitter:

A name to watch in all facets, Puig kicks off what is sure to be a lengthy and fruitful track record at the All-Star game in Minneapolis. Don't miss out.

 

Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox

Say hello to the guy who can steal the show and go down in history.

Were it not for a brief stint on the shelf with an injury, Jose Abreu would surely be far and away the MLB home-run leader. Through 73 games, the first baseman hit 27, a number that allowed Abreu to etch his name into the history books, as MLB Stat of the Day notes:

Two weeks on the disabled list did not prevent him from other eye-popping numbers, either. In 76 games, he has 69 RBI, 17 doubles and a .281 average. But it's his ability to go yard that will put Abreu over the top in the minds of many as he plays beneath the national microscope. 

Of course, all that truly matters to him is soaking up the moment with his family looking on from the stands, as Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun-Times illustrates:

For a rookie, Abreu has come quite a long way in a short period of time. He has a chance at the 85th edition of the Midsummer Classic to only further continue the story of his growing legacy.

 

Todd Frazier, 3B, Reds

Everyone knows Todd Frazier.

That Frazier, the hero of the 1998 Little League World Series:

Drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in 2007, Frazier has blossomed into a stellar player and will make his first All-Star Game appearance after batting .293/.356/.499 with 17 homers.

While the overwhelming narrative is Jeter's bow out of the event, an underrated element of the proceedings is Frazier's reconvening with the New York legend, as Cincinnati Redlegs points out:

In the midst of his best year as a pro with plenty of room to grown, it would be a reach to call the game a passing-of-the-torch moment, but it is still a critical part of Frazier's growing stardom.

 

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Cincinnati Reds: Playing Pre-Deadline Trade-or-Keep with Top Prospects

The Cincinnati Reds will have some interesting decisions to make soon as the July 31 MLB trade deadline quickly approaches.

The team is built on its starting pitching, which currently boasts the No. 4 ERA in baseball at 3.26.

Its reliever corps, however, has been suspect at best—at least prior to the eighth inning. 

Cincinnati's bullpen is 9-12 with a No. 24 ERA of 3.96. That, of course, reflects a lot of Triple-A names pitching in the absence of key bullpen members early on. Still, the bullpen has been less-than-reliable for the majority of the season.

Then there's the offense: Is it good or bad?

The Reds are No. 10 in the National League in runs scored overall, but they were No. 3 in the month of June. Guys like Devin Mesoraco and Todd Frazier are trying to make the offense talk a moot point with their performances.

So what will they do at the deadline?

Their farm isn't exactly bursting with MLB-ready talent, but the organization has some coveted pieces that could be dealt for more talent for the second-half push.

Here are the Reds' top-five prospects, and whether the Reds should keep or trade them by the deadline.

 

All stats and rankings courtesy of BaseballAmerica.com unless otherwise noted and are current as of July 9, 2014.

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San Francisco’s oppressed motorists are fighting for change

They’ve been silent too long. 

The battle for San Francisco’s streets in action. Credit: Aude at Wikimedia Commons

Drivers in San Francisco have been having a hard time of it. All the public parking spaces created since the 1990s have been for cyclists. There’s no longer any requirement to build parking spaces for new houses and apartments. The transport agency even made them (gasp!) pay for parking on Sundays (mayor Ed Lee abandoned the policy after a year). 

But fear not – for like countless downtrodden, voiceless groups before them, the city’s motorists have come together to fight back. Earlier this week, a group called “Restore Transportation Balance” delivered a ballot initiative to the town hall, demanding a change in policy to pay more attention to the poor, ignored motorist. Ballot initiatives can be proposed by individuals or interest groups and are then voted on in a local election. To qualify, they need to collect 9,702 (yes, 9,702) signatures from locals, but, just to be safe, this one had 17,500.

In an editorial for SFGate, Bill Bowen, a member of the Restore Transportation Balance team, described the initiative’s backers as “a coalition of neighbourhood activists, small businesses, first responders, disabled advocates, parents, churchgoers and just plain folks”. Their proposals include:

  • Funding for car park construction;
  • A freeze on parking meter and garage charges for five years;
  • No parking charges on Sundays, holidays, or outside working hours;
  • Motorist representation on the Municipal Transportation Agency board; 
  •  A requirement that “traffic laws should be enforced equally for everyone using San Francisco’s streets and sidewalks”.

This last, somewhat passive aggressive demand is presumably directed at the over-mighty interest groups which have dominated the city’s transport agenda for far too long: bikes, pedestrians and the city’s street cars. The initiative is in part a backlash against another ballot in the election, a horrific proposal for a $500m bond to be spent on new public transport and to make the streets bus and bicycle friendly.

According to the annual TomTom traffic survey, San Francisco is the second most congested city in the US – a fact the coalition of motorists blames on the introduction of cycle lanes. That said, it’s also been rated the second most walkable city in the country by website Walk Score, based on how close schools, businesses and other amenities are to each other.

The proposals will both be voted on in November. Until then, the war rages on. 

This is a preview of our new sister publication, CityMetric. We'll be launching its website soon - in the meantime, you can follow it on Twitter and Facebook.

Cincinnati Reds’ Trade Deadline Strategy Blueprint

The Cincinnati Reds are in a curious position where it can be difficult to assess whether they will be buyers or sellers at the upcoming July 31 trade deadline.

The club currently sits at 48-42 and are 3.5 games back of the National League Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers and one game back of the second NL wild-card spot. However, the Reds have been wildly inconsistent this year—better of late, however—and could just as easily find themselves with a near double-digit deficit to make up in the division.

The most likely scenario has the Reds looking to add pieces at the deadline in an attempt to make their third straight playoff appearance. So, for the most part, we'll be looking at deals to help strengthen the Reds' current roster. However, we'll also explore a few deals that could get the Reds the prospects they desire to retool and make a run in 2015.

Over the course of this article, I'll break down the Reds' biggest areas of need, give some prospect names who could be of use in possible trades, assess big leaguers with the potential to be moved in the event the Reds become minor sellers, possible targets and some suggested deals.

Let's get started.

 

All stats are current through play on July 8, 2014 and are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and Fangraphs.com unless otherwise noted.

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Home Run Derby 2014: Breaking Down Biggest Sleeper Participants

Sluggers Giancarlo Stanton, Yoenis Cespedes and Jose Bautista are all part of the 2014 Home Run Derby.

Big surprise.

American League captain Bautista selected Cespedes, Adam Jones and Brian Dozier, while National League captain Troy Tulowitzki chose Stanton, Yasiel Puig and Todd Frazier. All eight participants hit from the right side of the plate, which is likely a testament to Target Field’s pitcher-friendly dimensions in right and right-center field.

Each team will receive an addition fifth member Thursday.

Casual baseball fans who are used to the game’s most prolific sluggers in the Home Run Derby may be a bit confused to see that Frazier and Dozier are competing, but there is a reason these under-the-radar candidates are part of the field. 

Let’s dig into a few more details on the sleepers of the event.

 

Brian Dozier, Minnesota Twins

Dozier’s selection was no doubt influenced by the fact that the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game will take place in Minnesota. After all, these types of events are for the fans, so credit Bautista for the pick.

That Dozier is a second baseman who stands at less than 6’0" only makes this more of a Cinderella story. 

Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com and Parker Hageman of Twins Daily offered Dozier’s response to the selection and a tidbit for his batting practice pitcher:

Dozier will become the sixth Minnesota Twin of all time to compete in the Home Run Derby, joining the likes of Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Torii Hunter, Gary Gaetti and Tom Brunansky. Morneau famously won the event in old Yankee Stadium in 2008 in a contest that will always be remembered for Josh Hamilton’s power display in the early rounds.

Dozier has to be considered a candidate to win this thing because of his familiarity with the stadium. In fact, nine of his 16 home runs entering play Tuesday came at Target Field, and he has a particular affinity for driving the ball down the left field line.

He will be able to avoid the deep caverns in right-center field and stay in contention.

Dozier’s 16 home runs were tied for 12th in the American League entering play Tuesday, but his 31 homers since June 16 of last season are an impressive 15th in the majors. 

If nothing else, he will have the home crowd behind him as he puts on a show.

 

Todd Frazier, Cincinnati Reds

Frazier was chosen for his first All-Star Game this year in addition to this honor, and his 17 home runs were good enough for fifth place in the National League entering Tuesday’s action. 

Gregg Doyel of CBS Sports thinks Frazier just may take the whole thing:

Frazier will become the eighth different Cincinnati Red to compete in the event, joining Dave Parker (who won the first one in 1985), Eric Davis, Chris Sabo, Paul O'Neill, Ron Gant, Reggie Sanders and Ken Griffey Jr.

He certainly seemed pleased with his selection, via C. Trent Rosecrans of Cincinnati.com:

It's pretty cool. I'd like to thank Tulowitzki for even considering me. It's going to be a lot of fun, especially making the All-Star team, and now there's even more excitement the day before. Hopefully I don't put a goose egg up there, hopefully I can represent a little bit.

Perhaps adding to Frazier’s excitement is the fact that he will have his older brother as his batting practice pitcher.

Frazier may not win the Home Run Derby, but with him, it is more about the distance the homers travel than the actual frequency.

He averages 401 feet per home run and even drilled one an astounding 446 feet earlier in the year, via Matt Snyder of CBS Sports. What’s more, he once hit a home run when he lost control of the bat, and it appeared as if he simply threw his bat at the ball. 

Sure, the fans will be thrilled by the player who hits the most homers, but the one who can hit the longest will certainly earn their support as well. No pressure Frazier.

 

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It has been the World Cup of the individual, but Germany showed us the power of the team game

Germany, superbly well drilled, provided the perfect example of the superiority of the team game with their 7-1 evisceration of Brazil’s emotionally overcharged individuals in the semi-final.

The German team celebrate their fourth goal against Brazil in the 2014 World Cup semi-final. Photo: Getty
The German team celebrate their fourth goal against Brazil in the 2014 World Cup semi-final. Photo: Getty

This has been the World Cup of the individual. More than in any World Cup since the 1980s, teams in Brazil have been carried by one creative talent. Argentina have relied on Lionel Messi, Colombia have relied on James Rodríguez, Brazil relied, until his injury, on Neymar and even the Netherlands have been reliant on the pace of Arjen Robben. More than anything else, that explains why this has felt like such a strange, old-fashioned World Cup.

The 1970 competition in Mexico was heralded as the beginning of a bold new age. It was the first World Cup broadcast live by satellite and in those indistinct images from Mexico there was something revolutionary. Here were Brazil, golden shirts shimmering in the sunshine, playing a brand of football barely imaginable to British eyes. It was slick, skilful and joyous and was assumed to be the future. It turned out it was the past.

The football that had been seen in England in 1966 was the football of the future. In the late 1950s and 1960s, the sport became increasingly systematised: sides would play less as collections of individuals than as a unit. This mechanisation was no less beautiful than the previous style but it was a different kind of beauty – the collective play of the Dutch or the Dynamo Kyiv of Valeriy Lobanovskyi, rather than the dribbling and flair of a Garrincha or a Pelé. As the Swedish academic Tomas Peterson put it, football took in a second order of complexity. It began to be played with a knowledge of its workings: modern football was to old football as Picasso was to Gainsborough.

The most significant change was pressing, the systematised hunting of the man in possession in packs. It was something made possible by better nutrition (and drugs) in the late 1960s and 1970s and by improved understanding of structures on the pitch – the realisation that a properly organised side could use the offside trap to squeeze the play in such a way that opponents could be left, in effect, unmarked, and so more men could be committed to ball-winning.

At club level, that has made the game more tactically sophisticated but since the coming of systematisation, international football has lagged behind. A club coach can work with his players every day for ten months of the year, building the mutual understanding necessary for the integration this approach demands. At national level, a coach has his players for perhaps three or four days, five or six times a year, plus a couple of weeks before major tournaments. Inevitably, most choose a lowest-common-denominator approach, packing men behind the ball and getting the defence right – since a coach will always be blamed far more for defensive than for attacking failings.

The result is that recent World Cups have yielded roughly half a goal per game fewer than the Champions League. That’s why the group stages of this World Cup, which yielded an average of 2.83 goals per game, were such a surprise. With occasional exceptions – Iran, Russia – teams attacked relentlessly. It was as if sides were caught up in a sense of collective freedom with the defenestration of Spain and their controlled passing approach in their 5-1 defeat to the Dutch.

Some were rapt in the romantic fervour of those early games and suggested that this was the spirit of Brazil at work – that everybody had caught the jogo bonito attitude. More likely, not least because few sides have played less beautifully than Brazil in this tournament with their tactical fouling and unnerving desperation for victory at any cost, this was a familiar pattern: trends in the club game usually take five years or so to filter through to the national game.

Over the past five years, it has become increasingly common for teams to try to win the ball back high up the pitch, to initiate transitions as quickly as possible, taking pressing to a new level. Quick transitions mean players breaking at pace against defences that aren’t set, and that leads to more chances and more goals. It’s no coincidence that the Premier League has averaged over 2.7 goals per game in each of the past four seasons, the first time those levels have been reached since the 1980s.

When two high-pressing teams meet, the result can be stalemate, the game squeezed into a narrow sliver either side of halfway. In this World Cup, though, the result has often been glorious anarchy and, with defences less rigid than usual, skilful individuals have been able to exert a powerful influence. The great creators have become celebrities, supported by hysterical fans who act in a way more associated with Justin Bieber devotees. Perhaps that is the result of the globalisation of the game and the emergence of a new wave of fans with few geographical or cultural reasons to support a particular club, and who prefer to attach themselves to individuals. Or perhaps it is to do with the way the game is presented and the growing demand for soap opera with easily identifiable heroes and villains. Either way, from a tactical point of view, it feels regressive. Germany, superbly well drilled, provided the perfect example of the superiority of the team game with their 7-1 evisceration of Brazil’s emotionally overcharged individuals in the semi-final.

In the last 16 and quarter-final, goals per game were down to 1.33 in normal time, which, beyond regression to the mean, is probably indicative of two things. First, that coaches have had longer to organise their defences but also that the better national teams are closer to assimilating the most intriguing recent development in the club game: the counter-counter, stymying the transitions that have become a key feature of so many sides’ attacking, even if, in the less sophisticated world of the international game, that translates to little more than sitting deeper to keep men behind the ball. Even in the individuals’ World Cup, a system has come to assert itself.

2014 MLB All-Star Roster: Predictions for Starting Pitchers of Midsummer Classic

The 2014 Major League Baseball All-Star Game is one of the most anticipated events of the year, and the excitement went through the roof when the rosters for the National and American leagues were announced.

With some of the biggest names in MLB taking the field at the same time—including several of the top starting pitchers in the world—there is guaranteed to be enough action to satisfy every baseball fan. 

Here is the full 2014 MLB All-Star roster and predictions for the starting pitchers.

 

Predictions for Starting Pitching

There is no doubt that being voted to an All-Star Game is a great honor for any player, but starting pitchers are under an incredible amount of scrutiny.

While hitters are forced to face several of the top pitchers in the league, the starting pitchers must stare down some of the most dangerous hitters in the history of the sport.

Regardless of how well a starter has performed thus far in 2014, squaring off against the likes of Troy Tulowitzki, Andrew McCutchen, Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera and others is a daunting task.

Several elite relief pitchers made the All-Star teams, but the coaching staffs will look to save them for eighth- and ninth-inning duty. With plenty of depth and talent on both sides when it comes to starting pitchers, fans should expect around two innings out of each of the top stars and one inning of work or less for the rest.

Red Sox coach and American League manager John Farrell told Barry M. Bloom of MLB.com about his game plan for his roster at the All-Star Game:

We'll do everything we can to make sure everyone makes an appearance, particularly the position players. That may be a little bit more controllable than the pitching side of things. But at the same time, there are a lot of people who will look back on this game, on this event, as a contributing, pivotal moment in their postseason run.

Now that one coach has shared how he views using pitchers, here is my official prediction for the starting pitchers:

It is uncertain which starter will get the nod for the first inning, but Masahiro Tanaka deserves it most on the American League side, and Clayton Kershaw deserves it most on the National League side.

How about Tanaka vs. Kershaw as a potential head-to-head matchup?

Starting with the AL, Tanaka should lead one of the most talented starting groups in recent memory. Add Felix Hernandez and Yu Darvish, and there is little doubt that Farrell can get at least six innings out of his top three pitchers.

Max Scherzer is the biggest liability out of the possible starters, and fans shouldn’t be shocked to see Farrell get at least one inning out of Red Sox starter Jon Lester. When the game reaches the eighth and ninth innings, expect the American League to turn to its stacked bullpen for relief.

On the NL side, the team will use more of a committee approach. While Kershaw and Adam Wainwright deserve to go two innings apiece, pitchers such as Johnny Cueto, Zack Greinke and Madison Bumgarner should only be used for one inning.

With a relief staff consisting of Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman and Francisco Rodriguez, there is no need to push the starting pitchers beyond their abilities.

There is so much talent on both teams that fans will be treated to an amazing display of pitching acumen regardless of who starts and how many innings each pitcher racks up.

 

Stats via MLB.com.

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Mike Trout’s AL MVP Quest Poised to Finally End in 2014

We all know that Mike Trout’s toolbox is limitless. The magic of the guy is that he continually flashes new tools.

Much like opposing teams study spray charts and advance scouting reports looking for miracles to defend him, Trout pores over the Doppler.

“He’s like a weatherman,” teammate Josh Hamilton says. “He loves storms.”

When the Angels were in Kansas City last month wondering whether they were going to be able to beat a monster thunderstorm and get that night’s game in, Trout kept them updated.

“It’s coming,” he told teammates. “It’s coming.”

Batting practice came and went, the Angels returned to their clubhouse and there was Trout with the latest.

“It’s coming,” Trout warned. “It’s coming.”

Sure enough, that night, the heavens opened and the Angels and Royals were stuck with two long rain delays that dragged out the game for more than seven hours.

“Somebody said, ‘Look, he’s a six-tool player!’” Hamilton says, chuckling. “I told him, ‘If you bunted a little more, you’d be a seven-tool player.

Five tools, six, seven…as Trout races toward his third All-Star Game in three seasons and surely, finally, his first AL MVP award, who’s even counting anymore?

When he steps onto Target Field in Minnesota on Tuesday night, July 15, he will become only the fourth American League outfielder with three All-Star selections before the age of 23, joining Mickey Mantle (1952-1954), Al Kaline (1955-1957) and Ken Griffey Jr. (1990-1992).

“It’s pretty special to be in the conversation with those names,” says Trout, who turns 23 on August 7. “It means a lot.”

At 22, Trout this summer is doing what to mere mortals would be the impossible: Following two seasons in which he finished second in MVP voting to the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera despite ranking arguably as the game’s best overall player, he is even better in 2014.

With the Angels finally catching the momentum of his vapor trail—they owned the second-best record in the majors on Tuesday at 52-36—this should be the season that Trout wins the first of what should be multiple MVP awards.

“I don’t know how you can improve too much when the guy does stuff that nobody in the history of baseball has done,” Angels ace Jered Weaver said. “But the sky is the limit. He keeps producing more than before.”

“In 2012, he had more volume in stolen bases,” Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said. “But you weren’t getting the impact in the batter’s box that you’re getting this year. Which is absurd to say because in 2012, he had great impact in the batter’s box.

“He’s finding ways to expand the upper reaches of how good he can be. I hate to use a cliche, but I’ve never seen anything like it.”

He led the AL with a .995 OPS into Tuesday night’s game against the Blue Jays, ranked second with 48 extra-base hits and third with a .596 slugging percentage and 190 total bases.

He is on pace for a career-high 350 total bases. He is the only major leaguer this season with at least 20 homers, 20 doubles and five triples.

And more than halfway through the summer, Trout is easily on pace for a third consecutive campaign with an OPS of .950 or higher, something only two players in history have done through their age-22 season: Ted Williams (1939-1941) and Jimmie Foxx (1928-1930).

Nobody then or now had as much impact at the plate, on the bases and in the field at age 22 as Trout.

And yet...

“He’s better this year,” Angels bench coach Dino Ebel said. “I see it physically. I see it mentally. He gets better every game.

“Even in the dugout, you hear him talk about the game, what he sees, what he thinks is going to happen. To be that young and have a mind like that, it’s off the charts.”

This spring, Ebel, at Trout’s request, spent hours working to improve Trout’s arm.

“For years, and it gets back to the player, it’s been known that the softest of his five tools is his arm,” Dipoto said. “So he went and made it better. That might be the hardest thing to do, for a player, at this stage. And he went and did it.”

Even now, during the season, every other series, home or away, Ebel runs Trout through drills designed to improve his accuracy when throwing to the bases. And Trout diligently performs exercises designed by Dr. Frank Jobe, the renowned orthopedist, to strengthen his arm and shoulder.

“Before, his arm was below average,” Ebel said. “Now, it’s average to plus, more plus—with plus accuracy.”

He led the league as a rookie with 49 steals in ‘12. He picks his spots more now, with both Albert Pujols and Hamilton hitting behind him, and has swiped 10 bags this summer without being caught once.

Best of all, in the Angels’ eyes, the most important stat in the world to Trout is wins. He cannot get away from MVP talk, so controversial were his two second-place finishes to Cabrera, but does his best to deflect it.

“I’m not thinking about that,” he said. “I’m more worried about the team winning.

“At the end of the year, it would be huge. But the only things on my list right now are things to help the team win. We like where we are.”

Trout’s engaging, infectious enthusiasm has helped the young Angels gain confidence and play better, and it’s even helped loosen up the perpetually serious Pujols. Far more than any potential MVP award, what Trout mostly is interested in promoting this week is teammate Garrett Richards' campaign in the AL’s Final Vote for the All-Star Game.

The two were drafted together in 2009 and came up through the minor leagues together.

“You know, it’s gone by so quickly,” Trout said, pondering the idea of his third All-Star Game. “Me and Garrett were just talking yesterday, it seems like yesterday that me and him were in Salt Lake City and Cedar Rapids.

“It’s pretty crazy.”

What impresses Richards over and over is that as Trout’s star has ascended as if by rocket fuel, he’s remained the same guy who practically knew the first name of each Domino’s pizza deliveryman back in Triple-A.

“On and off the field,” Richards said. “Generous. Very unselfish. He hasn’t changed one bit.”

Richards tells some very entertaining stories about how much Trout likes to eat and the quantities he devours.

“Anything having to do with wings,” Richards said. “He can eat an unbelievable amount of wings. I’ll be sitting there watching, and it’s unbelievable.”

In other words, same feeling most of us get when watching Trout go over the fence to bring another home run back…or wallop a walk-off homer, as he’s done twice this year. Though, to some, the legend of Mike Trout far exceeds that.

“I don’t feel comfortable talking about October in July when you have Mike Trout hitting game-winning homers every other night,” Oakland GM Billy Beane memorably quipped after acquiring starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Cubs in an effort to strengthen the Athletics’ grip on the AL West.

“He’s bigger, stronger and faster than everybody else at this level,” Angels catcher Chris Iannetta said. “Some of the stuff he can do, nobody else can do. He stays inside the ball really well, but a lot of guys stay inside the ball really well.”

Is it any wonder Trout seems to have a permanent smile on his face and talks over and over about having fun? Guys blessed with such extraordinary gifts, they don’t feel the stress so many of the rest of us do.

“I didn’t want to say that,” Iannetta said, grinning. “He definitely has fun out there.”

He and the Angels both, following two bitterly disappointing summers. Finally, October and an MVP award are looking better each week.

“It’s got to happen,” Richards said of Trout and the MVP. “You can only finish second so many times.”

It’s coming, just like that thunderstorm in Kansas City a couple of weeks ago. You know it’s coming.

“He’s a weather guy,” Ebel said, grinning. “He told me, ‘When my career is over, I’m going to go out and chase tornadoes.’ Like in one of those cars, he wants to go chase tornadoes.”

The tornadoes, they won’t have a chance.

 

Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. He has over two decades of experience covering MLB, including 14 years as a national baseball columnist at CBSSports.com.

Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball here. 

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MLB Futures Game 2014: Pro-Player Comparisons for Each Prospect

Many of baseball's top prospects will be on display in this year's MLB Futures Game at Minnesota's Target Field, which will be played Sunday at 5 p.m. ET. Until then, we'll continue to break down all the players from the U.S. and World teams' rosters.

By now, most of you hopefully know that I typically try to stay away from comparing prospects to major leaguers; it can be a misleading exercise, as any number of things can happen to affect a player's developmental timeline and overall projection.

However, considering we'll be viewing the future of the sport just a few days before the actual All-Star Game, I thought I'd take a (conservative) stab at comparing this year's Futures Game participants to well-known big leaguers, both past and present.

With that said, here are the pro-player comparisons for each prospect in this year's Futures Game.

Begin Slideshow

Bryce Harper Still the Right MLB Superstar to Build Franchise Around

Before we get on with what, I think, is going to be something like my 16th spirited defense of Bryce Harper, I must grant that this is one for the "had you told me" file.

It goes like this: Had you told me in 2012 that the young Washington Nationals outfielder wasn't going to look like a slam-dunk franchise cornerstone a short way down the road, I either would have told you to go boil your bottom or settled for simply saying, "Yeah, right."

But then Harper went and got himself Lemony Snicket-ed, falling prey to a series of unfortunate events that have downgraded his enormous potential from "sure thing" to "less sure thing."

In fact, you have to go all the way back to the beginning of 2013 to find when Harper still looked like the guy who'd been dubbed baseball's LeBron James at 16 in 2009, rightfully drafted No. 1 at 17 in 2010 and won the National League Rookie of the Year at 19 in 2012.

In 26 games last April, Harper hit .344 with a 1.150 OPS and nine home runs. FanGraphs had his WAR at 1.8, tying him for the major league lead and putting him on track for a Mike Trout-ish season.

Since then? Oh, boy. Let's see...

  • Harper lost a couple battles with outfield walls after his hot start, eventually hitting the disabled list with a bad right knee. He would later admit to playing hurt for most of 2013 and then went in for offseason surgery.
  • Instead of repeating his heroics from the previous April, Harper started off 2014 by collecting only four hits in his first 25 at-bats with 11 strikeouts.
  • With his slow start barely in the rearview mirror, Harper found himself benched by first-year manager Matt Williams on April 19 for "lack of hustle" after dogging it on a ground ball.

  • Harper then suffered another serious injury, when he tore a ligament in his left thumb on a slide into third base. Then came another surgery and another month-long stay on the DL.
  • When Harper finally came off the DL, he found controversy before he found his first at-bat. All he had to do was question Williams' lineup, saying Williams had himself, Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon playing in the wrong places.
  • Soon after, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that some Nationals veterans "resent that Harper is the most famous and popular Nat" despite his lack of experience.

Maybe I'm missing something, but the gist is clear. In no time at all, the now-21-year-old Harper has gone from being a young, unspoiled golden child to being a banged-up problem child. Rather than a guy to build around, that sounds more like a guy to discard.

But let us now speak about why that's not the case.

We can begin by giving Harper a break on the problem child thing. Especially regarding his recent criticism of Williams' managing.

Without getting too far into whether Harper should have kept his mouth shut (he should have) or if he's right about the Nationals' optimal lineup (he might be), we can say this: He was making a suggestion for how to make the Nationals better, not for how to make Bryce Harper better. In that moment, he was guilty of giving a damn, not of being a bad guy.

Maybe that sounds off in light of the negative things that have been whispered about Harper's personality, but it's not out of left field.

Just a few months ago, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports wrote this: "Fact: Harper is a good kid. Almost everyone around him says so, and they have no reason to lie, not when it's obviously so easy to pile on. Polite. Generous. Doesn't drink. Vehemently anti-PED."

Now, good kids obviously don't get into feuds with their managers. But if you look past the loudest noise, you'll find that this is yet another way in which Harper fits the bill.

Williams himself recently told reporters, including CSN Washington's Mark Zuckerman, that there's "no rift" between him and Harper. Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post backed that up, writing that the relationship between Harper and Williams is "more nuanced" than it's been portrayed.

Wrote Kilgore: "Rather, the bumps in their partnership have stemmed from fits of public awkwardness between a first-year manager and a 21-year-old still learning major league life."

On that point, let's not pretend like Harper's major league learning curve is anything ordinary.

As Kilgore went on to note, most players Harper's age aren't even major league players, much less the face of a major league franchise. And given the hype that's been surrounding him since he was a mere 16-year-old, I'll wager no ballplayer has ever had to deal with a spotlight quite like the one that's been thrust on Harper. His learning how to properly deal with it was never going to happen quickly. 

The other thing we—and this includes Williams—should give Harper a break on is the hustle thing. 

As easy as it is to recall the times Harper hasn't hustled on routine plays, it should be at least as easy to recall the times he's hustled his freakin' tail off to make plays. The guy's not a slacker by nature.

Knowing that and the dastardly things hustling has done to his body, he deserves a little more slack in the moments when he chooses not to bust his butt 100 percent.

Besides, you don't need to run out every single ground ball to be a great player. Robinson Cano can vouch for that, and it's really quite simple: Hustle looks good, but talent is where greatness comes from.

And nobody should be giving up on Harper's talent just yet.

Because of how much hype he came into the league with, it's easy to look at Harper's first two seasons and be underwhelmed. It's not like he came into Washington and Mike Trout-ed the place up, after all.

However, he did do things that few other players have done at such young ages. 

As Washington general manager Mike Rizzo put it to Tom Boswell of The Washington Post: “He has not had two ‘good’ seasons. He has had two great seasons—comparable to anything any player has ever had at 19 and 20 years old.”

Rizzo's right, you know:

Note: For the rate stats, the minimum was set at 450 plate appearances.

By WAR, Baseball-Reference.com has Harper as one of the six best players ever through age 20. What Harper did in his age-20 season in 2013 may not look as good as what he did in his age-19 season, but it's impressive stuff when you remember that he was mostly playing on one good leg.

And lest you think Harper is damaged goods after going through all that, there are a couple things to keep in mind. 

One is that Harper didn't look at all like damaged goods after he shrugged off his slow start to 2014, as he hit .345 with a .950 OPS in 16 games before his injury. And while he's been slow to find his form since his return from his thumb injury, with only four hits in 24 at-bats, patience is warranted there.

Harper did the same thing when he came back from his knee injury in 2013, collecting only two hits in his first 21 at-bats. After that, he hit .281 with an .818 OPS in 68 games the rest of the way.

It's some rough patch Harper has hit. "Sobering" is a good word for it. No doubt about it. 

But it's not an excuse to jump ship on the idea that he's a guy to build a franchise around. His personality issues have been overblown. His hustle issues have been overblown. And while his injuries are concerning, any thought that they've ruined his talent for good is a stretch.

One for the "had you told me" file, indeed. But a step below that is the "so much for that" file, and Harper's not ready for that just yet.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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MLB Trade Rumors: Latest Buzz on Troy Tulowitzki, Jake Peavy and More

The 2014 MLB non-waiver trade deadline looms on July 31. As teams gear up for the final stretch of the regular season, the All-Star break is approaching, so trades—or at least rumors about them—are even more likely to transpire.

Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki leads the MLB in batting average but is languishing on a team that isn't in contention for the playoffs. It appears that he could be landing elsewhere before the season ends, based on the recent buzz.

A tumultuous season has Boston Red Sox pitcher Jake Peavy reportedly on the block, and a move to another club would mark his third since 2012. While the struggling Peavy could benefit from a different atmosphere, a formidable setup man in Joaquin Benoit is also rumored to be highly coveted.

Below is an overview of the latest updates, analysis and developments on these latest sources of MLB trade chatter.

 

Troy Tulowitzki Disgruntled in Denver?

There is no doubting Tulowitzki's talent or his popularity, evident in his leading the National League All-Star voting. Thus, it makes sense that he'd want to go someplace where winning a World Series is more realistic.

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reports that a trade is unlikely before July 31, meaning Tulowitzki will be stuck at Coors Field through the 2014 campaign. However, one of Tulowitzki's friends painted quite the picture.

"I think the guy is going to lose his mind," said the friend, as per Rosenthal, who also noted that Tulowitzki is attracted to the idea of remaining loyal to the Rockies—provided they can win more consistently.

That's far easier said than done given the current foundation in Colorado. Although the offense is a well-oiled machine, the Rockies don't have the pitching to complement it, ranking dead last in team ERA and near the bottom of baseball in quality starts and WHIP.

Tulowitzki recently spoke out about his competitive desire, as per The Denver Post's Mark Kiszla:

...I want to be somewhere where there's a chance to be in the playoffs every single year. [...] What people need to understand about me is: Winning's my main priority. I've been around the game a little bit now, and I understand those years where we did win, how much more fun I had. And then there are years such as this.

Barry Svrluga of The Washington Post provided some pertinent analysis regarding Tulowitzki's plight in Denver:

Quality pitching, particularly from the starting rotation, is pivotal to playoff success. The Rockies can hit all they want, but if Tulowitzki and Co. cannot keep opponents off the scoreboard, they'll continue to sit in the NL West division cellar.

It doesn't appear to be a question of whether Tulowitzki will leave town, barring a drastic enhancement to the pitching staff.

If Colorado can cash in on some premium pitching assets by dealing Tulowitzki, there may be a win-win situation in executing the trade. That's because the Rockies lineup would likely be explosive even without Tulowitzki in the fold.

 

St. Louis Cardinals Chasing Jake Peavy?

The Red Sox acquired Peavy during last year's trade deadline to bolster their rotation in time for the 2013 postseason.

While Peavy went 4-1 as a starter in the regular season, he struggled at times on the bigger stage, seeing his ERA balloon to 7.11 in the playoffs. Boston still won the World Series, yet are now in last in the American League East.

Things haven't gone swimmingly to say the least in 2014, as Peavy has posted a record of 1-7. It's hard to believe anyone would be interested in picking up the fading 33-year-old, whose best pitching appears to be behind him.

Don't tell that to the St. Louis Cardinals. According to ESPNBoston.com's Gordon Edes, St. Louis is keen on swapping for Peavy, and ESPN's Jayson Stark confirmed that:

CBS Sports insider Jon Heyman believes Peavy is a logical fit for the Cardinals:

It's hard to say how much Peavy has left in the tank, but this highlights how thin St. Louis is in the starting rotation. Although Peavy's experience is among the best the Cardinals should be able to find, he won't be more than a short-term solution for ailing usual starters Jaime Garcia and Michael Wacha.

While Wacha is still trying to be cleared to throw, Garcia is going to be out for the rest of the season and will undergo shoulder surgery, per MLB.com's Jennifer Langosch:

This interest in Peavy intersects at the appropriate time in light of the ominous news regarding Garcia. For the Cardinals to truly compete for the NL Central crown with the Milwaukee Brewers, they will need far better run production, since they rank 28th in that category at the moment.

St. Louis deserves credit just to be in the playoff hunt at this point after the rash of injuries to its staff and poor run support. Continued sensational work from their bullpen and hotter bats will be necessary for the Cardinals to imitate last year's success.

 

Detroit Tigers Exploring Reunion With Joaquin Benoit

To cut back to the NL West for a moment, San Diego is pretty much in the complete inverse situation as Colorado: nonexistent hitting to go with stupendous overall pitching. A fascinating dichotomy, to be sure.

Benoit has been a critical component of keeping the Padres close in many games, but contenders will no doubt be in the market for middle relievers. The Tigers are apparently one team that's expressed a desire to bring Benoit into the fold already, as per Fox Sports 1's Jon Morosi:

Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times notes how San Diego is somewhat reluctant to part ways with Benoit, despite its obvious need for a bat or two:

But a 0.68 WHIP and 1.23 ERA should attract more than just Detroit to obtain Benoit's services. His previous three MLB seasons were spent with the Tigers, where he developed into a closer in 2013 but then couldn't find his groove in the playoffs, posting a 6.35 ERA.

Holding out in the name of greed may not be good for the Padres, which are running out of time to pick up some desperately needed offensive firepower. In order for Benoit's stellar middle-to-late-inning work to mean anything, they must light up the scoreboard more.

Since the Tigers are among the MLB leaders in batting average and slugging percentage, it is feasible that San Diego could turn up someone solid for Benoit in a prospective trade. One point of possible friction is the Padres' vision for the club's future, which may not be unified just yet in the wake of general manager Josh Byrnes' firing June 22.

The bottom line with these three trade rumors is that the Rockies, the Red Sox and the Padres are all in turmoil and all hold enviable assets. All of them can be shipped away, without sacrificing too much from their current strengths. While it's a far bigger decision to make in the case of Tulowitzki, the nonfranchise cornerstones in Peavy and Benoit are definitely movable. Peavy may not even help the Cardinals, but it would almost benefit the Red Sox to rid themselves of him at this point.

Unless the Rockies can really sell Tulowitzki on their plan—if there is one—to be a surefire championship contender for years to come, though, it may come to a divorce. It's up to Tulowitzki to walk the fine line of continuing to play excellently, attempting to rally his teammates and doing what's best for his future.

Whatever happens in these situations, they will certainly be intriguing ones to monitor as the deadline gets closer for distinct but all-important reasons.

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Ranking the 15 Greatest Moments of the 2014 MLB 1st Half

From the unreal throws of Yoenis Cespedes to the 500th home run of Albert Pujols, there have been tons of unforgettable moments in the first half of the 2014 MLB season.

After pouring through the archives, what follows is a rundown of the 15 greatest of all. The list is littered with a mixture of historic landmarks and moments of individual genius. All the highlights that made the cut are incredible, but No. 1 is the type of play that you might just never see again. 

Let's take a look at the top 15 plays of the first half.

Begin Slideshow

Scouting Reports for Los Angeles Dodgers Prospects in 2014 Futures Game

With the MLB All-Star Game less than a week away, the Los Angeles Dodgers have plenty of reasons to be excited.

The Boys in Blue are sending four players to Minnesota, including two first-timers in Yasiel Puig and Dee Gordon. Puig will also represent the National League in the Home Run Derby, per Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register.

But before the big league festivities kick off on Monday, the 16th annual All-Star Futures Game is scheduled for Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. PT. This exhibition pits a team made up of U.S. prospects against a squad comprised of international prospects.

The U.S. team has won nine of the previous 15 Futures Games, including the last four.

Selected from the Dodgers farm system to play on each respective team were North Carolina-born shortstop Corey Seager and pitcher Julio Urias, a native of Mexico. Both players currently suit up for the Dodgers' High-A affiliate in Rancho Cucamonga, California.

As Urias and Seager continue to make their way toward the highest level, here are the updated scouting reports for these two highly valued prospects.

 

Julio Urias, LHP

Born: August 12, 1996, in Sinaloa, Mexico (age 17)

Drafted: N/A, signed out of Mexican League in August 2012

It's not surprising that at just 17 years old, Julio Urias is the youngest player in the Futures Game.

He's also the youngest player in the California League, where he is holding his own in one of the minors' most hitter-friendly circuits.

Urias' four-pitch arsenal includes a low-to-mid-90s four-seam fastball and a two-seamer that arrives within the same velocity range. Over the past two years, the four-seam offering has gone from 88 mph to now touching 96 mph on occasion, part of the reason why the Dodgers see so much potential in the teenager.

The 5'11" lefty, who has overtaken 2010 first-round pick Zach Lee as the team's top pitching prospect, complements his hard stuff with a low-80s curveball and a mid-80s changeup. Both of these off-speed pitches are still developing but have the capability to become above-average offerings at the highest level.

In 13 starts with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes this season, Urias has fanned 55 batters in just over 51 innings pitched, good for a rate of 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings.

The Dodgers have been diligent in limiting Urias' workload at this early stage of his career. He hasn't thrown more than five innings in any outing so far this season.

But if Urias continues to progress at the current rate, it would not be surprising to see him pitching in the majors before he turns 20.

 

Corey Seager, SS

Born: April 27, 1994, in Kannapolis, North Carolina (age 20)

Drafted: First round, 18th overall in 2012

Corey Seager is the perfect player to represent the Dodgers in the Futures Game.

He may not be getting the same publicity as Triple-A outfielder Joc Pederson, and he's not as young as Urias. But Seager is tearing up the California League, and MLB.com has him ranked as the Dodgers' top prospect in advance of Sunday's showcase.

At 6'4", 215 pounds, Seager is relatively large for a shortstop. Los Angeles may decide to convert him into a third baseman so he can take over the hot corner after Juan Uribe's two-year contract expires following next season.

At least one scout believes Seager has the potential to become a Gold Glove-caliber third baseman, per Hall of Fame baseball columnist Peter Gammons.

The younger brother of Seattle Mariners All-Star Kyle Seager has a smooth swing that allows him to spray the ball to all fields. With 17 home runs so far this season, the 20-year-old has shown solid power, which should improve with continued development.

The Dodgers are banking on that development and excited about Seager's potential. Just last week, the team refused to part ways with its 2012 first-round pick during negotiations with the Chicago Cubs regarding a potential deal involving ace Jeff Samardzija, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports.

Prior to being selected to the Futures Game, Seager's performance this season earned him a trip to the California/Carolina League All-Star Game last month.

He currently leads the California League in OPS (1.045), hits (112) and doubles (33).

 

The Futures Game will be broadcast live on MLB Network and MLB.com. All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

 


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Chances of Possible Orioles Trades Actually Happening

The summer trade season has officially begun.

With the Fourth of July blockbuster that sent Chicago Cubs pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland Athletics, it's safe to say that the MLB summer trading market is open for business.

However, with two of the more desirable names off the market in one move, the tricky part for teams looking to acquire talent this July will be finding valuable players they can afford.

The Baltimore Orioles could be one of those teams looking to add help, and it will be interesting to see whether they decide to go after big-name talent or lesser players who are complementary pieces.

The rumor mill has already been churning prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, and naturally the O's have been right in the middle of it.

Let's take a look at the chances Baltimore will pick up any of the available names. 

Begin Slideshow

The Only Hub You’ll Ever Need: 28-Port USB Hub

28Port USB

 

Most laptops come with at least two USB ports on average. Some come built with as much as four. But if you transfer files from one external drive to another while printing stuff and adding songs to your iPod on the side, then you’ve got no more port left for hooking your camera or tablet or whatever else up. Not that you should be doing all of these things at once, but if you do, then you might want to get one of these 28-port USB hubs.

It looks like a power strip, only instead of sockets, it’s line with USB hubs instead. As the name implies, it can accommodate up to 28 connections, from flash drives and cables to connect your camera, phone, and MP3 players with your computer.

The 28-port USB hub is available online for about $62.

[ Product Page ] VIA [ TIWIB ]

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2014 MLB All-Star Snubs: Top Players Not Headed to Midsummer Classic

Although the All-Star Game is a chance for fans to see the best players in baseball, many of the stars who should be in attendance will be left at home.

There are obviously a limited amount of spots on the rosters for each league, so not everyone will be satisfied. Additionally, the rule that forces every team to be represented in the game will knock more-deserving people off the list.

That being said, a few men across the league are having too good of seasons to ignore. These players deserve a trip to Target Field this summer despite being overlooked.

 

Chris Sale, SP, Chicago White Sox

Although injuries limited him to just 13 starts this year, Chris Sale has been lights-out when on the mound. He has an incredible 8-1 record to go with a 2.16 ERA and more than a strikeout per inning.

His 0.87 WHIP is tied with Clayton Kershaw for the lowest in the majors for players with at least 80 innings pitched.

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports discusses how good his stats have been this year:

While Garrett Richards has been impressive as well, he is nowhere near the level of dominance of Sale. Tyler Kepner of The New York Times takes it a step further:

Sale has certainly been one of the most underrated pitchers in the majors since becoming a starter in 2012. Before that, he was even better for a year-and-a-half out of the bullpen.

The White Sox have been inconsistent this season, but Sale deserves more credit for his impressive performances. He has proven himself in the past with two All-Star appearances, and this season should represent his third.

 

Anthony Rendon, 2B/3B, Washington Nationals

The National League battle for the final spot will be a good one with Justin Morneau, Casey McGehee, Anthony Rizzo and Justin Upton all having good years. As a result, it is hard to imagine Anthony Rendon topping the more high-profile names on this list.

Still, the infielder has been an anchor for a contending team that has dealt with a number of injuries this season.

Rendon has posted an impressive .284/.340/.491 slash line to go with 13 home runs, 52 RBI, 61 runs and eight stolen bases. Teammate Adam LaRoche is certainly a big fan of the young player, via Bill Ladson of MLB.com:

He has ability to stay the same in any situation. To be as consistent as he has been, you just don't see that in young guys. It's something that takes a few years to pick up on. He just has that mindset. It's not just done on the surface. That's his personality. He is very level headed along with being competitive. He wants to be the best at what he does. I love the kid.

Another thing that teammates and coaches love is the fact that Rendon has been willing to change positions to help the team. He has bounced between third base and second base this season and has been solid at both positions.

Here is a look at what he can do playing up the middle:

Rendon has a bright future at just 24 years old, but he deserves to be in the All-Star Game right away.

 

Ian Kinsler, 2B, Detroit Tigers

This past winter, the Detroit Tigers took a big risk by dealing Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler. While it is still early in the process, Fielder is out for the year, while the Texas Rangers are among the worst teams in baseball.

On the other hand, Kinsler has been a star for the Tigers, hitting .304 with 11 home runs, nine stolen bases and 61 runs to rank fifth in the majors in that category. According to FanGraphs, the second baseman is eighth in the league in total WAR to this point in the year.

The fact that a player of this ability is not going to the All-Star Game is a travesty.

Robinson Cano and Jose Altuve are having great seasons as well and rightfully earned their spots at second base for the American League team. However, the squad can afford another player at the position considering how good of a year Kinsler has had.

Then again, the second baseman will be happy to be a legitimate MVP candidate if he keeps this up for the AL Central-leading Tigers.

 

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Masahiro Tanaka Fighting Rookie Wall After Phenomenal June Run

Masahiro Tanaka is human. After opening his major league career with three months of brilliant outings, the New York Yankees rookie has hit a wall in July. On Tuesday night, the Cleveland Indians touched the AL All-Star up for five runs, 10 hits and the worst outing of his career.

Coupled with allowing nine hits and four earned runs last week in Minnesota, Tanaka has now allowed nine runs over his last two starts. Over 37 innings in the month of June, the 25-year-old allowed a total of nine runs and entered July with a streak of 16 consecutive quality starts.

Now, that run is over. With it has gone Tanaka's otherworldly dominance and unbeatable aura on a start-by-start basis. While there's little reason for New York baseball fans to panic, the idea of Tanaka simply breezing through his rookie campaign without losses, struggles or resistance has now been rendered a moot and ridiculous point.

With one start remaining before next week's All-Star Game, the Yankees need to find a way to get Tanaka back on the dominant track. For a team without anyone else capable of providing excellence in the rotation, the idea of Tanaka possibly hitting a rookie wall has to be a frightening thought for the AL East contenders.

In the immediate aftermath of the loss, (New York) Daily News writer Mark Feinsand wondered if the league had caught up to Tanaka or if the $155 million pitcher has simply hit the proverbial rookie wall as the midway point of the summer arrives. As Feinsand wrote, it's ultimately irrelevant, because the team is counting on Tanaka to rebound soon.

It looks as if Tanaka's recent struggles are more about command and deception than the league suddenly hitting his best offerings. Over his last two outings, Tanaka has posted an 8-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, almost a point better than the 7.22 mark he took into play on July 8.

If the Yankees ace was nibbling or walking an excessive number of batters, it would be time to worry. Instead, it looks as if good left-handed hitters, specifically Michael Brantley and Carlos Santana of the Indians, have been able to detect his split-fingered fastball and lay off the devastating out pitch.

This could be a sign of scouts finally delivering usable and accurate reports on Tanaka's skill set, movement and deception. Or, the more likely scenario: Tanaka hasn't executed his delivery, pitches or set the opposition up enough over his last two outings.

Regardless of where Tanaka's struggles stem from, adjustments are now necessary. Even if you believe the Yankees landed a legitimate Cy Young contender in the first year of a lucrative, long-term deal, no starter avoids a clunker or two over the course of a 30-plus-start season.

The rookie wall was inevitable despite Tanaka's excellence, work ethic and skill level. In fact, considering that New York took home a victory in Tanaka's start last week against the Twins, sounding the alarm around a pitcher that owns a 2.51 ERA is probably over the top.

If not for a 2.10 ERA and 11-3 ledger across April, May and June, perhaps these two subpar outings would be lost in the shuffle of a long season. Even with New York's 24-hour news cycle and passionate fans, the idea of fretting over two below-average starts in early July isn't par for the course among Yankees supporters.

In this instance, Tanaka is a victim of his own early success in Major League Baseball and recent dominance in Japan. When baseball's latest international sensation began his Yankees career with a personal 6-0 ledger, it was natural to reference the impossible replication of the 24-0 win-loss record he posted during his final season in Japan.

After allowing four runs to Minnesota last week, Tanaka referenced his inability to hit spots and make the pitches he needed to throughout the game, per Feinsand. "This outing was one of my worst ones this season as far as hitting the spots and making pitches," Tanaka said.

Once again, location, not stuff or velocity, was the issue. When Tanaka was hitting his spots against the Twins and Indians, outs followed. As you watch him fight through this stretch, look for location and command on Sunday night against the Baltimore Orioles.

Over the next few days, some fans might panic or claim that Tanaka is tired due to pitching more often in America than he did in Japan. While those are interesting talking points, don't be fooled into thinking that back-to-back non-quality starts are anything more than a rookie starter going through a rough patch commanding his pitches.

When a star sets the bar so high from the start of the season, there's almost nowhere to go but down as the summer transpires. For Tanaka and the Yankees, this is a reality of a full season in the big leagues. As the second half of the season commences, don't be surprised if one of baseball's best pitchers replicates his June success.

 

Agree? Disagree?

Comment, follow me on Twitter or "like" my Facebook page to talk about all things baseball. Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, FanGraphs and ESPN unless otherwise noted.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Scouting Reports for Toronto Blue Jays’ Prospects in the 2014 Futures Game

The Futures Game has always been a big part of MLB’s annual All-Star Weekend festivities. The game—which features a matchup of the United States team vs. the World team—allows fans to catch a glimpse of baseball’s next generation of stars in action.

The Toronto Blue Jays will have left-hander Daniel Norris and outfielder Dalton Pompey represent the organization at the Futures Game this year.

Interestingly, Blue Jays fans might even find themselves a bit divided when watching the game as Norris will represent the U.S. team, and the Canadian Pompey will represent the World team.

Let’s take an in-depth look at both of these prospects.

 

*All stats are from milb.com and are current entering play on July 8, 2014.

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