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2014 MLB Team Previews

The 2014 MLB season is almost here! Wild on Sports MLB Analyst Aaron Dorman brings you an in depth look at each of the 30 teams, prospects and key questions as we head towards opening day.

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Saturday, March 8, 2014

MLB 2014 Team Preview: Houston Astros

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MLB 2014 Team Preview: Houston Astros
By Wild on Sports MLB Analyst Aaron Dorman


2013 Overview:
The Astros looked historically bad in the first-half, but some timely rookie replacements in the rotation staunch the bleeding enough so that they “only” lose 111 games. So not only will they get a third consecutive no. 1 draft pick, but some suddenly a handful of current Astros who look like they could be part of a future contender.

Winter Grade: C 
Coming: Scott Feldman, Dexter Fowler
Going: Jordan Lyles, Erik Bedard
The Astros are a large media market and they have money to spend, but there’s no point in just throwing away money on veterans and it’s hard to attract top free agents to sign with a team that still has an uncertain timeline for contending. Scott Feldman is a pretty unsexy name to sign but he’s durable and Houston needs reliable innings eaters to offset the growing pains of their mostly green rotation. Acquiring Fowler was a comparably slick move, and even if he’s just a .241/.333/.361 hitter going forward (his career numbers away from Coors Field), he’ll still provide some defense and above-average speed. Nobody they gave up was worth much, anyway.
 
Wild Card(s):
He didn’t really show it last year, but shortstop Jonathan Villar has the potential for double-digit home run power, which when combined with his excellent speed could make him an above-average player or better. Similarly, Robbie Grossman hit .322 in the second half and he could be an OBP machine, something Houston sorely needs. Among pitchers, righty Brad Peacock could surprise; he couldn’t throw strikes in the early going but bounced back in the second half, going 4-3 with a 3.62 ERA over the final two months of the season. He could be at least as useful as the recently traded Bud Norris.
 
Key Contract Years:
On this team, there are no ‘true’ veterans (other than Feldman), so the question is not who is set to become a free agent, but rather who is set to be traded in July for more prospects? I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Astros shop catcher Jason Castro, or even Jose Altuve, currently the only Astro inked to a long-term contract.

Rookies:
Plenty of ‘em. And some good ones too. Outfielder George Springer hit .311 with 37 HR and 45 SB between AA-AAA; he’s an immediate 20/20 threat in the majors and could offset high strikeout totals with solid plate discipline and strong defense, along the lines of Mike Cameron (although that’s probably a best-case scenario). First baseman Jonathan Singleton is knocking on the door; he was almost on the opening day roster LAST year until he was suspended for marijuana use. He never got going in AAA so 2013 was just a lost year all around, but hopefully he can move on. The next round of pitching reinforcements may include strike throwers Jake Buchanan and Asher Wojciechowski, the latter whom has a great fastball and could be a mid-rotation starter or a bullpen ace.

Key Questions:
Who gets traded?
Does anybody get signed long-term?
Which young pitchers are for real?
Is there anyone in the lineup capable of displaying two offensive skills at once?
Can this team break the 60-win barrier and ‘avoid’ a fourth consecutive no. 1 pick?
Is that something they even want to do?

Farm System Overview: BLUE (elite)
Jeff Luhnow and his minor league development team really know their stuff. In addition to several successful years of hitting on high draft picks (Springer, Carlos Correa, etc), the Astros have done a good job acquiring interesting prospects in trades, and selling high on major league talent like Jed Lowrie and Jose Veras. They have impact talent just about everywhere (although their best lefties are in the lower levels), but in particular they boast formidable depth with potential right-handed starters and players up the middle (Correa, walk machine Nolan Fontana, 2b/OF speedster Delino Deshields, and more). Have extra prospects at one position will allow Houston to extract more in a trade if they choose to deal a young, cost-controllable asset like Castro or Altuve.

2014 Prognosis: Rebuilding
They’re going to be bad again. There are no aces among the current crop of young Astros starters, and probably a handful of duds (check out Cosart’s BB and K rates last year, he won’t have any trouble doubling that 1.95 ERA). Likely progress from Springer or Jon Villar will be mitigated by Chris Carter hitting .150 or Jason Castro getting traded. But by the end of the year, half the lineup could be playable, and the other half is most definitely within 1.5 years of the big leagues, which is a good thing. These Astros are watchable, and that’s more than you could say for them over the past 4-5 years.

MLB 2014 Team Preview: Seattle Mariners

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MLB 2014 Team Preview: Seattle Mariners
By Wild on Sports MLB Analyst Aaron Dorman

2013 Overview:
Blah. The offense gets some veteran reinforcing and Justin Smoak becomes a league average hitter for the first time in his career, but that’s not enough to offset the weak fastballs of Aaron Harang and Joe Saunders, or the mediocre bullpen, or Seattle’s inexplicable failure to develop nearly any of their young hitting prospects. Maybe they need a coaching overhaul?
 
Winter Grade: C+
Coming: Robinson Cano (!), Corey Hart, Logan Morrison, Fernando Rodney
Going: Joe Saunders, Raul Ibanez, Kendrys Morales (probably)
The Mariners landed the best (and most expensive) free agent on the market, and they might have their first real position player star since vintage Ichiro, but that was the entirety of their plan, and it doesn’t go far enough. Corey Hart and Logan Morrison merely offset the guys they lost, although at least these hitters are more likely to be productive going forward, so it was a transition they had to make. But the Cano signing left them without the money to make more upgrades where they were needed, such as adding another reliable starter or an outfielder who can hit better than .240. This grade becomes a “B minus” if shortstop Nick Franklin is traded for someone interesting.
 
Wild Card(s):
Mike Zunino showed tremendous power in the minors, and although he was probably rushed to Seattle, there’s a solid chance he hits well enough to avoid becoming another one-dimensional empty power catcher, a la Miguel Olivo. He’ll need to make major adjustment to make enough contact to avoid this fate, but he has the pedigree. Speaking of offense-first catchers, perhaps there is still hope for Jesus Montero? He’s still just 24 years old and sometimes talent, particularly when it is accompanied by an immature attitude, takes time to blossom.
 
Key Contract Years:
Nobody, and Hishashi Iwakuma’s $7 million option looks like a lock even if he misses April due to a broken finger.
 
Rookies:
Tijuan Walker was set to be the favorite for Rookie of the Year, until he came down with shoulder issues last month, calling his 2014 into question. Until that situation is clarified, Walker’s season and potential success is put on hold. If/when he is cleared to pitch, he should find Seattle’s extreme pitching environment will allow him to thrive immediately. The immediate replacement for Walker may be rookie lefthander James Paxton, who was mediocre in AAA but misses bats and throws hard. Outfielder Abe Almonte is very fast and if his 2013 power breakout is for real (16 HR across three levels), he could play every day for Seattle this year.

Key Questions:
How will Robinson Cano adjust to his new, diminished hitting environment? Will he get frustrated if some Yankee stadium home runs become Safeco fly outs? Who replaces Tijuan Walker if he misses time? Do spring invitees Scott Baker or Randy Wolf have anything left? Can Brandon Maurer bounce back from his miserable rookie season? Will any of Seattle’s young hitters break through and become league average contributors? Or does Kyle Seager remain the lone home-grown hitter on the team? Will Corey Hart’s knees allow him to play in the outfield, and if not, where does that leave Justin Smoak?

Farm System Overview: YELLOW (average)
Seattle lacks impact bats on the farm, although third baseman DJ Peterson, their first-round pick in the draft, had a nice debut for them last year. They have plenty of pitching, particularly at the lower levels, and overall they’ve had success finding arms on the international market, although a true Latin hitting star eludes them in the majors and minors. One of the reasons Seattle can’t develop hitters may be because of their extreme hitting environments; AAA-Tacoma and high-A-High Desert skew offensive lines and mask hitter’s overall weaknesses.

2014 Prognosis: Unlikely Contenders
The injuries to Hisashi Iwakuma and Walker raises a big red flag; as we found out with Toronto last year, star-laden teams with poor roster depth suffer when any of their top players miss a significant amount of time. Without adequate replacements, Seattle seems doomed to repeat last year’s story; improvements on offense are undermined by an inability to fill the back of the rotation, or the bullpen, with even replacement-level talent. Still, this is a fairly young team, with enough upside to imagine that Seattle might finally put their ballpark hitting woes behind them. But can they jump over Oakland and/or Texas in the process?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

NHL Power Rankings - March 4th

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NHL Power Rankings
March 4, 2013

Our first post-Olympics edition of NHL Power Rankings. Anaheim picks up right where they left off pre-break. They are damn near unbeatable at home. The offensive duo of Getzlaf and Perry was one of the strongest for team Canada and have looked to keep that momentum going in their first games back. At #2 this week are the Chicago Blackhawks. Patrick Kane had a fairly quiet Olympics for team USA. The Blackhawks will need him to regain his scoring touch over the final could of months as they look to repeat. At #3 are the St. Louis Blues. The Blues broke the seal on the Trade Deadline grabbing Ryan Miller and Steve Ott from Buffalo. Short term it looks like a great deal for the Blues. Miller has proven himself as a big game goalie over the years. They will look for that to continue as they make a deep playoff run this season. Next on the list are the Colorado Avalanche. The Aves surprised everyone with their hot start to the season. Now 2/3 in, they won't be sneaking up on anyone anymore. It remains to be seen if they can keep up their pace down the stretch. The San Jose Sharks come in at #5. It will be interesting to see how Joe Thornton reacts to his Olympic snub. It would not be surprising to see him have a huge second half.

Where does your team rank this week?


Rank

1 Anaheim Ducks
2 Chicago Blackhawks
3 St. Louis Blues
4 Colorado Avalanche
5 San Jose Sharks
6 Pittsburgh Penguins
7 Boston Bruins
8 Minnesota Wild
9 Los Angeles Kings
10 Montreal Canadiens
11 New York Rangers
12 Philadelphia Flyers
13 Tampa Bay Lightning
14 Detroit Red Wings
15 Toronto Maple Leafs
16 Winnipeg Jets
17 Dallas Stars
18 Washington Capitals
19 Columbus Blue Jackets
20 Phoenix Coyotes
21 Ottawa Senators
22 Vancouver Canucks
23 Nashville Predators
24 New Jersey Devils
25 Carolina Hurricanes
26 Calgary Flames
27 Buffalo Sabres
28 Edmonton Oilers
29 Florida Panthers
30 New York Islanders

MLB 2014 Team Preview: Anaheim Angels

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MLB 2014 Team Preview: Anaheim Angels
By Wild on Sports MLB Analyst Aaron Dorman

2013 Overview:
So many famous names don’t even add up to a .500 finish. Josh Hamilton bombs in his Angels debut and Albert Pujols is even worse, missing the final two months of the year and slugging below .440. Together they manage to hit .253 with 38 Home Runs…combined. That’s not what Anaheim was expecting for $50 million or so between them. Meanwhile, Mike Trout dominates in all facets of the game, alone among Angels as a young superstar. Anaheim pays for its lazy winter filling up the back of the rotation with garbage like Joe Blanton and a bad-shoulder Tommy Hanson.

Winter Grade:
Coming: Tyler Skaggs, Hector Santiago, David Freese, Raul Ibanez
Going: Mark Trumbo, Peter Bourjos, Jason Vargas, Tommy Hanson

Anaheim doesn’t have much talent to trade, but Arizona’s inexplicable desire for empty power (that they don’t even need) helps the Angels compensate for last’s years mistakes, allowing them to fill the back of the rotation with a pair of promising lefties. Skaggs in particular could break out and make this trade even more lopsided; he was an original Anaheim draftee as well, leaving in the trade brought in Dan Haren. Peter Bourjos could blossom as a full-time center fielder with St. Louis, but the Angels never really figured out what to do with him after Mike Trout took over. David Freese is a decent gamble to be at least a league-average third basemen for the next few years.

Wild Card(s):
Skaggs was the twelfth best prospect in baseball a year ago, and while he didn’t have a good season last year, nothing has changed much other than Arizona’s patience with his command. His line in 13 big league starts isn’t pretty to date, but he’s racked up strikeouts (57 in 68 IP) and may have gotten unlucky with balls going over the fence. Skaggs may be a few mechanical adjustments from being at least a no. 2 starter, not dissimilar from teammate CJ Wilson.

Key Contract Years:
Nobody, unless Joe Blanton has an unlikely bounceback year.

Rookies:
The Angels are in big trouble if they need to look to their barren farm for any help this year. Perhaps second baseman Taylor Lindsay can find some extra power and force his way into the lineup midseason. But the only safe bets to debut this year are marginal relief arms like RJ Alvarez (rhp) and Nick Maronde (lhp).

Key Questions:
What kind of player is Albert Pujols going forward?
Can he at least repeat 2012 a few more times before the bitter end?
Similarly, will Josh Hamilton settle in this year and be a 30-HR threat again?
Who gets the bulk of playing time in left field, JB Shuck or Kole Calhoun?
How much does Raul Ibanez have left?
Will Jered Weaver’s steadily decline K-rates finally catch up to him this year?

Farm System Overview: BLACK (terrible) 
Yuck! This organization is beyond barren; their top prospect going into the year, Kaleb Cowart, hit .221/.279/.301 with 6 HR in AA-ball, they have no projectable starting pitchers, and their most recent first-round pick, first basemen CJ Cron, was taken for his bat and hit just 14 HR all season. A handful of infielders look capable of playing everyday, although not at a star caliber level. The best of the rancid lot is 22-year-old second baseman Taylor Lindsey, who hit .274 with 17 HR in AA last year and will be ready soon to contribute in some kind of super-utility role.

2014 Prognosis: Likely Contenders
Even with a year of miserable results, it’s still too early to bet against the trio of Hamilton, Pujols and Trout in that lineup. This team is an extreme stars-and-scrubs composition but if either one of their aging veteran superstars bounce back, they’ll contend. In Skaggs, outfielder Kole Calhoun, and maybe even Grant Green, there is just enough upside to anticipate a breakout or two. They may be dead in the water come 2016, but for now, this team has made a solid bid to win-now.

MLB 2014 Team Preview: Texas Rangers

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MLB 2014 Team Preview: Texas Rangers
By Wild on Sports Analyst Aaron Dorman

2013 Overview:
It happens. Sometimes you get unlucky and miss the playoffs. This will be remember in a down year in the current Rangers Dynasty, and even then, they won 91 games and forced a 163rd game faceoff with Tampa Bay for the second wild card spot. Saying goodbye to Josh Hamilton was the right move but they still missed his presence in the lineup. Rookies were given prominent roles in both the rotation and the lineup, to various effect, although they’ll be better for it going forward.

Winter Grade: A-
Coming: Prince Fielder, Sin-Soo Choo, JP Arencibia, Michael Choice (minors), Tommy Hanson
Going: Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz, Joe Nathan, AJ Pierzynski, David Murphy, Matt Garza, Lance Berkman

It’s the end of an era in Arlington, sort of. Elvis Andrus is the only position player left in the lineup from the 2010 pennant winners, when they started their current run of success. But after shedding star power the past few years, this winter Texas added some big bats that makes them look a lot like the slugging Rangers of old. Ian Kinsler turned out to be holding the short straw in the crowded infield, but that trade made sense for both teams, and Jurickson Profar is ready to thrive in a regular starting role. Less certain is their pitching, especially now that Derek Holland is due to miss part of the year. Who will eat innings behind Yu Darvish? Martin Perez? The answer is probably not Tommy Hanson and his questionable elbow. Texas has had to make a significant addition to their rotation midseason in three of the past four years, and they might have to dip into their prospect pool again this year.
 
Wild Card(s):
Two pitchers who Texas sorely missed last year are set to make a comeback this spring: Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz. The former is hoping his impeccable control will make up for diminishing velocity in the rotation, while the latter is set to return to the closer’s role after Tommy John rehab knocked him out of baseball for almost two years.
 
Key Contract Years:
Maybe Colby Lewis or Joakim Soria if either one returns to form. Alex Rios has a very reasonable option for 2015…but he’s had such an up-and-down career that you can’t rule out a complete meltdown.

Rookies:
Michael Choice ought to find his way into the lineup at some point, and he’s a great fit for the Ballpark in Arlington. Choice has already had a successful season in AAA so he’s ready to contribute at the big-league level now. He will strike out a lot but the hitter’s environment should mask other deficiencies. The only question is how he squeezes into the picture with Rios, Choo and Leonys Martin already in the outfield. Perhaps one of those will move into the DH role? Mitch Moreland is not much of an obstacle.

Key Questions: 
Do they have any healthy pitchers beyond Martin Perez?
Suddenly Darvish is suffering from some back problems, and if he misses any time this season, Texas is really in trouble.
Can Colby Lewis return to form?
Will Alexi Ogando finally cross the 150-inning mark and become a reliable starter, or will he always have to settle for being a brittle swingman?
Who is the DH?
Does Mitch Moreland have enough pop to handle the role full time?
Can the coaching staff coax a .250 batting average out of JP Arencibia?
 
Farm System Overview: GREEN (above-average) 
The Rangers’ farm system is superficially light on top-tier prospects, as they graduated or traded away a lot of guys last year (Profar, Leonys Martin, CJ Edwards, and more). However, they have a lot of depth and a lot of extremely young Latin players who could break out next year. Second basemen Rougned Odor highlights their impressive record with International signings, and Texas is also deep in athletic outfielders and right-handed power arms. Some of those, however, will probably end up in the bullpen.

2014 Prognosis:
Strong Contenders This team is a powerhouse. The lineup looks like a classic Rangers juggernaut, like what we saw in the late nineties. Rusty Greer would be proud. They just need to find some pitching for the playoffs. Yu Darvish can’t pitch every game.

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