Scouting Report: Chicago Cubs

 

 

 

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The Cubs have been one of the most effective teams this off season.  They snagged Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward, Dexter Fowler and other top free agents.  They already went to the NLCS in 2015, who knows how powerful they’ll be in 2016.  This article looks at all the moves this team made to fill the cracks from the 2016 NLCS and look at some question marks at camp.  Can this team win their first ring in ages?

 

Off-Season Review

 

The Cubs had a pretty effective off season.  They got stars, prospects and everything else they need to win a pennant.   The Cubs came in to the off season with clear needs: rotation and bullpen help, an outfielder and maybe a middle infielder.

You could’ve never seen what was coming based on how slow the Cubs were to begin the off season.  They got Spencer Patton in a trade with Texas, who will compete for a roster spot now that Rex Brothers is gone.  Oh, by the way, they got him in November via free agency and released him at camp.  All the sudden, on the first day of the Winter Meetings, they got super busy!  They traded Starlin Castro to the Yankees for Adam Warren and Brendan Ryan and signed Ben Zobrist in his place, moving Addison Russell to short.  They later released Ryan and he signed with the Nats, but they held on to Warren.  Still not much in return for their star shortstop who might be a second baseman in New York.  Throughout the winter meetings they got some minor deals in.

They signed relievers Brandon Gomes and Jean Machi and resigned Trevor Cahill.  But their biggest splash was at he end of the meetings.  There was a tight race for Jason Heyward.  Many teams, including the Cardinals, Nationals and Cubs were interested, until the Cubbies struck an eight year deal with the prime-age outfielder.  After the Meetings it was quiet in Chicago.  They did however get Edgar Olmos off waivers while waiving quality reliever Yoervis Medina.  Medina must’ve not fit in the Cubbies’ system.

The same took place in January, they did however get Kristopher Negron, Munenori Kawasaki among others signed to minor league contracts.  It wasn’t until late February when the Cubs got active again.  They made a minor trade to get Chris Coghlan out of the way and receive spot starter Aaron Brooks in return.  They signed Manny Parra and Shane Victorino, key players to minors deals, but the biggest and most surprising signing was a resigning of Dexter Fowler.  they had J-Hey locked up in center, now he would move to right, kicking Jorge Soler out of his starting role.  Now that was an iffy signing unless the Cubs can find Kyle Schwarber an infield or catching position opening.

Soler was worthy of the starting position, but Schwarber is too good to bench for him.  The Cubs signed good players, but the bad thing about this team is that the players signed may not fit correctly in Chicago.  There are so many players on this team that will be benched and deserve opportunities.  I gave them a pretty good grade because if they just have players they should have starting sitting on their bench, and yet they additionally have powerful starters, it makes for a good team, but a) If the team is too crammed, it could hurt them and b) The team, especially its youth isn’t reaching its full potential.

Off Season Grade: A-

 

Spring Training Questions

 

Is the bullpen all set?

I’ve been a little worried about the depth of this bullpen.  The late inning relief in Chicago is satisfying, but the long relief sector of the bullpen could be short on players.  Sure, they got a lot of good, older minor league relievers but the only reliever that isn’t some washed up older guy besides the set up and closing pitchers is Travis Wood, who could also be needed as a spot starter!  Sure, they have Aaron Brooks now, but some of their rotation is injury prone, and they need a better bullpen to back them up.

Who will come out of the tight position battles?

The one issue with the Cubs is that the powerful youth of this team isn’t getting its shot, staying in the shadows of the big name players.  Here I will go over a couple clustered areas in the Cubs lineup, most showcasing a young guy competing with a veteran.  Note: Some of these are only significant enough for the young guy to get some playing time, not necessarily the starting job.

2B/SS: Ben Zobrist, Tommy La Stella, Addison Russell, Javier Baez + 2 others

It’s clear who gets the starts here.  Time from the bench, that’s debatable.  I think Javier Baez, Jonathan Herrera and maybe even Munenori Kawasaki and Tommy La Stella should get playing time.  Baez was nearly as strong a prospect as Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber, just didn’t power forward as quickly.  Baez deserves some serious consideration, possibly even to platoon with Addison Russell at short, but the other guys need to prove themselves legitimately before getting any significant time.  Sure, La Stella may get a couple games and injury fill-in time, but no more than that.  The other guys are lucky to get a 40-man roster spot, let alone major league appearances.

LF: Kyle Schwarber, Jorge Soler, Shane Victorino

This is the toughest position battle in the NL.  Schwarber or Soler?  Wait, why is Victorino even here?  He’s more of a backup then fighting for a position.  But if rumors of Kyle Schwarber moving positions are true, Victorino will be considered.  That’s a whole other story, I won’t even get in to that one.  Victorino is better in center and right anyways.  So, back to Soler and Schwarber.  Schwarber quickly found his way to the majors and into a good position on the roster, looking like a multi-year veteran.  He was only a rookie who snuck on to the roster.  He goes up against a rookie who started the year in a full time position and kept it since J-Hey wasn’t here.  Soler wasn’t as broad of a prospect, but was clearly majors ready going into last season.

 

 

Will their off season moves be worth it?

Yes and no.  Yes they will, because they have an improved lineup with more veterans, not just a bunch of strong rookies, but still have good balance.  Personally I thought Dexter Fowler wasn’t a great fit in Chicago, and he was better in Houston, and it would have been a great fit if he signed with the Cardinals.  With that the Cards would have revenge on their rivals.  That gets in to the no part.  Some of the guys they signed don’t fit right, and it would’ve been better just to leave the young sensations in those positions.  Jorge Soler losing his job to an outfield trio of Dexter Fowler, Jason Heyward and young Kyle Schwarber is a perfect example.

Projected Roster

 

Rotation

 

Jake Arrieta

Jon Lester

John Lackey

Jason Hammel

Kyle Hendricks

 

Bullpen

Hector Rondon (CL)

Justin Grimm

Pedro Strop

Travis Wood

Trevor Cahill

Dallas Beeler

Adam Warren

 

Lineup

  1. Dexter Fowler (CF)
  2. Kyle Schwarber (LF)
  3. Anthony Rizzo (1B)
  4. Jason Heyward (RF)
  5. Kris Bryant (3B)
  6. Ben Zobrist (2B)
  7. Miguel Montero (C)
  8. Pitcher
  9. Addison Russell (SS)

 

Bench

David Ross

Javier Baez

Tommy La Stella

Jorge Soler

Shane Victorino

 

That’s all for today.  See my next scouting report tomorrow on the other Chicago team, the White Sox.

 

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Waterville Valley Skiing Trip: How I Learned To Ski In One Weekend

 

Waterville Valley Logo

Last night, I got home and said, “What a day, what a weekend, what a trip!” You might be wondering, what trip?  Well, I’ll tell you all about it.

Northborough residents Barbara and Fred Kohout applied for the grant that the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation gave to the Waterville Valley Adaptive Sports (WVAS) program.  This program provides one on one lessons for skiers who have developmental or physical disabilities.  It also includes a free lift ticket and access to free skiing equipment.

Waterville Valley used the grant to give several families of many applicants an all expense paid ski weekend at the resort.  Families also got a free two night stay at the Snowy Owl Inn, a hotel in a very convenient location for Waterville Valley skiers.  We applied back in January for this by sending our application to WVAS director Cynthia Powell and we won the trip!

Over the past few weeks, I had been so excited for this trip, and it was 5 times better than my expectations!  Between eight hours of one on one skiing with really nice instructors, good food and a fun all-around experience, it was an amazing weekend.

After a two hour drive up to New Hampshire on Friday, we arrived and checked in to the Snowy Owl Inn.  We wheeled our bags up to our hotel room right above the lobby.  It was a charming hotel that had a lot of nice touches.  It had a lot of interesting details that added to it.  For example, there was a collection of owl figurines at the reception desk, and a moose head in a scarf above a lobby fireplace.

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Me and my brother above the moose head.

After settling in to our room, we went down to the parlor room to play Monopoly Deal and head to dinner.  After playing, we met a couple of the ski instructors.  They gave us a warm welcome, gave us some info on the program, and even left us with a goodie bag that included resort merchandise, the schedule of events, and other helpful supplies for our stay.

It was tough finding a restaurant that my brother Ryan, who has Celiac Disease could eat gluten free at, but the ski instructors that met us told us to try Valley Pub & Grill, a restaurant at the Town Square.  The Town Square was a big hotel down the street from the Snowy Owl that additionally included a shopping center with restaurants and other stores.

The place we went to had a nice place for us to sit, and good food not just for Ryan but for me.  I had a delicious chicken tenders dish that I would have every night at dinner if I could.  We went back to the hotel and ended our night watching the start of Inside Out as a family in the parlor room before going back to the hotel room for the night.

We woke up the next morning and enjoyed a continental breakfast in the parlor room before getting our ski clothes on.  We were set to start skiing at 10:00 that morning.  We drove up to the mountain and got our helmets, boots and skis in the adaptive office.  There my brother and I met our personal instructors, Marc, Dean and Larry.

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Me, Ryan and our instructors after a Sunday morning run.

The first thing they taught us before we even knew how to put on our skis was how to stop and go down the mountain.  To stop, you make a “pizza”.  That just means you point your skis together to make a wedge shape.  To go down, you need to keep your skis straight, known as making “french fries”. They put an edgy-wedgie, which is an elastic strap that keeps our skis together to help us make better wedges.

Then we practiced skiing short distances; we didn’t even have to try the J-Bar yet.  We just went down from one of our helpers to another, and the one we skied to would help us back up part of the mountain.  When the J-Bar line became less crowded, we tried going on with our helpers, our skis going in between theirs.  For a little bit, we did the same thing up at the very top of “The Pasture”, but they wanted to find a way for us to be able to go all the way down the trail.

Dean was able to get tethers for our skis, and we went down with ease.  The tethers attached my skis to Marc’s.  I was now skiing in front of him turning left to right with Marc tethered behind me.  I began to get the hang of it on tethers as the morning went on.  After a delicious chicken tender lunch similar to the night before at one of the resort’s restaurants, we went back out.

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Skiing on tethers with our instructors.
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More tethered skiing

We did a couple more tethered runs before Marc decided that I didn’t need them anymore.  Before I was mostly controlling my turns; now I would have full control.  We continued to go up the J-Bar together but now our instructors skied in front of us while we followed their turns.  We continued to do that for most of the afternoon, but I tried riding the J-Bar alone a couple of times.  I wiped out before getting to the top, and after some struggles, we decided to hold that off till the next morning.

After the Saturday lessons, we went to a social for just the families that got free adaptive skiing through the Flutie Foundation.  There was food and drinks provided along with a ribbon ceremony for all of the skiers.  Cynthia, Marc, Dean, Barbara, Fred and the other instructors and families were there.  Making all those pizzas up on the slopes made me really crave actual pizza, and that was the perfect apres ski snack.

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Everyone at the social Saturday afternoon.
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Family picture at ribbon ceremony submitted by Waterville Valley Adaptive Sports.

We went back to the Valley Pub & Grille for dinner, and played a board game called Say Anything and finished Inside Out in the parlor room before bed.  After Ryan was asleep, the rest of us watched part of Dodgeball in our hotel room before actually going to sleep.

The next morning we loaded our stuff into the car and checked out of the Snowy Owl after I grabbed a bagel at the convenience store at the Town Square.  All our ski stuff was ready when we arrived at the Adaptive Office that morning.

I started my morning back in between Marc’s skis on the J-Bar, but we picked up where we left off when it came to going down the mountain.  Throughout the morning I was really getting the hang of the S-shaped turns we were taught to follow down the mountain.  By 11:00 I even got all the way up the J-Bar alone several times.  Part of it might have been that the snow was better in the morning, but I improved my skills too.

 

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My dad and I on a Sunday morning run at The Pasture.

By lunch, it was no more edgy-wedgies for both me and Ryan, and we were almost ready to go to the Lower Meadows, a section with our first trails that weren’t bunny trails.  The area had a two person chairlift that led to four green circle trails.  We were even beginning to learn the more advanced way to land than the pizza; it’s almost like a turning motion that would just slow you down on the slopes, but stops you at the bottom.

We ate the same meals, except it was at a nicer restaurant, the T-Bars Restaurant and Lounge.  I enjoyed some March Madness action while I ate.  In the afternoon, we took a few more runs on The Pasture J-Bar before going over to the Lower Meadows, which had a chairlift instead.  Even though I had to go on slow mode the first few runs, I got the hang of the chairlift relatively quickly; it was 5 times easier than the J-Bar!

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My mom and I riding the Lower Meadows chairlift

We went on some runs on Leroy’s Loop, the easiest course in the Lower Meadows that had lots of natural turns, enforcing what we had learned over at The Pasture.  Our parents came to visit earlier for this last lesson.  They had come for 30 minutes in the first three lessons; this time they came for the last hour.  I did the most runs of the entire trip and had the most fun that afternoon.  I went on the chairlift with my mom several times and for the first time, we were all skiing as a family!  This was the best feeling yet!

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Skiing on Leroy’s Loop with the family.  Photo Credit: Dean Haymes

 

At this point, on Leroy’s Loop at least, our instructors didn’t need to help us much anymore.  On our last run we went with our instructors; we had to take Revelation and Baseway, two tougher Lower Meadows green circle trails that led to the rental return area.  We returned our skis, and for one last time, said goodbye to Marc and Dean.  We even had a little graduation at the Adaptive Office that afternoon.  I enjoyed some Cinnamon Toast Crunch as my apres ski snack before heading home after a great weekend.

This experience was amazing for us.  My brother and I learned to ski in just one weekend and had a blast while doing it.  I’d like to thank the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation along with Barbara and Fred Kohout, Cynthia Powell, Marc Bellerose, Dean Haymes, Larry Gannon, my entire family and everyone else who supported me in this amazing trip.  I hope to return next year for more skiing at Waterville Valley.  Maybe we’ll even meet some of next year’s Flutie Foundation families.

Also, don’t miss Doug Flutie tonight on Dancing With the Stars.  I met him at an Autism Alliance of Metrowest event at Skyzone in Westborough.  I did a project on him at school last year and blogged about it.  Go team Kutie!

 

Scouting Report: Boston Red Sox

 

After a 2013 World Series win, the Red Sox have been washed up earning themselves last place two years straight.  Hopefully, this off season’s moves finally did the trick.  The Red Sox have tried to make their team better but it’s been Murphy’s Law; all the players they sign have had horrible seasons in their first year on the team.  If things work out their second years will be better.  Also, hopefully guys they got this off season like David Price and Craig Kimbrel are a different story.

 

Off-Season Review

The Red Sox have had a pretty strong off season.  They filled their holes at starting ace and in the bullpen, but the lineup is a concern.  They didn’t focus on the lower rotation either.

The Red Sox started the off season relatively quiet.  In Mid-November, they boosted their bullpen by receiving Craig Kimbrel from the Padres for Manuel Margot, Javier Guerra, Logan Allen and one other prospect.  Kimbrel is one of the premier closers in the league. Aroldis Chapman, the only better closer in the MLB, in my opinion and was traded to their rivals the Yankees.  However, he will miss 30 games due to taking PEDs.  Andrew Miller will continue to close until that is over.

They also exercised Clay Buchholz’s club option to save him his spot in the rotation.  However he looked crummy yesterday, which is fearful because of his even year struggles recently.  The rest of November was quiet, but rumors surrounding pitchers David Price, Zack Greinke, Johnny Cueto and Darren O’ Day were in the air.  They were favorites to sign Price.  They finally reached a seven year, 217 million dollar deal in early December, just a couple days after the two-year signing of Chris Young, the ex-Yankees outfielder, not the Royals pitcher.

As the winter meetings came around they were trying to trade a lower rotation starter to save a rotation spot for either Joe Kelly or Henry Owens.  Despite bad starts to the year, they had a great run late in the season.  On December 7th, just a few days after the Price signing, the Sox traded Wade Miley and Jonathan Aro to the Mariners for more bullpen depth in Carson Smith and Roenis Elias.  They filled their main needs, but they still had some minor ones afloat.

Besides minor league deals, the rest of the off season was relatively quiet, and they will have to figure out the rest in spring training.  Anthony Varvaro, Roman Mendez, Carlos Marmol, Sandy Leon, Ali Solis, Chris Dominguez, David Murphy, Ryan LaMarre and Brennan Boesch highlighted the minor league non-roster invitees.

Off Season Grade: B+

 

Spring Training Questions

 

Will Christian Vazquez be ready to go?

Don’t expect Vazquez to start the season in the majors.  He may need some more seasoning just to make sure he’s good to go, although in a Red Sox sim game, he said he was okay.  Vazquez underwent Tommy John surgery in March 2015. He is almost one year removed, but catcher Matt Wieters returned too early, and that’s never a good thing.  However, what other options do they have?

Unless Ryan Hanigan can stay at the majors level for an extended time again, Vazquez may be wanted as a backup catcher to Blake Swihart.  It’s a tough decision.

 

Will the back end of the rotation perform?

Guys like Eduardo Rodriguez and Rick Porcello have potential for a bounce back season, but Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly may be questionable.  I was very worried when E-Rod got hurt — all that potential gone but when he’s ready to pitch, he can emerge into an SP2 role.  Porcello had one bad year.  He’s still in his prime and he was once a mediocre SP3-SP4 in the league.  Buchholz also worried me on Sunday when he pitched badly.  But the back end of the Red Sox rotation can bounce back if they have enough good pitching to beat out the bad.

 

How will the young guys do?

I’m a little worried about JBJ and Rusney Castillo’s abilities to hit, but Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Eduardo Rodriguez are a young trio of breakout candidates across the team.  Yoan Moncada and Andrew Benintendi could crash the majors in 2016.  Deven Marrero and Travis Shaw looked like they could stay in the majors.  Henry Owens could start in a relief role, and eventually become a spot starter.

There is a lot of strong prospects high and low in the Red Sox system.  Between their non-roster invitees, younger starters, and minor league prospects on the 40-man roster, the Red Sox’s farm system is piled with strong players.

 

Will Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez adjust?

This is a tough one to answer.  These are two former all star sluggers that were good for a long period of time on just a couple of teams who signed with the Red Sox last off season.  In the end, Murphy’s Law; as soon as they joined the Sox, they suddenly sucked and Ramirez didn’t even have a place in the organization after a failed attempt to move to left field.

Hanley Ramirez reportedly looked good in fielding drills with Brian Butterfield at first.  He struggled in the first few exhibition games, but has bounced back recently.  Sandoval however, came in to camp in very bad shape, and is attempting to adjust back to switch hitting.  He made some decemy catches and plate appearances in some of the games, but has had a high number of errors in the games.

Right now it’s Hanley on an uptrend, Panda not so much, but that could change.  Panda did look good at the plate despite fielding and health issues.  Ramirez needs work at the plate, too.  Changing to first still could be a little rough though.  He may have hope if he can hit like he did early in 2015.  So, it could go either way with these two mysteries.

 

Red Sox Projected Roster

 

 

Rotation

 

David Price

Eduardo Rodriguez

Clay Buchholz

Joe Kelly

Rick Porcello

 

Bullpen

 

Craig Kimbrel (CL)

Koji Uehara

Junichi Tazawa

Carson Smith

Roenis Elias

Robbie Ross Jr.

Tommy Layne

 

Lineup

  1. Mookie Betts (RF)
  2. Dustin Pedroia (2B)
  3. Xander Bogaerts (SS)
  4. David Ortiz (DH)
  5. Hanley Ramirez (1B)
  6. Pablo Sandoval (3B)
  7. Rusney Castillo (LF)
  8. Blake Swihart (C)
  9. Jackie Bradley Jr. (CF)

 

 

Bench

 

Chris Young

Christian Vazquez**

Brock Holt

Travis Shaw/David Muprhy

 

**If Vazquez isn’t ready to go by Opening Day, it will be Ryan Hanigan in his place.

 

That’s all for today.  Check out my Cubs article coming soon.

 

Scouting Report: Baltimore Orioles

Sarasota, Fl - Yovani Gallardo takes part in Orioles Spring training.
The Orioles may not have made the biggest splash this off season but they made some quality moves.  Unfortunately for O’s fans, I don’t necessarily think that the Orioles have gotten better since last season.  They may have made some moves to maintain their status from last season but some things have not worked out and they aren’t quite as good as they were last season.
Off Season Review
The Orioles had an effective off season in some ways and an ineffective one in another way.  They started with bringing back Matt Wieters on a qualifying offer.  They really needed their star catcher back as their backup options are limited.  They made some trades later in November, bringing in L.J. Hoes for cash and inviting him to spring training.  In early December they got Mark Trumbo and C.J. Riefenhauser for Steve Clevenger.  I thought the Orioles won the trade but still, nobody great was given out to either team in that trade and it didn’t fit their needs.  Riefenhauser later got claimed off waivers by the Cubs.  That was very recently though.
At the non-tender deadline, they had to get rid of starting right fielder David Lough.  They now had not one, but two open outfield spots unless Mark Trumbo or Nolan Reimold stepped up to start.  They later signed Japanese outfielder Hyun-Soo Kim to at least take his place.  They also lost prospects Junior Lake and Edgar Olmos to waivers. Lake was another outfield option!!!  They were really thin now!!  There went another reliever too!!  However, they resigned star reliever Darren O’ Day for four years.
As January came, They traded for Odrisamer Despaigne and resigned Chris Davis long-term (seven years) in what was known as “A serious game of chicken” by MLB.com.  In late free agency, a lot of rumors were flying around Baltimore, and they still are.  Some of the names included Yovani Gallardo, Dexter Fowler, Tim Lincecum, Austin Jackson even Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes at one point.  They signed Gallardo for two years, but Fowler went to the Cubs despite almost signing in Baltimore, Jackson went to the White Sox, Upton went to Detroit and Cespedes resigned in New York.
Lincecum is still being rumored, and the Jackson to the Sox isn’t official yet.  In fact, I think Lincecum will sign with the Orioles enough that I put him on their predicted roster. The Orioles made some impact moves, but they still have some unfilled holes.  They did not fulfill the opportunity they had this off season  to improve.  All those rumors and big name signings for a mediocre to bad team.  Not ideal.
Off Season Grade: D+
Spring Training Storylines
Will the big name signings and re-signings make an impact?
Depends on if these guys have up or down seasons, hopefully for Bostonians like me, a down one.  Chris Davis I still don’t think is satisfied in Baltimore.  Hey, at least Yovani Gallardo and maybe Hyun-Soo Kim are good fits.  They still have Adam Jones better than ever, even without his precious pie celebrations.  They have some pretty good sleepers in the lineup to cover.  But still no matter what this team will have holes.  This might not matter.
How will the O’s fill the holes in the outfield and rotation?
Well, prospects play a big role.  Miguel Gonzalez needs more attention as a strong vet that will fight for a slot in the rotation.  Mike Wright, Dylan Bundy and Odrisamer Despaigne could get some spot starts.  In the outfield, sure, they lost Junior Lake who was developing well but they have Dariel Alvarez, they have Nolan Reimold, Jimmy Paredes may transition to right field and then Hyun-Soo Kim will move to left.
But even with prospects, a late signing would really help, even if its only like Alex Rios, Tim Lincecum or Cliff Lee.  I don’t think prospects plus what they have in the majors is going to be quite enough to fill the holes.
Who are some prospects who will be known this year?
Some of the prospects I mentioned above could be good but further down in the system, I’m liking sleep pitching prospect Andrew Triggs, who has looked alright this spring, veteran outfield spring training invitee L.J. Hoes, who returned to Baltimore this off season, and infielder Christian Walker.
Walker got some good time last year and looked ready to take over for Chris Davis, at least if Davis was still playing like he did in 2014 and Hoes got some good backup time in Houston but between their younger outfield prospects and the everyday starters, there was no room for him to shine last year.  There’s a lot of potential in the O’s system.  Despite a bad current team, they have future hope.

 Baltimore Orioles Projected Roster

Rotation               Bullpen
Chris Tillman        Zach Britton (CL)
Yovani Gallardo    Darren O’ Day
Tim Lincecum**    Brad Brach
Kevin Gausman    Miguel Gonzalez
Ubaldo Jimenez    Brian Matusz
                              Chaz Roe
                          Odrisamer Despaigne
Lineup                       Bench
C: Matt Wieters         Caleb Joseph
1B: Chris Davis          Christian Walker
2B: Jonathan Schoop  Nolan Reimold
SS: J.J. Hardy            Ryan Flaherty
3B: Manny Machado
LF: Hyun-Soo Kim
CF: Adam Jones
RF: Mark Trumbo
DH: Jimmy Paredes
**If Tim Lincecum does not come to the Orioles I have Miguel Gonzalez replacing him in the rotation.
Potential candidates to fill Gonzalez’s relief role would be:
           Dylan Bundy
           Mychal Givens
           Mike Wright
           T.J. McFarland
           Vance Worley
           Tyler Wilson
Projected Record: 74-88
That’s all for today.  Check out my Boston Red Sox report tomorrow!

Fast Breaks Make An Impact, Celtics Comeback Against Knicks

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The Celtics had a miraculous 105-104 victory over the New York Knicks last night.  Isaiah Thomas had an amazing 32 points plus 8 assists, Jae Crowder had 20 points and 8 rebounds and Evan Turner got 21 points off the bench.  Jared Sullinger added 11 rebounds.  For the Knicks, Carmelo Anthony had 30 points and Robin Lopez had a 12-point, 12-rebound double-double.

The Celtics were trailing 58-53 at the half.  Between a lot of back and forth, the Celtics struggled to take a lead most of the games, and it started very dull, no big runs.  Despite Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder getting some pretty good points on big baskets and fast breaks in the first half, it lacked action.

The Celtics made the game more exciting in the 2nd half.  After a slow start to the 3rd, the Celtics broke away with a 15-2 run to take a 4 point lead after trailing 65-56 with 10 minutes to go.  Big three pointers by Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley highlighted the run.  By the end of the quarter, the Knicks had began a run of their own.  The Knicks had an 87-81 lead.

Through most of the fourth, the Knicks were cruising still.  They had an 100-92 lead with for minutes to go.  All of a sudden, the Celtics began to break away.  Basket after basket, the Celtics were coming back.  Jae Crowder shot a really impressive fast break layup that got everyone cheering.  They now had cut the Knicks lead to one point.

After a ‘Melo score, the Celtics got back to work.  First Jared Sullinger, then Evan Turner on a quick pass from Isaiah Thomas!  The Celtics led 103-102.  After a Knicks score, Avery Bradley made the game winner!  One of the most amazing plays was right after that, a strong block to prevent Carmelo Anthony from answering with a Knicks buzzer beater.  Ending the game on a 15-4  run, the Celtics took care of the Knicks 105-104.  Now for the stat wrap.

 

Stat Wrap

  • The Celtics have won 13 straight at the Garden, and 5 straight overall.  What a streak!
  • Isaiah Thomas, Evan Turner and Jae Crowder combined for 73 of the C’s 105 points.  That’s 69.5%!
  • In their home streak, they have gotten 100 points in each game!
  • The Celtics and Knicks were tied in the standings on January 12th.  Since, the Celtics have gone 19-6 and the Knicks have gone just 5-18!  That’s also the last 25 games for the Celtics!
  • The Celtics outscored the Knicks 30-4 in fast break points.
  • The Celtics are 38-25 and the Knicks are 25-38 after this game.  They have opposite records and best of all, the Knicks are 13 games behind their rivals!

 

The Celtics travel to Cleveland after a 5-0 homestand.  Last time, they beat the Cavs at the Garden in another miracle.  Can they keep it up and repeat in the Cavs rematch against Team Green?

Scouting Report: Atlanta Braves

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The Braves are still clearly in rebuilding stages, but have a very strong farm system and topped it off with a few veterans.  Their roster looks to be a good mixture of older guys and top prospects ready to take over the majors.  The choice of veterans might be a problem though, some because they only have a few years left before retirement, some just don’t have it anymore, some never have had much and some just aren’t the right fit.  Here’s a breakdown of how the Braves tackled the off season.
Off-Season Review
The Braves clearly weren’t going after any big name free agents, but they needed to fill up the patchy spots in their young team, and unfortunately, some of that had to be done by signing veteran free agents.  They did as much as they could via trade, but got desperate at times.
They started by quickly resigning their catcher, A.J. Pierzynski.  This was mandatory as they didn’t have many other options.  Then they hit the trade market.
They started by swapping shortstops with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.  Basically, they traded Andrelton Simmons to the Angels for Erick Aybar.  But the full move is a lot more complicated.  They additionally traded a prospect of theirs, Jose Briceno, and got Aybar tied to prospects Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis plus cash.
Just one week later, they sold centerfielder Cameron Maybin to the Tigers for relievers Ian Krol and Gabe Speier.  They signed some more free agents as the non-tender deadline approached.
Starter Bud Norris, reliever Jim Johnson, and after the deadline, David Holmberg, Gordon Beckham and Emilio Bonifacio were signed.  A couple days later, they got Jose Ramirez from Seattle for a PTBNL and cash.  The next week they got D-Backs No. 1 prospect Dansby Swanson with outfielder Ender Inciarte and Aaron Blair for Shelby Miller and Gabe Speier.
The next day they traded Christian Bethancourt to the Padres for Casey Kelly and a prospect.  On December 16, they signed Tyler Flowers to replace Bethancourt as backup catcher.  On January 7th they brought in Alexi Ogando, Kyle Kendrick, Ryan Kelly, Alex Torres, Jhoulys Chacin and Ozzie Albies to minor league deals and spring training invites.  The next day they signed infielder Kelly Johnson to a major league deal.
Carlos Torres and Jeff Francouer also got later minors deals and invitations towards the end of the off season.
The Braves spent the late off season on a bunch of free agent veterans, most on minors deals, but the trades they made early in the off season will really pay off.
Spring Training Storylines
How will the new rotation be?
The new rotation won’t be great, but if things go right, it can go uphill from last year.  Mike Foltynewicz and Matt Wisler need to have good seasons and start emerging into the higher rotation positions they have been put into.  Bud Norris and Kyle Kendrick need to have a big bounce back year, unless David Holmberg or Williams Perez can handle a rotation spot.  The rotation doing well really depends on the older players looking like they did back when they were younger.
Will the veterans pay off?
Depends on the veteran.  Really, this is just going to have to be a prediction.  I think Alexi Ogando and Carlos Torres have a lot of potential to take good major league relief roles this season.  I personally believe in Emilio Bonifacio fitting in nicely.  I think Bud Norris can kick some serious butt again.  For vets they already had at the trade deadline, I think Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher are underrated and could be in starting positions.
The Braves have some veterans with a lot of potential, but some like Gordon Beckham, Kyle Kendrick and Alex Torres have never had anything that impressed me and need to prove to me that they can fit well into their positions. Otherwise, I have them spending some time in the minors.  But they have a good chunk of vets that could boost the team.
The only issue is, when the prospects are ready to hit the majors, will they be better?  We won’t know unless they sit quality vets, which could be an issue.  We could never know.
When can we expect the prospects in the majors?
Guys like Dansby Swanson and Sean Newcomb could make their debuts by June, especially if the veterans don’t pay off.  But in the positions where the Braves have good and developed, but young players, the prospects in those spots might get some more insurance and may not appear till September.
Who are some key non-roster invitees?
Personally, I think this is a similar question to the last one.  My list includes relievers Alexi Ogando and Carlos Torres along with some other pitchers young and old, catcher Ryan Lavarnway, who has seen Braves major league time, young infield prospects Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies, and outfielder Jeff Francouer.  There are many more, but these guys highlight my list.
Which trades did they win and which one will pay off most?
Some trades they won, others they didn’t.  They clearly won the one with the D-Backs where they acquired Dansby Swanson and Ender Inciarte, despite giving up Shelby Miller.
The one with the Tigers was questionable, Gabe Speier was later traded again, so it was basically Maybin for Krol, which the Tigers clearly win.
The Jose Ramirez trade wasn’t necessary, even though they barely gave up anything, and the shortstop swap was a win because of the additional acquisition of Sean Newcomb.  The Christian Bethancourt trade was a win, cause Bethancourt didn’t develop as expected and they got some pitching insurance in their farm system.
The best trade for the Braves was the D-Backs one, it helps both their farm system and their major league roster.
So, I think that’s about all for what to watch for in spring training now for my roster and record projection.

Atlanta Braves Projected Roster

Rotation                            Bullpen
Julio Teheran                   Jason Grilli (CL)
Bud Norris                       Williams Perez
Mike Foltynewicz          Jim Johnson
Matt Wisler                     Ian Krol
Kyle Kendrick                 Jhoulys Chacin
                                           Alexi Ogando
                                           Carlos Torres
Lineup                                   Bench
C: A.J. Pierzynski               Tyler Flowers
1B: Freddie Freeman         Jace Peterson
2B: Gordon Beckham       Ender Inciarte
SS: Erick Aybar                   Emilio Bonifacio
3B: Kelly Johnson               Jeff Francouer
LF: Nick Swisher
CF: Michael Bourn
RF: Nick Markakis
Projected Record: 66-96
So that’s all for today.  Catch my Orioles scouting report later today!

Scouting Report: Arizona Diamondbacks

 

chris-owings

 

Welcome to my new scouting report series. Before spring training ends, I hope to cover every team. We start with one of the most active teams of the off season, the Arizona Diamondbacks. They went in to free agency as a mediocre team that lacked a rotation and veterans in the lineup. But the D-Backs have some of the best sleepers in the league, an some young stars to happen. What are the D-Backs looking like?
Off-Season Review

The Diamondbacks started the off season very quiet. It looked like their only targets were veteran infielders like Howie Kendrick, and some insurance in the rotation. Besides trading away Jeremy Hellickson to the Phillies for prospects, their November was very quiet.

But as December began, teams really started to negotiate for the top players in free agency, starting with some major aces. The Red Sox made the first major move, they signed David Price to a seven year, 217 million dollar deal. But surprisingly, not the Dodgers, Giants, Cardinals or Nats but the D-Backs were first to follow, signing Dodgers ace Zack Greinke to a six year, 206 million dollar contract. Greinke had a breakout in 2015 after eleven subpar seasons between Kansas City, Milwaukee and Los Angeles. He lost in the Cy Young race, but hopes to continue his dominance in 2016.

They shortly after traded Dansby Swanson, Aaron Blair and Ender Inciarte for Shelby Miller and Gabe Speier.

Their rotation was now among the best to match their sleep lineup that boosted them in 2015.

Until February, they were very quiet. More Kendrick rumors were in the air, but they ended up trading Aaron Hill, Chase Anderson, Isan Diaz and cash for shortstop Jean Segura and Tyler Wagner.
So that problem was solved, but A.J. Schugel was claimed off waivers by the Pirates, so they signed closer Tyler Clippard, so current closer Brad Ziegler could take his place in a set up role.

The D-Backs close the off season looking better than ever on paper, but their lineup has development questions. Spring training will show a lot about this team’s faith.

Hot Stove/Free Agency Grade: B+
Spring Training Questions

Will the lineup live up to its name?

This is a tough one to answer. Besides Goldy, Yasmany Tomas and A.J. Pollock. David Peralta also is alright, and Chris Owings, Jean Segura and Jake Lamb are still developing. Owings needs to be a better general hitter, Segura didn’t develop very well when he had the chance, and Lamb is good in the field, but needs to improve his bat. It could go either way.

Who are some key non-roster players?

There are a ton of pitchers that could crash the roster like former Reds reliever Sam LeCure, Wesley Wright, Braden Shipley, Matt Stites, Will Locante and Adam Loewen. Former Giants infielder Joaquin Arias and outfielder Jason Bourgeois could make some bench spots.

Is the rotation fulfilled enough?

I think the rotation is just fine. Greinke and Shelby Miller had amazing 2015 seasons and hope to continue, Patrick Corbin has looked fine in his TJ recovery, and the rest of the rotation is filled with young stars Rubby De La Rosa and Robbie Ray. Archie Bradley or Josh Collmenter, maybe even Zack Godley and Daniel Hudson could be spot starters. So it looks like the D-Backs are looking good and their moves paid off, even with the loss of Jeremy Hellickson and Chase Anderson.
Who is the biggest sleeper in the lineup?

I don’t think that the biggest D-Backs sleeper is any of the young infielders. Outfielder David Peralta is among the best, and the veteran hasn’t gotten much attention in the MLB. On the D-Backs staff, he is well known in the lineup, but only Diamondbacks diehards or MLB analysts would call him an MVP contender in the NL. Although this is only his third year, he has really gotten his name out recently.

D-Backs Projected Roster

Rotation               Bullpen
Zack Greinke.      Archie Bradley
Shelby Miller.     Enrique Burgos
Patrick Corbin.      Josh Collmenter
Rubby De La Rosa   Tyler Clippard
Robbie Ray                Evan Marshall
Zack Godley
Brad Ziegler

Lineup                            Bench
C: Welington Castillo     Phil Gosselin
1B: Paul Goldschmidt   Nick Ahmed
2B: Chris Owings        Oscar Hernandez
SS: Jean Segura           Tuffy Gosewisch
3B: Jake Lamb              Joaquin Arias
LF: Yasmany Tomas
CF: A.J. Pollock.
RF: David Peralta

Projected Record: 88-74
That’s all for today everyone. See the Braves new look in the next post in this series.