Draft no 'crapshoot' for Giants and Royals 

October, 30, 2014
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Brian Sabean & Dayton MooreAP PhotoFirst-round talent was crucial for Brian Sabean and Dayton Moore in roster construction.
When I pointed out on Twitter after Game 5 that the two most important players on the Giants' roster, Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey, were both high first-round picks (10th and fifth overall, respectively, in consecutive drafts), a few readers misread the tweet as a definitive statement on the value of the first round. That research has been done at great length by folks inside and outside the industry, and the conclusions are clear: Your best chance to get a star comes high in the first round, and the expected value of a pick drops almost logarithmically from the top overall pick on down.

My point on Twitter was aimed more at the litany of folks who don't follow the draft closely and call it a "crapshoot." It's not -- it's far from perfect, but if you want an anecdotal example of how important nailing your first-round picks can be, take a look at the two clubs in the Series.

Below I've simply laid out the most important/most-used players on each roster and broken down how they came into the organization. If you're going to claim that scouts are little better than random chance when selecting amateur players in the draft, you've got an uphill battle.

Kansas City

Looking at their nine primary position players (below)

Takeaways from Arizona Fall League 

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
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Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsRed Sox center fielder Rusney Castillo impressed in the field but didn't show much effort otherwise.
My five-day run in the Arizona Fall League is over. I saw nine games across that period, watched every team's batting practice and also saw more than half of the pitchers on the six rosters.

My first post from the trip focused on the big arms I saw in the first three days; this post covers all of the bats of note plus a few more arms I saw after that last file.

Here's a look at more than two dozen players competing in the 2014 AFL.

Hitters

• This was my first live look at Boston outfielder Rusney Castillo, who signed a $70 million deal in August and debuted with the Red Sox at the end of September. He can certainly play the heck out of center field, with above-average speed but more importantly good reads, making plays into both gaps with ease.

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Examining pitchers in the AFL 

October, 11, 2014
Oct 11
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ZimmerAP Photo/Brian WesterholtKansas City's Kyle Zimmer is back to his pre-injury form.
This year's Arizona Fall League season kicked off on Tuesday, and it's one of the best crops of pitching prospects the league has featured in a very long time, with tons of high draft picks, top-100 prospects and big velocity. This is my first post, based on what I saw in the first five games over three days, and focuses more on arms than bats. I'll do another post when I leave here Sunday and will cover the position players in more detail then.

" The best starting pitching prospect I've seen was either Pittsburgh's Tyler Glasnow or Kansas City's Kyle Zimmer, both of whom showed great stuff and good deliveries but didn't get commensurate results.

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My predictions for the NLDS matchups 

October, 3, 2014
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Jake Peavy and Stephen StrasburgUSA TODAY SportsJake Peavy and Stephen Strasburg square off in Game 1 of the NLDS on Friday afternoon.
I posted my thoughts on both American League Division Series yesterday, so here is the companion piece, predictions for both National League Division Series and with my rationales. My early guess at the World Series matchup and winner is below.

San Francisco Giants vs. Washington Nationals

 
 

I think the Nationals are the best team in the postseason, and also the team best built for the postseason, which is not necessarily the same thing, but both are applicable in this case.

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My predictions for the ALDS matchups 

October, 2, 2014
Oct 2
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Royals CelebrateDilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesThere was joy in Kansas City on Tuesday, but can they continue to win despite their manager?
I'm of the opinion that most playoff series odds are no better than about 55-45, even when one team is clearly superior to the other, because of the randomness inherent in short series and in baseball in general.

The two AL Division Series matchups this year strike me as even closer than that because of key injuries on the rosters of both teams with home-field advantage. Here are my predictions for both series, with some general reasons behind them.

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Players who've exceeded my expectations 

September, 24, 2014
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Jonathan LucroyMike McGinnis/Getty ImagesSlight adjustments made by Milwaukee catcher Jonathan Lucroy have made a difference this season.
This is the third annual installment of what I think of as the "guys I got wrong" piece. I'll look at players who've become much better big leaguers than I ever forecast them to be, and try to explain where I made mistakes in evaluating them.

In the past two editions, I discussed only players I had offered strong opinions about, saying they wouldn't be as successful as they became. This year I've included some players I didn't discuss much as prospects or young major leaguers, errors of omission that are errors nonetheless.

Jonathan Lucroy, C, Milwaukee Brewers

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Lucroy made my top 10 Brewers prospects list just once, going into 2010, the first year I did a full top-10 ranking for all 30 teams. That list turned out to be well-stocked with future big leaguers:

1. Brett Lawrie, 2B
2. Alcides Escobar, SS
3. Eric Arnett, RHP
4. Kyle Heckathorn, RHP
5. Jonathan Lucroy, C
6. Wily Peralta, RHP
7. Lorenzo Cain, CF
8. Jake Odorizzi, RHP
9. Kentrail Davis, LF
10. Zach Braddock, LHP

Arnett, Heckathorn and Davis had just been drafted and the shine hadn't come off them yet; the real stars of that draft class turned out to be seventh-rounder Khris Davis, 16th-rounder Scooter Gennett and 22nd-rounder Mike Fiers.

In Lucroy's case, the stats told a more accurate story than the scouting reports did.

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2014 Prospects of the Year 

September, 16, 2014
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Kris BryantMark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsThe Cubs' Kris Bryant crushed minor league pitching in 2014 (.325 average, 43 homers, 110 RBIs).
While the process of selecting the top prospects was ultimately subjective, I focused primarily on legitimate prospects who performed well relative to their age, level and experience in pro ball. In short, the younger a player was relative to the other players in his league -- especially when compared just to the players in his league with a chance to have some impact in the majors -- the more impressed I was with a strong performance.

The winner here won't surprise anyone, so I discuss a number of other players who would have merited strong consideration if we didn't have such a clear favorite. I also give a separate award to the 2014 draftee who had the best pro debut, as well as a pair of runners-up.

Prospect of the Year: Kris Bryant | 3B | Chicago Cubs

I'd say it was a unanimous vote, but considering I'm the only voter, that was sort of an inevitable outcome. Still, Bryant blew away the field, dominating at two levels, leading the minor leagues in home runs and slugging percentage, finishing second in OBP (behind a 21-year-old in low-A) and ascending the rankings to become baseball's top prospect, all in his first full year in professional baseball.

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'Keep calm' on these young players 

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
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Javier BaezAP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastNot to worry, Cubs fans, despite his initial struggles this season, Javier Baez will be fine.
A lot of highly touted prospects and other young major leaguers had what might appear to be disheartening seasons in 2014. Here are five examples of players whose stat lines this year shouldn't dampen your enthusiasm about their futures.

Javier Baez

It's not the debut Cubs fans were expecting, at least not given his showings in spring training and the Futures Game, but a rough first time around the carousel is pretty much in line with Baez's career to date. Baez has 153 plate appearances in the majors so far, with 63 strikeouts and a .175/.229/.364 line. In his first 153 plate appearances in Triple-A, coming earlier this year, he hit .201/.268/.388 with 53 strikeouts.

He started slowly in Double-A as well, failing to get his OBP over .300 until his 120th plate appearance, but he came around sooner and was at least up to .273/.329/.580 by the time he passed 153 plate appearances. The primary skill that made him such a highly rated prospect -- he was No. 7 coming into the year -- is still intact: He has some of the best bat speed and strongest hands I've ever seen on a hitting prospect. He needs to overhaul his approach to at-bats, as he still seems to be deciding whether to swing before he could possibly have identified the pitch type, but he's so talented that he can make mistakes and still turn it into hard contact.

Xander Bogaerts


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Most notable September call-ups 

September, 2, 2014
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Maikel FrancoCliff Welch/Icon SMIMaikel Franco bounced back after a slow start at Triple-A and got the call to the bigs Monday.
Sept. 1 is the day each year when major league teams can expand their active rosters from 25 players to as many as 40. As such, teams have begun the process of recalling a few select prospects, either to provide a boost for a playoff push or to get a key prospect some major league development time. Some prospects may come up after their minor league teams complete playoff runs, and others who appear to be ready might not come up at all due to roster rules (the Cubs' Kris Bryant foremost among them).

Here are my thoughts on eight players who already have been called up and what they might provide in the next month in the big leagues:


Jorge Soler, OF, Chicago Cubs (No. 28 in my midseason top 50 prospect rankings, No. 26 in my preseason top 100): Soler has been up for a few days, going 10-for-19 with seven extra-base hits in his first five games in the majors.

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Top 10 sustainable breakthroughs 

August, 26, 2014
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Yan Gomes, Jake Arrieta & Adam EatonGetty ImagesMany "breakthroughs" are more products of small sample sizes or good luck. These appear different.
For these breakthroughs, I considered:

• Players who were no longer rookies to start 2014.
• Players who either established a substantially higher level of performance, or who established themselves as everyday players/mid-rotation starters when they were previously part-time or extra players.

While many other players had apparent breakouts this year (e.g., Josh Harrison), these 10 players all have had breakouts that I believe are sustainable into future seasons. I picked five starters and five position players.

Pitchers

Garrett Richards

Unfortunately, Richards' season is over due to a freak knee injury that might put him out of action into spring training of 2015, which hurts the Angels' chances of advancing in the postseason and overshadows what an amazing year he's had. Richards was throwing mostly four-seamers and sliders before this season, which made him vulnerable to left-handed batters and generally to hard contact when he left the fastball up. This year, he added a two-seamer, with more life than the four-seamer (which has some natural cut) and a different look, while also adding a curveball to complement the slider, a pitch with similar shape but lower velocity. Assuming his knee allows it, he'll return to ace status next year.


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What the Red Sox get in Rusney Castillo 

August, 22, 2014
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The Boston Red Sox signed Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo to a six-year, $72 million contract that set a record for an international free agent, reflecting the success of most of the Cuban position players who've come over so far, and the fact that the collective bargaining agreement steers money into Cuba, Japan and Korea. I haven't seen Castillo play live, but talked to many scouts and executives who did, and got some consistent comments on his speed and athleticism though there were some discrepancies

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My early award winners, top contenders 

August, 19, 2014
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Mike TroutDominic DiSaia for ESPNMike Trout might finally win the AL MVP award that eluded him the past two seasons.

With just five weeks left in the regular season, we're approaching peak silliness time, the point in the season when we start to hear narrative-based explanations for why players who weren't actually the best at their respective roles deserve more award consideration -- the voters doth protest too much, methinks, but sometimes these campaigns (for that's just what they are) work. An annual August tradition, I've broken down whom I would list if I had the major award ballots, assuming I had to file them today, along with thoughts on how each of them could change based on what happens in September.

These pseudo-ballots represent how I would vote right now on each award, not what I expect to happen, although I talk about any such differences in the commentary. I have the NL Rookie of the Year ballot, so I won't discuss that one, although at this point it's more of a battle of attrition -- the last guy not on the DL gets the award

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Mets' Matz impresses at Double-A 

August, 18, 2014
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Steven MatzAdam RubinSteven Matz has refined his delivery and recovered from 2010 Tommy John surgery.
The New York Mets took left-hander Steven Matz in the second round of the 2009 draft out of a Long Island high school, using their first pick that year on him. But Matz, who had a violent delivery and some elbow issues as an amateur, blew out his elbow almost immediately after signing and didn't pitch in a professional game until June of 2012. He made 21 starts last year, averaging just five innings per start and facing more than 22 batters in only one outing all season, but stayed healthy and had solid results.

This year, he's had a real breakout season, throwing harder with better control and strong enough results to move up to Double-A and become one of the team's top 10 prospects.

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Best pitching tools in MLB 

August, 15, 2014
Aug 15
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Clayton Kershaw, Aroldis Chapman, Felix HernandezGetty ImagesClayton Kershaw, Aroldis Chapman and Felix Hernandez are prominent in the pitching tools ranks.
Our evaluation of the best tools in the game concludes with the pitching tools. On Wednesday, we at ESPN Insider laid out the best defensive tools, and on Thursday, we had the best hitting and baserunning tools. Keith Law looks at nine different pitching categories today.


Best fastball

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1. Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
It's certainly the hardest fastball I've ever seen -- I got him at 104 mph on my gun at Petco Park in September 2010 -- and it comes out of his hand shockingly easily given its superhuman velocity.

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Javier BaezAP Photo/Chris CarlsonJavier Baez brings power to the Cubs lineup, and potentially some urgency to the front office.

Javier Baez was my eighth-ranked prospect in the minors before his call-up, a move precipitated by a nearly two-month run of improved results for the talented shortstop -- .309/.376/.619 since ending a five-game hitless streak June 15, with higher walk and contact rates than he showed in April and May. Baez has initially struggled with every promotion in his pro career so far, but

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