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Mark Thompson Jersey

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Mark Thompson became president and chief executive officer of The New York Times Company in November 2012. He has directed the Company’s strategy and presided over an expansion of its digital and global operations. Under his leadership, digital subscriptions have grown from 500,000 to nearly four million and the Company set a goal to reach 10 million total subscriptions by 2025. The Times has successfully expanded into other digital products like Cooking and Crosswords, has launched one of the world’s most successful podcasts and recently premiered “The Weekly”, a new TV news program for FX and Hulu.

Before joining the Times Company, Mr. Thompson served as director-general of the BBC from 2004, where he reshaped the organization to meet the challenge of the digital age, ensuring that it remained a leading innovator with the launch of services such as the BBC iPlayer. He also oversaw a transformation of the BBC itself, driving productivity and efficiency through the introduction of new technologies and bold organizational redesign.

Mr. Thompson joined the BBC in 1979 as a production trainee. He helped launch “Watchdog” and “Breakfast Time,” was an output editor on “Newsnight,” and was appointed editor of the “Nine O’Clock News” in 1988 and “Panorama” in 1990. He became controller (programming and scheduling chief) for the TV network BBC2 and director of television for the BBC before leaving the BBC in 2002 to become C.E.O. of Channel 4 Television Corporation in the United Kingdom.

His book, “Enough Said: What’s Gone Wrong with the Language of Politics?” which is based on lectures he gave as a visiting professor at Oxford University, was published in the UK and US in September 2016.

Mark Thompson was educated at Stonyhurst College and Merton College, Oxford.

Larry Walker Jersey

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It is Larry Walker’s final year on the Hall of Fame ballot. After achieving 54.6% of the vote on 2019’s ballot, another 20% of voters will need to be convinced to send him to Cooperstown.

While plenty of Colorado Rockies fans may try to tell you different, I am here today to let you know that Walker has not met the criteria to join baseball greats like Harold Baines in Cooperstown.

1997 was Walker’s best season and the one in which he won his only Most Valuable Player award. Walker mashed to the tune of a .366/.452/.720 batting line for the Rockies that year, which was good for a 177 wRC+. His 9.8 bWAR represented the greatest single season in Rockies history, and his 99 extra-base hits were third in team history (Todd Helton eclipsed the 100 mark twice in both 2000 and 2001). After tallying 33 stolen bases, Walker’s season became the only .700 slugging percentage/30 stolen base season in MLB history.

It was one remarkable season, but this isn’t the Hall of One MVP. Can you imagine if we let one-time MVPers like Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Tris Speaker, Eddie Collins, Rickey Henderson and Lefty Grove in? As a firm #KeepTheHallSmall advocate, I believe we should only vote for legends, even if they’ve never won an MVP. Like Derek Jeter. And if you’ve only won a single MVP award, what kind of legend is that?
Reason #2: Might like hockey more than baseball

It’s no secret that Walker is a big hockey fan. I was considering giving him a pass for this, as he is Canadian after all. But does he like hockey more than baseball?

By using the advanced search feature on Twitter.com, I was able to compare Walker’s tweets about baseball on his account, @Cdnmooselips33, to his tweets about hockey. Take this tweet, for example:

Of particular interest to me was the phrase, “Hockey rules!” To see if the same sentiment was shared for the sport of baseball, I once again used Twitter’s advanced search feature to see if Walker ever used the phrase, “Baseball rules!” And here’s what I found:

The character clause in the Hall of Fame is admittedly a bit subjective, but I think it can be applied here. Walker played Major League Baseball, but if, in his opinion, “Hockey rules,” while baseball is not said to do the same, is he really the kind of example we want enshrined in the Hall?

In the above clip, Harold Reynolds of MLB Network refers to Walker as a “high-end All-Star pitcher.” Later in the clip, Reynolds continues to sing Walker’s praises and says he thinks he is worthy of being a Hall of Famer. Given that Reynolds and Walker played around the same time (Walker’s career was rising as Reynolds’ career was ending), you might think Reynolds is a good judge of Walker’s performance.

However, Walker has a total of zero innings pitched at the major league level. No other pitcher with as few innings pitched has ever been elected into the Hall of Fame. In fact, Satchel Paige had the fewest innings pitched of any pitcher inductee, and he tossed 476 frames in the major leagues (and pitched approximately one million in the Negro Leagues). This is a drastic difference. Forget being a Hall of Fame pitcher— even Reynolds’ claim that Walker is a “high-end All-Star pitcher” seems to be a stretch.

Walker has a career OPS+ of 141, which means he was 41 percent better than the average hitter over his career (1989-2005) when adjusting for external factors like a player’s home ballpark/celestial body. That mark is only the third best on this year’s ballot behind only Barry Bonds and Manny Ramírez. Over one hundred batters have been elected to the Hall with an OPS+ of lower than Walker’s.

Now, obviously, Walker was a product of Coors Field. We all know this and that’s why I didn’t even bother to include a section regarding this fact.

But when we look at his park-adjusted OPS, we find that Walker would appear to be a Hall of Fame-caliber hitter, even when removing Coors Field from the equation.

In his career, Walker slashed .313/.400/.565. If he were never to play at Coors Field, that line drops to .282/.372/.479. That’s an .851 OPS, which we can all agree is a step down from his .965 mark with Coors. Baseball-Reference tallies the numbers for all Hall of Fame batters and we find that the average OPS in the Hall of Fame is .841.

And back to that 1997 MVP season—Walker played in three fewer games on the road, but also hit nine more home runs away from Coors Field. He had a 24-point increase in slugging percentage on the road as well.

So, when we adjust for park factors, Walker is still closer to the top than the bottom among Hall of Famers. And when we remove Coors Field altogether, he’s still in the top half. It’s starting to look like he may belong in the Hall, right?

That’s where you’re wrong.

When you look at Walker’s collective career, it is physically impossible not to start hooting and hollering over the absurd level to which Coors Field inflated his numbers. What is also impossible is the coexistence of these two beliefs: that Walker is a product of Coors Field and also has Hall of Fame caliber park-adjusted and road numbers.

A Rockies’ player has never hit well on the road in the team’s 26-year history, so if you expect me to start believing a guy has Hall of Fame numbers just because it’s his last year on the ballot, you’re out of luck.

So, yes, it would certainly appear Walker was very good on the road. But as we’ve established, this is not possible for a product of Coors Field.

Brendan Rodgers Jersey

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As any self-respecting purveyor of sporting cliche knows, it’s never a bad idea to keep quiet and let your football do the talking. The problem for Brendan Rodgers is that he has often wanted to let his talking do the talking – which is a shame since, by and large, his football has spoken loudly enough.

For a coach whose career is barely a decade old, Rodgers’ CV isn’t half bad. He has presided over one promotion, one staggeringly good debut top-flight campaign, one freewheeling title charge, one unbeaten league season and back-to-back domestic trebles. Yet throughout, he has continued to serve as a punchline, painted by a substantial cohort as a faintly buffoonish David Brent figure.

Eleven games into the current season, his Leicester side sit third, having played four of the ‘Big Six’. Only one team has scored more and no side has conceded fewer. Is British football finally ready to recognise Rodgers as an elite-level coach? In fact, why hasn’t it done so already?

The answer is not straightforward, no matter what some of his harsher detractors would have you believe, although it’s true that he’s often failed to do himself any favours when a microphone has been aimed his way. In today’s culture, it only takes one slip of the tongue – one tiny soundbite lacking in self-awareness – to make you look silly. And it’s fair to say that Rodgers, who as Swansea manager declared it “great that the public here at Sunderland could see us play” after overseeing a 1-0 defeat on Wearside, has given more than just the one.

Open a new tab in your browser now, and you won’t need to look hard to find a smarmy listicle detailing “Brendan’s best quotes”. That fact itself is instructive. Rodgers has had the misfortune to come of age in perfect timing with an online culture whose core currencies are put-downs, piss-takes and memes. During his three years at Liverpool, the number of active Twitter users doubled. The social media age has not always been kind to a man whose account of his evening jogs around the streets of Liverpool, when “the doors are open and the dinners are on and you can smell the mince cooking”, sounded like he was starring in his own Dickens novel.

How Fabinho became the world’s best defensive midfielder

Much of this, too, is probably tied into the very British instinct to take against someone who talks a good game before they’ve played one, to knock down the mouthy newcomer a peg or two. Yet the longer Rodgers’ career goes on, the more his words are backed up by his deeds. Take a look at his last four jobs – Swansea, Liverpool, Celtic and his nascent Leicester tenure – and it quickly dawns that each register somewhere between ‘mighty impressive’ and ‘transformatively brilliant’.

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What’s more, they have covered near enough the full gamut of remits and expectations. It’s become part of football’s received wisdom that managing a so-called smaller club is incomparable to presiding over a heavyweight – hence why the same rotating cast of coaches get the big jobs while the impressive mid-rankers are overlooked. Rodgers’ model has worked across the board: promotion-chasing minnow, sleeping giant, trophy-hoovering Goliath figure, and now an aspirational upper-middleweight.

In each instance he has found a new gear, improved his team beyond expectation and created a side better than the sum of its parts, at least for a time. Young players excel under his watch. Attackers – especially hard-running and bloodthirsty centre-forwards – flourish like never before. Best of all, he has never needed big money to make big progress. Has it just been bad PR holding him back?

Not exactly. His penchant for saying the wrong thing hasn’t just wound up anonymous fans on the internet – it’s had real-world implications too. At least one of his bosses at Anfield was “fighting the urge to call up and tear him a new asshole”, according to one internal missive, after fingers had been pointed at “the money men” over failed signings. Ultimately it was that friction which cost him his employment. Yet even at Liverpool, the least tangibly successful of his last three jobs and one where things went downhill badly towards the end, he put together a sensationally exciting team, nearly won the league, and turned Luis Suarez, Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho into players that would fetch the club around a quarter of a billion pounds.

By that time, of course, his faintly silly Shankly-lite soundbites had made him the star of a million memes, his whitened teeth lighting up the internet as a new breed of online fan began to find its voice. Combine this with a mainstream press that prizes quotes above all else, and you have a strange sporting culture in which managers are judged as much by what they say as what they do. Ironically, given the efforts Rodgers puts into his speechifying, it’s the talking that’s hamstrung him.

Now, though, he seems to have toned down the self-mythologising and, slowly but surely, he’s winning hearts and minds. In the wake of Leicester’s 9-0 demolition of Southampton, Gary Neville said Rodgers might soon find himself in the picture for the English football’s top jobs, including the one Pep Guardiola will sooner or later vacate. Which would be quite the ambition. But then, as a smart man once said: you can live without water for days, but you can’t live for a second without hope.

Peter Lambert Jersey

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Peter Lambert has been one of the Rockies’ top pitching prospects since he was drafted in the second round of the 2015 draft. The 22-year-old started 2019 in Albuquerque but made his major league debut at the beginning of June after the losses of Tyler Anderson and Kyle Freeland before the end of May. Lambert pitched just 60 2⁄3 innings in Triple-A before joining the big league club.

Lambert’s first two starts came against the Chicago Cubs — his first being at Wrigley Field and the other coming a week later at Coors. He pitched well, posting a 1.50 ERA in his first 12 innings. In his first ever start, he pitched seven innings of four hit, one run ball and struck out nine Cubbies. Not too bad. Lambert’s first major league adversity came during that infamous Padres series in June. He started the finale, but only lasted three innings after giving up eight runs on nine hits, including a two-run homer.

As the year progressed, Lambert held his own. He wasn’t stellar, but he was serviceable. His best month came in July with a 4.64 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP, but after that he started surrendering more walks — including 18 in six games in August and nine in four games in September. In June and July, Lambert struck out 17.2% of batters and walked 4.4%; in August and September, he struck out 10.2% of batters and walked 12.5%. He was officially shut down on September 24, finishing with a 3-7 record in 89 ⅓ innings over 19 starts. He also finished with a 7.25 ERA and a 1.74 WHIP, striking out 13.6% of batters and walking 8.6% in 2019. Hopefully Lambert takes the lessons he learned in 2019, regains some confidence, and makes a leap in 2020.

Marvin Freeman Jersey

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The Braves are remembered for playing some great baseball in the early 1990’s but they also had a good time in the clubhouse and one of the ringleaders was reliever Marvin Freeman.

A skinny 6-foot-7, “Starvin Marvin’’ Freeman loosened everyone up, though he admits he couldn’t top teammate Greg Maddux, whose humor stretched the boundaries, sometime beyond the discretion of a family newspaper. Freeman, though, willingly admits he could almost be as crude as the Hall of Fame pitcher.

“He,’’ Freeman said, “did something that I still love to talk about today.’’

Freeman, always a popular figure from an early age, was born in Chicago. He played at Chicago Vocational High School, where as the team’s No. 1 starter he helped lead a turnaround that saw the program go from 3-20 to 60-3 in his last three seasons. In 1981, he was drafted in the ninth round by Montreal but opted instead to go to Jackson State University.

After three seasons, he was selected in the second round of the 1984 draft by Philadelphia. The Phillies had just used their first-round pick that day on pitcher Pete Smith, who would also end up on the same staff in Atlanta.

It took Freeman 2 1/2 years to reach the majors, called up to the major league club for the last two weeks of the 1986 season. In his second major league start, Freeman beat the Mets on the same day his daughter was born back in Chicago.

But he wouldn’t stick with Philadelphia, bouncing between the minors and majors before pitching a no-hitter for the Triple-A Maine club in 1990 against the Richmond Braves.

A few days later, the Braves traded reliever Joe Boever for Freeman and he finished the season in Atlanta, appearing in nine games as a reliever and allowing just three runs in 15 2/3 innings.

In the worst-to-first season of 1991, Freeman was hurt late in the year, but not before he became a big part of the Braves bullpen, appearing in 34 games (2.92 ERA). Going to the bullpen and pitching more frequently, Freeman began experiencing arm and elbow problems. He appeared in 58 games in 1992 before struggling in three postseason appearances. In 1993, he dropped to only 21 games, was released and was picked up by Colorado.

Badly needing pitching help in a hitters’ ballpark, Freeman was a godsend for the Rockies, going 10-2 in the strike-shortened season of 1994. He was also was on the mound for the Rockies’ first-ever win over the Braves, breaking a 16-game losing streak and beating Tom Glavine. His 2.80 ERA still stands as a Colorado season record today.

But a bad elbow bothered Freeman in 1995. He registered a 8.53 ERA in the first month and he finished the season on the disabled list. The next season wasn’t much better. He went 6-4 in the first half of the season and made headlines late in the year with a stunt he pulled on controversial radio host Jim Rome. By August, he was placed on waivers, picked up by the Chicago White Sox and made just one start.

He tried to come back the next season with Toronto and broke camp with Class AAA team, making only one start before retiring. He came out of retirement a few months later with Toronto but lasted only a few weeks before calling it quits for good.

Freeman appeared in 221 major league games (78 starts), going 35-28 with a 4.46 ERA. He finished with 383 strikeouts in 593 2/3 innings.

After baseball, he went into high school coaching where he eventually coached his son, who is playing at Southern University.

Where he lives: Freeman, 53, lives outside Chicago in Olympic Fields with his wive of 32 years, Arnetta. They have two children, daughter Paris and son Justin.

What he does: Freeman has a sports academy where he tutors young pitchers. He is also pitching coordinator for the Chicago White Sox Charities which sponsors teams from ages 12 to 17. He calls himself a pitching coach mercenary.

On going to college instead of straight to pro baseball: “I wasn’t ready at 18. I hadn’t been out of Chicago except for a few family vacations down South. I needed to get that home sickness out of me, which I did in college. I will say it was nice leaving college and going to the pros as far as the umpiring. There was so much home cooking by the umpires in college and that makes a big difference for a pitcher.’’

On being traded to the Braves: “I think they wanted to get rid of Boever and I was going up and down from the minors to the majors. So I think it worked out good for both of us. I had just pitched a no-hitter against Richmond and I think the Braves saw something in me.’’

On the nickname “Starving Marvin”: “When I was coming out of Jackson State, one of the scouts saw me and said I had a great arm but it looked like I was starving. I think there was a chain of “Starving Marvin’s’’ up there and the nickname just stuck.’’

On his first two seasons in Atlanta: “When I got off the plane, I knew there was sunshine in baseball. They told me I was going to be relieving, so I knew what I was going to do on a consistent basis. I remember being there early in 1991 and there wasn’t a lot of people in the stands and Terry Pendleton telling all of us we had to win and they would come and they sure did. I had back surgery at the end of 1991, so I couldn’t pitch in the playoffs but it was a ton of fun.’’

On his arm troubles in 1993: “I struggled but what I like to remember is going to Chicago and all my relatives were there and my aunts came from Michigan and I pitched six scoreless innings. Then I was left off the postseason roster so (a TV station) gave me a camera and mic and I became a reporter and did what you do.’’

On his success in Colorado in 1994: “I tried to take everything I learned from Greg Maddux to Colorado and be a carbon copy of him. I would say it worked and I think my ERA still stands as a record there.’’

On the Jim Rome episode in 1996: “I had just had a bad game against the Padres the day before and he was doing his show in the right field bleachers and I was running in the outfield. The Padres fans were yelling ‘cheaters,’ which had something to do with the fact that our guys had hit a lot of homers in our park in Colorado because of the altitude. So they invited me to come up and be on the show and to get me to say some bad things about the Rockies. I always say Rome was an instigator and when I went on the show, I started crying which Brad Clontz did a great job of when he was with the Braves. I think I just dropped the mic, took my headphones off and left. I had gotten the final word.’’

On being a clubhouse funnyman: “I just wanted everyone to relax in the clubhouse. That was what it was all about. There is a lot of pressure on the field and you have to find a way to relieve some of it. We certainly did that in Atlanta.”

Andres Galarraga Jersey

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This story is a bit of a rewind but it’s worth re-telling. It’s about retired Major League Baseball player Andres Galarraga, a first baseman and one of the game’s top hitters at the time. Winner of the 1993 National League batting title, his nickname was the Big Cat for his defensive agility as well. In 1994, playing for the Atlanta Braves, he hit an astounding 44 home runs and was named to the All-Star team for the fourth time. It also made him the first player ever to hit 40 home runs in back to back years for two different teams. He was 37 years old.

Immediately following that season, his life took a different turn when persistent back pain led to a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Given the location of his cancer, playing through treatment was out of the question. He missed the entire season. Galarragas returned the next year to a standing ovation on Opening Day. In an article that ran shortly after his return, the L.A. Times wrote, “During his six rounds of chemotherapy last summer, Galarraga ballooned to 280 pounds, and he suffered from nausea. When he was done with chemo, he had a month of radiation. At times he could scarcely recognize himself.”

The year he returned to the field, Galarraga played as if he’d never missed a beat, defying all expectations. He was named to his fifth career All-Star game that year and won the National League Comeback Player of the Year award.

In that same L.A. Times article, Galarraga said it was his mission to show other cancer sufferers that the disease can be beaten, that a seriously ill person can get stronger, and even better.

Boy did he ever.

Kevin Ritz Jersey

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Following a promising rookie year in 1989, pitcher Kevin Ritz found his career on shaky ground after struggling with extreme control problems for the Detroit Tigers over his next couple of seasons. This was exacerbated by a serious elbow injury suffered at the end of his tenure in Detroit that sidelined him for a full season. Undeterred despite the setbacks, however, Ritz resurrected his flagging career and set a prominent club record that held for 14 seasons with the Colorado Rockies — despite pitching in the notoriously hitter-friendly Mile High City.

Kevin D. Ritz was born on June 8, 1965, in Eatontown, New Jersey, where his father had been serving in the US Army. Like his father, Ritz was only given a singular letter for his middle name. Within six months of his birth, his family relocated to the rural Midwestern town of Bloomfield, Iowa, where he grew up.1 There, his father, Carl, was a bus driver, and his mother, Darlene, worked at a plastics factory. Living in a “modest” home on a gravel road, Ritz was the second youngest of five children, with siblings Dana, Renetta, Rose, and Stacey rounding out the family.2 Although his parents did not instill in him a love for the game — they were not particularly ardent baseball fans — the dream of playing in the major leagues became a passion early on for Ritz due to the innate skills he displayed on the diamond.3 “My interest started like most boys. I went through Little League, Babe Ruth, and then on to the high-school team,” he reflected. And the game came naturally to Ritz: “I really didn’t have to work at it and I didn’t have to practice very hard.”4

As a teenager, when not working as a dishwasher at a local restaurant, Ritz excelled on the mound at Davis County High School. Coach Pat Perry knew the big right-hander threw hard, so he used the local police department’s radar gun to measure his exact pitch speed. Ritz was throwing in the mid-80s.5 He utilized this talent to toss a no-hitter for Davis County in 1983, and earned an all-state selection.6 Further illustrating his athleticism, Ritz was also recognized as an all-state basketball player during his time with the Mustangs.

After high school, Ritz enrolled at William Penn University in nearby Oskaloosa, Iowa. His freshman season with the Statesmen, 1984, did not go as he had hoped. “I wasn’t too thrilled with William Penn,” Ritz said. “The coaching staff wasn’t what I expected and I found myself playing on the junior varsity. It was just a long year.”7 Still, Ritz’s potential was noticed by the San Francisco Giants, who drafted him in the fourth round of the January 1985 amateur draft. Not having been offered a signing bonus, however, he decided to stay in school.8

For his sophomore year, Ritz decided to play baseball at Indian Hills Community College, a junior college in Centerville, Iowa, even closer to home, on whose home field he had played many times during high school. “We had a great rivalry with Centerville when I was at Davis County,” he said. “It was just nice to be close to home so the family could come and watch, but we also played on that field against Centerville a lot. That area has always been a big part of my life.”9 Ritz immediately felt much more comfortable playing for the Falcons. “There were a lot of older guys on the team, guys like Mitch Knox who I think was ancient. He was like 40,” Ritz quipped. “There was good leadership there, different guys from different cities. It was a great atmosphere right from the get-go.”10 This change of scenery translated into success for the young hurler. Ritz finished the season at Indian Hills with a 7-3 record, and struck out 78 batters in 57 innings while allowing only 42 hits. His efforts — which included winning two postseason games — helped lead the Falcons to a Junior College World Series appearance in 1985.11 Although the 1985 campaign ultimately was his only season with the Falcons, Ritz’s contributions were recognized by the school with his induction into the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 2013.12

Ritz’s strong performance at IHCC again attracted the attention of a major-league club, this time the Detroit Tigers. Scouted by George Bradley, he was selected by Detroit in the fourth round of the June 1985 amateur draft. Ritz struggled with the decision whether to sign or remain in college — albeit at a different school. “The coaching [at IHCC] wasn’t very good, so I felt a change was needed,” he explained.13 Several larger universities including Georgia, Missouri, Nevada-Las Vegas, Oklahoma, and Southern Mississippi had given him offers to transfer to their baseball programs.14 While taking time to decide, Ritz continued to work at his craft by playing in the summer for the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks in the amateur collegiate Alaska Baseball League. Pitching primarily in relief, he led the team with four saves.15 Finally, after initially announcing that he had decided to attend Nevada-Las Vegas because he felt he needed more seasoning, Ritz reconsidered when Detroit sweetened its contract offer with a bonus of $12,000.16 On September 3, 1985, he signed with the Tigers.

For the 1986 season, Detroit assigned the 6-foot-4, 195-pound hurler to the Class-A level. Splitting time with the Gastonia Tigers of the South Atlantic League and the Lakeland Tigers of the Florida State League, Ritz struggled in his first stint in the minor leagues. Between the two clubs, he finished the year with a 4-11 record in 25 games (22 starts), and posted a 5.16 ERA and 1.71 WHIP. Despite the disappointing results, Tigers farm director Frank Franchi was still “delighted” with Ritz, considering his lack of experience, and touted him as one of the team’s top prospects to watch.17

Showing confidence in the 21-year-old, Detroit promoted Ritz to the Glens Falls Tigers of the Double-A Eastern League for the 1987 season, where he was used strictly in a starting role. Although facing more formidable competition, Ritz showed improvement in nearly all statistical categories, and led the club in wins and innings pitched. In 25 starts, he finished the season with an 8-8 record, 4.89 ERA, and 1.59 WHIP. Although he expected to advance to Triple A, at the beginning of the 1988 season, Ritz found himself back with Glens Falls. “[In 1988] I was expecting to make the Triple-A roster and on the next-to-last day they sent me to Double A. Sometimes it’s kind of disappointing when you see younger guys getting a chance,” Ritz said.18 Although his confidence was shaken, Ritz again showed marked improvement, posting an 8-10 record, 3.82 ERA, and 1.35 WHIP in his 26 starts. He limited opposing batters to a .229 batting average (fifth lowest in the league), and picked up a victory in a playoff start which according to Ritz was “probably the highlight of the season.”19

Added to Detroit’s 40-man roster for the 1989 season, the promising Ritz attended the Tigers’ spring training in Lakeland, Florida. He did not make the Tigers’ regular season roster, but performed well with the Toledo Mud Hens of the Triple-A International League, posting a 3.16 ERA after 16 starts into midseason, with wins in his last four decisions. Meanwhile the parent Tigers were languishing as one of the worst teams in baseball. And with both injuries and lackluster performance plaguing their aging starting rotation, the Tigers called up the promising 24-year-old to replace struggling fill-in starter David Palmer in the rotation.20

With the team’s season all but lost, the move was an indication that the Tigers were planning for the future. Asked whether Ritz would have been called up had Detroit been in contention, manager Sparky Anderson responded, “No way.”21 On July 15, Ritz made his first major-league appearance, getting the start against the Seattle Mariners at Tiger Stadium. With a contingent of 15 family members and friends who made the 12-hour trek from Iowa to Detroit to support him, Ritz pitched reasonably well through four innings, allowing five hits and two runs.22 His night ended, however, after he allowed four consecutive baserunners and two runs to begin the fifth inning, and he left the game down 4-3. The Tigers were unable to mount a comeback, and Ritz was tagged with the loss.

Ritz bounced back in his next start with a strong performance against the California Angels in a no-decision, and followed that with his first major-league victory in a start against the Minnesota Twins on July 28. Twins manager Tom Kelly said of the rookie, “Ritz has a very good arm. He has a nice, easy windup, can throw hard, has a good curve, and a little bit of a changeup.”23 While celebrating his first big-league win by enjoying a ham sandwich after the game, the low-key Ritz kept things in perspective, confessing, “I’m glad to have this out of the way. It’s just a win in another league. I didn’t expect to get hyper, because it’s just another game.”24 After he won his next two starts, the Tigers maintained him in their starting rotation for the balance of the season. Ritz got positive reviews within the organization based on his solid overall performance. “A couple years from now, hitters won’t want to get out of bed on the day he pitches,” manager Anderson quipped.25 Ritz finished the season with a 4-6 record and 4.38 ERA in 12 starts, and was named Tigers Rookie of the Year.

Ritz’s success was a much-needed “Cinderella story” inspiration to residents in his Iowa hometown, many of whom made the 3½-hour drive to attend his start in Kansas City in August. “It’s been a tough decade for Bloomfield. We’ve had our hard knocks,” said Bloomfield merchant Susan Howard. “So because this is a small town there’s a special feeling about what’s happened to Kevin. A community is full of independent people, but we become one under both good and bad circumstances. That’s why I’m so happy at seeing this decade finishing on this nice high note.”26 In another indication of the pride Ritz instilled in his community, after the season he was guest of honor at a civic luncheon at the Bloomfield United Methodist Church.

Deciding against re-signing 39-year-old Doyle Alexander for the 1990 campaign, Detroit instead targeted the more youthful Ritz to fill the starting-rotation void. Instead of building on the promise of his rookie year, however, Ritz got off to a disastrous start. Struggling to find the strike zone and hit hard when he did, after his first three starts he had allowed 13 hits and 10 walks in 7⅓ innings. Things hit rock bottom for Ritz in his fourth start, when he was removed from the game against Minnesota without recording an out after allowing four walks and one hit to the first five batters he faced. Although Ritz complained about battling a “dead arm” during his struggles, teammate Frank Tanana diagnosed Ritz’s problems as stemming from a lack of confidence. “After the confidence goes the fastball, then the location. That’s the usual course of events,” said Tanana. “In Kevin’s case, it looks like he’s trying to overthrow to compensate for his control problems. It’s something every young pitcher goes through. Once he starts having a little success, he’ll be fine. All he needs is that first victory.”27 Ritz did not get a chance to get that first victory, however, as Detroit had little choice but to send him to the minor leagues after he compiled a 0-4 record with an 11.05 ERA and 3.82 WHIP in his four starts. Spending the rest of the season back at Toledo, Ritz continued to battle wildness. He finished the disappointing year there with a 3-6 record, 5.22 ERA, and 1.70 WHIP in 20 games (18 starts). Ritz walked 59 batters in 89⅔ innings.

Because of his sophomore slump, Ritz was not in the Tigers’ plans at the beginning of the 1991 campaign, and again found himself in Toledo to start the year. Featuring a newly developed slider, Ritz rebounded. His 4-0 record with a 1.77 ERA for the month of May, coupled with an unreliable Detroit starting rotation, afforded Ritz another chance with the parent club. Mud Hens pitching coach Ralph Treuel noted of Ritz’s prevailing successes, “A lot of hard work and more self-confidence have been the keys. With his mound presence and poise, he looks like a pitcher. He just decided to take the bull by the horn. This is not the same Kevin Ritz from the past.”28 On his return to the Tigers, however, it did indeed look very much like the Kevin Ritz from the past. After five starts with Detroit between late May and late June, he posted a 0-3 record with an abysmal 18.00 ERA. And the wildness had returned, with Ritz walking 18 batters in nine innings. Unsurprisingly, he was sent back to Toledo. Although Ritz was again recalled to the Tigers late in the season, he accomplished nothing particularly noteworthy there in his six appearances out of the bullpen.

“Some type of mental block” was pointed to by members of the Detroit and Toledo coaching staffs as the cause of Ritz’s inability to throw strikes. “Who knows what’s going through the guy’s mind? I like Kevin an awful lot. He’s got a great arm. There’s no explanation,” said Detroit pitching coach Billy Muffett. Manager Anderson also shared his thoughts: “I told him, ‘You gotta overcome that block.’ That’s all it is. It’s easy to say, but hard to cure. I don’t think there’s anything harder to cure than that.” At the time, Ritz revealed that he might consider consulting a psychiatrist if the problem persisted. “In my mind there’s a subconscious block,” he confessed.29

Despite his incredible struggles at the major-league level over the prior two years, Ritz still figured in the Tigers’ plans for the 1992 season; he had “too good an arm to give up on.”30 Beginning the campaign pitching in relief for Detroit — although still featuring a high walk rate — Ritz seemed to have finally overcome his mental block. He pitched reasonably well out of the bullpen, carrying a 4.03 ERA into late May after 10 appearances. And with Detroit starter Eric King struggling on the mound and dealing with a sore shoulder, Ritz rejoined the starting rotation.31 Although lacking consistency, he pitched well enough to become a mainstay in the rotation for the next two months. In his July 29 start against the Chicago White Sox, however, Ritz suffered another setback, in the form of an elbow injury that caused him to exit the game early. “I felt it a couple of pitches before I came out. Hopefully, it’s nothing too serious,” Ritz said after the game.32 But it was serious — enough to keep him sidelined for the rest of the year. Ritz had posted a 2-5 record with a 5.60 ERA in 23 games (11 starts) when his season — and tenure as a Detroit Tiger — came to an unceremonious end.

Injury situation notwithstanding, on November 17, 1992, Ritz was drafted by the Colorado Rockies as the 46th pick in the major-league expansion draft. He was not bitter about having been left unprotected by Detroit, saying, “I most definitely was given every opportunity. I just didn’t take advantage.”33 While he sought a fresh start with the expansion Rockies for the 1993 campaign, the elbow problems resurfaced, however, requiring him to battle through pain during spring training and negatively affecting his performance. Although the Rockies attempted to send him to the minor leagues to open the season, Ritz refused the assignment, instead opting to test the free-agent market, knowing the Cleveland Indians had strong interest. Upon undergoing a physical examination by Cleveland, Ritz was diagnosed with a torn elbow tendon requiring surgery. This voided the deal with the Indians, and left Ritz sidelined for the 1993 season while dealing with a potentially career-threatening injury. “I was close to giving up and looking for another job,” Ritz said.34 Encouraged by his wife to not give up, he underwent surgery in April and spent months rehabbing, unable to throw a ball until August.35 Released by the Rockies in October, he found himself without a team. Less than two months later, however, the Rockies re-signed Ritz, offering him a glimmer of hope of getting back in the game as the 1994 season approached.

With his surgically repaired elbow feeling “fine” and having been given a clean bill of health from his doctors, Ritz went to spring training in 1994 with the Triple-A Colorado Springs Sky Sox. “It feels good to just be out playing baseball again. Things are looking pretty good for me,” he said of his comeback.36 His first preseason appearance also looked pretty good, with Ritz tossing three hitless innings against the California Angels’ top farm club on March 22. He carried that strong performance into the Sky Sox’ regular season, posting a 5-0 record with an outstanding 1.29 ERA into late May, and only six walks in 35 innings — particularly impressive considering his history of high walk rates. With Colorado starter Armando Reynoso lost for the season with an elbow injury, Ritz’s efforts were rewarded with a summons to the Rockies. He made his first start on May 25 against the Cincinnati Reds. After throwing 34 pitches and allowing two runs in a rough first inning, he settled down, not allowing another run in his next four innings. Although he got a no-decision, Rockies pitching coach Larry Bearnarth said of Ritz’s performance, “That was a Herculean effort. Going against Jose] Rijo, coming off surgery, not pitching in the big leagues in nearly two years, and overthrowing like crazy in the first inning. … He settled down, and that was the pitcher we scouted.”37 Ritz remained a fixture in Colorado’s starting rotation until the players strike cut the season short, and finished with a 5-6 record and a 5.62 ERA. Rockies manager Don Baylor put things into perspective when he said, “What he has done as far as coming back from an injury that has ended the career of some players is simply remarkable.”38

In spring training in 1995, Ritz was named the Rockies’ fifth starter to begin the team’s first season in what became a noted hitters’ park, Coors Field. With the other members of Colorado’s starting rotation struggling in the early going, however, he soon became the ace of the staff, tying a team record with nine strikeouts on June 8 against the Chicago Cubs. Heading into the All-Star break, Ritz had a 7-3 record with a solid 3.50 ERA, and was touted as the team’s “savior” by manager Baylor.39 Despite his success, the low-key Ritz was not comfortable with the associated media attention. “I just want to do my job. Maybe it’s because I just come from Iowa, I never had that kind of attention, and don’t want it,” he said.40 Although he suffered through a dreadful August (0-5, 6.12), Ritz still finished the season with an 11-11 record and 4.21 ERA (tops among Rockies starters), and led the club in wins, innings pitched (173⅓), and strikeouts (120). Helping the Rockies advance to the playoffs in only their third season, Ritz saw action in two National League Division Series games against the Atlanta Braves. He started the series opener against Greg Maddux and pitched relatively well, receiving a no-decision in a 5-4 loss. Ritz also appeared in relief in the series finale, a 10-4 loss. Unsurprisingly, he was named the Rockies Pitcher of the Year.

Coming off his breakthrough year — and with veteran aces Bill Swift and Bret Saberhagen on the disabled list — Ritz was named the starter for the Rockies’ 1996 season opener. “I’m looking at it as just another start. It’s just day one of a long season,” was his restrained comment.41 Ritz responded to the honor by firmly establishing himself as the number-one starter on the staff, giving up just one hit (but seven walks) in 5⅓ innings as the Rockies defeated the Phillies, 5-3. On May 5, in defeating the Florida Marlins 5-4, he became the first Rockies pitcher to toss a complete game at Coors Field. And by the end of June, Ritz was tied for second in the NL with nine wins, leading to media speculation that he might be named to the All-Star team. Although it did not happen, he said years later, “I couldn’t be too disappointed about the All-Star Game, especially where I had come from in my career. At least I was mentioned.”42 By season’s end, Ritz had smashed several franchise records en route to his second consecutive selection as the Rockies Pitcher of the Year. Compiling a 17-11 record, he became the team’s leader in career victories with 33, and also set single-season records for most innings pitched (213), games started (35), and victories.

Ritz’s record 17 victories held for 14 years before being supplanted, and remains as of 2018 tied for second. Among NL season leaders for 1996, he finished tied for second in games started, tied for third in wins, and 10th in won-lost percentage. Despite these successes, Ritz’s statistics featured some counterintuitive peculiarities. His 125 earned runs were the most in the league, his 236 hits and 105 walks were both second, and his 10 wild pitches were eighth highest. This all translated into a rather lofty 5.28 ERA and 1.60 WHIP. Nonetheless, that winter Colorado signed Ritz to his first major contract — a two-year deal with a third year at Ritz’s option for a reported $3 million per year. “With the dearth of pitching in the major leagues the fact, as we have found out, that bringing a new pitcher in here is no guarantee he will be successful, and with Kevin having pitched here for three years, we had a higher level of comfort that he can continue to be a major factor for us,” Rockies general manager Bob Gebhard explained regarding the signing.43

Asked in 1997 spring training whether he would perform differently now that he was the recipient of a lucrative contract, Ritz responded, “It’s hard to say because I’ve never made that kind of money. But the few days that I’ve been here, I’ve been relaxed and had a good time. I’m throwing well.” He was again named the Rockies’ Opening Day starter, and expectations were high. “I think Kevin Ritz is at a point in his career where he can be categorized in that elite group they call 20-game winners,” proclaimed Rockies pitching coach Frank Funk. “He should be able to get real close to that 20-win mark on a consistent basis.”44 But Ritz was battered around in taking the Opening Day loss to the Reds, and continued to struggle into midseason as he dealt with an ailing shoulder throughout June.45 A medical examination in July revealed a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder that required surgery; thus, Ritz’s season came to a premature end.46 His final statistics for the disappointing season featured a 6-8 record and a 5.87 ERA.

With his repaired shoulder not quite ready for Opening Day in 1998, Ritz started the year on the disabled list, and did not fare well in some early-season rehabilitation outings with the minor-league Sky Sox. Still, the 32-year-old was activated in May by the big-league club, declaring himself “ready.”47 After two starts with the Rockies, however, Ritz had allowed 17 hits and 11 earned runs in nine innings, and was placed back on the disabled list. According to manager Baylor, his lack of success appeared to be due to reduced velocity on his fastball, which at 88 mph was down 4 mph from his pre-injury form.48 Ritz pitched reasonably well in three rehabilitation starts for the New Haven Ravens of the Double-A Eastern League, but struggled when given a start with the Triple-A Sky Sox in June. Shortly thereafter, he underwent season-ending surgery to repair tears in both his labrum and rotator cuff.49 Although hoping for yet another comeback in the 1999 season, Ritz was realistic about his chances considering his age and injury history. “They did five surgeries on my arm and hopefully it will heal properly. It feels good right now, but who knows what the future will hold,” he said. For Ritz, the future did not hold any further professional baseball.

The effects of Ritz’s arm injuries from his playing days lingered into his post-baseball life, causing him to undergo additional surgeries after settling down with his family in Cambridge, Ohio, his wife’s hometown.50 He and his wife, Sally, whom he met in the late 1980s through a former minor-league teammate, have four children: Molly, Kyle, Eli, and Lilly.51 Although Ritz involved himself in business pursuits including batting cages, golf and hunting simulators, and a sporting-goods store, he primarily spent his time as a “professional father,” following the activities of his children — some of whom have played collegiate athletics. “I’m really just a family man,” Ritz said in 2008. “My family is more important to me than any baseball accomplishments I’ve had.” He and Sally spent a significant amount of time doing volunteer work, and started the Kevin Ritz Family Foundation, which has helped support youth baseball and football leagues in addition to other activities benefiting children. As spare-time hobbies, Ritz took up hunting, fishing, camping, and golf.
Ritz continued to support the Rockies, cheering them on at Fenway Park with his two sons when they reached the World Series in 2007.54 He did not mince words when reflecting on how he approached pitching in Denver. “I’ve never been scared of Coors Field,” Ritz said. “There’s a lot of guys who come in there and mentally can’t pitch there because of the bad things that they’ve heard. If you give up a cheap, three-run homer, you just say the hell with it.”55 Despite the challenges he faced pitching before a humidor was installed to help normalize ball flight in the high-altitude environment, he still enjoyed his time with the Rockies. “I had a great time in Denver,” Ritz said. “That season [1995] kind of put me on the map.”

James Pazos Jersey

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Believe it or not, James Pazos is the last left-handed pitcher you’re going to see on this list, despite the fact that he made his Rockies debut on September 1.

Pazos had just a month with the Rockies, but it was quite the productive one. He made 12 appearances, allowing just two runs on seven hits in 10 1⁄3 innings with four walks and 10 strikeouts. The only home run he allowed was a two-out solo shot to Corey Seager on September 22.

The Rockies acquired Pazos in a trade with the Phillies on April 26, sending minor league outfielder Hunter Stovall back to Philly.

Pazos did not make a big league appearance with the Phillies, but posted a 3.39 ERA with the Mariners in 2017 and 2018, striking out 110 in 103 2⁄3 innings, so he had a proven track record in the majors. Despite this, the Rockies acquired him and sent him to Triple-A Albuquerque for four months.

That decision seems even more odd when you consider that the Rockies carried just one southpaw in their bullpen for a large part of 2019, and that was Jake McGee, who clearly did not have the trust of manager Bud Black. The average Leverage Index of McGee’s 45 appearances this season was just 0.63, the third-lowest on the roster, ahead of Yency Almonte and Jesus Tinoco. By contrast, Pazos’ average Leverage Index was 0.84.

What likely led the Rockies to not call up Pazos was his performance, or lack thereof, in Albuqueque. He made 39 appearances with the Isotopes, posting an 8.80 ERA and 2.09 WHIP in 44 innings, walking 23 and striking out 42. Yes, the walks would be concerning but I would but a pair of caveats on the overall numbers:

It’s Albuquerque, and using that juiced Triple-A baseball at 7,000 feet is not conducive to putting up good pitching stats. As a team this year, the Isotopes posted an ERA of 6.38, so numbers for any of their pitchers should be taken with a grain of salt.
The luck dragons were not exactly on Pazos’ side during his time with the ‘Topes. Opposing hitters had a BABIP of .424 against him, and he managed to strand just 59.2% of baserunners in Triple-A in 2019. Those numbers regressed in a big way with the Rockies, to .250 and 93.8%.

A solid, proven lefty out of the bullpen is something the Rockies seemed to be lacking all season, especially during their downward spiral in July and August, during which McGee had a 6.75 ERA and 1.75 WHIP.

Why the Rockies didn’t give Pazos a chance before rosters expanded in 2019 may remain a mystery, but they would be wise to learn from that mistake and give him a real shot at the Opening Day roster in 2020.

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Becoming an undrafted free agent in baseball means that a lot of people emphatically believe you don’t have what it takes for professional baseball. Every team has had their crack at you over 50 rounds, the longest draft in professional sports, and they all said no. Many would take a hint and hang up their spikes, but not Josh Fuentes.

Signed for $10 thousand out of NAIA member Missouri Baptist in 2014, most deemed the opportunity the Rockies gave Fuentes a nod to his famous cousin, Nolan Arenado. And maybe it even was – we don’t know that for sure. What we do know is that Fuentes took that opportunity from the Rockies, whatever the providence, and made himself into the type of prospect who wins the Pacific Coast League MVP award and who earns a precious 40 man roster slot.

For more on his rise to prospect-dom, please check out this profile of Fuentes (including quotes from the man himself) by Jose Romero of La Vida Baseball.

The third baseman (he’s also seen plenty of action at first) took advantage of a dearth of corner infield prospects at short season A Tri-City in 2014 enough to be penciled in as a regular for Low A Asheville after the 2015 season’s first month. There he produced a league average batting line against age appropriate competition, which was enough to make him an Opening Day starter for Asheville in 2016 but hardly distinguished him as a prospect.

From that point on though, Fuentes destroyed minor league pitching to a degree that made him hard to ignore. He began 2016 by hitting .398/.442/.677 with 18 extra base hits in 108 plate appearances (216 wRC+) with Asheville before a May promotion to High A Modesto. In a pitcher’s park within a hitter’s league, Fuentes hit .278/.342/.450 with 28 extra base hits in 325 plate appearances for a 113 wRC+. That was enough for the Rockies to move Fuentes up to Double-A in 2017, where in 450 plate appearances with Hartford the righty slugger again proved he could handle the stick with a .307/.352/.517 line with 15 HRs among his 50 extra base hits (137 wRC+). It wasn’t enough for the Rockies to protect Fuentes from the Rule 5 draft, but fortunately he went un-selected.

Entering the 2018 season, Fuentes still wasn’t on national prospect radars and hadn’t gotten much traction in PuRP voting. Assigned to Triple-A, Fuentes was a shining light for an Albuquerque team that enjoys one of the best offensive environments in an offense-friendly Pacific Coast League. Over 586 plate appearances with Albuquerque, Fuentes accumulated 65 extra base hits including 14 homers en route to the aforementioned PCL MVP award. While a normal prospect in that situation might have received a major league cup of coffee, Fuentes found himself blocked by his cousin, so he’ll have to be satisfied with the trophy and a place in the prestigious Arizona Fall League. Against other top prospects, Fuentes held his own in the AFL with a .301/.356/.482 triple slash in 90 plate appearances, sealing the deal on earning a 40 man roster slot.

Though the positive offensive context helped, his .327/.354/.517 line in Albuquerque still represented a 124 wRC+ performance. To get there, Fuentes was the same type of hitter he’s been at almost every minor league level: low walk rate (3.6% in 2018) combined with a medium strikeout rate (17.6% in 2018). He benefited from his home park, but not markedly so, while producing similar splits against lefties and righties. Most impressively, Fuentes ranked 11th in minor league baseball in line drive/fly ball success, with 26.8% of those batted balls going for hits — a likely indicator of big league batting success.

Here’s some video of Fuentes in the AFL courtesy of 2080 Baseball:

Here’s the 2080 Baseball report on Fuentes accompanying the above video by Adam McInturff:

Fuentes looks the part of a pro corner player, a physical 6-foot-2 and 215-pound frame strong enough to hit for power but able to stay at 3B. He hits from a deep crouch with a big leg-kick trigger to start the swing, getting all his lower-half into a quick stroke that has power to the pullside. He yanks most of his contact, and while it isn’t a pretty swing, Fuentes has solid bat control and finds a way to make it work. For a player that looks strong enough to hit for power, his peripherals (low walk/low strikeout guy) don’t fit the standard mold. His game approach is oriented more towards making contact than driving the ball, looking to put it in play and rely on feel for the barrel. He could live to be more patient, but I saw plenty of awareness at the plate and an understanding how to get to his pitch.

Defensively, Fuentes moved between the infield corners in my week-long look watching Salt River. He looked fine at the hot corner, showing soft hands and the footwork to make routine plays. There’s a chance he’s a 55-grade defender at first base, though the overall versatility should help a R/R profile without tons of game power get into the lineup.

He has worked himself into the player he is today, showing significant improvement each of the last two years I’ve seen him. He’s ready to hit in the big leagues, safely profiling as a useful role player who can move between corner positions. If he winds up hitting enough to be an everyday third baseman someday, don’t be surprised: Fuentes is the type of guy that has been proving people wrong for a long time.

Fuentes is currently ranked 17th in the system by MLB.com:

Fuentes’ strength is his ability to make repeated hard contact, which helped him make a run at league batting titles in each of the last two years and top the PCL in runs (93), hits (180), doubles (39), extra-base hits (65) and total bases (285). Most of his power currently comes in the form of doubles but he might develop into a 20-homer threat if he added some loft to his right-handed stroke. He doesn’t strike out much, yet he puts the bat on the ball so easily that he rarely draws walks.

Fuentes lacks quickness but has a strong arm and covers enough ground to serve as an average defender at third base. He has soft hands that also work well at first base, where he has seen action throughout his pro career. Though it remains to be seen if and where he’ll break into the Rockies’ crowded infield, he doesn’t have much left to accomplish in the Minors.

The 25-year old’s top tool is a 55 arm, complemented by 50 field and 50 hit grades. Despite the 45 game power and 40 run tool, that’s a potentially valuable player who could man both corners. Combine that with his production at the highest levels and Fuentes is clearly a player in Colorado’s immediate future plans. It’s hard to see him making the Opening Day roster, but it seems likely that Fuentes will be making contributions to the 2019 Rockies.

I’ve been cautious in ranking Fuentes highly throughout his climb up the minor league ladder, joining most of the PuRPs electorate, but that caution isn’t justifiable anymore given the 40 man roster slot and 2018 production. I rated Fuentes 23rd on my personal list with a 35+ Future Value as a potential MLB contributor, but I’m hoping that ranking looks silly low by the mid-season list.

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The Tennessee baseball program announced that former Tennessee All-American and Major League Baseball veteran Todd Helton would join the baseball staff as the director of player development on January 27, 2017.

In his new volunteer role, Helton is responsible for maintaining alumni relations, assisting with on-campus recruiting, collaborating with UT’s coaching staff and helping Tennessee’s current players make informed decisions about pursuing professional baseball careers.

“After spending three years at Tennessee and 17 years in the Major Leagues with the Colorado Rockies, I really wanted to give back to this program any way that I can,” Helton said.

Helton spent 17 years with the Colorado Rockies organization and as the club’s longest-tenured player, he was a five-time All-Star, four-time Louisville Slugger Silver Slugger Award winner and three-time Rawlings Gold Glove Award winner.

At the time of his retirement in 2013, Helton held Rockies career records for games played (2,247), runs (1,401), hits (2,519), doubles (592), home runs (369), RBI (1,406), walks (1,335) and extra-base hits (998). He also ranked 16th all-time among Major League players in doubles (592), 19th in OPS (.953), 35th in walks (1,335) and 37th in extra-base hits (998). On Aug. 7, 2014, Helton became the first player in Rockies history to have his jersey No. 17 retired at Coors Field.

In 1995, Helton was selected in the first round (eighth overall) of the First-Year Player Draft out of Tennessee and went on to make his Major League debut just two years later on Aug. 2, 1997. During his first professional season in 1996, he combined to hit .336 with 131 hits, nine homers and 64 RBI over 114 games between Double A New Haven and Triple A Colorado Springs.

As a junior with the Tennessee Volunteers in 1995, Helton hit at a .407 clip while leading the league in home runs (20), RBI (92), runs (86), doubles (27), hits (105), walks (61), slugging percentage (.775) and on-base percentage (.522). He also led the conference with a 1.66 ERA while compiling an 8-2 record with 12 saves.

The 1995 National Collegiate Player of the Year received the Dick Howser Award from USA Today/Baseball Weekly, Baseball America’s National Player of the Year Award, Collegiate Baseball’s Co-National Player of the Year and the Southeastern Conference’s Male Athlete of the Year Award that season. By doing so, he became just the second baseball player to receive the SEC award, while the two-time First Team All-American was also a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award in 1995.

Helton was a consensus Freshman All-American, First Team All-SEC and Third Team All-American in 1993. The honors continued to roll in 1994 as he earned All-America honors by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball.

The Tennessee native helped guide the Vols to three straight NCAA Regional appearances, including a third-place finish at the 1995 College World Series. He was twice named to the NCAA All-Tournament team and earned a complete-game pitching victory over Clemson in the first round of the College World Series. Helton holds numerous school hitting records and the SEC’s mark for consecutive scoreless innings pitched with 47.2 in 1994.