Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Jackie Bradley's Comeback

Jackie Bradley had an awful season at the plate last year, so bad that despite being the best defensive outfielder in baseball, the Red Sox seemed to move on from him. The Sox signed Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo, free agent Hanley Ramirez and are all in on phenom Mookie Betts. JBJ is a man without a roster spot.

JBJ's demise has been greatly exaggerated. Jackie went back to work and shortened his swing and flattened it out. The results this spring have shown his progress as he is batting .345. At the end of last year there seemed to be a growing opinion that Bradley would never hit MLB pitching. There now seems to be a renewed faith among those in the game that maybe just maybe Bradley can be a big league hitter. The defense is unquestionable and if Jackie can hit he becomes a commodity. So what does his immediate future hold? Here is what Red Sox beat writer Alex Speier writes:

Bradley has changed the way he swings to a more level/downward plane from the uppercut swings he took a year ago.

“A work in progress,” said Bradley.

If he has to go back to Pawtucket, he has the right attitude, knowing last year was an offensive disaster. It may have been an aberration because Bradley has hit well at every level he’s been at.
Don’t think the scouts who watch Bradley on an everyday basis haven’t noticed. Now the guy who was just the great defender may be able to hit as well and suddenly there’s interest on the trade front. He’s become a chip again.

There is some feeling among scouts that he still has time to figure out an approach that works at the big league level. Meanwhile, his defense is obscenely good, to the point where it took a plummet below the Mendoza Line for him to play his way out of viability as an everyday center fielder.
There’s a decent chance that at some point, his value to another team will exceed his value to the Sox, making him a likely trade candidate. But that time hasn’t necessarily arrived.

The Sox believe they need at least three standout defenders who can hold their own offensively to cover center and right fields at Fenway. On paper, they have that with Betts, Shane Victorino, and Rusney Castillo, but Victorino represents an injury risk and he’ll be a free agent after this year. The Sox’ next two-way impact player is likelyManuel Margot, a 20-year-old who will open this year in High A Salem; Margot is unlikely to reach the big leagues before late-2016.

Bradley thus represents a critical depth option, for now, at least until Margot is ready. As such, at a time when he has two options remaining, there’s little reason for the Sox to be in a rush to move him.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Christian Walker Makes Top 50 Fantasy Prospect List

Christopher Crawford of ESPN released his Top 50 Fantasy Prospect list for the 2015 season. These are guys Crawford feels will have the most impact this season in the majors. Former Gamecock, Christian Walker made the list at #42. Ironically, Walker's best shot at playing time in the majors is if fellow Gamecock Steve Pearce struggles or gets hurt. Here is what Crawford of ESPN had to say about Walker:

42. Christian Walker,1B, Baltimore Orioles
On paper, it doesn't look like Walker will contribute to the Orioles this year, with Chris Davis locked in at first base and Steve Pearce locked in at DH. That being said, if Pearce regresses -- which I personally would bet on -- and Davis struggles with health, Walker is the next man up. With two potentially average offensive tools, Walker should hold his own, and would be a solid bench addition to a fantasy lineup.

Sports Contest

Friday, February 27, 2015

Defense and Bullpen Should Key Gamecock Success This Weekend

The Reedy River Rivalry renews itself starting tonight. The Gamecocks have won 23 out of their last 31 games against Clemson including a three game sweep last season. The three game sweep last year was a bit misleading. The Gamecocks did blow out the Tigers on Saturday but the Friday and Sunday games were far from a given as both saw big Gamecock comebacks. They did what they always do against Clemson, make the plays when they mattered most. Will that happen again? Maybe, but this Clemson team is much better than most think.

Let's start with the rotation, the Tiger rotation has been lights out so far this year. While the Gamecocks also have a strong rotation, the edge has to go to Clemson. The bullpen is another story. This is Clemson's weak spot and Carolina's strength. The Gamecocks have an abundance of arms and it should serve the Gamecocks well this weekend and this season. Teams with great bullpens not only keep leads but also enable their team to come from behind. This could point to more late inning comeback heroics this weekend for the Gamecocks.

Defense has also been an issue for the Tigers, especially in the games with the Gamecocks. Clemson's defense is supposed to be greatly improved from last season but so far that has not been the case. Clemson has already made 11 errors this season in seven games. The Gamecocks have made just 5 errors this year. The Gamecocks appear to have a superb infield defense. This was one of the trademarks of the teams that won it all in 2010 and 2011. While the Gamecocks had a few issues the last couple of years, it was the regression of the infield defense that was most glaring. Those issues appear to be fixed with this 2015 team.

Better bullpen and better defense have been the ingredients to dominating Clemson since 2010. It appears that the Gamecocks have those ingredients again this year which should make for a successful weekend. A word of caution though, Clemson is a very talented team. D1Baseball picked Clemson as their ACC Omaha sleeper. This is what they had to say about Clemson:

Clemson underachieved with a talented roster in 2014, sneaking into the NCAA tournament as one of the final teams in the field and going 0-2 in the Nashville Regional. The Tigers haven’t won a regional since their 2010 trip to Omaha, so this is an important season for coach Jack Leggett’s program. Clemson has the talent to make a deep postseason run if its sophomores and juniors progress as hoped. The Tigers should be outstanding defensively up the middle, with a premium defensive catcher (Chris Okey), an athletic playmaker at second base (Eli White), a rangy shortstop whose arm should benefit from offseason surgery (Tyler Krieger) and a speedy, instinctive, aggressive center fielder (Tyler Slaton). Sophomores Okey, White and 3B Weston Wilson all look poised to take major steps forward offensively after adding strength, and Wilson reminds the coaching staff of former Tiger and first-round pick Richie Shaffer. Clemson also expects key contributions from 1B Andrew Cox and smooth-swinging DH Reed Rohlman. The centerpiece of the lineup is RF Steven Duggar, who is growing into power and posted a strong summer in the Cape Cod League. LF Chase Pinder, the brother of former Virginia Tech star Chad Pinder, is a gamer with a knack for producing hard line drives to all fields, and he could hit the ground running. On the mound, Clemson should have a reliable pair of lefties atop the rotation in Matthew Crownover and Zack Erwin, who both feature advanced feel for three pitches. RHPs Jake Long and Clate Schmidt will battle for the No. 3 starter spot; both have plenty of arm strength and are working to improve their command and consistency. RHPs Drew Moyer, Clay Bates and Patrick Andrews (back from Tommy John surgery) give the Tigers a trio of power arms to anchor the bullpen.

Prediction: Carolina wins two of three including one dramatic late inning comeback.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Tyler Webb Impressing the Yankees

Add Tyler Webb to the list of Gamecocks who could be in the majors at some point this year making an impact. 

Gamecocks vs Clemson Baseball Preview: Will Crowe Moves Up

Clarke Schmidt Could Start Sunday

UPDATED*** Changes in the Gamecock rotation as Will Crowe has moved up to pitch on Friday. Jack Wynkoop will move to Saturday and Sunday has yet to be announced. Josh Reagan has been the Sunday starter but as of right now the Gamecocks have listed it as TBA.

This appears to open the door for Clarke Schmidt to start on Sunday. We said last week that we project the weekend SEC schedule rotation to be Crowe, Wynkoop and Schmidt. Chad Holbrook looks like he is open to the idea of getting that rotation set up for Clemson as well. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

John Farrell Praises JBJ

Yesterday we updated you on the status of Jackie Bradley Jr with the Boston Red Sox, today there is more news coming out of Red Sox camp. Manager John Farrell and GM Ben Cherington came out today and said it is a three way battle for the starting center-field spot for the Red Sox. 

That battle will be between Rusney Castillo, Mookie Betts and of course JBJ. As we mentioned yesterday, JBJ appears to be the odd man out, at least for this season. Rusney Castillo signed a $72 million contract last season while Betts has passed JBJ on the Red Sox prospect charts. More than likely JBJ will spend most of the year in AAA. That didn't stop Red Sox manager John Farrell from praising Bradley. Here is what Farrell had to say along with some quotes from JBJ:

“He’s working to establish himself more as an offensive player,” manager John Farrell said. “In my mind, he’s the best center fielder in baseball. I’m not afraid of saying that. He’s an extremely talented guy. There have been some offensive challenges, but we don’t deny what he can do. And he can play center field as good as anybody.” 

Farrell said he is encouraged by what he has seen from Bradley at the plate early in camp. 

“It’s a more compact swing,” Farrell said. “He’s not looking to pull the ball or trying to lift the ball, as I might have seen last year. Jackie might disagree with that. But I saw a guy who tried to hit the ball in the air a little bit more. He’s back in the middle of the field. It’s more of a line-drive approach. It’s more to maybe his swing that’s natural to him.” 

Bradley, who turns 25 on April 19, certainly sounded like a player who expects to have a chance to win a job. 

“Confidence level has never been an issue for me,” he said. “Even on my toughest days, my confidence will never waver. Nothing but focus and determination from me. I just have to continue to do what I normally do. Head down and getting at it.” 

All three outfielders still have minor league options, meaning they can be sent to Triple-A without being exposed to waivers.

Cherington said the Red Sox have all spring to sort those things out. A trade remains a possibility, although Cherington said he envisions a scenario that all seven outfielders will still be with the organization when the season opens April 6. 

“We see ourselves seeing what’s out there tomorrow,” Cherington said. “We don’t have to think about those decisions yet, so we’re not going to spend lot of time and energy on it. It gets in the way of what we need to accomplish this spring.” 


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Jackie Bradley Jr Update

There was a report last week that the Braves were interested in trading for Jackie Bradley Jr. While true, it doesn't look like that will be happening anytime soon. The Braves did contact the Red Sox early in the offseason about Bradley but a deal could not be reached and the talks died. According to Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston, a source in on the talks indicated that the Sox still hold Bradley in very high regard.

Bradley is a long shot to make the Red Sox active roster out of Spring Training this year. The Sox outfield is loaded. Hanley Ramirez was signed in the offseason to play left field. Rusney Castillo was signed towards the end of last season to play centerfield. Shane Victorino appears healthy and ready to be back in right field. Mookie Betts passed Bradley on the Red Sox prospect ladder last year and he is in the mix for a starting outfield spot as well.  Then there is Allen Craig who plays the corner outfield spots and first base.

JBJ will likely start the year in AAA and play everyday. He needs at bats more than anything. The Red Sox need to evaluate him further. Next year the Sox may have two open outfield spots and Red Sox management don't appear ready to give up on Bradley just yet.