Top 100 Baseball Blog

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

B.J. Hermsen: The Next Big Minnesota Twins Pitching Prospect

Although the Minnesota Twins often seem to find success no matter how flashy their roster or how little they spend in free agency, there is little doubt that they are currently in rebuilding mode. In particular their pitching staff is in dire need of an infusion of talent. The team hopes that some answers can be found among the prospects they are cultivating down on the farm, with BJ Hermsen being one of the young pitchers making one of the most compelling cases for being a long term solution.

Hermsen, a big right-handed starter, was taken in the 6th round of the 2008 MLB draft out of West Delaware High School in Iowa, where he played baseball, football, and basketball. He was absolutely dominant on the pitching mound as a senior, going 10-0 with a 0.63 ERA and 129 strikeouts in 66.2 innings. He originally intended to play collegiately at Oregon State but the Twins convinced him to sign and start his professional career.

The Twins have moved Hermsen slowly thus far in his career and their patience has paid off, as evidenced by the way he threw in 2011 between A and High-A ball. He went 13-8 with a 3.33 ERA, logging a career high 151.1 innings. The ability of a young pitcher to show they can handle a higher load of innings is an important transition and one that Hermsen achieved with flying colors.

Throwing in the low 90’s, with a good breaking ball and an improving changeup, Hermsen is looking to truly break out in 2012. Already he is off to a sizzling start, getting promoted from Fort Myers in High-A to New Britain in Double-A, going a combined 3-1 with a 2.02 ERA in 9 games. Continued results like that will put him on the cusp of the major leagues and give him a shot at helping lead the Twins back to their successful ways.

This past off-season Hermsen shared some of his experiences in baseball and what he is looking forward to for this season. You can also check him out via his Twitter account and join him on his journey through the Twins system.

BJ Hermsen Interview:

Who were your favorite team and player growing up and why?: Growing up, I was a big St. Louis Cardinals fan. I kind of inherited that from my dad when I was little. We would watch their games all the time during the summer when I was younger. As far as a player goes, I always enjoyed watching Greg Maddux. He didn’t necessarily have much velocity, but he just knew how to pitch.

What pitches do you have in your arsenal, and which one do you think you need to improve the most?: I have a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, a slurve, and a change-up. I’m always looking to improve on each one of them, but I’d say my change-up.

Can you run through what your 2008 draft experience was like?: It was hectic and humbling at the same time. It was a bit of a crazy day but when you see your name come up on the screen, it’s exciting. Being able to share that moment with some of my family and friends was extremely grateful.

What do you attribute to the big step forward you took last season?: All the instruction and information I received from our pitching coordinator Eric Rasmussen, the Beloit pitching coach Gary Lucas, and the Fort Myers pitching coach Steve Mintz was very helpful. They’re doing what they do for a reason and it’s because they all have some valuable baseball knowledge to pass along. I just tried to take in as much as I could and use it to my advantage. Having a comfortable and trustworthy relationship with our catchers is also important to me. I’ve been fortunate to work with some good ones so far in minor league ball.

Besides the travel, what was the most difficult aspect of minor league life that you had to get used to?: There are a few aspects that take a bit to get adjusted to. Being away from family is always tough to get used to, especially coming out of high school. Hearing different languages was hard to get used to as well. The eating and sleeping patterns vary week by week depending on where you’re playing. Overall, I can’t complain because I’m able to wake up every day and do something I love.

What are the biggest challenges you believe you still need to conquer before you will be major league ready?: The biggest thing is just staying healthy and getting more innings and experience under my belt. I still have plenty to learn about this game. As you progress towards the top step, the mental part of the game becomes as big of a factor as the physical side. I’m just going to take things pitch by pitch and focus on the little things that will help me become successful.

Now that you have been in the Twins organization for a few years, have you developed any relationships or gotten any good advice from players on the big league roster?: During spring training, the season, or even Instructional League, it’s been phenomenal to have guys like Paul Molitor, Jack Morris, Tom Kelly, and the big league guys around. It’s nice having guys with such great knowledge of the game around to be able to pick their brains about certain things.

If you could do anything about your baseball career to this point differently, what would that be?: In all honesty, I wouldn’t change a thing. Everything happens for a reason and I feel extremely fortunate to be in the position I’m in today.


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Monday, May 28, 2012

Bill Hepler: Wild Man of the New York Mets

Expansion teams typically take a few years to get off the ground before they become established with enough developed talent to contend. One of the first teams that proved this was the New York Mets, who struggled mightily in the years following their inaugural season of 1962. As the franchise got their major league bearings about them, a steady flow of players made their way through New York, filling roster spots and also auditioning for a longer term role with the Mets. The majority of these players failed to stick, but at least got to experience major league action. Bill Hepler was one of the players given a long look, and while he didn’t have a lengthy career, for the summer of 1966 he was able to call himself a major league baseball player.

Hepler was a left-handed pitcher signed by the Washington Senators in 1965. He threw hard but was wild, giving up 124 walks during his first minor league season. His lack of control led to him being left unprotected during the 1965 Rule 5 draft and he was taken by the Mets, who were looking for as much pitching help as possible. Wanting to see what they had, the Mets had Hepler on their roster for the entire 1966 season.

Hepler’s major league experience was a mixed bag. He was 3-3 in 37 games (3 starts) with a 3.52 ERA. On the downside he struck out just 25 batters in 69 innings, while giving up 51 walks and 9 wild pitches. His wildness was maddening, as he gave up only 1 run in his first 11 innings of the year, but walked 10 and hit a batter in that time. The best evidence that the Mets didn’t trust the inconsistent pitcher was that the team was 4-33 in the games he pitched; indicating they typically used him only when he couldn’t hurt them.

In 1967 Hepler was sent to the minors to work out his issues. Although his control improved significantly over the next few seasons, he never made it back to the majors.  Following the 1970 season, which he spent in the Washington Senators system, he retired from baseball. More information on his career statistics is available at

Bill Hepler Questionnaire:

If you could do anything differently about your career, what would that be?: I would have stayed straight overhand pitching. The coaches in pro ball wanted more movement of my fastball, but it took away from my great over-handed curveball that got me to the major leagues. My first year in the pros, 1965, I struck out 218 in 208 innings because of the overhand curveball.

Who was your favorite coach or manager?: Harvey Haddix.

What current player reminds you the most of players from your era?: James Shields (Rays). Complete games and innings pitched. 


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Sunday, May 27, 2012

An Interview with Jordan Smith

Check out the recent interview with Jordan Smith I recently did for


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Friday, May 25, 2012

Sean Jamieson: Moving Up the Ranks of Oakland's Prospects

When a baseball team is in rebuilding mode, it will look in all directions to improve. While high draft picks and splashy free agent signings can certainly make a big impact, other positive moves are possible by doing due diligence and following up with players who are a little further off the grid. The Oakland A’s are one of about a handful of teams who are in admitted full-blown rebuilding and are seeking every gem they can sign and cultivate. They have a number of these players scattered throughout their organization, with Sean Jamieson being one of the most obscure, but also possessing excellent upside.

Baseball wasn’t even Jamieson’s primary sport growing up. As a native of Canada it is little surprise that his first love was hockey, but he eventually started playing baseball as a way to continue competing with his friends year-round, and it became his best sport. Jamieson developed into a good enough prospect as a shortstop that he ended up playing collegiately for the Canisius Golden Griffins after spending two years with Niagra County Community College. Jamieson earned All-MAAC (Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) First Team honors in each of his two seasons with Canisius. In his senior season, he hit .350 with 13 home runs and 51 RBI in 57 games, garnering attention from the pros, and the A’s took him in the 17th round of the 2011 MLB draft.

Jamieson showed the A’s coveted him so highly out of the draft, playing in 69 games for short season Vermont in 2011, hitting just .235, but with 37 walks. He also hit 3 home runs, scored 39 runs, and stole 27 bases, while playing solid defense at shortstop.

Jamieson has started the 2012 season with A-level Burlington. The patience and multiple tools he shows is exactly the type of “Moneyball” player the A’s and general manager Billy Beane have come to embrace. With no clear cut top shortstop prospect ahead of him on the prospect depth chart, it is completely within the realm of possibility for him to make a run towards the majors if his development continues as hoped.

Sean Jamieson Interview:

How did you first become interested in baseball?: All my hockey buddies, since I was growing up, were playing baseball, so I came out and played with them. We had the same group of guys; we’d play hockey one season and play baseball in the summer. We ended up winning a lot of championships and doing very well. I loved up to an Elite team in Ontario. We don’t have high school baseball in Canada very much. It’s tough to come by, but I moved up to an elite team and played in a lot of big tournaments in the States. Eventually went on to junior college in Niagra, and got picked up and played D-1 ball at Canisius.

How involved were you in hockey?: Everybody’s into hockey up in Canada; every kid.

Did you have a favorite baseball team or playing when you were growing up?: I was a Jays fan cause they were really the local team; about an hour and a half out of Toronto. And, Derek Jeter; always a big fan; just how he carries himself and how great of a player he is.

How did you find out that Oakland was interested in you?: There were several teams interested actually. Oakland, you know. I knew Matt Higginson very well; he was there a lot. He came to our first games down in the Carolinas and Tennessee. He would come to all our home games and I knew he was interested. There were some other teams interested too, but Matt showed a lot of interest.

Did you do anything special to celebrate after signing with Oakland?: Nope. He called me up the day before, and he goes, ‘I might sign you today. You still alright to sign?’ And I’m like ‘absolutely, whatever it takes.’

He called me the next day and said, ‘You want to meet up and sign today?’ We met at a coffee shop halfway between where he is and where I am. It was a nice experience, and I think the next day I was on a plane.


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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

An Interview with ESPN's Baseball Insider Jerry Crasnick

ESPN has grown from a cable sports news channel to a media conglomerate over the past few decades. They have been able to accomplish this by providing comprehensive analysis in the world of sport through all forms of media- print, online, television, radio, and anything else I may be forgetting. As one of the major sports, baseball is one of the most in demand with ESPN consumers, making expert coverage a must. One of the best baseball analysts/writers ESPN has is Jerry Crasnick, a man who cut his journalist teeth on Pete Rose and Marge Schott, and now brings his years of experience in the game to every piece he works on.

Prior to coming to ESPN Crasnick earned a degree in communications from Boston University, and also worked as a sportswriter for papers such as the Biddeford Journal Tribune and Portland Herald Press in Maine. His profile was raised when he became a beat writer for the Cincinnati Post, covering the news-item-a-day Reds in the late 1980’s. Other writing gigs included the Sporting News, Bloomberg News, and the Denver Post. His run started with ESPN on a part-time basis when he was writing his book, License to Deal: A Season on the Run with a Maverick Baseball Agent, which was published in 2005. His work received such a positive response that he transitioned to a permanent role with ESPN. He now writes articles for ESPN Insider and participates in regular chats, a popular interactive feature of He is also a regular presence on Twitter, providing baseball fans with consistently insightful baseball coverage year-round. Despite being in the midst of his busy season, I was recently able to ask Crasnick some questions about his career and time in baseball. To say I am jealous of his ability and career would be an understatement.

Jerry Crasnick Interview:

How did you first become interested in writing?: I'm  fortunate because I've always felt comfortable with the whole process of writing. English was my favorite subject as a kid, and I always did well in school. I aspired to work for a newspaper upon graduating from college in 1980, and I gravitated to sports writing by accident. I was home in Maine that summer, and I saw an ad that a small local paper -- the Biddeford Journal Tribune -- was looking for a sportswriter. Steve Buckley, who is now a columnist for the Boston Herald, was the editor. I covered an American Legion baseball game as an informal tryout, and the next thing you know, I was hired. It was definitely a thrill to see my first personal byline. For a brief period, that thrill outweighed my $160 weekly salary.

How did you develop an interest in baseball?: I started following baseball as a third grader in Portland, Maine, in 1966. The Red Sox were terrible that year, and had been bad for quite some time. But then came the 1967 "Impossible Dream'' season, and all of New England was captivated. Tony Conigliaro was my favorite player, but one of my neighborhood buddies laid claim to him, so I opted for Plan B and adopted George "Boomer'' Scott as my personal favorite. I'll never forget taking a trip from Portland to Boston with my dad, emerging from the concourse and seeing that enormous green wall in left field at Fenway. For what it's worth, I'm pretty sure Joe Foy had a big day at my first Red Sox game.

I come from a family of Cleveland Indians fans, oddly enough, so I've always been a little conflicted. But I've always loved the rhythms of the game, the strategy and the artistry of it. I went to Boston University, and I was fortunate to be at Fenway for Carl Yastrzemski's 3,000th hit and the Bucky Dent home run game. Baseball creates lasting memories like no other sport.

How did you come to write for ESPN?: After working for newspapers in Cincinnati and Denver, I took a job in the late 1990s with Bloomberg News. I ultimately found that covering sports business wasn't for me, so I decided to indulge my creative impulses and try to write a book. I found a literary agent, landed a publisher and wrote "License to Deal,'' a book about a young, upstart agent trying to compete in a cutthroat profession. I had a couple of contacts at ESPN, and they hired me on a part-time basis during the 18 months or so that I was working on my book. They gave me another contract after that, and my role at the Web site has gradually evolved in the six or seven years since.

With the decreasing attention span of people, how do you think writing is evolving to keep up?: You see a lot more quick-hitting, topical pieces today than you used to see. At, we also include a video with almost every story now. I'm conscious of trying to keep stories at a reasonable length. But I also do a lot of background research and try to talk to five or six sources for every story I do, so I'm sure I tend to run on longer than I should. My feeling is, if a story is good, readers can make it from start to finish. You just have to give them a compelling reason to keep going.

What was it like covering Pete Rose and Marge Schott in Cincinnati when you were with the Cincinnati Post?: It was very chaotic and exciting. Pete Rose was a blast to cover. Never a dull moment. My first year at the Cincinnati Post, he was suspended 30 games for shoving an umpire. The next year came the whole gambling investigation. During the summer of 1989, Cincinnati was basically the center of the baseball universe.

Marge Schott was a character, for sure, although not the most pleasant person in the world. She used to pound on the elevator door at Riverfront Stadium when it arrived too slowly for her tastes. I once got booted from the media dining room for quoting pitcher Tim Belcher, who had some rather uncomplimentary comments about her St. Bernard. Belcher responded by having pizzas and sandwiches delivered to the press box and tipping his cap. It remains one of my career highlights.

In hindsight, it's easy for me to muster up sympathy for both Pete and Marge. She wasn't a happy person, and didn't appear to have many friends. He made some egregious errors in judgment and has been a baseball pariah for more than 20 years. I wish baseball could find a way to resolve this dispute and welcome Pete back into the fold, but I don't see that happening as long as Bud Selig is commissioner.

What is one topic you would still like to write about?: I can't say there's one particular story that drives me. I'm always on the lookout for good, off-the-track-type ideas. I will say that I'm anxious to see games at Target Field in Minnesota and the new ballpark in Miami, just so I can say I've been to every major league park.


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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Jim Neidlinger: No Regrets

The Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers have had a string of legendary pitchers during their existence, earning accolades, World Series victories, and Hall of Fame enshrinements. Many young hurlers have imagined themselves being part of that group upon signing with the Dodgers’ organization, but few have accomplished such lofty goals. During the summer of 1990, Jim Neidlinger arrived in Los Angeles to see if he could become the next great Dodgers pitcher and for a time it looked like he was well on his way.

Neidlinger, a right-handed starter out of California, was originally signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1984 as an amateur free agent. Despite his lack of reputation as a prospect, he quickly emerged in the minors. He produced win totals of 14 in 1986 and 11 in 1987, while posting impressive ERAs and rarely giving up home runs. In 1988 he was turned into a swingman, pitching in Double-A and Triple-A, continuing to flourish, as evidenced by his 2.93 ERA.

Following the 1988 season, Neidlinger, who wasn’t able to break through with Pittsburgh, was traded straight up to the Dodgers for left-handed veteran Bill Krueger. With a staff headlined by pitchers like Orel Hershiser and Fernando Valenzuela, Neidlinger’s prospects of making the majors initially looked even bleaker than when he was in the Pittsburgh system, but he continued to plug away, hoping to get a chance.

Neidlinger’s perseverance paid off in 1990 when Hershiser suffered an injury causing him miss all but 4 starts on the season. The Dodgers trotted out several young pitchers as his replacement, with none sticking until they decided to give Neidlinger a chance. He made his debut on August 1st and went on to make 12 starts, acquitting himself admirably, going 5-3 with a 3.28 ERA. In 74 innings, he only struck out 46, but the 4 home runs allowed showed his ability to keep the ball in the park, making him one of the most effective pitchers on the Dodgers staff.

Despite his excellent rookie season, the Dodgers were unable to find a roster spot for him in 1991. Making a push for the playoffs, the Dodgers welcomed back Hershiser and loaded their pitching staff with veteran additions like Kevin Gross, Bob Ojeda, and John Candelaria. While the team won 93 games, the strategy didn’t pay off, as they finished in second place in the NL West.

Neidlinger continued to pitch in the Dodgers system through 1992, and then put in a year each in the minors for the Minnesota Twins and the St. Louis Cardinals. He decided to retire following the 1994 season, never having made it back to the majors. For a young pitcher who threw as well as he did during his brief stint in the big leagues, it seems a shame that Neidlinger never got more opportunity. For him it was a numbers crunch, as teams often prefer to go with known veterans instead of gambling that youngsters can be consistent producers. While he may always wonder if he was capable of having done more, Neidlinger will always be able to look back to the summer of 1990 and recall the two months where he was one of the best pitchers in the major leagues. More information on his career statistics is available at

Jim Neidlinger Interview:

How did you first become interested in baseball?: As a kid it was in my family, with my uncles and grandfathers and things like that. It’s kind of an easy situation when you’re born, and all of a sudden your grandpa is playing catch with you and your dad playing catch with you. That’s how it all started.

When I got to professional ball the real passion and love for it started.

Did you have a favorite team or player when you were growing up?: I always liked the Pirates because I liked their hats. Then I turned around and that was the first team that I actually signed with, so that was funny. But yeah, I thought their hats were cool. They had the old train conductor style.

What was the process of being scouted and signed like?: It is a process that you go through. As a young boy you have a dream to become one of those people. You don’t really realize until you are in those later stages of high school whether you will get a chance or not. Then, the reality never really hits you until somebody calls you and tells you they would like to sign you to a contract.

The process is just really playing as hard as you can possibly play and hopefully somebody takes notice of what you are doing, or you are good enough to get there.

What is your favorite moment from your career?: I think it was when I got called up to the Dodgers in ’90. That’s the year that the Reds had led it wire to wire. I took the mound against them in September and we were three games back. After 8.1 innings I walked off the mound and the entire crowd gave me a standing ovation. We beat them 3-0 I think.

As a player, when fans give you that kind of respect, and respect something that you’ve just done; it’s pretty special.

What was Tommy Lasorda like as a manager?: Tommy was a good motivator and a very funny man. At that point in time Tommy was getting near the end of his career. He was still managing just as hard and his mind was just as good, but physically he wasn’t able to do the same things. He was a very smart baseball man. He did a lot of things by motivation, and that is just the way he was.

If you could do anything differently about your career, what would that be?: It’s hard to say. I wish I had stayed in the big leagues a little bit longer. Things like that, that’s not something I would change. I think I did everything and played the game as hard as I could play. I don’t think I would change anything. I think I would have followed up, knowing what I know now, on a college education because I pretty much came right out after junior college. 


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Friday, May 18, 2012

An Interview with Richard Giannotti

It used to be that the United States was home to dozens of professional baseball leagues. As Major League Baseball grew and honed its empire, that number reduced dramatically. Proving how much Americans love the national pastime there are still some independent professional leagues that have persisted and continue to pump out a competitive and exciting brand of baseball. They are full of players with years of experience in the major and minor leagues who are able to keep doing what they love for a living. One of these players is Richard Giannotti, an outfielder now playing in his eighth professional season.

The switch-hitting Giannotti was a star for St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Plantation, Florida. He was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the 20th round of the 2001 MLB draft, but decided to play collegiately at the University of Miami instead, where he continued his stellar play. He remained on the draft boards of teams and ended up being taken by the Anaheim Angels in the 38th round of the 2004 draft, where he signed and began his professional career.

Giannotti played in the minors for the Angels and the St. Louis Cardinals for three seasons, reaching as high as A-ball in 2005 and 2006. During the 2006 season he decided that more opportunity existed for him in the independent leagues and he signed with the Reno Silver Sox. He also played for the Nashua Pride in 2007, but his career turned a corner when he joined the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs of the Atlantic League in 2009. He became a fixture in the Southern Maryland outfield and finally found his niche in professional ball.

Giannotti is now in his fourth season with Southern Maryland. He is a stronger fielder with a productive bat. While he doesn’t hit a ton of home runs, he does a little bit of everything. Entering 2012 he has appeared in 496 games, producing a .243 batting average with 21 home runs and 176 RBI. More information about his career statistics is available at

This past off-season Giannotti answered my questions about his time in baseball. He is an interesting follow on Twitter and not just because of his baseball pedigree. He is also part owner of an up and coming clothing line called Bubucheek, and likes to write, making him one of the more well-rounded players in professional baseball.

Richard  Giannotti Interview:

Who were your favorite team and player growing up, and why?: The New York Yankees and Don Mattingly.  My family is all from the New York and Connecticut area, and are all Yankee fans. Also, I was born and raised in South Florida, and at the time when I was younger, the Florida (Now Miami) Marlins were not in existence and the Yankees had spring training in Ft. Lauderdale, so we used to go watch them play all spring.

What was the process like getting drafted by the Giants in 2001 and the Angels in 2004?: In 2001, it was an exciting time as I was fortunate enough to sign with the University of Miami to play college ball; a huge dream of mine since I was a little kid. But that also made the decision to not play pro ball that much harder. Being drafted by the San Francisco Giants was a huge honor because they are a first class organization and I was really impressed with how up front and honest they were with me. 

I spoke numerous times with Brian Sabean (GM) and he gave me the pros/cons of both starting my professional career at the age of 17, and that of attending a great baseball program like the University of Miami.  I vividly remember the morning of the draft in 2001. I went to go eat breakfast with my parents and sisters at a local diner. I had so many butterflies in my stomach I couldn't eat anything. Ultimately, my love for the University of Miami and the opportunity that route presented to me seemed like the best fit for me.  

Fast forward three years and the draft process presented itself again for me as a twenty year old. I was fortunate enough to play in two College World Series and become a more polished player spending three great years with incredible coaches that pushed us to the limit as well, as meeting people I can call "friends" for the rest of my life. The 2004 draft didn't go quite how I imagined it, but that's how the draft is - it's unpredictable, and that's important for every young man to understand going into it. Regardless, I was given a great opportunity by the Los Angeles Angels and will be forever thankful.

If you could do anything differently about your career in the minor leagues, what would it be?: I would have tried to take better care of my body during the season and throughout the off season. That's not to say that I didn't train hard in off season, but through experience I've learned how to correctly train my body for a 140 game season. I believe if I could have stayed healthy I would have had a good shot at getting to the big leagues.

What is your favorite moment from your playing career?: Playing in two College World Series is definitely one that sticks out first and foremost. But we fell a little short both years, and winning is the ultimate memory, so I would have to say the three Championships I've been a part of the last eight years.

Who has been your favorite coach or manager?: Butch Hobson (hands down). Not only does Butch bring experience (playing and managing in the MLB), he also brings a relentless energy and work ethic that rubs off on his players. He would stay at the field all day if it meant that one of his players would benefit from it. He also works hard to get his players back into affiliated ball.

How cutthroat is competition amongst baseball players in the minor leagues?: Extremely, but maybe not how most people imagine it. If you play long enough, you realize how many different personality types there are, and how differently people motivate themselves. Some do it through not wanting others to outwork them. Others do it by keeping things to themselves so they keep a leg up on another guy.  

I've seen players completely change their demeanor with a friend once they've become in direct competition for the same job. Early on in my career I was oblivious to all this because I came from a close but extremely competitive family at the University of Miami. As I continued my career, I began to see players become bitter. Whether it was from them not getting their opportunity, being passed over, released, poor play; I realized I never wanted to be any of those things and made a promise to myself to continue working hard and stay the same guy I've always been, and if I were to ever change, it would be time to move on from baseball.

How much of a goal is making it back to the minors or to the major leagues to you?: It's a big one, but I'd be lying if I didn't say that I continue to play for the love of the game. Each year you get older, the opportunity of signing back with an affiliated team becomes that much harder.

What are your baseball plans for 2012?: I love the people of Southern Maryland, enjoy the competition of the Atlantic League, as well as playing for manager Patrick Osborn (This guy will be a big league manager one day, he's only 30 years old).

What is the strangest thing you have ever seen as a baseball player?: First thing that comes to mind is from 2005, playing in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Iowa is notorious for tornados, and we were playing a day game, and I remember the tornado sirens going nuts and all the players and fans had to evacuate the stadium. I don't think I’ve ever run as fast as I did back to the dugout to get underneath the stadium.

What do you think you will do once you decide to stop playing?: I've always been interested in becoming a businessman. I got my degree in finance from Miami, but I've also known for a few years now that I want to stay around the game of baseball. So I think my best fit would to try to be involved with baseball operations or possibly becoming an agent. I currently am part owner of a small clothing line called Bubucheek Clothing that I started with two friends a few years ago and it's a lot of fun. I also enjoy writing and have dabbled in writing screenplays, as I've completed three.


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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Juju Rules: A Review

The dictionary defines juju as “an object venerated superstitiously” and “the magical power attributed to such an object.” Despite the lack of scientific evidence, scores of baseball fans swear that they have successfully used juju to impact the performance of players and teams; from their favorite to their most hated. One of the foremost adherents of this practice is journalist and New York Yankee diehard fan Hart Seely, who has written The Juju Rules: Or How to Win Ballgames from Your Couch (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company), one of the most pleasantly surprising baseball books I have read in some time.

Despite the tongue-in-cheek title, The Juju Rules is much more than a how-to guide to alter the outcomes of baseball games. It is a narrative consisting of three primary threads; the life of Seely, the exploits of his Yankees, and the rules of juju he has accumulated over the years in trying to will his team to victory. The premise didn’t immediately thrill me, particularly due to my allegiance as a Red Sox fan, but the deeper I got into the story the more enjoyable it became.

As he freely admits, nothing about Seely especially stands out. He is a newspaper writer from Syracuse, a family man, and a passionate fan of the Yankees. He has lived and died by the Yankees since he was a child and is able to identify the many happy and visceral ways the team has impacted his life. Most memorable include his telling of how his rooting for the team helped define his relationship with his father, how he came to be with his wife Janice, and how he found and interacted with his many Yankee loving friends; particularly the one who had a daughter in one of the twin towers on 9/11.

The years of angst that Seely has experienced as a Yankee fan are also explored with some detail. Contrary to popular belief, the Yankees do not win the World Series every season, and during Seely’s lifetime have had some lengthy streaks of mediocrity and frustration. From a carefully bounced tennis ball to a perfectly timed yell, he recounts the actions he has taken through the years in an effort to do his part. Each chapter ends with another rule of juju that Seely has uncovered during his tenure as a beleaguered fan. They include making noise, not blaming or thanking God, and avoiding premature celebrations at all costs.

The rules of juju as set forth are ultimately not a manual, but are rather used as a measuring stick for the important things in Seely’s life.  He makes no bones about family, friends, and the Yankees being what he holds most dear, and by the end it is clear that he is entirely aware that no attempt to influence fate and destiny is greater than surrounding yourself with the things and people that define who you are and make you most happy. Through his life Seely has always moved forward with what he has and made the best out of it; something he realizes in his middle age has been a wonderful strategy for life in which he has few regrets. It is a happy realization, as he concludes, “We don’t get to roll the dice again, do we?”

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of the book being reviewed by the publisher, but received no payment or other consideration for this review.


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Monday, May 14, 2012

How to Get the Most Out of the Red Sox Lineup

With a little more than a fifth of the 2012 season having been played, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who didn’t agree with the assertion that the Red Sox stink. In particular, their pitching has been terrible, ranking near the bottom of the American League in team ERA and hits, home runs, and walks allowed. Accordingly, their offense is the primary weapon that they can utilize to win some games. Their lineup has been productive thus far- second in the league in hits and runs scored- they have been beset by injuries to key players like Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, and Kevin Youkilis. While those players are out there are still ways for Bobby Valentine to maximize the value of the players he currently has and put out a batting order to maximize where his regulars have hit the best in the past.

Valentine has a reputation for being more of an old school manager; relying on gut feelings and hot streaks to help direct his team. By looking at statistics he would find a batting lineup that he has not used yet, but history shows could optimize the bats of his current starters. While this historically ideal lineup would do nothing to cure the ills of the pitching staff, it would give the Red Sox even more ability to bludgeon their opponents in the slugfests that look certain to be persist this summer.

Historically Ideal Red Sox Line Up:

1st: Mike Aviles- Shortstop:
Career: 371 games, .286 batting average, .317 OBP, .738 OPS
Career hitting first: 67 games, .307 batting average, .340 OBP, .821 OPS

2nd: Ryan Sweeney- Left Field:
Career: 501 games, .286 batting average, .344 OBP, .729 OPS
Career hitting second: 43 games, .314 batting average, .365 OBP, .790 OPS

3rd: Will Middlebrooks- Third Base:
Career: 10 games, .310 batting average, .356 OBP, 1.070 OPS
Career hitting third: N/A

4th: Dustin Pedroia- Second Base:
Career: 748 games, .306 batting average, .374 OBP, .840 OPS
Career hitting fourth: 32 games, .397 batting average, .442 OBP, 1.117 OPS

5th: Adrian Gonzalez- First Base:
Career: 1,050 games, .293 batting average, .374 OBP, .885 OPS
Career hitting fifth: 91 games, .313 batting average, .373 OBP, .910 OPS

6th: Marlon Byrd- Center Field:
Career: 1,086 games, .278 batting average, .336 OBP, .750 OPS
Career hitting sixth: 194 games, .299 batting average, .363 OBP, .818 OPS

7th: David Ortiz- Designated Hitter:
Career: 1,775 games, .285 batting average, .379 OBP, .924 OPS
Career hitting seventh: 37 games, .311 batting average, .425 OBP, 1.047 OPS

8th: Cody Ross- Right Field:
Career: 788 games, .261 batting average, .323 OBP, .780 OPS
Career hitting eighth: 44 games, .333 batting average, .380 OBP, 1.039 OPS

9th Jarrod Saltalamacchia- Catcher:
Career: 378 games, .243 batting average, .304 OBP, .713 OPS
Career hitting ninth: .253 batting average, .302 OBP, .753 OPS

It turns out that this lineup isn’t even that horribly unorthodox; with lefties and righties being proportionally split and no ridiculous suggestions like Ortiz hitting lead-off. With the aforementioned injured players scheduled to come back at various times as the season progresses, there could be even more tinkering to get the most out of the one weapon the team seems to possess this year. With Boston floundering in last place why not give this lineup a shot in the meantime and see what dividends may result? It doesn’t require a genius to see the potential; just a guy with a calculator, the internet, and a little time on his hands.

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Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Red Sox Have Major Problems In The Minors

Having a deep farm system in baseball is like having a well stocked fridge at home. The lower minors are like the freezer; a place where you can stock up on players you don’t plan to use for a while, but those that make it out can sometimes be very useful. The fridge itself is the higher minors; a larder for major league teams to dip into any time they need to be replenished. Teams with a sub-standard or unevenly balanced system can be at a severe disadvantage. Lost amidst the struggles of the Boston Red Sox this season is how they have gone from having one of the strongest played development systems in baseball, to one that is considerably weaker, particularly at the top levels.

With the exception of Will Middlebrooks, who has been the Red Sox most productive hitter since being called up last week, the Sox have seen a succession of call-ups who have underwhelmed this season. Lars Anderson, Jason Repko, Nate Spears, and Aaron Cook have contributed next to nothing in their limited opportunities. Unfortunately, there is not a great deal behind them who look like they will contribute much more as the year goes on. I will explore the top assets they have at Double-A and Triple-A and how they may or may not help the big league team in the near future.

Mark Melancon- Pitcher- Pawtucket: For as hittable (49.50 ERA) as he was during his brief time in Boston at the start of the year, Melancon has been literally as unhittable since being demoted, going unscored upon in 10 outings while averaging nearly 2 strikeouts per inning. With the Red Sox bullpen still struggling to find consistency, there is little doubt he will find himself back in the bigs before long, and it is hard to believe he won’t be better than he was before.

Junichi Tazawa- Pitcher- Pawtucket: The Japanese right-hander already made a brief stop in Boston this year, making 5 appearances out of the bullpen without being scored upon. His demotion was all about having options left during a roster squeeze and nothing to do with performance. He has come back strong from Tommy John surgery and while he has almost no trade value, he could end up being a valuable call-up to bolster the Boston bullpen later this season.

Alex Wilson- Pitcher- Pawtucket: This 2009 second round draft pick had spent the entirety of his young professional career as a starter until the Red Sox bullpen imploded in April and the decision was made to convert him to relieving. His two pitch repertoire of a low 90’s fastball and decent slider (he also throws below average curve and change-up) make him a better candidate for relieving anyways. He has struck out better than a batter per inning for his career, but doesn’t have dominant stuff for the majors. Like other Red Sox prospects in the upper minors, he would not be highly coveted in a trade, but has the potential to slide into a 6th or 7th inning role if called upon.

Jose Iglesias- Shortstop- Pawtucket: At the beginning of the year there was some debate on whether or not the slick fielding Cuban shortstop could break with the Sox out of spring training. The starting shortstop job was handed to Aviles and Iglesias was sent down for more seasoning. While he has been lauded so far for his improved offense, the fact that such accolades have come about by a .256 batting average and 8 RBI in 31 games is proof that he is still very much a one dimensional player. Some teams might be interested in him via trade, but he doesn’t have enough value to be a featured prospect in a deal of any magnitude. With Aviles playing much better than expected, outside of injuries, it is unlikely he will see much time in Boston the rest of the way.

Ryan Lavaranway- Catcher/DH- Pawtucket: Lavarnway lit up expectations last year by blasting 34 total home runs. He is off to a much more modest start this year, with just 2 bombs so far. The apprehension felt by the Sox and other teams regarding his ability )or inability) to catch at the big league level limits any opportunity he might receive in Boston or from another team because of trade.

Juan Carlos Linares- Outfielder- Portland: Heading into the 2012 season Linares had played a total of just 34 games in his first two years in the Boston organization. However, the right-handed hitting Cuban is 27 and a little more advanced than most prospects in Double-A and has shown that by hitting .333 with 5 home runs in his first 29 games. He is another Red Sox minor leaguer with little to no trade value, but if pressed into major league service in Boston might be able to run into a few long balls.

The Red Sox better hope that they start getting some of their injured regular players back soon so they don’t have to dip into the upper levels of their minor leagues any more than they already have. As the players above show, there is real limited value in what the team can expect to get back on the field or through trades for their most advanced prospects. The tides of a minor league system can change with one good draft, but for now the Red Sox are woefully thin at the top of their system- a shameful fact for a team with their resources and past pride in player development.


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