MLB System Check 2014: San Diego Padres’ Top Prospects

The San Diego Padres Systems Check video offers a quick overview of the team's farm system, addressing its strengths and weaknesses and how it can improve moving forward. The video also provides a breakdown of the Padres top prospects for 2014, catcher Austin Hedges, right-hander Matt Wisler and left-hander Max Fried, including each player's ETA in the major leagues and potential long-term role within the organization

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Seattle Mariners: 3 Holes Mariners Must Address at the Deadline

The Seattle Mariners enter the All-Star break with a 2.5-game lead in the race for the second American League wild-card spot but still have some clear needs to address at the MLB trading deadline.

There’s no doubt Seattle will be in the market for offense. The Mariners are tied for last in the AL in wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) and have holes in left field and at designated hitter.

While offense is the primary need, the Mariners also will be looking for an addition to the middle of their rotation. Seattle has depth to sell at relief pitcher and shortstop, meaning it should be possible for the Mariners to address as many as three needs without mortgaging the future.

The Mariners don’t necessarily need to make a blockbuster trade to get into the playoffs. Simply addressing a few holes with even league-average players will make Seattle a significantly better ballclub.

 

Acquire a right-handed corner outfielder

Such a player would fit exactly what the Mariners currently need. Seattle’s lineup is overloaded with lefties and desperately needs an upgrade in left field.

Seattle has received a combined 0.3 WAR from Dustin Ackley and Endy Chavez, the team’s primary left fielders. Anyone who can post league-average offensive numbers over the rest of the season will be an upgrade.

The situation worsened last Thursday when Michael Saunders injured his oblique muscle, via Bob Dutton of The Tacoma News Tribune:

That means the Mariners are looking at playing both Ackley and Chavez every day until around September, if everything goes well with Saunders’ recovery. Upgrading both would be nice, but the Mariners must at least get one corner outfielder.

There are a number of right-handed corner outfielders who should theoretically be available. Marlon Byrd, Josh Willingham, Alex Rios or Justin Ruggiano would make some sense in Seattle.

Of those, Byrd seems the most likely to land with the Mariners at the moment. Ryan Divish of The Seattle Times reports that the Mariners have had “serious” discussion with the Philadelphia Phillies about acquiring Byrd:

Byrd has hit .263/.315/.479 with 18 home runs this season, including a .954 OPS against left-handed pitching. That power would decrease in Safeco Field. Byrd has an ugly strikeout rate, but he would be a clear upgrade over Ackley.

FanGraphs has Byrd playing roughly average defense in right field over the past few seasons in terms of defensive runs saved. Byrd would likely be slightly worse than Ackley in left and slightly better than Chavez at either spot, but his offense would make up for it.

Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs offers a breakdown of how Byrd turned his career around in 2013 after bouncing around the majors:

Between 2010 and 2012, Byrd ranked in the upper eighth in ground-ball rate. Since the start of last season, he ranks in the upper fifth infly-ball rate. Byrd’s swing has a bit more of an uppercut, and the other numbers that come along with it aren’t surprising.

Again, the home runs would decrease, but Byrd has the kind of power the Mariners need.

A dream scenario could be prying away Scott Van Slyke from the Los Angeles Dodgers, but it might be too much of a stretch. The Dodgers need to sort out a logjam in the outfield, but it’s unclear if they would be willing to part with Van Slyke.

Van Slyke has posted a 166 wRC+ in 155 plate appearances this season, including a 1.125 OPS against lefties. If he were available, Van Slyke would be more expensive than Byrd, as the Dodgers would be selling him when his value is at a peak.

The Mariners should be content with turning one of their high-upside relievers, likely Brandon Maurer, into a decent outfield bat. Ackley could also be involved in a change-of-scenery deal.

 

Look for an additional bat

The Mariners are last in the AL in on-base percentage and have scored 19 runs in their last 10 games. One bat is necessary to hold on to a wild-card spot, but Seattle needs two to be a serious contender.

Those numbers are about to get worse with Saunders’ injury, as he had the third-best wRC+ on the team among regular players.

Even if the Mariners can’t pick up two outfielders, they can get someone to be the DH. Corey Hart has a .628 OPS and is an injury risk, meaning the Mariners could use an upgrade.

Hart has been a bit unfortunate with a .246 BABIP and is still regaining his timing from a long stint on the disabled list, but he needs to turn it around by the July 31 deadline.

If Hart doesn’t improve fast, the Mariners will be looking to add another bat of any sort. Ruggiano hits lefties well (.869 OPS versus left-handed pitching) and should come at a reasonable price.

In addition to the outfielders listed above, Ben Zobrist is a big name who will be available. Zobrist has a wRC+ of 117 and can be plugged in at any number of positions, likely right field in Seattle’s case.

However, the Mariners can’t play Zobrist at second base, his most valuable position. Other teams will be likely willing to give up more for him.

 

Pick up a mid-level starter

Despite the great pitching numbers, the Mariners will soon have a need for a starter.

Roenis Elias is unraveling, with 16 earned runs allowed in his last three starts. He has never thrown more than 148.1 innings in a professional season and is quickly approaching that mark.

Greg Johns of MLB.com reports that James Paxton will make a rehab start at Low-A Everett on Thursday. Still, a lat injury is difficult to recover from, and Paxton could be shut down for the year with even another minor setback.

Taijuan Walker is back, but the Mariners are going to be incredibly careful with both him and Paxton. Lloyd McClendon was also less than pleased with Walker’s start in Tacoma last Sunday, according to Curtis Crabtree of Sports Radio KJR:

Even veteran Chris Young is on pace to pass his career-high innings count of 179.1. The Mariners need a healthy and reliable option behind Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma.

The big name out there is David Price. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports believes the Mariners should trade for the ace.

“Yes, the Mariners would need to give up legitimate pieces for Price – one rival executive suggested a package of right-hander Taijuan Walker, infielder Nick Franklin and third baseman D.J. Peterson, the 12th overall pick in the 2013 draft,” he wrote.

Walker and Nick Franklin would be understandable in a trade, but the name that should concern the Mariners is D.J. Peterson. The Mariners can’t afford to lose any offensive prospects due to the difficulty of attracting hitters to Seattle, particularly ones with Peterson’s power.

It would be hard to fault the Mariners for going for it, but acquiring Price assumes they can win a World Series in the next two years. That’s possible but not probable without at least two bats.

Instead, a cheaper mid-level starter might be a better option. Ian Kennedy is the kind of player who would be a good fit.

Kennedy has a 3.47 ERA (2.94 FIP) and has struck out 26.1 percent of batters faced while only walking 6.7 percent. He is a slight fly-ball pitcher, meaning his numbers shouldn’t drop too much transitioning from Petco Park to Safeco Field.

San Diego Padres manager Bud Black explained why he thinks Kennedy is on pace for some of the best numbers of his career, including a career high in strikeouts, via Will Laws of MLB.com:

I think Ian is throwing as well as hes thrown in a few years as far as just pure stuff and making pitches. His velocity is up, his secondary pitches are good. So it doesnt surprise me at all.

If Seattle wants a starter, it will take more than a relief pitcher. The Mariners have a number of shortstops who are blocked at the major league level and could be traded.

Franklin is the most valuable, but the Mariners could also get something for Chris Taylor or include Ketel Marte as part of a package.

The Mariners need to make acquisitions, particularly bats, to reach the playoffs. Once there, anything is possible with Hernandez and Iwakuma at the top of the rotation.

 

All stats via FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

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MLB Home Run Derby 2014: Results and Most Impressive Showings

Yoenis Cespedes can't be stopped.

For the second year in a row, the Oakland Athletics star has won the Home Run Derby, this time defeating Todd Frazier of the Cincinnati Reds in the final. And, in Cespedes style, he made it look easy, as Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com noted:

'I'm somebody who's very conscious of the power that I have,' Cespedes said. 'So I don't need to put more of a swing or more of an effort in order to hit a home run. I just have to look for a good pitch and put a good swing on it, and it usually takes care of it.'

Indeed, Sean Doolittle, Cespedes' A's teammate, probably summed it up best: 'A regular Monday batting practice for Cespy.'

It was something to see. But his victory wasn't the only highlight of the night. Below, we'll take a look at the results and review the night's top moments.

 

Results

 

Top Moments

While Cespedes ultimately was the champion, the first round belonged to Jose Bautista and Giancarlo Stanton. The AL captain opened with a bang, ripping 10 home runs to earn the second-round bye, while Stanton hit six dingers and several that traveled over 400 feet. 

Just check out this blast, via ESPN on Twitter:

With both players earning a bye, however, they ended up sitting for a little over two hours until they swung again. Not surprisingly, neither survived the third round, instead bowing out to Cespedes and Frazier. 

Jayson Stark of ESPN thinks that is a major flaw of the new setup:

Mark Bowman of MLB.com has Bautista's reaction to his poor third round, when he managed only four homers:

While Bautista and Stanton were on ice, however, Cespedes was heating up. After needing a first-round tiebreaker to advance, he ripped nine dingers in the second round, easily disposing of Adam Jones. He followed that up by smacking seven blasts in the third round, brushing Bautista aside. 

Frazier, meanwhile, also needed a first-round tiebreaker to move on. He had his best performance in the second round, as his six dingers eliminated NL captain Troy Tulowitzki. But in the third round he was truly lucky, as his sole home run was enough to beat Stanton, who was so cold from the long wait between rounds that he failed to hit a single home run. 

That set up a rather anticlimactic final, as Cespedes opened things up by cracking nine home runs. Frazier never stood a chance, hitting only one, and the derby had its repeat winner. He also made some history, according to ESPN Stats & Information:

Meanwhile, perhaps the most disappointing moment of the night came from Yasiel Puig, who failed to hit a single home run. For people expecting the showman to, you know, put on a show, it was a disappointing result. 

But Cespedes' victory could be a good thing. It might just encourage some of the younger stars in the game, like Mike Trout, to compete next year to dethrone the back-to-back champ. And if a player like Trout puts his name in the running, you can bet folks will be excited to see what he can do.

For now, Cespedes is the king. Hopefully, a slew of superstars will chase his crown next year.

 

Follow TRappaRT on Twitter

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Top 20 Camping Gadgets Listed at Faveable

Every weekday, our friends at Faveable compile a list of awesome gadgets and gear that men would love to discover.

biolite-camping-recharging

Thanks for tuning in to another edition of partnered content at OhGizmo! from Faveable. This time around, Faveable editors turn their attention to really awesome camping gadgets and accessories to help you in your next hike or outdoor adventure. Featured image above is of BioLite Wood Burning CampStove, an innovative yet portable stove which enables you to cook food and charge your gadgets with nothing more than the twigs you collect around your camp. It can convert heat to electricity that charges an internal battery and powers a fan to increase the efficiency of the fire. Extra electricity can be used to charge small electronics like cell phones, headlamps and rechargeable batteries via the USB port. The article also lists several solar-powered gadgets, cooking gadgets, binoculars, sleeping bags, foldable chairs and more. Find out more by following the link below.

Check out: 20 Awesome Camping Gadgets

The post Top 20 Camping Gadgets Listed at Faveable appeared first on OhGizmo!.

Coolest Jerseys in Recent MLB All-Star History

Baseball's All-Star Game has many quirks to its credit. The so-called Midsummer Classic actually takes place near the start of summer, which begins only three weeks prior in late June. And despite some pegging it as the midway point of the regular season, most teams will have already played about 60 percent of their schedule.

And then there are the painstakingly designed uniforms produced for the All-Star Game each year, only to see players take the field for the actual game clad in their respective boring team duds. Arguably, the best thing about the monotonous Home Run Derby consists in getting to see players wearing the unique AL and NL jerseys designed for that year. 

Of course, as with alternate jerseys, spring training uniforms and batting practice gear, the goal is to sell more MLB-licensed product. But in the past 15 years, some of the uniform designs have distinguished themselves as stylish, elegant tributes to the host city. These five designs, listed chronologically, comprise the coolest All-Star jerseys from the millennium so far. 

Begin Slideshow

Yasiel Puig Strikes Out at 2014 Home Run Derby, Fails to Go Yard Once

Yasiel Puig entered the 2014 Home Run Derby with some implicit expectations on his shoulders.

Being 23 years old and built like a brick outhouse, Puig came into the ball-spanking competition with the general assumption that he would wow the crowd, if not win the competition.

So it came as a none-too-tiny surprise when Puig, a decent power hitter by any measure, failed to hit a single home run in the Derby on Monday night.

According to Mike Oz of Big League Stew, the young Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder arrived at the event without a designated pitcher and opted to have Robinson Cano's father, Jose Cano, step in to throw. Puig managed to grab hold of a few pitches but pulled them hard into foul territory.

Oz points out that players who hit Jose Cano's pitches haven't had success in the Derby.

"The last Home Run Derby competitor to get shut out was Robinson Cano in 2012," Oz writes. "As coincidence would have it, Cano's dad, former big-league pitcher Jose Cano, was the one pitching to Puig on Monday, just like he did Robinson in 2012."

Was it the Jose Cano curse that ruined Puig's night? Or just shoddy concentration and nerves bearing down on a young player at his first Derby?

We'll never know, but the Dodgers maintain that Puig is saving his runs for Tuesday's All-Star game.

Puig didn't seem too distressed by his goose egg. He posed with Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, who walloped the bomb of the night in the first round.

At the risk of sounding like a Puig apologist, I'll take this time to remind you that the Home Run Derby means nothing. It's a lawless night where baseball fans cast aside their rigid principles and allow players to gawk at the sexiest, big-ticket moment the sport has to offer.

Still, Puig and his bear arms could've given the people a little more cowbell. The Roman masses in the stands at Target Field came to see giant men put baseballs out of their misery—and a Puig clean sheet was the last thing they wanted.

 

Follow me on Twitter for more sports and pop culture news.

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Oakland Athletics: The 1 Hole the A’s Must Address at Trade Deadline

It has become redundant to say, but the Oakland A’s made the biggest assault on a possible 2014 World Series title when they added Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to their already-dominant pitching staff on the Fourth of July.

With the trade deadline just over two weeks away, it may be easy to assume that the A’s will now stay quiet and not make any more splashy moves. The team is already saturated with talent and without their two top prospects, Addison Russell and Billy McKinney, as trade bait.

But here is a scary thought if you are the rest of Major League Baseball: Not only did the A’s land two of the most coveted free-agent pitchers and become immediate World Series favorites, but now with a surplus of young, talented arms, they are primed to be buyers at the trade deadline to address their limitations at second base.

It was not headline news, but when the A’s acquired Samardzija and Hammel from the Cubs, Tommy Milone was demoted to Triple-A. Also, recovered from a broken hand, Drew Pomeranz was activated from the disabled list Sunday and then promptly sent down as well. There simply is not room in the rotation.

With wins in his last six decisions and a 3.55 ERA that was on the decline before being sent down, Milone would not be in the minor leagues for many other ballclubs. Pomeranz sports a 2.91 ERA over 55.2 innings pitched this season. He, too, deserves to be in the big leagues. Furthermore, A.J. Griffin (3.60 career ERA in two seasons with Oakland) and Jarrod Parker (a former ninth overall pick and the owner of a 3.73 ERA in two years with the A's) will both return from Tommy John surgery next year.

Thus, thanks to the Samardzija-Hammel acquisition, the A’s now have a surplus of young, talented starting pitching. With four pitchers (Milone, Pomeranz, Griffin and Parker) all without jobs, or five pitchers (now including Jesse Chavez, who was formerly a relief pitcher) vying for one spot in the starting rotation, the A’s are clearly an attractive target to many teams.

Yet while the A's may have the pieces to make another deal at the trade deadline, it is obvious that they do not have many glaring issues.

The three-headed monster of Dan Otero, Luke Gregerson and Sean Doolittle has erased any semblance of a concern in the bullpen. Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, Yoenis Cespedes and Coco Crisp are everyday staples at their respective positions. And the first base and catcher positions have turned into the three-way platoon of Derek Norris (.294 BA), Stephen Vogt (.358 BA) and John Jaso (.274 BA). Do not ask how it is working, but it clearly is.

Middle infield for the A’s, however, has been a different story.

Granted, Jew Lowrie has done an admirable job at shortstop. In 90 games (82 starts), he has posted a .234 batting average and driven in 34 runs.

Second base is where the bulk of the worry lies, and it has only escalated since utility man Alberto Callaspo was placed on the disabled list after straining his right hamstring, as John Hickey of the San Jose Mercury News reports. 

Switch-hitting Nick Punto (160 at-bats) and left-handed-hitting Eric Sogard (156 at-bats) currently share time at second base and have struggled immensely. The two have combined for a total of one home run, a .202 batting average, a .259 slugging percentage and 16 RBI while manning second base—all position lows for the A’s. Their .273 on-base percentage and meager 25 walks (also both position lows) presumably make for an irate Billy Beane.

The A’s continue to be heavily dependent on Lowrie to carry the weight of the middle infield. An injury to the seven-year shortstop would be catastrophic, as a Punto-Sogard middle infield would be about as offensively inept as they come.

There are a number of potential solutions for the A's and their middle infield concerns.

Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley and New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy are both subject to being shipped elsewhere in the coming weeks. The two are the best-hitting second basemen on the market, but the chances the A’s acquire either is slim, given the fact that Utley does not want to leave Philadelphia in the first place (as Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News reports), and the Mets are asking for a hefty amount of minor league offensive talent in return for Murphy.

Luis Valbuena of the Chicago Cubs has also drawn interest from the A’s, but the Cubs are reluctant to deal him, as Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal states. However, with prospect Arismendy Alcantara making a case for himself as their everyday second baseman (9-for-23 with a home run, five RBI and a stolen base in his first five big league games), Valbuena may be on his way out.

Perhaps the best fit and most realistic acquisition for the A’s is Tampa Bay Rays do-everything-man Ben Zobrist. Slashing .266/.401/.754 with a .352 on-base percentage and five multihit games in his last nine contests, Zobrist would provide a noticeable and immediate boost offensively. His ability to play second base, shortstop and either corner outfield position makes him an even more intriguing option for the A’s.

Karl Buscheck, the A's Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report, views Zobrist being traded to the A's as an ideal situation for both teams, as the Rays are likely to be looking for young pitching at the deadline. Tommy Milone, Drew Pomeranz, Jarrod Parker or A.J. Griffin would all be at their disposal.

Combine this perfect match that addresses the needs of both teams with the parting words of general manager Beane in an interview with Jim Bowden of ESPN (h/t MLB Trade Rumors) and it is clear the A’s will not be complacent with their league-leading 59-36 record:

Well, you know, there’s a lot of time left, Jim. Whether you have needs or not, you have to take advantage of the environment. This is a time that everybody comes to the table. And whether you’re actively pursuing something specific, you want to be a part of the conversation. I don’t want to say we’re done. The short answer is: I hope we’re active still.

 

Follow Jacob Garcia on Twitter @Jake_M_Garcia or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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After the World Cup final, the streets of Copacabana ran with urine and the bars ran out of beer

Even amid the camper vans and the seemingly anarchic raucousness of the beach, Sepp Blatter reigns supreme.

The German team celebrate their World Cup victory. Photo: Getty
The German team celebrate their World Cup victory. Photo: Getty

The World Cup ended, as it began, with angry white Brazilians calling for Dilma Rousseff, the president, to “stick it up her arse”. Or at least it did for about 30 seconds before Fifa’s propaganda machine got into action and banal synth-pop was blasted into the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, the final surrender of this great stadium of the people to the corporatism in which the Brazil of Dilma and her Workers’ Party has been complicit.

The symbolism takes some working through. When the Maracana was built as the emblem of Getulio Vargas’s Estado Novo, it was conceived as the grandest football stadium in the world. It’s said over 200,000 packed in for the final game of the 1950 World Cup, people of all walks of life, rich and poor, professors and prostitutes, pickpockets and captains of industry.

It was a stage for Brazil’s self-projection. Now, tickets are so expensive, and distribution so controlled, that they are out of reach of all but a thin sliver of society. The populist, and in theory socialist, government of Lula and then Dilma, co-operated in the investment of huge amounts of money to put on an event that its natural supporter-base couldn’t attend, with the result that those who could attend, natural political opponents of Dilma anyway, were given a platform on which to abuse her.

Given the World Cup had become a focal point for dissent, the most obvious example of the corruption and cronyism that blights Brazil were effectively jeering Dilma during the final for having given them the opportunity to do so.

There had been talk earlier in the tournament that Dilma and Sepp Blatter, the president of Fifa, wouldn’t even attend the final for fear of the abuse they would receive, but both were there at the handing over the trophy - which, weirdly, these days seems to resemble Blatter; stick it in a suit and paint his head gold and it would be like Dr Evil and Mini-Me - even if the official cameraman seemed to be doing his best to keep the pair out of shot as Germany cavorted on the temporary stage.

Even more confusingly, Dilma’s popularity in the polls had risen from 34 per cent before the tournament to 39 per cent when Brazil won through their quarter-final.

Yet this was never an attractive or likeable Brazil side: led by the boorish Luiz Felipe Scolari, they played over-physical, cynical football and rode a tide of emotion that tipped into hysteria when Neymar suffered the back injury that put him out of the tournament. There was something almost comedic about Germany’s stony-faced professionalism amid the frenzy as Brazil’s stand-in captain David Luiz held Neymar’s shirt aloft before Brazil’s 7-1 capitulation to Germany in the semi-final. All those who insist that what England need is more passion should consider what happened next: no side has ever sung an a national anthem more stridently than Brazil did before that semi-final, and no side has then collapsed quite so spectacularly or brainlessly. Dilma will probably still win October’s election, but that humiliation will eat into her majority.

Along the beach at Copacabana the morning after the final, the vast caravan of Argentinian fans lay quiet. Some wandered over the sand, some boiled water on gas stoves, some sat on the steps of their vans or the bonnets of their cars. After defeat to Germany in the final the previous night, they were quiet, emotionally drained, their version of “Bad Moon Rising”, which had taunted Brazilians for weeks, notable by its absence.

What was up with Messi, wondered those who could be bothered to speak. Was he simply exhausted? Why had he started this season throwing up on the pitch? Given that he’ll be 31 by the time of the next World Cup, is that it for him and his hopes of following Diego Maradona in leading Argentina to the world title?

There was a sense that this was the true World Cup, these fans who had spent their savings to drive from Buenos Aires, just to be part of the event, knowing they had no chance of finding a ticket, or been able to afford it even if they had. Quite how many Argentinians decamped to Rio is impossible to say, with official estimates ranging from 100,000 to 200,000. What’s clear is that it was lots: they were nose-to-tail along the sea-front and they filled the sambapark with their camper vans. Occasionally, amid the swathes of blue-and-white, there’d be a flash of another colour. There were Chileans and Colombians, the odd Brazilian from outside Rio. One family, their car draped in dark green and red, had driven all the way from Mexico City, making the World Cup final the end of a journey across the continent that had taken three months.

For those of us who argue for football’s importance based on its universality, this should have been a scene of vindication. But Sunday night, after the final, was far from a carnival of nations. The streets of Copacabana ran with urine, bars ran out of beer and there was a sweaty fractiousness in the air. Actual violence was limited, but there were occasional clashes between Argentinians and Brazilians, angry enough to make you grateful that meant the two great South American rivals hadn’t met in the final.

And there is one final irony. The majority of those lining the coast road watched the final on one of the two screens on the beach. One of them had been erected by the local municipality, the other was part of the Fan Fest, a soulless monument to commerce, with face painting for £8 and bottles of Fifa wine for £126, that has been earning untaxed revenue for Fifa since 2006. Even amid the camper vans and the seemingly anarchic raucousness of the beach, Blatterism reigns.

Giancarlo Stanton Comments on 2014 Home Run Derby Format

Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton looked like the odds-on favorite to win the 2014 Home Run Derby Monday night after clubbing six homers in the first round. He didn't hit a single one in the semifinals, though, and the new format may have been the culprit.   

The Home Run Derby took on a different look this year as the leading home run hitters from each league in the first round received byes to the semis. While it was technically a reward, Stanton believes that it contributed to his struggles in the semifinal round, according to Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald.

"It made a bigger difference than I thought it would," Stanton said. "I kind of have to find something to do in that time, stay warm. It's definitely a speed bump I couldn't get over in this one. But it was still fun."

Staying warm was quite literally an issue for players as temperatures at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota dipped below 60 degrees with rain playing a factor as well. Perhaps taking some cuts in the batting cage would have helped Stanton perform better, but it is easy to say in hindsight.

As pointed out by Marc Carig of New York Newsday, a lot of time passed between Stanton's first round of swings and his semifinal appearance:

Eventual winner Yoenis Cespedes of the Oakland Athletics wasn't impacted by the new format, but he had to compete in the quarterfinals, which may have ultimately worked to his advantage.

Like Stanton, Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista failed to reach the finals despite getting a bye straight to the semis, so there may be something to Stanton's claim.

Despite Stanton's Home Run Derby appearance reaching a disappointing, he made it clear that he would love to do it again, per Navarro.

"For sure," Stanton said. "I've got to bring it back to the NL."

Stanton's mammoth power was on full display in the first round as one of his gargantuan blasts would have exceeded 500 feet had its path not been interrupted, per ESPN Stats & Info:

That goes to show that Stanton certainly has what it takes to win the Home Run Derby, but things simply didn't work in Stanton's favor. Cespedes was the best hitter Monday night; however, the result might have been different if Stanton didn't have to sit around.

Major League Baseball deserves credit for trying something new, but issues are always going to arise. Now that the potential pitfalls of this particular format are apparent, it will be interesting to see how the league handles the Home Run Derby moving forward.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

 

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2014 Home Run Derby Results: Winner and Reaction to Bracket-Style Format

The 2014 Home Run Derby was one of the most anticipated sporting events of the summer, but for many fans who watched the event on Monday, the results were very disappointing.

Oakland Athletics outfielder Yoenis Cespedes earned his second straight victory in the event and deserves immense credit for the feat, but the bracket-style format made for a slow-moving show that was not as enthralling as last year's competition.

Here are the overall results from the 2014 Home Run Derby and the reaction to the new format.

 

Breaking Down the Reaction to Bracket-Style Format

After a rain delay forced the start of the Home Run Derby back, there was no doubt that the patience of the people in attendance and at home was wearing thin. That’s not the ideal way to introduce a new format.

MLB’s bracket-style game plan was destined to fail before the event even started.

While the first round went as usual—each man got a turn to hit as many home runs as possible—the Derby went off the tracks during the bracket portion of the event.

With players like Jose Bautista and Giancarlo Stanton getting a bye in the second round, there was almost an hour of down time before heading to the plate again for the two heaviest hitters.

Both players lost any momentum they had during the break and failed to advance to the finals.

As Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports pointed out, the lack of home runs in the semifinals made for a lackluster culmination to the event:

The format may have been awful, but Stanton made his home runs count, launching the ball like few others in the sport today, via MLB Gifs:

Another star who added to the struggles on Monday was Yasiel Puig. The Los Angeles slugger was expected to be a serious contender, but he failed to hit any home runs in the first round and was eliminated.

Twitter personality Ryan Nanni thinks he knows what happened to Puig:

The format change was meant to help bring excitement back to the event, but as Jameson Fleming of Syracuse.com points out, it didn’t work at all:

In a last-ditch effort to help the fans this year and even possibly next year, Passan offered a cheaper alternative to attending the Home Run Derby:

There is no doubt that last year’s Home Run Derby wasn’t perfect, but it was much easier to enjoy for the fans than this year’s showcase. The people who pay to witness the event live or take the time to watch it at home simply want to see the top names hit home runs.

Kudos to the league for thinking outside the box with the bracket idea, but it failed miserably, and MLB must go back to the drawing board. The seven-outs-per-batter concept helped speed up the pace of the first round and created a buzz initially, but MLB must do away with the brackets.

If the league reverts back to the standard lowest-score eliminations and reduces the outs to seven, the pace of the event and the time between at-bats will be minimized. That will create a better opportunity for the batters to thrive and the fans to enjoy the show.

 

Stats via MLB.com.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Cincinnati Reds: Top 10 Reds of Week 15

The Reds roll into the All-Star break just 1.5 games back of first-place Milwaukee and seven games above the .500 mark. Two weeks ago, the Reds were flirting with .500 and anywhere from seven-to-eight games back of first.

A lot has changed in so little time. The Reds went 6-2 last week alone. 

What's most remarkable about this recent Reds run is that it's being facilitated by names Reds fans might never expect to witness on a Reds Top 10 list, but their contribution has been very real.

Nonetheless, here were the Reds that contributed most to winning four of five from the Chicago Cubs and two of three from the Pittsburgh Pirates.

 All stats courtesy of ESPN.com/MLB unless otherwise noted.

Begin Slideshow

MLB Trade Rumors: Latest Buzz on Chase Headley, Bartolo Colon and More

Most of Major League Baseball's best players were on hand as Yoenis Cespedes won the 2014 Home Run Derby, but team executives likely spent the night working the phones and trying to work whatever deals they're pursuing before the July 31 non-waiver deadline.

David Price is the biggest name on the market this year, and there remains a strong chance that the Tampa Bay Rays deal him by the end of the month.

Along with that potential trade are other smaller, but no less inconsequential, moves that could help teams bracing for postseason runs.

 

Chase Headley

Teams looking to add offense before the trade deadline don't have too many options. As a result, you're seeing guys like Chase Headley at the top of some teams' shopping lists. According to CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman, "four or five" teams are registering early interest in the San Diego Padres star.

One of the biggest roadblocks for potential suitors is Headley's performance. He's hitting .226 this year with seven home runs and 29 RBI.

As Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times pointed out, though, it's as if Headley knows he's on the trade block and is reacting accordingly:

In 12 July games, the third baseman boasts a slash line of .327/.327/.462 with one homer and six RBI.

Headley is a free agent at the end of the year, so time is running out if the Padres want to unload the veteran and still get something in return.

 

Bartolo Colon

It's 2014, and Bartolo Colon may be an in-demand trade target for MLB teams. That's insane, right?

The 41-year-old is having a solid season, posting an 8-8 record with an ERA of 3.99 and a FIP of 3.66. Those numbers aren't as good as what he was doing with the Oakland Athletics last season but still impressive nonetheless.

The New York Mets aren't going anywhere, and with another year left on Colon's deal, they'd be smart to see if they can get anything for him before the trade deadline.

According to ESPNNewYork.com's Adam Rubin, the Mets aren't desperate for a deal, but they're willing to listen:

The New York Mets have made right-hander Bartolo Colon available as the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline nears, industry sources told ESPNNewYork.com.

[...]

The Mets are not yet believed to be engaged in serious talks about Colon, and it is not a foregone conclusion that he will be dealt, but a major league source predicted dialogue would increase in the next week. An August trade remains possible, too, via a team making a waiver claim.

Colon would be a good back-end starter for some team competing for the playoffs. Neither the cost nor the risk would be very high.

 

Huston Street

Heyman also reported on another Padre who could be on the move: Huston Street. The veteran closer is garnering interest from a few different teams:

Street looks like the most desirable closing candidate on the market and the ninth inning has been the Angels' one question during a strong first half. They've also scouted Jonathan Papelbon of the Phillies, but his salary is much higher, his contract is longer and it includes a dicey vesting option for a third year. Street is desirable not only because he has pitched brilliantly this year, but he also because he makes just $7 million this year and has a team friendly $7 million club option for next year.

The Pirates are said to be among other teams to check in on Street, with the Orioles and Giants mentioned in a speculative sense as possibilities. Both those teams seem more focused on starting pitchers, however. The Tigers have not indiucated an interest in acquiring a new closer and seem content with veteran Joe Nathan at the moment.

The 30-year-old isn't operating under any pretense that he'll be back in San Diego for next season, as per ESPN's Jim Bowden and MLB.com's Jane Lee:

Street is having a great season, recording 24 saves with an ERA of 1.09 and a FIP of 2.90. You're not going to find a better closer in this year's trade market. And with that $7 million option for 2015, he'll come at a relatively cheap price next year.

Some team will likely meet San Diego's asking price and grab Street before the deadline.

 

Advanced stats via Fangraphs unless otherwise noted. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

All-Star Break Stock Up, Stock Down for the New York Yankees’ Top 10 Prospects

With the first half of the MLB season finally concluded and the trade deadline just over two weeks away on July 31, the focus on a team's minor league system will start to shift.

Teams will spend time re-evaluating the top players in their system and will look for ways to improve their big league club.

The New York Yankees find themselves in a precarious situation where they want to be buyers when, in reality, they should be sellers.

With that said, since the Yankees believe they are buyers, an update on the Yankees farm system seems imperative.

The following will be a status update on the Yankees' top 10 minor league players as determined by MLB.com.

Based on their stats from the past week, I will determine if each individual has raised or decreased his stock. In some instances, a player's value could remain the same. 

Begin Slideshow

New York Yankees’ Trade Deadline Big Board: Ranking the Top Targets

At baseball's halfway point, just 20 percent of the New York Yankees pitching staff remains since Opening Day. Common sense, emotion, statistics and sabermetrics would all tell you the Bombers are doomed with four of their five starters on the disabled list. FanGraphs gives New York just an 11.4 percent chance of making the playoffs.

But this isn't the AL East of your youth—or of even a few years ago.

Forget that the likes of David Phelps, Vidal Nuno, Chase Whitley and Shane Greene have all played some part in keeping New York somewhat alive: The Orioles lead the division with just a .553 winning percentage (52-42). For better or worse, the Yankees are a seemingly disinterested 43-43 ballclub, but they have much more than a simple heartbeat with only five games separating them from Baltimore and two wild-card spots up for grabs.

Besides the three months of baseball still left to play, the Yankees also have over two weeks with which to work until the July 31 trade deadline. 

Whether you'd call the never-say-die, scrap, scrape and pay method the "Yankee Way" or the "Steinbrenner Way," it's really interchangeable. The point is: You'd struggle mightily to find the last time Yanks brass called it a season prior to their mathematical or concrete elimination.

As evidenced by new, underwhelming Yankee pitchers Brandon McCarthy and Jeff Francis—and with the coveted Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel off the market—there isn't a bevy of truly great starting options out there. There are even fewer for the Yankees, an organization without many marketable, or even desirable, prospects to offer. They do have cash, however, and that cash flow must be considered for baiting a team like the Phillies into a trade for one of its expensive, front-end starters. 

While other notable positions of need haven't been completely discounted (infielder, right fielder, reliever), this breakdown of New York's top trade targets admittedly, and rationally, prioritizes the most viable starting pitchers who could help this team find its way to the postseason. 

If there's one kicker for the ultimate decisions, it's that the top targets are those for whom Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenners wouldn't have to mortgage what could be the entire future of the ballclub (see: David Price, an unlikely target for division-rival New York, regardless of the package).

Yankees fans: Enjoy the mental break of the midsummer classic—the players aren't the only ones who need rest sometimes—and, for now, read on to get our take on six of the Yankees' top trade targets. Whether by way of stopgap solution or franchise face-lifter, Brian Cashman and company should be closely monitoring and targeting the following pitchers.

 

Statistics, metrics and salary/contract figures courtesy of Baseball-Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus' Cot's Baseball Contracts, unless otherwise noted.

Begin Slideshow

MLB Trade Ideas Based on the Latest News, Rumors and Speculation

With the All-Star festivities upon us, general managers across this grand game are finalizing their action plans in advance of the July 31 MLB non-waiver trade deadline.

For the next 16 days, Bleacher Report, Twitter, HardballTalk and almost every major sports publication will be alive with potential trades and speculation. In fact, the mayhem has already started as this past week saw a dramatic uptick in the number of players being discussed.

For the sake of brevity, we will keep it simple. Here are four MLB trade scenarios based on actual need and published rumors from the week ending Sunday, July 13. 

As a standard note, the following proposals are nothing more than postulation. The point here is to build a trade based on someone else's written or spoken word.

They are balanced deals that are fair for each team, though, and take into consideration each franchise's strengths and weaknesses. 

Begin Slideshow

China’s Google plots bikes with no riders. What could possibly go wrong?

Look, mum, no hands!

They probably won’t look much like this. Credit: Moebiusuibeom-en at Wikimedia Commons

You thought Google’s self-driving cars sounded dangerous? Well, imagine the same thing, but with bikes. Bikes that drive themselves around. Bikes that drive themselves around with no one riding them.  

Now imagine them cruising along the traffic-choked streets of Shanghai and Beijing, and ask: what could possibly go wrong?

All this is the vision of Baidu, China’s largest web services company and search engine, which last Thursday confirmed rumours that it’s been developing a riderless “smartbike” for China. Like Google, the firm is sitting on huge amounts of geo location and map data, which it’ll use to create navigation systems. A spokesperson told the Chinese news website Sina that the bikes would also “use intelligent sensors and big data analysis to know the owner’s requirements and health index”. They’ll also, one hopes, be able to spot obstacles and avoid them.

Baidu’s take on the unmanned transport trend seems canny, as bikes are a huge market in China – the Earth Policy institute reported in 2010 that there were 430 million cyclists in the country. Electronic bikes (or “e-bikes”), which travel up to 30 miles per hour, have also seen a surge in popularity in the past 10 years, with 200 million sold in the country by 2013. That’s good news for Baidu: people are keen to travel on two wheels, but not so keen to actually pedal.

The bikes could also make life easier for China’s plethora of cycle courier services, by allowing them to carry packages to destinations without a rider – essentially like a grounded version of Amazon’s delivery drones.

When all this will come to fruition is not exactly clear: the spokesperson said the plans were “long-term” and wouldn’t confirm when the bikes would be on sale.  

It’s not the first time Baidu has followed in Google’s footsteps when it comes new technology. Since mid-2013, they’re been working on prototypes for the Baidu Eye, a headset with a screen with face recognition and image search which responds to voice commands, and which bears no resemblance whatsoever to Google Glass:

Oh.

Image credit: Baidu

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.

Clayton Kershaw and Matthew Stafford: The Wonder Years

They looked alike. Two six-year-old boys, roughly the same size and shape, wearing identical “Blue Bombers” uniforms, with sandy blond hair cut in bangs an inch or two above their eyebrows. From the stands, it was hard to tell them apart, even for their parents, as those boys chased a soccer ball around a field at the Dallas Convention Center.

So it was that Margaret Stafford, cheering wildly as her son, Matthew, scored what she thought was his second goal of the game, turned to look at the mom cheering wildly behind her. That’s nice, she thought. She’s really happy for Matthew. But in reality, Marianne Kershaw was cheering for her own son, Clayton, because he, not Matthew, had scored the goal.

Parallel success for the two boys would become a common theme as they grew up. Before they were Matthew Stafford, starting quarterback for the Detroit Lions and first overall NFL draft pick, and Clayton Kershaw, two-time Cy Young Award winner and ace of the Los Angeles Dodgers, they were two little boys playing soccer as their moms and dads cheered and their friends played alongside.

They played on the same youth soccer, baseball, football and basketball teams together. They played freshmen football and two years of varsity baseball together and both graduated from Highland Park High School in 2006 after dominant final seasons. Kershaw compiled a 13-0 record with an ERA of 0.77. In a five-inning mercy-rule game, he struck out all 15 batters.

On June 18 this season, Kershaw threw a no-hitter and struck out 15 batters in one of the most dominant performances in baseball history. That game came in the midst of a stretch in which he threw 41 scoreless innings, the sixth longest in baseball’s expansion era.

Stafford led the Highland Park football team to a 15-0 record and a state championship (59-0) by throwing for 4,013 yards and 38 touchdowns. Today, he owns or will own every Lions passing record, and with wide receiver Golden Tate lining up with all-time great receiver Calvin Johnson, Stafford is poised to put up the best numbers of his career.

The best quarterback in America from the 2006 high school class and the best pitcher in America from the 2006 high school class went to the same high school—the odds of that happening are miniscule.

Even the friends and family who were there have a hard time wrapping their brains around what those two young boys have made of themselves. They started their sports “careers” as little boys on a soccer pitch and now have contracts worth a combined $291.5 million.

“It’s still incredible when I really think about it,” says Josh Meredith, who has been friends with both since the Blue Bombers days.

Incredible, yes.

But also true.

 

From the Trampoline to the Roof

“Remember that great movie The Sandlot, about the neighborhood group of boys playing summer baseball together? That’s how my life felt growing up. The community was our playground, and we biked the streets of our personal kingdom.” — Clayton Kershaw, in a memoir he wrote with his wife, Ellen, Arise: Live Out Your Faith and Dreams on Whatever Field You Find Yourself

Kershaw and Stafford were teammates often and sometimes rivals in soccer, football, baseball and basketball. When they got bored of real sports, they made up their own games. At Kershaw’s house, they played hallway hockey, the rare game they played inside. It involved sawed-off hockey sticks, a roller hockey ball, pillows for their knees and chest, and a line of tape strung the width of the hall to mark off the goal.

Stafford’s favorite made-up game was oskie-oskie, in which a ball-carrier attempted to run through a line of defenders who had to stay on their knees. He liked it because he got to hit people.

They also enjoyed a game they called "hot box," which was like pickle but played on a wet trampoline outside Kershaw’s house…when the trampoline wasn’t otherwise being used.

“We would move it close to his house and try to, not really jump from the roof to the trampoline, but from the trampoline onto the roof,'' says Pan Lucas, who played on the Blue Bombers and other teams with Stafford and Kershaw and remains close with Stafford. "We’d probably incorporate a ball with it. Some sort of dodgeball. So many stupid games like that.''

 

The Prodigy and the (Comparatively) Late Bloomer

“I heard about this seventh-grader who could throw the ball 70 yards in the air. He was going to be a great quarterback. He was already six feet tall. The first time I saw him throw was out in front of our house. He was throwing the ball out in the street. You could just tell, he was going to be a great football player and a great quarterback.” — Randy Allen, Highland Park High School football coach

“Clayton was always a great basketball player, he was always a great football player, he was always a great baseball player. But being a great athlete and winning two Cy Youngs are completely different. Going to that level, being the seventh player taken in the major league draft, is a completely different level. When did I see him get to that level? Definitely not until late.” — Pan Lucas

Before Kershaw was drafted by the Dodgers in 2006 and Stafford first overall by the Lions in 2009, they were “drafted” in consecutive years by John Calandro, a youth soccer coach in Dallas who selected the two boys to play on the Blue Bombers.

Calandro dubbed Kershaw “The Wall” because when he played goalie, nobody scored on him. He called Stafford “Hollywood” because of his propensity, late in games, to make dramatic shows of injuries. All right, Hollywood, it’s been a minute, you can get up now. The Blue Bombers were together for several years, and Calandro says the team never lost a game against boys their own age.

Calandro recognized that Stafford and Kershaw were good athletes, but he didn’t know he was witnessing the rise of two elite superstars—though he had an inkling while watching Stafford throw a football.

“Matthew would just zing it every once in a while, and it never broke a spiral,” Calandro says. “When he was nine, he was throwing it 35 or 40 yards. ... The dads couldn’t do it. They’d have to move up, or they’d skip it (back to him). It was funny to watch.”

Stafford’s friends joke that he is the only elementary school quarterback who ran the spread offense, only they’re not joking. He really did run the spread offense that young, so advanced was his grasp of the game and the power of his arm.

“In sixth or seventh grade, the head football coach moved in next door to me,” Lucas says. “Matthew would always come over. We’d be playing basketball or home run derby in the front yard. But when Coach Allen came out, we made sure we got the football out and were throwing it in the street, always trying to show off for him.

"Every single time. Someone would see Coach Allen’s car pull up, and someone would run and get the football. We’d run routes in the street; we wanted to make sure the head high school football coach was taking notice of this kid.”

And Stafford was no pawn being moved at the whims of his friends. He was Hollywood, again, putting on another show. “You’re trying to make good impressions on the high school football coach, for sure,” he says.

Allen noticed—and laughed when he was told the lengths the boys went to get his attention. “I wouldn’t put it past them,” he says. By the time Stafford was a freshman in high school, recruiters told Allen that Stafford was good enough to play at the D-1 level.

By comparison, Kershaw emerged as a star much later. Between his sophomore and junior years, Kershaw sprouted several inches, lost his baby fat and gained velocity on his fastball to go with his already excellent control. With more power, he became (and remains) nearly unhittable.

“By the end of his junior year, you could tell he was special,” says Lew Kennedy, Kershaw’s varsity baseball coach. “People were taking notice by then. There were a lot of radar guns in the stands.”

 

To Their Moms, the Boys Will Always Be Boys

“They were just cute together when they were younger. I have so many warm memories.” — Margaret Stafford

From cleaning dirty uniforms together to driving on long road trips to attending hundreds of games, Margaret Stafford and Marianne Kershaw shared many experiences as they watched their boys grow from precocious kids who wanted to spend every waking minute outside to high school stars to elite professionals.

“Marianne and I got together for dinner several months ago, and we just started giggling,” Margaret Stafford says. “Who’d have thought we’d have these famous boys when we were sitting at the laundromat, washing uniforms?”

They got together for dinner again with Bleacher Report—and there was more giggling. While the sports world sees two men with rocket arms, high expectations and thick bank accounts, their moms still see little boys covered in dirt.

Margaret Stafford: “They were just Pigpen for a while. Maybe that’s because they were always in red clay.”

Marianne Kershaw: “I love this—especially Clayton. Clayton was the Pigpen of every team. His shirt was always the one out, his cowlick was always sticking up.”

Margaret Stafford: “There was a time when he was catching Matthew. We were sitting back there together. And he picks up the catcher’s helmet and puts it on his head, and a whole bucket of red dirt went down the back of his shirt. And he was like …”

Marianne Kershaw: “Not to be deterred.”

Margaret Stafford: “He didn’t bat an eye.”

 

'He Seriously Belly-Flopped the Whole Pile'

“I remember playing soccer against (Kershaw). You could tell he was, not a nasty competitor, but he wanted it more than every other first-grader out there. You could tell right off the bat. He’s always wanted to win. Whatever you’re doing with him today, he’s going to want to win.” — Josh Meredith, Kershaw’s best man and grandson of Cowboys great Don Meredith

When they played against Kershaw on “rival” elementary school teams, the Dickenson twins, John and Charley, despised him because he was so fierce. He was pudgy and therefore bigger than everybody, but he was just as fast, more talented and more aggressive than everybody else.

Once they got to know him in middle school, they became close friends, because the attributes they disliked in him as an opponent they loved in him as a teammate…though to this day they’d still not rather play pickup basketball against him.

As competitive as he was, Kershaw managed to stay within the rules…except once, when he was the center on the freshman football team and Stafford was the quarterback.

“He was probably the only freshman to get kicked out of a game,” Charley Dickenson says. “This is nice, good old boy Clayton. Once the game has begun, he’s just totally another person, extremely aggressive, wants to win at all costs.”

Someone hit Stafford, too late for Kershaw’s liking. “He wasn’t too happy about it,” Stafford says. “He jumped on top of him and took him down. They ejected him. It was awesome.”

Says Lucas: “He seriously belly-flopped the whole pile. It was incredible. We watched it on film. We watched it and re-watched it, probably 100 times. The whole team was just dying laughing.”

 

Batterymates

"These boys really had it great that they played everything together and had fun.” — Margaret Stafford

When Kershaw and Stafford were 12, Matthew’s dad, John, coached them in baseball. Kershaw had pinpoint control and a filthy changeup. When Kershaw pitched and Stafford caught, they formed a potent combination.

“Matthew can call a game great. He’s always been the guy who can understand situations, it didn’t matter what the game was,” John Stafford says. “He would, if you will, quarterback that stuff. He knew when to call the changeup, he knew when to put it inside, outside.”

Equally important to Matthew Stafford’s ability to call for the right pitches in the right spots was Kershaw’s ability to execute them.

“They would get strikes on guys, and both of them would have to control their laughter,” John Stafford says. “Clayton would turn away to second base with a smile on his face. Matthew would put his head down. He’d be laughing. They just baffled the guy. These are select players, damn good players. It was so much fun seeing those guys.”

 

An Ideal Place to Grow Up

“I knew what we had. All along, I knew that I don’t think that a lot of people get to keep the same friends, keep building those relationships. We didn’t lose a friend, ever.” — Pan Lucas

Highland Park and University Park, known collectively as Park Cities, constitute one of Dallas’ most affluent suburbs. It is a destination community, where families move in and stay because the property values remain high, the streets are safe and the schools are good.

But it’s also a place with a restaurant named Bubba’s Cooks Country that sells breakfast for less than $5. Though it is in one of the biggest metropolitan areas in the country, Park Cities feels self-contained, with a handful of elementary schools funneling into one middle school and one high school, which is one of the best in Texas for academics and athletics.

In an era in which families move at an unprecedented pace, the Staffords, Kershaws and all their friends stayed in the same city throughout their K-12 years.

John Stafford had a job offer when Matthew was a freshman at Highland Park High School that would have taken the family away from Park Cities. Though it was a good offer, he turned it down.

“I couldn’t have dialed in a better place for my children to grow up,” he says. “I knew that, and I made the decision to stay. It was a great decision for me to do that because of the environment.”

Stafford’s parents divorced when he was in high school but remain on friendly terms. Kershaw’s parents divorced when he was 10, and his father died in 2013. Marianne worked multiple jobs to make ends meet but never left Park Cities, even though doing so would have made sense economically.

“One time when we were driving down the road, right in front of the YMCA, he looked at me, and he was like 12, and he said, ‘Mom, we’re really rich, aren’t we?’” Marianne Kershaw says. “And I’m like, ‘Yeah.’ And he said, ‘Just not by Highland Park standards,’ and I said, ‘Exactly.’ And I thought it was so cool that he got that. We’re healthy, and we’re happy, and God provides, versus, you know, a dollar amount.”

Stafford’s and Kershaw’s parents’ decisions to stay in Park Cities paid huge dividends for Matthew and Clayton, in their sports careers and lives in general. How many people can say they are still friends at 26 with the same guys they were friends with at six?

“We all had common interests, which made it that much better,” Matthew Stafford says. “We loved playing the game of baseball, football, basketball, soccer, whatever it was. We played all of them together—and against each other. It was a lot of fun.”

For Kershaw, being stitched into such a tight-knit community proved crucial after his parents divorced. “Though I lived with just my mom, I felt like I had 10 different homes,” he writes in Arise. “We all felt that way. Home wasn’t defined by the walls of a house—home was defined by the people we were with.”

 

Child's Play

“If Matthew had come to me in his junior year of high school, or whatever, and said to me, ‘Dad, violin is the thing for me,’ we would have had a conversation about why, and are you sure, and are you committed, and then I would have gotten him the best violin teacher I could afford.” — John Stafford

It’s tempting to look at Kershaw’s and Stafford’s careers now and see everything that happened in their childhoods as preparation for a life under bright lights. But that would be taking too seriously what was essentially just kids having fun. All three parents cared far more whether their boys were having fun than whether they were laying the groundwork for athletic careers.

Margaret Stafford laughs when she tells a story of a far-too intense coach who complained when the Staffords went on vacation to Florida and Matthew had to miss games. “I’m like, ‘He’s in second grade. He needs to see his grandmother and grandfather.’”

Everybody in the group of friends fondly recalls a baseball tournament in Atlanta, in which the team entered (as they put it) as the 64th team out of 64 and finished in the top four. They talk about spending two weeks away from home, luring unsuspecting teammates into a darkened hotel room and then pummeling them with pillows.

Also, the games.

“We were playing against the state of California All-Star team, the state of Texas All-Star team,” Matthew Stafford says. “I remember when we played that game, it was the first time I ever played a game with more than two umpires. The bases were painted. You felt like you were playing in the big leagues.”

Even now, when the old gang gets back together, it’s just like the old days. The best example: Anytime push-ups—the currency with which bets are paid off, as the winner gets to demand push-ups whenever he wants. John Dickenson says Kershaw often demands them via text and requires video proof be sent as confirmation.

One day this winter, Kershaw and the Dickensons went to a Mexican restaurant. Kershaw can’t resist chips and salsa, and after devouring some, he said he had to stop. He and John Dickenson made a bet—whoever ate the next chip owed the other 20 anytime push-ups.

After the entrees arrived, Kershaw absent-mindedly grabbed a chip and ate it. John Dickenson called him on it and made a mental note of the debt Kershaw owed him.

A few weeks later, Kershaw and his wife, Ellen, spoke in front of 500 Park Cities businessmen, mostly about their charity work in Africa. The Dickenson twins, Marianne Kershaw, John Stafford and Josh Meredith attended. As the Q-and-A session after their presentation wound down, John Dickenson raised his hand.

Kershaw called on him and Dickenson said, "‘I believe you still owe me 20 anytime push-ups. How about you give me one right now?’ In front of this big group, in the spotlight, I wasn’t sure if he was going to do it or not. But he got down, and he did it. That’s the kind of guy he is.''

Says Charley Dickenson: “We’re wondering, the next time he gets an award like the Cy Young, do we pull that on him?”

 

Bleacher Report's Ty Schalter contributed to this report.

Matt Crossman is the author of more than 30 cover stories in national sports magazines. He has written for Sporting News, SI.com, CBSSports.com and many others. Read more of his work at mattcrossman.com.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Predicting the MLB All-Star Game Rosters 5 Years from Now

The 85th MLB All-Star Game will commence Tuesday night, airing at 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX and features a mix of baseball's most well-known veterans as well as its stars of tomorrow.

In addition to high-profile talents such as Andrew McCutchen, Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, Miguel Cabrera, Jose Bautista and Felix Hernandez, this year's All-Star Game features a long list of first-timers such as Yasiel Puig, Anthony Rizzo, Todd Frazier, Josh Donaldson, Julio Teheran, Masahiro Tanaka and Dellin Betances.

However, since we're always interested in the future here at Prospect Pipeline, I thought we'd warm up for tonight's Midsummer Classic with a look at what each league's All-Star roster might look like five years from now.

That being said, there’s a realistic chance there will be players on the 2019 All-Star team that aren’t currently on the major league radar or, in some cases, that are yet to be drafted. Similarly, many of the veteran players named to this year's game will have either retired by the 2019 season or at least be in the final stages of their careers.

Here's a very early look at the potential AL and NL rosters for the 2019 All-Star Game.

 

Begin Slideshow

MLB Trade Rumors: Recapping the Latest Talk at the All-Star Break

The MLB All-Star break provides four days of much-needed rest and relaxation during an exhausting season. Unfortunately for baseball's general managers, this vacation represents their busy season with the July 31 trade deadline looming.

Although the Oakland Athletics jumped the gun and gathered some major pitching upgrades already, most notable in-season deals don't typically occur until shortly before the door for deals closes. Important executives are not immune to procrastination, so they'll lunge to their phones as the clock reaches midnight on trading season.

Yet the anticipation is often more interesting than the actual events. If every rumor came true, David Price would be pitching for 20 teams, and every team not in last place would scoop up a mouth-watering talent to propel a postseason push.

Chatter about a star of Price's stature is hard to ignore, so saddle up for the 467th update on that front. He's not the only game in town, however, as several other players could be forced to start anew for the season's final two months.

While MLB takes a brief breather before returning to the grind, let's scour the league for the latest buzz on the trade front.

 

Note: Advanced statistics are courtesy of FanGraphs.

 

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MLB Home Run Derby 2014: Full Results and Key Storylines from Event

The format may have been confusing, Yasiel Puig may have disappointed with zero home runs and the crowd may have been focused on other players, but Monday was Yoenis Cespedes’ night at the Home Run Derby.

He defended his crown with a 9-1 drubbing of Todd Frazier in the final round to become the first repeat winner in 15 years. Here is a look at the full results:

 

History is Made

It wasn’t just Cespedes’ win, though, that made headlines, it was the historical fashion in which he did it. 

ESPN Stats & Info pointed out the various aspects of Cespedes’ performance that helped etch his name in the history books:

If you’re going to win the Home Run Derby, you may as well shatter some records along the way.

 

New Format

The new format certainly had its ups and downs.

For one, each batter only received seven outs per round, which helped limit the actual time of the event. That turned out to be even more critical after rain delayed the start.

Using the new format, Jose Bautista and Giancarlo Stanton earned a bye to the semifinals after impressive first-round showings. Bautista blasted 10 home runs in that initial round and thrilled fans with a number of shots that went into the second deck. Stanton hit six, many of which were absolute moonshots that seemed to follow the trajectory of the rainbow above the stadium.

Still, both were eliminated before the final round after waiting for quite some time. Stanton didn’t even manage a single home run and lost to Frazier 1-0 in the National League final. 

ESPN Stats & Info noted a couple of irregularities that resulted from the new format:

Going forward, it is only natural to wonder if there will be more changes in store for next year.

The seven outs should probably stay because the event is often too long as it is, but Bautista had to wait nearly two hours to compete after putting on a show in the first round. It was almost like a punishment for having the best initial showing. 

On the National League side, Frazier only hit a single home run in the semifinals and found a way to advance. That seems a bit strange as well.

 

Justin Morneau Returns Home

Justin Morneau drew some of the biggest ovations Monday, and for good reason. He played 10-plus years in Minnesota and reached four All-Star Games during his time there.

Interestingly, Morneau was the only left-handed hitter in the event, which was not surprising because Target Field is much more suited toward right-handers with a shorter gap in left center. He managed to hit two in the first round but eventually lost to Frazier in a three-swing tiebreaker.

Morneau discussed his homecoming, via Tracy Ringolsby of MLB.com:

This was special, to be back in the park and to be able to say good-bye. … It is fun. Most guys dream when they are growing up about playing Home Run Derby in their backyard. Kids dream about hitting home runs. To be on that big stage in a Home Run Derby is something special. 

Even though he didn’t win, it was certainly nice for Morneau to come away with some positive memories in his old stomping grounds.

 

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