What’s up party people. We’ve been through some things, haven’t we? Not sure how this year’s July 4th BBQ will go down with social distancing, but could work out a bit in your favor. No one will be able to stand close enough to the grill to criticize your sear technique. That’s gotta count for something! Back at the end of February in the before times of the long-long ago, I gave you my pre-Spring Training first look at the Top 75 Outfielders for 2020. The world has since been torn asunder and we weren’t sure there was going to be any baseball season, let alone civilization. We screwed up the chocolate factory and the whole thing had to be washed and sterilized. Then so shines a good deed in a weary world. We had a wonderful debate between owners and players about how to fund this season, for those who took a nap (or 80 in between), allow me to recap it for you:

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Caleb Smith is not an ace. I will put that out there now, and assuage any comment bombs. However looking at a short season, and for funsies, considering an MLB proposed 50-game season that looks closer and closer to reality as the days grow longer, we are now looking at finding value in possibly 2 months of games, bleh. With a long grinding season becoming a short sprint, I was curious about fast-starting pitchers while continuing research on the hitter-side. To my surprise, there was 1 name that appeared in the Top 20 K% for starting pitchers from April–May over the last 2 years outside of Grey’s Top 100. That name is indeed Caleb Smith.

Now I know what you are thinking, Smith is kinda sun-dried garbaggio as the season wears on so why are you bothering me with this pincushion? I get it. But hear me out! If the season continues to shrink and we see 2 months full of games, you can spin the wheel of mediocrity and possibly land on a short-term ace. He doesn’t have to be Mr. Right, just Mr. Right-now-while-we-have-games (for 2 months). And those kinds of aces come in spades, Mr. Kilmister. One of which could easily be our boy, Caleb.

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Continuing on the series that began with April Powers Part 1, I showed you the top hitters over the last 3 years in the month of April with the caveat that they had to be “hot” at least twice. This week we’ll take an initial look at the top hitters from April 2019 and see if how they performed in the following months, and maybe catch a glimpse of what to look out for in Part 3.

In honor of Star Wars week, let’s take a page from Master Yoda. Always in motion is the future, difficult to tell. But to find our way there, we can start by looking at the present. After all, it’s impossible to know where you are going, if you don’t know where you’ve been without feeling under pressure. Right, David Bowie? They said it couldn’t be done! Yoda and Bowie in the same reference? Check. Now lets look at the board:

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Baseball is a funny sport. You remember baseball, don’t you? Men wearing gloves chase down a ball hit by another man holding a big stick. Like I said, funny. Damn, I really miss it though. Baseball is special beyond words (the rest of this post notwithstanding) and uniquely American in that you have to proactively win a game or lose by failing (unlike that silly soccer/euro-football). Earl Weaver once said, “You can’t sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock. You’ve got to throw the ball over the damn plate and give the other man his chance. That’s why baseball is the greatest game of them all.”  There are two other things about baseball that make it special beyond the rest:

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Something, something, COVID-19, something. I feel bad for the Wuhan Clan, the tribute rap group, they are going viral for all the wrong reasons right now; and sadly, their music is being grossly underappreciated. Channeling my inner Rodney Dangerfield, some people get no respect. Which is a back-alley, clunky, comedy club way to introduce you to my Deep Thoughts column. Much like last season, this is where we will plunge into the dark recesses of my mind (fun huh?) and dive deeply into deepest depths that is the mouth of madness we call player analysis.

This first episode features the statcast wonderboy, Mitch Garver (a catcher? GASP!), who has also been underappreciated. Did he benefit from Tropicana-infused balls (not the Rays’ park, the juice cocktail… hmm now that I think about it, did anyone else notice that 2 ballparks are sponsored by juice companies? Manfred!) or did he just flex on the league hidden within a stacked Twins lineup? These questions and more I hope to answer.

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Josh James was a lad,

That K’d many a man,

He was robbed of a starter’s gig last year,

The Astros stole signs since ’17,

So Hinch was soon fired,

Dusty then hired, and the Toothpick says he’s near…

That’s just the intro, but it’s a special song near and dear to my heart. So with A.J. Hinch gone from Houston, Dusty Baker rides into town. There’s 2 things we know about Dusty Baker’s managerial style. 1) Young position players often become waterboys for extended periods of time, and 2) he is not afraid to give young pitches a long leash and give them enough rope to hang themselves or succeed. Hold that thought. Losses to the Astros rotation: Gerrit Cole signed a $324 million contract to makeover his closet so he can pitch in pinstripes this year, and Aaron Sanchez went down with a shoulder injury and then subsequently not tendered a contract in offseason (those jerks!). The rotation left behind is now Verlander, Greinke, McCullers, Urquidy… with a 3-man spring battle for the 5th spot. The competition: Josh James, Framber Valdez, and Austin Pruitt. We have ourselves a Mexican (racist?) standoff. Central American standoff? Astro standoff? Astroff?

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“If you work for a living, why do you kill yourself working?”

Austin Riley came up last year as a 22-year-old. During his first few weeks of play, it was the best of times showered in gold. In his first 18 games, Riley hit 9 HRs with 25 RBIs and a .324/.368/.732 slash line. The world was his oyster (or plant-based soy oyster substitute if you’re a vegan). It looked like he was a world-beater. But a problem simmered under the surface. A 30% K-rate and 5% walk-rate to go along with a .378 BABIP well above his minor league career mark of .293. He always had some swing and miss in his game, but in the minors, it was a serviceable 25.3% that improved over time.

The hurdles of the known and the unknown are the everpresent challenges for rookies that reach the Show. Adjustments are the name of the game. You anti up your hand, then the league calls it. Now it’s back to you to raise it. That’s where we find our hero now, holding the cards in need of a response. You see, in this world there’s two kinds of people, my friend: those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig? You are going to show me a table, aren’t you? Yes, I am.

 

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What’s up party people. Throughout the season I’ll be bringing you my, you guessed it, Top 75 outfielders rankings for the 2020 season; or as I sometimes refer to them, the Top 75 glorified ball-shaggers (yes I was an infielder, why you ask?). Like my other compadres, I will be updating these throughout the season and pointing out the risers (the ins), fallers (the outs), and others that have me thinking at the moment warranting attention (the what-have-yous). We all have opinions, and I have plenty to share with all of you (aren’t you lucky?). You can share yours with me in the comments below (shameless plug). Baseball is back.

Outfield, the final frontier (for failed infielders with plus bats that managers are trying to hide in the field). Sure you have your superstars with arm-canons and so on, but one thing is often overlooked. Some of these players, while they have above-average offensive potential, are liabilities in the field and essentially are trying to swing their way into the everyday lineup. Their future, as a function of playing time, is tied to their production at the plate. Domingo Santana is a prime example. Last year in Seattle he contributed a solid -1.9 dWAR, a career-low. Obviously, he’s not a golfer. This brings me to my next point, the DH, allows some “outfielders” on AL teams to get many more ABs than NL part-timers including big bats like Soler, Alvarez, and Reyes.

This year we also have a lot of young guns getting their shot at full-time gigs across a full season and more set to make an appearance as the season goes on. Rookies like Luis Robert and Jo Adell are set to make their debut in The Show. Second-year guys like Cavan Biggio and Oscar Mercado aim for Opening Day jobs and a full season of ABs. This offseason I was hyped to see Kyle Tucker and his 30/30 skills unleashed this season but then Bang-gate happened; Hinch was fired; and the death-of-all-young-position-players, the Toothpick, Dusty Baker was hired. Hopes and dreams squashed. Sure he might eventually come around, but I’m not holding my breath (yet).

Some initials thoughts as we begin Spring Training:

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So I had a dream the other night after coming home from a local craft brewery that I frequent, which had some excellent options on tap. A vanilla barrel-aged bourbon stout (several good stouts), a dry-hopped Mosaic sour ale, and a citrusy IPA. They were all fantastic, I kid you not (If you arrived here searching for craft beer, welcome). Which, may or may not have enhanced my sleep. I digress. In the dream, I was in an underground hip-hop club downtown. The crowd was in rhythm, and needless to say, the place was hoppin’. It was a Tuesday. And I saw Dave Chapelle there with his boy, Karl Lake, tearing up the dance floor. I look to the stage and I see Chuck D MCing. He then calls up to the stage the Grandmaster Melle Mel, for the duo to perform together (if you are here researching the history of hip-hop, also welcome). It was a lit freestyle to a bass and drum beat. After enjoying the music for a minute, I look over to the bar… and whom do I see, none other than Emilio Estevez, the Mighty Duck man. And he tipped his hat to me like *this*, also in approval saying, “Damn, this is off the chain.” To which I replied, “Okay boomer” proceeding to tell him to get woke like any self-respecting millennial would. Following the set, I go to the restroom for relief and I hear a bomb drop. Someone was doing work in the stall. The mystery laborer then emerged as Franmil Reyes. He washes up, and as he was leaving the restroom I noticed toilet paper stuck to his cleat…

I awoke in a cold sweat! Reality settled in that it was only a dream. What did it all mean? Then it hit me, this was prophetic… Franmil has unfinished business. I shook the wife awake, “He has unfinished business!” She tells me to shut up and goes back to sleep. No matter, I just had a premonition (word of the day). In a moment of complete clarity, I saw everything. I saw how the pieces fit like a giant, glorious jigsaw puzzle. I connected the dots: hops to hip-hop, hip-hop club to breakfast club, Chuck D to Ducks, dropping bombs on the mic to dropping bombs on the john, the robot to the homer bot, and lastly Gordon’s unenlightened words echoed in my head, “off the chain”… he’s about to be unchained at DH on the Indians, no more lost ABs. Everything pointed to him! Everything was about Franmil Reyes. The Franimal is about to be unleashed. My mission became clear, let’s dive in…

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What’s up party people. Surprise, surprise. Angels made a move and it’s actually worth talking about. So, naturally, I’m shelving my planned article and calling an “Omaha” like Peyton Manning. On the heels of Mookiepalooza (that came at a steep, umm, Price), the Dodgers called their neighbor down the street to help them shed some cap space in order to stave off the luxury tax hammer, due to Mookie’s, hmmm don’t do it lofty Price tag. Angels are receiving: A) the final arbitration year of Joc Pederson (to buy time for Adell/Marsh to develop at AAA and platoon with Goodwin), who naturally became the odd man out at RF with Mookie moving in, B) Ross Stripling who I am now low key hyped for this year (more on that in a minute) and C) prospect Andy Pages, who just went off for .298/.398/.651 with 19 HRs 7 SBs in 63 games of 2019 Rookie Ball… and all for the low low price of Luis Rengifo and possibly prospect Gareth Morgan. That’s some mighty fine discount shopping.

***UPDATE*** I wrote this prior to the hilarity that is the Boston Red Sox and apparently their lack of medical research. Mr. Met is that you in there? *queue Curb Your Enthusiasm music* So Minnesota will/has pulled out of the deal. As of right now, the deal is up in the air. Everything I’m seeing is that it is likely to push ahead without Twins involvement, it’s just that the 2 sides will need to restructure the deal themselves which will thus involve a lot more bartering, or maybe they get the Angels more involved (I could even see the Angels giving more to get both Stripling and Maeda); Who knows? I believe it will happen eventually since the Dodgers seem to finally be aware they have 12 SP on the 25 man roster, so we’ll proceed ahead…

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