Results tagged ‘ National League Central ’
MiLB.com will publish the seventh part of my nine-part series on top-ranked prospects who are also top-rated defenders by next week. The piece focuses on the Cardinals’ Oscar Taveras (bio, stats here), the No. 3 prospect in all of baseball. In terms of interview extras — answers that didn’t make it into the story but are significant nonetheless — see below. Enjoy.
Taveras on playing center field in Spring Training (via MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch): “It has helped a lot, me being able to move and read balls in center field. But I don’t know where I’m going to be. Wherever there is an opportunity, I’ll take it… I’ve just played all three outfield positions and I’m comfortable wherever the manager puts me.”
Taveras on the big league camp experience (via Langosch): “I’ve learned a lot from the veterans, especially defensively. I’m happy to be here and learn from those guys. Jon Jay has helped me a lot, especially on where to position myself for some hitters. I feel more confident out there now. I look up to Jay. I like how he’s aggressive out there on balls.”
Outfield teammate Chris Swauger on whether Taveras knows how good he is: “He doesn’t listen to it. He just goes out and plays the game. It’s not as if he is over-thinking stuff or feels the pressure to perform. All he’s really worried about is the game. He doesn’t pay attention to what people are saying about him. I think all Oscar wants to do when he wakes up in the morning is go play baseball. When you play the game like that, everything outside is just noise.”
Swauger on what position Taveras plays long-term: “I think he can play center field, but he has no problem transitioning. To me personally, I think center field is the easiest outfield position to play because you’re straight on. I think he has the speed, range and instincts to play center field, but playing in the corners, not having that priority on fly balls and not having the view, if you want to throw him in right, he has one of the best arms I have ever seen. His routes are good enough for center field and his arm is good enough for right field.”
Double-A Springfield manager Mike Shildt on Taveras’ position long-term: “The good news is he has shown himself to be serviceable in center field.”
Shildt on Taveras’ overall progress: “I look out and see him being more consistent with his work habits, his focus. He has a real sense of purpose now. He has started to take ownership of his defense.
Prospect Q&A: Cardinals Outfielder Chris Swauger on Minor League Camp, Playing Alongside Oscar Taveras
Because Minor League camps are cranking up this week, I thought it appropriate to focus on the kind of farmhand that is not lumped in with those super prospects that receive invites to Major League Spring Training. Enter the Cardinals’ Chris Swauger (bio, stats here), one of the brighter and more thoughtful ballplayers in the Minors.
And he is a prospect. Don’t mistake that. The 2008 26th-round Draft pick has turned himself into just that at age 26.
I caught up with the slugging outfielder — he overcame a fractured thumb and registered two six-RBI games before breaking his collarbone last season — to ask him about getting ready for the rigors of spring. And, yeah, we also chatted about a super prospect who is in MLB camp: Double-A Springfield teammate Oscar Taveras, who likely will be manning the outfield with Swauger at Triple-A Memphis in this summer. (I’m working on a story about Taveras’ defense for our Defensive Gems series. What you see below are good quotes that won’t make it into that story.)
On his offseason: “The last three seasons I have gone off and played winter ball in Latin America during October, November, December, in those months. So it was a different kind of plan [this offseason]. Usually, I wouldn’t start hitting and throwing until the end of January because I would have just got done playing. This year, I got through and cleared out of my rehab in October and then took November and most December off and started hitting right after Christmas So it’s been more of a tuning up this offseason than it has been in the past, but that’s just just because I had such a longer layoff in between. It’s nice to live in Tampa, where I can get outside and on the field anytime I want in December, in January. I took the time to build up my body, get in the weight room, get my conditioning in so that I have a nice base with which I can start my in-season regimen. Our team has designed a really good offseason program through the offseason months and then rolling right into Spring Training, so that I’m already set up for the Minor League season.”
On spring’s rigors: “This is my fifth year going into a Spring Training camp. I have developed a routine of what I need to be able to do — because it is a long day. If you’re not physically ready… There’s a difference between being in shape and being in baseball shape. I found that out the hard way my first year. I was in good physical shape, but I wasn’t used to the cutting, the starting, the stopping, keeping my body loose, cooling down. So I’ve learned to prepare myself for Spring Training.”
On his mindset entering camp: “The short-term goal for me is to move up. I got a little bit of taste of Memphis [in 2012], and my goal is to make that team and be a consistent contributor on that team like I was at Springfield last season. As long as that’s happening, I’m moving forward in my career, that’s the most important thing. I can get better. I want to get better. That’s my goal everyday. If I reach that goal, then getting to Memphis, getting to the big leagues shouldn’t be a problem if an opportunity presents with.”
On the talents of Taveras: “I tell this to everybody who asks. He is, by far, the best player I have ever played with or against. I’ve never seen anyone make this game look so easy. It’s not that he’s not trying hard. It’s that he does everything so well naturally that it looks like he’s just out here playing a different game. We are all out there playing a kid’s game, but he is legitimately playing a kid’s game and the baseball field is his playground. There’s not anything he doesn’t do very, very well. If you watch him play and the ease with which he plays the game at a top level is amazing. There are certain things he does that are not in my tool box. And I’m OK with that. I watch him do things without [him] knowing or trying to do them, and it’s amazing. And I’m not trying to kiss his ass or anything like that. I played with him basically for five months and on a day-to-day basis with the bat and even in the field, it just makes me laugh and shake my head. I know that if I go out there and everything goes perfectly, things will work out for me. But there are some things that I watch him do I’m pretty sure, ‘No, I can’t do that.’ When a guy comes around like that, you don’t try to emulate what he does but emulate the ease with which he plays the game.”
On his go-to memories of Taveras: “I have seen him on so many occasions [where it] looks like the pitcher is in complete command for the first two strikes of the at-bat and it looks like [Taveras] has no idea what he is doing, and then the pitcher makes the best pitch he possibly can, and Oscar not just hits the ball, but barrels it. He finds a way to hit pitcher’s pitches harder than some mistakes. It’s amazing to see that. I would say that he is a left-handed Vlad Guerrero. I told him that one time. I told him he had the same hair and the same playing style, and he goes, ‘No, man, I left-handed.’”
Starlin Castro spent just two seasons with full-season Minor League affiliates and didn’t register his first 100-game campaign until he became a Cub for good late in 2010.
Here is a gallery of then-prospect Castro in 2009 and ’10 wearing a variety of uniforms, including those of Class A Advanced Daytona and Double-A Tennessee. Click on any picture to begin the slideshow. For all past editions of Prospect Flashback, head here.
Here is Reds slugger Joey Votto as a Southern Leaguer in 2006 and an International Leaguer in 2007. Votto (MiLB bio here) played parts of six seasons in the Minors before earning his for-good call-up to Cincinnati in 2008. Click on any photo to begin the slideshow. For all past editions of Prospect Flashback, click here.
Prospect Flashback: Picturing Brewers’ Slugger Ryan Braun at Class A Advanced Brevard County before He Became Milwaukee’s Best
Ryan Braun has been in the news lately, and the stories have been about Biogenesis, not baseball (see below).
Now 29, the slugger has been under suspicion for a lot of things. What we know for sure is that he can hit. He’s been doing that most of the last decade.
Here is Braun as a as a Florida State League farmhand in 2006. He is 22 here, beginning his final full season in the Minors, which he split between Class A Advanced Brevard County and Double-A Huntsville. Click on any photo to begin the slideshow. For all past editions of Prospect Flashback, click here.
PHOENIX — Hours after reporting to Spring Training and declining to answer questions about Biogenesis, Ryan Braun faced a new round of questions about his link to the South Florida clinic under investigation by Major League Baseball.
ESPN.com on Friday afternoon published what it said is an additional excerpt from the logbooks of Tony Bosch, who headed the now-defunct anti-aging clinic, which includes Braun’s name on what a source told ESPN was a list of Biogenesis clients. The firm is being investigated by MLB for allegedly supplying some players with banned substances.
The latest story was published hours after Braun had met reporters and made it clear he was not willing to field questions about Biogenesis.
“I am excited to be back out here for Spring Training, certainly looking forward to the World Baseball Classic and obviously excited and focused on our upcoming Brewers season,” Braun said. “I understand why a lot of you guys are probably here, but I made a statement last week and I stand behind that statement. I’m not going to address that issue any further. As I stated, I’m happy to cooperate fully with any investigation into this matter.”
To continue reading MLB.com’s story, click here.
Prospect Q&A: Reds CF Ryan LaMarre on Tag-teaming Atop Lineup with Billy Hamilton, Becoming Dynamic, More
Behind every great base-stealer, there is a hitter who is waiting to hit. Literally.
In 1982, when a 23-year-old Athletics left fielder named Rickey Henderson stole a career-high 130 bases, he batted leadoff and did much of his damage on the basepaths while No. 2 hitter Dwayne Murphy, Oakland’s center fielder at the time, was taking pitches, not fouling them off.
Thirty years later in 2012, when Reds top prospect Billy Hamilton stole 51 bags in 50 games at Double-A Pensacola to cap his historic 155-swipes season, there was No. 13 prospect Ryan LaMarre working the count, not swinging away.
Like Murphy, however, LaMarre (bio, stats here) is a few things: a good hitter in his own right, an outstanding defensive center fielder and, yeah, an accomplished base-stealer. Cincinnati’s 2010 second-round draftee racked up 55 SBs in 2011 before a foot injury and other circumstances limited him to 30 in ’12. (For the record, the A’s underrated Murphy stole 26 bases in ’82 and won the third of his six straight Gold Glove awards in the outfield’s more demanding position.)
I caught up with LaMarre, now a 24-year-old veteran of three Minor League seasons, to discuss these and other topics this afternoon. He took my call from Arizona — the Reds are hosting Spring Training in Goodyear, and LaMarre has been in town since Sunday night trying to crack his first Major League roster. Enjoy.
On how he spent his offseason: “It went good. I had a tear in my plantar fascia toward the end of last season, so I got that fixed up, got out of a boot probably in late November and then went [into] lifting, conditioning, getting all that stuff in. Then I was back at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, throwing and hitting with some guys. It was good, it went quick, but I feel like I got a lot accomplished. I always try to get a little bigger, stronger, faster, but definitely this offseason I paid more attention to how my body was feeling. If my foot was foot was biting back, I had to pump the breaks a little bit. It responded well, and I think we had a good plan going. The guy who owns the gym that I worked out at did an unbelievable job coming up with a plan and ways to get around my foot problems. I’m feeling great, healthy, ready to go now.”
On evaluating his 2012 season: “It was a good year overall. It was a learning experience. I wasn’t completely satisfied or anything. I always expect more of myself. But I hit leadoff for the first time, for about half of the season, which was a new experience for me — I had never done that. I was trying to work counts, get on base. … It was my first time when I played that many  games, and I think there’s something to be said about that. It was also cool playing for [then-Blue Wahoos manager] Jim Riggleman, knowing that he’s been in the big leagues, he’s done it before. He can tell you what you need to work on to get to that next level. It was just cool to have a guy around that’s been there, and it was just recently that he was there.”
Earlier this week, I detailed the lofty expectations of a tall lefty in the Red Sox system. Expect high praise of this right-hander, too: John Hellweg — the Brewers’ No. 4 prospect — stands 6-foot-9 and is seen as a potential impact starter. Potential being the operative word. Hellweg, now 24 and on his second organization following last July’s Greinke-to-the-Halos trade, has stuff to be a No. 2 starter but has yet to command much of it on a consistent basis. He finished 2012 in the Double-A Huntsville bullpen (bio, stats here) and, while that was simply to keep his innings in check down the stretch, don’t be surprised to see him end up in the ‘pen sometime in the future.
Here is a gallery of Hellweg in every uni he’s donned to date. Click on any picture to begin the slideshow. For all past editions of Prospect Uniformed, head here.
Who Is The Next Billy Hamilton? Wait… Is There Going To Be Another? Four Potential Candidates Examined
We should have seen it coming. All of us. It was foretold in the statistics, as most everything in baseball is.
Billy Hamilton — the fastest man in the Minor Leagues, the all-time stolen-base leader in the Minors, the No. 1 prospect in the Reds’ system and something of the real-life Willie Mays Hayes — swiped 48 bags in 69 games in 2010, his first Class A Short-Season season as a pro.
Forty-eight SBs in 69 Gs is equal proportionally to 94 SBs in 135 Gs.
So we should not have been surprised to see Hamilton, a year wiser in 2011, swipe 104 bags in 135 games. We could have expected that jump in production, just as we could have anticipated his 155-steal, 132-game campaign last season. The simple math dictated his historic run.
In advance of Hamilton’s first Major League Spring Training come February, it’s worthwhile then to do some data-diving and find the next great basepaths-burner lying in wait in the Minor Leagues. According to my research, there are four names to watch. There were chosen because of their speed and ability to steal second and third, yes, but also because of where they’re at in their careers and due to their Hamilton-like potential to be a solid-to-good hitter and a quality up-the-middle-defender.
A 5-foot-10 skinny shortstop that is going from high school hacker to professional switch-hitter? As Fangraphs’ Mike Newman noted recently, his type is a familiar one.
Another prept-to-pro project, he’s a 6-foot-1 center fielder from Hamilton’s home state, Mississippi.
A 5-foot-10 center fielder and “the son of former big league reliever Chuck McElroy,” notes MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo, “C.J. … is the fastest player in the Cardinals system and likely one of the fastest in all of Minor League Baseball.”
A 5-foot-11 center fielder, Galindo has actually stolen 40-plus bases three years in a row but has yet to play at the Class A Advanced level. Expect him to emerge onto the scene this spring and summer in San Jose.
Other to keep tabs on: Padres No. 18 prospect Jace Peterson, Dodgers No. 10 prospect James Baldwin, White Sox No. 5 prospect Keenyn Walker, Rays’ No. 15 prospect Ryan Brett and Orioles’ No. 6 prospect Glynn Davis. … Rangers No. 7 prospect Luis Sardinas told me in an interview that will run on this site next week that he aims to steal 50 bases in 2013. Sardinas, a gifted defensive shortstop blocked by Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar in Texas, swiped 32 in ’12. … Expect also Pirates No. 3 prospect Alen Hanson to pass up fellow top Pittsburgh prospect Gregory Polanco as a stolen-base threat. Polanco stole 40 bases in ’12, but his 6-foot-4 frame doesn’t portend high totals as he adds weight and develops into more of a middle-of-the-order hitter. … And, oh, of course Hamilton, who will likely be beginning ’13 at Triple-A Louisville, and the Astros’ Delino DeShields, whose 101-steal ’12 was overshadowed but still worthy of praise. … Also: the Rockies’ Rafael Ortega, the Padres’ Rico Noel, the Angels’ Chevy Clarke, the Tigers’ Austin Schotts, the Blue Jays’ Anthony Alford and the Athletics’ Aaron Shipman.
Alright, who did I leave out?
Earlier this morning, MiLB.com published the first installment (link here) of my joint Q&A with Pirates outfielders Josh Bell and Gregory Polanco, who are ranked sixth and fifth respectively among Pittsburgh farmhands. I would encourage you to check that out initially. Below is a second installment of outtake questions and answers. Enjoy.
QUESTIONS FOR JOSH BELL:
Me: What’s your your daily routine at the IMG Academy?
Bell: From about 8:30 to 9:00 [a.m.], we stretch. For the next hour, we train our muscles, train on the glute and the hamstrings and the hip flexors to power through while we run. We do different drills, whether it be ladders or just working on karaoke or sled training. An hour is a long time to be doing anything, really. It’s the toughest part of the day, but it’s nice to see results. Even in this first week, I feel like my running mechanics have sharpened up a little bit, so that’s good.
Me: Do you have time for other stuff?
Bell: It’s an all-day thing. I have time after lunch until we play ball. Pedro Alvarez is up here right now. It’s cool to see a big leaguer. Everyone else is in the Minor Leagues. J.R. Murphy is with us. Just guys trying to get better for the upcoming season.
Me: What outfield position do you see yourself at long-term?
Bell: I got moved to right field last year. I don’t really care. The outfield is fun [no matter the position]. I love tracking balls, so wherever, depends on what the team needs.
Me: Is there a ballplayer you model yourself after?
Bell: Do I model myself after anyone specifically? I follow a couple guys on Twitter if that means anything, I guess, for the off-the-field aspect. I really like [Andrew] McCutchen and Matt Kemp, younger guys that have had success in the game. You gotta love Mike Trout, the way he plays.
Me: Have you met McCutchen?
Bell: I shook hands with him once and went to a players-only question-and-answer session that was like 45 minutes long. We could pick his brain and ask him whatever we wanted. It was cool behind the scenes, since we’re players we probably get more answers to our questions than reporters would. I just realized he was a normal guy. It was really cool.
Me: Aside from staying healthy, what are your goals for 2013?
Bell: I haven’t made a goal sheet for next season. This offseason, I just want to get as strong as I can and not leave anything in the tank. I have nothing to worry about this season because I know I have prepared myself the way I know I needed to. I’ll definitely go into Spring Training with a lot more confidence and being more trusting than I was last year.
Me: Where do both expect to begin the 2013 season?
Bell: I would expect [to be back at West Virginia], but I guess that depends on how I play in Spring Training. We’ll see.
QUESTIONS FOR GREGORY POLANCO (@El_Coffee):
Me: Were there adjustments you made before or during last season to put yourself in a position to have such success?
Polanco: I made a lot of adjustments before and during the season. You never stop making adjustments.
Me: Were you surprised by your breakout 2012? Does it raise your expectations for the 2013 campaign?
Polanco: I wasn’t surprised because I worked really hard for that, and thank god I had a great season, and it definitely has risen my expectations for this year.
Me: What is your favorite thing about playing in the Minors?
Polanco: Being able to work on my game everyday, so I can maximize my tools the day I arrive in Pittsburgh.
Me: Who is the toughest starting pitcher you have faced in the Minors?
Polanco: Jose Fernandez from the Marlins.
Me: What part of your game needs the most work?
Polanco: My consistency.
Me: What is your long-term baseball goal?
Polanco: Playing 20 years in the big leagues.
Me: Where do both expect to begin the 2013 season?
Polanco: I’m not sure but I will probably start in the FSL [with the Bradenton Marauders].
Me: Aside from baseball, what is your passion?
Polanco: Video games since I was a little kid. I’m addicted to PS3.
Me: Lastly, is there anything you want your fans and our readers to know about you?
Polanco: Everybody calls me “El Coffee.” It comes from my skin color. My coach growing up gave me [the name]. Growing up, I was a pitcher, too, tall lanky lefty.