Posts Tagged ‘alfonso soriano’

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.
email: mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: @MRubio52

Growing up is hard. There are expectations that must be met as you grow older, society expects X from you, and you must provide X. Everyone goes through growing pains, some go through them more harshly than others. There are a select few, however, that go through the maturation process in front of millions of people. We call them athletes.

Watching a player struggle through his early years is all part of the game. We saw Griffey and A-Rod grow up before our eyes on the national stage, ditto with Michael, LeBron, and currently Toews, Kane, and Rose. They all went through/are going through growing pains. What I’ve noticed around Chicago is that while we don’t expect much from other cities young kids, we place impossible expectations on the rookies that come up through Chicago. This is specifically true in baseball.

Beckham and Castro

Gordon Beckham had an .808 OPS as a 22 year old rookie. He was brought up as a reactionary move to an offensive black hole that occurred when Josh Fields failed to produce. White Sox fans were anxious to see the Georgia kid at the major league level as they expected the Sox to repeat the surprising year they had in 2008. Ozzie famously said that if the White Sox had to call up Beckham it showed that they were in trouble. Well, they got into some trouble during the season and Kenny made the call to the farm.

Beckham’s start was good enough to earn him the Sporting News’ Rookie of the Year award.

‘‘I wish that kid was a two- or three-year veteran in the big leagues because he has that attitude,’’ Guillen said. ‘‘He has that right frame of mind. He was a leader his whole life from when he was in high school, college. I think he wants to be the face of the franchise, and we need something like that. When a player thinks like that, doesn’t hide in the weeds, you don’t see many players come up from the minor leagues and think that way. It’s a big challenge. But I don’t have a doubt in my mind that he has the right tools to be one. Obviously, it has to come from help from myself, Ken Williams and the staff to make him a great leader.’’

-Ozzie Guillen

Expectations were pretty high from there on out. When his offense cratered over the next two years, fans were puzzled. His rookie year was so outstanding, how could he not build on that and improve?

Starlin Castro has been a hit machine since he debuted with 6 RBI’s. With the bat in his hand he has been stellar. The major knock on him is his defense. He goes through lapses of concentration that are as baffling as they are infuriating. There isn’t a player in the majors that makes me go “that’s a great play,” to “that was a dipshit play,” in the same game quite like Starlin. As of writing time, he has twice as many errors (8), as walks (4). This makes a lot of Cubs fans irate.

And gives some ammo to Sox trolls

I’m pretty sure this guy is a White Sox troll

This invariably leads to a lot of talk of moving Castro to 3B, 2B, a corner OF spot, or 1B. The “Castro isn’t a SS” movement is gaining a lot of traction locally, and while it has quieted down some over the past month (He hasn’t committed an error in 16 games), you can bet that discussion will start cooking again when he commits another error.

I think it’s obvious that both Beckham and Castro are going through growing pains, albeit in opposite aspects of their respective games. Beckham plays sublime defense at 2B, he’s smooth, has range, and can make all the throws. He has an ugly hitch in his swing right now though, and he just can’t hit consistently. His minor hot streak has his average up to .204 with a paltry .627 OPS. Castro is still prone to lapses in the field, he’s flashing better leather lately, but he’s going to have to continue to play solid defense to shed the “butcher” tag. His defense is still a violent game, with flashes of smoothness. Both players are trying to make adjustments in the glare of the public eye. Both had the savior tag applied to them when they were brought up. Both need to be given time to properly show you what they are before you pass judgement. Beckham’s time is shorter than Castro’s because he’s older, but Cubs fans need to relax on the “Move Starlin off SS,” movement too.

Which, you know, brings me to Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson.

Superkids

Anthony Rizzo is still destroying AAA.

Geez, settle down

Brett Jackson…not so much

Cubs fans are eagerly anticipating the arrival of both players at the Major League level. Rizzo has a cute little twitter dedicated to him, @FreeRizzo. There are a few things that Cubs fans need to keep in mind when it comes to both players, and the Cubs in general.

  • Neither Rizzo nor Jackson are going to save the Cubs in the short-term. This is a full on dedicated rebuilding that will look a lot like the Royals rebuild had a baby with the Nats rebuild. It’s going to take time. I hope the Cubs will be much better in 3 years, but much better is 80-85 wins. That could potentially be 20-25 wins better than the hypothetical 2012 record.
  • The Cubs are ridiculously devoid of talent at the Major and high Minor League level. This past draft was the first one the Cubs have had in a while that impressed people around the league. There is zero pitching help at AAA.
  • Trading Soriano is going to be really hard. He’s gimpy and people already know what kind of hitter he is. Why do I bring this up? Well, how else are you going to make room for Rizzo? LaHair to left, Rizzo at first is the aim.
  • Speaking of Rizzo, I haven’t heard any respected talent scouts call him the second coming of Albert Pujols. I think that his ceiling is Paul Konerko level production, and he’s likely to simply be an above average 1B. That’s awesome, trust me, but it’s not a franchise changer. He shortened his swing, and I do think he’s ready for MLB, but he’s not likely to turn into a perennial MVP candidate.
  • Jackson will be lucky to be Curtis Granderson pre-Yankees. Again, that’s awesome and I’ll take it, but we Cub fans need to stop pretending that he’s more than what he is. He’ll be solid, but I doubt he is ever considered an “impact” player.

Cub fans need to check our collective reality meter. We need to understand what this team is now, and what it will be in the future. This is a deep and real rebuild.

Speaking of reality checks

If the White Sox make the playoffs, and that’s a huge if, it’ll be because the other teams in the Central failed. Don’t start pretending like this team is good because they won 5 of 6 against the two worst teams in MLB. I would get pissed as a White Sox fan if Kenny Williams sees this squad and starts trading prospects for vets because he sees fools gold. Let’s look at a few things.

  • The White Sox pitching staff is the best component of this team, but it’s schizophrenic at best and average on the whole at worst. The White Sox have a slightly above average staff ERA that is buoyed by Jake Peavy and Chris Sale.The other three starters all have ERA’s over 4. The enigmatic John Danks keeps alternating between good start and bad start. Phil Humber is similarly quizzical, as it looked like he had figured some things out with the perfect game, only to regress to “inconsistent” status over his next 5 starts. His walk rate is close to double what it was last year, and I think that’s a symptom of nibbling that could lead to future trouble. Gavin still lives in Gavin world, where sublime stuff is permanently married to a low pitching IQ.
  • That offense is putrid, and Orlando Hudson will only help it so much. You can’t survive in the Cell with 3-4 offensive black holes. Eventually other teams will come into town and hit the HR’s that you aren’t. This is reflected in their 8-13 record at home.
  • Jake Peavy is a ticking time bomb and you need to trade him for value. Seriously, he’s not going to sustain a .249 opponents BABIP. He’s stranding 79% of baserunners, which is similarly unsustainable, and his GB rate is at 31.1%.That flyball rate is asking for trouble in the Cell. The xFIP number is also pointing at a big ole regression to the mean. You can’t pitch on the margins like that and survive in a homer haven. It’s damn near impossible.
  • Addison Reed is likely the only reliable reliever the Sox have in the pen. I have no idea what happened to Matt Thornton, but he’s been inconsistent the past two years. Will Ohman is still Will Ohman, and Hector Santiago is still trying to figure it out.

What the White Sox look like to me is a mediocre team in a mediocre division, it would be foolish to sell off parts of an already thin farm system when they declared this year to be a transitional year. White Sox fans have already spoken with their wallets what they think about this team so far, the empty seats are telling me that you don’t think they’re for real, so don’t be mad if they sell at the deadline.

At the end of the day

Both fanbases need to settle down. The Cubs shouldn’t rush Rizzo, the White Sox aren’t poised for greatness as currently constructed. The Cubs have awhile before they are true title contenders. The White Sox might seem closer, but be wary. Depending on the moves they make this year, their championship clock could be moved back by years.

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.
email: mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: @MRubio52

I did a post recently on Shark that I kinda regretted for a few hours on Thursday before feeling better about my praise for Spellcheck with Tuesday’s game. In that post I mentioned some Cubs that you should be watching carefully on the Major League level. My number 5 guy was Bryan LaHair. Before we get to him however, let me just say that Anthony Rizzo is destroying AAA pitching at an alarming rate.

Even Galactus is calling dude the devourer of worlds.

Holy hell. It’s not even smoke and mirrors, these numbers are legit. His swing is shortened up and he’s not as busy with his hands, and none of that cost him any power. It’s scary good and he’s ready now. Oddly enough it’s not even really LaHair that is blocking him from the Major League level. The Cubs are probably going to wait for two things to happen before they call up Rizzo. 1. Late June and 2. Soriano is traded.

Soriano is preventing LaHair’s eventual move to LF. In my fan dream scenario LaHair plays left and Rizzo is at 1B. I don’t advocate sitting LaHair either because the Cubs might just have a solid player on their hands that might be able to help them when they are ready to compete.

Bryan LaHair is on a tear. It’s been impressive to watch him launch homers against the Cards and lash line drives against everyone else. It’s early and the numbers will drop, but I can safely say that I wasn’t expecting the .700+ slugging and an OPS of 1.190. He’s a guy that spent 6 years at AAA and was looked at as a Quad A player. All of this is valid, and he’s not going to sustain his .522 BABIP so his average will dip a bit, but there is some truth to his small sample size stats.

Let’s take a look at what he’s doing right:

There are a few interesting trends in there.  He’s striking out 33% of the time, which is a terrifying number. Dunn in ’11 struck out in 35% of his AB’s for comparison. This is a number that I would expect to fall around the 26-28% range, which is still high, but not completely awful. His walk rate is slightly up and has been since he joined the big club in extremely limited AB’s. Cub fans saw him make Motte work extremely hard on April 24 en route to coaxing a walk and eventually setting the table for Joe Mather’s unlikely game-winner. LaHair made Motte throw 12 pitches before the bearded closer finally succumbed and gave him a free pass. LaHair is currently seeing 4.13 pitches per plate appearance according to ESPN. This is again a jump from his 3.67 P/PA he posted in Seattle. It makes sense since he is currently striking out more and walking more than he ever has in his career.

What’s somewhat striking, however, is the authority with which he’s hitting the ball.

Since he’s been in a Cub uni his Linedrives have increased and he’s cut the grounders. He’s hitting the ball in the air a lot more and it’s showing everywhere. Some of those numbers are unsustainable, a 36% Homerun to Flyball rate is insane and it won’t hold, and his Infield Hit Rate will drop from 10% as well, he’s not that fast, but the good trends are that he is understanding what his tools are and is better utilizing his skill set.

LaHair is quick to the ball in his swing. His hands are held high over his left shoulder, and he gets good hip rotation on his swing. The plant foot stays solid when he steps and he drives the ball with authority. Suffice it to say, he has the skills to stay in the big leagues. I think it’s a fair assessment that he won’t be an all-star type player, but that he will go through stretches where he will be on fire, and down stretches where it seems like he’s a Quad-A player. LaHair is interesting, he strikes out a lot, walks a lot, and makes a lot of solid contact. It’ll be interesting to watch which gains he keeps and which ones slip as the season progresses. Don’t get too high on him now, he’s had a tremendous start, but don’t get too low on him when he slumps, he’s a solid major leaguer who will have a pretty solid career.

The Cubs are finding out a lot about their team. I think we’re finding out a lot about LaHair too. He’s not a .360 hitter, but he is a guy that can OPS around .800. I’ll take that.

In left field of course.

“People see dark faces out there, and the perception is that they’re African American. They’re not us. They’re impostors”

-Torii Hunter

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.
email: mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: @MRubio52 

Note: This article is the start of something, the history of the Afro-Latino in baseball cannot be summed up in one blog post or even a series of blog posts. It began as a simple email response and it has grown into an ongoing project whose end date I’m not sure of. This is a snippet.

It’s pretty clear that people just don’t know what to do with Latinos. In the Trayvon Martin case Zimmerman was labeled a minority by some because he has Spanish roots, thus making him Mexican or something. The Ozzie Guillen story provided an interesting chance for Latinos to have a serious conversation about race and hate within the community, instead we got an overreaction to the suspension with no real discussion on why what he said stung so much. One of the more surprising aspects of this controversy was the lack of cultural awareness when it comes to Hispanics. People genuinely did not know that Castro is seen as a tyrannical despot on the level of Hitler with the Cuban community. The caricature was the only impression people had of him and were shocked that Ozzie’s comments cut so deep.

The inspiration from this commentary, however, came from a nugget of information that Dan Bernstein gave us 2 weeks ago. The Chicago Cubs are currently shopping most of their big league roster, and it’s been speculated for months that Marlon Byrd will be traded. Should he find a new home between now and April 15, Jackie Robinson day, Chicago will have no African-American representative on #42’s day. That is a rather interesting piece of information, and I don’t have much issue with it. A caller brought up the name Alex Rios, who was born in Alabama and is considered Puerto-Rican-American.

And that’s what really got me thinking about what Jackie Robinson day means. For the purposes of his point, I can somewhat see where Mr. Bernstein was coming from, he dismissed Rios as a Latin born player and not African American in the typical sense of the term. However, I think this is a classic example of the media, and the world in general, having no idea what to do with Afro-Latinos. Torii Hunter’s quote above illustrates that point as well. Afro-Latinos are not properly represented nor are they accounted for in America.

The implication that Mr. Bernstein was making is that Afro-Latinos shouldn’t count as proper representatives for Jackie Robinson Day. That’s a dangerous implication to make and I think it’s one that a lot of people make. The inverse of this is also dangerous however, to consider Alex Rios as simply black without considering what his heritage and his lineage is. The point of Jackie Robinson day is to celebrate the tearing down of the color barrier. That’s a broad term, color, and it’s one that’s classically been assigned to African-Americans throughout history, with a good reason. It was the label that an oppressive white society put on blacks to strip away their sense of worth. But color is a defined differently today as it applies to a broader population.

The truth is that the gentleman’s agreement about “colored” players extended beyond just the African-American players. If you sent Alfonso Soriano, Starlin Castro, Marlon Byrd, Alex Rios, Carlos Marmol, Dayan Viciedo, Alexei Ramirez, Hector Santiago, and even Geo Soto back into a time machine set for the 30’s, not a one is playing in the Majors. They would all be New York Cubans.

The history of the New York Cubans is muddled, which is common for a Negro League team. For the purposes of this column, understand that they were a Negro League team comprised of mostly Afro-Latinos, but occasionally they took on lighter skinned Latinos because MLB didn’t want anything to do with people of color. They began in 1899 as the All Cubans, became the Cuban Stars in 1907, folded in the late 20’s and were recreated by a former member of the Cuban Stars, Alex Pompez, in 1930. If that name rings a bell White Sox fans, it’s because he scouted Minnie Minoso and brought him over from Cuba to play ball in the US.

The New York Cubans employed players of color that were not allowed to play in the Majors. These were not strictly African American players that fit neatly into a small category. The NY Cubans took on all that were of color and shunned by MLB, until Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier and opened the door to all people of color, not just American born Blacks. The Negro Leagues were where Minnie Minoso got his start in professional baseball.

On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson was 0/3 with a RS, but on that day he began the process that cemented himself as arguably the most important player in baseball history. In the wake of integration  we had Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe, and Minnie Minoso. That’s a lot of talent that MLB was ignoring before Jackie. A date that should be similarly remembered is May 1, 1951.

The “Cuban Comet” paved the way for Latino players, but is remembered by the White Sox as being their first black player in the post Jackie Robinson era. On May 1, Minnie paved the way for Latino players to enter the Majors, which of course came at the price of discrimination, racism, and untold stress and heartache. Reporters rather famously phonetically spelled his quotes in print, he was called all sorts of names everywhere he went, and he had to use the “Coloreds Only” stalls as well.

It’s irresponsible to dismiss Afro Latinos because they aren’t the “right kind of black.” I think it’s about time to have a serious discussion about race in America, one that centers around Hispanics. The race issue is alive and well in America, it’s disguised as other things and somewhat hidden, but we Hispanics have a lot of issues to resolve with ourselves. There’s an alarming trend of self hate and lost identity within our community. Ozzie’s insensitive comments confront us with an uncomfortable reality that we aren’t as unified as we’d like to think sometimes. I’m guilty of talking shit to Puerto Ricans, and I’m sure most Hispanics have similar stories. We’ve come a long way since Minnie, but we still have a long way to go. Our story is frequently misunderstood in America, let’s work on that.

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.
email: 
mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: MRubio52

Yesterday I took a look at the AL Central and gave a prediction of how I think the teams will finish the year. Today I’ll be looking at a historically weak division, the NL Central. The tempting thing about the NL Central is that it’s attainable. The Cubs are blessed to be in a relatively easy division. The powerhouse teams lost two key contributors in Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder. The temptation will be there if the Cubs manage to find themselves in contention early in the year to sell off the farm and go for it now. I know a few Cub fans that would fully endorse that strategy, but they should begin to understand that the Cubs aren’t going for it this year. So with that, here’s how I think they stack up.

1. Cincinnati Reds –  Dusty is gonna Dusty. He’s already pushed two young Reds pitchers to the limit and it’s scary to give him control over Mat Latos, a guy who is getting over shoulder trouble. The projected 5 starters for the Reds are Cueto-Latos-Arroyo-Leake-Bailey. Latos is coming over from a park that suppresses offense, but he was a guy that missed bats. Throughout the minors Latos was consistently above 8 with his K/9 rate. His command was spotty last year, and he lost a tick on his fastball, but he still oozes potential. He’s 23 and he has to work on some things to become the elite pitcher he hinted at becoming 2 years ago. I think he delivers on some of his potential but the GABP will mask some of the gains that he’ll make this year. The real reason I have the Reds winning the division is on the back of that offense. VottoRolenBruce is a bitch of a row to get through. Bruce is displaying the power potential that will eventually make him a star. He improved his road splits last year. Votto should be the MVP of the league this year with both Prince and Albert gone from the NL and a slight regression from Matt Kemp. If the Reds can get any production from the SS position they’ll be a historic offense. Zack Cozart is slated to be the starting shortstop. After last year’s shortstop debacle Cozart will have a longer grace period than most to produce, but he’s 25 and you usually know what a player is at that age. The bullpen will be missing Ryan Madson who is out for the year and will undergo Tommy John surgery. Sean Marshall becomes the closer and he should fill in nicely in that role. The rest of the bullpen is shaky, even phenom Aroldis Chapman will have his “Oh God” moments, but it shouldn’t keep them from competing.

2. Milwaukee Brewers – Yovani Gallardo and Zack Greinke should be battling for Cy Young votes next year. The rotation after those two gets a little bit shaky, but if Marcum keeps the gains he’s made over the past few years, he’ll remain the solid #3 option that the Brewers need to compete for both the division and the extra wildcard spot. Where they fall into trouble will be offense, which is strange to say of this team. They are replacing Prince with Mat Gamel at first, but Fielder’s production will be sorely missing from this lineup. If Corey Hart isn’t healthy (he’s dealing with a knee issue) it further compounds the issue. Fielder was an OPS machine, and the Brewers brought in Aramis Ramirez to help mitigate the effect of his departure. Braun and Ramirez will be productive, but they won’t replace the production that both Prince and Hart brought to the team. The pitching will keep them in contention, and that bullpen is solid. Axford established himself as a reliable closer, and I expect a disgruntled K-Rod to be traded by the deadline this year. The offense needs to figure it out if they want to win the division, as it stands they should win the second Wild Card spot.

3. St. Louis Cardinals – No Albert, limited Carpenter, limited Wainwright and no Magic Pixie Dust from the old man means a slide back for the Cardinals. St. Louis is depending on too many older players for them to win this division. Carlos Beltran has to stay healthy for the offense to be potent enough to compete with the Reds. Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman are a decent 1-2 punch, but the Machine isn’t looming in this lineup anymore. Rather, World Series hero David Freese and Yadier Molina will be their protection in the lineup. The pitching is going to suffer the loss of Carpenter, who is only supposed to miss a month, but older pitchers with shoulder issues aren’t something to be treated lightly. Wainwright will help, and the bullpen will be solid, but the Cards offense will limit their ceiling in 2012. They will be competitive, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see them either win the division or make the playoffs, but I don’t see it happening.

4. Pittsburgh Pirates – They don’t have enough to be taken as a serious contender. Andrew McCutchen is a great player, but the front offices inability to surround him with talent is a concern. Their starting 3B, Pedro Alvarez, has lost his way at the plate and he wasn’t very special to begin with defensively. There’s an ugly hitch in his swing now and he tends to have happy feet in the box. Neil Walker is a good player, but the Pirate offense can’t be taken seriously at this point. They don’t have a front line starter, they’re relying on the corpse of Erik Bedard to be productive, and while they have an ok bullpen, there won’t be too many save opportunities. This is another lost year for a lost franchise, and I bet they’ll still finish ahead of the Cubs. Speaking of which…

5. Chicago Cubs – I did an in depth series on their depth. You can read it here. There’s three parts to it, so take you’re time. I’ll wait.

They’re gonna be awful this year, and that’s part of the grandiose plan that TheoCo has drawn up. The next few years are about two things, accumulating good prospects and getting rid of bad contracts. The Cubs have famously shot themselves in the foot when it comes to spending in the hopes that a World Series trophy would render these next few years as a honeymoon period as the team tries to restock and retool. Well, the Cubs choked all that away in 2007 and 2008, fell spectacularly on their face in 2009, had their manager quit on them in 2010 and hired the cryptkeeper for 2011. Then that Boston craziness happened and we somehow ended up with a competent front office that has a concrete plan for building a serious contender for years to come. It doesn’t look like they’ll stray from that plan either, so get ready for a 70 win season folks, because Soriano is the only established offensive threat the Cubs have right now. The division is certainly gettable for the next few years, but the Cubs won’t bite. They’ll wait, and I’m fine with that.

6. Houston Astros – This franchise is awful. The offense rates below average as it will center around an old fat 1B and a young OF prospect with a flat swing plane. Well, that’s not fair to JD Martinez, he is a legit hitter, but his power will be limited because of his swing, and that’s a bit of an issue at The Ballpark Formerly Known as Enron. The opposition will certainly knock the ball out of the park, but the Astros can’t do it on a consistent enough basis to be taken seriously. The starting rotation is headlined by Wandy Rodriguez, but after that it’s a collection of bad. The bullpen is meh and there’s no hope down on the farm. They’re gonna be bad for awhile.

This right here is pt. 2 of the Chicago Cubs names to watch for series I’m doing. OF is slightly less scary than the IF, the one true prospect does live out here in Brett Jackson. The names aren’t as raw and there are some legit Major League contributors in the bunch, but some of these guys should be gone by July.

-Mauricio Rubio Jr.
Follow me on twitter, @MRubio52 

Outfield

Right Field. David DeJesus – His wife is pretty hot, and she’s a big Cubs fan. As for David, he’s an ok option in Right. His slash line will look a lot like Fukudome’s but it’ll come without the extreme salary and latent racism that Cubs fans seemed to start. He’s a guy that doesn’t do anything a lot, if that makes any sense. He doesn’t walk a lot, he doesn’t strike out a lot either. He doesn’t drive in a lot of runs, nor does he score a lot of runs. He’s above average in most categories, but his slugging percentage is low for a corner outfielder. He’s a solid signing, cheap and mildly effective. He’s not a difference maker, but he is a decent stopgap.

Center Field. Marlon Byrd –  It will be a bit painful to see him go, as he should at some point this year. Byrd is a hustle player with tangible talent. He was at his peak value in 2010 and since then has slid into “decent player” territory, which is fine for a contender, but it really isn’t what the Cubs need at this point. Byrd has always been solid but unspectacular throughout his career. He can help out a team for a stretch playoff run, he does well against both righties and lefties and plays a decent Center, but he’s not going to be a massive difference maker over an extended period of time. The projected haul he brings back should reflect that.

Left Field. Alfonso Soriano – His contract is an albatross and his production has been slipping ever since he put on the uniform, but Alfonso Soriano does get his fair share of unfounded criticism. Let’s be clear about this, Sori was never the player that the Cubs paid for in 2007, he wasn’t a stolen base machine and he couldn’t play Center under any circumstances. Hendry wildly overpaid for Sori hoping that an eventual championship would relegate his later years with the team as a victory lap instead of a painful slow death. Soriano is still due 54 mil through 2013 and he’s not going to be getting any better. All that said he works on his craft and his teammates love him to death. It’s not his fault that Hendry overpaid, we would all take that money if it was offered to us. What was he supposed to do, decline? Soriano is not a sure bet to post a + .300 OBP this year, nor is he a sure thing to slug +.470, which is an awful combination. He is a bad fielder and he doesn’t run anymore, so of course people will label him as lazy. He isn’t. He’s overpaid, but that isn’t his fault. Soriano is likely to be on the team in one form or another for awhile. His dollars will be incredibly hard to trade, but that won’t stop the Cubs from shopping him around and potentially paying the lion’s share of his contract to play elsewhere.

1. Brett Jackson – There are legit reasons to be excited with Brett Jackson the prospect. He’s been climbing the Baseball America top prospects list for the past three years and enters the 2012 season as the #32 prospect in all of Baseball. This also makes him the best prospect in the Cubs system. Jackson has handled the relatively aggressive promotion pattern well. His ceiling is up for debate, none of his tools are eye popping, but he can be a Mike Cameron/Curtis Granderson type at the dish. His defense projects well, some see him being an eventual gold glove winner. Jackson does strike out a lot, but he has a decent walk rate which mitigates the k’s somewhat. He should get half a season of Major League pitching under his belt this year. Anything less will be seen as a disappointment.

2. Reed Johnson – Remember when Reed Johnson was gone for a year and it was fine because the Cubs weren’t going to compete this year anyway and he isn’t a difference maker? Johnson struggles to OPS over .800 most years, when his BABIP isn’t insanely high he struggles to hit over .300, and he is adored by Cubs fans for some reason. He has his uses, mainly against lefty pitching, but he’s perfectly tradeable, and he should be moved to a contender by the trade deadline for a decent haul. He’s a guy that can help a contending team, and the Cubs aren’t one yet.

3. Tony Campana – I want to root for this guy. He has legit speed as evidenced by his 24 for 26 stolen base performance last year. But he needs to play center in order for him to have any offensive value and that’s where Brett Jackson lives. He looks like a prototypical 4th outfielder, but Theo loves guys that can burn and play good OF defense, so he’s likely to stick around and get some playing time. He needs to find some gap power quick to stick in the lineup, but that’s not too likely.

4. Matthew Szczur – He’s behind the curve thanks to his football playing days at Villanova. He’s raw and it shows. He’s not major league ready and his ceiling is up for debate. I think his ceiling is a moving target, he’s obviously fast (80 on the traditional scouting scale for speed), but his future depends on what he learns at the lower levels. He has time on his side, so if he learns how to command the strike zone a bit he can be a more interesting prospect.

5. Dave Sappelt – He’s a meh. It looks like he’s destined to be a fourth outfielder, he never really wowed down on the farm. He has no outstanding skill, and most of his tools are merely average. He has some pop in his bat, but not enough to justify regular playing time. He has some speed but not enough to crack a lineup. He plays good defense which should be enough to carry him on most Major League rosters, but that’s about it.

Pitchers tomorrow

MLB 12 The Show is once again the best sports game available. Period. It’s better than every other game for every other sport again. Period. I don’t know how they keep doing this. It’s almost supernatural how great this series is. The play mechanics are flawless. Ball physics are as realistic as they come and you won’t see a 30 foot leap to rob a home-run anywhere. You can learn from this, MLB 2kwhatever. Though you probably won’t. Most likely, when your cross platform contract with the MLB runs out after this year, EA will get it next and we won’t have to see you sitting there being mediocre anymore, wishing you could play in the big leagues.

I can’t say enough about how well the game plays. It’s just as good, if not better than it ever was. If I were to give a review score on gameplay alone, it would be a super high 9. Like a 9.9999999999. I don’t think there are enough extra credit points available to give it an accurate letter grade and the northern hemisphere would be pretty devoid of stars if I gave MLB 12 The Show as many as it deserves. A tad bit over-dramatic I know, but it’s just that good. I couldn’t come up with anything related to thumbs up, but you get the picture.

So what do you do when your review score is a forgone conclusion? When it’s almost impossible to quantify the level of smile inducement? When all you can say is, “Duuuuuuuuuuuuuude, you have to fucking play this game!” there is only one course of action. You tell people how you personally feel about the game instead. You relate your emotions and impressions. Your experiences and thoughts. You don’t review it. You merely express it.

It was a little nerve wracking. Throwing for my first time in a professional team’s uniform, even if it was just a AA club. I couldn’t hit my spots in practice, but my arm felt as good as it ever has. I couldn’t quite locate my fastball, though it was quick and lively. My sinker was dropping like a bomb, but mostly in the dirt in front of the plate. I don’t even want to get into what my slider was trying to do. My first start as a professional ball player was looking to be a terrible day.

You always see yourself succeeding if you just get the chance to prove yourself. Even though you may be thinking about the possibility of failure, you see a win in your head. You know what never even crosses your mind? You never once think about just doing OK and walking away without a loss or a win. I pitched well enough, but I allowed 3 runs over 4 and a third and got yanked. Luckily the guys gave us some runs after I left and we pulled out the win, but the “W” isn’t attached to my name. It’s not what I wanted as my first professional start, but I’ll take what I can get.

My second game? My God that was a different story. I started out slow. I couldn’t hit my locations again. I got a little wild, but made it through the first two innings without letting a run by, something I couldn’t even do through the first inning of my last start. When I came into the third, something clicked. I don’t know how to explain it, but I felt like I couldn’t lose all of a sudden. I struck out the side and just kept going from there. It started getting hectic around the sixth, I really just had no steam left, but I was throwing a gem and I was getting no sign that they were gonna pull me out. So I just kept throwing. I kept the ball low and outside, throwing at their hands every once in a while to keep the batters honest. I kept throwing different pitches and, miraculously, when a hitter made contact with one of my meatballs it stayed on the ground. I finally thought I would be sitting down when our closer started warming up in the eighth, but no dice there. I got sent back in to finish. Complete game shutout is the most beautiful phrase to a new pitcher, probably to any pitcher. To have it spoken about my last start is one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.

Honestly though, I’m not sure what possessed me to take on a contract right out of high school. Though what’s done is done and I’m here now. With two starts under my belt and a third coming on only three days rest after a full nine, barring some form of lineup change, I’m worried about how I’ll perform. I just had two drastically different games. I still don’t know what I’m capable of, or incapable of for that matter, but I’m going to throw at everyone. That’s always been my style. Throw strikes and pray.

Exactly what baseball’s supposed to be.

My first two games as a starting pitcher in Road To The Show mode in MLB 12 The Show are pretty indicative of the series as a whole. The game, while being the best sports simulation available for any sport, is often erratic, random, unpredictable…

I picked up a no decision in my first start, allowing 3 runs and 5 hits over 4 and a third innings with 2 strikeouts. Then 4 days later I threw a complete game shutout, allowing 7 hits with no walks and 7 strikeouts in my second start. That is the essence of baseball. It’s erratic. It’s random. It’s unpredictable.

Sure it’s a video game, and there are ways to win or do decent pretty much all the time. Though The Show has always done well to minimize this by throwing in that bit of chance. Even if you have perfect timing on the meter, or the new “Pulse Pitching,” there’s a chance that curve ball will, well, not curve. Even whether a batter capitalizes on that bad curve is totally up in the air. That’s what baseball is all about. It’s tension and release. Every pitch. Every at bat. Every game. All season long.

It feels good to scrape away two seasons worth of pine tar.

I had a rocky seven year relationship with Allstar Baseball 2003. It was the only reason I kept my Xbox connected to my television for a long time. As soon as I played a game in MLB 10 The Show, I felt comfortable throwing the Xbox in the closet. I knew it was my new sports series for good. I tend to skip seasons on sports games, picking the new version up every other year (Madden’s, and EA’s, lack of true updates every year caused this habit to form.) so I’ve never played The Show 11. So much has changed in these two years that it feels like a totally new game to me. It still has the same overall feel and flow, still has the same sounds and visuals (though it’s the prettiest it’s ever been) but still feels new and fresh. The modes, features, and UI all have a fresh coat of paint but there’s enough new included to justify a new game.

This season marks the debut of two new mechanics. For pitching you have the option to use Pulse Pitching. It’s an innovative approach to pitching that I do like, though I feel the meter during the windup from 2010 is still more immersive, since the meter moves during the windup and delivery, synced with the animation. Pulse pitching allows you to select your pitch, then location, and then your release point by using a pulsing circle. The circle gets smaller and larger, rather quickly, and you have to press the pitch button when the circle is smallest to hit your location. The ball can end up anywhere within the circle and anywhere along its outline so timing is far more important than using the old pitching meter, and obviously takes some adjustment. Don’t expect to just start painting the plate corners your first time.

The second new mechanic is complete analog batting. The idea is that you use the left analog stick to locate your swing, and the right stick to time it. Since you have to pull the right stick down to set your front foot and then push forward to swing at the right moment, as well as locate the ball at the same time with the left stick, there is a HUGE learning curve. Even though I admittedly haven’t used it much yet, I’m going to come right out and say that I don’t really like it. It feels cumbersome and slow. The target that shows where your bat will make contact is obtrusive, often obscuring the ball as it comes in at you. It also has a spring return. Meaning that if you let go of the stick, it bounces back to center so you have to hold the left stick steady as you move the right to swing. It’s all just too much too soon.

That’s not to say it won’t feel much better with more practice, but as a new feature it has the feel of something meant for only very skilled players. Some people just want to play baseball.

For those people not interested in being the best at moving analog sticks, you have the option of using the older batting methods from previous versions of the game so you aren’t forced to even look at the new stuff if you just want to play the way you are used to.

Forced into retirement.

I’m a little disappointed that I can’t carry over my RTTS player from 2010. I know it’s a bit much to ask, and maybe you can do it if you have the 2011 game, but there’s still a feeling of loss there. I’m five seasons into my career on that game and in the middle of my first season at the MLB level and I just have to start over. It’s a shame, but I’ll get over it.

Want to hear something else that could fit the above tagline? Muting Eric Karros is almost a requirement. That guy has all the personality of a lobotomized brick in a coma, not to mention he says things that the guy he replaced last season used to say in the 2010 version of the game. What the fuck? Luckily, as I stated, you can mute any of the three commentators if you so choose. Crisis averted.

What do you mean I don’t have to work the bullpen?

I’m pretty sure (maybe 80%) this was included in the 2011 game, but I’m not enamored with the idea that you pitch your first game in AA as a starter. I liked how you had to earn a start in RTTS 2010. Being a starter right out of the gate has the advantage of speeding up your time in the minors, but it also has the disadvantage of taking away the feeling of accomplishment when you’re awarded with a spot in the starting rotation, even if it is just to keep it warm for an injured player. I’ll miss that feeling to be sure, but in the grand scheme of things it makes little difference to the game.

What it allows you to do is build up stats faster since you are seeing more batters and earning more points per game than you would otherwise. Some people don’t attach themselves to their virtual counterparts like I do. I’m sure other people with even less time than I have are big fans of not being stuck in a relief role for half a season before they are given a start.

Still, this is the only area of real contention I have with the game and it’s only because there’s no option to change it.

What it all comes down to is this.

Our resident stat nerd and baseball superfan, Mauricio Rubio, took a shot at the game while a plumber was fixing my kitchen sink. (NOT a euphemism for sex) It’s important to note that ol’ Rube is a fucking savant, I think he may actually be autistic. The man knows every player in baseball, past or present, and perhaps even future. Within moments of picking a team and starting a game, he was able to compete simply based on his knowledge of baseball. He knew where the pitch was going. Every time. Without ever playing any game in The Show series.

Who cares right?

Fucking wrong. That just goes to show you the amount of detail thrown into this game. Mauricio knows how a pitcher is going to throw at Alfonso Soriano, at what count, what number of outs, with runners at whatever bases and so does the game’s AI. That amount of detail wasn’t put together by no slouch. That takes constant and painstaking research from a team that absolutely loves the game of baseball. That’s why The Show is the best sports simulation in existence. You don’t create a game like this with code and QA testing. You give birth to it. It’s the love child of baseball fans and video game fans coming together in an explosion of statistics and gameplay polish. It wasn’t made for me. It was made for the game of baseball itself.

This has been making the rounds a little, but it’s still great. It really fits the feeling of the game as a whole.