Let me start off by saying this: Albert Pujols is, and always will be, a better baseball player than Prince Fielder. Pujols is a once in a generation type of player and he would likely be voted into the Hall of Fame based off his accomplishments now. While Fielder is a very good hitter, he doesnít hold a candle to Pujols, which is why Pujols signed a bigger contract than Fielder this offseason. However, their landing spots differ greatly; Pujols in Anaheim and Fielder in Detroit. I donít think there is any doubt that Fielder made the better decision.
As good as Fielder is, he played second fiddle in Milwaukee to Ryan Braun. Part of the reason he was so successful was because teams were so afraid of pitching to Braun that they challenged Fielder instead, a challenge that Fielder rose up to. Now Iím not sure if Fielder knew this and purposely went somewhere where he didnít have to be heavily relied on, but the Tigersí Miguel Cabrera may be the next Albert Pujols. He is certainly as good as Braun is. The bottom line is that there are so many more offensive weapons in Detroit then there are in Anaheim.
In Detroit, Fielder can sit back behind Cabrera and do what he did in Milwaukee and produce the same offense he has for years. Not only that, but Fielder has weapons behind him that make pitchers want to go at him a little more. With both Alex Avila and Johnny Peralta having All-Star caliber years for the Tigers last year, pitchers may test Fielder with a fastball that they wouldnít normally throw to him. Through the first week of baseball, the Tigers are 5-2 and Fielder is off to a hot start. For Prince Fielder, New=Better.
Albert Pujols is a bit of a different story. While he is a better baseball player, there are questions about the Angels lineup. The Angels do not have the firepower around Pujols that the Tigers have around Fielder. They have Kendrys Morales coming back from a serious injury hitting behind Pujols with an outdated Bobby Abreu hitting in front of him.
The St. Louis Cardinals at least had Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina there to provide some spark in the lineup. The Angels have no one (beside Pujols) that is nearly as scary as Cabrera, Fielder, or even Holliday or Molina for that matter.
Early in the season, itís easy to tell that this is taking a toll on Pujols, as he is off to a very slow start with no homeruns yet this season (as of the first 7 games). Iím not an ignorant enough sports fan to think that this will continue, as Pujols will probably get back to his normal self shortly.
The thing Iím not sold on, the Angels offense around him. For that reason, Iím thinking for Pujols, Old=Better.
ďOh boy, the Miami Marlins sure made a splash with their new stadium. Thereís a wave of excitement about this new team.Ē THATíS ENOUGH! This is the funeral. Iím declaring this the death of Miami Marlins puns. Itís time for everybody to take a step back, a big step back. And yes Iím speaking to everybody, because if you havenít had to listen to someone talk about Miamiís ridiculous new theme park, Ďer I mean stadium, then consider yourself lucky. Iíll try and summarize it, to save some agony. Basically, itís a $660 million stadium, made to look more like a cruise ship than a ballpark, with fish tanks behind home plate, a club with pounding techno music behind the left field bleachers, and the whole thing is lined in a hideous shade of lime green.
For some reason, it just doesnít work for me. Maybe its because I was raised at Candlestick Park in San Francisco where there were seats, and a field, and that was all that mattered. The show was on the field, and thatís what you paid your money to see. It just scares me to think that when kids in Miami grow up, their memories of going to the ballpark wonít be about buying a hot dog with their dad or watching a great game. It will be about the light show that goes off when someone hits a homerun, or watching the acrobats perform in the concourse. Thereís something sacred about baseball, about overpriced peanuts, about failure and about supporting your team through bad weather and hard times.
But regardless of what I think about this carnival they have constructed, these arenít just the words of a bitter baseball traditionalist. There is something strange going on in Miami, and it might not end up as pretty as they expect. And Iím not even talking about the federal investigation into how the stadium was privately funded, thatís for another time. The bigger issue in Miami is actually just Miami. The Miami Heat have all the talent in the world, and still canít fill their seats every night. So why would the Marlins, a less talented team, in a sport with a longer and slower paced season, be able to change that? The fact is, they wonít.
Miami has taken all of the correct steps to try and make their stadium feel full including only having 37,000 seats. They have put in all the attractions that anyone could ever imagine into the ballpark, and they have marketed it perfectly. But they have forgotten the most important aspect. That this is baseball. Baseball is Americaís pastime. Baseball is sacred. And Baseball doesnít like change. So good try Miami, we never expected less from you. But we have bad news, baseball doesnít like dubstep, baseball doesnít like bright colors, and baseball doesnít like fish tanks. Put a product on the field, thatís what everyone is waiting for. The nightclub can wait, but the Marlinís window of opportunity canít.
When it seemed that the Valley of the Sun was entering into a lull of athletic success, a storm started brewing in the desert. This last year has seen the Arizona Cardinals miss the playoffs for the second time in a row after making it for three consecutive years. The seemingly old and Amare-less suns missed the playoffs for the first time in ages. The Diamondbacks were beat handily by the Brewers in the first round of the postseason, but showed hope for future with young talent. Lastly, the Phoenix Coyotes were defeated in the playoffs for the second year in a row by the Detroit Red Wings, this time in a sweep.
Spirits have been down in the fans of Arizona, but their resolve has not been broken. Game after game they continue to fill up the seats to push their teams to the playoffs. The NFC west saw little improvement in the off-season, leaving the door wide-open for the Cardinals to challenge the un-established reigning champs in the 49ers. The return of Kevin Kolb or the continued progress of John Skelton will be key for the Arizona offense to return to form.
The Suns have been making a playoff push since the All-Star break, winning 18 of their last 26 and positioning themselves one spot out of the playoffs with 9 games left to play.
The Coyotes are back in the playoffs with a three seed and more optimism than years past. They won the division to catapult themselves to a high seed and drew the Blackhawks in the first round. They may have the 3rd fewest points in the Western conference, but their stingy defense should prove a challenge for any opponent.
Finally, the Diamondbacks season kicked off with a three game home stand against the division rival San Francisco Giants, who Arizona ousted from a playoff berth with an amazing second half last season. The series ended in an Arizona sweep of the Giants, capped off by an amazing comeback victory after being down six runs early. The Diamondbacks then traveled to San Diego where they won a 12-inning marathon 4-2 to improve to 4-0 for the first time in franchise history. The young talent and veteran leadership of both Kurt Gibson and the front office are recipes for success. When hopes were down and the Arizona teams were struggling to contend, the franchises pulled together and snuck themselves into contending positions.
The following weeks will prove to be exciting as the the Coyotes make their postseason run, the Suns contend for the last playoff spots in the Western Conference, and the Diamondbacks attempt to establish themselves as a legitimate threat in the National League.
What happened to the good old days when athletes and coaches were supposed to have a personality? Not many of us were alive to see it, but think of the stories we have heard and seen on TV about guys like Hollywood Joe Namath and controversial Muhammad Ali? We have come to place our professional athletes on a pedestal of perfection, and often times this is reflected in their punishment.
Athletes such as Plaxico Burress and Michael Vick were given maximum sentences under the constraints of their charges, clearly being made examples of. Yes our youth looks up to these players, and yes they are role models, but it is the fans who glorifies their celebrity status. The media as well as the surrounding athletic fan community has come to expect our athletes to be socially flawless; to fit into the mold of the model citizen and doing everything right. The way the media portrays these characters causes us to be not only judgmental, but overly critical.
Such was the case with Ozzie Guillen and his latest comments on Fidel Castro. Guillen commented on Castroís ability to remain in power while so many out there wanted him removed or even dead. The way it was worded though, caused the comments to be construed as ďpro-Castro,Ē deeming Guillen as a Castro supporter.
The massive Cuban bread community of Miami that fled Castroís regime in the last 50 years was outraged at the remarks. They took to the streets boasting signs that read ďBoycott Miami MarlinsĒ and ď3 Strikes Youíre Out (Geared towards Guillens past problems).Ē
Now, I can understand people being upset, but this is pretty ridiculous. Boycotting the Marlins because the manager said something insensitive and out of context? There are hundreds if not thousands of employees, coaches, staff, and players in the Marlins organization, and you want to Boycott because of one remark? People these days!
Imagine if LA Laker fans were to boycott games until Kobe Bryant was traded for his infidelity and possible rape allegations? Well, the Marlins started to shake in their boots. They felt that the threats from the outside community may be strong enough to cause some real problems, so they chose to take action.
Ozzie was accordingly suspended for five games due to his comments. Did the Marlins not know what they were getting when they brought him on as manager? As if removing him from the White-Sox made him saneÖOzzie is a great manager, but with it you get some of the baggage, and I am appalled to see the Marlins take such action, especially in his first week of management of a new team holding several new players.
Ozzie held a press conference and apologized for his remarks, going into further detail to explain what he truly meant, and very sincerely shared his regrets to the Miami community. If a suspension was not handed out this would be water under the bridge in two or three days. Now the Marlins will be dealing with it for a week plus, and could even haunt them later in the season (not to mention they are without their manager for 5 games)!
After all is said and done, the comments were wrong, yes, but the actions by the Marlins organization were just the same. A franchise boasting all sorts of changes from jerseys to stadiums to players needs to have as few distractions as possible, and the Marlins have simply created another.
I look for this to be an issue throughout the first half of the season as all the aspects of the Marlins organization attempt to complete a seemingly difficult jigsaw puzzle into a playoff contending team. We have seen Manny being Manny, and this is just Ozzie being Ozzie, Iím just not too sure what the big fuss is all about!
Here at last! Here at last! We finally approach that time of the year where the IPhone weekly forecasts are 100% sunny and the girls break out the short shorts and sun dresses. Whatís not to love about Spring?! Not only is it time to hit the pool, but also itís the start of a new season for Americaís pastime. Welcome to the first baseball edition of Xtra Ordinary Sports!
So I donít know about you, but I have a laundry list of things Iím excited about seeing in this upcoming season. With that, I want to get started here on Xtra Ordinary Sports with my top 3 ďThings to Watch ForĒ in the 2012 Major League Baseball season. (In no particular order)
1. The New-look AL East Powerhouses Ė As you probably already know, the Yankees and Red Sox rule this division with the Rays making a push here and there over the last few years. The classic Yanks-Sox rivalry has had a few twists and turns since we last saw them in the fall.
On the Yankees front, they have made some huge player movements. Franchise catcher, Jorge Posada, has retired and Hall of Fame-bound closer Mariano Rivera is just knocking on the doorway of following suit. The Yanks had originally planned to replace Posada with stud-prospect, Jesus Montero. However, when they traded Montero to Seattle for young stud pitcher, Michael Pineda, those plans drastically changed. The plan of adding to the Yankee powerhouse offense was instead altered by GM Brian Cashman to a plan revolving around starting pitching improvements. In addition to Pineda, the Yankees also signed reliable veteran, Hiroki Kuroda to fit into an important 3-spot in the rotation. These changes should elevate a pitching staff that ranked 11th in baseball last year to one of the strongest in the Majors.
As for Beantown, things have drastically changed in terms of personnel. The man who has managed them to 2 World Series Championships after an 86-year drought is gone. Terry Francona is no longer the manager of the Boston Red Sox, and that just sounds wrong to say. This man has already cemented his name in Red Sox history by leading a club that was deemed cursed to not one, but two, World Series Championships in 2004 and 2007. He is an absolute legend in Boston. However, times they are-a changing, and instead the Red Sox fired Francona in the offseason to replace him with former Mets manager, Bobby Valentine.
There have already been grumblings in the Sox clubhouse among players who do not like this move. In fact, many players who were involved with Red Sox ďbeer drinking scandalsĒ last year, like starting pitcher Josh Beckett, have even spoke out publicly against Valentine. This isnít good news for a team that is trying to get a new, positive start after a few disappointing years underachieving.
The other huge move for the Sox was letting go of popular GM Theo Epstein. The Sox instead decided to move on with homegrown talent, Ben Cherington, as their GM replacing Epstein. Cherington is still a mystery to many. He started with the Red Sox back in 1999 as an amateur scout and has worked very closely with Epstein throughout his tenure with the organization. Epstein moved on in the offseason to Chicago where he will try to construct another ďcurse-breakingĒ roster for the Cubbies.
Many questions lie ahead for both organizations, and a verdict will later decide if these changes were the right moves. One thing is for sure; this rivalry should be very fun to watch in the 2012 season.
2. The Slugger Additions Ė Two huge (literally) free agent first basemen swapped uniforms during the offseason. The first and most surprising move was Albert Pujols signing a lucrative 10-year deal with the Angels after winning his second World Series title last year with the team he has spent his entire career with, the St. Louis Cardinals. This is most definitely the biggest free agent pickup for the Angels in their entire MLB existence.
The Angels finally get the franchise player they have desired ever since Vladimir Guerrero left town. As for the Cardinals, they are left with a gaping hole in their identity and a lot to prove as defending champs in this upcoming season. As if Big Al wasnít enough for the Halos, they went out and signed All Star starting pitcher, CJ Wilson, to add to an already-impressive cast of Jered Weaver and Dan Haren. It must be great to be an Angels fan right nowÖDammit.
A second slugger left the team that drafted him this offseason when Prince Fielder signed with the Detroit Tigers. This move was completely out of the blue to many who were following the never-ending ďPrince Fielder speculationĒ reports that occurred week after week this winter. However, the Tigers got their man. Fielder adds a lot of pop to an offense that already ranked 3rd in all of baseball last year. You could also say the combination of Fielder and All Star, Miguel Cabrera, gives the Tigers the best 1-2 punch in all of baseball.
3. National Phenoms Ė For three seasons now, we have heard all about Steven Strasburg and how amazing he is. Well now it is finally time to see this guy can pitch a full season in the Major Leagues and find out just what kind of body of work he can produce. After hurting his arm and having season-ending surgery, Strasburg returned at the end of last season looking like the stud we were used to watching pitch. If Strasburg can stay healthy, I donít see any reason why he canít be a top-10 pitcher at the end of the season.
To add to the Washington Nationalsí Strasburg buzz, it seems like their phenom catcher Bryce Harper, will have a chance to start the season in the Majors. Like Strasburg, this guy is supposed to be incredible. He hasnít played a game in the Majors yet, but has drawn comparisons to the likes of Jackie Robinson and Ken Griffey Jr. If Harper ends up being as good as the scouts think heíll be, we could be in store for a very exciting new superstar in the sport.
So I hope Iíve given you guys a few things to think about as you look forward to April 4th when the MLB season kicks off with the Cardinals starting the first game of their World Series title defense against the Miami Marlins. Yes, I said the Miami Marlins. The franchise has changed their name and has a brand new stadium to show off as we tune in to our first baseball action of the 2012 season.
Iíll be hitting you guys with another baseball segment very soon! Thanks for all your support and make sure to check out all the other amazing posts we have here on our sports blog.
Until next time my Xtra Ordinary people!
Coming into the 2009 season, the Arizona Diamondbacks had a young core group of players including Justin Upton, Stephen Drew, Chris Young, Mark Reynolds, and Brandon Webb. This group had won the 2007 NL West title and had the best record in a weak National League at 90-72. They beat out the Cubs in the first round but fell short against a red-hot Colorado team that ended up going to the World Series.
In 2008, they stumbled to an 82-80 record, missing the playoffs. 2009 was going to be the ďbreakoutĒ year for the group. This was the year they were all going to mature and come into their own at the big-league level. Well, Brandon Webb lasted one start of the 2009 season before suffering a shoulder injury that has kept him out of the MLB ever since. Dan Haren was expected to carry a mediocre supporting cast that included Doug Davis and Jon Garland. Stephen Drew regressed from hitting .291 to hitting .261. Chris Young dipped from .248 to .212. Justin Upton and Mark Reynolds were bright spots, but the pitching rotation was one of the worst in the league.
GM Josh Byrnes had seen enough and made one of two deals that won the 2011 NL West: the D-backs dealt for Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy in a three-way trade with the Yankees and Tigers after the 2009 last place finish. This gave the club two solid starters going into the 2010 season to pair with Dan Haren and gave the club an opportunity to focus on itís bullpen and lineup.
The Diamondbacks figured if they could get Justin Upton and Mark Reynolds to maintain their production as well as get improvements from Chris Young and Stephen Drew, they had a shot of winning the West.
The 2010 season did not pan out as they had hoped. Upton turned in his worst season to date in the majors while Mark Reynolds was historically bad. Reynolds did hit 32 homeruns, but became the first full-time position player in MLB history to have his number of strikeouts (211) be greater than his average (.198). That earned him a ticket out of town with new GM Kevin Towers, who traded him in December following the 2010 season.
While the offense was bad, the pitching staff was worse. Dan Haren was traded midway through the season after having a rough start. The person who replaced him, Joe Saunders, wasnít much better. GM Josh Byrnes was frustrated with the performance of Edwin Jackson who, on the day he was traded, had a 5.16 ERA.
On July 30th, 2010, he made the 2nd trade that won the 2011 NL West. He dealt Jackson to the Chicago White Sox for Daniel Hudson and David Holmberg. Baseball America had rated Hudson as the #3 prospect in the White Sox system, and deservedly so. In the 2nd half on the season, Hudson went 7-1 with a 1.69 ERA for the D-backs. Going into the 2011 season, he figured to be a prominent figure in the rotation. Ian Kennedy finished with the best ERA in the rotation at 3.80.
So how did acquiring Kennedy and Hudson win the NL West? In 2011, Kennedy and Hudson emerged as a powerful 1-2 combo, winning a combined 37 games for the D-backs, which was amongst the top for 1-2 starters in the MLB last year. Kennedy got Cy Young attention by winning 21 games and posting a 2.88 ERA, while Hudson won 16 games with a 3.49 ERA. However, it wasnít just the overall stats that impressed. Both Kennedy and Hudson won at San Francisco in September when the Giants were making a push to take the division back. Kennedy won every start in September while Hudson posted a 2.83 ERA during the month. Both consistent and clutch pitching from these two helped the D-backs win the division, a division title that was put in motion during December of í09.
Congratulations sports fans, we have made it. Itís baseball season again. †We have emerged victorious of the emotionally tolling battle that is February. It is a month in which days are ended with painful memories of the previous NFL season, looking for hope in first-half NBA games, and waiting for March Madness and the NHL playoffs. But with the emergence of March comes the first taste of baseball.
Baseball has traditionally been Americaís past time and continues to captivate audiences around the country even in itís pre-season. While March and April may be full of showers, baseball reminds us that soon the classrooms will be empty, the days will be long and warm, and ball fields across the country will be occupied.
The MLB offseason has been anything but quiet compared to years past. It started with the news that shook the entire baseball world with Pujols deciding to leave St. Louis for the sunny beaches of Orange County. It has had controversy with Ryan Braunís steroid allegations, and surprise with Manny Ramirezís return to baseball.
But amid heartbreak in St. Louis, controversy in Milwaukee, and surprise in Oakland, there is hope in every clubhouse around the country. From small markets to big markets, there has been change in every city. So in the spirit of change and the arrival of spring training, it is time to break down the best, worst, and most surprising moves of the offseason.
Best Moves of the Offseason:
The Los Angeles Angels picking up CJ Wilson:
The Angels made headlines in the offseason with two drastic team improvements. However, it was the move that didnít captivate the baseball worldís attention that may play as the most important role come October.
Signing a divisional rivalís best pitcher, and possibly their most important player will pay dividends for the Angels chances of getting to the offseason. Wilson led the Rangersí starting pitchers in ERA, Wins, Innings Pitched, and strikeouts. He will now join an Angelís staff that already includes Jared Weaver and Dan Haren.
This pick-up was overshadowed by the Pujols news, but donít expect any Rangers fans to forget about it. Any move that drastically improves your team and drastically hurts your divisional rival is a formula for success. Kudos to you, Angels.
The NY Yankee pitching upgrades:
Everyone knows all too well that the Yankees historically dominate the offseason trade market. Itís big bucks and big bats that keep the seats filled in the Bronx, and this is exactly why their offseason acquisitions of budding star Michael Pineda and the always reliable Hiroki Kuroda are a perfect fit. These moves are a perfect fit because they donít follow the traditional Yankeeís mantra of shelling out millions on a bat to fill their order. These are two undervalued pitchers that will clear salary space and add some stability to an already intimidating team.
In 2014 the luxury tax will go into effect, and the Yankees will likely be heavily taxed. But in a strategic attempt to sign smaller, lesser-known players to contracts, the Yankees could avoid the luxury tax altogether and still put together a pretty formidable October team.
Most Surprising Moves of the Season
Albert Pujols going to the Angels:
By now it has been pushed to the back of our minds and accepted as fact that Albert Pujols is no longer a Cardinal. Every possible scenario was played out during his free agency, except him moving to the sunny shores of Orange County. It comes as even more of a surprise because Angelís owner Arte Moreno has developed a reputation over the years for swinging and missing at other A-List free agents such as Carl Crawford, Mark Teixeira, and CC Sabathia. And what was even more surprising was the money that Moreno tossed around in this deal. After purchasing the team in 2003 for $180 million dollars, Moreno turned around and gave Pujols a $241 million dollar contract. Talk about wow, talk about surprise, talk about win at all costs!
The Rangers Signing Yu Darvish
The Yu Darvish signing comes as one of the most surprising moves of the offseason for a number of reasons. Coming off of losing one of their most valued players and top pitchers, the Rangers spent close to $112 million dollars to pick up Yu Darvish, a 25 year old pitcher from Japan. This deal is mainly surprising because while Darvish is a hard-throwing pitcher coming off of a career season, he is yet to prove himself at the MLB level. It is a tremendous risk and if it doesnít work out, the Rangers will be in a serious financial hole for years to come.
In a sense, the Rangers opted to pick up an unproven Darvish for $112 million, while letting their all-star ace CJ Wilson get signed for almost half that amount to a divisional rival.
Worst Moves of the Offseason
Ryan Zimmerman Resigning
Many baseball experts around the league foresaw the Washington Nationals making another step towards becoming a legitimate playoff contender and signing star slugger Prince Fielder in the offseason. Instead, they signed Zimmerman to a monster six-year, $100 million dollar contract. This will end up with the Nationals paying Zimmerman $142 million dollars over the next nine seasons, after a year in which they saw his offensive performance decline.
It is well known that Zimmerman is the face of the franchise, but with rising stars Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg in their organization, signing Fielder would have made all of Washington forget about Zimmerman and would most definitely bring a championship-feel to our nationís capital.
Yadier Molina Resigning
Yadier Molina is hands down one of the best catchers in the country and the St. Louis Cardinals should forever be grateful for the incredible production that he has given them throughout the years. But signing Molina, a 29-year-old veteran at one of the most physically tolling positions in all of sports, to a five-year $75 million dollar contract has people scratching their heads.
I will be the first to admit that I admire Molinaís play, his demeanor, and his dedication to his team, but this is a business. And in a business you donít take a $75 million dollar risk on a player that is likely to decline or get injured during his contract. †Hopefully it works out for the best, but in three years the Cardinals might be looking back at this deal and licking their wounds.
Ever since the Miami Marlins stormed the world of baseball immediately following the 2011 season, all anyone has been talking about is whether or not they will actually come out and play as good as they say they will and be worth all the money they gave up to rebuild the team.
To start, the team was smart in investing in a few new players that were great players on there past teams these include Mets SS Jose Reyes, Padres Closer Heath Bell, White Sox SP Mark Buehrle and Cubs SP Carlos Zambrano.
Even with all this spending being done who knows if it\'ll be enough for the team to come through. Let\'s explore how these players did in 2011 shall we?
Jose Reyes- One of the best shortstops of 2011 despite being on the DL for 29 total days. His steal rate has also continued to decline in his past 4 seasons, a high usually in Reye\'s statistics.
Heath Bell- This may be the Marlins main concern since his strikeout ratio is down as of recently and the switch from San Diego\'s pitcher friendly park to the new Miami Marlins ballpark isn\'t going to help much either.
Mark Buehrle- This may be the best off-season acquisition at pitcher as Buehrle has an excellent interleague record against NL teams and has now moved to a more pitcher friendly park.
Carlos Zambrano- Most critics have said the only person that could turn The Big Z around would be new Marlins Manager Ozzie Guillen. Hopefully he\'ll lead Zambrano in the right direction and get him back on track to returning to an amazing starting pitcher.
After looking at each player individually let\'s sum up this blog by exploring the team itself and what it can and has improved on. Some improvements include the new environment the team brings Miami fans and the city of Miami with a new team name, stadium, manager and many players! Also this new vibe in Miami should increase the number of fans that attend each game and hopefully get the players more involved in the game hopefully resulting in more wins at home.
Lastly, I believe that the Marlins were smart to try something new but it\'s as crazy as their new colors are to think that some changes can just magically get a team to the playoffs in one season. This team may not be there for at least a few seasons most likely as it\'ll take all the new additions time to get used to being in a new place!
Hey all, Haggerty coming to you with some news on all that young talent in D.C. With two number one draft picks in the system, it should be interesting to chart their progress as the season continues.
First, Stephen Strasburg made his spring training debut this weekend against the Houston Astros. He threw two and a third, striking out three, scattering three hits, and giving up 2 earned runs, one of which was a homer by Astros catcher Chris Snyder. While the numbers donít scream success, not all was a loss for Strasburg.
Coming off his Tommy John surgery, questions loomed about his durability and aptitude for going deep into the game. Strasburg said that his arm was feeling great, and felt as though he could have gone even more innings. Strasburg spent the offseason rehabbing and strengthening his right arm through various techniques including yoga. Although he was a bit erratic, more control will come from more time on the mound. His fastball was hovering between 92 and 96 mph, but caused no concern as he was clearly laying off to throw strikes and concentrate on control. Someone else we all know went through a similar phase, American League Cy Young award winner Justin Verlander. Despite the few innings and small struggles on the mound in his first outing, I expect big things from Strasburg both in the regular season as well as years to come.
The road for a position player is often times more difficult than that of a pitcher; especially if that player is but 18 years of age. Bryce Harper has set his goals high for this season, attempting to capture a starting position with the Nationals squad for opening day. In their first spring scrimmage against Georgetown, he was 0-2 with a walk and a failed drag bunt. Albeit he recorded no hits, he lifted a high fly ball to the track that was kept in only by the wind. The biggest positive for Harper was his improved outfield play, an area where Harper pledged to advance. He made two defensive plays that stood out to the coaches, proving his progress. Harper posted a .734 OPS with the AA Harrisburg team last year, but has yet to have the opportunity to prove himself at a higher level.
Only time will tell if Harper is able to bring these numbers to the professional level this spring. In my opinion, patience is key. As Harper is only 18 years old, there is plenty of time to make improvements and further develop his skills. Rushing him into the big show before he is ready could only be a detriment to his confidence and future ability to succeed. It will be interesting to see if the Nationals choose to place him on the opening day roster, although the front office may have other ideas in mind, namely putting fans in the seats.
The combination of these two young guns and their progress is likely to give the Nationals a lot of attention, as we have seen in the past. Iím looking forward to seeing what Strasburg is capable of with a healthy arm, as well as when we will see Harper make his debut!
For questions and comments, get at me on Twitter @TomasHaggerty. #GoDBacks