Things I’ve Been ___ On

July 25, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 7 Comments 

[Author's note: I always think of more things to mention and this got out of hand pretty quickly. The final word tally is over 6500, but it all breaks down into discrete sections of 250-500 words, which are manageable. You will manage.]

One of the things I rarely see addressed is when people of repute in some field admit their own flaws and indiscretions in analysis. It’s as if the only real way to continue building our own ostensible authority is to focus on our own successes and elide anything that doesn’t cohere with that vision. For the people doing the baseball journalism or looking towards front office work as a career— perhaps for any other industry— I suppose credibility and the insistence of it are necessary. But as something of a removed observer on the subject of baseball, who prefers to do it out of interest rather than think of it as a vocation, I’m blessed with the ability to talk about happenings without stressing too much about credibility. If I’m right or wrong, since the subject is relegated to a hobby, I don’t think of it as reflecting poorly on who I am.

People wanted a mid-season review. People often want prospect lists too, but those suck because they presume steady and identifiable stratifications of talent, parity amongst teams, and comparable risk/reward factors. Even outside of prospecting, the utilities I would find for listing would comprise a small list in and of itself. So I’m more content to do a review, but with a twist: I’m not going to talk about what has happened and presume objectivity. Instead, I’m going to address, as best I am able, the areas in which I made private or public predictions as to player development and talk about where I’ve been right to this point, where wrong, and where I can give myself an incomplete grade. In some cases, I won’t talk about what interests you specifically and there isn’t a single thing about unexpected breakouts, but this is my experiment.

I know that people rely on me for some of these perspectives because I’ve been starting at this stuff for an inordinate length of time, but my judgment is by no means perfect and I have my own biases and instances where I’ve shot from the hip. I want people to recognize that when I’m saying these things, I’m giving my own perspective based on what data I have and how I do my own calculus with it. I can be wrong. I can hit on some things out of acuity and others out of happenstance, and miss out because of bad process and bad luck. I can also hope that people try to come at these quandaries with the same rigor I try to [now and then], but for now I’ll just share what I’ve found.
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2014 Everett Aquasox Preview

June 12, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 6 Comments 

I know I say this every years and mean it whole-heartedly every year, but writing an opening day roster preview for the ‘Sox at this stage is an exercise of limited utility. A lot of players haven’t signed, a lot of players will be eased into pro ball and appear later, some guys will only be here to get warmed up and then be off to California (the state) or Iowa. The team that opens the year will bear some resemblance to the team that ends it in that some players will stick around and do baseball until there is no more baseball to do. For now.

Acknowledging what the situation is, the only grade I can conscionably give the Aquasox is “incomplete.” No, that’s a bit lazy. I like the outfield and there are a few players in this group who have some of the best raw power in the system so long as you don’t ask about their contact skills. The group they have catching at the moment is interesting if not good. The infield isn’t going to be great, yet, but the pitching should hold up so long as they don’t walk everyone. One of the players on this roster may be the second coming of Leury Bonilla.

I’ve heard word this morning that Austin Cousino signed, but no, I don’t know yet if he’s going to be on this roster or if they’ll play him higher. Where the draft picks are assigned to play is often a mystery until it isn’t.
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2014 MLB Draft Open Thread (Rounds 11-40)

June 7, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 9 Comments 

This thing is still going on? And it isn’t even halfway done? Okay, look, one of the issues in spreading the draft over three days is that by the time you get into third day or even parts of the second day, the enthusiasm by those outside of the industry is pretty much burnt up. If it’s left to just one day you can sort of psych yourself into plowing through it or run off the excess energy whereas falling into exhaustion and then starting up again half a day later feels like a less practical use of one’s time. And you’re pushing it into a weekend? The weekend should be there to recover from the draft. I don’t think anyone is listening to me but danged if these don’t seem like reasonable complaints. Also you’re never going to generate enthusiasm for something with this erratic a yield. But I see no real reversal to it.

Day two brought the M’s mostly pitching. They bookended with a good defensive CF and a bat-first catcher and in the middle picked up a lot of college pitching. Of the pitchers, we had one junior draftee, one Juco guy, and four seniors. This would suggest in a way that the M’s expect to spend a lot of money on the combo of Jackson and Morgan just to get them signed and are scaling back a bit in order to do so. For example, the 7th round pick last year got $10k from us, the 8th rounder got $20k, and rounds nine and ten split $10k evenly between them. If the Mariners can get similar value from some of their senior signings, then appeasing Boras Jackson becomes easier.

What do I think of what’s going on so far? You could go the route of saying that most of these players will suck, and you wouldn’t be wrong. Its the same rationale that would allow you lazily to say that x position player won’t stay at their most taxing defensive position or y pitcher doesn’t have enough to start. Or you could treat it as that regular, fresh influx of names and talents that distracts us from the larger issues going on, much like say, the news does. The draft succeeds in diverting our attentions from the fact that the Rays had lost ten in a row before Erik Bedard schooled us last night. Or it at least puts in an effort.

Yarbrough and Ratliff seem somewhat similar, lefties with better than average fastballs who might have the secondary offerings to keep starting, though Ratliff is more raw on that front (he doesn’t even have a Perfect Game profile, but Twitter suggests to me that he’s worked out with the Mariners so I guess they saw something). Altavilla and Kerski are both undersized right-handers who get “bullpen” tags as a result. Altavilla has better stuff by a good margin, but the effort in his delivery seems to scare people and the M’s have generally put their high-effort guys in the bullpen pretty quickly. Byrd seems to be similar to last year’s seventh-rounder, Tyler Olson, in that he’s a left-hander with a good record who pitches off his breaking ball. Miller reportedly has average-to-slightly-better stuff but lacks much decent command of it.

The look of things is so heavy on college players right now that it seems a little weird. Could the first two picks go through that much money? Do Cousino or Altavilla or Ratliff really expect that much? We’re in a position now where it seems like the M’s could go for a tougher sign guy and attempt to throw a lot of money at him, but since the new rules went into effect, we haven’t really seen the M’s try that all that much, let alone succeed at it.

Let’s get to it then. Another thirty rounds. God, I hope we draft Handsome Monica.

2014 MLB Draft Open Thread (Rounds 3-10)

June 6, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 12 Comments 

Phew, that was some first two rounds, right? Remember that selection where the guy who we didn’t think would be picked was picked? That was really something. All right, so after last night I didn’t have that much time to look into things so my commentary will be limited, which means under 500 words. Maybe.

Two things surprised me so far. One was Kolek over Rodon. I had myself convinced that the Marlins would either take Rodon on what he would add to the franchise as a Cuban-American or they’d steal Jackson from us. Neither happened. The other was exactly how far Gettys and Gatewood slipped. These were fellows who were top ten picks coming into the year and one wonders, with the new CBA that I’m so fond of referring to, if they sign or go to college knowing that they could be in the top five three years from now.

The Jackson pick gives the Mariners a player who will likely be their top prospect in the winter. What I can add that I haven’t already is that the rock-back-and-forth mechanism in his swing looks to have been toned down quite a bit. The Other Ripkin Brother and Cornelius Clifford Floyd were talking about it as they went over the hitters and Jackson mechanics have gone from what I pointed out to more of a lift-lead-foot, plant, and-swing thing. It’s still a hitch that could be exploited a bit, but the severity of the issue has been diminished. One hopes it can be fixed entirely.

I have less commentary on Gareth Morgan. One of the first things I noted was that someone, in reply to the MLBDraftTracker tweet announcing his pick, made a Stanton comp, which I can only assume means that he’ll change his name on arriving in the majors. From what I’m reading, he seems to have extraordinary hitting tools but limited skills and is lacking the speed to play outside the corners. The former isn’t entirely surprising given that he’s from Ontario. One hopes that they’ll be able to get him a little more focused and disciplined in his approach, but he’s committed to NC State and who knows if he’s signable.

Regarding the draft so far for the M’s? Well, I don’t know why you’d ask two picks in, first off. But secondly, it’s interesting to note that thus far the M’s have not dipped into pitching and that they have bucked the perceived strength of the draft. I seem to remember them doing the same in the past. Be it contrarianism or some other inclination, I still expect them to go into pitching pretty quickly in day two, and have more faith in their development of said pitching since they’ve had some success teaching breaking balls. Since they went HS with the first two, they may also go college in their pitching in an effort to keep costs in line. It’s also worth noting that the M’s had three corner OFs in their top ten draft picks last year and we’re only adding to it. Depth can turn into strength, can turn into the surplus that you deal from.

Three through ten, starting at 10 am.

2014 MLB Draft Open Thread (Rounds 1 & 2)

June 5, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 25 Comments 

So today’s the day, or “a day” (ugh), or perhaps you just weren’t paying attention up until now. Luuuuucky. With the sixth overall pick, sometime this afternoon the Mariners will be selecting some guy who might be their top prospect going into next season. Then later, with pick 74, they’ll pick some other guy who is probably an okay baseball player too. Better than you, at least. From there, we’ll drift into players that most of us have never heard of and go on until there are forty rounds of selections. Remember that there used to be fifty, and that there was also a January draft until 1986 and prior to that there was a brief August draft. You can never have too many. Or you could, and so they stopped.

Here are the basics of what you need to know. The draft will go on with large intermissions from today (Rounds 1 & 2 w/ comps), through Friday (3-10) until Saturday afternoon at some point (11-40). Friday and Saturday, coverage will begin at MLB.com at 10 am, but today, coverage complete with talking heads in conversation begins at 3 pm with actual selections coming at 4 pm. Because if there’s anything America loves more than the events themselves, it’s an hour of speculation and mental foreplay. I don’t know why this doesn’t extend to everything. The Thanksgiving Day parade should be preceded by predictions of marching order and possible rogue balloon entrants who were seen rising in the final months. Movie previews should have retired actors, directors, and screenwriters projecting what might happen based off of the summaries they read on IMDB. When I’m eyeing some gal at a reading or show or bar, I want a gallery of pick-up artists, therapists, and survivors of good and bad relationships giving odds on the possible outcomes of our striking up a conversation.

Here are some bullet points pertaining to what you might need to know:

* This draft class is partially the result of the new CBA’s allotment of fixed draft pools. Basically, the players exiting college right now were high schoolers in the last year before the new rules kicked in, and that year there was a lot of wild spending on prep players as a sort of last hurrah. This means the college ranks are a bit thin right now, but will normalize in years to come.

* The strength of the draft is largely in pitching, both high school and college. There have been a few Tommy John casualties as there often are (Hoffman, Fedde) and others whose mechanics still give pause (Freeland), but the top portion of third-party draft boards features a lot of pitching right now. We don’t know that the actual selections will play out like this. Maybe teams will be more eager to replenish with injuries rampant in the minor leagues this year, maybe they will be more shy about selecting more pitching. It’s possible too that because the hitting class is considered weaker, that hitters may be overvalued and teams will be more inclined to burn that pick early on hitting, knowing that they could get comparable pitching later. These are factors we all end up considering the day of.

* The mock draft consensus has been unusually consistent over the past few weeks in that the M’s are still projected to take top HS bat C/3B/RF Alex Jackson. Nothing has [yet] come up at the last minute to dissuade anyone from that. But bear in mind that this isn’t a lock either. There were mutterings of the Marlins perhaps trying to work a deal with him at #2, and no one rightly knows what the Cubs are up to at #4. If he slips past those two, he’s probably ours, but that’s a big if.

* Say that he doesn’t. In that case, the most likely pick seems to be Hartford left-hander Sean Newcomb, who seems to me like a less-developed James Paxton. There are other possibilities as well. This org looooves their shortstops, so if Nick Gordon gets past the Twins, he is also absolutely in play for us. If one of the top prep arms (Aiken, Kolek) or Rodon drop down, which seems improbable, they are also in play. The players that have linked to the M’s before but seem less likely at this moment are LSU right-hander Aaron Nola (high-floor, three good pitches), who may be in play earlier, and NC State shortstop and Rodon teammate shortstop Trea Turner (elite speed, good defense, swing like an uprooted tree wielded by a wimpy tornado).

* The Mariners, on account of sucking last year, were awarded a competitive balance pick at the end of the supplemental second round, which means that they’ll be making the last selection of the day at 74. The current administration has never not picked a position player in the second round, but who knows what happens here? Our normally allocated second round pick went to the Yankees because of Cano and Morales’ not-signing elsewhere.

My personal board, which is weighted for likelihood, looks like this:

1) Jackson [Weight transfer and timing may be an issue, but talent matches our needs well]
2) Newcomb [Lacking secondaries, but low mileage and org had success teaching curves]
3) Conforto [Fits our positional and power/OBP needs well, but I'm worried they'd rush him]
4) Freeland [Love the command, finish unnerves me]
5) Gordon [Great defensive actions, good offensive ceiling, but best at short]
6) Nola [The same basic pick the M's have made four of the last five years]

If I’m not weighting my selections, I like Touki Toussaint a lot and think that this organization would be a good match to develop him to near his ceiling, but no one has put him this high and pitching still scares a lot of people. I also have an avowed interest in Michael Gettys because he really does have elite physical tools, but do I trust the Mariners to succeed in developing someone with a hitting ability this raw? No. I do not.

There’s reading material abounds. You can go through my earlier preview or read through Marc’s interview with Chris Crawford. Read Tony Blengino’s insights into what really goes on in the draft room! Or you could sift through some thousands of mocks and players profiles all over the internet in the hours leading up to the event because you’re a wizard and/or own a time machine.

I won’t be here for this draft. Just like the last one, I have somewhere to be that coincides with the start time. But rest assured that wherever I am, I will be reacting with proportionally inappropriate emotion.

Names for the First-Round, 2014 Edition

May 23, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 13 Comments 

Edit: I had intended to let this one sit, but this morning’s mock draft from BA indicated that we were hot on two more prospects, which I have now added to the list. One of them I am rather keen on! The other I am not.

One of the positives I can take of last season’s poor record, as I am in the lemonade business, is that the Mariners ended up with a high, protected pick in a draft that most people seem to like. And it being that time of year of wildly casting energies about at all manner of likely and unlikely possibilities, I’m now here to write about some of them in that foolish way that hopefully obviates the need of my frantically writing the evening of the draft. It worked so well in the Hultzen draft.

This year is a pitcher-heavy year for the draft. Look through the top 100 prospects by BA and you’ll only see seven hitters in the top twenty, and a little over sixty pure pitchers on the list, not counting those two-way guys who could slide into the role. With the weirdness that we’ve already seen with regard to pitchers, it’s easy to imagine a lot of teams wanting to take advantage here. Whether they do or are scared out of it remains to be seen, but it’s not as if baseball can do without pitching. It’s good that they seem to be taking the initiative to try to figure out what’s going on. Imagine a sport that, I don’t know, risked traumatic brain injury on a routine basis, and imagine that sport just ignoring those injury risks and shrugging them off. Why, people would be up in arms! Not that the arms aren’t up now, in stiff casts and largely useless… You know, let’s just move on.

I don’t have any more special insight to what the M’s might bring to this draft than I usually do. That is, aside from that the 2nd round to date has been all position players, the 4th round entirely college players, and the third round skews towards prep players. Often in the last few days, we’ll get attached pretty solidly to a name this high and that will be that. As for who is most likely, Dave noted last June that since McNamara has been at the helm, four of the five top picks have been “safe” college players who were emphasized as sure major league contributors with sound fundamentals and high floors. “Contributors” seems key here because some of these fellows are still looking to have complete seasons. Shifting gears to the exception, and a considerable reach at the time, Taijuan Walker has had at least had the look of being the highest ceiling player of the bunch, going from live-armed curiosity moving off shortstop to one of the best prospects in the game, prior to the epidemic rise of injury and surgery.

As an addendum to Dave’s post, while the first round favors college, we’ve seen them mix both raw and experienced players in the top five rounds overall. On the side of rawness, Nick Franklin, Tyler Marlette, Edwin Diaz, and Patrick Kivlehan have all been boons; Joe DeCarlo, Marcus Littlewood, and Steve Baron, less so. Nor has experience been a sure-fire winner as, first-round aside, the additions of your Kyle Seagers and your 2013 Brad Millers and your Chris Taylors have been weighed against the faults of a Rich Poythress, or a John Hicks, or a Tyler Blandford. There have also been trends that suggest a love for shortstops and college pitching, so these are also probably givens in the early rounds of what is now a three-day oh godda-

Let’s just look at some names then. This will ease past some of the obvious ones, because in the unlikely event that Aiken, Rodon, or Kolek manage to drop somehow, you would have to give them strong consideration.
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1B Ji-Man Choi Suspended for 50 Games

April 18, 2014 · Filed Under Minor Leagues · 4 Comments 

For a while now, I had thought about what kind of post I would write about Ji-man Choi when the time came. There seemed to be no lack of interesting material to cover. I could talk about how he was a third baseman in high school and how there was this big fuss when he signed because people were worrying about the KBO not being able to retain its homegrown products. I could talk about how the M’s converted him to catcher and even added an average-ish Korean pitching prospect so that he could have a battery mate.

I could talk about the Arizona League MVP he won, followed by the struggles catching, how his back locked up, and how they moved him to first base. I could talk about how they sent him to Clinton, not really intending to keep him there, and how he held his own and the next year moved up from High Desert to Jackson to Tacoma, all the while with limited expectations. I could talk about how he just kept hitting and walking until he forced his way into the discussion. It would mean that Smoak still didn’t get it together, or that one of the DH crew likewise couldn’t hold down, but it would be something new, a story of redemption, and a labored-for reward going to a prospect that I’ve just plain liked for years.

Well, if you liked the “redemption” part of that story, the good news is that he has even more to redeem himself from because there was an announcement yesterday that Choi would be suspended for 50 games due to a PED positive. I’d curse the Monkey’s Paw, but it’s been done, and with all the Bad News that has been Mariners prospects over the past couple of weeks, I just don’t have the levity to pull it off.

The Tacoma News Tribune got some quotes from Choi in response to the suspension. It’s the usual, “I don’t know what I could have taken that would cause this to happen, but I will serve the suspension, lacking any other explanation.” There was a time when you could lean on that old adage that one could be innocent until proven guilty, but after all that fun stuff with Ryan Braun in recent years, with all the talk of him staring deep into people’s eyes and saying things as sincerely as possible, I think some of the general naïveté has burned off. At this juncture, I can only be glad that the talk of worse suspensions, as have been floated in discussions lately, are not already in effect.

The substance detected in Choi’s system was methandienone. It has its own Wikipedia page, in which we learn that it was previously given to women as a tonic. Ah, mid-20th century science. More recently, it was something used by body builders such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, prior to its being banned about thirteen years ago. As substances go, this is pretty serious stuff. This is a big boy steroid.

Here’s another consideration though. You can go down the list of PED suspensions over the last five years or so and what you’ll see, disproportionately, is that foreign minor league players are going down. Before you prepare your conspiracy tinfoil hats, the explanation is actually rather simple: other countries don’t have the same regulations on supplements that we do. Another consideration is that baseball organizations have warned their own for years that picking up a supplement at GNC or wherever is not necessarily the best course because we don’t actually know what’s in there. What we’re seeing often is a system of punishment tested against an under-regulated substance with little global oversight. Fun, huh?

As stated earlier, the usual offenders are Latin American prospects who knowingly or unknowingly get into this stuff either to recover from injuries or not. Have fun with that Punnett square of potential moral culpability, baseball. In Choi’s case, there are any number of places he could have ended up with something that was graded by different laws. Choi did some of his rehab work in the Australian Baseball League. He’s probably been in Korea sometime recently. He has a bunch of teammates who have been in other places, acquiring other things. Also there’s the stuff manufactured in the good ol’ U.S. of A. There’s no easy thread to pick up and follow to the answer, and even if there were, you’d have to then answer questions of intentionality. Enjoy.

Major League Baseball has convinced us at present that PEDs are morally wrong and something to be condemned with harsh punishment, quite unlike the future and blernsball in which steroid injections are mandatory. As a fan of and guy who sometimes still writes about baseball I’m supposed to unambiguously condemn this stuff even when a player I like is implicated. But minor league baseball is hard. Dudes are on buses most of the time, the per diem for food is pretty laughable even if you aren’t a professional athlete (PB&J, ahoy!), and it’s difficult to find offseason jobs when employers know it’s a temporary endeavor and players know they need to keep in shape. Without shadowing any doubt on one player or the next, I could see why a player might get into this sort of thing. We can all stand on our boxes and say we’d never do something like that, but without being in that position, it’s hard to say. Fortunately in my field, there aren’t performance-enhancing drugs, just regular drugs. *rimshot* Kidding, of course.

Choi has been suspended. He’ll be out until early or mid-June I guess. It sucks, but considering that his game has never been particularly about power, nor did he see any notable increase in his slugging, nor was he recovering from any weird injury that I know of, maybe it’s just some fluke thing. I’ll keep telling myself that as I can. Just keep walking and hitting doubles, and try not to get too down as Montero lumbers embarrassingly about the first base bag.

2014 Tacoma Rainiers Preview

April 3, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 9 Comments 

If you’re now wondering about this or that player whom you may not be seeing in these previews, I’d recommend starting here  and scrolling back through their archives to see who has been released lately.  Those not released are either in extended or injured in some way.  This year it was particularly a who’s who of “oh yeah, I remember that guy!  Man, whatever happened to him?”  Lots of guys who at one point were draft intrigues or ranked at the back end of top 30 lists based on an interesting thing or two that they could do. The Rainiers this year seem to be… average?  The rotation is uninteresting and uninspiring at the moment, but competent.  The bullpen fares better on the account of employing a couple Destroyers of Worlds and a few other guys who you could probably trust with a lead.  The catchers know how to catch and the infielders mostly know how to hit and the outfielders, if nothing else, can run a ball down.  It’s not a star-powered roster or anything but it can probably manage out there in the wilds of the PCL.

As for where the ramblings take us, we have schadenfreude, pica (sort of), everyone’s favorite rhetorical technique, guys who could be in Pantene commercials, the 188th most popular male baby name of the 1980s, dread and doomsaying, players the Oakland A’s would probably like, and repeated instances of name confusion and pointless conjecture.  Let’s get to it.

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2014 Jackson Generals Preview

April 3, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · Comment 

Good morning, people still on a high after sweeping the Angels for the first time since 2006. I can’t think of a more deserving group. This will be the third installment in which I address the state of our double-A Jackson Generals of the Southern League, formerly the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx. I miss those Xs sometimes, it’s nostalgic in a 90s sort of way. The digression machine this round takes me to the unreliability of the written word properly conveying tone, unpopular music opinions (I have MANY), splicing of data that the mind refuses to process, my preferences in hard liquor, a Wilson Valdez name check, things that seem really Irish, someone I describe as being a professional enigma (and translate into how unpopular my music opinions can be), the depression that follows an encounter with the sublime knowing that day-to-day life is going to fail to live up to it later, and… I think that covers it.

There’s not a lot of high-end talent, we’re talking one top ten guy, one on the fringe of that, a guy in the late teens, a guy or two in the twenties, and various thirty/forty-somethings. It’s better than High Desert, probably not quite the ceiling that the top guys have in Clinton, but you know what? This rotation looks good. The bullpen has some solid contributors and few weak points. The catchers are reliable. The infield has some guys that can drive the ball and the outfield has some that can cover ground and all of the starters out there can hit. Some of these players, even at this level, are still improving, still somewhat unknown to me, and with some things breaking right, they could really be a force.  Could be a middle of the road team, but there’s potential for a lot more.  I like this team. I like where it’s going. Let’s get to it.

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2014 High Desert Mavericks Preview

April 2, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 7 Comments 

Hello and welcome back to the second installment of oh crap I’m only halfway finished.  Among tangential meanderings in this round, games common to carnivals and fairs, pitchers of limited archetypes, forces of nature, Latin American magical realism, the Orestia, hipsters, people’s nicknames not making any danged sense, the Cartesian coordinate system, and bloodlines. What follows also contains reference to at least one Jabari. Go ahead and guess which. I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

The Mavs look this year like a team that could threaten some serious offense, which seems like it could go without saying but between the core of the infield, the starting catcher, and the mish-mash of potential and results that you have in the outfield, I’m guessing some silly numbers are ahead of us. On both sides.  I like two of the starters all right but can acknowledge that they themselves might have issues and the rest of the rotation may fare no better. Likewise, a few names to like into bullpen and a whole lot of question marks and repeaters. Battleship Baseball, set sail!
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