Results tagged ‘ Evan Longoria ’

Trout’s mom: ‘I’m really going to miss Torii’ …

TROUT-TORIIThere are a lot of pictures at Mike Trout‘s parents’ house in Millville, N.J.

To his mom, Debbie, this is the favorite.

It’s hanging in a frame downstairs, in the basement Mike has turned into his own personal “man cave,” and autographed with silver Sharpie by the two of them.

This is a snapshot of Mike’s first Major League game on July 8, 2011, taken just after Mike raced to the wall to make this running catch.

But the significance of this photo lies in the man standing to Mike’s right, Torii Hunter, who took Mike under his wing basically since the moment he was drafted and is now gone, signing with the Tigers to a two-year, $26 million contract over the offseason.

“I’m going to miss Torii,” Debbie said. “I really am going to miss Torii. He was just absolutely wonderful to Mike.”

“Not only did he help him with his approach to the game, but all the little things that people don’t realize when you get up there as a 20-year-old kid — how to behave in the clubhouse, what time to get there,” Mike’s father, Jeff, said. “He’s counseled Mike on nutrition, how to take care of his legs, how to take care of your body, how to handle fans, how to handle the autograph thing. He really has been a really, really positive influence on Mike.”

Hunter was one of the first players Mike met after being the Angels’ 25th overall pick in 2009. The Angels invited him to take batting practice at Angel Stadium, Hunter introduced himself and the veteran outfielder stayed in touch with Mike as he was coming up through the system. Hunter bought Mike a suit shortly after he came up to the big leagues, tipped clubbies for him and even paid for his parents’ dinner when he spotted them at a restaurant one night. The two still stay in touch.

Shortly after Hunter signed with the Tigers, Mike’s mom sent him a tweet (her handle: @DebbieTrout27) …

Thank you from the bottom of my heart!!! Mike has learned from the Best!!!We will miss you but see you in Detroit!!!

Hunter’s response (via @toriihunter48) …

no mama! Thanks to u for raising such a great kid. He was easy to work with and talk to. @Trouty20 is a special kid

“He was a great mentor, and we appreciate everything he did,” Jeff said. “Hopefully some day Mike can do the same for a young player coming up.”

“That’s right,” Debbie added, “because that’s what it’s all about. But I’m really going to miss Torii.”

We ran a story today on Mike’s hometown of Millville — the impact it’s had on his life, the way it has rallied around him these last nine months and how, in some ways, things can never be the same again there. Here are some additional notes …

* The Angels have not begun talks with Mike and his representatives with regards to a long-term extension, sources have said. The club is past the point where it can get him to agree on an Evan Longoria-type deal — six years, $17.5 million, agreed on when he first arrived in the big leagues.

Big-market clubs, as a general rule, can opt to wait a little longer to sign controlled players to a long extension because they aren’t scared by looming arbitration. And by waiting, they minimize the risk for nine figures at such a young age. Normally it’s the small- to mid-market teams that do it in the pre-arbitration years (think Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Jay Bruce, Justin Upton and Hanley Ramirez) because it’s one of few ways to assure a star player doesn’t leave via fre agency.

Also, the competitive balance tax accounts for the average annual value of a contract, not the year-to-year price point. So, for example, if Mike signs a 10-year, $200 million contract that’s typically backloaded into his free-agent years, the $25M AAV is factored into the “now payroll” for the CBT. So, even if that contracts pays him only $1M in 2013, the Angels are paying taxes as if that were a $25M deal. That gets to be very pricey when you have other massive deals (Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, etc.).

In short, the Angels’ thinking is: What’s the rush? They’ll get there at some point. They’d sure like to.

* Mike isn’t too thrilled about being relegated to left field next season, several people close to him say. No surprise. (How would you feel if you were told to switch positions after being the MVP runner-up?) But Mike has made no mention of his displeasure to Angels management, simply telling them he believes he’s a center fielder but will do what it takes to help the team win.

The Angels remain committed to putting Peter Bourjos in center and Trout in left for a vast majority of the 2013 season – unless Bourjos struggles offensively again. They like the alignment because Bourjos is also an elite-level defensive center fielder – some would say he covers more ground than Mike – and Mike has more experience in left field. Also, staying away from center will only limit the wear and tear on Mike’s legs long-term. Being a left fielder, however, could cost Mike some money, especially in arbitration. It’s highly unlikely that Mike attains Super Two status, so he probably won’t reach arbitration until after the 2014 season.

* Here’s a running joke around Millville: The city doesn’t have any maternity hospitals, so every woman in this city gives birth in Vineland, which just so happens to be their heated, neighboring rival. That was no different for Debbie Trout on Aug. 7, 1991, when Mike was born. And because of that technicality, every Mike Trout baseball card and bio page lists his birthplace as Vineland, N.J. (The grainy picture below is from his freshman year of high school.)

IMG_1753Millville folks don’t generally find that very funny, as you might imagine.

“Yeah, but he never spent no time there,” Millville Mayor Tim Shannon bellowed. “Soon as he was born, we brought him back!”

* Jeff and Debbie point to the July 10 All-Star Game in Kansas City as the moment they realized their lives, and especially Mike’s, would never be the same again.

At about 2 a.m., while the Trouts were celebrating Debbie’s 50th birthday at one of The Capital Grille’s private rooms, fans were still parked outside waiting to hound Mike for autographs as soon as he stepped out. At that point, he and his family were led out the back – where Charlie Sheen was coming in, and sparked a short conversation with Mike.

“That’s when we realized things had changed forever, for us and for Michael,” Jeff said.

Added Debbie: “We no longer were coming in through the front door.”

Alden 

What can the Angels get for Kendrys Morales? …

Kendrys MoralesThe ideal chip for the Angels’ next, seemingly inevitable trade for a starting pitcher is Kendrys Morales.

It’s hard to deny that. Morales is coming into his final season before free agency and — given his representation (Scott Boras) and his desire to be more than a full-time DH — will leave after 2013.

Trading him now would give the Angels an outfield foursome of Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton, Peter Bourjos and Mark Trumbo (with Vernon Wells‘ contract probably still lingering). Trout, Bourjos and Trumbo are still in their pre-arbitration years and all four are under club control until at least 2016. Trout (probably left field), Bourjos (center) and Hamilton (right) would make up one of the game’s best outfields — offensively and defensively — and would give the Angels somewhat of a revolving door at DH. Trumbo would get the most reps there, but his versatility would allow Hamilton and Albert Pujols, who need to stay on the field to maximize their nine-figure contracts, can start there, too, when needed.

But what kind of starting pitcher can Morales bring back?

The Angels will seemingly be selling pretty high on the 29-year-old switch-hitter. He’s coming off his first healthy season since 2009, batting .273 with 22 homers, 73 RBIs and a .787 OPS. Morales, who missed almost two full seasons with a couple of ankle surgeries, even proved he can still handle first base. Then there’s the belief that he’ll be even better in 2013, with the motivation of an expiring contract and a full season under his belt. That’s a pretty good package for a guy who will make about $4 million next year, and teams desperate for power — particularly from the left side of the plate — would no doubt love to have him.

Still, though, his market is limited, because you’d be hard-pressed to find a National League club willing to gamble on him as their everyday first baseman and because we’re at a point in the offseason when most teams no longer have big holes to fill. Of course, the Angels would love to move Wells, but I can’t imagine them getting back any significant starter for him, even if they eat the vast majority of the $42 million owed to him the next two years. They’ll also keep listening on Bourjos and Trumbo, and may pull the trigger if blown away by a top-tier, cost-controlled starter. But as Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com wrote on Twitter recently, the priority is to deal Morales for an innings-eater.

Who can they get?

Here are three potential (and purely speculative) AL fits …

Rays: I know, it’s the first place everyone goes. But Tampa Bay always seems like an ideal match because they’re (still) rich in starters and could always use offense. Right now the Rays have James Loney at first base, with somewhat of a platoon at DH with the right-handed-hitting Ryan Roberts and the left-handed-hitting Sam Fuld. Morales would give them a big upgrade, and someone who can protect Evan Longoria. But he wouldn’t get the Angels Jeremy Hellickson or Matt Moore, or probably even Alex Cobb. Maybe Jeff Niemann, who’s under club control for two more years and would cost about $3 million in arbitration in 2013? The Rays did pick up some flexibility for the rotation by signing Roberto Hernandez on Tuesday.

Orioles: They still seek a middle-of-the-order bat, have a spot open at DH and seemingly have some pitching they can afford to part ways with. Righties Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman, and lefties Zach Britton and Brian Matusz are all young with upside, but with the exception of Tillman, they all struggled last year. Would the O’s be willing to part ways with the 24-year-old Tillman, one of few bright spots in an eclectic starting staff that ranked ninth in the AL in ERA last year? And given his past inconsistencies, can the Angels do better?

Indians: They’re trying to woo free-agent outfielder Nick Swisher, but could always use more offense, and Morales could split time at DH and first base with the right-handed-hitting Mark Reynolds. What about Justin Masterson, who had a rough 2012 season but has topped 200 innings the last two years and is signed for two more years? Well, he isn’t an ace, but he’s listed as Cleveland’s No. 1 pitcher, so they’d probably be very hesitant to give him up for K-Mo. Here’s another intriguing name: Ubaldo JimenezHe’s been a shell of himself the last couple years, but he’s been relatively healthy, will make $5.75 million in 2013 and has an $8 million option for 2014. Perhaps working with his old catcher, Chris Iannetta, can get him back on track.

The important thing to ask yourself is whether any of these guys would be an upgrade over the 24-year-old Garrett Richards, who has yet to start a full season in the Majors but has a lot of upside. Adding another starter would likely push Richards to Triple-A, with Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton making up the rest of the staff, and Jerome Williams likely returning to the long-relief role. The Angels’ front office will have some important decisions to make before Spring Training (and perhaps they’ll linger beyond that). Do they hold onto Bourjos and Trumbo, keeping their position-player roster deep but not improving the rotation a whole lot? Or do they trade one of those two — or both, or more — to land the impact starter they could still use?

Alden 

Game 120: Rays-Angels …

OK, the Angels are going to score against the Rays at some point, right? I mean, they can’t be shutout again, can they? The Angels have been shutout three straight games against Tampa Bay — the latest being Thursday night, courtesy of David Price and Co. — and you can stretch it back to 32 innings if you go that route. Active hitters on the Angels’ roster are hitting .192 this season against Rays pitchers, which rank second in the Majors in ERA (3.29). Thanks to that, the Angels have lost nine of their last 10 against Joe Maddon’s crew …

Rays (64-54)

Desmond Jennings, LF
B.J. Upton, CF
Matt Joyce, RF
Evan Longoria, DH
Ben Zobrist, SS
Jeff Keppinger, 1B
Sean Rodriguez, 3B
Ryan Roberts, 2B
Jose Molina, C

Pitching: RH James Shields (10-7, 4.02 ERA)

Angels (62-57)

Mike Trout, CF
Torii Hunter, RF
Albert Pujols, 1B
Kendrys Morales, DH
Mark Trumbo, LF
Alberto Callaspo, 3B
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Erick Aybar, SS
Chris Iannetta, C

Pitching: RH Jered Weaver (15-2, 2.22 ERA)

  • Dan Haren (12 runs in seven innings during his last two starts) won’t necessarily be skipped; he’ll be pushed back.With the off day on Monday, manager Mike Scioscia has decided to move Haren back to Saturday, against the Tigers in Comerica Park. That would mean Ervin Santana goes on extended rest, but everyone else is on normal rest leading in and Haren gets eight days in between to work on his release point. “I think he is past the physical ailment,” Scioscia said. “This is a mechanical thing and it could’ve arisen from trying to make some adjustments in his delivery to get pitches in places when his back was bothering him.”
  • Scioscia said it’s too early to go to a four-man rotation, but that it is possible for September. “There’s no doubt that as we get into September, we’re going to have the option. I don’t think it’s going to happen the first of September, but definitely as we start to get into where that end point is … we’ll have the ability to adjust for matchups.”
  • Jordan Walden (neck, right biceps) is back with the team after hurling back-to-back 1-2-3 innings for Triple-A Salt Lake. He’ll throw a bullpen today in anticipation of getting activated shortly thereafter. My guess is he’ll be back Sunday. Scott Downs is looking very likely for Saturday.
  • Three shutouts against one team has happened only three other times in Angels history. This is the first time all three of those games took place at home.

Alden

Game 119: Rays-Angels …

And if the Angels win tonight, they’ll accomplish what Lou Brown calls a “winning streak” for the first time since taking four in a row way back on June 28. To do that, they’ll have to beat David Price (15-4, 2.50 ERA), and Dan Haren will have to bounce back from giving up seven runs (five earned) in 3 1/3 innings his last time out against an offense that just got a perfect game thrown against it. The Rays enter this four-game series 1 1/2 games ahead of the Angels for that final Wild Card spot.

Rays (63-54)

Desmond Jennings, LF
B.J. Upton, CF
Matt Joyce, RF
Evan Longoria, DH
Ben Zobrist, SS
Jeff Keppinger, 3B
Carlos Pena, 1B
Ryan Roberts, 2B
Jose Molina, C

Pitching: LH Price

Angels (62-56)

Mike Trout, CF
Torii Hunter, RF
Albert Pujols, 1B
Mark Trumbo, DH
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Alberto Callaspo, 3B
Vernon Wells, LF
Erick Aybar, SS
Chris Iannetta, C

Pitching: RH Haren (8-9, 4.68 ERA)

  • Scott Downs (strained left shoulder) threw close to 20 pitches in a sim game today, with Jerry Dipoto and Mike Scioscia watching intently, and if all goes well in the next couple of days, he could be activated Saturday. “Scott did very well,” Scioscia said. “The stuff he showed out there in the sim game is definitely what he needs to pitch with in the Major Leagues. We’re going to see what he comes out with today and tomorrow, and hopefully activate him on Saturday.”
  • Jordan Walden is set to pitch in what could be his final rehab assignment for Triple-A Salt Lake tonight. “We’re going to see,” Scioscia said. “I think with Jordan, it definitely is going to be contingent on the evaluation of his outing and where he is. He struggled a little bit in his first outing. Last outing was much more along the lines of what we need. We’ll see how tonight goes.”
  • Umpire Greg Gibson, hit by Hunter’s cleat in the side of the face last night, told TMZ he suffered a broken nose in addition to the gash in his eye, but no head trauma. He holds no grudge against the Angels’ outfielder, calling him “one of the princes of the game.” Gibson required five stitches to close the wound near his eye, TMZ reported.

Alden

Game 18: Angels-Rays …

Angels (6-11)

Bobby Abreu, LF
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Albert Pujols, 1B
Kendrys Morales, DH
Torii Hunter, RF
Vernon Wells, CF
Maicer Izturis, 3B
Erick Aybar, SS
Chris Iannetta, C

Pitching: LH C.J. Wilson (2-1, 2.37 ERA)

Rays (10-7)

Desmond Jennings, LF
Ben Zobrist, RF
Carlos Pena, 1B
Evan Longoria, 3B
Jeff Keppinger, 2B
B.J. Upton, CF
Luke Scott, DH
Sean Rodriguez, SS
Chris Gimenez, C

Pitching: RH Jeremy Hellickson (2-0, 3.26 ERA)

Some pregame notes …

  • Angels manager Mike Scioscia called talk of Mike Trout coming up “premature,” but added: “Obviously when you’re playing that well, you tend to push a door open for yourself.” Here’s more from the skipper (with more on the site later): “Obviously if stuff continues to be stagnant, you’re going to put more on weight on some of those decisions. But right now, I think we’re trying to find an identity to this team, and we’re just not quite there yet.”
  • Catching prospect Hank Conger is on the 10-day Minor League disabled list with what the club believes is a non-serious elbow injury. An MRI revealed no structural damage, so for now he’ll just rest it. John Hayes, who the Angels just signed to a Minor League deal, will split the Triple-A Salt Lake catching duties with Robinzon Diaz until Conger returns.
  • Izturis’ stolen base on Tuesday was the Angels’ first since April 15, and the Angels have just nine on the year (tied for 22nd in the Majors). “Sometimes the matchups aren’t there,” Scioscia said. “It’s nothing you can really force. But if the matchups are there, you’re going to try to take advantage of them. I think we have team speed, which we can try to create in some situations. … I think we’re going to steal our share of bases.”
  • Can Pujols’ struggles just be a matter of not being used to the guys he’s facing? Here’s a look.

Some links from Tuesday …

Some AL West links …

And the Heat lost to the Celtics, but everyone’s just resting for the playoffs right now.

Alden

Game 17: Angels-Rays …

If the Angels are looking for their power, this may not be the place to find it. The Angels came in tied for last in the American League in homers (11 — and zero by their Nos. 3 and 4 hitters today). David Price, Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore — the three starters they’ll face in this series — have combined to give up seven in nine starts.

On to the lineups (No. 15 in 17 games), with Kendrys Morales getting the day off against a southpaw starter (one of two in this series), Torii Hunter getting in his first game at DH (he got 81 plate appearances there last year), Maicer Izturis getting his third start at the hot corner and Mark Trumbo getting the nod in right field (the second of his career) …

Angels (6-10)

Erick Aybar, SS
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Albert Pujols, 1B
Hunter, DH
Trumbo, RF
Vernon Wells, LF
Izturis, 3B
Chris Iannetta, C
Peter Bourjos, CF
Pitching: RH Ervin Santana (0-3, 6.75 ERA)

Rays (9-7)

Desmond Jennings, LF
Ben Zobrist, 2B
Carlos Pena, 1B
Evan Longoria, 3B
Luke Scott, DH
Matt Joyce, RF
B.J. Upton, CF
Jose Molina, C
Sean Rodriguez, SS
Pitching: LH Price (2-1, 4.20 ERA)

Some notes from pregame …

  • Mike Scioscia, on Hunter’s DH days this year compared to last year: “He’s going to definitely DH today because of the turf, and we’ll see how the rest of this series goes. I don’t know if it’s going to be greater, but we’re going to pick our spots. At times, he’s going to get a chance to just rest, and he’ll get days off, too.”
  • If you’re scoring at home (and I know a lot of you are), Trumbo has now made starts at five different positions — first base, third base, left field, right field and DH — and has made just one at the hot corner since April 13. “It’s a work in progress,” Scioscia said of where Trumbo stands at third. “I think in spring he showed the skill set to do what we feel a third baseman needs to do. It’s just that he had a couple of bumps in the road early, but we’re still working on it. He played third the other night, and we’re going to still mix it in there.”
  • You want some good news? OK, here goes: The Rangers have lost two of their last three, and the Angels have won their first game in four of their first five series. They’ve also won five of their last six games in St. Pete. (Sorry, best I can do on short notice.)
  • Wait, here’s something better: The rotation has looked more like what we would’ve expected these last seven games, posting a 2.92 ERA with six quality starts, a 0.91 WHIP and a 41/8 strikeout-to-walk ratio (credit: Stats LLC).

Some links from the last couple days …

Some AL West links …

And Mike Miller‘s minutes with the Heat are rising.

Alden

6 Divisions in 6 Days, Day 2 …

Leading up to Opening Day, I’ll roll out an All-Star team for each of the six divisions in baseball — that includes a manager, a starting nine (with a DH also for the National League), three starters and two relievers. One catch: Each team must have at least one representative, and the skipper doesn’t count. Feel free to submit your own lineups below. I’d love to see how yours differ.

Day 2: AL East
All you need to know about how stacked this division is: A-Rod is batting eighth.

Manager: Joe Maddon, TBR

Lineup

Jacoby Ellsbury, CF (BOS)
Yunel Escobar, SS (TOR)
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B (BOS)
Jose Bautista, RF (TOR)
Robinson Cano, 2B (NYY)
Evan Longoria, 3B (TBR)
Curtis Granderson, LF (NYY)
Alex Rodriguez, DH (NYY)
Matt Wieters, C (BAL)

Rotation

SP: CC Sabathia, NYY
SP: James Shields, TBR
SP: Jon Lester, BOS

Bullpen

Mariano Rivera, NYY
Andrew Bailey, BOS

Alden

Playoffs or not, Rays’ resurgence has been remarkable

NEW YORK – History will forget about the Rays if they fail to complete their improbable run. Few remember that the 2006 Astros went from 7 1/2 games out with 11 to go to a half-game out with three left before finishing just short of the Cardinals for the National League Central title. Or that the 1988 Tigers were six out with 11 left and fell a game shy of the Red Sox in the old American League East.

But playing meaningful games in September is an experience that will never leave these young Rays.

“We have a lot of young guys that some of this is new to,” center fielder B.J. Upton said, “and they’re out getting a taste of it right now, and that’s going to help them down the road.”

The Rays may have just dropped three of four to the Yankees, but the Red Sox have lost 12 of their last 15, are falling apart and only hold a two-game lead on Tampa Bay in the AL Wild Card race.

Regardless of how the Rays performed against the Yankees, and regardless of the fact there’s less than a week remaining, two back with six to go doesn’t seem so daunting.

“We’re very fortunate that Baltimore has played as well as they have,” Rays manager Joe Maddon (pictured right by The Associated Press) said. “They played well against us also. They have a nice team, they have a bunch of veterans. So yeah, we’re very fortunate, there’s no question. … I’m not disheartened. I believe we can do this, I believe our players do also. We have to be more efficient on offense.”

The Rays are still in it this late because they pitch and play defense. Their starting rotation has the lowest ERA in the AL (3.51), and they have a chance to become just the seventh AL team since 1970 to lead the league in both total ERA and fielding percentage (they rank second and first, respectively, in the two categories).

But they just don’t hit enough.

Even while taking three of four from the Red Sox over the weekend, the Rays hit just .226 in the series. Before a 15-run barrage against the Yankees on Thursday, they were hitting They’re hitting .224 on this road trip combined, and their batting average sits at just .215 in their last nine games.

It’s very simple with the Rays: To win, they need to keep the score real low.

And when 11 of your last 14 games to finish the season are against the two teams that have scored the most runs in baseball, eventually the odds will turn against you.

“It’s just the way it is,” Maddon said. “We know this is our method, and you know that you’re normally going to have to keep the other team down. We’re normally not going to score a lot of runs.”

Playoffs or not, though, what the Rays have done is truly remarkable.

Their $41 million payroll is four times less than that of the Red Sox (about $161 million) and almost five times less than that of the Yankees ($202 million), and they let go of almost everyone this offseason – from Carl Crawford to Carlos Pena to Matt Garza to Rafael Soriano. But somehow, Maddon and Andrew Friedman continue to churn out winning ballclubs.

The Rays have now clinched four straight winning seasons, still have a shot at their third postseason appearance in four years and, at 12-9, are on their way to their first ever winning September.

They’re amazing everyone but themselves right now.

“We always thought we’d have a chance; we all thought we were still in it,” infielder Sean Rodriguez said. “We never lost hope, just because we knew the teams we played and we knew we could beat them.”

The Rays found themselves 10 games back in the AL Wild Card race on Aug. 7, but thanks to great starting pitching, air-tight defense and the bats of Upton, Evan Longoria and rookie Desmond Jennings (pictured left with Upton by the AP), they’ve since gone 27-16.

Now they’re trying to do what no team in baseball history ever has – make the playoffs despite trailing by nine games in September.

It’d be foolish to count them out now.

“A lot of people didn’t give us a chance, obviously because of the two teams in our division,” Upton said. “But, again, we find a way to do it, found a way to keep ourselves in this race.”

– Alden

* Recently filed: Girardi the unsung hero behind Yanks in ’11; Yanks will face quandary over playoff rotation; Phils’ clincher reflects importance of starting pitching; in playoffs, Rivera is tops

Now for those UNpleasant surprises …

Earlier this week, I wrote about baseball’s most pleasant surprises of the season. Now I thought I should take a look at the other end of that spectrum; the guys we didn’t expect to have down seasons. Take a step back, and you’ll find there’s a lot of star (or star-ish) players that are having bad years.

Here’s a look at the five of the best (or, worst) …

Not-so-great signings: Jayson Werth — $126 million; .230 batting average, .713 OPS. Adam Dunn — $56 million; .165 batting average, 11 homers. Carl Crawford — $142 million; .290 on-base percentage. All were signed in order to get their respective teams over the hump, all have been nothing besides a hindrance so far. If not for a 33-game, season-saving hitting streak, Dan Uggla would’ve been a part of this group, too. Regardless, the cases of Werth (pictured right by The Associated Press), Dunn and Crawford are all head-scratching, and the most troubling is perhaps the situation of Dunn (an unfathomable 3-for-81 versus lefties).

Still not ready?: That’s probably what we can say about Kyle Drabek and Zach Britton, two young guns we thought would compete for the American League Cy Young Award but have struggled this year. Drabek posted a 5.70 ERA through his first 14 starts, prompting a demotion to the Minor Leagues. Now, he has a 6.51 ERA in 13 Triple-A starts. Britton is 7-9 with a 4.54 ERA, was demoted once and missed about two weeks with a shoulder injury recently.

We thought they were on the rise: But Jason Heyward, Carlos Santana, Pedro Alvarez and Brett Wallace only took steps back this year. Heyward, we thought, was a can’t-miss prospect, and he can of course still be a star. But right now, he’s the definition of “sophomore slump.” He’s been mired by injuries, he’s hitting only .220 with 13 homers, and now he’s been supplanted by a man named Costanza (no, not this one). Wallace won the Astros’ starting first base job with a great spring, but hit just .268 with four homers in 101 games before being sent down. He’s 25 now, and has played for four organizations. Will he ever produce like a first baseman should?  Santana, one of baseball’s best young catchers before missing the final two months of last year with a concussion, has 19 homers but is only hitting .241 and can’t even be considered the AL’s best catcher in a year when Joe Mauer is struggling (that title belongs to Alex Avila). And Alvarez not only doesn’t look too adept defensively at the hot corner, but he’s hitting .196 with three homers in 56 games in a struggle- and injury-filled second year.

Stars? Not this year: Hanley Ramirez, Ubaldo JimenezChase Utley and Mauer have all had uncommon struggles. By his lofty standards, Hanley’s 2010 season — .300 batting average, 21 homers, 32 steals — was a down one. This one — .243 batting average, 10 homers and 20 steals through 92 games — is flat-out mystifying. He has caught flak from teammates — particularly Logan Morrison — and now, he’s in Class A Jupiter rehabbing. Mauer missed time with leg weakness, has just one home run in his 70 games this year and has been tried out first base and right field this year. The Twins must obviously consider moving Mauer to a different position so they can keep him on the field, but does his bat play elsewhere? For the last six years, Utley has been one of baseball’s most consistent players and arguably its best second baseman. But knee tendinitis put him on the shelf at the start, and now he sits with just a .278 batting average and nine homers in 78 games. And one year after placing third in National League Cy Young Award voting, Ubaldo  has a 4.71 ERA in 26 starts this season. Many felt his head simply wasn’t in it in Colorado after frustrations over his contract situation, but he has a 5.79 ERA in his first five starts in Cleveland (though he did pitch seven innings of one-run ball on Friday night).

The lukewarm corner: So, who’s baseball’s best third baseman this year? Not Ryan Zimmerman; he has a .299 batting average but only nine homers and has been limited to 72 games. Not Alex Rodriguez; he has solid numbers for anyone else (.292 batting average and 14 homers) but was set back by a recent stint to the disabled list. Not David Wright; he missed almost 60 games with a back injury. Not Evan Longoria; he’s hitting just .237 after also missing time with injury. Nope, it’s none of those guys. Baseball’s best third baseman this year is … Aramis Ramirez, owner of a .311 batting average, 24 homers and 83 RBIs.

Honorable mentions: Ichiro Suzuki (.331 batting average and 224 hits per season in his first 10 years. This year? Career-low .273 batting average and .313 on-base percentage). … Rafael Soriano (Given $35 million to be a setup man; now has a 4.94 ERA as a middle reliever). … Shin-Soo Choo (One of baseball’s best-kept secrets while hitting .302 with 56 homers and 47 steals from 2008-10. This year, he’s hitting just .261 with eight homers in 83 games).

– Alden 

* Also filed this week: Aces’ contract decisions deliver parity

My AL & NL lineups differ from yours …

… But only slightly.

See, I never expect perfection when so many fans from so many different places and with so many different biases vote so many times. But, I gotta say, the 32.5 million of you who voted this year didn’t do half-bad. Of course, I would’ve made a few changes.

Here’s my lineup …

American League 

Catcher- Alex Avila, Tigers: Easy choice. Joe Mauer has barely played, Carlos Santana has struggled, and Russell Martin‘s production at the plate went south after a hot start.

First base- Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox: Another no-brainer. He’s fitting in perfectly at Fenway, and if not for a man named Bautista, he’s the best hitter going.

Second base- Robinson Cano, Yankees: Something tells me he’ll be dominating this position for years to come.

Third base- Alex Rodriguez, Yankees: Solid, healthy year — and you can’t say the same about Evan Longoria.

Shortstop- Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians: I’m sorry, but you can’t pick Derek Jeter (pictured above by The Associated Press). I could understand if this was his final year and you want to send him out a la Cal Ripken Jr. But Cabrera has been an offensive and defensive key for the thriving Indians.

Outfield- Jose Bautista, Blue Jays: Um, yeah, he’s good.

Outfield- Curtis Granderson, Yankees: Off to one of his best starts while looking very good in that 2 hole.

Outfield- Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox: He’s providing what Boston needs from him — getting on base, stealing bases and serving as a steady presence at the top of the order — while putting up power numbers to boot.

Designated hitter- David Ortiz, Red Sox: “Big Papi” needed a good start in his walk year, and he has it.

National League 

Catcher- Brian McCann, Braves: Unreal that he’s made it to six straight All-Star Games and hadn’t started one until this year. Glad that will change.

First base- Joey Votto, Reds: He’s the reigning NL MVP and is off to another great start even if the power numbers aren’t where they were at this point last year. (I know what you’re thinking, but keep reading.)

Second base- Rickie Weeks, Brewers: All-around solid year, and Chase Utley is still working his way back.

Third base- Aramis Ramirez, Cubs: Having a solid year, and for some reason very few realize it.

Shortstop- Jose Reyes, Mets: No doubt about this one. Not sure why it took him so long to pass Troy Tulowitzki.

Outfield- Ryan Braun, Brewers: One of baseball’s best keeps getting better.

Outfield- Matt Kemp, Dodgers: He’s the first half’s NL MVP if not for a guy named Reyes. Looks like a change in managers has done him well, for whatever reason.

Outfield- Lance Berkman, Cardinals: Didn’t expect him to have the first half he’s had, but glad to see I was wrong.

Designated hitter- Prince Fielder, Brewers: Not fair? Hey, it’s my lineup!

– Alden 

** What I wrote this week: Fielder at ease in his walk year; Yankees haven’t stopped winning since being swept by the Red Sox. 

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