In the last decade, the Tampa Bay Rays’ farm system has been plentiful to say the least. The team’s pitching crop is mostly all homegrown. Current Rays’ hurlers Jeremy Hellickson, David Price, Jake McGee and Matt Moore are all stars on the big league team, and Chris Archer and Alex Colome will soon join the group of pitchers to make the big league roster. Taylor Guerrieri may be the next young star to make his way through the system.
Drafting players out of high school is always a tightrope for major league organizations. Guerrieri was the 24th overall pick for the Rays in 2011 out of Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina. He was different than most high school pitchers, as there aren’t many high schoolers who crank up their four seam fastball to 98 MPH. After being drafted, Guerrieri has not disappointed. His professional career began in 2012 with the Hudson Valley Renegades of the New York-Penn League. “It was a great league, I faced a lot of great hitters,” said Guerrieri. Even though he faced some of the top draft picks from 2011 and 2012, Guerrieri cruised in the NYPL, allowing only seven runs in 52 innings, striking out 45 and walking only five. Along with Guerrieri, the Renegades hosted Jeff Ames, Blake Snell, and Jesse Hahn in their pitching rotation, which led them to a league championship. “Winning a championship was something that a lot of guys don’t get to experience in their pro careers,” said Guerrieri.
After his success in 2012, he was invited to Spring Training for the second time but was forced to sit out for some time due to an injury to his wrist. Despite not getting much time in Spring Training, Guerrieri earned a promotion to the Low-A Bowling Green Hot Rods of the Midwest League. The Hot Rods will not be milking his innings this year, as he only pitched three innings in his season debut on April 8th against the Lansing Lugnuts. He struck out four in his initial outing and walked none in a pitchers duel against Blue Jays’ top prospect Daniel Norris.
Although the sample size has been small, Guerrieri has shown he has the ability to be a big time pitcher. His fastball can get up to 98, and he has the ability to hold on to his velocity late into games. Guerrieri has three pitches; the fastball, a power curve, and a changeup. During spring training Guerrieri said he was “hammering the changeup, trying to get it to be a good out pitch out for me.” Guerrieri has been known for striking out batters left and right since high school. He struck out 152 hitters in 102 innings in his last two years of high school. His NYPL stats speak for themselves with 45 strikeouts in 52 innings. Maybe the most astonishing fact is that he rarely walks batters. The right handed Guerrieri did not walk a right-handed batter through the 2012 season, and only walked five batters total. Despite giving few walks, he stills wants to cut down on the free passes,” I’m going to the best I can, and really focus on command and try to not have too many walks,” said Guerrieri.
Guerrieri is one of the most talented pitchers not only in the Rays’ system, but also in all baseball. He is ranked as the 44th best prospect in baseball by MLB.com and 62nd by Baseball America, but with as much talent as the Rays have in their farm system, Guerrieri will need to continue his strong work on the hill. “There is a lot of pitching and a lot of competition,” said Guerrieri. “But it’s fun and I enjoy it.”
Heading into the 2013 season, the Seattle Mariners have one of the top farm systems in baseball. Two of the most well known prospects in the system are pitchers Danny Hultzen and Taijuan Walker, but there is a sleeper prospect in the Seattle system.
James Paxton has never gotten the respect that he deserves. Born in British Columbia, he wasn’t recruited by many NCAA schools out of high school. Despite having an ERA of less than two in consecutive seasons for Delta Secondary School, he was not garnering much attention out of high school. Paxton chose a school that was 2,565 miles from home, the University of Kentucky. A program dominant in basketball, the Wildcats had been building up a strong baseball program. “Coming out of high school, I didn’t have many schools looking at me,” said Paxton. “Kentucky was pretty much the only school that was offering me a scholarship.”
Paxton had a solid career for the Wildcats, going 11-5 with 168 strikeouts in 148 and a third innings. After three seasons with Kentucky, Paxton was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the supplemental first round in 2009. Paxton chose not to sign with the Blue Jays, and decided to play for the Wildcats one more season. Before Paxton stepped back onto the field for Kentucky, he was suspended for not speaking with the NCAA with matters regarding his advisor, sports agent Scott Boras. He was ineligible for his senior season, and signed with Grand Prairie AirHogs, an independent league team.
Paxton was back in the MLB Draft following his time with the AirHogs, and was selected by his current team, the Seattle Mariners in the fourth round. Once again, Paxton was overlooked. The Mariners picked Taijuan Walker in the first round, overshadowing the importance of Seattle selecting Paxton.
Despite not being a first round pick, Paxton went to work in the 2011 season. His career began with Low-A Clinton, as Paxton went 3-3 with 80 strikeouts in 10 games. Paxton’s stats earned him a promotion in only his first career professional season, when the Mariners sent him to Double-A Jackson. His dominance ensued at a new level, as he went 3-0 with a 1.85 ERA in seven games. Beyond the season for the Jackson, Paxton also represented the Mariners in the Futures Game for Team World. “The Futures Game in 2011 was a great honor,” said Paxton. “Having the opportunity to play against the best prospects in baseball, some of whom are now playing in the big leagues, was a great test for me.”
Coming into the 2012 season, there was once again another pitching prospect in front of Paxton, 2011 Draftee Danny Hultzen. But once again, Paxton proved that he was one of the top prospects in the Mariners system. Paxton returned to Jackson for the 2012 season, where he went 9-4 with an ERA of 3.05. Paxton’s dominate performance on the mound led Jackson to the Double-A playoffs. “Being able to get into the playoffs with my teammates and get as far as we did was a great experience,” said Paxton.
Paxton’s strong season in 2012 has led to the big league club giving him attention heading into the 2013 season. He is ranked in the top five of most prospect rankings, and the Mariners are looking to move him into their rotation in the coming years.But as any baseball fan knows, the Seattle Mariners have been going through a rough patch in the last decade. Paxton feels he can help turn the franchise around with his talents, “The pitching has been pretty good for the Mariners, I will do my best to keep us in the game and give us a chance to win every time I pitch,” said Paxton.
Paxton has been overlooked for a majority of his career, but he is finally getting the attention that he deserves. He will have a chance to make his major league debut early in the season, and Paxton is ready to contribute to the franchise. “Ultimately it will be the Mariners decision to decide when they think I am ready, but I intend to show them that I am ready,” said Paxton. ”My goal this season is to first off, make the big league club, and second, continue to learn the art of pitching. Ideally I would love to continue my learning at the Major League level.”
The Bowling Green Hot Rods have enjoyed a great deal of success in 2012 , clinching a playoff spot for the second consecutive season. While big name prospects Drew Vettleson and Jake Hager have led the way for the Hot Rods, there has been an unsung hero for this year’s team.
Taylor Motter began his Hot Rods career late last season. He only played in three games for the Tampa Bay Rays Single-A Affiliate, but he did hit one home run during that stretch. When the 2012 season rolled around, Motter was once again assigned to Bowling Green. Through the first part of the season, Motter was used primarily as a utility player, playing both left field and third base as needed. After the All-Star break, Motter began to see more consistent playing time. He played in 11 more games, and his batting average after the All-Star break rose 69 points. With the injury bug biting the Hot Rods over the last two weeks of the regular season, Motter solidified his role as the Bowling Green starting third baseman, although he doesn’t believe the playing time has boosted his confidence.
“The way I have been playing has done that,” said Motter. “I think it’s getting me more consistent reps, which is making me comfortable every day. I know what kind of player I am. I’m gonna help my team win playing any position at any time, and that’s what I like doing – helping my team win.”
Motter is certainly no stranger to success. He chose to play his college ball at Coastal Carolina in Conway, SC, spurning local powerhouses in his home state of Florida. In explaining his rationale for picking the Chanticleers over perennial powers such as Florida and Florida State, Motter said, “They were a great blue collar team who worked hard every single day. The coaching staff was awesome and worked with each player. They stayed true to their word of me having the best shot of coming in as a freshman and starting, and that’s what happened.” Motter started 62 games as a freshman and played in a total of 185 games as a Chanticleer before being drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2011. He led the Chanticleers to the 2010 Super Regionals and was named a First Team All-Conference as a sophomore.
One reason Motter has been so successful at both the collegiate and professional levels has been his wide skill set. He has flashed signs of solid defense this year, committing only 10 errors in 97 games for Bowling Green. Furthermore, he not only gets on base (50 walks in 2012), but he is a threat to steal whenever he reaches. He is third on the Hot Rods with 24 stolen bases this year, bringing his two year professional total to 57.
“I feel that I’m a guy with a good eye at the plate who isn’t afraid to draw a walk and steal a base and be a little pest on the base path,” said Motter on his offensive skills.
Motter’s own success has helped his team push towards the playoffs as the Hot Rods wrapped up a playoff spot in the first half of the season. Throughout the season, the Hot Rods have had many players moving around due to call-ups and injuries. The team lost one of its leaders midway through the season, as outfielder Todd Glaesmann was called up to High-A Charlotte. Bowling Green has also lost Jake Floethe, Tyler Goeddel, and Trevor Shull to injury during the month of August. The team has fielded a handful of replacement players in place of the injured players, which could shake up team chemistry heading into the postseason In minor league baseball, team chemistry can be an obstacle, as the roster that starts the season often isn’t the roster that finishes it. If a team can establish that magic, though, it can become more dangerous than a team filled with the most talented of prospects. Fortunately, for the Hot Rods, they have been able to not only field a team of top prospects, but to also bond as a team around players like Motter.
“You just show up to the park everyday trying to have same attitude. Guys come and go, and we understand that, but to keep the team chemistry is very important. and With this team it’s been very easy and very fun. Guys feed off each other here, and everyone gets along with each other very well.”
With the playoffs rapidly approaching for Bowling Green, Motter has been staying hot. He hit two home runs in a four game series against the South Bend Silverhawks and batted .400 in the next series against Lake County. The playoffs can be tough adjustment for a team, though, especially with so many players injured and so many new players replacing them. Motter, however, doesn’t expect anything to change with his approach to the game.
“Personally I’m not doing anything different,” Motter said. “I feel the second you do something different, that’s when you lose focus. It’s just another game with a little more at stake.”
The passion of fans in the Southeastern Conference exceeds that of any conference in the country. The rivalries are intense, with bragging rights on the line every Saturday. For many fans, the SEC is much more than a conference; it is a way of life.
The SEC was instituted as a conference in 1932, and has been a powerhouse ever since. The last six BCS National Championships have been won by SEC schools (Florida in ’06 and ‘08, Louisiana State in ‘07, Alabama in ’09 and ‘11, and Auburn in ‘10). The teams have had great success in postseason play, largely because of the presence of their 12th man, the rabid fanbase. I have been raised in SEC territory, so I have experienced this extreme fandom firsthand. I love the passion that so many fans show towards their team; however, this passion can occasionally spill over into an irrational hatred for another team.
The greatest rivalry in the SEC can be defined by two chants: “War Eagle” and “Roll Tide”. Fans of the Auburn Tigers and Alabama Crimson Tide have a hatred for each other that was even highlighted in an ESPN Films Special titled “Roll Tide/War Eagle.” The show focused on how the fans for each team have such a passion for their team and how that passion can sometimes lead to absurd actions. In a widely publicized incident, an Alabama fan poisoned the famous Toomer’s Corner oak trees on in Auburn’s campus after the Crimson Tide lost to the Tigers in 2010. This is just one example of the fine line between passion and hatred.
The rivalry between Auburn and Alabama could be an outlier toward how much hatred actually exists in the conference. While most fans are passionate about their team, they don’t necessarily hate whomever they’re playing. The SEC is home to some of the biggest rivalries in college football, but the fanbases, by and large, are rather sane.
There is certainly no love lost between Ole Miss and Mississippi State, Alabama and Tennessee, or Florida and Georgia. In arguably the second biggest game of the year in the conference (next to Alabama and Auburn in the Iron Bowl), the Gators and Bulldogs take part annually in a game nicknamed “The World’s Largest Cocktail Party”. While there may be isolated incidents of idiocy among the fans, for the most part, these border clashes are “civil” wars. Being a Kentucky fan, I dislike Tennessee, but I don’t harbor any genuine hate toward their program.
The passion and pageantry of the SEC revolves around the atmosphere: the tailgating hours before the gates open, the quirky traditions, and the pure heart that SEC fans display in cheering for their team. Fans that act out of irrational and immature hatred towards another team do not represent the SEC for as the great institution that it is.
In baseball history, there are records and feats that make our jaws drop. Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak, Cy Young’s 511 wins, and Cal Ripken’s consecutive games streak. But now, Reds prospect Billy Hamilton has put his name in the baseball record books. Hamilton broke the record for most stolen bases by a minor leaguer on August 21st with 147. His speed has wowed scouts since his entrance in professional baseball, but he has developed much more than his speed since being drafted by the Reds.
In 2011, Billy Hamilton had one of the most impressive Minor League seasons to date. He stole an astonishing 103 bases for the Reds Low-A affiliate Dayton. But Hamilton’s other tools seemed to be lagging. His defense left something to be desired at shortstop (he had 39 errors in 132 games), and he only batted .278. The 2012 season has proved much different for Hamilton, in all dimensions of his game. He began the season at High-A Bakersfield, where he dominated in the hitter-friendly California League. Hamilton batted .323 and stole 104 bases in only 82 games. Those stats were deserving of a call-up to Double-A Pensacola, and since then, Billy hasn’t stopped dominating the stat books. Since his call-up, Hamilton has batted .306 and has stolen 43 bases in 38 games. Through the two levels that Hamilton has played year, he has stolen a total of 147 bases, which breaks the Minor League record previously held by Vince Coleman. Another thing? Hamilton has only played in played in 120 games this season, which is an average of 1.2 stolen bases per game. Not absolutely stupefied yet? Hamilton stole second base in 2.889 seconds. That is Rickey Henderson fast, and Hamilton is still only in Double-A.
Rumors have been swirling about whether or not the Reds should call-up Hamilton when rosters expand to 40 players. In my mind, Hamilton should be moved only to Triple-A. Zack Cozart is firmly holding down the shortstop position. A possible outcome of this logjam could be putting Hamilton in centerfield, rather than the struggling Drew Stubbs. However, that would require Hamilton having to learn a new position in order to play in the bigs. So the Reds should just keep Hamilton in the minors. By doing this, he develops further and the Reds can sort out position battles.
Hamilton’s skills have been built around his blazing speed. His average has greatly improved in 2012, going up 40 points this season. Since his promotion to Double-A, Hamilton’s fielding percentage has gone from . 935 to .958. He was also chosen to play in the 2012 Futures Game, where he went 1-3 with a triple for team USA. Being elected was just one of many accolades that Hamilton has received in his time in Minor League Baseball. He was a 2012 California League All-Star and a 2011 MiLB.com Organization All-Star. The Reds will have to find a spot for this young star, as his speed is just too good to miss.
Why is baseball still the greatest sport on earth? Because there will always be moments that give fans goosebumps. There will always be moments that make fans nervous, even if their team isn’t involved. Today was one of those moments. When Felix Hernandez threw his perfect game, it was a moment when all fanbases (except for the Rays) could stand and cheer for King Felix. Moments like this don’t happen everyday, and that’s why the whole baseball world is in pandemonium currently. The perfect game above proves that baseball is a pastime that can momentarily put away the troubles we face on a daily basis. That it can put a smile on our faces, anytime of the day. Felix won this game with his devastating slider and cutter, but he won the smiles of millions of baseball fans with his making of history. I was honored to be able to watch Hernandez throw the perfect game from the 6th inning, all the way to the final strikeout. It will always be a memory I will cherish, watching King Felix dominate. So thank you Felix, for the happiness and memories you gave so many fans.
In the past seasons, the Tampa Bay Rays have called up top pitching prospects to either start, or come out of the bullpen near the end of the season. In the past, this concept has worked. The Rays first used 2007 first overall pick David Price as a reliever in the late 2008 season, and on into the playoffs. Price recorded the final out against the Red sox to send the Rays to the 2008 World Series against the Phillies. It’s not strange for teams to call up top prospects near the end of the season, as the rosters expand to 40 men instead of 25. But the Rays have a great way of nurturing their prospects to become quality starters. Matt Moore came up last season, and was spectacular through the end of the season, going 2-1 in regular season, and went 1-0 in the postseason. The one win for Moore was against the Texas Rangers, where he went seven innings, allowing no runs and only two hits. The Rays have had obvious success with young prospects near the end of the season, and rosters expanding soon, who will be the next for the Rays
Alex Colome was signed by the Rays in 2007, and has been a top notch performer ever since. He hoisted an ERA of 1.66 in 2009 for Hudson Valley, and has played well at every level since being signed. Colome was playing well enough at Double-A Montgomery to be promoted to Triple-A Durham, and has played well despite not winning a game in his first three starts. Colome has played well enough to be promoted to the major leagues once rosters expanded to 40 players. He has an 8-4 record this season, with an ERA of 3.44. Colome would most likely go to the team’s bullpen as a middle or late reliever, but whatever duty they assign him to, the Rays know how to develop young players. Both Moore and Price played some out of the bullpen in order to enhance their pitching skill set. Both Moore and Price have had success as starters after pkaying in the bullpen early in their careers. Moore is currently in his official rookie season, he is 9-7. The record may be deceiving of how Moore has played recently, as he shut down the Yankees in seven innings, allowing three runs. Moore also went eight innings against the Mariners, allowing two runs. David Price’s success has also been outstanding for the Rays. In 2012, David Price is 15-4 with a 2.50 ERA. The proof is their that the Rays know how to handle pitching prospects, as 2011 American League Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson was also used in the bullpen in 2010. In 2012, the Rays may look to use the same idea to develop top prospect Alex Colome to help them stay in the playoff hunt. The system has worked before, look for Colome to succeed out of the bullpen this season for the Rays.
This summer, I saw “Moneyball”, a movie about the 2001 Oakland Athletics. It really showed me all I had forgotten about the great sport of baseball. The stories shared in the movie showed the romance that is displayed in baseball. It is the only sport that a story can captivate millions of people nationwide.
In recent memory, many feel-good stories have come out in baseball. In the 2011 World Series, an unknown third-baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals named David Freese stepped up big. Freese was born in St. Louis and was the hometown hero as he hit the game-winning homerun in game six to force a game seven. The Cardinals went on to win the World Series and Freese got the MVP for his hometown team. It was the type of story that every time that Freese did something good, you were happy because you just couldn’t cheer against him. He had battled alcoholism and had quit baseball, only to quit alcohol and come back and get an MVP in the World Series.
Romance in baseball isn’t limited to certain players, but with whole teams. In the 2004 playoffs, the Boston Red Sox were looking for their first championship in 86 years. They had come so close so many times, only to fall short. But the Red Sox looked like they were going to fall short yet again, as they fell down 3-0 in the American League Championship Series, which is the first team to four wins goes to the World Series. The Red Sox didn’t lose faith, and banded together to march ahead and win four straight games and go to the World Series, the first time in baseball history that such a feat had been accomplished. They went on to win the title, their first in 86 years. Being a Red Sox fan, this made me get goosebumps, every time I watch highlights and replays from that playoff run.
Baseball may be the greatest sport, because of its purity. Sadly, that pure vision has been destroyed by cheating on a couple levels, the first major problem was all-time hits leader Pete Rose betting on games, and losing his eligibility for the Baseball Hall of Fame. But the problem in recent memory is steroids. Steroids are performance enhancing drugs, and many notable players are beginning to use them. In baseball, steroids are banned, and using them results in a 50 game suspension. But players using them removes the purity of the game, baseball is a game based on genuine skill and fundamentals, not on drugs that can make you hit the ball farther. That’s why I think that Barry Bonds shouldn’t be number one in homeruns, because he used steroids, which obviously made him be able to hit more homeruns. Baseball’s previous homerun king, Hank Aaron got the record without steroids, and played the game correctly.
For me, baseball is still playing catch in the backyard, collecting baseball cards, for me, baseball is still romantic. Baseball gives me goosebumps when I walk into a stadium. If you look around, there is still romance in baseball. Fans who look at this era and see nothing but the problems with steroids, but there are so many great moments that trump that.
Ten years ago, the Oakland A’s went to the playoffs on the system called “Moneyball”. If you’re reading this blog, then you have most likely seen the film “Moneyball” with Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill about the Oakland A’s system of signing players who simply get on base. The more a team gets on base, the more runs a team scores, generating more wins. Whether or not you believe in this concept, it seemed to work to some affect when the Boston Red Sox won the 2004 World Series on the concept. But after that, did the concept begin to fade out of baseball? The A’s leader in on-base percentage is Josh Reddick at .349, which is well over 100 points below the leader in the MLB. Thus prompting a question, have the A’s given up on Moneyball?
The thought that brought all this to my mind was the A’s picked up utility catcher George Kottaras from the Brewers via trade on Saturday. Kottaras has never hit well, with his average this season at .209. But to quote Brad Pitt as Billy Beane (A’s General Manager) “He gets on base.” Kottaras walks 25% of the time he comes to the plate. He has 29 walks compared to 18 hits this season. For his career, he’s walked 83 times and has 112 hits. This proves that they want to continue with Moneyball. But the looming facts prove that Moneyball is dying out. I personally liked the concept, but it is hard to maintain a team of players who aren’t solid on defense. Not to mention players like Kottaras who walk a lot, but if the player walks 25% of the time and can’t get on base any other way, what is their value? Getting players with high on base percentages are great assets to a team. Obviously Joey Votto and David Wright have great OBPs but they also hit for high averages and good RBI numbers. The idea of Moneyball has a strong central concept, but there are ideas that need to be built upon. How can the concept be improved?
In the film “Moneyball” a key scene is Billy Beane and his scouts sitting around discussing what players to sign to replace Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon. Throughout the movie, the two players value is shown lower than what the Yankees and Red sox paid. My thoughts are teams need RBI guys. The A’s can’t succeed in the playoffs without players who can drive in runs. Beane acquired two run producers by trading for Reddick, and signing Cuban prospect Yoesnis Cespedes. The A’s have players who can get on base, but they also have players who can drive them in. This concept of a mixture of Moneyball and traditional beliefs helps show that Moneyball may still be going strong. But the A’s also picked up Seth Smith and Brandon Inge, who are players who drive in runs, but don’t hit for high averages or high on base percentages.
Moneyball is such a great concept, and if it is worked correctly, them a team will win. The Red Sox won the World Series on the idea, but their guys not only got on base, but they also drove in runs. David Ortiz had an on base percentage of .380 in the 2004 champion ship season with 75 walks, but he also brought in 139 runs. The 2002 Oakland A’s had Miguel Tejada, who had 131 RBIs, but he also hit for a .308 average. That is the perfect storm for someone building a franchise on the concept of Moneyball, if a team can find players who get on base, and also drive in runs. Todd Helton is an example of a perfect Moneyball player, with an on base percentage of .419 and over 300 home runs.
The answer to the question, is Moneyball still in affect? is all up to opinion. There are still traces of the concept in Oakland, but signings and some trades have proven otherwise. In my mind, the concept of just getting on base will not help raise a banner. You need to have players to drive in the guys you get on base. The 2012 A’s don’t have many guys who get on base at the clip Billy Beane wants them to, but they are still winning games. Moneyball is a great idea, but it still needs to be tinkered with.