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.

Roughly three months into the minor league season, pitchers at every level are opening eyes with their performances on the mound, some better than others. It's important to note that those pitching in short-season leagues have far smaller sample sizes than those in full-season outfits, but hot is still hot—and cold is still cold—regardless of how many games a pitcher has under his belt.

That said, here's a look at the hottest and coldest pitchers at every level of the minor leagues.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of MiLB.com and current through games of July 1.

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Julie Bindel: There’s no gay gene – and I love the idea I chose to be a lesbian



If I had a piece of North Face clothing for every time a straight woman has said to me, “I wish I were a lesbian, but I just don’t fancy women” I would be able to open a Dyke Wear Emporium.

A member of the Gay Liberation Front under a banner, 1971. Photo: Getty
London, 1971: The Gay Liberation Front's manifesto was radical and uncompromising. Photo: Getty

I heard Cheryl and Mary say
There are two kinds of people in the world today
One or the other a person must be
The men are them, the women are we
And they agree it’s a pleasure to be
A lesbian, lesbian
Let’s be in no man’s land
Lesbian, lesbian
Any woman can be a lesbian

So sang Alix Dobkin in her 1973 song, Every Woman Can Be A Lesbian. I came out, or rather was outed, aged 15 while still at school in 1977, and favoured Marc Bolan and The Jackson Five over feminist hippies strumming guitars. It was not just folk music I felt uncomfortable with. The word “lesbian” was so steeped in negative connotation I could not bring myself to use it. Watching The Killing of Sister George with its gross characterisation of lesbians only compounded my self-hatred. There was no one to talk to, and I knew no other lesbian or gay person.

I had been outed by horrible boys at school who I refused to shag. They had noticed the rather blatant signs of my massive crush on my best friend. As I was enduring heckles of “lez be having you” and “dirty lezzer” in the school yard, my crush, who had been my best friend, was off asserting her heterosexuality with several of the boys.

I have no idea what would have happened to me had I not met David. My Saturday job was in a hair salon in my home town of Darlington, where David was a trainee. In between sweeping floors and washing heads we would tentatively size each other up. One day I said to David, “I like girls” and he said, “I like boys”, and linking arms we strolled down to the gay bar in the next town, using each other for protection.

Today I am a very happy lesbian and would recommend it for any woman. I have gone from self-doubt and loathing to sheer militancy and pride, and I have the pioneers of Gay Liberation and feminism to thank for my happy state.

The Gay Liberation Front (GLF) was founded in 1970, and its first meeting comprised of 19 gay men and lesbians. It took its inspiration from the early days of second wave feminism, was radical and uncompromising. Its manifesto was revolutionary and uncompromising, and eschewed the accepted explanation for homosexuality, ie that same sex attraction resulted from a rogue gene:

The truth is that there are no proven systematic differences between male and female, apart from the obvious biological ones. Male and female genitals and reproductive systems are different, and so are certain other physical characteristics, but all differences of temperament, aptitudes and so on, are the result of upbringing and social pressures. They are not inborn.

The GLF fizzled out, with most of the lesbians leaving the men behind, complaining of sexism. Many of those women began to campaign for women’s liberation, which, they argued, would automatically result in women being free to escape the confines of heterosexuality.

By the time I was dancing to Ring My Bell in the gay disco with women so butch they looked like they could kick-start their own vibrators, the Gay Liberation Front’s hey day was over. But feminism was at its peak, and it was in 1979 that I met the Leeds women, all of them lesbians, all speaking about their sexuality as a benefit of women’s liberation and freedom from what Adrianne Rich named “compulsory heterosexuality”.

In 1981 the Leeds Revolutionary Feminist Group published the pamphlet: Love Your Enemy? The Debate Between Heterosexual Feminism and Political Lesbianism (LYE). “All feminists can and should be lesbians,” the group pronounced. Appealing to their heterosexual sisters, the group urged them to get rid of men “from your beds and your heads”.

The publication of LYE was the one of the first times that the notion of sexuality as a choice had been publicly raised in the UK women's movement. Most feminists at the time believed that sexual attraction was innate and that there was no possibility of exercising choice over one’s sexual preferences.

If I had a piece of North Face clothing for every time a straight woman has said to me, “I wish I were a lesbian, but I just don’t fancy women” I would be able to open a Dyke Wear Emporium.

The Leeds feminists were not the first to pose the question about sexual preference being a liberatory choice. Indeed, they were inspired by a book by Jill Johnston, an American writer, who gained international notoriety in 1973 with the publication of her collection of essays Lesbian Nation: the Feminist Solution. Johnston argued that women should not sleep with “the enemy” (men), but should become lesbians as a revolutionary act.

I loved the sense that I had chosen my sexuality and rather than being ashamed or apologetic about it, as many women were, I could be proud, and see it as a privilege. In those days I would wear badges proclaiming “We recruit!” and “How dare you assume I am a heterosexual?”

But things have changed, and, these days we appear to have returned to the essentialist notion that we are either “born that way” or will be unthinkingly heterosexual. We have given up our choice for a medical diagnosis with no scientific basis.

When US actor Cynthia Nixon announced that she was a lesbian in 2012, having previously been in a heterosexual relationship, she proudly added, “I've been straight and I've been gay, and gay is better.” Nixon, despite being a positive role model for those in the closet, and a massive challenge to the bigots who like to assume we are full of self-loathing, was pilloried by some of the LGBT community who accused her of playing into the gay-hater’s hands. If you can “choose” to be gay, they will argue we can “choose not to be”.  

I and many other lesbians do not wish to dance to the bigot’s tune. Despite the prejudice and bigotry lesbians face, even today after 45 years of gay liberation, being able to reject heterosexuality can be a positive choice under patriarchy. In the brave words of Cynthia Nixon,

“…for me, it is a choice. I understand that for many people it’s not, but for me it’s a choice, and you don’t get to define my gayness for me.”

“Straight Expectations”(Guardian Books, £12.99) by Julie Bindel is out now

Julie Bindel: There’s no gay gene – and I love the idea I chose to be a lesbian



If I had a piece of North Face clothing for every time a straight woman has said to me, “I wish I were a lesbian, but I just don’t fancy women” I would be able to open a Dyke Wear Emporium.

A member of the Gay Liberation Front under a banner, 1971. Photo: Getty
London, 1971: The Gay Liberation Front's manifesto was radical and uncompromising. Photo: Getty

I heard Cheryl and Mary say
There are two kinds of people in the world today
One or the other a person must be
The men are them, the women are we
And they agree it’s a pleasure to be
A lesbian, lesbian
Let’s be in no man’s land
Lesbian, lesbian
Any woman can be a lesbian

So sang Alix Dobkin in her 1973 song, Every Woman Can Be A Lesbian. I came out, or rather was outed, aged 15 while still at school in 1977, and favoured Marc Bolan and The Jackson Five over feminist hippies strumming guitars. It was not just folk music I felt uncomfortable with. The word “lesbian” was so steeped in negative connotation I could not bring myself to use it. Watching The Killing of Sister George with its gross characterisation of lesbians only compounded my self-hatred. There was no one to talk to, and I knew no other lesbian or gay person.

I had been outed by horrible boys at school who I refused to shag. They had noticed the rather blatant signs of my massive crush on my best friend. As I was enduring heckles of “lez be having you” and “dirty lezzer” in the school yard, my crush, who had been my best friend, was off asserting her heterosexuality with several of the boys.

I have no idea what would have happened to me had I not met David. My Saturday job was in a hair salon in my home town of Darlington, where David was a trainee. In between sweeping floors and washing heads we would tentatively size each other up. One day I said to David, “I like girls” and he said, “I like boys”, and linking arms we strolled down to the gay bar in the next town, using each other for protection.

Today I am a very happy lesbian and would recommend it for any woman. I have gone from self-doubt and loathing to sheer militancy and pride, and I have the pioneers of Gay Liberation and feminism to thank for my happy state.

The Gay Liberation Front (GLF) was founded in 1970, and its first meeting comprised of 19 gay men and lesbians. It took its inspiration from the early days of second wave feminism, was radical and uncompromising. Its manifesto was revolutionary and uncompromising, and eschewed the accepted explanation for homosexuality, ie that same sex attraction resulted from a rogue gene:

The truth is that there are no proven systematic differences between male and female, apart from the obvious biological ones. Male and female genitals and reproductive systems are different, and so are certain other physical characteristics, but all differences of temperament, aptitudes and so on, are the result of upbringing and social pressures. They are not inborn.

The GLF fizzled out, with most of the lesbians leaving the men behind, complaining of sexism. Many of those women began to campaign for women’s liberation, which, they argued, would automatically result in women being free to escape the confines of heterosexuality.

By the time I was dancing to Ring My Bell in the gay disco with women so butch they looked like they could kick-start their own vibrators, the Gay Liberation Front’s hey day was over. But feminism was at its peak, and it was in 1979 that I met the Leeds women, all of them lesbians, all speaking about their sexuality as a benefit of women’s liberation and freedom from what Adrianne Rich named “compulsory heterosexuality”.

In 1981 the Leeds Revolutionary Feminist Group published the pamphlet: Love Your Enemy? The Debate Between Heterosexual Feminism and Political Lesbianism (LYE). “All feminists can and should be lesbians,” the group pronounced. Appealing to their heterosexual sisters, the group urged them to get rid of men “from your beds and your heads”.

The publication of LYE was the one of the first times that the notion of sexuality as a choice had been publicly raised in the UK women's movement. Most feminists at the time believed that sexual attraction was innate and that there was no possibility of exercising choice over one’s sexual preferences.

If I had a piece of North Face clothing for every time a straight woman has said to me, “I wish I were a lesbian, but I just don’t fancy women” I would be able to open a Dyke Wear Emporium.

The Leeds feminists were not the first to pose the question about sexual preference being a liberatory choice. Indeed, they were inspired by a book by Jill Johnston, an American writer, who gained international notoriety in 1973 with the publication of her collection of essays Lesbian Nation: the Feminist Solution. Johnston argued that women should not sleep with “the enemy” (men), but should become lesbians as a revolutionary act.

I loved the sense that I had chosen my sexuality and rather than being ashamed or apologetic about it, as many women were, I could be proud, and see it as a privilege. In those days I would wear badges proclaiming “We recruit!” and “How dare you assume I am a heterosexual?”

But things have changed, and, these days we appear to have returned to the essentialist notion that we are either “born that way” or will be unthinkingly heterosexual. We have given up our choice for a medical diagnosis with no scientific basis.

When US actor Cynthia Nixon announced that she was a lesbian in 2012, having previously been in a heterosexual relationship, she proudly added, “I've been straight and I've been gay, and gay is better.” Nixon, despite being a positive role model for those in the closet, and a massive challenge to the bigots who like to assume we are full of self-loathing, was pilloried by some of the LGBT community who accused her of playing into the gay-hater’s hands. If you can “choose” to be gay, they will argue we can “choose not to be”.  

I and many other lesbians do not wish to dance to the bigot’s tune. Despite the prejudice and bigotry lesbians face, even today after 45 years of gay liberation, being able to reject heterosexuality can be a positive choice under patriarchy. In the brave words of Cynthia Nixon,

“…for me, it is a choice. I understand that for many people it’s not, but for me it’s a choice, and you don’t get to define my gayness for me.”

“Straight Expectations”(Guardian Books, £12.99) by Julie Bindel is out now

Will Dermis Garcia Be Prize, Future Superstar of 2014 International Class?



One name you are going to hear about a lot over the next 24 hours is Dermis Garcia.

Garcia, a 16-year-old shortstop from the Dominican Republic, is viewed as one of the top prospects eligible to sign on July 2—the first day of the 2014-2015 international signing period—and he is expected to receive one of the largest bonuses among players in this year’s class.

According to Kiley McDaniel of Scouting Baseball, the New York Yankees are widely believed to have a deal in place with Garcia for $3 million, as the organization is expected to blow past international spending restrictions and sign a slew of international prospects.

That said, Garcia isn’t considered to be the top prospect in this year’s class. In fact, where he ranks among this year’s J2 players depends on whom you ask, which in turn raises questions as to whether or not he’ll ever emerge as the prize of this year’s class.

Before his signing is made official on Wednesday, here’s what you need to know about Dermis Garcia.

Ben Badler of Baseball America (subscription required) recently ranked Garcia as the No. 9 prospect for this year’s international signing period, proclaiming the right-handed slugger has “70 raw power that rates as the best in the class.”

Meanwhile, Garcia’s power also caught McDaniel’s eye (subscription required) during a scouting excursion to the Dominican Republic in January:

Garcia is stronger now but also matured, growing into his 62/190 frame and leveraging those newfound abilities in a more efficient swing. Garcia launched a number of homers to his pull side yesterday, flashing plus raw power that was also the best Ive seen this week.

However, Badler also expressed concern about the utility of Garcia’s power at maturity, noting his lack of plate discipline while questioning the potential development of his hit tool:

The question every scout seems to have is whether Garcia can make the adjustments to get to his power in games. Garcia can crush a mistake, but he often sells out for power, flying open early and getting caught off balance with a fair dose of swing-and-miss in his game, which some think is tied to pitch recognition and plate discipline.

McDaniel isn’t as worried about Garcia’s approach, and he suggests that any mechanical issues with his swing can be ironed out as a professional:

While his balance and hitting tools are both very good, Im not nuts about how he loads his hands and how his handsfirst movement from the loaded position is sometimes down, though both should be fixable with pro instruction given Garcias age.

While it’s easy to project Garcia as a middle-of-the-order hitter when all is said and done with his development, evaluators have expressed doubt over the 16-year-old’s ability to remain at shortstop long term.

Garcia “won’t play shortstop,” according to Badler, but “has a chance to play third base, depending on how big he gets.”

McDaniel, on the other hand, isn’t comfortable writing him off at shortstop just yet:

Garcia has enough defensive ability that you cant rule out him sticking at shortstop. There have been examples, like Xander Bogaerts and Reid Brignac among recent AL East examples, of bigger athletes that look ticketed for third base in A-Ball that eventually worked their way into becoming big league shortstops with work. If I had to guess, Id say Garcia ends up at third base and that seems to be the assumption with scouts, but the bat easily profiles if that happens.

In general, Garcia’s defensive tools and skill sets seemingly are a cleaner fit at third base than shortstop.

Though he possesses average speed at the present, Badler believes Garcia “will slow down as he gets bigger,” even suggesting that his size could push him to right field. However, he makes sure to mention Garcia’s plus arm and notes that “his hands should work at third base.”

Meanwhile, Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com, who ranked Garcia as the No. 1 international prospect in this year’s class, also praises the youngster’s arm strength while offering several generous player comparisons: “Some believe hes going to have a plus-arm in the future, and hes been compared to Twins prospect Miguel Sano, a teenage Alex Rodriguez and a young Shawon Dunston.”

Basically, Badler, McDaniel and Sanchez are in agreement that Garcia’s power is one of the loudest tools (if not the loudest) among hitters in this year’s class and will give him the chance to be a star in the major leagues.

Yet, it’s also clear that there’s an enormous gap between the 16-year-old’s present ability and overall potential—as is the case with any international player his age—which in turn makes it difficult to accurately project his future in professional baseball.

However, it’s a reasonable assumption that the Yankees will be gambling on Garcia’s enormous power potential should the organization ultimately sign him on July 2, as McDaniel predicts.

Garcia may not be the best prospect in this year’s international class, but his combination of size and raw power, and therefore his high ceiling, certainly provides something to dream on. He’ll likely require numerous seasons in the minors to refine his game, but the finished product could be a middle-of-the-order monster.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Stock Up, Stock Down for San Francisco Giants’ Top 10 Prospects for Week 13



The San Francisco Giants are as happy as any team to be out of June, a month during which they saw their huge lead in the NL West evaporate thanks to a 4-15 run heading into July.

But the big league club hasn’t been the only part of the organization that has struggled. Whether injury or simply poor performance has been the case, many of the teams’ top prospects have disappointed through the halfway point of the minor league season.

It’s no secret that the Giants aren’t exactly loaded in the prospect department, but it’s particularly disconcerting to see those expected to succeed—the organization’s top young players—having such poor performances. Let’s take a look.

 

10. Clayton Blackburn

2014 Stats

8 GS, 2-5, 3.40 ERA, 9 BB, 32 K, 42.1 IP (Double-A Richmond)

2 GS, 0-1, 3.60 ERA, 0 BB, 9 K, 5 IP (Rookie)

 

Overview

Blackburn shares a first name with the game’s best pitcher, and while he’s not quite on Kershaw’s level, the 6’2” right-hander has still put together a pretty nice season at Double-A Richmond.

But like so many other top Giants prospects, Blackburn has been hurt for a great deal of the season. He put up a 3.40 ERA in Triple-A with a solid 32/9 strikeout-to-walk ratio prior to his injury, but he hasn’t played since May 19, with the exception of a few rehab appearances in rookie ball.

Overall, the prognosis has been positive for Blackburn, but he’ll have to find a way to maintain his strong performance after a long absence when he finally returns to Richmond, which could be coming soon.

 

Stock

Even

 

9. Joe Panik

2014 Stats

8 G, .174/.240/.217, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 0 R (Majors)

70 G, .321/.382/.447, 14 2B, 5 HR, 45 RBI, 50 R (Triple-A Fresno)

 

Overview

Struggles at the big league club necessitated Panik’s recent promotion, though the second baseman also helped his case by putting together a fantastic season in Triple-A.

Panik hasn’t found the same success that he achieved in the minors through the small sample size of 25 plate appearances with the big league club, but it’s not time to “Panik” just yet. (Har dee har.) The young prospect is still working through some early struggles, especially on the defensive side, but with Brandon Hicks’ even worse play and Marco Scutaro’s return nowhere in sight, Panik might be around to stay.

At the very least, seeing Panik put up such impressive numbers at Triple-A after a down season the year before has been one of the few successes in a system that has not had much to celebrate overall.

 

Stock

Even

 

8. Ty Blach

2014 Stats

15 GS, 6-4, 2.75 ERA, 20 BB, 50 K, 78.2 IP

 

Overview

If you’re looking for something to complain about with Blach this season, he hasn’t struck out very many batters, which doesn’t really bode well for his future at the higher levels.

But that’s about it. The left-hander out of Creighton has made a nice transition from High-A, posting a .275 ERA across 15 starts in Richmond, and he’s really on a roll right now. By allowing two runs on Sunday, Blach surrendered multiple runs for the first time since June 4, a span of four starts.

The consistency has been a huge plus. In fact, Blach has yet to allow more than three earned runs in any start this season, and he’s also surrendered just two unearned runs all year. He hasn’t been lights out by any means, but to have a dependable arm like that is a big advantage for any club. Blach even struck out nine batters in six innings in his second most recent start, which could be the start of a positive trend.

 

Stock

Up

 

7. Heath Hembree

2014 Stats

33 G, 1-1, 15 SV, 3.58 ERA, 9 BB, 36 K, 32.2 IP

 

Overview

As I wrote last week, Hembree’s unimpressive ERA isn’t very indicative of his performance in 2014, as his total has been skewed by one very poor outing.

That doesn’t let him off the hook for some general inconsistency, but even with the struggles here and there, Hembree has good peripherals (36 strikeouts vs. nine walks), and he ranks second in the Pacific Coast League in saves. His strikeout rate has also been especially promising (9.9 per nine), which is right in line with the rates he has posted throughout his career.

With Sergio Romo faltering recently, perhaps the Giants’ supposed future closer will have a shot at the big league job before long. Remember, he nearly made it to the majors out of spring training this year...

 

Stock

Even

 

6. Christian Arroyo

2014 Stats

31 G, .203/.226/.271, 3 2B, 1 HR, 14 RBI, 10 R (Single-A Augusta)

9 G, .184/.244/.342, 1 2B, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 4 R (Low-A Salem-Keizer)

 

Overview

A thumb injury has limited Arroyo’s playing time this season, but that’s far from his only worry. When healthy, the Giants' 2013 first-round pick has struggled mightily, including a concerning .184 batting average in 38 at-bats in Low-A, where he’s played in nine games so far.

What looked like an early-season slump for Arroyo has extended into a prolonged slide that has to be seen as a legitimate concern for an organization that put so much stock in a player who wasn’t expected to be drafted so early in 2013.

But it’s still too early to panic. Arroyo has played in only 40 total games this year, and he was drafted in the first round for a reason. He also batted .326 last year, so we know what he can do. It’s just a matter of proving it.

 

Stock

Down

 

5. Mac Williamson

2014 Stats

23 G, .318/.420/.506, 7 2B, 3 HR, 11 RBI, 16 R

 

Overview (From Last Week)

Though Williamson’s stock is technically down thanks to his season-ending Tommy John surgery, his excellent performance prior to the injury makes it hard to penalize a hitter who has consistently put up good numbers for the Giants organization.

The good news is that Williamson will likely be ready for spring training because position players generally recover from Tommy John surgery faster than pitchers do. When Williamson does come back, however, he’ll need to get a move on. He turns 24 next season and still has yet to make it to Double-A.

 

Stock

N/A

 

4. Adalberto Mejia

2014 Stats

14 GS, 4-6, 5.73 ERA, 18 BB, 55 K, 66 IP

 

Overview

For the first time in his professional career, Mejia is having a down year, and it’s a major down year. With a 5.73 ERA as a result of 79 hits allowed (including eight homers) in 66 innings, it’s clear that the jump to Double-A has proven to be very difficult on the recently turned 21-year-old.

For most pitchers, their first struggle in the minors is the first struggle in their baseball lives, and the way in which they respond to that first bump in the road is very telling when it comes to their future success. It could say a lot about Mejia if he can respond well to the first signs of adversity in his minor league career.

Mejia also still has the stuff to be a solid pitcher, and he’s very young for the Double-A level. That being said, he’ll also need to rebound from this tough patch going forward.

 

Stock

Down

 

3. Chris Stratton

2014 Stats

14 GS, 5-7, 4.79 ERA, 30 BB, 80 K, 77 IP

 

Overview

It’s fair to say that 2014 hasn’t gone as Stratton hoped, but his season hasn’t been all bad. A major positive has been the strikeout total, aided by Stratton’s 10 strikeouts in five innings on Friday. He’s also putting together better starts as of late, with a pair of seven-inning appearances in June and his recent double-digit strikeout performance.

Still, control is an undeniable issue with Stratton, and he’s also allowed an alarming 12 home runs. That 4.79 ERA is also still much too high for the Giants’ liking, though if Stratton continues to pitch as he has been recently, he won’t have to worry about that anymore.

 

Stock

Even

 

2. Edwin Escobar

2014 Stats

17 GS, 3-7, 5.00 ERA, 29 BB, 88 K, 95.1 IP

 

Overview

Escobar continues the trend of top Giants pitching prospects with ugly stats this year, but unlike some others, he’s improving.

Back-to-back seven-inning outings have put Escobar on the right track, and he was recently named to the Futures Game to boot. With an ERA that’s on the verge of finally dipping below five and a couple of recent successful starts to speak of, Escobar could be on track for a rebound as he continues to learn how to pitch in the higher levels of the minors.

 

Stock

Up

 

1. Kyle Crick

2014 Stats

13 GS, 5-3, 3.52 ERA, 38 BB, 60 K, 53.2 IP

 

Overview

Crick’s most recent start on June 25 is the epitome of his ability right now. He allowed only one hit in five innings with 10 strikeouts, but he also walked five batters. With a significant lack of command coupled with top-of-the-rotation stuff, it’s easy to see why Crick is the Giants’ best prospect. Similarly, it’s easy to see why he has a ways to go before he’ll be ready to make an impact at the big league level.

The good news is that Crick has been able to post a respectable 3.52 ERA this season, despite walking 6.4 batters per nine innings, which is a testament to his phenomenal repertoire of pitches. But the Giants are looking for Crick to improve his control, as that’s the one thing holding him back right now. As soon as he can learn to consistently command his pitches, Crick can become an instant impact player in the majors.

 

Stock

Even

 

There is a seemingly endless supply of organization prospect lists all over the Internet. For the sake of consistency, this list follows the rankings from Baseball America’s 2014 Top 10 Prospects Index.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Is it time to ban violent sport?



There is no glory in setting out to cause injury to another human being.

We should be promoting sports that aren't effectively formalised pub brawls. Photo: Getty
We should be promoting sports that aren't effectively formalised pub brawls. Photo: Getty

Last week Lance Ferguson-Prayogg died after a white-collar boxing event in Nottingham.  White-collar boxing is a strange modern phenomenon, a violent battle for which graduates only need apply, where MMA meets MBA.

The sport started in New York in the 1980s (well you didn’t think I was going to say Sweden did you?). Bouts now take place around the world including in the UK, with one London club boasting over 1,000 members. Princes William and Harry and Kate Middleton have been to watch charity white collar boxing events staged by their high society chums.

Sadly, “it’s for charity” has become the ultimate 21st-century excuse for things we wouldn’t put up with otherwise: topless calendars, demands for Facebook clicks and unlicensed boxing. What next? Cock fighting for Comic Relief?

The British Boxing Board of Control (BBBoC) has been making their opposition to unlicensed boxing known for over a decade.

It is outrageous that you can do this without a licence but is it any less offensive that you can do this with a licence? The BBBoC’s main concerns are that participants do not receive MRI head scans and that there is no upper age limit for participation. I can’t help thinking if a scan showed brain material present in the skull, that’d be a good reason not to allow anyone to punch it. The fact is that from Davey Moore to Kim Duk-koo to James Murray there is no getting away from death as a side effect of a sport where the whole objective is to render your opponent unconscious.

White collar boxing, along with the Ultimate Fighting Championship or cage-fighting, is a recent phenomenon. But the principle behind them strikes me as grossly outdated. We need to draw a line between sport and violence. Yes, sport often carries a risk of injury and there is something noble about taking that risk. But there should be no glory in setting out to cause injury to another human being.

As a feminist I’m all about equality, but that doesn’t always mean taking the status quo for men and giving it to women. In 2005 in Denver, Colorado, Becky Zerlentes became the first woman known to have died from injuries sustained during a sanctioned boxing match. This is not the equality I want.

I won’t deny that I was initially swept along with the surge of enthusiasm for letting women participate in Olympic boxing. But should boxing be in the Olympics at all? I’d rather we focused our efforts on the other gender-exclusionary sport: the lack of a men’s synchronised swimming category.

The Olympic authorities say that male synchronised swimming is not popular enough. This is like saying “you can get in the lifeboat when you dry off”. Or (and as a comedian I’ve heard this one a few times) “you’d be perfect for our TV show, but you’re not famous enough”.

Let’s use the power of the Olympics to promote the sports that aren’t effectively formalised pub brawls. Or bring it into line with fencing and many other martial arts by using modern technology to detect contact without the need for concussion. This wouldn’t stop you or I going to the gym and punching a bag, learning self-defence or high-kicking our way through a pile of breeze blocks.

When I mention to friends my idea that we should put an end to boxing and cage-fighting they jokingly warn me to focus on annoying people who aren’t so strong and prone to violence. It’s a fair point but also exactly the one I want to make. If we want a society where the threat of violence isn’t a factor in decision-making, we need everyone in our society to understand viscerally that violence is always wrong.

Please do not bother trying to tell me that boxing and “fight” clubs are where the young men, and now gloriously equal women, of Britain “get their aggression out”. This is profoundly unscientific. It’s like suggesting Suarez be given a lump of raw meat to gnaw on at half-time. Exercising regularly makes people want to exercise more. Which is great if you’re a bag-puncher or even a synchronised swimmer.

The big money professional fights would go overseas. But are we really involved with violence for the money? The 21st century deserves a culture free from violence and the glorification of violence. We are better off without these things. Bye then. And please take Luis Suarez with you.

Is it time to ban violent sport?



There is no glory in setting out to cause injury to another human being.

We should be promoting sports that aren't effectively formalised pub brawls. Photo: Getty
We should be promoting sports that aren't effectively formalised pub brawls. Photo: Getty

Last week Lance Ferguson-Prayogg died after a white-collar boxing event in Nottingham.  White-collar boxing is a strange modern phenomenon, a violent battle for which graduates only need apply, where MMA meets MBA.

The sport started in New York in the 1980s (well you didn’t think I was going to say Sweden did you?). Bouts now take place around the world including in the UK, with one London club boasting over 1,000 members. Princes William and Harry and Kate Middleton have been to watch charity white collar boxing events staged by their high society chums.

Sadly, “it’s for charity” has become the ultimate 21st-century excuse for things we wouldn’t put up with otherwise: topless calendars, demands for Facebook clicks and unlicensed boxing. What next? Cock fighting for Comic Relief?

The British Boxing Board of Control (BBBoC) has been making their opposition to unlicensed boxing known for over a decade.

It is outrageous that you can do this without a licence but is it any less offensive that you can do this with a licence? The BBBoC’s main concerns are that participants do not receive MRI head scans and that there is no upper age limit for participation. I can’t help thinking if a scan showed brain material present in the skull, that’d be a good reason not to allow anyone to punch it. The fact is that from Davey Moore to Kim Duk-koo to James Murray there is no getting away from death as a side effect of a sport where the whole objective is to render your opponent unconscious.

White collar boxing, along with the Ultimate Fighting Championship or cage-fighting, is a recent phenomenon. But the principle behind them strikes me as grossly outdated. We need to draw a line between sport and violence. Yes, sport often carries a risk of injury and there is something noble about taking that risk. But there should be no glory in setting out to cause injury to another human being.

As a feminist I’m all about equality, but that doesn’t always mean taking the status quo for men and giving it to women. In 2005 in Denver, Colorado, Becky Zerlentes became the first woman known to have died from injuries sustained during a sanctioned boxing match. This is not the equality I want.

I won’t deny that I was initially swept along with the surge of enthusiasm for letting women participate in Olympic boxing. But should boxing be in the Olympics at all? I’d rather we focused our efforts on the other gender-exclusionary sport: the lack of a men’s synchronised swimming category.

The Olympic authorities say that male synchronised swimming is not popular enough. This is like saying “you can get in the lifeboat when you dry off”. Or (and as a comedian I’ve heard this one a few times) “you’d be perfect for our TV show, but you’re not famous enough”.

Let’s use the power of the Olympics to promote the sports that aren’t effectively formalised pub brawls. Or bring it into line with fencing and many other martial arts by using modern technology to detect contact without the need for concussion. This wouldn’t stop you or I going to the gym and punching a bag, learning self-defence or high-kicking our way through a pile of breeze blocks.

When I mention to friends my idea that we should put an end to boxing and cage-fighting they jokingly warn me to focus on annoying people who aren’t so strong and prone to violence. It’s a fair point but also exactly the one I want to make. If we want a society where the threat of violence isn’t a factor in decision-making, we need everyone in our society to understand viscerally that violence is always wrong.

Please do not bother trying to tell me that boxing and “fight” clubs are where the young men, and now gloriously equal women, of Britain “get their aggression out”. This is profoundly unscientific. It’s like suggesting Suarez be given a lump of raw meat to gnaw on at half-time. Exercising regularly makes people want to exercise more. Which is great if you’re a bag-puncher or even a synchronised swimmer.

The big money professional fights would go overseas. But are we really involved with violence for the money? The 21st century deserves a culture free from violence and the glorification of violence. We are better off without these things. Bye then. And please take Luis Suarez with you.

Projecting All 30 MLB Teams’ All-Star Representative



There are all sorts of factors that go into constructing MLB All-Star Game rosters. 

There's the fan vote, the players' ballot and the selections made by the All-Star managers. To further complicate the equation, the rules state that all 30 clubs must be represented at the Midsummer Classic. 

What follows are projections for the 30 players who are most likely to represent their teams at the All-Star Game on July 15. Plenty of teams will have more than one player in attendance at Target Field in Minnesota, but here are the standouts who are locks to take part.

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MLB International Free Agency 2014: Preview, Predictions and Prospects to Watch



Wednesday officially marks the start of the 2014 MLB international signing period, and while the process has become far more regulated with the addition of signing bonus pool restrictions, it remains perhaps the biggest crapshoot in all of professional sports.

After all, most of these prospects are still just 16-year-old kids who have seen limited scouting exposure playing in Latin America, and teams will soon be shelling out seven-figure bonuses banking on them living up to their potential.

There is undoubtedly some risk, but these days, teams almost have to get involved on the international market, with so many star-caliber players coming out of the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and, on a smaller scale, Colombia, Mexico, Taiwan and South Korea.

So as teams look to find the next superstar international free agent, here is everything you need to know about the signing process, the top available prospects and the leading suitors to land each top prospect.

 

*Prospect rankings reflect a prospect's average ranking position in the top 30 international prospect lists from Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com and Ben Badler of Baseball America.

*Top suitor predictions also taken from those two sources, as many prospects already have verbal agreements in place prior to the signing period opening.

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Rick Porcello’s Rare Dominance Shining Bright in Star-Studded Tigers Rotation



Rick Porcello recorded zero strikeouts Tuesday night against the Oakland A's en route to his second consecutive complete game shutout.

Somehow, that made it even more impressive.

Instead of racking up the Ks, Porcello used his bowling ball sinker to induce a procession of ground balls off the bats of the A's and lead the Detroit Tigers to a 3-0 win. 

Most impressively, it was Porcello's second consecutive shutout. And it came against the hard-hitting A's, owners of baseball's highest-scoring offense. 

With Tuesday's gem, Porcello became the first Tigers pitcher since 1986 to throw back-to-back shutouts (the last guy to do it was Jack Morris, per MLB.com).

He also extended his scoreless streak to 25.1 innings. Prior to his last shutout against the Texas Rangers (the first of his career) Porcello tossed six scoreless frames against the Cleveland Indians.

No one has crossed home plate against him since June 15.

"I don't want to jinx it," Porcello said when asked about the streak, per the Associated Press (via ABC News). "All I know is that I'm throwing the ball really well right now."

Porcello's less than halfway to Orel Hershiser's all-time record of 59 straight scoreless innings, set in 1988, but he's still in rarefied territory. 

He's also looking more and more like one of the best arms in the Tigers' star-studded staff.

Porcello is now tied for the Major League lead with 11 wins, and his 3.12 ERA and 1.13 WHIP are second only to Anibal Sanchez among Detroit starters.

As ace Justin Verlander has seen his velocity drop and ERA skyrocket and Max Scherzer has so far failed to find his Cy Young form, Porcello has stepped up to fill the void—and help keep the Tigers atop the AL Central.  

"Obviously, Rick is throwing the ball extremely well right now," Detroit skipper Brad Ausmus told the AP after Tuesday's win. "He had a great curveball and changeup tonight, and the sinker was better than that. It makes my job a lot easier when the starter has only thrown 88 pitches through eight innings."

Porcello's final pitch count was an economical 95, the result of his zero-strikeout, zero-walk performance. 

It may not be as flashy as vintage Verlander and his triple-digit gas. But when that sinker's working, when baseball's premier offensive team is pounding pitch after pitch into the dirt, it's every bit as effective.

Last year Porcello finished with a 4.32 ERA in 177 innings, similar to the numbers he's put up in each of his five big league seasons. Serviceable, in other words, but unspectacular.

So far this season, he's erred more on the side of spectacular. What's the difference? Here's Porcello's take, per the Detroit Free Press:

I’ve been able to work out of some trouble this year that maybe in prior years I haven’t been so good at. I’ve been able to slow the game down a little bit better and recognize situations and understand when is the time to pound them with sinkers and when is the time to mix it up, especially with runners on base. In years past, I’ve fallen into the habit of throwing a lot of sinkers because that’s my best pitch and maybe not necessarily setting it up and going about it in the right way.

The numbers back that up: Porcello is throwing the sinker less frequently than in any season since his 2009 rookie campaign, according to FanGraphs, and it's yielding better results. Opposing batters have a .252 batting average on balls in play against Porcello this year, compared to .300 last year (some of the credit certainly goes to the Detroit defense).

His teammates are digging the new and improved Porcello, even if it makes their lives less exciting.

"To be honest, it was pretty boring out there," outfielder Torii Hunter joked after Tuesday's game, which saw 17 outs recorded on the ground, per the AP. Only two other pitchers this year, ESPN.com notes, have gotten that many ground-ball outs in a game.

If that's what passes for boring, the Tigers will take it. 

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Ranking the Cincinnati Reds’ Best All-Star Game Candidates



The Cincinnati Reds are entering the break as one of the hottest teams in baseball and have several deserving All-Star candidates. Cincinnati has gone 20-10 over their past 30 games, improving their record to 43-39.  

The cast representing the Reds at the 2014 All-Star Game will have a different look this season. Cincinnati's usual suspect of Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto will all likely be watching the game at home. 

Only one of the Reds' five candidates on this list has appeared in an All-Star Game. While it is unlikely that all five of these players make it, each player has made a strong case to be included.

These players are ranked from the least likely to make it to guaranteed. Johnny Cueto is a mortal lock, but Devin Mesoraco and the others are on the bubble and could fall either way. 

Here are the Reds' top five All-Star Game candidates.

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Raise the Jolly Roger! Pittsburgh Pirates Clicking on All Cylinders



The Pittsburgh Pirates entered a three-game series Monday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks knowing they were playing great baseball lately, having won seven of the team's last nine games.  

Thanks to a late offensive surge Monday, the Pirates have now gone 8-2 in their last 10 games, as they defeated the Diamondbacks 3-2 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh.  

Arizona's Wade Miley was dominant, keeping the Pirates scoreless through the first eight innings. Pittsburgh's Jeff Locke was impressive as well, allowing two runs in 8.0 innings pitched.  

With his team leading 2-0 in the bottom of the ninth, Miley headed back out of the dugout and onto the mound, looking to notch his first major league complete game shutout.  

However, the Pirates have showed us all the team's theme in 2014 is the tendency to come alive late. 

After reaching the postseason for the first time since 1992 in 2013, Pittsburgh got off to a poor start this season, going 23-27 through its first 50 games.  

Now, we are witnessing a great turnaround as the Pirates have climbed to three games over .500 with a record of 43-40.  

When the Pirates stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the ninth, they looked like a completely different team compared to the first eight innings.  

There are a lot of factors that have contributed to the team's recent surge, and we had the chance to see the majority of them in action in the final inning Monday.  

Leading off the bottom of the inning was Neil Walker, who has very quietly risen to the occasion of being a team leader in Pittsburgh. Walker got the ball rolling by singling to center field, putting the tying run at the plate for the next factor.  

The major league debut of rookie phenom Gregory Polanco had been highly anticipated by fans all over the country due to the great things they heard about him. Instead of having a "do-it-myself" approach, Polanco showed his discipline at the plate by slapping Miley's pitch into center field for another single.  

With the pinch-hit single, Polanco raised his batting average to .296 with 24 hits through his first 20 games played. He has provided the type of spark so far for the Pirates that Yasiel Puig did in 2013 for the Los Angeles Dodgers.  

After Addison Reed replaced Miley with runners on first and second and no one out, one of the biggest surprises in the entire league stepped up to the plate.  

Josh Harrison played just 60 games in 2013 with the Pirates, batting .250 with three home runs. In 2014, he has already played in 67 games with a batting average of .300. The hot hitter is making his case for a ticket to his first-ever All-Star Game in Minnesota on July 15.  

Harrison showed the Pirates have the ability to win games by playing small-ball, and his sacrifice fly to center field put runners on the corners with just one out.  

Still, the Diamondbacks were just a ground ball away from turning a game-ending double play and ending the Pirates' winning streak.  

With the game on the line, the Pirates stuck with Starling Marte at the plate, and he came through for his club, driving in both runners on base with a double to center field. Marte had a great season in 2013, batting .280 in 135 games and being one of the main reasons the Pirates made the postseason.  

However, Marte is just another example of the Pirates' late surge, as he struggled mightily early on this season. After going 0-3 in a 1-0 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers on June 8, Marte's batting average dropped to a poor .230 on the season.  

Since then he has been on fire, hitting safely in 14 of his last 17 games played. He also has six multi-hit games during that span, as opposing pitchers have had trouble keeping him off the bases.  

After intentionally walking reigning National League Most Valuable Player Andrew McCutchen, Ike Davis replaced Gaby Sanchez as a pinch hitter.  

Davis has fit in well in Pittsburgh after being traded by the New York Mets in early April. On Monday night in Pittsburgh, he got his first glimpse of Pirates glory, as his pinch-hit single propelled his team to a dramatic comeback victory.  

To add onto the impressive performance on offense when the team needed it the most, the Pirates are welcoming the newly acquired Ernesto Frieri with open arms.  

After former closer Jason Grilli had struggled mightily both to stay healthy and to perform, the Pirates traded him to the Los Angeles Angels for Frieri, who had also struggled as the closer for his team.  

Since his arrival in Pittsburgh, Frieri has thrived out of the bullpen, throwing a pair of scoreless innings in two appearances. He also notched his first win as a Pirate Monday night.  

It is safe to say the Pirates are clicking on all cylinders right now as a team, as they have put themselves right back into the mix of teams that will be in the hunt for a berth in the playoffs.  

Sure, it may have taken the Pirates more time to get going than they would have liked, but they have come alive with plenty of games left to play. One thing is for sure about the 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates: they will never just roll over and die, and they will scratch runs across the plate in many different ways.  

The Pirates are currently rolling, and it looks like they won't be stopping any time soon.   

 

*Statistics Courtesy of MLB.com.

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Young Miami Marlins Fan Who Freaked out on Camera Returns for Another Dance



A young Miami Marlins fan earned national attention when he performed a very interesting dance on the team's fan cam, and now he's back to show that he can dance with the best of them.

The Marlins showed him on their official Vine with Dancing Tony, a known Marlins fan, and they broke it down together:

In case you had forgotten, here's the Dancing Kid's original dance:

The kid's got moves.

[Marlins, h/t Deadspin]

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Ranking the 10 Worst Acquisitions in New York Mets History



Since joining the league in 1962, the New York Mets have excelled at making some of the worst player acquisitions in baseball history.

Due to mismanagement, front-office ineptitude, poor player development and a myriad of other reasons, the Mets have always seemed a step behind other teams in player evaluation. As a result, some of the trades and free-agent acquisitions over the years have been disastrous.

Mets fans, grab some ice cream. Here are the 10 worst trade or free-agent acquisitions in Mets history.

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Jake Arrieta’s Very Real Breakout Gives Cubs an Ace to Build Around



There's what Jake Arrieta used to be, and then there's what Jake Arrieta is.

It's an important distinction to make. What Arrieta used to be is a major disappointment. What he is now, however, is an ace-level pitcher who should be a rock in the Chicago Cubs' rotation for years to come.

Wednesday will mark the one-year anniversary of the Cubs acquiring Arrieta—along with Pedro Stropfrom the Baltimore Orioles for veteran right-hander Scott Feldman. For the Cubs, the trade meant swapping a successful reclamation project for a longer-term, higher-ceiling reclamation project.

Arrieta had racked up a 5.46 ERA in parts of three seasons with the Orioles, but he had been a top-100 prospect as recently as 2010 and was still only 27. 

"We think Arrieta, getting him out of the American League East and getting him into our environment, we're hopeful he can turn the corner," said Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer, via ESPN.com.

The now-28-year-old right-hander showed progress with the Cubs in 2013, posting a respectable 3.66 ERA in nine starts. If nothing else, it was something to build off.

And man oh man has he built off it in 2014.

After flirting with a perfect game against the Cincinnati Reds on June 24, Arrieta flirted with a no-hitter in a 2-0 Cubs win over the Boston Red Sox Monday night. And though he settled for 7.2 innings of one-hit, shutout ball, he still wrapped up the most impressive June of any pitcher this side of Clayton Kershaw.

As Carrie Muskat of MLB.com noted:

After his superb June, Arrieta's ERA for the season now stands at 1.81.

And that's not a misleading ERA, as Arrieta's earned it by getting better at doing everything that matters, via FanGraphs:

Whereas the old Arrieta was mediocre-to-bad at striking guys out, limiting walks and home runs and keeping the ball on the ground, the new Arrieta is now quite good at these things. 

And it's to his credit that he's made this happen.

Because of how big a problem walks had been for him, what might stand out the most is Arrieta's improved walk rate. That's what happens when a guy goes from a 61.2 strike rate to a 63.8 strike rate.

And it's how this has happened that's really interesting.

Rather than simply hitting the strike zone, Arrieta now seems more interested in living on the edges of the zone. BaseballSavant.com can tell us that he's gotten pretty good at that, and that site and FanGraphs can tell us how he's also enjoyed two corresponding benefits: more called strikes and more swings outside the zone.

Like so:

How is Arrieta doing it, exactly?

Well, these things are usually mechanical in nature. Arrieta's improvement, apparently, is no different.

“Probably 90 percent of pitching for me as a starter is really getting in tune with your body and being able to repeat a delivery a hundred times in a row,” Arrieta recently told ESPN Chicago's Sahadev Sharma. “And really, that’s the goal. If you can repeat a delivery consistently, you’re gonna see the benefits of that in your command."

Arrieta indeed has done a better job of repeating his delivery. We can tell that by using TexasLeaguers.com to compare his 2012-2013 release points...

To his 2014 release points:

What you see above is a much tighter cluster than in the 2012-2013 graphic. Arrieta's release-point consistency isn't on par with Cliff Lee's just yet, but it's definitely better.

There's where his improved command is coming from. And while that also helps explain how he's gotten harder to hit, another equally important explanation there has to do with Arrieta's new pitch selection.

The one thing Arrieta always packed before 2014 was good heat. And he still does, as FanGraphs has him 17th among starters (minimum 60 innings) with an average fastball of 93.5 miles per hour.

But Arrieta no longer relies so heavily on his hard stuff. Whereas he never threw fewer than 60 percent fastballs between 2010 and 2013, he's now throwing only 51.3 percent fastballs.

According to Brooks Baseball, part of that entails Arrieta throwing four-seamers less frequently than ever. Per the pitch-type benchmarks Harry Pavlidis offered at Hardball Times, four-seamers have easily the lowest ground-ball rate and easily the highest fly-ball rate of all pitches. As such, we're looking at a solid explanation for Arrieta's increased ground-ball habit and decreased home run habit.

But the big change in Arrieta's pitch selection concerns the use of his slider, which has skyrocketed to a career-high 25.9 percent.

And rightfully so.

Arrieta has a pretty good curveball and changeup, too, but his slider is especially nasty. That's largely because of how, per the Baseball Prospectus PITCHf/x leaderboards, his is the fastest slider among starters this year at an average of 89.9 miles per hour. It's a slider with cutter speed.

That's probably why you often hear his slider referred to as a cutter. But the man himself called it a slider in talking to Sharma, and he also explained why he's suddenly using it so much.

“The change of plane is something that obviously yields more swings and misses,” he said. “What that depth allows you to do is miss a lot more barrels and get a lot more swings and misses. It’s just something that I’ve kind of toyed around with with different grips and different ways to throw it and it’s just become very comfortable for me.” 

The numbers suggest Arrieta does have a different slider in 2014, and that missing bats has indeed been its specialty:

Pretty good stuff, this. And for the record, the 30 strikeouts Arrieta has picked up on his slider are out of 74 total. That would be one-fifth of his pitches picking up about 40 percent of his strikeouts.

If you want the ingredients for Arrieta's breakout in a nutshell, here they are: He's gone from having Ubaldo Jimenez-ish command to having Greg Maddux-ish command, and what was already a very good arsenal of stuff now revolves around one unhittable offering in particular.

That's not how all breakouts happen, but it's definitely worked for Arrieta. And since he's still just 28 years old, he should be able to ride his breakout through several more prime years.

And that's a happy thought for the Cubs.

It wasn't that long ago that it didn't look like the Cubs were going to have an ace-type starting pitcher in their long-term plans. The best hope on that front involved signing Jeff Samardzija to an extension, but he's made it clear enough he's not interested.

Rather than watch him leave as a free agent after 2015, the Cubs will more than likely trade Samardzija ahead of the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Fellow right-hander Jason Hammelwho's on a one-year deal anyway—is also likely to be dealt, leaving the Cubs with Arrieta, Travis Wood, Edwin Jackson and spare parts for their starting rotation going forward.

Thanks to Arrieta's breakout, that doesn't sound like nearly as dire a situation as it might have been. He's turned into a terrific pitcher, and he's under Chicago's control through 2017.

If the Cubs aren't aggressive in extending Arrieta even further, they could probably do so later. Jackson's $52 million contract will finish in 2016, and the arrival of Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and others in the next few years should help convince Arrieta that Chicago's North Side is a good place to be.

The Cubs acquired Arrieta hoping that he would turn into a part of the team's future. What he's done instead is turn into a big part of the team's future.

I'm guessing they'll take it.

 

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

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Jonny Gomes Rocks Patriotic Batting-Practice Outfit Ahead of USA-Belgium Match



Jonny Gomes really loves America.

On the same day that the United States play Belgium in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, the Boston Red Sox outfielder sported a very patriotic look during batting practice at Fenway Park.

Of course, Gomes also repped the U.S. when the Red Sox made their trip to the White House:

Gomes is a true American.

[Boston Red Sox, Mike Napoli]

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Ranking St. Louis Cardinals’ Best All-Star Game Candidates



When it comes to the Midsummer Classic, the St. Louis Cardinals always represent the Gateway City in style. The annual mid-July contest features the best players from every team, and the Cardinals consistently produce some of the best talent in the National League year in and year out.

As the 2014 All-Star Game nears, three Cardinals will—more than likely—fly north to Minnesota, the site for this year’s contest. 

Starting pitcher and staff ace Adam Wainwright and catcher Yadier Molina are shoo-ins for the NL. Perhaps the most surprising candidate is reliever Pat Neshek, who, if chosen, would be the third member representing the Cardinals at Target Field on July 15.

Assuming Neshek is chosen, here’s how the Cardinals’ best All-Star Game candidates rank based on season statistics and overall performance in the NL. 

 

Yadier Molina

This is a given, and it should be.

Yadier Molina is the best catcher in the game. Period.

(Let the cries for Jonathan Lucroy continue.)

Molina ranks as the Cardinals’ best All-Star Game candidate for many reasons. Not only is he the best at his position, but the hours he puts in studying video, his ability to develop young pitchers, and his overall knowledge and instincts are second to none.

Yadi is hitting .280 this season with seven home runs and 28 RBI. He has yet to find his groove at the plate, but most fans won’t bother worrying about his average until the season is over.

Molina has thrown out 17 of 34 would-be baserunners for a caught-stealing percentage of .500, tops in baseball.

Moreover, Molina’s accomplishments speak for themselves: five-time All-Star, six-time Gold Glove Award winner and two-time Platinum Glove Award winner.

He’s the leader of this team, which is another reason why he’s the No. 1 All-Star Game candidate for the Cardinals.

 

Adam Wainwright

I’ve watched Adam Wainwright drop in a devastating curveball to hitters over his entire big league career, and I can’t help but feel bad for the guys at the plate. They’re helpless as their knees buckle. (See: Carlos Beltran circa 2006 NLCS.)

Wainwright, 32, is the ace of the pitching staff. His ability to turn in quality starts, steal a win for his team and take pressure off the bullpen by working deep into games is vital.

He leads the team in wins (10), ERA as a starter (2.01), innings pitched (116.1), strikeouts (105) and opponent average as a starter (.199).

The two-time Gold Glove Award winner leads the NL in wins above replacement (3.6) and is tied for the league lead in wins.

Wainwright's durability has been crucial to his team’s success over his career. He pitched the most innings in the NL in 2013 (241.2).

If Wainwright received more run support, he could potentially lead the league in wins.

Still, three years removed from elbow reconstruction surgery, Wainwright is having a dominant year for the Cardinals, which is why he comes in as the team's No. 2 All-Star Game candidate.

 

Pat Neshek

There couldn’t be a better story for a relief pitcher this season than that of Pat Neshek.

The veteran hurler and journeyman is having the best season of his eight-year big league career.

Neshek is 2-0 with a 0.83 ERA in 37 appearances. He has the best ERA of any reliever on the club and is tied for the second-most relief appearances.

Molina and Wainwright have overshadowed him, but his story in 2014 has been nothing shy of stellar.

Neshek ranks as the third All-Star Game candidate for the Cardinals, and if he gets in, his teammates will be the first ones to congratulate him.

 

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.

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Mariners’ James Jones Records 4 Hits and 3 Stolen Bases in 1 Game



Seattle Mariners outfielder James Jones had a night to remember Monday against the Houston Astros, as he became just the second player in franchise history to record four hits and three stolen bases in the same game, per MLB Stat of the Day.

Unsurprisingly, the other player to accomplish the feat in an M's uniform was future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki, who registered four hits and four steals in a July 20, 2004 game against the Boston Red Sox.

Batting second and starting in center field, Jones started his historic game in rather inconspicuous fashion with a flyout to left field. It was the last time he'd be retired all night, as each of his following four plate appearances ended with a single.

After his first base knock in the third inning, Jones stole second base then proceeded to also swipe third before ultimately being stranded. He again stole second base after a fifth-inning single but was once again stranded in scoring position.

Jones didn't get much chance to run after his third hit, as the next batter, Robinson Cano, smashed a three-run homer to extend the M's lead to 8-3 in the seventh inning.

Jones got another opportunity in the ninth inning, and while he made the most of it with a base hit, Cano proceeded to single on the first pitch of the following at-bat. Jones perhaps could've tried to steal third base, but with a five-run lead in the ninth inning, it wouldn't have been in good taste.

The 25-year-old rookie hasn't brought much to the table in terms of power this season, but he finished the month of June with 12 steals in 12 attempts while also posting a .292 batting average. Still in search of his first career home run, Jones has proved to be a demon on the basepaths, if nothing else.

 

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Ranking Seattle Mariners’ Best All-Star Game Candidates



For the first time since 2010, the Seattle Mariners will have a position player representative at the All-Star Game.

Robinson Cano will be making the trip to Minnesota on July 15 to play in his fifth consecutive All-Star contest. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, he will join teammate Felix Hernandez, who would be making his fourth straight appearance.

Cano and Hernandez have been virtual locks since the beginning of the season, but they may not be Seattle’s only representatives. The Mariners have two other players who have an outside chance of making the team.

After that, nobody else is realistically in the picture. But based on their season numbers, competition at their respective positions and voting results, four Mariners are candidates for the 2014 MLB All-Star Game.

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