Atlanta is so hot this time of year, and nothing is much hotter than “The Freeze”, a man in an uncomfortably tight leotard who uses his blazing speed to embarrass challengers in between innings. However, “The Freeze” isn’t the hottest thing within the Braves’ new SunTrust Park. That label belongs to its short-term first baseman, Matt Adams.
Adams was acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals on May 20th, just two days after their All-Star first baseman Freddie Freeman had his left wrist broken after being hit by a pitch. Since landing in the “A-T-L”, Adams has a .948 OPS with eight homers and 21 RBI in 24 games and 106 plate appearances.
“Big City” had become pretty useless in St. Louis, as the club decided to move Matt Carpenter to first base, with Jedd Gyorko, Aledmys Diaz, and Kolten Wong bringing “stability” to the rest of the infield. With Diaz in the midst of a sophomore slump and Wong dealing with injuries after his own bouts of ineffectiveness over the last two seasons, the Cardinals aren’t the same, competitive club as they seem to annually be. Still, they felt that Adams wouldn’t cut it in the outfield, even after his whopping 34 inning test-run in five starts there this season, taking a 19-year-old first base prospect in return to rid themselves of the 6’3″ slugger, even as the club rosters the likes of Tommy Pham, Chad Huffman, and Jose Martinez as options in left field today.
St. Louis’ focus on defense in left field has been the Braves’ offensive gain, and the Braves would be wise to continue to reap the benefits of Matt Adams when Freeman returns in July.
The Braves are in an interesting situation. Yes, they have the new stadium. Yes, they have an interesting blend of talent on their roster; however, they are in the midst of a rebuild, despite the presence of Matt Kemp, R.A. Dickey, and Bartolo Colon on their roster. Dealing Matt Adams at the deadline, or whenever Freeman returns, would benefit the club tremendously, as several teams could be interested in the slugger for their own playoff push.
Atlanta sits 10 games out of first place entering play today. Adams may be of value to a team like, say, the Yankees, whose first basemen have hit just .195/.298/.345 with eight home runs and 23 RBI all season (see Adams’ stats again since joining Atlanta!). Another team that could make some noise, if everyone gets healthy, would be Seattle, who could use an upgrade over Danny Valencia, who is the main culprit in the Mariners’ first basemen hitting just .244/.300/.368 with just six homers all season.
With an already crowded outfield and the likes of Ronald Acuna and Dustin Peterson racing their way to Atlanta and through the minors, the Braves should only consider Adams as a tradeable asset and not a piece of their future. If he continues to produce, his price tag only increases, but the club shouldn’t alter their current roster by trying to hold on to another solid first baseman…unless Major League Baseball suddenly adds the DH to the National League.
Below is a list of the top 100 prospects in MLB, as compiled by a non-scout. With spring training starting up, what better time to begin prospecting for your fantasy teams than right now. Click on the links below to view each player’s Baseball Reference page. Brief writeups for top 25 only. Enjoy, comment, and share…share a lot!
1. Andrew Benintendi, OF, BOS: Added muscle to an already incredibly talented skill-set could lead to immediate stardom in 2017.
2. Alex Reyes, RHP, STL: Suspensions are behind him. It won’t be long until he’s 1b behind Carlos Martinez.
3. Lucas Giolito, RHP, CHW: Remember the elbow issues and the babying. He’ll get a grasp on location and he’ll take off.
4. Yoan Moncada, 2B, CHW: Freak athlete. The numbers from a 2B will make fantasy players drool.
5. J.P. Crawford, SS, PHI: Don’t expect Jimmy Rollins in his game. He’ll begin to impress as soon as he gets his first shot due to a solid approach and all-around game.
6. Dansby Swanson, SS, ATL: Atlanta will be better in their new stadium. Swanson will be one of the reasons why. Getting him for Shelby Miller will be the Braves’ version of the Jeff Bagwell deal.
7. Rafael Devers, 3B, BOS: Power potential for days. He’s going to be special.
8. Gleyber Torres, SS, NYY: The power is coming. At 19 in A+, he had 11 HR and 29 doubles. It’s a race to SS between Torres and Mateo in NY.
9. Brendan Rodgers, SS, COL: There is a lot more swing and miss in his game than Troy Tulowitzki’s, but he’ll be compared to him his entire career – and for good reason.
10. Tyler Glasnow, RHP, PIT: The control can still be an issue, but Glasnow has the right pitching coach to make him an elite arm.
11. Victor Robles, OF, WAS: A gifted athlete with a crazy contact rate (especially for a 19-year-old in A+), he’ll utilize the entire field and be a threat on the bases.
12. Cody Bellinger, 1B/OF, LAD: He has nowhere to play until Adrian Gonzalez leaves after the 2018 season, but he’s nearly ready. Maybe they’ll make room for him in the OF.
13. Austin Meadows, OF, PIT: All of the McCutcheon rumors will lead to a lot of focus on Meadows. He won’t be a star but can do a lot of things well.
14. Bradley Zimmer, OF, CLE: The strikeouts are a huge concern but Zimmer is a unique talent and brings a skill-set that will improve an already impressive roster in Cleveland.
15. Nick Senzel, 3B, CIN: Think of Ryan Zimmerman when you think of how quickly a player can reach the majors here. He could also produce at the same level…hopefully without the injuries.
16. Anderson Espinoza, RHP, SD: There are still a lot of things that can go wrong (he doesn’t turn 19 until March), but there are so many things that are already intriguing here.
17. Lewis Brinson, OF, MIL: Making contact consistently is a concern, but, when he does, Brinson is capable of superstardom in Milwaukee.
18. Eloy Jimenez, OF, CHC: 40 doubles at 19 in the midwest league. He’s going to turn those into HR in 2017 and he’ll be a top 5 prospect in 2018.
19. Manuel Margot, OF, SD: His numbers won’t pop and he may never lead the league in any statistic, but Margot is a smooth baseball player. He can do it all.
20. Josh Bell, 1B/OF, PIT: He never showed the power potential he was supposed to have in the minors, but he’s still a work in progress – one with an approach beyond his years.
21. Clint Frazier, OF, NYY: The hair may be what many know him for right now. The ability will make others wish that they had curly red hair.
22. Kyle Tucker, OF, HOU: As this guy grows into his 6’4″ frame, he’s going to be a monster. He had 41 XBH and 32 SB while reading A+ at 19 in 2016.
23. Michael Kopech, RHP, CHW: He throws really hard and he’s on a team that is going to give him an opportunity sooner than later. If for no other reason than these, he’s an intriguing prospect. He’s also very good.
24. Willy Adames, SS, TB: He’ll make the David Price trade look silly at some point when he debuts in 2017. He is extremely talented and will quickly become one of the Rays’ top players.
25. Francis Martes, RHP, HOU: Strikeouts jumped a bit (as did the walks) in AA last year, a wonderful sign for a 20-year-old. He throws extremely hard and is capable of becoming a frontline starter.
To say that the last three months, since I last wrote on this blog, have been miserable would be the understatement of my lifetime. Personal issues aside, I can easily say that the 2016 World Series was the best that I’ve ever seen. As a former writer on an Indians blog, I adopted them as my team – and was forced to do so after the MLB.TV blacked out my local team. Watching the Tribe all season, off-and-on due to the above issues, was truly exciting. The Tyler Naquin inside-the-parker and celebration, the year-long smoothness of Francisco Lindor up-the-middle, and the dominance by Corey Kluber were impressive to cling to during my own struggles; however, the Indians making it to the World Series and getting that 3-1 lead was what I thought would bring me out of the funk of life.
Unfortunately, it didn’t happen that way, but…WOW! Rajai Davis‘ home run, the ups and downs of the whole series, and the hope that came along with it…It didn’t get much better than that. Congratulations to the Chicago Cubs and the 108 years of futility that their fans had to endure for their majestic comeback. It is scary to think of how good they could be over the next several years as Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Javier Baez blossom in their dynamic lineup.
Now…onto some other things…
Of course, the owners want to take this time of great celebration and success for the entire league to leap into their demands. Sure, the International Draft and all of the international signings need to have some sort of reform. The punishments of signing money and draft picks haven’t seemed to do enough damage to the clubs that continue to shell out the millions needed to sign the top international teenagers. A draft would “even the playing field” and allow the worst teams to get the best players. Isn’t that similar to the amateur draft, though? Are the best players going in order in the draft, or are the teams using their bonus money and the demands of the bonus babies to still play a role in who they take? This is a problem, sure, but all player acquisition options seem to be that way in MLB. People didn’t like the way that the Houston Astros lost and stockpiled players. The Cubs did something similar and found the results that they did in 2016. Are the Cincinnati Reds next to go down the hundred-losses path to find eventual success, or will the owners cry foul on that, as well?
There are all kinds of other options that need to be adjusted, but equality and fairness in dollars, which comes along with a salary cap, will only go so far if stupid people are in charge. The Indians ranked 24th in MLB payroll on Opening Day last season, while the Cubs were 14th, just behind my hometown Reds, who went 68-94, just 35.5 games back of those Cubbies. The owners, the billionaires, want more money coming towards them, which makes the International Draft and a salary cap so endearing to them. The players, the millionaires, want more money in the only league that has fully guaranteed contracts – just imagine what would have happened to a Ryan Howard contract in the NFL!
Once again, it could be the game and the fans who lose out while these rich people banter over their money. The game continues to grow globally, with another World Baseball Classic this spring, but all of the positivity that comes from that jubilance could be crushed. So, here’s my take: get over yourselves and take better care of the game, and don’t ruin this amazing high that fans are on after an incredible postseason with arrogance and greed!
Big Contracts for Small Names
After watching Andrew Miller dominate down the stretch and in the playoffs, the St. Louis Cardinals dove into free agency with what could be a huge belly flop, signing Brett Cecil for four years and $30.5MM to get the ball to last season’s surprise closer, Seung-hwan Oh, who was dominant after replacing Trevor Rosenthal last season. Cecil is an interesting investment. After faltering as a starter for Toronto, he was moved to the bullpen full-time in 2012. In his four seasons of serving only out of the ‘pen, Cecil has managed a 2.90 ERA (2.73 FIP), 1.17 WHIP, and 11.5 K:9 over 205 IP and 243 appearances. If you compare Cecil’s four seasons to Miller’s first three as a reliever, they are pretty similar, as Miller posted a 2.57 ERA (2.37 FIP), 1.05 WHIP, and 13.3 K:9 over 133.1 IP and 163 appearances. Miller, of course, signed with the Yankees for four years and $36MM after the 2014 season, becoming more dominant since then (1.72 ERA (1.90 FIP), 0.76 WHIP, and 14.8 K:9 over 136 IP and 130 appearances). It appears that Cecil was able to successfully attach himself to Miller’s coattails, riding them to a huge payday.
Jumping to the outfield, the Astros added to their’s by signing Josh Reddick to a four-year, $52MM deal. It seemed like a strange addition when you consider that the Astros have George Springer in right, the position that Reddick has played for most of his career. Still, with Jake Marisnick in center and Nori Aoki in left, the outfield was an area of need this winter. After going from Wild Card winners in 2015 to 3rd in the AL West in 2016, the Astros needed to continue to push towards their winning window with their solid core of talent. Reddick, however, may not be worth $13MM per season, having seen his best season way back in 2012. It seems like a lot of money for someone who posted a 1.2 WAR in 2016, but it appears that Houston believes his thumb injury played a larger role in his lack of offensive prowess last season. This looks a lot like the deal that the Yankees gave to Jacoby Ellsbury, banking on his insane 2011 season after a couple of average seasons in 2012 and 2013. He hasn’t lived up to the contract, unless you’re paying $20MM per year for past performance, which Houston appears to be doing, as well, this offseason.
I’ll try to write more often. Get back on my bandwagon and I’ll tell you wonderful things about baseball and life. America needs me right now, so I’m back.
As a Cincinnati Reds homer, I’m looking ahead to next season…actually, I’m looking forward to 2020, when the team will have time to truly rebuild their roster. Unfortunately, for a non-contending, rebuilder within a “small-market”, Cincinnati will not be a big player in free agency. Like many other clubs that are looking to build from within or on-the-cheap, free agency isn’t very kind, leaving the remnants of the market to pick through like a racoon at a garbage can. Oh, those beady eyes in your headlights in January will just be Walt Jocketty or Billy Beane looking for a backup infielder.
This winter, as with any other, baseball fans will see plenty of players on the move, including Mark Trumbo, Edwin Encarnacion, Aroldis Chapman, and Ian Desmond, who appear to be the few “big names” on the market. In addition to those select few, there are plenty of players with options, but are they going to get picked up? Let’s take a look at those optional options for 2017, shall we…
Fowler is having a stellar season, even having spent some time on the DL. He is earning $13MM this season on a one-year deal and has responded after facing a weak market this past winter with a career-best .877 OPS. The 2016 All-Star isn’t really needed as a leadoff hitter in Chicago with Jason Heyward getting paid mega-millions to be that type of player, but Fowler should be able to cash in. The Cubs will likely accept their portion of the option very quickly.
Ryan Howard, 1B, Philadelphia Phillies: $23MM club option, $10MM buyout
Howard has had one of the worst contracts in baseball since the start of the 2012 season. Coincidentally, that is when his five-year, $125MM extension kicked in. Finally, the Phillies will be able to walk away from him and his horrific deal, and they’ll be more than happy to drop $10MM in order to do that. We’ll see if they release him and roll with Tommy Joseph, which they basically have done since the beginning of June.
Matt Holliday, OF, St. Louis Cardinals: $17MM club/vesting option, $1MM buyout
Holliday has collapsed in his age-36 season. His .237/.310/.449 line is the worst of his career. His 18 home runs have saved his line a bit, but he is still well short of his career .303/.382/.515 line. He certainly won’t rank in the top 10 in the NL MVP voting, which is all that it would take for his option in 2017 to vest. The Cardinals aren’t churning out prospects like they were a few years ago, so it will be interesting to see which direction they go to stay within the Cardinal Way.
Yoenis Cespedes, OF, New York Mets: can opt-out of remaining two-years, $47.5MM
Cespedes could cash in significantly in a weak market this winter. With so few power bats available, the 30-year-old corner outfielder, if healthy, would likely increase his AAV to $25-$28MM per season. He will beat his career-high for OPS this year. He just needs to stay on the field to keep the Mets in contention.
CC Sabathia, LHP New York Yankees: $25MM vesting option (if he doesn’t end the season on the DL with a shoulder injury, spend 45 days or more on the DL with a shoulder injury, or make six or more relief appearances because of a shoulder injury), $5MM buyout
If you asked in mid-June, Sabathia may have been worth a $20MM gamble for New York. On June 16th, he had a 2.20 ERA and 1.24 WHIP over his first 11 starts; however, he has a 6.85 ERA and 1.54 WHIP over his last eight starts. With Mark Teixeira retiring after the 2016 season, the Yankees will have quite a bit of money to spend – unless they are serious about their rebuild and continue to add young talent to the roster. The Yankees may need to check-in on Sabathia’s shoulder, given his recent woes, and make sure everything is clean; although, the MLBPA may find a way to keep his option guaranteed with such a move.
Jay Bruce, OF, New York Mets: $13MM club option, $1MM buyout
Bruce, who was recently acquired by the Mets from Cincinnati for a pair of prospects, will provide a lot of value to New York, especially if Cespedes remains on the shelf with his quad injury, but even more so if Cespedes opts out and signs elsewhere this winter. Bruce is a fine outfielder who is capable of strong production, as evidenced by his rebound 2016 season, but his lengthy slumps and declining defense don’t make him worth a huge deal. The $13MM option is still a fine value for the Mets, who may end up in quite a limbo with their other outfielder about a week after the World Series.
Carlos Santana, 1B/DH, Cleveland Indians: $12MM club option, $1.2MM buyout
Santana is an interesting player due to his ugly batting averages, average power, and incredible on-base skills. Everyone is waiting for him to finally put it all together, which would lead to a very Adam Dunn-like 30 HR, 100 R, 100 BB season for Cleveland; however, he just can’t beat the shift and his deflated BABIP keep him from meeting some of those numbers. With Mike Napoli also reaching free agency, the Indians will likely opt-in on Santana, as they couldn’t afford to lose them both. They may not be able to re-sign Napoli after his huge season, but they could offer him a qualifying offer and keep him around for one more season. Since Napoli’s decision will come after the option decision on Santana, expect the former catcher to stick for one more year with the Tribe.
Duh. The Rangers just gave up a nice prospect package for the best catcher this side of Buster Posey, so you can expect them to take on this very affordable option. Lucroy is public enemy No.1 in Cleveland right now, but he had the right in his contract and used it to his advantage. Playing in Arlington for half of his games, his numbers could inflate and help him inflate his earnings when he reaches free agency after the 2017 season.
Jason Hammel, RHP, Chicago Cubs: $10MM club option, $2MM buyout
Hammel has been excellent in 2016, posting a 3.07 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 21 starts. In his career, Hammel has a 3.33 ERA and 1.10 WHIP over 399.2 innings while wearing a Cubs’ uniform and a 4.77 ERA and 1.43 WHIP in any other uniform. He needs to be in Chicago and Chicago needs him in their rotation, as the incredible talent within their system that continues rising to the majors aren’t talented on the mound. Hammel is a bargain with his production in a Cubs’ uniform.
There are several additional players with options that you can find at MLB Trade Rumors. It looks like the 2016-2017 offseason will be very trade-heavy as teams try to structure their rosters with talent without unloading gobs of cash on talent that may not be quite as talented as your typical market. In addition to that, the 2017-2018 market could have an even slower market with Matt Harvey, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and Jose Fernandez heading towards free agency after the 2018 season.
As we celebrate Independence Day in the United States, we feel that pounding in our chests from the explosions high above, while many of us listen or watch our favorite baseball teams and eat apple pie. It is the epitome of America in a single day, but many of us are reminded that our teams just aren’t doing enough to win. Some of our favorite teams will be seeking help to improve their chances of winning, while others will begin dumping talent to build a winner next year. With less than four weeks remaining until the non-waiver trade deadline, where does your team stand? Does the additional Wild Card opportunity continue to lead to many clubs standing pat? Who needs what and who could be on the market?
The standings tell an interesting story. In the American League, there isn’t a single team more than six games out of the Wild Card hunt. The Oakland Athletics feature a 38-46 record after some huge deals this winter haven’t truly materialized as Billy Beane hoped; however, the A’s are 13-7 over their last 20 games, so they may not be as willing to deal a Ben Zobrist or Scott Kazmir (both free agents after the 2015 season) to continue the club’s unending rebuild and collection of controllable talent. With other woulda-coulda-shoulda-been contenders just ahead of Oakland in Seattle, Boston, and Chicago, the American League could see plenty of clubs reloading rather than rebuilding when the deadline approaches.
In the senior circuit, the National League has its share of contending teams, but they also have four clubs sitting 11 or more games under .500 (Miami, Colorado, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia). Another team that is on the border of Wild Card contention could be Cincinnati, who sits six games out in the Wild Card; however, with the St. Louis Cardinals leading the Reds by 15 games, the team may need to begin looking into dealing Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Aroldis Chapman, and/or Jay Bruce to get back on the same page as their NL Central foes. Even if the Reds aren’t sellers, names like Cole Hamels, Aaron Harang, Carlos Gomez, Jean Segura, Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Dan Haren, and Mat Latos will likely head elsewhere from the four bottom-feeding clubs.
So, where could these names end up? Who are the contenders likely to make deals or stand pat?
St. Louis Cardinals
It isn’t an even year, so the Giants won’t be taking the World Series championship. That leaves the Cardinals, who have the best record in baseball, locked-in and ready to seek another title, utilizing the “Cardinal Way”, aka computer hacking, to make it happen. Though they continue to win games, St. Louis is without Matt Adams and Adam Wainwright for the entire season. With Jaime Garcia continuing to struggle to stay healthy, St. Louis could be in the market for another bat or arm. Stephen Piscotty could get a look if Mark Reynolds isn’t the option at first, but the Cards would be wise to shore-up the rotation a bit – just in case another injury strikes. They’re again loaded and talented, and they could take advantage of their strong farm to improve their chances once again.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays are just three games out in the AL East and 1.5 games out in the Wild Card. With their lineup featuring so many capable sluggers, they just need some pitching to get over the hump. Toronto continues to develop strong pitching prospects, so they could offer some of that talent to acquire an arm for a big push down the stretch. The Blue Jays’ 4.59 starter ERA ranks 26th in MLB, and you have to wonder if Hamels, Kazmir, or Cueto could help the pitching staff enough to allow Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, and Edwin Encarnacion to do their thing with the bats.
New York Mets
The Mets’ pitching staff is too good for the club to run out a lineup of Triple-A and MLB bench quality players on a nightly basis. While the club isn’t going to deal their entire farm system and start from scratch, the Mets would be wise to deal some of their young pitching depth to acquire some semblance of an offensive weapon. The Troy Tulowitzki rumors were a big thing earlier this season, but that wouldn’t be enough to help this lineup on its own, especially when he’d be replacing one of the Mets major producers, Wilmer Flores (11 2B, 10 HR, leads team with 34 RBI), at short.
Chicago White Sox
Chicago would probably burn again if the White Sox trade Chris Sale. At just five games out in the Wild Card, the team isn’t going to fold after spending big on Melky Cabrera, Adam LaRoche, and David Robertson in free agency this past winter, and they still have Avisail Garcia and Jose Abreu to produce in the lineup, along with a deep, strong rotation with Jeff Samardzija, Carlos Rodon, Jose Quintana, and John Danks joining Sale in the group. If the White Sox do anything, they could afford to get a second baseman, as the team has received a .193/.239/.232 from the keystone position this season, easily the worst in baseball.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays are somehow managing to compete in the AL East this season, even after dealing with many injuries to their rotation to start the season. When Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, Drew Smyly, and Jake Odorizzi are on the shelf at the same time, you, likely, wouldn’t expect the Rays to still be just three games out in the division and 1.5 games out of the Wild Card. While Tampa Bay could make a few upgrades, they aren’t really in a position to deal from their minor league system due to continued financial limitations, while they are likely to get production from a healthy Moore, Smyly, and Odorizzi in the second half, who will join Cy Young consideration worthy Chris Archer to squander the opposition and win plenty of games.
Whatever the club can manage to pry away to get rid of Ryan Howard and/or Chase Utley would be wise. This team is 27-55 entering play Saturday, well on their way to the first overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft. It has to be a miracle that Ruben Amaro, Jr. is still employed. He may be a great guy, but he has ruined this franchise for years to come. If the club can deal Hamels and get great prospects WHILE dumping Hamels salary and allowing the team to start fresh next winter, it would be wise to do so. Dealing Jonathan Papelbon to a contender would also be a great move, as a highly-paid closer on a team that doesn’t win games is an absolute waste of time and money.
I mentioned before that the Reds could stand pat, but they need to deal Cueto and get value out of him, as I wrote recently. Jay Bruce’s production could make him hard to deal, but the club has Marlon Byrd under contract next year (vesting or team option at $8 million) with Jesse Winker showing he isn’t over-matched in Double-A to fill in the spaces around Billy Hamilton. Perhaps there is a match with the White Sox with Brandon Phillips, though his contract is as steep as his age. The Reds are more likely to play on the moon than get a team to take on Joey Votto‘s contract, so they’ll need some cheap, controllable pieces to collect and pray for production from. With a payroll that continues to be labeled “small-market”, the Reds are in serious danger of being awful in the next couple of seasons without acquiring near-ready talent.
Over the next several weeks, The Baseball Haven will be creating season previews for all 30 MLB teams. You’ll find their projected records (based on PECOTA records from Baseball Prospectus, as of 2/15/2015), each team’s top three players (based on Steamer WAR projections from FanGraphs), and some valuable notes on each team, including likely bounce-back candidates, potential breakout players or fantasy sleepers, as well as a look back at offseason transactions which led to each team’s projections. Stop back frequently to see where your favorite team ranks!
St. Louis Cardinals
2015 Projected Record: 88-74 (1st in NL Central, 4th in MLB)
Manager: Mike Matheny (275-211 in three seasons with St. Louis)
After a breakout 2013, Carpenter slipped a little in 2014, watching his OPS fall from .873 to .750, aided by the drop in his BABIP from .359 to .318. Carpenter was still quite valuable, leading the NL in walks, which helped his on-base percentage get to .375, and he was able to score 99 runs. With a lot of improving talent around him, the 29-year-old Carpenter is ready to get back to the production levels of 2013, scoring 110 or more runs and 40 or more doubles.
Fantasy Player to Watch: OF Jason Heyward
Heyward is entering his age-25 season and he already has five full seasons under his belt. He’s set to become a free agent after the 2015 season, and a huge season would lead to a huge contract. He hasn’t had a very consistent career, as his most productive overall season was his rookie year, 2010. He can provide well above-average defense, but at 6’5″, 245 pounds, you’d expect more than 11 home runs, last season’s career-low total. Maybe the Cardinals can rework his swing and get some of the power back, allowing Heyward to get back to his natural, beautiful swing that made him such a force earlier in his career. There’s a lot of money riding on Heyward’s ability to do more with his bat; however, in the current market, he’ll still get nine figures.
Offseason Overview: The Cardinals got Heyward and RHP Jordan Walden from the Braves for a couple of young arms, RHP Tyrell Jenkins and RHP Shelby Miller. While the deal hurt the Cardinals rotation depth, they needed to replace the potential production in right field after the tragic loss of Oscar Taveras. Although they’ll have Heyward for just one season, he has the potential to be the best player the Cardinals have had since Albert Pujols‘ heyday. Still, with Michael Wacha, Jaime Garcia, John Lackey, and Adam Wainwright having injury issues in the past, it’s fair to wonder if dealing pitching was worth the potential lack of rotation depth. The Cardinals will continue to trust their “way”, though, so the next man up will be expected to produce. There wasn’t much action this winter in St. Louis, unless someone really wants to hear about the Mark Reynolds, Carlos Villanueva, and Matt Belisle signings.
The Verdict: Well, it’s another season and the Cardinals are still the favorites – at least based on PECOTA. You’ll likely see big seasons from Heyward, Carpenter, first baseman Matt Adams, and second baseman Kolten Wong, who is going to breakout worse than a 13-year-old boy who sips Mountain Dew all day. The Cardinals success will lie in the health of the pitching staff. They have Marco Gonzales lined up as their No. 6 starter and Garcia, if his shoulder stays connected, but Wainwright and Lackey have a lot of innings on their reconstructed elbows, and they need to see consistency out of Carlos Martinez to stay competitive. The Cubs are improved and the Pirates should be the favorites for the division. The Cardinals will win more than 85 games, but this could be the first seasons they miss the playoffs since 2010 – unless things go right, which they usually do.
If you don’t know who Oscar Taveras is at this point, you should ask your internet service provider to explain how you’ve had Wi-Fi go through the boulder that you’ve been living under. Taveras has been a top prospect for three seasons ranking 23rd in 2012, 2nd in 2013, and 3rd in 2014 prior to each season (Baseball Prospectus), gaining all kinds of impressive comps along the way, including Vladimir Guerrero. The left-handed hitting outfielder was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals in November of 2008 at the tender age of 16. Much like Gregory Polanco, who I wrote about on Wednesday, he appears stuck in the minors due to the financial constraints of the Super Two process, although…the Cardinals do have better talent blocking Taveras than what the Pirates have blocking Polanco, as Matt Adams and Allen Craig seem much more capable than Jose Tabata and Travis Snider.
Regardless of why Taveras is in the minors, he won’t be there for long. A recent article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch by Derrick Goold quoted Cardinals’ GM John Mozeliak saying that the 21-year-old Taveras could come up June 4 when the Cards begin a seven-game road trip in American League parks (Royals, Blue Jays, and Rays), where they’ll need a DH. Bringing up Taveras would allow the club to rotate Adams and Craig in the DH role, while plugging the youngster into the lineup. The only problem will be – what do they do after that series?
Matt Adams turns 26 in August and posted an .839 OPS in 2013. He’s still slashing at .316/.331/.483 this season, but the “Cardinal Way” isn’t showing up in his five walks in 181 plate appearances, including a 25-game and 98 plate appearance stretch from April 12 to May 9 when he didn’t take a single free pass. He still has plenty of offensive potential, but his defensive limitations (being strictly a first baseman due to his 6’3″, 260 pound frame) could lead to an eventual trade, especially with Allen Craig around.
Speaking of Craig, he, too, could see a change of position if Taveras comes up for good. Craig possessing the five-year, $31 million extension will be the player out of the two current Cardinals to stick. His above-average production over the last two-and-a-half years is great, but his injury issues continue to prevent him from being truly elite. The versatility that Craig has shown in the past would be limited, but plugging him in at first base if and when Taveras comes up for good could play a role in his health over the rest of his contract.
More interesting than moving Craig and/or Adams around would be a move or takeover of center field by Taveras. St. Louis center fielders have combined for a .247/.324/.380 triple slash (.704 OPS), with Peter Bourjos and Jon Jay lacking in overall production as the primary culprits. It is debatable as to whether Taveras is a long-term solution in center, but he could certainly handle the position this season, while boosting the St. Louis offense with his potential production along the way.
If he’s up, he needs to play. Taveras isn’t really a player that you keep on the bench and utilize in a 4th outfielder role. He has a nice list of accomplishments:
Two-time Futures Game selection
2010 Appalachian League Post-Season All-Star
2011 Baseball America Low-A All-Star
2012 Texas League Mid-Season and Post-Season All-Star
2012 Texas League Player of the Year
2012 Baseball America Minor League All-Star
2012 Topps Double-A All-Star
2013 Dominican Winter League Rookie of the Year
All of that…and he’s 21. All of that…and he played in only 47 games in 2013 due to an ankle injury.
Beyond his accomplishments lie his tools, which haven’t even peaked yet. Here is what the scouts say about Taveras:
Jason Parks, Baseball Prospectus: “Elite hit tool potential; natural feel for barreling the baseball; elite hands; elite bat speed; controlled chaos in the swing; batting title future; power will flow from the hit tool; raw power is near elite; game power likely to play above plus; arm is strong; good athlete with instincts for the game; average run; average (or better) glove; special offensive profile.”
Jonathan Mayo, MLB.com: “He is a gifted hitter and has proven that at every level of the Minor Leagues. He utilizes an aggressive approach and consistently barrels up balls, driving them to all fields. He generates impressive bat speed, producing above-average power that plays well in games.Taveras has a strong arm and average speed. He covers ground well in the outfield and the Cardinals have used him in center field in the Minor Leagues. He probably fits best in right field and will get a chance to prove he belongs in St. Louis before long.”
John Sickels, MinorLeagueBall.com: “He’s going to be a monster as long as health issues don’t get in the way. Left-handed-hitting Vlad Guerrero is the ceiling here.”
Taveras has been spectacular throughout his career:
The .893 OPS is just scratching the surface when you consider that nearly 30 percent of his plate appearances came when most American players were high school juniors or high school seniors.
Oscar Taveras has had some high expectations for quite some time, but he has lived up to them at each stop. The comparisons seem unreasonable, but he deserves the opportunity to prove them wrong at the major-league level. The time is coming in St. Louis where Taveras is on the field every day. For a team that has appeared in four World Series in the last ten years, this is just a slap in the face to the rest of the league. Prepare yourselves for greatness, but don’t expect miracles right away. Taveras will be a very special player.