After spending just 129 games in the minor leagues since 2011, the highly touted prospect was called up late last week and will look to make a splash in front of his home crowd for the first time Tuesday night when the Nats host the Arizona Diamondbacks. So how excited will Washington fans be? I’m guessing ecstatic, especially after how thrilled they were when starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg made his debut with the club in 2010.
But will all the hype be warranted? Strasburg certainly proved that he could live up to very high expectations. Now the ball is in Harper’s court to do the same. Will he take the ball and run with it or be a project in the making?
It’s obvious that the Nationals think he is ready to produce now. And one really can’t argue with Washington after Harper hit .290 with 18 home runs, 61 RBIs and 27 stolen bases in his 129 games in the minor leagues. Not too shabby for a player who put up those numbers as a teenager. (more…)
During the live ball era, the job of pitchers have slowly, but surely changed. No longer is a starter relied on for eight or nine innings a night, and closers do not have to throw three innings. You think they would, given the amount of money closers receive in their contracts.
Now, set-up men and relievers are the bridge from the seventh to the ninth inning, where they hand the ball over to the manager. It’s the dirty work, and too often are these names forgotten, unless you glance over the box score and see the letter ‘H’ next to their names. Here’s a list of the top-5 set-up men in baseball.
The Atlanta Braves’ bullpen is pretty stacked, and most of the attention is given to Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel. In the 2010-11 season, O’Flaherty appeared in 78 games, and surrendered eight earned runs over 73.2 innings pitched. The right-hander sported a 1.09 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP while recording 32 holds on the year. Considering all the other arms on the team, not too shabby. O’Flaherty is one of the more underrated pitchers in baseball, he’s generated grounders 55.1 percent of the time over past three years combined. He’ll be called upon all season long, if he stays healthy.
For part seven of Couch Side’s 12 part series on the best baseball players by position for 2012, I’m going the be showing a lot of love for the National League’s top left fielders. This list was an easy pick before I remembered that Ryan Braun’s suspension had been lifted. So although I don’t agree with his actions, until the man is proven guilty, he’ll lead off Couch Side’s list of the best in L.F.
Like it or not, Ryan Braun was the N.L. MVP last season. And hate it or love it, he will be playing this season despite some faulty handling of his drug test. With that out of the way, let’s focus on how this guy plays. Braun almost won the Triple Crown last season, falling just short in each category by the slimmest of margins. By hitting for power and contact last year, Braun proved that he may just be the best hitter in baseball. And it’s hard not to call a guy who hit 33 bombs, 111 RBIs and carried a .332 batting average just that. You never saw guys like Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire hit for average. That’s why it’s hard for me not to love Ryan Braun just a little. He may have cheated, but at least he didn’t gun for the single season home run record. Instead, he was Mr. Baseball last season. And if he is completely innocent, I feel like he could be one of the best of all time. After all, the guy is an extremely talented outfielder, feared hitter and a threat on the base paths with 33 swipes last season.
If Hamilton can avoid injury and any sort of bad press by “relapsing,” he may just have a breakout season this year. It’s a stretch to say a former MVP is still capable of a breakout season, but Hamilton is due after missing solid stretches of time during the past two summers. We all know he is capable of 30 or even 40 home runs and is a lock to secure 100 RBIs. With a full season, he may just throw his name back into the MVP hat and Hamilton will certainly be looking to improve his numbers, considering this is the final year of his contract.
In part six of Couchside’s spring training previews, we take a look at baseball’s men at the hot corner. Whereas you didn’t find Miguel Cabrera in my top five first basemen, you’ll find him here, but you won’t don’t look for Jose Bautista’s name since he’s expected to play the outfield this season now that phenom Brett Lawrie is here to stay in Toronto.
Longoria suffered an oblique injury that cost him all but the first two games in the month of April last season and never really got going. As a result, he hit a career-worst .244. However, despite playing in just 133 games, he did manage to crank out 31 homers, just two shy of his career-high, and walked a career-high 80 times. Not to mention that he had his best month of the season when it counted the most in September as the Rays made their push to overtake the Red Sox for the AL Wild Card, posting a .289 average with seven dingers and 22 ribbies while reaching base at a .454 clip. The two-time Gold Glove winner is one of the cornerstones for a Rays team that is a legitimate contender for the AL pennant this year and is poised for a huge season. Is it possible for a guy to have a breakthrough season if he’s already a three-time All-Star?
The only reason Miggy isn’t first on this list is the questions surrounding whether he can be adequate defensively at third base. The last two seasons that he played third base full-time (2006, 2007) he had a combined 40 errors, so the questions don’t come without some basis. But the guy has reportedly lost a ton of weight to prepare for his move across the diamond, and there’s no denying the bat that he carries to the plate. On this side of Albert Pujols, there may not be a more pure hitter than Cabrera. He is the reigning AL batting champ after a career-best .344 last season and has hit better than .292 in each of his eight full seasons in the big leagues. In addition, he’s also failed to hit 30 or more homers just once and has driven in at least 100 runs in each of those eight seasons while totaling no less than 177 hits. The guy will never be mistaken for a defensive wizard or a speed demon, but he’s as consistent as they come in the batter’s box, and one can only think of the offensive numbers he’ll put up this season regardless whether he hits in front or behind Prince Fielder. Can you say a second coming of the Bash Brothers?
BY Couchsideshow.com staff
In this week’s episode, the gang recaps the NFL Wildcard round playoff game and looks ahead to the divisional games. The hosts also discuss the BCS national championship. Also, in quick snippets, Craig and Wade chat about Hue Jackson, Paul Westphal, the Washington Wizzards, Prince Fielder and Peyton Manning. Click below to listen to the Couch Side Podcast
BY WADE MCMILLIN, Couchsideshow.com editor
Only one big name still stands after players like Albert Pujols, Jose Reyes and C.J. Wilson were plucked off the Major League Baseball free agent market for big bucks.
And that big name comes with perhaps the biggest body and burliest beards in baseball. Yes, for some reason, Prince Fielder hasn’t found a team yet — despite easily being the second-best hitter on the market this winter. There’s been rumors about the Chicago Cubs, Seattle Mariners and even the Texas Rangers trying to woo the 275-pound first baseman. But this week the Washington Nationals, an unusual suitor, came out as the top team in pursuit of Fielder.
So why did it take so long for one squad to step up as frontrunners for a 30-year-old who hit .299 with 38 home runs and 120 RBIs last season? Probably because Fielder’s agent is the dubious Scott Boras. It also likely had something to do with the amount of zeros in Pujols’ ground-breaking contract. And if you’re a team dealing with those two factors, deals aren’t going to happen fast.
Boras has made things tough by changing his mind at least a handful of times, trying to get what’s best for Fielder. At first, the pair thought it would be an Pujols-like deal. Interested teams didn’t. Then, the duo wanted a deal slightly less than Pujols’ hefty $240 million, 10-year contract — so somewhere in the $200 million range. Clubs also didn’t see eye-to-eye on that idea. So Boras thought Fielder could land a shorter contract, but still make the big bucks. That’s about where prospective negotiations are at now, but the asking price for Prince may still be too high, for some teams.
Enter the Washington Nationals.
BY WADE MCMILLIN, Couchsideshow.com editor
It seems like the Washington Nationals of all teams could have the best rotation in the National League East next year.
After weeks of rumors about several teams trying to acquire Oakland Athletics starter Gio Gonazles, it was the Nats who swung in and got the deal done. Via Twitter, ESPN.com’s Keith Law reported the Athletics will ship Gonzales to our nation’s capital for prospects A.J. Cole, Derek Norris, Brad Peacock and Tom Milone. The acquisition of Gonzales gives the Nationals another strong arm to go with a projected rotation that also includes Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, John Lannan and Chien-Ming Wang.
I predict Gonzales will probably wind up as the club’s No. 3 starter behind Strasburg and Zimmerman, but having him in the middle of the rotation is a lot more than most teams have. And if Gonzales pitches like he did in 2010, the Nats might end up as the winners of this deal after dealing four highly-touted prospects. Last season, he started out great, but blundered in the second half after making his first AL all-star team in just his second year in the pros. That might make the trade a bit scary for Washington if Gonzales continues down the path of mediocrity. However, if Gonzales can eat up 200-plus innings like he has done for the past two seasons and stay consistent with his 3.23 ERA during that same span, it will be the Nationals who reap the benefits.