March 26, 2014

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Bold Predictions for MLB Awards

By: Matt Bowen

On March 31 Major League Baseball will officially put old man winter to bed as Opening Day kicks off summer. This will soon become a National Holiday and for good reason. The baseball season signifies the start of something fresh. For many around the country deprived of baseball and sunshine due to the bitter winter this season is a breath of fresh air.

With that being said let’s have some fun and prognosticate some postseason awards.

Justin Verlander

Will Verlander return to Cy Young form in 2014?

AL Rookie of the Year

Baseball is rich in young talent and the product on the field is proof. There’s a general buzz surrounding the league right now because of tomorrow’s stars.

The 2014 Rookie of the Year award will belong to Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura. This kid may only be 5’11” but his arm packs a punch. He has a blistering fastball that can top triple digits and two quality secondary pitches.

The Royals have so much faith in Ventura they’ve already announced he’s made the Opening Day roster and that he’s third in their rotation. Even better, they think he can pitch between 180-200 innings this year.

Without an innings limit and strike-out stuff Ventura is the favorite for AL ROY.

NL Rookie of the Year

No surprise here, Billy Hamilton of the Cincinnati Reds will capture the NL Rookie of the Year.

There’s much debate surrounding Hamilton’s ability to handle the leadoff spot for the Reds this season and beyond. Truthfully, I’m a believer. Hamilton has worked hard this offseason on his batting—especially bunting. He has world class speed and if he gets on base 35 percent of the time he’ll notch 75 stolen bases.

Not to mention he’ll soon be a Gold Glove winner in center field.

He’ll succeed this season and his 2014 NL ROY award will be his prize.

AL Bounce-Back Player of the Year

We won’t call this Comeback Player of the Year, rather Bounce-Back Player of the Year. Both of the players in this category played in 2013, but they didn’t play to their fullest potential.

Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers will once again be a Cy Young candidate this season. His 2013 campaign was marred with rocky starts but he pitched well from August onward and salvaged a 13-12 season.

Look for the 2-time Cy Young winner to return to dominance this season with a sub-3.00 ERA.

NL Bounce-Back Player of the Year

Jason Heyward of the Atlanta Braves deserves a bit of praise. He’s still just 24 years old and has time to become the true star he once was projected to be.

Heyward’s 2013 season was derailed by an early-season appendectomy and a broken jaw suffered when hit by a pitch.

This season will be different and Heyward will prove himself and have a breakout season.

AL Cy Young

This year’s AL Cy Young award will belong to none other than Yu Darvish of the Texas Rangers. He and his pitch arsenal will pull out all the tricks this year and capture the coveted award.

Darvish is now in his third MLB season and will come into his own. Don’t let the fact that he’s missing Opening Day with a stiff neck thwart your expectations for the season. He’ll top 300 strikeouts for the first time in his career and win 20-plus games.

NL Cy Young

Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers currently holds the status of best pitcher in the NL but he’ll be uprooted by rival San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner this time around.

At just 24 years old Bumgarner will be entering his fourth full MLB season. He’s pitched 200-plus innings in each season and he’ll look to build off his impressive 2013 ERA of just 2.77. The towering lefty will make the Giants competitive and be considered an outright star by season’s end.

For that he’ll be named the 2014 NL Cy Young award winner.

AL & NL MVPs

There’s no sense in beating around the bush here—there will be a changing of the guard in Major League Baseball this season.

Youngsters Mike Trout and Bryce Harper will win their respective MVP races. Both players will be no older than 23 years old by the time fall rolls around. These guys are the face of baseball and their performances this season will justify their high praise.

Trout has finished second in the MVP race to Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera in back-to-back seasons but this year he’ll take the title. Harper is a natural wonder and due to his added muscle this offseason he’ll be all that and a bag of potato chips.

Buckle your seats and enjoy the ride—these kids are about to take us to the moon.

June 12, 2013

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Yasiel Puig—Baseball’s Newest Phenom

By: Matt Bowen

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 10 days, you know who Yasiel Puig is.

He’s the 22-year-old right fielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers who is the latest and greatest MLB phenomenon.

Yasiel Puig has brought a lot of excitement to Dodger Stadium this season.

Right now Superman wears Yasiel Puig pajamas to bed at night.

For a team with a 28-36 record who’s been struggling since Opening Day, Puig has made the Dodgers “must-see TV.”

The Dodgers haven’t had this much positive buzz surrounding them since 2008 when Manny Ramirez turned Tinseltown into “MannyWood.”

What Puig has done in just over one week of MLB service is remarkable. He’s already a juggernaut. There’s nothing he hasn’t done on a baseball field. He’s batted in multiple spots in the lineup, gone deep four times including a grand slam and has simply taken over baseball.

He’s showcased his cannon of an arm by throwing out two would-be advancing opponents from the outfield with ease. The last time we saw an arm this good from the warning track was Ichiro in his prime.

He’s been compared to Bo Jackson! That’s not a comparison that gets tossed around lightly, that’s an athlete.

Seriously, who gets compared to Jackson as an athlete? Many athletes may possess particular traits of Jackson’s, but not the entire package.

So, is Puig the reincarnation of Jackson? Only time will tell. One thing is for sure, his meteoric rise to stardom has no ceiling right now.

Last season it was Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim that took baseball by storm, but this story is a bit different. Yes, the two players are in the same city, but there’s something majestic about the Dodgers. The colors, the history, the aura of the franchise are intoxicating and right now Major League Baseball is under the spell that Puig has cast.

The big question is how long can he keep up this torrid pace?

No, he won’t hit around .500 forever, but there’s no reason to believe that he won’t be a career .300-hitter.

In spring training he hit .517, but spring training isn’t always the best evaluator of talent. A hot start in March doesn’t always translate to success. The worry with Puig was that he wouldn’t be able to handle the arsenal of pitches MLB aces would throw at him. So far, he’s hit a thick menu of pitches.  Puig has the opposition scratching their collective head pondering on just how to get him out. He’s even been intentionally walked already.  That’s a good sign that he’s here to stay.

The Dodgers have been waiting for someone like Puig to return them to relevance for some time now. They’re a team that has been plagued by injuries this season. If they can slowly inch closer to .500 until the All-Star break in July they’ll be fine. Come the second half of the season, they’ll be considered the scariest team in baseball.

A healthy Dodgers lineup with a fire-starter like Puig leading the way is a force to be reckoned with.

Don’t let their current record fool you, the Dodgers are coming.

May 22, 2013

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MLB’s Emerging Stars

By: Matt Bowen

Major League Baseball has a brilliant future. Fans everywhere should be ecstatic for the next decade.  Scattered throughout the league, even teams currently below .500 have budding stars.

Sure, every generation of players has their own crop of cornerstones, but this is different. The league is stacked. The competition will be fierce. Playoff races will come down to Game 162. Interest throughout will reach a fever pitch.

We all know the likes of Bryce Harper and Mike Trout are the leaders of the pack when it comes to the “next-generation”, but they are not alone. They’re joined by a bushel of future heroes. Some of which are a touch older than the young 20-somethings, but a star is a star, no matter how long it takes to shine so bright.

Bryce Harper is already a household name for MLB fans.

Here’s a quick rundown of players to fall in love with:

Catcher: Wilin Rosario, Colorado Rockies

This kid has pop at the plate and in the thin air of Colorado he’ll find the cheap seats with ease. A catcher who can hit for average is always a plus and Rosario is holding his own this season. Even though his numbers have dipped in May, he’ll be just fine. The Rockies have smooth sailing ahead of them with Rosario in their lineup for years to come.

First Base: Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks

Fans may not have had a chance to catch Paul Goldschmidt much due to proximity, but he’s a stud. By season’s end he’ll be in the NL MVP conversation. Possessing power, average and enough speed to motor around the bases, he also helps his team with a stealthy glove at first base. The Diamondbacks are in good hands thanks to Goldschmidt. Yes, he’s currently 25 years old, but it’s never too late to be one of the best.

Second Base: Jose Altuve, Houston Astros

The Houston Astros may own a dismal record, but with Jose Altuve on their side better days are in store. At 5’5” he may be undersized, but he shouldn’t be underestimated. The dude can do it all and is the key to the future in Houston. He’s more than fun to watch and should be respected and feared by all.

Shortstop: Jean Segura, Milwaukee Brewers

Whoa baby! Jean Segura of the Milwaukee Brewers puts up silly numbers in the box score. Blessed with plate presence and speed to burn, Segura is a nightmare for the opposition. Just checking his numbers makes one want to move to Milwaukee and watch this guy in person 81 times a year. With the skills he has, it’s almost not fair. Cheers to Segura. Expect him to be an All-Star this season.

Third Base: Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles

Talk about a cornerstone, Manny Machado is it in Baltimore. He’ll be manning the hot-corner for the next 15 years for the Orioles and has yet to scratch the surface of his true talent. He’s only 20 years old. Diehard O’s fans have to be drooling when thinking of the future. Dare I say he’ll be the most beloved in Baltimore since a guy named Cal Ripken, Jr. Machado is the man. Come September, expect heroics.

No Surprise Here, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout Made the list:

It’s safe to say that the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are set in terms of a superstar. Bryce Harper and Mike Trout will bring fans out in droves until they retire. Some may argue that they aren’t “emerging” stars, but let’s be real—they are so young it’s not fair to say we’ve seen or that we can comprehend their “ceiling.” They are the future. Embrace it.

Rounding out the Outfield, Starling Marte, Pittsburgh Pirates:

The Pittsburgh Pirates have been begging for a winner since neon slap bracelets and Nickelodeon slime were in style. Now, with the emergence of Starling Marte to compliment star Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates are built to win.

Marte looks like he’s on skates in the outfield and handles himself well at the plate. He bolsters and gives the Bucs lineup much needed depth. There should be nothing but smiles from the Pirates faithful these days after decades of futility. Marte is the difference in Pittsburgh.

Pitcher: Matt Harvey, New York Mets

While it’s tough to pick just one pitcher, have you seen Matt Harvey on the mound? The 24-year-old is off to a ridiculous start to his career. He looks like Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers and future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux wrapped into one.

A fine blend of power and finesse, Harvey may be considered the best pitcher in baseball by the end of 2014. His fastball is tough enough to blow back hitters while his offspeed arsenal makes them weak in the knees.

After just 19 career starts, he’s being considered a legend. Watching him is a must.

April 3, 2013

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Who’s better: Bryce Harper or Mike Trout?

By: Matt Bowen

Finally, spring has officially sprung as the 2013 MLB season is upon us. While there’s plenty to debate about in regards to the rest of the league, the main focus will be on Bryce Harper and Mike Trout.

Bryce Harper started the season off with 2 Home Runs on Opening Day.

The two sophomore sensations are nothing short of miraculous as they helped reshape baseball forever last season. Their ridiculous display of athleticism and flare for the dramatic are simply astounding. Teams have long groomed their prized prospects until they’re deemed fit by outdated unwritten rules.

Now, thanks to Harper and Trout, many prospects will be brought up as early as 19 years old. They’ve changed the way GMs think, how fans act and how fantasy diehards draft.

One thing is for sure, the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have the center piece of their respected franchises for the next decade.

Baseball couldn’t ask for anything more from these young men in terms of proximity—what we have is a classic East vs. West battle, which ensures Major League Baseball that the entire country is engulfed in the debate.

So, who’s better?

Harper has been highly touted since he left high school early to play college ball. He was hitting homers out of major league ballparks before kids his age got their driver’s license.  The buzz surrounding his arrival at “The Show” reached a fever pitch. The Nationals couldn’t hold him back any longer as they wanted to cash in and put their best possible team on the field.

Harper didn’t disappoint as a rookie, but there’s room for improvement. Relax; before you jump out of your seat screaming, I’ll say it for you—he was only 19 last season. He hit a modest .270 last season with 22 home runs, which is nothing to scoff at from a kid who’s seen minimal big league pitching.

Things can only go up from here. Soon he’ll become comfortable filling in his big league shoes, become patient at the plate and learn the ropes of the outfield.

He started 2013 off with a bang as he hit two homers en route to a 2-0 Nationals win on Opening Day. To put his growing legacy into perspective, he received a standing ovation, at 20 years old, in the fourth inning. Whoa!

Trout is a year older than Harper but is currently viewed as the more well-rounded talent. Trout’s 49 stolen bases in 139 games in 2012 have him going No. 1 in many fantasy drafts, even ahead of Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers.  Oh, not to mention he hit .326 with 30 homers and 83 RBI.

For sake of this debate, Trout did get a cup of tea with the Angels toward the end of 2011. He hit .220 in 123 at-bats. On the other hand, Harper got 74 at-bats at AAA Syracuse before his call came last season.

Never mind his taste of the majors in 2011, Trout made the Angels immensely better and turned into an MVP candidate in 2012. He even has many thinking he’s the best player in baseball.

This is where Harper has the advantage this season—all the pressure is on Trout right now. It’s true that both players have big expectations to meet, but Trout has all eyes on him. With slightly less attention on him, Harper can easily slide safely back into the pole position amongst themselves.

So, who’s better? Who cares! They are both awesome. Watch them as much as you can. Appreciate them. They have revolutionized baseball and given us a new batch of stars to root for.

One last thing to ponder—the scary thought is that both of these boys have yet to fill out. We have to wait until they turn 25 years old before they’ll be “full grown.”

This is one debate fans will be having 50 years from now. And that is why we love this game.

March 13, 2013

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2013 MLB Division Winners

By: Joe Williams

MLB’s Opening day is just a couple weeks away which means it’s time for my yearly ritual of predicting the six division winners and ensuring that those teams don’t have the season they are hoping for. What can I say? It’s a gift. So let’s get on with it.

After signing multiple star players this off-season, can the Blue Jays win the AL East?

A.L. East

It’s gotta be now or never for the Blue Jays right? The Red Sox aren’t going to make a 25-win improvement over last season and the Yankees have been ravaged with injuries. The division door is wide open and Toronto has added several star players. Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buerhle, R.A. Dickey and Melky Cabrera should be able to help the Blue Jays to the top in the A.L. East.

A.L. Central

It almost feels like cheating to pick the team that won it last year. Almost. The Tigers ought to be a hungry bunch after losing in the World Series last year. They may have the best hitter and pitcher in baseball in triple-crown winner Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander. And I don’t see anyone else in the Central making a run at 90 wins.

A.L. West

In 2012, the Oakland A’s surprised everyone and stole the title from the Rangers. Now it’s the Angels that everyone thinks will take the title after they recruited one of the biggest stars in Texas, Josh Hamilton. Adding Hamilton to a lineup with Mike Trout and Albert Pujols makes the Angels scary, but I’m going with another surprise in the West and taking the Rangers.

N.L. East

Everyone in Washington is left wondering “what if” after the Nationals shut down Stephen Strasburg at the end of the season and then collapsed in the playoffs. They’ll have a chance to redeem themselves this October after taking the N.L. East crown. Atlanta will fight them to the end and the Phillies won’t go quietly, but the Nats are the best overall team right now.

N.L. Central

With all the injuries in St. Louis, this looks like the Reds’ division to lose. They won 97 games in 2012 and added a dynamic player in Shin-Soo Choo. Plus…The Astros are gone. The Cubs are the Cubs. The Pirates are still trying to find a way to finish above. 500. So I guess that leaves Milwaukee. Can the Brewers make a run at Cincinnati? It will depend on what they can get from the starting rotation.

N.L. West

This will be the most interesting race I believe. There is a young up-and-coming team in Arizona; the defending world champs in San Francisco and the new Yankees in Los Angeles. The Diamondbacks are probably another year away and the Giants appear to be out-manned by the All-Stars the Dodgers brought in to win last year. A full season with guys like Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez and the addition of Zack Greinke make L.A. the pick.