Monthly Archives: November 2019

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Michael Cuddyer is now a special instructor for the Twins, and he recently busted out his old magic tricks, at the expense of Eddie Rosario. Maybe Rosie picked up a thing or two about leading the clubhouse, as the Twins will need someone to step up in that role, with Joe Mauer no longer around.

The Worcester Telegram, near Rocco Baldelli’s hometown, profiles the Twins’ manager, and his adjustments so far to leading the big league club. Some fun additional details about the Woonsocket Rocket: He misses the seafood of Rhode Island (someone introduce him to fried Walleye) and is starting to follow the Vikings, despite being a lifelong Patriots fan.

Miguel Sano might have been sidelined by injury already this spring, but one Twins legend certainly hasn’t given up on the young star. Rod Carew still believes in Sano and the peace he found within himself this winter. Let’s hope Sir Rodney is right.

The Hardball Times profiles the rise of the MLB Bullpen Catcher, including the Twins’ Nate Dammann, who was recruited into the role by Dan Gladden, and old friend Henry Blanco (hey, he spent a year with the Twins.) Another fun fact in this article: Kevin Slowey climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro.

MLB.com put together a list of the ten fastest teams in baseball. It probably comes as no surprise, since this is a Twins blog, but the Twins are on their list. Led by Byron Buxton and Jorge Polanco, the Twins come in tied with the Rockies for the seventh fastest team in the MLB. The slowest players on the Twins? Jason Castro and Nelson Cruz.

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COMSTOCK PARK – Considering where he’s been in recent years, John Vander Wal doesn’t care about a little traffic congestion.

Orange barrels and one lanes that pop up along the drive from Comstock Park to Ada are specks in the road compared to what he’s seen.

Vander Wal, one of Major League Baseball’s all-time greatest pinch hitters, is in his first season as assistant coach with the West Michigan Whitecaps. That’s like walking across the street after nine seasons as a scout driving around the county.

“My commute is usually about 15 minutes. I mean, how great is that?” he said.

Vander Wal joined the Whitecaps this season as a third coach, joining hitting coach Mariano Duncan and pitching coach Jorge Cordova on the staff of first-year manager Lance Parrish.

Before joining the Whitecaps, he was a scout four seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks after five seasons in a similar role with the San Diego Padres. That led to a lot of driving and flying around the country to be sitting and evaluating players from the seats of minor league ballparks.

So, Vander Wal welcomed the opportunity to become a coach. The benefit to come home made it special for the Hudsonville High School graduate.

“I’m fortunate enough to still be a part of the game and I get to go to my home after games half the time. I love that. That was the biggest selling card,” said the 52-year-old Vander Wal as the Whitecaps begin a seven-game homestand Tuesday. “It’s tough (being a scout). You leave three weeks at a time, home for a few days and then back on the road again.”

With the Whitecaps, Vander Wal has a myriad of duties ranging from positioning outfielders during games to assisting Duncan with hitters and offering his experience when called upon by veteran manager Parish.

“Between him and myself and Mariano, we have substantial big-league time,” Vander Wal said. “So, we try to have fun and teach these kids how to play at the professional level.”

“It’s quite a bit of transformation from playing college or high school ball to playing every single day,” Vander Wal said of most players on the Whitecaps. “It’s a learning curve. It’s tough to come out just about every day. They ask questions how to manage that, the mental grind of staying sharp and being successful every day as the season wears on.”

Vander Wal has experienced a lot in baseball. He went from Hudsonville High School to Western Michigan to the third-round pick of the Montreal Expos in 1987.

The first baseman-outfielder made his major league debut with the Expos in 1991 that began a 14-year career with eight teams. The left-hander found a niche as a pinch hitter, setting a league record for pinch hits in a season with 28 in 1995 with the Colorado Rockies. Vander Wal finished his career in 2004 with 129 pinch hits, seventh all-time.

Overall, he appeared in 1,372 games with a career batting average of .261. His best season came in 2000 with the Pittsburgh Pirates when he hit 24 home runs with 94 RBIs and batted .299 in 134 games.

MORE: Vander Wal’s stats

He was inducted into the Western Michigan Broncos’ Hall of Fame in 2003 and the Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame in 2005.

Now, with his son, Jake, a Forest Hills Central grad who is a sophomore outfielder at Central Arizona College, out of the house, it’s mostly Vander Wal and his wife, Debra.

“My wife is used to it. We get to see each other more now in the summer, but she gets it,” Vander Wal said. “She grew up in the game. When I was scouting, I was gone most of the summer. But that’s the way we’ve been. It’s baseball. But I’ll tell you, it’s nice to be home more in the summer.”

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Cubs outfielder Carlos Gonzalez cleared waivers and elected free agency after being designated for assignment last week, manager Joe Maddon told reporters today (Twitter link via Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune).

Gonzalez, 33, joined the Cubs on his second minor league deal of the season in late May and was selected to the Major League roster just days later. Unfortuately, CarGo’s time in Chicago didn’t go much better than his brief stint in Cleveland. After hitting .210/.282/.276 through 117 plate appearances with the Indians, Gonzalez batted only .175/.306/.300 in 49 plate appearances with the Cubs. He’s punched out in 31.3 percent of his plate appearances between the two teams.

While there’s plenty of name value attached to Gonzalez, a three-time All-Star and former MVP candidate, it’s been a few years since he delivered particularly strong offense. Dating back to 2017, Gonzalez has batted .260/.328/.423 (86 OPS+) and seen his power diminish. He did enjoy a strong all-around year in 2016 and crack 40 homers in 2015, but the combined .285/.337/.522 line he put together in those two seasons is well in the rear-view mirror at this point. While another club could very well look to roll the dice on a player with such a strong track record, it seems likely that he’ll have to settle for a third minor league deal.

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Schaumburg, Illinois has no shortage of spectacle. A cursory Google search reveals that this suburb of Chicago has an indoor water park, an Ikea, and a Rainforest Cafe all stuffed within its city limits. But despite all of those commercial pleasures, I can’t imagine any of them fill the gaping spiritual hole left by the dissolution in 2010 of the crown jewel of Schaumburg: the Schaumburg Flyers, formerly of the independent Northern League, and formerly player-coached by Matt Nokes.

Nokes, as I’m sure you degenerates all know, was an All-Star once in his rookie campaign with the Tigers and then proceeded to slowly fade out of the Majors before tearing up the Northern League at the end of his career. A fun Matt Nokes story: While in the Minors, Nokes apparently flew his own plane to road games to avoid slumming it on the bus with his teammates. Via the Chicago Tribune:

While his Schaumburg teammates ride buses to such far-flung league cities as Sioux Falls, Fargo and Winnipeg, Nokes pilots his Lancair IV P aircraft—a four-seater with a pressurized cabin.

Nokes attributes his uncommon method of minor-league travel for his batting average hovering near .370 this season.

“I have not been on the bus yet,” Nokes said. “I’m definitely more rested. I fly the fastest single-engine plane in the world. Our longest trip is to Winnipeg [856 miles], and I make it in less than three hours.

I won’t lie to you: There are somehow only four Guys remembered in this week’s episode, including Matt Nokes. That’s isn’t because we skimped on length. Rather, Roth got sidetracked with long tangents not just about Schaumburg, but also—improbably—Neptune, New Jersey’s tendency to crank out Danny Devitos (plural). All that, and I still haven’t even mentioned Barry Lyons’s incredible chest hair. You can check that out for yourself.

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Next time Jeff Bridich is considering a multi-year deal for a relief pitcher, it should be somebody’s job to smack him in the face with a picture of Jake McGee.

There might be no better pitcher to represent the ups and downs of many talented relievers. The Rockies acquired McGee before the 2016 season and he was kind of a mess that season. Then he was stellar in 2017, with a 140 ERA+ and a jump back up to 9.1 K/9. He looked like the back-end lefty that the Rockies had wanted. So they signed him to a three-year contract.

McGee was back to being bad in the first year of that deal in 2018, which was the worst season of his career. The 2019 season was the second year of that deal, and McGee was certainly better. He missed time at the beginning of the year with a knee injury, then in 45 appearances, McGee had a 4.35 ERA (120 ERA+). He was inconsistent, however, and had largely faded from the picture in terms of high-leverage situations by the time we reached the end of the season.

Beyond the surface improvements in his stats, however, there are some concerning signs for McGee. His fastball velocity continued to decline for the third straight season, down to an average velocity of 93.4. In what might have been an adjustment to that dip, McGee used his slider more than he ever has at 19.1% of the time. He used his slider 5.1% of the time in 2018. He also threw essentially no curveballs this past season, so that might just be a tweak to his spinning pitches, but the point is that he threw fewer fastballs with less velocity and more secondary pitches.

That approach did at least seem to lead McGee to bounce back and get better results against left-handed hitters. If he can at least do that, McGee probably has some trade value if the Rockies want to pursue that route, but probably not a lot of value. He would also be a prime trade deadline candidate depending on his results and how the Rockies are doing, but here’s hoping they won’t be sellers next summer.

It’s likely that McGee will be in the Colorado bullpen once again, at least to start the season. His ability to continue to adjust his approach will determine whether or not he can end this contract on a high note.

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Yency Almonte was something of a yo-yo player for the Rockies in 2019, with five separate spells with the big club throughout the season.

Almonte’s 2019 was almost exactly evenly split between Triple-A Albuquerque and the big club, as he made 30 appearances for the Isotopes and 28 for the Rockies.

With the Rockies, Almonte was unable to replicate the success from his 2018 cameo, in which he posted a 1.84 ERA in 14 2⁄3 innings. Given more extended exposure at the highest level, Almonte had some struggles, with a 5.86 ERA and 5.51 FIP in 34 innings of work, striking out 29 while opponents hit .275 against him. Despite the surface numbers, Almonte’s ERA+ was just a shade below average at 94.

Part of the struggles for Almonte in 2019 may have been the fact that Bud Black never seemed to settle on a consistent role for him. At times, Almonte was used as a multi-inning reliever for the Rockies, throwing as many as 51 pitches in an outing against the Pirates in August, and at times he faced just one batter being pulled.

Regardless of his role, Almonte’s best pitch, his slider, will be key for him going forward. Opponents hit just .115 and slugged just .180 against Almonte’s slider in 2019, and had a whiff rate of 41.7% against it. Also, his slider use spiked to 54% in September, a month that saw him strike out 11 in 8 2⁄3 innings (11.4 K/9) after striking out 18 in 25 1⁄3 innings (6.4 K/9) prior to the season’s final month.

Perhaps Almonte found a formula in September that can catapult him into being the next Scott Oberg, or perhaps it was just a blip on the radar. At age 25, the Rockies really don’t know what they have with Almonte yet, and 2020 could be a big year in determining the path of his career.

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This truth is worth repeating when you worry about Ryan Castellani’s struggles in a repeat trip to Double-A in 2018: he was (and still is) just 22 the whole season, 2.4 years younger than the league on average and only four months older than Brady Singer, the #18 overall pick in the 2018 draft. If he’d have gone the college route instead of signing as Colorado’s 2nd round pick in 2014 for $1.1 million, Castellani might only now be emerging from short season ball.

With that said, Castellani had a tough 2018 in Hartford that knocked him off the smooth prospect path he had enjoyed up until that point. Indeed, 2018 was the first year that Castellani had repeated a level. Before 2018, Castellani had posted four straight seasons with a FIP below 4.00 and had led his league in both innings pitched and strikeouts in 2016 and 2017 while being the youngest ERA qualifier at each level. Something seemed off about Castellani in Spring Training though, and the Rockies sent him back to Double-A to figure it out. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like that happened.

Castellani made 26 starts in 2018, only one fewer than he did at the level in 2017, but he threw 23 fewer innings in those starts (134 1⁄3 total), almost an inning less per start. His ERA was 5.49 (up from 4.81) and his FIP was 5.21 (up from 3.99), while the K/9 (6.1 vs. 7.6) and BB/9 (4.7 vs. 2.7) rates were both worse compared to the prior year as well. It was an up and down season. Castellani had a 2.05 ERA through April but he had a terrible May (8.33 ERA), followed by an average June (4.30 ERA) and an awful July (7.98 ERA). Castellani settled down for a serviceable 3.57 ERA in August before a poor start to end the season in September.

Castellani was then selected for the Arizona Fall League, where he posted a 5.13 ERA over 7 starts in which he accumulated 26 1⁄3 innings with a nice 10.6 K/9 rate and a still elevated 4.8 BB/9 rate.

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

In the report accompanying the above video, Adam McInturff of 2080 Baseball provides insights on Castellani based on AFL viewings, including more granular grades on each of his offerings. It’s…not positive. Here was his conclusion for Castellani:

Physical frame and flashes of hard sinker/slider combo give raw ingredients of 7th inning setup reliever, but has a ways to go w/ control and overall pitchability to make an impact at ML level.

In their recent write-up of Colorado’s system, Baseball Prospectus left Castellani out of the system’s top 15. Their thoughts on him were not optimistic:

The vagaries of the schedule meant I didn’t catch Castellani until the last couple weeks of the season, but he again looked liked a different pitcher, in not in a good way. His slot was higher, his arm action more rigid. Gone was the athletic delivery that garnered physical comps to Max Scherzer. There was more effort to sit 89-91, the slider was slurvier, and he just didn’t look right. You’d catch glimpses of the 2017 top prospect—a fastball that bored in under a lefty’s hands, a mid-80s slider with late tilt, but if you only saw him last year, you wouldn’t be filing him as an acquire. Twenty-three in Double-A, even as a double repeater, isn’t a prospect death sentence. But pitchers, man.

FanGraphs put Castellani 6th in the system with a 45 FV tag in May:

Neither Castellani’s stuff nor his command were crisp this spring, and he was knocked around in big-league games then sent to repeat Double-A, where his strike-throwing issues have continued. If he bounces back he could be a No. 4, if not he’ll be a three-pitch reliever.

It should be noted that the FanGraphs guys also saw Castellani in the AFL and had more positive reports on him there than 2080 did (take a listen on this podcast for more, starting at the 66 minute mark).

MLB.com currently has Castellani 10th in the system:

Castellani’s fastball sat around 90 mph in high school but now runs from 92-97 mph with arm-side run and sink that should help him deal with Coors Field. When he doesn’t get around his low-80s slider, he shows the ability to throw it for strikes and to back-foot it against left-handers. His fading changeup slipped a little in 2017 but can be a solid pitch when he maintains his arm speed and slot when he throws it.

Colorado officials compare his less-than-smooth mechanics to Max Scherzer’s, and like the three-time Cy Young Award winner in his younger days, Castellani’s biggest need is consistent command. He had repeated his delivery well and thrown strikes in the past, but inconsistency with his mechanics has led to his struggles in 2018. He’s still just 22, so he has plenty of time to turn things around.

The above evaluation is highlighted by 60 fastball and 55 slider grades, accompanied by 50 change-up and 50 control evaluations. Given Castellani’s recent struggles, those may be outdated at this point, but it’s still a compelling repertoire that has starter potential.

Obviously this year’s step back has been discouraging for Castellani. Something isn’t quite right with the 6’4” righty and we can only hope he will recover his prior form. He’s got some mechanical issues that need to be worked out, but if he does he’s a solid bet to be a starter at the Major League level, likely in 2020. It’s likely that Castellani will start 2019 in Hartford again, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he climbed the ladder to Triple-A quickly.

Given his 40 man roster slot (secured after the 2018 season), it’s possible Castellani sees big league time this year, but if he does it’s because of either a massive injury calamity or a fantastic breakout campaign. Despite the bumps this year, I’m still a believer in Castellani’s potential as a starter, which is why I ranked him 9th in the system with a 45 Future Value tag as a number 4 starter.

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The Colorado Rockies announced on Friday that they have not retained the services of their bullpen coach/assistant pitching coach Darren Holmes. They have replaced him with one of their minor league pitching coordinators, Darryl Scott.

Steve Merriman, who spent the 2019 season as the pitching coach for Double-A Hartford, will replace Scott in his minor league pitching coordinator role.

As the Rockies press release states, Scott has been in the Rockies organization as a pitching coach or a pitching coordinator since 2009. He has been a MiLB pitching coordinator since 2017, after he spent the previous two seasons as the pitching coach in Triple-A Albuquerque.

In his playing career, he got a cup of coffee with the then-named California Angels in 1993, in which he pitched in 13 games. Other than that, he spent 1990-2000 with six different MLB organizations and a season over in Japan.

He spent parts of two seasons (1995, 2000) with the Rockies organization at the Triple-A level when their Triple-A affiliate was in Colorado Springs.

As for Holmes, 53, he had been the Rockies bullpen coach since the start of the 2015 season. It was his first coaching role with a team. However, he spent the 2014 season in the Atlanta Braves organization as a “biomechanics pitching consultant.”

Holmes spent part of 13 seasons at the major league level as a reliever, including part of five seasons with the Rockies, which was the organization that he played the most in. In fact, he was one of the original Colorado Rockies as he played with the Rockies from 1993-1997.

Perhaps Holmes could find himself as a coach with his former teammate, Joe Girardi, who is the Phillies new manager. Reportedly, Girardi is considering his former Rockies teammate, Dante Bichette, as one of the team’s hitting coaches.

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Purple Row might not agree on everything, but the 32-member Purple Row Prospect list electorate was unanimous in their decree that Yonathan Daza deserved a place in the system’s top 30, the first such player (out of 13) to be revealed in the preseason 2019 version of the list. He’s also the player on this list who has by far (about 3 years) the longest tenure in the Rockies organization, having been signed way back in late 2010 out of Venezuela.

It’s been a tough road for Daza, who took almost eight years as a prospect to even make his first PuRPs list. The road began with a year in the Dominican academy after signing followed by three full campaigns in the Dominican Summer League, and only in the last of these seasons did Daza produce a line better than league average. As a result, by the time Daza finished his stateside debut in 2014, a successful campaign in which Daza hit .370 and posted a 137 wRC+ with Grand Junction, he was nearly Rule 5 eligible. The Rockies didn’t protect him from Rule 5 after a 2015 season in which he demolished Short Season A (218 wRC+ in 72 PAs) and held his own in Low A (106 wRC+ in 279 PAs over two separate stints). They didn’t protect him from Rule 5 after Daza proved the previous year wasn’t a fluke in Low A (115 wRC+ in 516 PAs) with a brief High A cameo in 2016.

Only when the Rockies were forced to choose between losing Daza to minor league free agency or giving him a 40 man roster slot after the 2017 season did Colorado bring Daza into their long-term plans. Of course, Daza no doubt had a lot to do with that change of mind, as he made dramatic improvements to his physique and game during that 2016-17 off-season. This hard work paid off with his best season as a pro in 2017, a 126 wRC+ campaign in Lancaster in which he hit .341/.376/.466 with 48 extra base hits and 31 steals out of 39 attempts in 569 PAs. He then tacked on a successful Arizona Fall League coda to the season in which he hit .318/.333/.379 against other top prospects.

In 2018, Daza got his first taste of Double-A after the better part of a decade as a professional. Unfortunately, hamstring injuries led to multiple DL stints in May, June, and July and ended his season in late July. As a silver lining, Daza actually accumulated 27 days of MLB service time in 2018 as the Rockies needed an extra 40 man roster slot in their stretch run this past September and put him on the 60 day DL. He did recover enough to play in the Venezuelan Winter League, where he hit .296 in 21 games.

In the 54 games he was actually able to participate in at an age-appropriate level in Double-A, Daza again surpassed the .300 mark, something he’s done each year he’s played in the US. Over 228 PAs, Daza hit .306/.330/.461 with 24 extra base hits for Hartford, good for a 118 wRC+. As he has done throughout his minor league career, Daza didn’t strike out much (10.5% of PA) but neither did he walk much (3.1% of PAs). In fact, Daza is the anti-Three True Outcomes hitter with only 4 homers to add to those low K/BB numbers.

Here’s video of Daza from July 2018 courtesy of 2080 Baseball

Bobby DeMuro of Baseball Census has additional video of Daza from this Lancaster days within his Daza write-up from this preseason 2018 report, well worth reading in its entirety.

Baseball Prospectus has been Daza’s most prominent champions of late, and their placement of him at 9th in the system recently is no exception. Here’s Jeffrey Paternostro on Daza:

He’s a quick-twitch athlete, a plus runner who’s a steady defender in center field, and he shows enough arm for right. His bat needs to take a step forward to get him over the hump from fourth outfielder to starter, though.

Daza’s swing is loose—in a good way—with quick wrists. It’s bat speed over barrel control at present. He has the raw physical tools for average hit, but struggles with spin and his general aggressiveness at the plate looks ripe for exploitation by major-league arms. There’s enough strength and loft—he’ll put a charge in a mistake—to project average power, but you wonder how much of that he will get into games against elite pitching.

Daza currently ranks 18th in MLB.com’s organizational roundup:

Daza is a gifted hitter with a knack for serving line drives to the opposite field. His approach yields very little home run power, however, and the ease with which he makes contact cuts into his walk totals. He has gotten faster as he has firmed up his body and now has plus speed and some basestealing acumen.

While there’s some question whether Daza can make enough offensive impact to warrant playing every day at the big league level, his speed and defensive ability give him value as a fourth outfielder. He’s the best center-field defender in the system, with his quick first step and fine instincts allowing him to cover plenty of ground. He also has the strongest outfield arm among Rockies farmhands, enabling him to play all three spots.

The 24-year old Daza represents a rarity in Colorado’s system — an honest to goodness right-handed hitting outfield prospect. More important than handedness is Daza’s status as likely the organization’s best defensive outfielder. If you believe MLB.com’s evaluation, he possesses a 70 arm and plus speed, as well as a 55 hit tool. Certainly there are also warts with the profile, most notably a lack of power, concerns that the hit tool won’t play as well against more advanced pitching, and the fact that he only got to Double-A as a 24-year old.

Still, put it all together and you get a very likely (again, right-handed!) MLB 4th outfielder with the potential to be a big league regular if the defense and hit tool both play up. That’s a valuable package and a big reason why I ranked Daza 11th on my personal list with a 40+ Future Value. Even if Daza just becomes a poor man’s version of Raimel Tapia (to whom I’ve previously compared Daza) or even just a rich man’s Noel Cuevas, that’s a big win for a prospect who a year or two ago was on his way out of pro ball altogether.

Daza finds himself on the outside of the 2019 Major League roster picture and may be ticketed for a return engagement to Hartford to begin his second option year. I see him ascending to Triple-A before too long in 2019 though, where in September his speed and defense would make him a good stretch run call-up. He’ll be competing for “right-handed outfield reserve” reps with Cuevas and I think this year that’s a competition Daza will win.

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Thomas Harding reviews Trevor Story’s 2019 season and looks ahead to 2020. Story has established himself as one of the best players in the National League, through his improvements at the plate and major strides at shortstop. Like all players though, Story can still get better. The major area he can improve is the one that led many people to think he’d struggle hitting major league pitching in general: strikeouts. After his first couple of seasons, Story managed to reduce his strikeouts to around 25%. That was progress from the 30% he was at, but still not great. Compare that to Nolan Arenado, whose career high strikeout rate in a single season was 18%.

Things can change, but it seems like strikeouts will always be a part of Trevor’s offensive game. Reducing strikeouts is a way for him to get better, but it’s not exactly a big problem right now.

DJ LeMahieu hit one of the most dramatic home runs of the postseason on Saturday, tying the game in the ninth inning of an elimination game. Alas, it ended up as the second most dramatic home run of the evening, as José Altuve’s walk-off sent the Astros to the World Series in the bottom half of the ninth.

Patrick Saunders talks about his experience with DJ, his understated competitiveness, and the discussions that were involved from the Yankees’ side about signing DJ in the first place. Apparently, Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman had to be convinced to sign LeMahieu. He’s obviously glad that he did. Here’s what Cashman told MLB.com:: “It worked out extremely well, and to our benefit, and so I thank those individuals for pushing it — and I’ll pat myself on the back for hiring people smarter than me.”