With this being the final week of Spring Training (crazy, right?), I figured it’d be justified to take a look at all 30 clubs and examine where they stand, what they need and where it looks like they’ll finish heading into the 2010 season. So, leading up to Opening Night between the Red Sox and Yankees, I’ll touch on one of the six divisions each day Monday-Saturday. Today, Day 3, we look at the American League Central …
With this being the final week of Spring Training (crazy, right?), I figured it’d be justified to take a look at all 30 clubs and examine where they stand, what they need and where it looks like they’ll finish heading into the 2010 season. So, leading up to Opening Night between the Red Sox and Yankees, I’ll touch on one of the six divisions each day Monday-Saturday. Today, Day 2, we look at the American League East …
it. Anthopoulos did manage to move the salary of Roy Halladay — though he’s still paying him $6 million this year — and got some nice prospects in return, like Kyle Drabek and, eventually, Brett Wallace. As for this year? Well, they have the same problems most rebuilding teams face. They don’t have an ace, there’s no legit closer in the back end of the bullpen — though there may be two or three nice options — and that lineup is less than formidable. (Jose Bautista as the leadoff hitter?) I don’t know that they’re the worst team in baseball, but considering the 25-man roster they sport and the division they play in, this may be the worst team record-wise when it’s all set and done.
Phillies: I see no weaknesses in the back-to-back NL champions. They have arguably the best pitcher in baseball at the top of the rotation, a starting lineup that will scare the bejesus out of you, a great defensive group, options at the back end of their bullpen and incredible depth. Cole Hamels, of course, is the key. Since the Phillies didn’t keep Cliff Lee in the Roy Halladay deal (Phillies fans will debate that for decades), Hamels is the No. 2 starter again despite a rough year in 2009. If Hamels’ comeback is the most important, then that of closer Brad Lidge is 1A. Lidge and lefty J.C. Romero likely won’t be ready for the start of the season, but they’ll join the club soon thereafter. Still, the Phils signed Danys Baez, who also has experience closing out games, and Ryan Madson is there, too, of course. Offensively, uh, yeah, they’re good. I love the addition of Placido Polanco, who is a great No. 2 hitter and allows Shane Victorino to slide down in the order. J.A. Happ, Joe Blanton and possibly Jamie Moyer round out the rotation, which is good enough — at least. Their bench is solid with the addition of Juan Castro and Ross Gload. Defensively, Carlos Ruiz, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Victorino and Jayson Werth are some of the best in the business at their respective positions. So, again, no weaknesses, really.
Rizzo has done a pretty descent job in his short time as the Nats’ general manager. He acquired pitching help in Jason Marquis (though he’s not an ace by any stretch), got a solid catcher who can mentor Jesus Flores in Ivan Rodriguez (I don’t know about giving him two years and $6 million, however), went hard after Orlando Hudson (but he had to settle for Adam Kennedy at second base), came to terms with top pitching prospects Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen, and he made the bold — and surprising — move of releasing Elijah Dukes, getting rid of a supreme talent but a perceived clubhouse cancer. Think again, though, if you think the Nats can go from 103 losses to playoff contention in one season. They’re at least another year away. I really like their lineup, with Nyjer Morgan at the top, and Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn and a healthy Josh Willingham in the middle. And I like rookie Ian Desmond‘s defense at shortstop. But that starting rotation, led by John Lannan, is still shaky at best. And despite adding guys like Brian Bruney and Matt Capps, there’s no legit closer, and the bullpen should struggle as a unit. But expect progress.
Williams and gold medal-winning gymnast Shawn Johnson.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Jason Heyward’s father was never a
professional baseball player. But like a lot of them, he’s the superstitious
type. So he stressed he would not put on an Atlanta Braves baseball cap until
his son made the team.
But while sitting in the Braves’ dugout at ESPN’s Wide World
of Sports complex on Saturday morning, Eugene Heyward did what was the result
of one of his proudest moments as a father: He took off his Mississippi Braves
cap – representing one of the Minor League teams Jason starred for during an
eye-opening 2009 season – and swapped it for one of the Major League version of
the Braves – the one Jason will start for on Opening Day thanks to tremendous
talent and an excellent spring.
After putting up a .366 batting average and .500 on-base
percentage in his first 16 Grapefruit League games, Heyward was called into
manager Bobby Cox’s office on Friday morning and told he was making the big
league club with just two full seasons of Minor League Baseball under his belt.
Heyward then shot a simple text message to his mother,
Laura, who called her husband, Eugene, who immediately left work.
“My brain went numb, I couldn’t do anything else at work,
and I just told them I’m leaving work for the day,” Eugene said. “[They said,]
‘We understand,’ And I walked out.”
“It’s almost like those tears of joy, but you don’t really
cry, but you can feel the emotion,” Laura added. “It was a lot of emotion
there. Very excited.”
After going back-and-forth on the issue, Laura, Eugene and
Jason’s 14-year-old brother Jacob – a freshman corner infielder at Eagle’s
Landing Christian Academy in McDonough, Ga. – woke up at 4 a.m. ET, then made
the 6 1/2-hour drive to Central Florida to watch Jason and meet some critical
members of the Braves.
“It’s cool that they came down,” said Jason, who went
0-for-4 with a strikeout and a stolen base in the Braves’ 4-0 win over the
Nationals. “They both had already seen me play, but it was my brother’s first
time seeing me play in big league camp here. He didn’t get to come last year,
so it’s just cool that they made it down for the day.”
The level-headed, too-mature-for-his-age Jason comes from a
Heyward’s parents are both Dartmouth graduates. His father,
a former collegiate basketball player whose first love was baseball, is an
engineering consultant for the Air Force, and his mother is a quality analyst
for Georgia Power.
While Jason was growing up in Henry County, Eugene and Laura
said they never pressured him into baseball – though they mandated he play
absolutely no tackle football – but always pushed him to be the best at any
venture he undertakes.
“Even when you make it, you’re working hard not to just get
there, but to be one of the best players that ever played the game. That’s the
idea,” Eugene said. “Enjoy that, but do something with it.”
On the day the Braves decided to make Jason’s ascension to
the Majors official, you couldn’t find anybody in the Braves’ clubhouse – not
even Jason himself – who was in any state of surprise over the call.
Eugene wasn’t one of them, either.
“I know my son, I watched him play,” Eugene said. “The stats
speak for themselves. It’s a numbers game. Minor League Player of the Year [in
2009 by Baseball America], no fluke. He played. And I know how hard he works. I
know the sacrifices he made. And he’s always, at every level he’s played, he’s
excelled. He loves baseball. He loves practice, and that’s weird. Weird kid.
And if you love practice, this is gravy.”
Despite that, Eugene checks to make sure every once in a
“I ask him every year, ‘Are you still having fun?'” said Eugene, who has made
the trip to Lake Buena Vista, Fla., twice this spring and a countless amount of
times since Jason was a toddler.
“He’s having fun. I know he’s having fun.”
When you have the tools of somebody like Jason – who hit
.323 with 17 homers, 63 RBIs and 10 stolen bases in 99 games while playing in
three levels in the Braves’ farm system last year – it’s pretty hard not to.
After that impressive showing, the Braves went into Spring
Training saying they’d give Heyward – the No. 1-rated prospect by MLB.com and
several other outlets – a realistic shot at cracking the 25-man roster, and
he’s done nothing this spring but impress (and smash car windshields beyond the
right-field fence at Champion Stadium).
The hype has surrounded Jason for a while now, and the
attention will only escalate if he keeps showing this much promise.
“It may be time to get caller ID,” Laura said.
But before any of the spotlight shun on Jason, life was one
long car ride.
Jason’s parents live about 30 miles away from Turner Field,
but they had to drive about 50 miles through traffic to take Jason to school and
baseball practice every day. Eugene said his 1999 GMC Suburban has accumulated
300,000 miles and, “You go in that car, it smells like baseball,” he said.
Back in those days, it was just the local Braves who really
played close attention to Jason. In fact, at 10 years old, Braves scout Al
Goetz was already watching him play.
Now, it’s funny to think 13 teams passed on him in the 2007
First-Year Player Draft.
“I was shocked in the beginning that he didn’t go top five because they picked
a couple of high school players in the top five,” Eugene said. “And I thought
that he was, I’m not saying a better player, but his stats were just as
comparable. I thought he had a higher ceiling point with his size and
But none of that matters now.
What matters is that in nine days, Jason will be jogging out
to his position at Turner Field on Opening Day. At 20 years old, he’ll be
counted on to help get the Braves get back to the playoffs and give Cox – retiring
at the end of his 26th year with the club – a nice little parting gift.
Or something else?
“He’s trying to change Bobby’s mind,” Eugene said with a
“Extremely emotional,” is how Eugene said he’d feel upon
watching his son on Opening Day. “I’m not going to lie about that. I’ve shed
tears watching movies nowadays – I don’t let anybody see me do it, but I do it.
But it has to be.”
– Alden Gonzalez
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Omar Minaya’s way of doing business may usually leave teams with scant high-round Draft picks. But lately, the Mets’ GM has done fairly well with the little he’s had left.
KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Tuesday was a fun day to be a reporter, because you had a couple of really nice storylines unfolding right in front of you. There was Brad Mills and Terry Francona, two former college roommates, teammates and co-workers — and still best friends — managing against each other. And you had the father-son relationship that almost never was, but culminated on the baseball field.
JUPITER, Fla. — The Twins looked like a contending team to me going into the spring, but they have a big problem now if closer Joe Nathan has to miss the entire year because of potential Tommy John surgery. For now, Nathan will give it a go and see if he can pitch through it. But if he can’t — the likely scenario, from what I’m hearing — the Twins will need a new ninth-inning man.
LAKELAND, Fla. — SI.com’s Tom Verducci threw a nasty curve to baseball fans early this week, when he wrote about how Bud Selig’s 14-person “special committee for on-field matters” has discussed the idea of a “floating realignment,” where teams wouldn’t be fixed to a certain division but instead be free to change from year-to-year based on geography, payroll and competitiveness.