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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Mid-Season Update, Part II

"Movin' On Up"

Albuquerque Albatross
Although tied for the lead atop the AL West at 26-25, Albuquerque (could that be any harder to spell?) is on their way back to the ALCS. But with 323 runs through 51 games, good for 3rd in all of baseball, they are kicking themselves for missed opportunities that could have them sitting up closer to 30-21. To date they are 3-8 in 1-run games and 1-3 in games that weren't decided after 9 innings. Slugger and clubhouse leader, Jack Hines, knows they need to be more opportunistic. "It seems like when we put up 5, they put up 6. When we plate 8, they plate 9. When we pound out 13, the other team seems to find a way to get 14. It's just frustrating, what can I say. Just frustrating." GM cincysteve couldn't be contacted for comments. Some say he was away checking on something in another world. Ha, other worlds. Like those exist!

Anyway, look for the Albatross to begin pulling away. The kind of production they're putting up doesn't usually end in losses, and I don't expect them to continue to.

Durham Outliers
Yes, Durham is 31-20. Yes, they would make the playoffs if the season were to end today. So how far can they possibly climb if they're currently 11 games over .500? Let me count the ways:

1) Durham is 1st in the AL in runs allowed (by 33 runs, no less).

2) They are 5th in the AL in runs scored.

3) 3-6 in one run games...gotta win the close ones

4) They have 6 guys with 9 or more HRs. At this pace, they'll have 6 players with over 28 HRs on the season. Absolutely unheard of!

5) They are getting on base as a team at a rate of .357.

Top to bottom, they have few holes. Rookie Adrian Castillo spoke to reporters at his locker earlier today. "We can't be worried about what other teams are doing. All we can do is go out there and try our best to put the best product possible on the field. With our talent, that's going to translate into wins, and , mark my words, a championship."

Is Castillo a prophet or a Pollyanna? Only time will tell, but we at NTC Weekly think they've got room to grow.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Mid-Season Update

As we approach the end of the first trimester on this second season in NTC, some teams have positioned themselves to make a run at a championship, while others have struggled out of the gate and have some ground to make up. With fans clamoring to know what the experts think about their team, it's time to take a look at who we think is about to fall in the standings, and who is primed to make a run to start climbing up the ladder.

"Now I'm Free....Free Fallin'"

Texas Long Riders
On pace to win 106 games, Texas is second in the AL with 32 wins. Looking to improve upon an 85 win season last year, Texas fans started the season with high hopes. Slugger Thomas Sosa was on ESPN radio with Mike and Mike this morning..."We just clickin' on all cylinders right now, you know." When asked about the questionable pitching, Sosa said, "It's all about wins, and right now we're getting them. At's all I'm sayin'. Wins. W's." But we at NTC Weekly aren't sure how long those W's are going to keep up at this pace. Texas pitchers are giving up nearly 5.5 runs per game, and they are an astounding 11-1 in 1-run games. Look for Texas to come back to pack in the coming weeks.

Wichita Learjets
Most of the buzz in and around Wichita this year has been about Wilkin Valdez, but they are quietly putting together a season that fans should also be excited about. Wichita has ridden their pitching to 31 wins in 49 tries, and look to take home a second division title in the improving NL South. And while we don't think Wichita is set up for a big fall, don't expect them to reach the 103 wins they're on pace to reach. "We've got to pick up our end of the load," Yamil Esposito stated while walking to his car after the game last night. "Our pitching is getting it done, but our hitting has just been average. And average doesn't win championships. For me personally, I'm not happy with (my .270 average). That should be up above .300. But we'll keep coming to the ballpark, putting in our work, and know that the results will follow. It's all we can do." Expect Wichita to fall back a bit, but they should still be able to hold on to the NL South division title.

Coming up next...

"Movin' On Up" - an examination of a couple teams looking to get over their hard luck and move up the standings.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Season 1 Draft Tracker

This week we're going to take a look at the top 10 picks of the Season 1 draft. We'll see where they are, how they're doing, and when I expect them to start contributing at the level that matters.

Season 1 - Pick 10 - Anaheim Tiger Blood
Lawrence Darwin
Tiger Blood
Age: 19B/T: R/R
Born: Hayden, CO
Position(s): P (SP2)
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After dominating for Lowell Whiteman HS out of Steamboat Springs, CO, Lawrence Darwin and his golden arm became the 10th pick of the Season 1 draft. His agent, Louis Watson, after the draft: "We're thrilled that Anaheim saw the talent that Lawrence brings to the table, and they'll reap the benefits for the next 2 decades." Darwin showed his dominance over high schoolers was no fluke, as he posted 59 Ks in 61 2/3 innings, walking only 16 and giving up just 1 long ball. He by-passed Low A, on his way to High A, and he hasn't missed a beat. Hitters in High A are slugging .188 against him. Darwin is clearly on a fast track to the Major Leagues, so it's just a matter of how patient Anaheim can be with him.

Projected ML Debut: Season 5

Season 1 - Pick 9 - Wichita Learjets
Cliff Sherman
Age: 23B/T: R/R
Born: Burke, SD
Position(s): SS/3B
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Matt Delcarmen, domestic scout for Wichita, spotted this gem while attending a Rice vs. Stanford game last spring. Sherman stood out among the rest as a 5-tool player who looked Major League ready right in front of Delcarmen's eyes. His range and speed was amazing for a college player, but his arm stood out above all other defensive qualities. Delcarmen in his analysis submitted to management: "His ability to hit both lefties and righties, as well as his speed and base running ability, will complement his 20 HR power." In Sherman's first professional season, he didn't disappoint. He drove in 92 RBI in just 332 ab's, while producing an amazing 1.155 OPS. This production launched him to AAA, where the production is continuing. While he may never win an MVP, Sherman will play a key role in whatever playoff hopes Wichita is fostering for upcoming seasons.

Projected ML Debut: Season 3

Season 1 - Pick 8 - Pawtucket Fire Cats
William Chong
Fire Cats
Age: 19B/T: R/R
Born: Warren, MI
Position(s): P (SP2)
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Pawtucket made 18 year old William Chong from Warren, MI, the 8th pick in the Season 1 draft. Represented by his mother, Mrs. Chong (who chose not to reveal her first name for reasons unknown at this time) was able to negotiate a $3.4MM signing bonus despite William's injury history. At the age of 14, he had his first shoulder surgery, followed by a mild achilles strain. During his sophomore season, he had another surgery on his shoulder, this time to clean up scar tissue left from the first procedure. His senior season was cut short by elbow inflammation, which made his status unknown going into the draft. He was prepared to enroll in Stanford University in the fall, but the Fire Cats changed those plans. Scout Donn Henley (who is routinely mocked for the second 'n' in his first name) looked past the injuries and saw the talent Chong offers. Though he's struggled a bit with his control early in season 2, he showed what he has to offer last season, striking out 44 in 44 2/3 innings, posting a sub-2.50 ERA. A man among boys at 18 years old, Henley thought Chong could compete at the Major League level. He's got amazing control, 2 solid pitches, and his ability to confuse right-handers is amazing. The sky's the limit for this youngster...if he can stay out of the operating room.

Projected ML Debut: Season 4

Season 1 - Pick 7 - Darby Kinney
Darby Kinney
Age: 19B/T: R/R
Born: Lore City, OH
Position(s): RF
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Darby Kinney, born and raised in Lore City, OH, became the 7th pick in the season 1 draft. Salem was immediately drawn to his ability to hit the longball, but further investigation revealed a great eye for the strike zone, a knack for hitting lefties, and an unusual leadership ability for an 18 year old. Though a bit of a hot-head when provoked, Kinney is able to lead by example, rallying the troops when they start to hang their heads about a bad call or a missed opportunity. Darby struggled, however, to match his power numbers from high school, producing only 5 HR in 295 AB in Low A last season. Though it's not what Salem is expecting out of this kid, he got the call to High A, where his coaches are ironing out the wrinkles in his game, and he is still on a path leading straight to the Major Leagues.

Projected ML Debut: Season 4

Season 1 - Pick 6 - Max Pascual
Max Pascual
Age: 20B/T: R/R
Born: Bellows Falls, VT
Position(s): LF
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After the disappointment of not being selected in the draft straight out of high school, Max Pascual began his search for a college. Finding that he was too late for most of them, he found a back door into Holyoke Community College, known more for its unique name than for its baseball program. Nevertheless, it didn't take Micah Nixon, domestic scout for the Trenton Thunder, to spot Max. Nixon was enamored with this youngsters bat, spraying balls to all fields, many of them being donated to local patrons as souvenirs. Projected to be a LF/1B, Pascual is an all-around hitter with room to improve. After a brief holdout, his time in rookie ball was limited, but was able to display his ability, posting a 1.026 OPS with 19 RBI in just 56 AB. Now tearing it up in AA, look for Pascual to find his way to the Majors in the next couple seasons.

Projected ML Debut: Late Season 3

Season 1 - Louisville Legends - Pick 5
Chipper Schneider

SS Chipper Schneider decided to take his talents to South Beach. Word is he's paying a look-alike to attend classes at a community college while he hangs out on the beaches and plays baseball. No word yet on whether or not we'll see him in the Season 2 draft.

Projected ML Debut: ???

Season 1 - Pick 4 - Texas Long Riders
Cliff Cooke
Long Riders
Age: 19B/T: R/R
Born: Hercules, CA
Position(s): P (SP4)
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The Texas Long Riders are hoping Cliff Cooke can live up to the name of his birthplace, Hercules, CA. Cooke cruised through HS mixing up his sinker and his 4 seam fastball, but the Long Riders invested in what they saw as a starter, not a closer. So the pitching coaches have started to work with him on adding a forkball to give hitters a different look. They've also decided to have him change his arm-angle. These two factors, combined with their work to improve his control, have led to less than desirable results in rookie ball and High A. With an ERA near 6.00, Cooke isn't producing the fantasy stats that you'd expect from the 4th overall pick, but the brass of the Texas organization are confident that as he progresses through their system, his stats will begin to match his talent. He struck out 73 in 52 2/3 innings in his first professional season, and will ride that to become a mainstay at the Major League level for the Long Riders.

Projected ML Debut: Season 5

Season 1 - Pick 3 - Detroit Bombers
Brian Blake
Age: 21B/T: R/R
Born: Beverly, KY
Position(s): 2B
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Brian Blake, the top position player selected in the Season 1 draft, is showing why that is the case. At a stocky 5'9", 179 lbs, Blake is destroying minor league pitching. In 285 AB last season, he slugged 16 HR and 35 doubles, with and OPS of 1.191. Oh, and 28 SB to boot! He continues to beat up on Low A pitching, but is waiting anxiously for the call to move up a level. Though he's not hurting for money after his $3.8MM signing bonus, he's getting tired of the bratty 18 year olds in Low A. He's still got a lot to learn, though, so he'll keep plugging away at the fundamentals, listening to his coaches, and improving on his already immense talent. It won't be too long before we see him beating up on Major League pitching.

Projected ML Debut: Season 4

Season 1 - Pick 2 - Kansas City Monarchs
Bill Putnam
Kansas City
Age: 19B/T: L/L
Born: Ullin, IL
Position(s): P (SP3)
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With the second pick in the season 1 draft, the Kansas City Monarchs added Bill Putnam of Anna-Jonesboro HS. This lefty boasts a mid-90s fastball, with an above-average slider, and excellent control for someone his age. With 87 K in 77 1/3 innings last season between Rookie and Low A, he's followed it up with 34 K in 33 2/3 innings this season in Low A. He's a bit frustrated with his defense, as 15 of the 45 runs that he's allowed have been unearned, but he knows that he can only control what he can control, so he will continue to work on his mechanics as he progresses through the Monarch's system. He recently got the call to AA to get him under a better pitching coach, so he's looking forward to see what the future holds.

Projected ML Debut: Season 4

Season 1 - Pick 1 - Las Vegas Outlaws
Manuel Lima
Las Vegas
Age: 21B/T: R/R
Born: Fuquay-Varina, NC
Position(s): P (ClA)
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Manuel Lima, with a $4,000,000 signing bonus, won the amateur draft sweepstakes after being selected 1st overall by the Las Vegas Outlaws. Though Major League ready right now, his ceiling is far too high to rush him too quickly. He is able to neutralize right handed hitters with amazing ease, and has one of the best fastballs in the minors. Though a closer in college, Las Vegas is hoping that he will develop the arm stamina to convert to a starter. Though whenever and however he takes the mound, Lima will show why he was selected at the top of the draft. In his time in the minors, he's been stingy with his hits, allowing 48 in 77 1/3 innings, and he has yet to issue a walk this season. When hitters manage to get a bat on the ball, they aren't doing much with it, evidenced by holding hitters to a .208 batting average. The AL is not looking forward to this flame-thrower reaching the Majors, though it should be sooner rather than later.

Projected ML Debut: Season 4

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Bug

We are 7-8 games into the season, with some teams off to a hot start while others stumble out of the gate. But the bigger blow to some squads (seemingly concentrated in the AL) are the big injuries to key players.

Aaron Boehringer, looking to follow up on an impressive rookie campaign, again fell victim to a finger injury, tearing a collateral ligament on the forefinger of his throwing hand. Last season in AAA he broke the same finger after hot-headed teammate, Tarrik O'Neill, threw the water cooler in frustration of letting a fly ball bounce off his head and go over the wall for a HR, Canseco-style. Boehringer is looking to make a return around the All-Star break, where his beloved Yankees will be waiting for his offensive production to lead them to the top of the AL East.

Phil Uchida, of the mysterious Tiger Blood crew, went down with a nasty case of shoulder inflammation. Although losing 22 games last season (22?!?!?!), Uchida put up respectable peripheral numbers of .252 OAV and 1.25 WHIP. He blames his manager for the injury after going 210 1/3 innings last season, eclipsing his previous high in Japan by more than 50 innings. He hopes to return within a month.

After finishing the season last year with 58 wins, Las Vegas was looking to turn things around. And GM, mikeg740, decided the biggest hole to fill was pitching. To fill this hole he turned to 15 game winner, Quinton Desmond. He threw 4 complete games last year, and was a workhorse, turning in 236 1/3 innings. Slightly alarming were the 254 hits allowed, but he has the talent (ok...the ratings) to back up a healthy investment. And healthy it was...$53.2MM over 4 years. Unfortunately, Las Vegas won't get any return on that investment this year, as Desmond will spend more time in the training room than he will on the field. Desmond went under the knife of Dr. Lauren Venuto, famed Tommy John surgeon, and will spend the next 10-14 months in recovery. See ya next year, Mr. Desmond.

And finally, All-Star and Cy Young Candidate Chone King, takes a trip on the DL train for 3 months with a elbow injury, thought to be tendinitis. He's convinced the doctors to hold off on surgery so he can attempt to make a return around the All-Star break, though only time will tell if this is the right decision. He's in the second year of a huge $75MM contract, so Nashville is counting on his arm to lead them back to the post-season. He finished last year with an impressive 2.62 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, with 173 strikeouts in 230 1/3 innings. An 8 year veteran and consummate professional, King plans to work hard in rehab, but will be with the team at every game, using his leadership to help the team in the only way he can at this point.

Unfortunately, injuries are a part of the game that we'll all have to deal with at some point or another. Remember, your fans have convinced your owner to work a minimum win requirement into your contract, so be careful not to walk too closely to the line, lest an injury to a key player push you over the edge and off the cliff.

Until next time...


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Ernie Whitfield
Age: 32B/T: S/L
Born: Cohasset, MA
Position(s): P (SuA)
View Hardball Dynasty Profile

Ernie Whitfield was brought up in the World Chat as an example of a player who advertises one thing with his ratings, but delivers results that fall short of the promise that was. Whitfield has 84 control, 87/86 splits, 86 velocity, 76 g/f, and 86/85 pitches. That produced 54 2/3 innings, 31 BB, 37 ER, 66 K, with and ERA of 6.09 and a WHIP of 1.63. What gives?

So if you're saddled with the decision to bring him back for season 2, what do you rely more heavily on? Ratings, which say he should be a stud, or Stats, which leave much to be desired? Cast your vote in the poll on the top-right of the blog.