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Wednesday
Feb232011

NFL Mock Draft - Version 1

I have always been a big draft nut, but never done a true mock draft.  Now that I have the platform to do it, I am going to.  Here is my first version.  You can expect another one sometime next week after this weekends combine, then another after all the pro days, and one more still the week before the draft. 

 

1) Carolina Panthers – Da’Quan Bowers – DE – Clemson – 6’4” 280 lb. defensive end that will become a force off the end.  Not ever going to be quite the pass rusher Julius Peppers was, but damn close.  The Panthers have a ton of needs, but bringing in a pass rusher from the defensive end position will help bring back a bit of a defensive identity.

2) Denver Broncos – Patrick Peterson – CB – LSU – Tall for a corner and great ball skills.  With Champ Bailey possibly not being in Denver this coming season, a ball hawking corner is a huge need.  Plus being a relative of Bryant McFadden, Sinorice Moss, and Santana Moss has got to be a good sign.

3) Buffalo Bills - Cam Newton – QB – Auburn – Ryan Fitzpatrick proved to be a quality quarterback for the Bills.  So why draft a QB here?  Simple, Cam Newton is the most dynamic talent in the draft, he needs some time to learn the position at the NFL level, so what better way than to sit behind a Harvard grad in Fitzpatrick to learn the game, but get playing time in a triple threat wildcat package with C.J. Spiller where he could hand it off, run, or throw.  If they want to compete in the division, a talent like this could go a long way.

4) Cincinnati Bengals – Von Miller – OLB - Texas A&M – This will allow Maualuga to move back to the inside and add an end rusher to the Bengals.  He will need to improve on his run defense, but he is fast and can make tackles sideline to sideline.  He could be an addition that will make the Bengals line backing core as good a young group as you can find.

5) Arizona Cardinals – Blaine Gilbert – QB – Missouri – This will likely change as we get closer to the draft.  I fully expect the Cardinals to get a QB prior to the draft like Kevin Kolb…oh…wait…there probably won’t be a CBA in place so they won’t be able to trade or sign anyone.  Ok, Fitz, you will have another terrible season with a rookie QB.  The guy is good, better than advertised accuracy, a big arm to get the long ball to Larry Fitzgerald, and a smart QB, but still a rookie.

6) Cleveland Browns – Robert Quinn – DE – North Carolina – He was suspended the entire 2010 season, but the man has skills.  He is nearly 6’5” but only 250 or so pounds.  He will likely get pushed around in the beginning and might run out of steam by the end of his rookie season after a full year off, but he is quick off the ball, around the end and could make a real impact by mid-season, but you will never know it because he will be playing in Cleveland.

7) San Francisco 49ers – Nick Fairley – DT – Auburn – A huge talent.  Could easily go 1 or 2, but I see him falling instead.  He is a big man, can get in the backfield and even get to the quarterback.  He fits better in a 4-3, but he is such a dynamic talent, the 49ers would not let him slip past here and he is the kind of guy worth taking a second look at your defensive scheme for.  Slide Sopanga into the other interior lineman spot, let Ahmad Brooks or Parys Haralson play the OLB/DE spot and this D could really surprise some people.

8) Tennessee Titans – Prince Amukamara – CB – Nebraska – A quality corner opposite Cortland Finnegan would be a big move for Tennessee.  Prince is an incredible athlete and an even harder worker.  I would not be surprised if he is a combine stud and moves up this board into the top 5, but for now I see him going Tennessee.  Yes, they need a QB and Locker is available, but they need a guy that won’t be a bust, and Prince won’t be.  But do look for them to jump on Mallett or even Locker if he is still available on day 2.

9) Dallas Cowboys – Anthony Costanzo – OT – Boston College – It was painfully obvious the Cowboys need a big offensive tackle to protect Tony Romo.  And while Costanzo might not even be 300 pounds, he is 6’7” with long arms and very good in pass protection.  The Cowboys will no doubt go best available tackle in this position, and right now, I think that is Costanzo.

10) Washington Redskins – A.J. Green – WR – Georgia – Who knows who will be throwing the ball to him in Washington, but it is clear the Redskins need a WR.  They have not had a premier receiving threat since…um…Art Monk.  A.J. Green is a top 5 talent and could be a huge steal for the ‘skins at 10.

11) Houston Texans – Marcell Dareus – DT – Alabama – He can play either defensive tackle in a 4-3 or defensive in a 3-4.  He will be the interior end creating a young, incredibly talented defensive front with Mario Williams, Amobi Okoye, and Dareus.  Line Cushing off his hip and you have a pass rush that is second to none and a team that can stuff the run.

12) Minnesota Vikings – Cameron Jordan – DE – Cal – More of a run stopping end than a pass rushing end, but the Vikings already have the pass rushing end in Jared Allen.  Jordan can settle in next to the Williams wall.  He could start as a defensive end or he can become the replacement to Pat Williams at defensive tackle. 

13) Detroit Lions – Jimmy Smith – CB – Colorado – We will see what the combine has in store for him as he could come out of there with a top 10 grade, or I could drop him out of the first round.  But for now, I like him to Detroit.  He is 6’2” and pretty fast for a big corner.  Think Antonio Cromartie without the laundry list of kids.  The Lions don’t really have a quality corner to speak of, so Smith would make an immediate impact.

14) St. Louis Rams – Julio Jones – WR – Alabama – Torsten is currently screaming at this article as I do not have an OLB or secondary help here.  Yes, the Rams need both, but I see there being big talent available in the second round.  Bradford needs another receiving threat, and Julio Jones will fit in very well in St. Louis. 

15) Miami Dolphins – Mark Ingram – RB – Alabama – Ronnie Brown can’t stay healthy, Ricky Williams has lost a step, and Patrick Cobbs will never be a RB you want carrying the ball more than a couple times a game.  A former Heisman trophy winning RB in the middle of the first round that can be a game changer would be a great addition for the Dolphins.

16) Jacksonville Jaguars – J.J. Watt – DE – Wisconsin – Will be a great fit opposite Aaron Kampman on the defensive line, but at 6’6” and 290+ he can play inside as well.  He is versatile and productive.  He can play the run or the pass, he could very well go earlier, but again, I see him slipping due to the fact he doesn’t fit into any one system perfectly, just every system very well, and that is just the kind of guy the Jaguars need as Jack Del Rio will be on the hot seat all season.

17) New England Patriots (from Oakland Raiders) – Akeem Ayers – OLB – UCLA – The Patriots desperately need a pass rushing threat off the edge, and if the Rams go WR rather than reaching for Ayers in that spot, he should be available for the Patriots and could be a great addition to the defense.

18) San Diego Chargers – Nate Solder – OT – Colorado – They need a guy to be molded into the left tackle of the future, and Nate Solder is the guy.  A year behind Marcus McNeil will allow Solder to improve his pass blocking ability.  He has good footwork and is very athletic for a guy standing 6’8” and weighing around 315.  He will be a great pick for depth along the line for this season and a guy to have Rivers back in the future.  They could use help on the defensive side of the ball and at receiver, but both positions can be addressed in the later rounds.

19) New York Giants – Tyron Smith – OT – USC – He can be a big help on this offensive line.  Will depend how he comes out in training camp, but he could take the left tackle spot from David Diehl allowing Diehl to slide into left guard, or he could prepare to take the right tackle spot from Kareem McKenzie next season when his contract runs out.

20) Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Adrian Clayborn – DE – Iowa – They have a good interior defensive line, Clayborn can be a pass rushing defensive end that can make the Buc’s defensive line one of the best in football for years to come.  They will probably get a running back in the second round, look Shane Vereen if he is there in round 2, as I have been in the past, this may be a biased call since I have known him since he was about 9, and improve that offensive line.

21) Kansas City Chiefs – Corey Liuget – DT – Illinois – Liuget is 6’3” 300 lbs, he would line up over center while they have Glen Dorsey at 6’1” also 300 lbs. at “end”.  These two, along with Tyson Jackson on the other end, would able to stuff the run in a division with two teams that rely on it.  They will look outside linebacker to come off the side around Glen Dorsey later in the draft, but here, they will shore up the defensive line.

22) Indianapolis Colts – Gabe Carimi – OT – Wisconsin – Most of their offensive lineman have been late round picks, and you might look at them and think they are decent.  But they aren’t.  Peyton Manning is the best at moving around in the pocket and getting rid of the ball quick.  What better way to improve the line than adding the best offensive lineman in college last season.

23) Philadelphia Eagles – Mike Pouncey – OG/C – Florida – His brother Maurkice plays on the north end of the state and played incredibly well last season.  He may be riding his brother’s coat tails into the draft, and he will never be as good as his brother, but he will be a quality interior offensive lineman.  They need help on the line at nearly every position, and Mike Pouncey can play either guard spot or center, and since there is not a tackle here that wouldn’t be a reach, Pouncey is a great pick.

24) New Orleans Saints – Mikel LeShoure – RB – Illinois – Ok, so this may be a bit of a stretch, especially since you see guy after guy fill in well at running back for New Orleans, but I really like LeShoure here.  Pierre Thomas is a Free Agent, and missed most of last season due to injury.  Reggie Bush is not a true running back.  He is a swing back who is at his best in the slot or on screen passes.  Do you really want to run with Chris Ivory again?  LeShoure’s 6 foot, 230 lb. body can handle the inside runs and will open up the wing for Bush. 

25) Seattle Seahawks – Justin Houston – OLB – Georgia – And every Packer fan just shed a tear.  This is the last top notch talent at outside linebacker.  There are guys that can fill in well, but no more with first round type talent.  Houston is a very good pass rushing linebacker, but could improve in his coverage skills.  Aaron Curry will handle one side, Lofa Tatupa will run the middle, and Justin Houston will be able to complement those two well.

26) Baltimore Ravens – Brandon Harris – CB – Miami (Fla.) – Another Miami defensive back…it has worked out well for the Ravens in the past.  Harris has the ability to be a very good coverage corner.  He will fit right into the Ravens style of football and help shut down the pass heavy AFC North.

27) Atlanta Falcons – Cameron Heyward – DE – Ohio State – A big defensive end that can take up space or get to the quarterback.  They have some big names at the position, but not so much in terms of production.  Heyward would certainly be an upgrade at the defensive end position, and his long frame will help him in pass defense.  It will be interesting to see if he can be successful in the running game though.

28) New England Patriots – Ryan Kerrigan – DE – Purdue – He led D-1A, or Bowl Division, or whatever they call it now, in tackles for loss last season.  He knows how to get in the backfield, not the biggest guy, but strong enough to bull rush, and fast enough to speed rush.  He is a great fit for the New England defense.  If they don’t get Ayers in their first pick, don’t be surprised if he is taken there, but he could very well slip down to here as well.

29) Chicago Bears – Derrick Sherrod – OT – Mississippi St. –  If Jay Cutler had Derrick Sherrod at Tackle, maybe he wouldn’t have been standing on the sidelines oblivious to the fact there was a NFC Championship game going on after apparently tearing his MCL.  Sherrod is a very good tackle and should really help shore up an average line in Chicago.

30) New York Jets – Rahim Moore – S – UCLA – Everyone saw the trouble the Jets secondary had after the Jim Leonhard injury, and while Leonhard is a strong safety and Moore will likely play free safety, a ball hawking, big hitting safety, will be a huge addition to a secondary that already has 3 very good to great corners and a very smart strong safety.  Rahim Moore has the talent to be a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate, and with the freedom he would have to react on his natural instincts, I see him winning it if he lands in New York.

31) Pittsburgh Steelers – Aaron Williams – CB – Texas – Going into the Super Bowl, the big mismatch everyone pointed to was the Packers 3-4-5 wide receivers vs. the lack of secondary depth of the Steelers.  That proved to be a big difference in the game based on the game Jordy Nelson had.  Aaron Williams will be a quality Nickel corner his rookie season, and can become a really good #2 or even a decent #1 corner in his career.

32) Green Bay Packers – Aldon Smith – DE – Missouri – The Packers need an outside linebacker opposite Clay Mathews, but it won’t be available here.  But the 6’5”, 260 lb. defensive end can play with his hand down, and he may be able to play standing up as well.  They can use a pass rushing guy on the line Mathews can rush behind, but with time and coaching, he just may be able to become the OLB to compliment Mathews.  Adding a guy like Aldon Smith and some depth later in the draft could set up the Packers to be the favorite to become the first repeat champion since the Patriots.

Tuesday
Feb222011

Podcast Preview

Monday
Feb212011

NL East - The Easiest Division in Baseball to Handicap

1. Philadelphia Phillies - The city of brotherly love and eerily urine-like odor could have my two nephews, both younger than five, and 7 kids from their preschool on offense and still be a threat.  Instead of that murderer's row, their vaunted pitching staff will have to settle for Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, the underrated Shane Victorino, and the under-appreciated Placido Polanco for offense.  Even though Howard has seen his average drop in recent seasons, Utley is a virtual lock for at least one DL stay, and the very good all-around Jayson Werth took his talents to DC, they figure to score enough to run away with this division.  Polanco, even though he has precious little power to be playing 3rd base, is as consistent a hitter as you could want.  And if Jimmy Rollins duplicates his form of a couple years back, the ceiling for this gang suddenly got way higher.  But let's talk about where the true focus of this team is going to be all season.  Roy Halladay is... well, the best.  Enough said.  And then they pulled the rug out from under the Yankees by signing Cliff Lee to a discount (if a nine figure deal can ever be called a discount) long term deal.  These guys could combine for 50 wins.  And then you have potential future hall of famer Roy Oswalt and the underachieving but dynamic Cole Hamels.  Those guys could combine for 40 wins.  The only real weak spot is the closer situation.  Brad Lidge's days of 50 successful consecutive save streaks are a thing of the past and they don't really have a deputy.  Ryan Madson is okay, but not really a ninth inning guy.  God only knows how old Jose Contreras is, but he thrived last year out of the pen.  Color me shocked on that one too.  I don't really see any other team that has the ability or the weakness of their division to challenge the Phils for MLB's best record. 

2. Atlanta Braves - I still hate these guys from back in the day when they were in the NL West.  That said, by default, they're the second best team in this division.  Starting with the offense, rookie stud Jason Heyward is really the only star of note, but he figures to improve by leaps and bounds this year.  I don't have any scientific reason to believe that he will avoid the sophomore slump, but he would scare me into having to change my shorts if he's playing against my team and at bat with runners on.  The rest of the gang is a bunch of good but unremarkable guys, no offense to all star catcher, Brian McCann. Martin Prado is very good, and versatile.  Dan Uggla was a shrewd acquisition, even if it cost them Omar Infante, who if ever given a permanent position and regular playing time, could turn into a perennial all star instead of a one hit wonder.  Chipper Jones is past his prime, but still a threat.  Alex Gonzales is better than the average bear when it comes to slugging shortstops.  The only real questions are whether Jordan Schafer will live up to the hype (you better believe it, more on him later) and if Nate McLouth can rediscover his Pittsburgh Pirates form.  My opinion, no.  But still, he could.  And if he does, he can fill the one glaring void this offense has.  Stolen bases.  Heyward led them last year with 11 and that's not enough. The pitching staff is formidable, if not Philadelphian.  Tim Hudson showed he is still an ace, age has not horribly affected Derek Lowe, and the young Tommy Hanson/Kris Medlen duo has some serious upside.  My favorite of the bunch, however, is Jair Jurrgens, even though he murdered the souls of three of my fantasy staffs last season. His stuff is legit.  If he can get his confidence and health to follow suit, pen him in for 14-16 wins.  The icing on the cake is the apparent decision of closer Billy Wagner not to retire.  Even after crossing the 40 threshold, he is still one the games most dominant closers.  They won't catch Philly, but there's reason for optimism in Atlanta. I know I've said this about like 30 teams already, but the wild card is not a stretch.

3. Florida Marlins - Stephania Bell, the injury guruess from ESPN predicts a significant injury to ace Josh Johnson, and if she's right, this prediction goes in the toilet.  She's clearly an expert, but I have to question this call.  He's physically massive, and doesn't seem to have to exert a ton of effort to get maximum effectiveness out of his stuff.  After him, you have Javier Vasquez and Ricky Nolasco.  Vasquez seems to thrive in small markets and Nolasco... well, he sucks.  Inexplicably too, because his stuff is as good as anybody's.  Maybe this is the year he puts it all together?  The Marlins are hoping so, because you could do worse than Anibal Sanchez, who owns a no-hitter (even though Eric Byrnes looked safe at first to me on the last out... just call me Torsten Joyce), as a number 4 guy.  I'm not sold on Chris Volstad, but I wasn't on Tampa's Jeff Niemann either before last season and look how nice he turned out.  Speaking of not sold on, closer Leo Nunez reminds me of Mitch Williams.  Wild, oddly effective, but always seeming more likely to blow the save than actually get it.  Then again, he notched 30 of them last year and throws in the high 90s.  Who knows. Offensively, they lost their leader in homers, rbis, runs, and slugging percentage when they dealt Dan Uggla.  Omar Infante won't replace the power, but here's hoping he slots into the vacant 2nd base spot.  He deserves it.  Hanley Ramirez remains one of the game's most dynamic all around talents despite a down year in 2010.  Who else can hit .300 with over 20 homers, 30 steals, and you can call it a down year... from a shortstop.  Yeah, he's that good.  Mike Stanton is a star in waiting, and Chris Coughlan should recover from his diabolical sophomore season so there's some reason for a few fans, emphasis on few, to come to the games.  Unfortunately, everyone else appears pedestrian at best, although Gaby Sanchez is intriguing.  They won't embarrass themselves this year, but they've got a tough task ahead.  Not as tough as these next two, though.

4. Washington Nationals - They'd be higher if not for Stephen Strasburg's injury... actually, no they wouldn't, and his absence is crushing to them.  Switching gears, the Jayson Werth pickup showed a commitment to fielding a winner, even though they let Adam Dunn go.  He may have been a defensive disaster anywhere but on the bench, but they'll eventually have to get his 40 homers and 100 ribbies from somewhere if they want to contend. Adam Laroche will help, and Rick Ankiel could, but both of those guys are better suited to be complementary pieces on contenders... as we may see when the trading deadline approaches.  Bryce Harper is the messiah, if you listen to the hype, but likely a year away, so the ancient Pudge Rodriguez will likely see the bulk of the duty behind home plate, his balky back permitting.  Roger Bernardina is an interesting prospect in the outfield but they don't figure to score enough to compensate for their dreadful pitching staff.  Speaking of which, without Strasburg, they're relying on John Lannan is not awful, and neither is Tom Gorzelanny, but can you really count on another 230 meritorious innings from Livan Hernandez?  For goodness' sake, Tyler Clippard led them out of the BULLPEN with 11 wins last season.  Not exactly a harbinger of great success.  And no, Jason Marquis is not worthy of mention here... unless you count emergency pinch hitter as something worth mentioning.  As far as pitchers go, he can rake.  I'm reaching now.  Time to move on.

5. New York Mets - I thought I had money issues... On paper they seem mediocre, certainly better than a last place finish.  I'm going to tread carefully on the financial stuff since I'm not a legal expert but let's just say it can't help their on field focus.  So, David Wright is still a star, although you'd like a few more long balls from his bat.  Jason Bay was an atrocious pickup for superstar money, but can still hit a little.  Beyond that, you're looking at guys like Jose Reyes, Angel Pagan, Ike Davis, Carlos Beltran and Luis Castillo who are injury prone, over acheived last year, figures to slump as pitchers adjust, are REALLY injury prone, and suck, in that order.  For some reason, I like Ronny Paulino, but it's probably because he pulls a ton of chicks with that name, rather than any real star ball playing qualities.  Seriously, I'm Ronny Paulino, what's your number.  Best pick up line in sports.  The staff would be better if Johan Santana was healthy... but he's not.  Mike Pelfrey showed some maturity early in 2010 before fading a bit, but he gives up more hits than innings pitched and doesn't strike out enough guys.  R.A. Dickey was easily my favorite success story of last season, but how often do guys have journeyman careers for a decade and then thrive in their mid 30s?  Not often.  He is a knuckle baller though, and they age well.  Ladies and gentleman, your 2020 Cy Young winner, Charlie Haeger!  Just kidding.  Bobby Parnell is a nice bullpen piece and figures to do a nice job being a bridge to closer Francisco Rodriguez, but how good is K-Rod going to be after serious legal troubles?  Seriously, those kinds of things have a way of being a rain cloud that follows unlucky cartoon characters around.  And there was nothing unlucky about him assaulting his father-in-law.  Just stupidity.  So everything he does is going to be under a microscope, add the aforementioned legal issues, general mediocrity, and you don't have a recipe for a good season at all.

Rookie Pitcher of the Year - Drew Storen.  Yeah, he's that other young pitching prospect in the Capitol. And he's already logged too many innings to be a rookie, so we can re-title this section "breakout pitcher of the year." I just don't see any rookie standing out this season so he gets the nod. He's not a guy I've seen a ton of, but the glimpses I've gotten have been eye-opening.  You can pencil in the same concerns you would have with any young pitcher, and add the fact that he's going to perennially be in the shadow of Strasburg.  That could either help him by motivating him to make a name for himself, or could hinder him by making him try too hard to escape from that shadow. He won't have the luxury of anonymity as major leaguers have seen him now, but the Nats are going to go and stick with him as closer, and since they won't contend this year, he can take some lumps and not worry about losing his job.  By year's end, he'll be a household name.

Rookie Hitter of the Year - Jordan Schafer.  Is it just me, or the Braves churn out an uncanny number of outfield prospects.  Not just prospects, but bona fide blue chippers.  A lot was made, and rightfully so, of Jason Heyward last year, but this kid has the tools to make Heyward the second best player in that outfield.  He's got every tool.  I heard on some radio show that he doesn't always take the best route to the ball.  I don't know if that's true or not, and while you would like your center fielder to be Willie Mays incarnate, if that's the biggest gripe against him I think he'll be okay.  Besides, remember the absolute calamity Matt Kemp was in center for the Dodgers?  And remember how he transformed himself into a gold glover in one season?  Never mind his befuddling regression last season, but this flaw, if it exists, can be worked on.  And since Schafer isn't dating Rihanna, I don't think he'll have a problem doing it. 

Surprise Player of the Year - Ian Desmond.  The Nats' shortstop is big on talent.  Maybe not like Bryce Harper, and maybe he doesn't make scouts slobber like a healthy Strasburg, but he can hit.  If they can stomach the growing pains defensively, they'll have an emerging all star on their hands.  And if you look at last year, his defense actually improved from brutal to merely awful. If this year he can improve from awful to mediocre, notice shall be taken.  He won't be the next Hanley Ramirez, but who is. 

Random Thought - Everyone except his immediate family really dislikes Hank Steinbrenner, right?  They kind of have to.  And if they didn't before, they really ought to after his thinly veiled shot at Derek Jeter.  For those of you who don't know, he intimated that the Yankees didn't do better in 2010 because there was too much celebrating with certain players after 2009, and that they were "building mansions," etc. Well, Jeter happened to be building a mansion, and yeah, his numbers last season weren't great.  But he is aging a bit and some deterioration is expected.  Nonetheless, I can unabashedly say that even as a proud Yankee hater, I cannot believe that an owner would take such a blatant swipe at one guy who has not only been the face of the franchise, but handled himself with class through very contentious contract negotiations, and has left his blood, sweat and tears on the diamond and both Yankee Stadiums.  Very few players can say that they have never taken a play off, never hot dogged it, never half-assed it to first base on a routine grounder, and always taken the high road when others around him have stooped to sophomoric media tactics, for example, a certain high profile teammate. If you ever need an example of someone who deserved a little better, you have it. 

Random Thought #2 - It's official, Carmelo Anthony is a Knick. Look, I'm not even a basketball fan.  In fact, I quite dislike it.  But being the blogger hack that I am, I pay enough attention to have an idea of what I'm talking about.  I don't know who thought it would be a good idea to put two of the biggest "me first, I gotta get mine" guys on the same team in Anthony and Amare Stoudamire but he might have been smoking something.  This is not the Lakers bringing class act Pau Gasol in, or even LeButthead James going to Miami. He's shown enough unselfishness on the court, as has Chris Bosh, that despite their weaknesses and lack of depth the team is thriving. Not like the Knicks have done anything wise in the personnel department (unless you count ditching Eddy Curry in this deal or canning Isaiah Thomas a billion years too late) but what in the heck were they thinking? Can someone help me with this? 

Up next, our Triple A preview.  Or not.

Monday
Feb212011

AL West - Didn't mean to stick Torsten with the 6 team division, just wanted the 4 team division for myself.

1) Texas Rangers – The defending AL champions have lost ace pitcher Cliff Lee, DH Vladimir Guerrerro, and stud set up man Frank Francisco, but they did add Mike Napoli and Adrian Beltre.  The big question is what will happen with Michael Young.  If they can flip him and get a big bat to fill in for the often injured Nelson Cruz and DH when Napoli is behind the dish, it would be a nice move for the Rangers, but in the end, I see Michael Young staying in Texas.  Nelson Cruz is in an outfield with MVP candidate Josh Hamilton, and Julio Borbon who has the potential to be an excellent leadoff hitter, but hasn’t put it all together just yet.  If Ian Kinsler can stay healthy, he looks to get back to stud second base levels.  Mitch Moreland will get a chance to hold down the first base spot, and Elvis Andrus is the best young defensive shortstop to come around since Omar Vizquel.  Adrian Beltre will not have the season he had last year, but he will have one of his better years.  Michael Young can fill in at any infield position when he is not DHing, and Mike Napoli will fill in at catcher or first when he is not DHing.  And when Napoli is not catching, Yorvit Torrealba and Taylor Teagarden will battle to get playing time behind the plate.  Their pitching staff is not as impressive as it was last season, but C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis, Brandon Webb, Tommy Hunter, and Derek Holland make up for a quality rotation that is more than enough to win the unimpressive AL West.  Neftali Feliz is a great young closer, while Arthur Rhodes and Darren O’Day will be quality 7th and 8th inning guys, although an upgrade and moving them to middle relief is needed if they want to make another run at the World Series.

2) Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – The best staff in the AL West belongs to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of Orange County of California of…seriously, I will never get over this, the dumbest name in sports.  If you want to be an LA team, move to LA, otherwise just own the fact you are a suburban white family team in the heart of Orange County just down the street from “the happiest place on Earth.”  Back to baseball.  They do have a staff that could really surprise people this year.  Jered Weaver has developed into an ace, and Dan Haren certainly has the skill to be an ace as well.  Ervin Santana is about as good a 3rd pitcher as you will find in the American League, Joel Pinero is a really good 4th pitcher, and Scott Kazmir has the stuff to be an ace, just has lost his way a bit the past couple years.  Fernando Rodney will shut the door in the 9th consistently, and he has guys like Scott Downs and a familiar name, Francisco Rodriguez, coming out of the pen to set him up.  No, it is not K-Rod, just a guy with the same name which is fun to see in an Angel uniform.  At catcher, Jeff Mathis will be the clear cut starter with Mike Napoli now in Texas via Toronto, and Bobby Wilson is a quality backup backstop, but look out for young Hank Conger to make it to the bigs and make an impact by the end of the season.  Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis are a solid defensive left side of the infield.  Heard this before, “Howie Kendrick will win a batting title someday”?  Well…his batting average has gone down every year for the past three years, so it is time for him to either step up or for the Angel Fans hyping him to shut up.  After the freak injury that ended Kendry Morales’ season last year, his big bat will be a great impact in the middle of the order.  Bobby Abreu is the DH while Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells make for the most overpaid corner outfield combo in baseball.  Peter Bourjos should roam center for the between the two former center fielders that have each lost a step.

3) Oakland Athletics – Dallas Braden, Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill….heard of them?  The most below the radar young staff in baseball is in Oakland.  Add the battle between Brandon McCarthy and Rich Harden for the fifth starter and the massive ballpark they play at in Oakland, and you have a team that can stay in the game with anyone.  They have Andrew Bailey at closer and set up men Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes.  This team can be a surprise threat in the west if they have enough offense.  So, do they?  Two words…Kevin Kouzmanoff.  Yes, the Padre prospect reject is still a starter in Oakland.  Cliff Pennington is an ok shortstop, as is Mark Ellis at second base.  Daric Barton is a far below average first baseman but can provide surprising power at times.  Coco Crisp does manage center well, and David DeJesus is an underrated right fielder.  Left field will be a three man race this spring between Josh Willingham, Conor Jackson, and Ryan Sweeney.  Add Hideki Matsui as DH and potential emergency outfield fill in, and the A’s actually have a pretty impressive outfield.  Don’t sleep on Chris Carter or Michael Taylor either, they are two rookie outfielders that can make an impact this year, or make an impact as trade bait.  With top 10 catcher Kurt Suzuki rounding out the starting lineup, the A’s are a team a mid-season move or two away from making a run at the division.  They are not on the list of approved teams just yet, but Michael Young is an A’s type player, and with a package of a couple young outfielders and a pitching prospect just might be enough to get him from Texas.  A bit of a stretch, but to me, there isn’t a better fit for him.

4) Seattle Mariners – Worst team in the AL.  Justin Smoak will be the first baseman, and while he has incredible potential, but has yet to put it together.  Jack Wilson is a great defensive shortstop, but has certainly lost a step.  Chone Figgins has moved back to the position he has truly thrived at third base.  Brendan Ryan will start this season at second, but Dustin Ackley will earn the spot by the all-star break and will put together a really good second half.  Franklin Gutierrez is a really fun center fielder to watch, and we are all familiar with Ichiro and his brilliance at the plate.  In left field, look for Michael Saunders to battle Milton Bradley, and if Bradley loses that battle, he will try to get the DH spot from Jack Cust.  The real offensive struggle for the Mariners will be at catcher where Miguel Olivo will try to improve the worst starting staff in baseball.  King Felix is great, the rest of them are not.  Jason Vargas, Doug Fister, Erik Bedard, Michael Pineda, Luke French, and David Pauley will all battle for the last 4 starting spots.  The good news, the Mariners have choices of which pitcher they want to send out and get lit up.  They do have a decent back end of the bullpen.  Garrett Olson to Brandon League to David Aardsma would save the leads if the Mariners could find a way to get any.  But they might also be the only 3 relievers they have that deserve to play in the Major Leagues.

AL West Offensive Player of the Year – Mike Napoli – Texas Rangers – Don’t know what the Angels were thinking getting rid of him.  They said it was his contract, and then they brought in the worst contract in baseball with Vernon Wells.  Now Napoli finds himself in the same division he is already used to destroying.  He hit 26 home runs last year while his average dropped.  But now he goes to Texas where everyone’s stats improve.  So look for .265/30/105 this season.

AL West Pitcher of the Year – Felix Hernandez – Seattle Mariners – 2.27 ERA, 232 Ks, 1.06 WHIP, 13-12 record.  The guy keeps getting better but his offense keeps getting worse.  He will pitch at a Cy Young level again this year, but the 11-14 record he will have this season will keep him from getting winning the award.  But if you have a chance to watch him this year, do it, he is great on the mound, just don’t watch when the Mariners are on offense, they will bore you.

AL West Offensive Rookie of the Year – Dustin Ackley – Seattle Mariners– He will be a solid second baseman for years to come.  He will never hit for power, nor will he blind anyone with his speed, but he will play a solid defense and hit for a good average.  He was MVP in the Arizona Fall League, let’s see if he can string that into a good spring and win the starting job come opening day.

AL West Rookie Pitcher of the Year – Michael Pineda – Seattle Mariners – Looks like the only bright side the Mariner fans will have is the youth.  Here is another guy that could really do well this season.  He will have a sub 4 ERA and will likely be the #2 pitcher come end of the season.  But as is the case with any pitcher not named Felix, he won’t have more than 7 wins.  But he has excellent control and could strike out 150+ batters this season.

AL West Surprise Player of the Year – David DeJesus – Oakland Athletics – He has been a quiet player through his career, but mostly because he has been stuck in Kansas City.  Now he is in Oakland, where the big ballpark may hurt him from time to time on foul ball outs, but the space in the outfield will more than make up for it.  Look for him to hit over .300, take advantage of a hitter friendly division and get 10-15 long balls, and rack up 10 triples with 40 doubles.   He won’t win any awards this year, but he will be a solid contributor to the team, offensively and defensively, if the A’s make a run this year.

Thursday
Feb172011

NL Central - It Figures Shaun Sticks Me With The Six Team Division

1. Cincinnati Reds - Wanna know what's sad?  I'm not sure I spelled Cincinnati right but I'm too lazy to check. Anyway, I put the Reds here more out of attrition than anything else.  No team in this division convinces me.  But they have Joey Votto.  True, he's only the second best player in the division, but if there's one guy I don't want to face with the game on the line, it's him.  They also have some really nice arms on the staff. Edinson Volquez, Johnny Cueto, fireballer Aroldis Chapman, last year's rookie stud, Mike Leake to just name a few.  And then you have pseudo hippie guitar player Bronson Arroyo, who is perhaps the most unheralded 17 game winner in baseball.  Sure, when he's bad, he's awful and that inflates his ERA and WHIP, but he's good more often than not.  How he does it with an 83 MPH heater is beyond me, but he's done it long enough and consistently enough for it not to be a fluke.  There are some glaring flaws here.  Drew Stubbs has a nice combination of power and speed, but he does not seem to be able to hit for average.  I'm never surprised when Jay Bruce launches a 500 footer into the upper deck, but any time he rips an opposite field RBI single in a late inning, clutch situation, my face looks like that guy in the really creepy Monet painting from a billion years ago.  I'm just not convinced that he's clutch.  Lastly, Paul Janish is a decent shortstop, but he pronounces his last name's J like it's a Y, and that pisses me off much the same way it does when people add silent letters to their names... like spelling Roger with a D.  Like Rodger.  Did you really need that D?  Come on...

2. Milwaukee Brewers - Again, my laziness takes over.  I just changed my mind and picked Milwaukee to win this division, but I don't feel like doing the necessary cutting and pasting to re-order this post.  Zach Grienke moves to the National League, likely knocking half a run from his already sterling ERA, and will form a fearsome one two with Yovanni Gallardo.  Shawn Marcum was an excellent pickup also.  And they still have Randy Wolf, who has always been a little overrated if you ask me, but isn't altogether awful either.  They picked up the awesome (if ancient) Takashi Saito who will provide insurance if John Axford's excellent rookie closing season turns out to be a one and done.  Don't think Saito is awesome?  Look at his career ERA and K to BB ratio.  Unmatched for someone who was considered over the hill for the JAPANESE LEAGUE!!!  Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Casey McGeeheeheehee or however you spell it, and Cory Hart provide a nice offensive punch, that will be even nicer if Rickie Weeks can improve his on base percentage.  The achilles heel is huge though.  Shortstop and catcher are huge question marks, unless you consider 40 year old Craig Counsell, perennial suck monster Yunieski Betancourt, George Kottaras and Wil Nieves answers.  If not a division title, a wild card berth is a real possibility.

3. St. Louis Cardinals - The Albert Pujols deadline for a contract extension passed without, well, an extension.  Rumor has it he wants 300 million, and while nobody deserves that kind of money, the Dominican equivalent to Roy Hobbs comes close.  I've never been a big believer in nonsense like clubhouse chemistry or "intangibles," but it's going to get tiresome for this team to be fielding questions about this situation after every single game.  And by every single game, I mean twice on Sunday's too.  That sad, the offense should be okay with Matt Holliday, last season's revelation John Jay, and the improving Colby Rasmus.  Lance Berkman was a sneaky good acquisition also.  On the rotation, Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia and Jake Westbrook form a solid quarted, which immediately becomes worse when you look at Kyle Lohse in the fifth spot, but Kyle McClellan might take over that job before long.  The thing that would scare me if I was a Cards fan is the 235 innings Chris Carpenter logged last season.  He's always been very very good, but never has proven himself as a model of durability.  Like Milwaukee, they could win this division, or they could fall apart with all the Pujols scrutiny wearing on them and the fact that Ryan Franklin still figures to close.  I wonder if they have Troy Percival's number on file.  Or Lee Smith.  Or Bruce Sutter.

4. Chicago Cubs - The only reason I don't have them ranked lower is the fact that the Pirates and Astros also play in this division.  They did make a nice move by adding post-season proven Matt Garza to a rotation that was relying too heavily on Ryan Dempster and headcase, Carlos Zambrano.  But it's just not enough.  It's nice to have a thoroughbred like Carlos Marmol at the back end of the pen, but I just don't see them getting enough games to the ninth inning with a lead to really maximize the weapon he is. Kerry Wood remains an x-factor, if healthy, but how often does that happen? On to the offense.  This is going to be short. Aramiz Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano, Geovany Soto, and Marlon Byrd are nice pieces to a good team, but would be much better if a superstar (think the aforementioned Votto or someone like that) was sandwiched in between them.  The addition of slugging first baseman Carlos Pena replaces the departed Derek Lee's pop and outstanding defense at first base, but he'll need to bump his average way above the Mendoza line to have the impact this team needs him to have to be a competitor.  Not to look too far ahead, but do you think Albert Pujols would stab St. Louis in the heart and sign with the hated Cubbies in 2012?  I just smiled while typing that.  Does that make me a bad person?

5. Pittsburgh Pirates - How long can a team be bad?  Check that, how long can a team be awful?  There are players here with some great potential.  Andrew McCutcheon, Pedro Alvarez and Jose Tabata are a future trio who are going to do some damage.  But offseason acquisitions Lyle Overbay and Matt Diaz are better suited to platoons, and are likely going to play way more than that.  Garrett Jones has nice power... for a guy who is third or fourth on his team in long balls, but he led this squad with 21 last year.  That's not enough.  Speaking of not enough, Paul Maholm led the team in wins last season.  With nine.  Yup.  Nine.  And Ross Ohlendorf just WON his arbitration case with the Pirates after going a sparkling 1-11.  One. Freaking. Win.  Yeah, Ohlendorf is better than his numbers would indicate, but he's not part of any rotation that is going to compete in September.  Ever.  And neither are Kevin Correia, James McDonald, and Jeff Karstens, and a healthy and sane Scott Olsen is pushing it.  I don't think they'll lose 100, mainly because God is benevolent and can't continue in good conscience to punish the Pirates faithful so harshly.  On the bright side, they don't have anyone on their team who (allegedly) assaults women in bathrooms like the local football squad.

6. Houston Astros - They may not finish last.  But they should.  You don't trade your best pitcher, your best hitter, not get any real top level talent in return (I don't consider J.A. Happ top level, mainly because he should ditch the initials and just go with Jim, or whatever his first name is. My philosophy is beer over research) and expect to get any better.  True, Hunter Pence put up bigger numbers than Berkman did last year, and he's a very nice player.  Chris Johnson is an intriguing and powerful prospect at the hot corner, but what message are you sending your fans when your big offseason offensive pickups are Bill Hall and Clint Barmes?  Even though the left field porch is about arms reach from home plate, no way Barmes duplicates the deceptive power he showed in Colorado.  And no way Bill Hall becomes anything other than the shining example of mediocrity he has been his whole career, save for one monster, 35 dinger year. I'm just going to say a couple things about the pitching.  One, it's terrible.  Wandy Rodriguez would be a nice guy to fill out a rotation with, but they'll need him to lead it.  Not good.  Brandon Lyon is a nice guy to have around if you need a couple outs in the 7th inning, but they need him to close.  He's done that before and failed miserably at it.  If I'm forgetting to mention someone, I don't care.  They can't possibly make a difference for this suffering franchise.

Offensive Player of the Year Other than Votto or Pujols - Had to throw that disclaimer in there.  I might be selling out by picking Prince Fielder here, but I have a theory.  There are perpetual trade rumors following him, and I don't know why.  The Brewers would demand a king's ransom for him in return, and given the fact that aside from his power, his numbers are only a little better than pedestrian, and nobody will pay that. The only thing I can think of is that he might want out of Milwaukee, realize that in order for a likeable destination to pay what it would take to get him, he'd need to have a monster of a year.  I think he'll end up dropping 20 pounds and getting serious this year.  If he does, look out.

Pitcher of the Year - Plenty to choose from here and I'm going to go with the obvious choice in... well, is it obvious?  Ok fine, Zack Greinke.  His struggles with anxiety are well documented but he can thrive in the relative anonymity of Milwaukee, and his devastating arsenal of pitches is matched by precious few. If Milwaukee scores some runs, and they figure to, he could win a boatload of games.  Very few pitchers pitch better with a lead than Greinke.  You wouldn't know this unless you really paid attention because Kansas City rarely led anyone, but it's eerie.  His command goes from excellent to impeccable. His movement goes from baffling to just plain evil.  Tune in to a game this year when he's on the mound, hope the Brewers get the lead, and watch.  Tell me I'm wrong.  You won't be able to.

Rookies of the Year - Pedro Alvarez and Jordan Lyles.  Alvarez has the starting gig at third base in Pittsburgh, and since they figure to suck, they will stick with him through any struggles.  He has mythic power and can hit to all fields.  True, I did kind of pick him because I don't see any John Jay or Chris Johnson type guys in the rookie class for the NL Central this year, but if someone is going to blow up, it could be Alvarez.  Lyles is barely out of his teens, and his selection here is predicated on him making the big league club at some point, but the Astros have invited him to major league camp as a non-roster invitee, and I don't think they would have done that if they weren't going to give him a shot at winning a rotation spot.  The Dodgers did it with Clayton Kershaw and that worked out okay, so why couldn't it with Lyles.  I've seen a couple youtube videos of him and he can get big league hitters out now.  If he can do it for a full season without fading is a question mark right now, and the 'Stros would likely limit his innings, but he's a future all star.

Surprise Player of the Year - Johnny Gomes.  Why?  This guy seems to have to win a spot in camp every year, despite always having shown good power, first in Tampa and now in Cincy.  There are certain guys who if you give them 400 plate appearances, are virtual locks to hit 20 home runs.  He's not much different than guys like Russ Branyan, Marcus Thames, and isn't much worse than Minnesota's Michael Cuddyer if you ignore batting average.  Gomes can hit home runs in bunches, rakes lefties, and if he gets consistent playing time, could really have a big year.  You'll have to live with some strikeouts and an inability to lay off fastballs above the letters, but the upside is worth the risk. 

Random, Non-Baseball Related Blurb That I Felt Like Writing - I hate irresponsible journalism.  Calling what Shaun and I do here "journalism" would be a stretch, but whoever the moron is that wrote the piece about Mark Sanchez having sex with a 17 year old is an embarrasment to anyone who writes, for a living or otherwise.  In New York, 17 is above the age of consent.  The only reason anyone would write that would be to start a furor about Sanchez possibly going to jail. I ask, why?  Why be a douche like that?  While it might make you raise an eyebrow, it's not illegal.  Not in NY anyway.  Age, in my opinion, is a lousy way to determine ability to consent, but I guess you have to do it somewhere.  I know 40 year olds with the maturity of a toddler who should never be allowed to do anything where procreation is a possibility, but they can.  In ten years, Sanchez will be about 33 and the woman he allegedly had relations with will be 27, and nobody would bat an eyelash.  Don't get me wrong, kiddy diddling is one of the most despicable things anyone can do.  In my opinion, that's exactly what the guy who wrote the article about Sanchez was trying to get people to think of Mark Sanchez.  Anyway, I should come up with an original sign off to my articles.  How about, good night, and good luck.  Okay, that's totally unorignal.  I'm open to ideas.