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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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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

NHL Power Rankings - April 1

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NHL Power Rankings
April 1, 2014

For a second straight week the Boston Bruins, the hottest team in the NHL, holds down the top spot. The Bruns have won 15 of their last 16 and posted a 15-1-1 record in the month of March. Just incredible. The defending Eastern Conference Champs are firing on all cylinders and looks poised for another deep playoff run. At #2 this week are the St. Louis Blues. The Blues had won three straight this past week before a tough loss to the Dallas Stars. They still remain one of the top teams in the West and have been extremely dominant since the trade deadline. Jumping up 3 places to #3 this week are the LA Kings. Marian Gaborik looks like the player of old since joining the Kings. He has added another element to an offense that is finally starting to play to the level that the goaltending and defense where giving them all along. The San Jose Skarks drop a pair of spots this week to #2 after consecutive losses. Despite the losses, they remain within striking distance of first place Anaheim. Speaking of the Ducks, they hold pat at #5 this week. A pair of wins has them back on track. They control their own destiny in the Pacific.

Where does your team rank this week?

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

Monday, March 31, 2014

MLB 2014 Team Preview: Colorado Rockies

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MLB 2014 Team Preview: Colorado Rockies
By Wild on Sports MLB Analyst Aaron Dorman

2013 Overview: 
The year before, the pitching collapsed and the formerly competitive Rockies unit looked like they might need a rebuild. In 2013 they still only win 74 games but things are more promising; they might have won 4-5 if not for month-long injuries to their trio of offensive stars: Michael Cuddyer, Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki. The pitching looks much less terrible, as Joulys Chacin and Jorge de la Rosa lead a rebound performance. Still, the team has plenty of holes.

Winter Grade: C+

Coming: Justin Morneau, Brett Anderson
Going: Dexter Fowler, Todd Helton (retired)
The Rockies make three major moves to shore up their roster for the 2014 season: one inspired trade, one lackluster one, and Justin Morneau. In the wake of Michael Cuddyer competing for a batting title, maybe they felt another ex-Twin could have an offensive renaissance in Colorado. It’s not a bad gamble; Justin Morneau was once an MVP and one of the best bats in the league, and even if multiple concussions and age have sapped his former power, he could still have nice rebound with the Rockies, and will definitely be an upgrade over the final season of Todd Helton’s career. Brett Anderson is a nice buy low candidate, although the player they swapped him for, Drew Pomeranz, also has potential. But the Rockies received nothing useful in return for Dexter Fowler, who has settled into a role as a decent on-base threat and solid defender, despite never stealing many bases or adding reliable power. He may not be much more than a fourth outfielder outside of Colorado, but all they got in return for him was a minor league outfielder (Brandon Barnes) and a pitcher with a 5.35 career ERA in 377 innings (Jordan Lyles). If either gets significant playing time for the Rockies, it will be a major surprise. Or a sign that the season has tanked.

Wild Card(s): 

Brett Anderson could be another Jorge de la Rosa for the Rockies, an oft injured left-hander who is nevertheless a premier arm when he pitches. Anderson was bad last year but he has a career 3.81 ERA and he’s only 26. If he can find his control again he can be a mid-rotation starter. And as mentioned above, Justin Morneau could find his rhythm again in Colorado. A reasonably optimistic scenario could see him batting .290 with 20-25 Home Runs, which would make him an above average starting first basemen, even with adjusting for Coors Field.

Key Contract Years: 

Jorge de la Rosa had a big year last year for Colorado (16 wins, 3.40 ERA), but it was just the second year of his ten-year career that he made 30 starts, and even in doing so he didn’t throw many innings (168). Still, succeeding in Coors Field is a mighty thing to have on your resume, and the veteran left-hander will have a decision to make at the end of the year, or if he becomes too pricey, Colorado may make that decision for him. Brett Anderson has a $12 million option that Colorado may pick up if de la Rosa leaves or Anderson pitches up to his 2010 standards (7-6, 2.80 ERA).

Rookies: 
Jonathan Gray and Eddie Butler are two of the best pitching prospects in the minors, and considering how offensive levels have gone down in recent years, both may find instant success even in the tough environment of Coors Field. They are both mid-season call ups at best, as the Rockies rotation is full right now and neither have had much experience above A-ball. Chad Bettis will contribute immediately in the bullpen and showed flashes of success in a stint as a starter at the end of last year for the Rockies.

Key Questions: 
Can Tulowitzki and “Car Go” stay healthy? The Rockies can’t win without them.
Can de la Rosa and Joulys Chacin repeat their strong 2013 performances?
Can any pitcher succeed in Colorado without accruing health concerns or diminished velocity?
Does success in Coors Field require max effort? Rookie Jonathan Gray will put that to the test with his tremendous fastball command.
Can they get league average production from center field or second base?
What progress can the Rockies get from third baseman Nolan Arenado on offense and catcher Wilin Rosario on defense? As always, does this offensive unit have the ability to hit on the road?

Farm System Overview: GREEN (above average) 
Gray and Butler are studs, but another round of dynamic Rockies hitters may be on the horizon as well. Shortstop Rossell Herrera hit .343 with 16 HR last year in low-A ball, and outfielder David Dahl was turning heads this spring. A former first-round pick from 2012, Dahl could be a major power/speed threat down the line. There are enough arms in the upper levels to complement a future Rockies bullpen, and the presence of the top two pitching prospects makes up for their lack of future starters.

2014 Prognosis: Unlikely Contenders

There’s too many brittle players here to project more than a .500 finish, and this roster may be overly reliant on their best three or four guys. Second base and center field project to be major problem areas for this team. But if the Rockies find the right pitching mix and the ex-Twins look good, they can find some magic.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

MLB 2014 Team Preview: San Diego Padres

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MLB 2014 Team Preview: San Diego Padres
By Wild on Sports MLB Analyst Aaron Dorman

2013 Overview:
A nearly identical year to the previous. Injuries in the rotation. Some rookie surprises in the field (Logan Forsythe in 2012, Jedd Gyorko in 2013) and also some complete meltdowns (Nick Hundley in 2012, Cameron Maybin in 2013). Above .500 in the second half of the year. Everth Cabrera only plays a half season; in 2012 it was an injury, in 2013 it was steroids. Perhaps this current version of the Padres is epitomized by Yonder Alonso, an unusual and intriguing talent who nevertheless amounts to a below-average bill of goods.

Winter Grade: B-
Coming: Josh Johnson, Seth Smith, Joaquin Benoit
Going: Luke Gregerson, Jason Marquis
Unfortunately, the most interesting addition to the roster, Johnson, will miss April with another injury. Before that, he looked like a great buy-low opportunity for the Padres; Petco Park has been a great place for pitchers to recover their former glory and rebound (see: Randy Wolf, Aaron Harang). He still could post a sub-3.00 ERA if/when he returns. Seth Smith was a questionable addition although the signing of Tigers’ setup man Benoit cancels out the loss of Gregerson. The Padres could have used another pitcher or two although they have quite a handful of potential fourth starters close to the majors; some of that depth was used to acquire a nice left-handed reliever, Alex Torres, from Tampa.

Wild Card(s):

On this team, it feels like EVERYONE is a wild card. There aren’t many reliable performers on this roster. Even their requisite ‘star’, Chase Headley, is coming off a year in which he hit .250 with 13 HR. If Carlos Quentin and Everth Cabrera match their 2013 performance over a full season they will turn some heads, perhaps. Ian Kennedy is a solid rebound candidate, and so is Josh Johnson post-April. Two players who may be overlooked at this point but have some star potential are catcher Yasmani Grandal and pitcher Tyson Ross. Grandal was suspended for 50 games at the start of last year and never got going. But in 2012, he hit .297 with 9 HR in 60 games, and his minor league track record suggests he could be one of the better offensive catchers in baseball. If you dare to dream, Grandal could still be a poor man’s Buster Posey, or a rich man’s Miguel Montero. Or he could just be himself. Meanwhile, Ross was dominant as a starter
last year, with a 3.06 ERA and 95 K in 16 starts, despite a 3-5 record, which is the lineup’s fault. Maybe he’s their best starter since Mat Latos? It wouldn’t be too much of a reach.

Key Contract Years: 
Chase Headley. The Padres are in a bind with him. Although his big 2012 was a career outlier and he’s unlikely to see that kind of power spike again, his change in performance makes him difficult to value. Most likely, he is more of the high OBP, average power player that he was last year and in the years prior, but then what is that worth? Headley has also done much better on the road in his career than at home; will a team like the Yankees overpay with the expectation that once freed from Petco Park he’ll be an MVP?

Rookies: Burch Smith has some big league experience, and Matt Wisler has better stuff and is not far behind. Neither has made the opening day rotation, but that could change quickly. Both have the potential to be no. 3 starters, with big fastballs and potentially solid secondary offerings.

Key Questions: 
Can Chase Headley be a star?
If not, what will the Padres do with him?
Are they going to attempt to re-sign him?
Should they trade him?
Is there anyone on this team worth signing long-term and identifying as a franchise cornerstone?
Who, other than Ian Kennedy, is capable of pitching over 150 innings for this team? (Don’t say Eric Stults, a lefty journeyman who probably got lucky last year)

Farm System Overview: YELLOW (average) 
There is good pitching depth but overall no stars in the Padres’ minor league system. The top prospect, catcher Austin Hedges, is a solid defensive catcher but his offensive skills are a work in progress, so he is reasonably far away right now even if he starts the year at AA. Some of their best pitching prospects keep getting hurt: Casey Kelly and Joe Weiland could be big leaguers, but they have to stay on the mound first. The Padres haven’t been bad enough to draft near enough to the top to get premium signees.

2014 Prognosis: Unlikely Contenders
There’s just not enough star power here. The rotation has depth but none of the younger arms have established themselves as capable full season arms, and the two veterans Kennedy and Stults are back-end innings eaters. The lineup will always suffer due to Petco Park and although GM Josh Byrnes has assembled a reasonably capable group of position players, their best power hitters (Carlos Quentin, Headley, Gyorko) will have to step up their game this year.

MLB 2014 Team Preview: San Francisco Giants

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MLB 2014 Team Preview: San Francisco Giants
By Wild on Sports Analyst Aaron Dorman

The World Series winners follow up their magic season with a belly flop. Most of their starters regress, Angel Pagan goes missing for most of the year, and nobody comes in to fill the hole left behind by Melky Cabrera, who hit .346 in 2012. It’s the pitching that does them in; the Giants finish 2013 12th in team ERA (4.00), which is 16 % below league average when you factor in the ballpark. That’s not a formula for success.

Winter Grade:
Coming: Tim Hudson, Mike Morse
Going: Barry Zito
Credit goes to GM Brian Sabean for not panicking even in light of such a disappointing season. The main culprits are identified and management responds accordingly. Barry Zito is now an ex-Giant and although he is re-signed, Ryan Vogelsong will now have to compete with some other candidates for the final starter spot. They still could use an extra outfielder; Mike Morse could be a power threat if healthy but he’s an odd fit for San Francisco’s large ballpark. Hunter Pence, however, has acquitted himself well, and he’s a solid if overpaid part of their future. Keeping Tim Lincecum and his upside also makes sense in light of the subsequent deals given out to inferior pitchers.

Wild Card(s): 
Brandon Belt fixed his swing after April and was a .326/.390/.525 hitter after the all-star break last year (221 AB). If he can keep that up, he will be one of the better first basemen in the league, as a batting champion threat with above average power. He’s 26 in late April, so he’s about to hit his peak years.
Also, Angel Pagan and Tim Hudson are coming back from injuries and both could be an unexpected surprise if they play up to their historic abilities, although Hudson is now 38 years old.

Key Contract Years:
Pablo Sandoval has had an up-and-down career, both in terms of health and performance. He’s always been a high contact hitter, but his power has oscillated and he’s hit between .268 and .330 in his full seasons. Never in great shape, Sandoval has maintained solid defensive ability throughout his career. He’s a somewhat difficult commodity to value and that makes him likely to hit free agency. But the Giants like to keep incumbent players who perform, so it’s possible they will overpay to keep him at the end of the year.

Rookies:
None of their best pitching prospects are ready. Heath Hembree is considered a ‘closer’ prospect, but that’s a bit of an oxymoron as the best relievers are often converted starters. Hembree throws hard but his secondary stuff is not great, and even in AAA he put up a pedestrian 4.07 ERA. Later on in the year lefties Edwin Escobar and Adalberto Mejia could debut in the rotation, and either could be at least a no. 3 starter based on strong results in the minor leagues.

Key Questions:
Is their rotation good again?
Was last year just a down year for Matt Cain?
Will Tim Lincecum ever be a top starter or is he a candidate to move to the bullpen at some point soon?
What do they have in Ryan Vogelsong, who for two seasons was a very good pitcher but looked like his ‘old’ self last year?
Do they have enough offense up the middle between Brandon Crawford and Marco Scutaro?

Farm System Overview: YELLOW (average) 

The Giants probably have more no. 3 starter candidates in the minor leagues than any other team, and that is probably a good thing. However, their minor league rosters are heavily imbalanced, with almost no positional player talent above rookie-ball. Outfielder Mac Williamson had a strong year in high-A San Jose but that’s a favorable hitting environment, and former top draft pick Joe Panik (shortstop) looked like a utility man last year. Their top prospect, Kyle Crick, could be a dominant starter, but he only made 14 starts last year and his control (career 5.5 BB/9) is well below average at this point. Sometimes those pitchers become stars anyway. Sometimes they have to move to the bullpen. And sometimes they completely collapse and never pitch in the majors.

2014 Prognosis: Likely Contenders 
The roster is not too different from the one that was a World Series champion two years ago, but times have changed. Was 2013 a down year for the rotation or was it really a sign of things to come? The Giants have a solid group of hitters but no depth and probably only one All-star in Buster Posey. So it’s up to the rotation to prove itself as a force again in the NL West. That said, it’s highly likely that Tim Hudson and whoever the fifth starter turns out to be are an improvement over Barry Zito and the 2013 version of Ryan Vogelsong, to the extent that even league average pitching in the 4 and 5 slot could make the Giants contenders. Add in a successful return for Angel Pagan and it’s more than possible that the Giants can at least grab one of the wild card spots.

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