Boy, has this season gone by fast. It feels like just yesterday the Boston Red Sox were hoisting the 2013 World Series trophy, and everyone else was waiting for the season to start again. It feels like just yesterday that Opening Day was here and that the teams were back on the field to start a new season with a clean slate. But this first half of the season has gone by fast. Really fast. Now we are at the All-Star break, and it is time to give out some "first-half awards," talk about some surprise teams, and just recap what went on during this fantastic first half of the 2014 season.
National League Awards:
MVP: Jonathan Lucroy, C, Milwaukee Brewers
Jonathan Lucroy has been the best player in the National League this season. He's more valuable to the Brewers than Troy Tulowitzki is to the Rockies. It is not only his offense that is near the top of the National League, but his handling of the Brewers pitching staff is arguably just as good as Yadier Molina's handling of the Cardinals pitching staff. While Lucroy's 3.7 WAR is tied for fifth in the National League and his OPS ranks 9th. So far on the season, Lucroy is batting .315/.385/.494 with nine homers and 44 runs batted in. Those are MVP worthy numbers on any level.
Honorable Mentions: Troy Tulowitzki, Andrew McCutchen, Carlos Gomez, and Giancarlo Stanton
Rookie of the Year: Billy Hamilton, OF, Cincinnati Reds
Only two rookies, Hamilton and Chris Owings, have WARs above one. While Owings has had a good season, Hamilton has been more impressive. He's hitting a slash line of .285/.319/.423 with 38 stolen bases, which ranks second in the National League to only Dee Gordon, who has an astounding 43 stolen bases. Hamilton's 4.7 percent walk rate is not great, but he is getting on-base on a fine rate. One other plus to Hamilton's game is his defense; he boasts a 9 defensive runs saved this season and a 23 UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) prorated to 150 games. Hamilton's case is better than anyone else's.
Honorable Mentions: Chris Owings and Tommy La Stella
Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
A no-hitter, a 40+ innings scoreless streak, and a sub-2 ERA. That's enough to be not only a Cy Young award winner, but also MVP. On the season, Clayton Kershaw is 11-2 with a 1.78 ERA and a 1.60 FIP in 96.1 innings pitched. Kershaw leads all National League pitchers with a 3.7 WAR, 1.72 xFIP, and ranks third in the National League in left-on-base percentage with an 83.6 mark. Kershaw also has a 126 to 13 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In terms of FIP, Kershaw is having the greatest seasons of his career. The Dodgers are fantastic in his starts, as they are 11-3 when Kershaw is on the hill.
Honorable Mentions: Adam Wainwright and Stephen Strasburg
Manager of the Year: Ron Roenicke, MGR, Milwaukee Brewers
Ron Roenicke has dealt with the issues surrounding Jean Segura quite well. Not to mention, he took the Brewers, a team that was supposed to be around the bottom of the National League Central, into contention, with one of the hottest starts of the season. While they have cooled off greatly, they still are playing very good baseball, which has to come back to the managerial experience of Roenicke. Not to mention, Roenicke has challenged 14 calls this season, and nine were overturned, for an astounding 64.2% success rate. His work for the Brewers has taken them far and could take them further.
Honorable Mentions: Matt Williams and Bryan Price
The 2014 MLB All-Star Game is almost here. With only 17 days to the All-Star Game, I have decided to vote for the National and American Leagues' squads. Without further ado, here are my 2014 MLB All-Star Game rosters and why I have selected them.
First Base -- Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
Goldschmidt is the best first baseman in the National League. He leads National League first baseman with an .918 OPS, helped by his fourth-highest on-base percentage and the league-lead slugging percentage. Goldschmidt, known as "Goldy," has the highest WAR of any National League first baseman with a 3.0 mark and has posted a 149 wRC+, good for fourth. Not to mention, he is a class act off the field, as he spent a good ten minutes talking baseball with me when I ran into him in New York last year.
Second Base -- Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies
Utley is enduring one of his best seasons in a long time, and deserves an All-Star appearance to cap it off. His batting average, which was over .300 on June 21, has dipped to .295, but Utley's stats are too good to not net him his sixth All-Star selection. Utley leads all National League second baseman with a 2.6 WAR, has hit a third-highest six home runs, posted the third-highest wRC+, and has the second lowest strikeout percentage. The Phillies second baseman is playing as well as anybody.
Shortstop -- Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies
This one is a no-brainer. Tulowitzki has been the first-half's National League MVP, if there was such an award. Forget where he stands against the National League shortstops, Tulowitzki has the highest batting average in the major leagues. His OPS is just as good, as his 1.060 mark leads everyone. Even with the Coors Field effect, Tulowitzki's OPS+ (which is known to take the ballpark effects out of a player) ranks behind only Mike Trout, posting a 176 mark. If Tulowitzki is not voted in as shortstop in the National League, I have no idea why.
Third Base -- Todd Frazier, Cincinnati Reds
Todd Frazier is the best third baseman in the National League. His .284 (5th among NL third baseman)/.350 (4th)/.508 (1st) slash line might not be the best of National League third baseman, but Frazier has done enough to make him worthy of an All-Star nod. How can the leader in National League OPS of third baseman not crack the top five in the voting (as of June 23)? Frazier's strikeout rate is extremely high, but he still has provided the most WAR of any third baseman in the NL and has the highest wRC+. Vote Todd Frazier to the All-Star Game.
Catcher -- Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee Brewers
I have really enjoyed watching Lucroy tear up any pitching this season. This season, Lucroy has been the best catcher in the National League, hands down. He has a 3.7 WAR (1st among NL catchers) and a 156 wRC+ (1st). His defense is highly underrated. While he might not be Yadier Molina behind the plate, Lucroy has been absolutely invaluable to Brewers' pitching. His .336 batting average alone should be enough to earn him All-Star status, but for good measure he also leads all NL catchers in on-base percentage, and is second to only Evan Gattis in slugging percentage.
Outfield -- Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins
Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton is the best in the National League. There is no doubt in my mind. Besides his fantastic power numbers (21 home runs, .596 slugging percentage; both first among National League outfielders), Stanton is a very underrated all around hitter. His .316 batting average is also tops among NL outfielders, and his on-base percentage is only behind Andrew McCutchen. He actually plays average defense and his overall WAR ranks first in the National League. As of the last update, Stanton ranked fourth among outfielders. That is unacceptable.
Outfield -- Carlos Gomez, Milwaukee Brewers
Carlos Gomez is another class act off the field. While he has started some scuffles on the field, I truly believe that is because he is passionate about his job and what he does. Gomez reads my website, and has followed me on Twitter for a long time. Not to mention, he is on my fantasy team. Before bias takes the best of me, look at Gomez's numbers. They are definitely All-Star caliber. He has a .310/.375/.525 triple-slash line, while posting the second-highest WAR, behind only Giancarlo Stanton, among National League outfielders. Gomez is a very good defender and is the cornerstone in the Milwaukee Brewers offense. He is as deserving as anyone for an All-Star appearance.
Outfield -- Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
Andrew McCutchen continues to provide MVP-type numbers in Pittsburgh. His .943 OPS is second among NL outfielders, along with his 167 wRC+. His WAR is good for third, but his UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating; measures how many runs a player is worth on defense) on defense ranks second to last. That could be what really hurts McCutchen's stock and might make the fans choose Yasiel Puig, but I am still a fan of what McCutchen brings to the table every day, and what he has brought to the Pittsburgh Pirates organization as a whole. Nearly single-handedly, he has turned them into a winning organization, which I absolutely applaud.
First Base -- Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox
How hard is it to come from a foreign country to the United States and then thrown into a game where as many as 40,000 fans show up to watch you play? That has been the story of Jose Abreu, who has taken the majors by storm. Abreu, 27, was given $68 million to come to the United States and play for the Chicago White Sox and already he has paid dividends. Abreu, even after sitting on the DL for some time, leads the American League (not just first baseman) with 25 home runs and is fourth with a .959 OPS (second among AL first baseman). He strikes out a lot, but as long as he keeps his power numbers high and continues to get on base, there is nobody more deserving than Abreu.
Second Base -- Jose Altuve, Houston Astros
Jose Altuve has the most hits in the major leagues, with 113. He is behind only Troy Tulowitzki in batting average, but leads all American Leaguers with a .343 mark. The 5'6" Altuve does not provide top-notch power numbers, as he has only homered twice, but, according to Moneyball, what is most important of any major leaguer? To get on base. With a .383 on-base percentage, Altuve does exactly that. He also leads the American League in stolen bases with 34 to cap it off. Since being signed as an amateur free agent in 2007, Altuve has, and will be, the leader on the Astros.
Shortstop -- Alexei Ramirez, Chicago White Sox
Just because Derek Jeter is retiring this season does not automatically make him an All-Star. He is batting just .272/.329/.330 this season. Alexei Ramirez, without Jeter in the running, would be the starting shortstop for the American League team, which is why I am voting for him. He has a .295 (1st among AL shortstops)/.327 (4th)/.422 (1st) slash line with eight home runs and 39 RBI. While Jeter has barely stretched 0.5 in the WAR department (he has a 0.6), Ramirez is second in the pack with a 2.0 WAR. Of deserving shortstops for the All-Star Game, Ramirez is number one.
Third Base -- Josh Donaldson, Oakland Athletics
I am so happy that Donaldson has a sizable lead for the All-Star Game. As I wrote not too long ago, Donaldson is the most underrated player in baseball, let alone American League third baseman. He has a good lead in nearly every metric of American League third baseman, including a 3.6 WAR. His wRC+ ranks third at 125. His defense, however, may be his most underrated of all his attributes. His UZR is 11.8, which ranks first over Manny Machado by 7.6 points! That is just, well, fantastic. Donaldson is the best third baseman in the American League, if not in the major leagues.
Catcher -- Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals
If Matt Wieters was not hurt, he would be my selection here. But he is, and I believe that Salvador Perez is the best all-around catcher in the American League. His combination of offense and defense is excellent, all while helping to lead the Royals into second place in the American League Central. He has posted a .785 OPS, which ranks third among AL catchers. His 117 wRC+ also ranks third. But it is his defense that truly separates himself. In the overall defense metric, Perez ranks above Yadier Molina for first in the major leagues. That is what sets him apart and what gives him the nod at starting catcher in the American League.
Designated Hitter -- Victor Martinez, Detroit Tigers
People love the power that Nelson Cruz supplies, but how is Martinez third in the AL designated hitter voting? While Cruz has homered 25 times, Martinez is a close second, with 20 bombs. He also has a .323/.383/.592 triple slash line, which he ranks first in all three categories. Martinez has one of the lowest strikeout percentages in the major leagues, behind only Jose Altuve. He has a 160 wRC+, nine points better than Neslon Cruz's 151. With all these fantastic stats, why is Martinez not leading the voting? Vote for him now and put him as the starting designated hitter.
Outfield -- Mike Trout, Los Angles Angels of Anaheim
Mike Trout is the best outfielder in all of baseball. That's enough said. Regardless, I will continue with the stats. He is atop all outfielders with 18 homers and leads them with a .611 slugging percentage. He is second in both on-base percentage and batting average, but is nearly an entire WAR point ahead of second place Alex Gordon. He also leads all American League outfielders with a 182 wRC+. Trout does not really need a description to show why he is an All-Star, he does that enough on all the highlight reels we see on MLB.com and on ESPN. Trout is a fantastic player and deserves to go to his third consecutive All-Star game.
Outfield -- Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays
Most people think of Jose Bautista as the guy that homered 54 times back in 2010, but he has completely evolved his game since. He still has power (Bautista has homered 18 times this season thus far.), but Bautista gets on base a lot more than he did, posting an AL-leading .433 on-base percentage. How did he do it? He has brought his strikeout percentage down and his walk percentage up. In 2010, Bautista stuck out in 17% of his plate appearances and walked in just 14.6%. Now, they have practically reversed roles, as he walks in 17.5% of his plate appearances and strikes out in 14.2%. Bautista continues to make adjustments, making himself a better hitter. That is a true All-Star.
Outfield -- Yoenis Cespedes, Oakland Athletics
Cespedes' throw of the year sold me for voting for him. Cespedes' UZR ranks 11th in the American League with a 2.7 mark, but his ARM (runs saved via a throw) ranks second with a 6.3 mark. And that is just his defense. Cespedes is one of the primer power hitters in the American League, showing us what he could do in the Home Run Derby last year. Cespedes has 14 home runs this season, which ranks seventh in the AL among outfielders and has a .502 slugging percentage which ranks sixth. His OPS of .827 is also sixth. Cespedes is one of the best pure power hitters in the American League and deserves his first ever All-Star nod.
The 2014 MLB Draft starts on June 5. Over 2,000 young men will become professional baseball players, as teams hope to find their future starts. I'll be covering the draft on Twitter, so make sure you are following and check it out as the draft goes on. Here are my predictions for how the first round plays out:
1. Houston Astros -- Brady Aiken, LHP, Cathedral Catholic High School (CA)
Aiken has the perfect pitcher frame; he's 6 foot, 3 inches, and weighs 210 pounds. The 18-year-old throws a fastball into the low 90s, many project it could reach the 92-94 range; has a solid curve that has a good break, it could become a plus offering; and has great deception on his change-up, which could also be a plus offering into the future.
2. Miami Marlins -- Carlos Rodon, LHP, North Carolina State
Carlos Rodon has a shot to go to the Astros at number one, but I think he'll fall to the Marlins at two. Rondon has a fastball that can touch 97 mph and can overpower hitters late in the count with a fantastic slider. He's working on a change-up that could be an average pitch into the future. He's got the durability and frame to become a number one starter when it is all set and done.
3. Chicago White Sox -- Tyler Kolek, RHP, Shepard High School (TX)
The Chicago White Sox haven't selected a pitcher in the first round since they picked Chris Sale in 2010. They won't pick another position player here. Simply put, Tyler Kolek has the best fastball of the entire draft class. He can hit 97-99 mph routinely and can touch 100 on the gun. His command isn't top notch, but if it comes, watch out. Kolek has been compared to Nolan Ryan in the past.
4. Chicago Cubs -- Aaron Nola, RHP, LSU
The Cubs have plenty of bats in their system, but pitching comes more at a premium. Aaron Nola, the righty coming from Louisiana State, can balance their organization. He hit the low to mid 90s with his fastball with some sink, a fantastic curveball, that, when he's on, can make anyone swing and miss, and a decent change that sometimes flashes plus. He's got good command and hits his spots. Of the 2014 draft prospects, Nola has the best chance to reach his ceiling and make the big leagues first.
5. Minnesota Twins -- Nick Gordon, SS, Olympia High School (FL)
The Twins have been connected to Gordon, and he will be drafted here. While passing up Alex Jackson, perhaps the best offensive player in the draft, they are getting a speedy shortstop with a fantastic glove. The brother of Dee, Nick Gordon has a nice line drive stroke with some pop, making him the best shortstop in the 2014 class. The Twins have a lot of pitching in their system, but are lacking some position players. Gordon will add to that.
6. Seattle Mariners -- Alex Jackson, C/OF, Rancho Bernardo High School (CA)
This pick will enrage the Phillies, who need another bat in their system. Jackson could, and just might, be a top five pick, but I predict he falls to the Mariners at number six. While the Mariners have hitting in their system, they cannot pass up on Jackson, who's bat could post a .280 average with 25-35 homers in the big leagues. While he has a good arm behind the plate, many expect him to move to the outfield to maximize his bat.
7. Philadelphia Phillies -- Kyle Freeland, LHP, Evansville
The Phillies farm system improved via their last draft, so I expect them to continue to boost their stock with the seventh overall selection. They take the best available player on the boards, picking Kyle Freeland of Evansville. Freeland can touch 94 with the fastball, while many expect that to rise as his big frame could bring that into the mid-90s. He's got a good slider and a good changeup, which could be an above average and a plus pitch, respectively.
8. Colorado Rockies -- Sean Newcomb, LHP, Hartford
The University of Hartford has only had one player drafted before the tenth round (Jeff Bagwell, 4th Round) ever. Sean Newcomb will change that. He'll likely be a top ten pick, and I believe he'll go to the Rockies at number eight. He has a fastball that can reach 97 miles per hour, a slider with some bite, a change up, and a curveball. Although his command is not top quality, few can match his velocity.
9. Toronto Blue Jays -- Trea Turner, SS, North Carolina State
The Blue Jays get two selections in the top fifteen, at numbers nine and eleven. They select shortstop Trea Turner at number nine from North Carolina State. Turner has excellent speed and will be a threat to run whenever he is on the basepaths, is a decent fielder, and will likely bat at the top of the order. While his swing still needs improvement to get more line drives, Turner's speed will likely have him land at nine.
10. New York Mets -- Michael Confronto, OF, Oregon State
The Mets have some great pitching prospects. A college outfielder would definitely be a great compliment to that. Michael Confronto from Oregon State is Baseball America's highest rated outfielder (except for Alex Jackson who is a C/OF) and for could reason. Confronto has the opportunity to hit 25 or more home runs in the majors due to his size and uppercut he has in his swing. He swings and misses a lot, so his average shouldn't be great, but his average defense and above average power should be enough to land him at number 10.
11. Toronto Blue Jays -- Touki Toussaint, RHP, Coral Springs High School (FL)
The Blue Jays have a very strong connection with Toussaint, so there is no reason why he shouldn't be drafted by them. Toussaint's fastball operates in the 91-93 range, but has hit 97; his curveball has so much downward action that catchers can barely catch it; and his changeup needs work, as he throws it too hard into the mid-80s. Toussaint, however, does have good promise, and the Blue Jays should be willing to take a chance on him here at number 11.
12. Milwaukee Brewers -- Max Pentecost, C, Kennessaw State
The Brewers could go with a number of players here, but they are particularly weak at catcher in their organization. Pentecost has a good line drive swing and is smart in the batter's box. He also can post minimal power numbers, you might be able to get around 15 home runs in the majors. He's a decent backstop, as his arm is very good, but it needs work on accuracy. Many expect that Pentecost will be able to remain at the catcher position, so the Brewers will nab him here at number 12.
13. San Diego Padres -- Brandon Finnegan, LHP, Texas Christian
If anyone has the best chance ten years down the road to be considered a "steal" in this draft, Finnegan is it. He has a commanding fastball that can reach up to 98 on the gun, a good feel for a change up that could be above average, and a swing and miss "slurve-like" pitch. He's got decent command that keeps runners off of base via the walk and hit by pitch, and repeats his motion very nicely. Let me tell you again: Finnegan will be dominating hitters in the majors in just a few years.
14. San Francisco Giants -- Grant Holmes, RHP, Conway High School (SC)
The Giants have been connected to Holmes, so it's very likely they select him. Holmes can really throw the heater, touching triple digits at times. He has a ridiculous curveball that is harder than normal, but has great spin and depth. His changeup is still developing, something that will need to happen in order for Holmes to make it big at the next level. The Giants are good at developing some talent, so I think Holmes will be put into a good situation in San Francisco.
15. Los Angeles Angels -- Kyle Schwarber, C/1B, Indiana
The Angles will likely be looking for an advanced college bat to help them in the near future. Schwarber perfectly fits that mold as he has some very good power, while also working counts in his favor. People view him as a 30+ homer player if he can remain healthy and play everyday, which is why he could be making the move to first base in the near future. Besides C.J Cron, the Angels really don't have very powerful first baseman or catchers in their organization. Schwarber will change that.
16. Arizona Diamondbacks -- Bradley Zimmer, OF, San Francisco
Zimmer has a fantastic swing that keeps him in the first round of this draft. He hits line drives to all fields and could provide some power if he adds loft to his swing. Regardless, he's a very solid choice. Zimmer has good instincts on the base paths and has decent speed as well. He could play center field, but his arm definitely has the makings of a corner outfielder.
17. Kansas City Royals -- Tyler Beede, RHP, Vanderbilt
The Royals like their pitching, and Beede is no exception. He can pitch. Beede throws quite a heater; sitting around 92-94 and topping out a 97. He has a sharp curveball and good changeup, both looking like above average pitches into the future. He was selected in the first round of the 2011 MLB Draft by the Blue Jays, but decided to attend Vanderbilt. He was dominant and set a school-record 14 victories last spring. Beede could go higher, but his command has some issues.
18. Washington Nationals -- Derek Hill, OF, Elk Grove High School (CA)
Hill's dad, Orsino, is a scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but likely won't get his shot at his son at pick 22, as Derek will likely be a top-20 selection. I have him going here to the Nationals, and even though they like college bats, Hill has the chance to be something special. He flies on the basepaths, is a fantastic defender, and offers a very good line drive swing with a nice approach. Hill has the chance to add some power as he gets older, something to perhaps make him more valuable.
19. Cincinnati Reds -- Monte Harrison, OF, Lee's Summit West High School (MO)
The Reds like Harrison because of his athletic ability, and while this may be a bit of a reach at 19, he's definitely worth a look late in the first round. Harrison has a ton of raw talent, as he has committed to Nebraska to play both football and baseball. Harrison's bat needs some improvement, but if he solely focuses on baseball, it should definitely speed that up. His arm is his best asset; he was clocked throwing 97 mph from center field during the Perfect Game National in June.
20. Tampa Bay Rays -- Casey Gallipse, 1B, Wichita State
Gallipse has awesome power. One scout said that Gallipse was the best switch-hitter he has seen in years and gave him a chance to be Mark Teixeira or Lance Berkman. His power is fantastic -- he led the Cape Cod League with eight homers in 43 games. He shows a great approach and is able to hit for a decent average. The Rays need to add to their diminishing farm system, and a college bat like Gallipse should do exactly that.
21. Cleveland Indians -- Derek Fisher, OF, Virginia
The Indians want a college bat, like many of the teams in front of them, so they go with a proven prospect in Derek Fisher. He was drafted by the Rangers in 2011, and turned down a substantial offer to head to Virginia. Well here he is again, and better than ever. Fisher had some issues in his first two years in college, but had a strong showing in the Cape Cod League, posting a .453 on-base percentage. Fisher has raw hitting abilities and power and he could be a plus player into the future.
22. Los Angeles Dodgers -- Erick Feede, RHP, Nevada-Las Vegas
The Dodgers would love Feede here. While they really don't need any older pitchers, Feede's upside is great, even though he did just have Tommy John surgery. When healthy, Feede can throw as high as 95 mph, sporting flashes of an above-average slider and a good changeup. His size isn't the biggest, so it is possible that Feede could end up projecting into a really good pitcher. And we know all too well that the Dodgers really like really good pitchers.
23. Detroit Tigers -- Nick Howard, RHP, Virginia
Howard is used as the Cavaliers' closer, due to the fact that he can throw into the high 90s, touching 98 at times. He has a really good slider at times, but it can lose its bite. The Tigers might be able to convert Howard back into a starter, which may be the reason for taking him at 23 overall. But I don't have any issues with Howard sticking as a closer, something he might be able to excel at in the majors.
24. Pittsburgh Pirates -- Jacob Gatewood, SS, Clovis High School (CA)
This might be a bit low for Gatewood, but it's hard to project him going any higher. The Dodgers, who like players that add value, could nab Gatewood, but I have them going with Feede. Gatewood is a very powerful shortstop and is also a great athlete that has good arm strength. People were concerned about his bat in general, which has hurt his stock over the past few weeks. With a better bat, he could be a top 10 pick, which is why the Pirates could be getting a very nice steal at 24.
25. Oakland Athletics -- Ti'quan Forbes, SS, Columbia High School (MS)
Rumor has it that the Athletics like Forbes, so that is who I'm having them go with here. Forbes may be a bit of a reach, but Billy Beane knows young talent better than anyone. He's good across the boards, showing promise fielding, especially with his arm, which could end up moving him to third base. At 6-foot-4, Forbes' bat could improve into being a solid hitter. The Athletics like taking young bats under their wings and improving them.
26. Boston Red Sox -- Micheal Chavis, SS, Sprayberry High School (GA)
Chavis is very solid across the boards, but does not have one aspect of his game that wows scouts. He has a good line-drive swing and could hit 18-20 homers in the big leagues. His arm, one of his strengths, could move him to anywhere in the infield. The Red Sox will have many options if/when he comes up to the big leagues. He will likely end up at third base, where many think the Red Sox will draft this year.
27. St. Louis Cardinals -- Luis Ortiz, RHP, Sanger High School (CA)
The Cardinals are known for developing young pitching, so it's hard to project them picking anything but a pitcher. Luis Ortiz of Sanger High School has tremendous upside, topping out at 97 mph. He has a slider that can make hitters swing-and-miss, while also having a decent changeup. Ortiz is working on a curveball as well to add to his repertoire as well. There are some injury issues in his forearm, but the Cardinals should be willing to take a chance on him down at number 27.
Jose Fernandez steps out on to the mound to begin the fifth inning. It hadn't been the best start for him, as he pitched four innings, allowing two runs, striking out four. But that fifth inning changed everything for Fernandez and was the inning that swung his career in dramatic fashion.
Fernandez had been a fan favorite in the Major Leagues. He is just 21 years old, had been to the 2013 All Star Game, won the Rookie of the Year award, and finished third in the National League Cy Young award voting. He went 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA in 28 starts in 2013. On May 9, however, Fernandez's career had taken a turn for the worse.
During his start, Fernandez's fourseam fastball reached an even 98.46 miles per hour in the fourth inning. Then, in the fifth inning, his fourseam fastball fell nearly 10 miles per hour, to just 89.85 miles per hour. Fernandez retired the side in order, but based on the freak fall in velocity, Fernandez definitely injured his arm in the fifth inning. Although his velocity made a minimal rebound in the sixth inning, he allowed two singles, walked Yasmani Grandal, and gave up a grand slam to Jedd Gyorko before being replaced by Brad Hand.
Fernandez tore his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his throwing elbow. He needed season-ending surgery. Tommy John had the first UCL surgery back in 1974. Since that time, the procedure, known as "Tommy John surgery," has become more common in the Major Leagues. Prior to Fernandez's injury, 17 major league pitchers had to have the surgery this season, including big-time names such as Matt Moore, Jarrod Parker, and Patrick Corbin. The similarity between all of them? They all had velocity drops like Jose Fernandez did on May 9.
The question becomes: How can pitchers avoid Tommy John surgery into the future? Due to the epidemic this season, many have asked the question, and given a wide range of answers. But, they don't know where it really starts. It starts when these pitchers are young; when their arms of developing. And being 13, I have firsthand experience of what goes on with our pitchers and their throwing regimens.
The human arm is not built to throw a ball 95 miles per hour. But, many pitchers have found a way to get their fastballs into the 90s and even into the triple-digits. It's the only way to make the major leagues. For instance, JB Bukauskas, a 17-year-old pitcher from Stone Bridge High School in Virginia, can pitch into the mid to high 90s, and has touched 100. Will he need Tommy John surgery eventually? I don't know. But I do know it's not healthy for pitchers to be doing this.
In the 20th century, baseball was a spring sport only, and pitchers would use the rest of the year to rest their arms for, well, the spring. Now, in most of the United States, baseball can be played in three, and in some places, all four of the seasons. Pitchers can use the off season to take indoor classes, working on their mechanics and bringing their velocity up. They are throwing pitch after pitch, day after day, and even though they are not being injured immediately, the long-term effects can be staggering.
Yes, there are pitch counts. But they can only go so far. If you play on two baseball teams, and the pitch limit is 70 pitches with five days of rest, you can throw 70 pitches one day and come back the next day throwing 70 more pitches. How is this possible? If you are playing on two teams, in different leagues, one team "doesn't know about" the pitches you threw the day before for your other team, thus they can pitch you. And if you're not feeling any pain, why turn down the opportunity to pitch? You wouldn't.
My answer to the "Tommy John question" is plain and simple: people are putting too much stress on their arms when they are young, basically ruining their elbows at a young age. And if/when they make the major leagues, their arms cannot handle what is given to them, causing a tear in their UCL, and leading to what has been a horror for many lately, Tommy John surgery.
30. Chicago Cubs (16-27)*
Pitcher Jeff Samardzija is second in the National League in ERA, but has yet to earn a win, going 0-4 in his nine starts. Since 1914, only Whitey Ford and he have gone nine starts, each allowing three or less runs, without getting a win. That goes to show how hard it is for the Cubs to score some runs and win ballgames consistently.
29. Houston Astros (17-29)*
Offseason acquisition Dexter Fowler has been the main cog in the offensive attack for the Astros, leading the team in OPS+, on base percentage, and runs scored. Overall, the Astros rank second-to-last in the American League in batting average, last in runs scored, and fourth-to-last in OPS. It's been a tough season all the way around for Houston.
28. Pittsburgh Pirates (18-26)*
The Pittsburgh Pirates cannot find that same spark that took them all the way to the postseason last year. Part of the reason could be the play from outfielder Starling Marte, who's OPS+ took a big hit, from 121 to 108. There is reason for hope in Pittsburgh. Their team batting average has gone up 22 points since the beginning of May, but their pitching staff has brought it's ERA up too. Losing five of their last seven does not help, either.
27. Philadelphia Phillies (20-22)*
The Phillies are seeing on-and-off play from third baseman Cody Asche so far this season. He has 16 hits and a .333 batting average in the month of May, but seven of those 16 hits have come in the last three games. Without those at bats and hits, Asche would be batting just .250. The Phillies offense has been just like Asche, inconsistent. The Phillies have been shut out five times in May, but have averaged 3.8 runs a game, higher than their April mark of 3.7.
26. Tampa Bay Rays (19-27)*
I am not really sure what has gone wrong with the Rays to begin this season. They have scored an adequate amount of runs, have an average American League ERA of 4.20, but are sitting at the bottom of the American League East at 19-26. Injuries seem to be the main issue. Matt Moore is going to miss the entire season, Ben Zobrist has a dislocated thumb, and Jeremy Hellickson recently had right elbow surgery. It does not get much worse than that.
25. Chicago White Sox (23-24)*
Jose Abreu is now on the disabled list. He leads the American League in home runs, RBI, slugging percentage, and total bases. He has been the heart and sole of the White Sox. Without him, it looks like they could be falling down this list, and fast. But for now, they are holding their own at number 25, despite losing six of their last eight games.
24. San Diego Padres (21-25)*
I expected more from the San Diego Padres going into this season. They really have not been meeting expectations, and injuries have slowed them more than ever. Like the Rays, many of their stars are currently hurt and on the disabled list, including Andrew Cashner and Josh Johnson. In order for the Padres to make a move, their offense has to pick up the pace. They rank second-to-last in the National League in runs scored, but rank second in ERA.
23. Arizona Diamondbacks (18-29)*
The Arizona Diamondbacks made a fantastic hire in Tony LaRussa to lead their baseball operations. They have been able to string some wins together in May, going 9-6 thus far, scoring 0.6 more runs per game this month than they have all season. The light is finally starting to be seen at the end of this long dark tunnel. Their pitching is starting to figure it out as well, posting a 3.81 ERA in the month.
22. Cleveland Indians (21-25)*
Lonnie Chisenhall has been the Indians best producer this season, posting a .912 OPS, 162 OPS+, and a .364 batting average, all leading the team. Chisenhall has played in only three games against a left-handed pitcher, compared to 31 against righties, causing much uproar across the web. Over his career, Chisenhall has just a .205 batting average against lefties.
21. Texas Rangers (21-24)*
Prince Fielder has a herniated disk in his neck, which is just even more great news for Rangers fans. They have 13 players on the disabled list to begin the season, and even Fielder, who had played in 547 straight games, is now going to be on the sidelines, adding yet another player to the lengthy list of names of Rangers that are injured (although Fielder will not be going on the disabled list).