Thursday, February 27, 2014

2014 Spotlight: the Potential Starting Lineup

Yesterday was the first day of official Spring Training competition in the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues.  The most notable highlights of the day were turned in by Oakland’s Josh Reddick, with these catches.
The Blue Jays defeated the Phillies, 4-3, in a rain-shortened game.  Among notable former Lugnuts, Ryan Goins went 0-for-2, Kevin Pillar was 0-for-1, Moises Sierra went 1-for-1 with a triple, and Chad Jenkins recorded the last out before the rain arrived.  (Also, Jose Bautista hit a ball here.)
Jonathan Diaz is an interesting player to keep an eye on.  You might not know his name, but he played for the Lugnuts back in 2007.  Last season he made his MLB debut for the Red Sox; this year he’s back with the Blue Jays, trying to earn a roster spot in Spring Training.  We wish him well.
Meanwhile, in a professionals vs. collegians tilt, the Miami Marlins defeated the Miami Hurricanes and Jake Marisnick went 1-for-2 with a single, stolen base, and run scored.  (This is my unshakable opinion:  Jake Marisnick, while playing in Lansing, was the living embodiment of Clark Kent/Superman.)
Do you know this great man?
He’s back in the news, and for good reason.
My educated guess at the 2014 Lugnuts lineup:
1.  D.J. Davis, CF
2.  Mitch Nay, 3B
3.  L.B. Dantzler, 1B or DH
4.  Carlos Ramirez, RF
5.  Santiago Nessy, C
6.  Matt Dean, 1B or DH
7.  Dawel Lugo, SS
8.  Dickie Thon, 2B
9.  Jacob Anderson, LF
To take them one by one, now:
1.  D.J. Davis is rated the #3 prospect in the system by Baseball America.  A toolsy center fielder with outstanding speed, he was drafted 17th overall in 2012.  No, he hasn’t played above Bluefield, but there appears to be a common consensus that he’s coming to Lansing this season.
2.  Mitch Nay is #4 in the system.  Not bad, right?  In some places, he’s rated above Davis.  Nay was drafted 58th overall in 2012.  Everyone agrees that he should be playing third base for the Lugnuts this year.
3.  L.B. Dantzler was so good in Vancouver last season that he could very well skip Lansing and move right up to Dunedin.  The South Carolina product batted .302, drew walks, showed power, and won the C’s team MVP award.  (I have also heard exceptional things about his character.)
4.  Carlos Ramirez played for the Lugnuts last year and showed great skills, leading the team with 27 doubles, but batted a mere .228.  A second go-round might see him take the leap forward and become a consistent masher, like Gustavo Pierre before him.
5.  Santiago Nessy (BA’s #23 prospect) might move on to Dunedin, too.  I’m guessing he returns simply because of the Blue Jays’ catching prospect pattern:  A.J. Jimenez played in Lansing in 2009 and 2010, Carlos Perez was a Lug in both 2011 and 2012 — why not Nessy in 2013 and 2014?  If not Santiago, we’re looking at Mike Reeves, who was excellent in Vancouver last year.
6.  Matt Dean (BA’s #25 prospect) led the Appalachian League with a .338 batting average last year.  If Dantzler is skipped up to Dunedin, Dean gets the Lugnuts’ regular first base job.
7.  Dawel Lugo is ranked as the #9 prospect in the organization.  He didn’t walk much for Bluefield last year, but he didn’t strike out much either — and he tied for the team lead with six home runs.  If he doesn’t start the season with Lansing, we should see him at some point in the mid-summer.
8.  Dickie Thon was a prospect, then he wasn’t a prospect, and now he might be a prospect again.  Read his profile, at #37, and see if that helps explain things.  He did well in Vancouver last season, and he’s ready to move up to Lansing.  If Dawel Lugo isn’t ready, Thon will be the Lugnuts’ starting shortstop.
9.  Jacob Anderson is a mystery.  Rib surgery and a subsequent infection robbed him of his 2013 season.  Is he ready for Lansing after a struggle of a 2012 season in Bluefield?  A lot of folks seem to think he’s going to be here, regardless of whether he’s ready or not.  Here’s Blue Jays from Away on the subject.
Wild cards
The entire 2013 starting outfield for Vancouver – Chaz Frank, Ian Parmleyand Brenden Kalfus – is ready to move up.  How many of the three come to Lansing, and who skips the MWL and heads right to Dunedin?
In 2013, INF Kellen Sweeney and OF Chris Hawkins both struggled in their second season with the Lugnuts.  Does either one come back for a third year?
Whither Andy Fermin?  He played in Lansing for 55 games in 2012, and then played in 57 games for Vancouver last year.  (He was solid, too!)  Does Andy return to the Lugnuts this season in a utility infielder role?
Lastly, this is awesome.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

2014 Spotlight: the Potential Bullpen

Happy Opening Day for Spring Training Exhibition Games!
The Jays played an intrasquad game yesterday, and Aaron Sanchez didn't fare too well.  (Nice to see Andy Burns crush a triple and Drew Hutchison return comfortably to the mound.)
I'll definitely be tuned in to today's 1:00 p.m. ST opener against the Phillies.  Baseball's unofficially back, and it's wonderful.
Let's get down to business.  Examine last season's Opening Day Lugnuts bullpen:
RHP Wil Browning - moved briskly from GCL to Bluefield to Vancouver
RHP Tucker Donahue - 2012 Vancouver reliever
RHP Chuck Ghysels - pitched 25 games in GCL, 2 games in Dunedin
RHP Matt Johnson - 2012 Vancouver reliever
RHP Ian Kadish - 2012 Lugnuts reliever following late promotion
LHP Griffin Murphy - pitched two games in Vancouver, 17 games in Bluefield
RHP Arik Sikula - 2012 Vancouver closer
RHP Ben White - 2012 Vancouver starter
What do we learn from this list?  Find 1) candidates who pitched integral roles in the Vancouver bullpen, 2) candidates who excelled at the lower levels, plus 3) one starter -- who might start the season in the pen but will be used in the rotation if any starter goes down with an injury.
Here's something else to keep in the back of our mind.
From all accounts, the 2014 version of the Lugnuts will look an awful lot like the 2012 squad, complete with remarkable young talent in the starting rotation.  In that season, the Blue Jays made certain to stock the Lugs with capable veterans in the pen (like Ajay Meyer and Brandon Berl), thereby ensuring that the kids' best efforts would not be lost.
Now then:  let's take our best guesses at a relief octet.
Returnees from 2013
I highly doubt we'll see the return of a Kramer Champlin, Justin Jackson, Ian Kadish, Arik Sikula, or Efrain Nieves, all of whom should be beyond the Midwest League.  This leaves us with Tucker Donahue, Chad Girodo, Chuck Ghysels, and Griffin Murphy.  Let's select Tucker Donahue,  who could dominate in a return trip to the MWL, and Chuck Ghysels, who began the season as the Lugs' closer before joining Vancouver and rocking the fireman role for the Canadians (51 strikeouts in 29 1/3 innings).
C's on the Rise
The top lefty in the Vancouver bullpen was Matt Dermody (5-1, 1.77, 50 strikeouts, 4 walks in 40 2/3 innings).  Promote that man.  If you'd like a starting candidate, a la Ben White from a year ago, left-handers Kyle Anderson and Colton Turner (each of whom was mentioned in the starting rotation preview) could serve White's swingman/surprise starter role.  For now, let's put Anderson in the rotation and add Colton Turner to the pen.
Boosted from Bluefield
The 2013 Appy League Blue Jays featured several light-out candidates, foremost among them Alvido Jimenez (3-0, 1.29, .149 average against), who earned a callup to Vancouver and dominated there, too.  Others who pitched well in Bluefield:  Phil Kish, Brady Dragmire, Francisco Gracesqui, and Yeyfry Del Rosario.  Phil Kish is already 24, about to turn 25, so let's add him to the proposed pen.
Gulf Coast League Sleeper
Last season, we saw Chuck Ghysels reach Lansing all the way from the GCL.  Before that, it was Danny Barnes vaulting up to the Midwest League after a strong GCL performance.  Well, in 2013, the top GCL Jays pitcher besides Phil Kish was Chris Rowley (4-0, 1.10, 9 G, 5 GS, 39 strikeouts and only 3 walks in 32 2/3 innings).  At the start of the season, Rowley was striking out pretty much everyone he faced out of the bullpen.  By the end of the season, he was starting.  If the Jays feel like keeping him as a starter, we might not see him yet.  Still, the 23-year-old Army product makes the perfect GCL sleeper.  (He and Kish were both undrafted free agents, and we've seen NDFA's achieve great success in Lansing.)
LHP Matt Dermody
RHP Tucker Donahue
RHP Chuck Ghysels
RHP Alvido Jimenez
RHP Phil Kish
RHP Chris Rowley
LHP Colton Turner
That leaves us with one open spot, and I'm looking at lefties Alonzo Gonzalez and Scott Silverstein, each of whom came out of the Vancouver bullpen during the Canadians' championship run.  With apologies to Alonzo, let's add Scott Silverstein, my fellow Marylander, bringing our bullpen to a full eight.
Note that there's every chance, if the Blue Jays return to tandem starting pitching, that the Lugnuts' pen will feature only six or seven pitchers instead.
Coming tomorrow... a spotlight of the potential Lugnuts starting lineup.
Monday:  Could the 2014 Lugnuts be as good as 2012?
Tuesday:  starting rotation preview
Today:  bullpen preview
Thursday:   starting lineup preview
So help me, I love this sequence from young Giannis Antetokounmpo:

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Bill Watterson's address at Kenyon College Commencement, 1990

It is a civic service to bring this to you.

The more people who read this, in my opinion, the better.

May 20, 1990

The importance of Jason Collins

I'm only writing this because I've heard quite a lot of people -- Tony Kornheiser was the latest -- talk about how they can't understand why Jason Collins is receiving such attention.  (Collins was signed to a 10-day contract by Brooklyn and entered a game over the weekend, becoming the first openly gay athlete in any of the U.S.'s four major sports leagues.)

More to the point:

1)  Collins isn't Jackie Robinson.  Robinson's breaking of the color barrier was momentous and courageous.  This doesn't remotely come close.
2)  Collins isn't a good player.  He's an old forward who might play 5-10 minutes and commit a couple fouls.
3)  Heck, Collins played in the NBA before he came out.  What's so big about him playing now?

To which I counter:

Do you believe that Jason Collins is the first gay athlete to ever play in the NBA?
Do you also believe that he is the only current gay player in the NBA?
Do you believe that (besides the about-to-be drafted Michael Sam) there are no gay players in the NFL?
Do you believe that there are no gay players in baseball's Minor Leagues or Major Leagues?
Do you believe that there are no gay players in hockey's minor leagues or in the NHL?

If you believe that there are zero gay players in professional male sports other than Sam and Collins, then I shall respectfully disagree.  (Don't scoff -- I heard a former professional MLBer say that he is certain he never played with a gay teammate.)

But if you do believe, as I do, that there are closeted players in all of these leagues, worried about how they will be perceived if they come out, then perhaps you will see Collins as I do:  signifying that a professional athlete, in this day and age need not closet his true self for fear of what others might think.  This is the rallying cry of gay pride:  it is about pride.

For centuries, we have lived in a culture that has demanded secrecy and false behavior from any person who does not have heterosexual interests.  Bigots be damned, the momentum of humanity has now deemed this culture of secrecy/closetedness unacceptable.  There is nothing embarrassing or shaming about being gay (or bi).  Jason Collins was met with applause when he took the floor for the Nets.  Michael Sam has been embraced by the University of Missouri population.

This is bigger than Jason Collins.  This is for all of those athletes who need emboldening, and for our society as a whole.

2014 Spotlight: the Potential Rotation

Deadspin wasn’t too impressed by the new baseball rules regarding collisions at home plate, but they work fine for me.  To sum up:  1) A catcher cannot block the plate without the ball; if he does, the runner automatically scores.  2) A runner cannot throw forearms/elbows/shoulder blocks at the catcher, he must solely try to slide across home plate.  If the runner raises a forearm or lowers a shoulder, he is automatically out.  Simple.
The video above demonstrates, first, proper plate blocking by a catcher with the ball, and second, a slew of runners coming in shoulder-first or with forearms and elbows raised.
Since my Baseball America Prospect Handbook arrived in the mail yesterday, I’m now ready to talk in greater depth about the Lugnuts’ potential members of the starting rotation.
We’ll begin with Tom Robson, 6’4, age 20, a 4th round pick from 2011, and not to be confused with this Tom Robson, a former player, an author, and the uncle of Mike Moustakas. Robson was the highest drafted Canadian in 2011.  By all accounts, his arsenal includes a changeup, a curveball, and a sinking fastball — and what a sinking fastball it is.  He went 6-0 with a dominant 1.12 ERA last season between Bluefield and Vancouver, leading to the guess that he might jump all the way to Dunedin this year.  (Here’s his Baseball-Reference page for your perusal.)
I should mention, too, that all four runs he allowed in Bluefield came in the same inning.  In other words, 25 of his 26 innings were scoreless in the Appy League.  In Vancouver, he did not allow more than one run in any of his seven starts… and then gave up just one run in 11 1/3 postseason frames.  Impressive.
Baseball America rates Tom Robson the #16 prospect in the Blue Jays’ system:  ”Robson will likely begin 2014 in Lansing and profiles as a durable, innings-eating starter as long as his offspeed stuff continues to progress.”
Dominican 6’1 right-hander Alberto Tirado is 19 years old, and he won’t turn 20 until next December.  In 2011, upon signing with Toronto for $300,000, he threw 87-91 mph.  That velocity rose to 93-95 mph in 2012 and was at 92-96 (topping out at 98) in 2013.  At this rate, he’ll clearly be throwing 105 mph in 2020.  He also works with a couple of different sliders, a sinker, and a changeup with terrific room for growth.  Last season (Baseball-Reference) he was 3-0, 1.68 for Bluefield, with only two wild pitches and only one home run allowed in 207 plate appearances.
Baseball America rates Tirado the #8 prospect in the system.  You’ll like this from BA:  ”The athletic Tirado is an unrefined pitcher whom scouts can dream on because he has some of the most electric stuff in the lower minors.”
Californian 6’4 right-hander Chase DeJong is 20 with another December birthday — as you’re seeing, all of these guys are young.  Both he and Alberto Tirado pitched in the 2013 Crosstown Showdown; Tirado gave up two hits, a walk, and two runs, but DeJong blew the Spartans away to the tune of four strikeouts in two scoreless innings.  He’s big, he’s physical, he’s aggressive, and he doesn’t walk guys.  (Baseball-Reference)
Also, apparently he was told last year that he won a starting role with the Lugnuts right out of Spring Training, which didn’t quite materialize.  We’ll be ready for Chase in the Lansing rotation this season.
Baseball America rates Chase DeJong as the #11 prospect in the organization, saying, “DeJong should make the Lansing rotation this season and projects as a No. 3 starter long-term.”
Dominican 6’4 southpaw Jairo Labourt signed for $350,000 in 2011.  He was 17 then, he’s 20 now.  (Actually, he’s 19 now.  He’ll turn 20 on March 7th.)  Jairo, presumably pronounced Hi-ro, has a 90-93 (topping at 95) mph fastball, change, and slider.  Last season, he impressively limited the opposition to a .204 average with a 1.03 WHIP — in other words, you couldn’t hit him and you couldn’t reach base against him.  After going 2-2 with a 1.92 ERA in Bluefield, he received a playoff start for Vancouver and struck out 10 batters in 5 2/3 innings.  (Baseball-Reference)
He also has the first name alphabetically in the letter L for the entirety of professional baseball.
Baseball America ranks Jairo Labourt the #12 prospect in the Blue Jays’ organization.  BA:  ”Labourt, who has the ceiling of a No. 3 starter, will likely pitch at Lansing in 2014.”
Shane Dawson and Jeremy Gabryszwski (I’m getting really good at spelling his name without looking) are not listed in the BA Top 30… to which I say, so what?
Lefty Dawson (Baseball-Reference) is another Canadian, like Tom Robson, so there are tons of north of the border Toronto Blue Jays supporters who want to see him do well.  So far, he’s living up to their expectations:  61 strikeouts in 46 total innings between Bluefield and Vancouver last year.  (Five of his six runs allowed in Vancouver came in the same game, too.)  Most of the time, he was dominant.  On September 9th, he turns 21.
Righty Gabryszwski (Baseball-Reference) is 6’4, a 2nd round pick in 2011, and a control expert.  No, he doesn’t throw all that hard, striking out only 40 batters in 76 2/3 innings last year for Vancouver.  On the other hand, he walked only 10 batters and gave up 0 home runs, going 5-2 with a 2.82 ERA.  On March 16th, he turns 21.
That’s a darn good collection of talent, each of them with a fine resume at the lower levels.
This is not even to mention a pair of 2013 Vancouver starters, LHP Kyle Andersonand LHP Colton Turner, and a pair of 2013 Bluefield starters RHP Brady Dragmire and LHP Zak Wasilewski, all of whom pitched well last season.  (Colton was briefly a Lug last season, and I found him to be a fine part of the clubhouse.)
Coming tomorrow… a spotlight of the potential Lugnuts bullpen.
Monday:  Could the 2014 Lugnuts be as good as 2012?
Today:  starting rotation preview
Wednesday:  bullpen preview
Thursday:  starting lineup preview

Monday, February 24, 2014

Can the 2014 Lugnuts be as good as 2012?

That’s from a terrific singer/songwriter and a longtime friend, Joe Pug, whom I just saw at the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor.  I highly recommend that you check out his music.
From the Vancouver Sun, we find this excellent blog post from Charlie Caskey, speculating as to the starting rotation for the 2014 Lansing Lugnuts.  Notable quotes:
…Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos told me there were no plans to piggy-back the young arms in Lansing this season, preferring to stretch them out.  He then went on to specifically name [Jairo] Labourt, [Chase] DeJong, and fellow live arm Alberto Tirado. …
For DeJong to be successful in the Midwest League, he’ll need to lower his H/9 [hits allowed per nine innings] and GB/FB [groundball-to-flyball] ratios… if DeJong continues to fill out and adds a mile or two to his fastball, we could be looking at a great year.
Tirado is going to shove it in Lansing.  With three potential plus pitches, including a mid-90s fastball and late movement on his change, how could things go wrong?
Exciting, right?
Charlie concludes that the Lugnuts’ 2014 rotation will look like this (with prospect Tom Robson skipping Lansing and starting the year in Dunedin):
Prospect ranks come from JS – John Sickels (Blue Jays Top 20), FG – FanGraphs (Top 15), BA – Baseball America (Top 30).
RHP Chase DeJong, age 20, JS #16, BA #11
RHP Alberto Tirado, age 19, 
JS #8, FG #6, BA #8
LHP Jairo Labourt, age 20, 
JS #15, FG #15, BA #12
LHP Shane Dawson, age 20
RHP Jeremy Gabryszwski, age 20
We’re not quite looking at the 2012 Lugnuts rotation, with Noah Syndergaard/Aaron Sanchez/Justin Nicolino situation of three dynamite future aces, supplemented by Anthony DeSclafani, a prospect in his own right, fringe prospect David Rollins, sinkerballing veteran Marcus Walden and near no-hit man Jesse Hernandez… and Midwest League MVP Kevin Pillar, sleeper Andy Burns and prospect catcher Carlos Perez in the starting lineup.  (Whew!)
We are looking at a group that could easily establish themselves as the next big things in the Jays’ system after Aaron Sanchez, with the potential to overtake the rehabbing Roberto Osuna and the growing Daniel Norris.  I’m especially fond of the presence of the 20-year-old Dawson, who dominated last season and has the potential to be an early stalwart in the rotation while the other pitchers work with Vince Horsman on ironing out the kinks.
And this isn’t even to touch on hitters Mitch Nay, Dawel Lugo, and D.J. Davis, all top 10 prospects in the organization, with Matt Dean and a possible returning Santiago Nessy.
(What’s more, prospect lefty Matt Smoral, righty Clinton Hollon, and righty Miguel Castro are all waiting in the wings, ready to reach Lansing in 2015-2016 along with whomever the Jays select in this June’s draft.)
Coming tomorrow… a closer look at that Lugnuts rotation.
Tuesday:  starting rotation preview
Wednesday:  bullpen preview
Thursday:  starting lineup preview

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Next 10 Lugs to Reach the Majors, 2014 Edition

Who takes the best Toronto Blue Jays ST photos?  I nominate John Lott.
In March 2013, I put together a list of ten Lugnuts alumni I expected to reach the Major Leagues next.  Let’s go over that list, divided into specific categories:
The Likeliest MLBers
1.  Ryan Goins
2.  A. J. Jimenez
3.  Nestor Molina
4.  Mike McDade
Wilder Guesses
5.  Jake Marisnick
6.  Sean Nolin
7.  Sean Ochinko
8.  Ryan Schimpf
9.  Mark Sobolewski
And One More
10.  Danny Barnes
As it turned out, six Lansing Lugnuts players did make their Major League debut last season:  Ryan Goins (#1), Jake Marisnick (#5), Sean Nolin (#6), and… uh, Jonathan Diaz, Kevin Pillar, and Daniel Webb, none of whom was mentioned.
Maybe it was excusable to not see Diaz’s debut as imminent, but how could I not foresee Pillar’s ascension — especially after his 2012 MWL Most Valuable Player campaign?
Let’s try this again!
Who are the most likely Lugnuts alumni to make their MLB debut in 2014?

Likely Candidates
1.  Noah Syndergaard (New York Mets):  the big right-hander has vaulted to the top of the Mets’ prospect lists; a June promotion wouldn’t be surprising in the slightest.
2.  A.J. Jimenez:  hamstrung by injuries during his MiLB career, this is the year that A.J. finally gets the opportunity to catch in the Bigs.  (He’s a whale of a defensive catcher, too, though his bat might struggle.)
3.  Kenny Wilson:  the speedy center fielder took a while to figure things out in Lansing, with injuries and an attempt at switch-hitting bogging down his career for a bit, but now he’s on his way.  He’s on the Jays’ 40-man roster like Jimenez, so he’s an easy callup.
4/5.  Justin Nicolino/Anthony DeSclafani (Miami Marlins): if they do well at the Double-A level, their ticket to the National League is punched.
6.  Carlos Perez (Houston Astros):  the 2011-2012 Lugs catcher made his way to Triple-A last year; this year, he plays in Houston.
7.  Nestor Molina (Chicago White Sox):  I’m not getting off the Molina bandwagon.  If he can put together a semblance of a solid season in the White Sox system this year, he’s making the Majors.
8.  Aaron Sanchez:  my figuring is that Sanchez enjoys an up and down (but mostly up) year in New Hampshire and then receives a taste of the Majors in September before becoming a much larger piece in the Blue Jays’ future in 2015.
9.  Ryan Schimpf:  power blossomed in the Eastern League in 2013 (23 home runs), though his average dipped down to .210… potential middle infield depth for Toronto?
10.  Andy Burns:  gathered helium last year with a great start in Dunedin, rising up to New Hampshire; if he plays well in Double-A, why not?
Honorable Mentions…  Marcus Walden/Kevin Nolan:  it’s always a good sign if you get invited as a non-roster invitee to Spring Training, and both Walden and Nolan will be taking part in Blue Jays’ camp this spring.  They’re not prospects but if they impress, their names will be remembered.  And Tyler Ybarra/Alan Farina:  you never know if a reliever might suddenly get a chance to make his impact in the Major League pen.
Your thoughts?
Hoax alert:  You can’t trust anyone anymore, not even Olympian Kate Hansen.
The baseball card of the day is this 2013 Topps Heritage Roberto Osuna, with the photograph taken by our own Scott Mapes last season.  How often do you see a Topps Lugnuts baseball card?
Keep on recovering, Roberto, and we’ll see you again soon.
In case you ever wanted to know why the MLB Network’s Brian Kenny wants to “Kill the Win,” read this from Tom Tango.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

One of 100

Every week, I write a baseball column for Ballpark Digest.  Check out my column this week:  "Sign of Spring."
The reason for the change of scenery, from this blog to the other:
I've been running the Lansing Lugnuts' blog out of my own blogger site, but it simply didn't make sense to go through an independent avenue when has its own network set up for the specific purpose of hosting MiLB and MLB personalized content.
Also, every year, the MLBlogs network lists its Top 100 most-clicked blogs in several categories -- Fan, for example, or Pro.  I want the Lugnuts, quite frankly, to be on that list.
How are we going to get there?
  1. Delivering fresh, consistent, smart material -- interviews with Lugnuts players, game notes, anecdotes, and other items that only Trey Wilson and I can produce.
  2. Working hand in hand with our friends from Bluebird BanterJays ProspectsBlue Jays from AwayOK Blue JaysJays Journal, and more.
  3. Your suggestions and recommendations.
A word about the independent Blue Jays websites:  There are many people dedicated to writing opinions about Toronto Blue Jays minor leaguers.  I appreciate that they do, but we work to different purposes.
A breakdown of the average Lugnuts roster:
* Tier 1:  1-3 highly touted prospects, who receive tons of attention
 Tier 2:  4-7 under the radar prospects, who receive a hint of attention
* Tier 3:  everybody else
Some prospect sites care about the top 1-3 talents.  Other sites care about the first and second tiers, numbering about 5-10 talents.  They're looking for future stars.
I deal with every player in the clubhouse, 1-25+.  Favoritism can't enter into it.  Everyone in that clubhouse, as long as they suit up as a part of the Blue Jays' organization, has a shot at making the Majors.
Because of this, I'm not going to be dismissive about any of our players.  Emilio Guerrero had difficulties with grounders at the start of last year.  Then he worked on it and improved greatly.  (Other players, unfortunately, might regress as the year goes along.)  Daniel Norris started the season pitching poorly and this column was written.  He ended the season pitching well, but by that time the talking point ("Is he a bust?") had already been established.
So I will definitely link to interesting player features -- hey, look, Daniel Klein! -- but it's important to understand that the Lugnuts and this blog are a separate entity from our Blue Jays blogging brethren.
We're a friendly partnership, and I very much appreciate their support.
-  From Baseball America, the Phillies have jeopardized the senior season of Oregon State's top southpaw.  (Deadspin's coverage gets right to the point.)
- From CBS's Eye on Baseball, introducing... the Cincinnati Porkopolitans!
Coming soon... a profile of new Lugnuts #2 broadcaster Trey Wilson!
What's his real first name?
Where's he from?
How tall is he?
All will be revealed in time.

A change of scenery for this blog

Every year at about this time, I switch my attention from general sports to Lansing Lugnuts baseball.

This year, I've gone the extra step:

The 2-2 Pitch is now an official MLB Pro Blog; its address is

(I'll still post general thoughts here from time to time, but my Lugnuts thoughts will all be centralized there.)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Twitter, Tom Izzo, and Double Stuf Oreos

I love snacking.  I'll snack all throughout the day, if I'm able.  The impulse strikes me, and off I'll go.  Because of this, I make sure to make great care about what food is around me:  apples perhaps, or carrots.  I'm smart enough to know that eating a package of Double Stuf Oreos is no good for me, sure... but I'll still partake if those oreos are hanging around within a reasonable distance.

To stay healthy, then, the key is to limit my options and remove the potential of temptation.  No temptation, no worries.

This is where I believe Tom Izzo and his Michigan State Spartans are coming from -- "In wake of Tom Izzo's plea, Michigan State players saying no to Twitter."  In removing Twitter from their phones, the Spartans' basketball players are removing the potential of the temptation to jump on their phones and check out Twitter.  Considering how negative and vitriolic anonymous tweeters can be, a few moments checking one's notifications and interactions can be more damaging to a player's emotional health than an oreo is to a one's physical health.

Any condemnation of Twitter comes with nuance.  Twitter allows news organizations to share stories immediately.  It allows comedians a new forum to crack wise and grow their audience.  It allows athletes a way to connect to fans.  It allows instant analysis of sports.  And it also allows little emotional filtering along with the presence of power.  Anyone, sitting at home, can suddenly reach out and communicate -- or threaten.  Twitter does not cause racism or sexism, right?  It merely reveals that, though we believe ourselves to be living in a more advanced and accepting culture, there are still plenty of bigots and misogynists out there.

Isn't this the defense of the NRA and fellow gun advocates?  "Guns don't kill people.  People kill people."  Guns are mere instruments, used for good or evil or hunting or decoration by whomever owns them.  Twitter is an instrument:  It isn't racist or misogynist at its essence -- it's informative or racist or clever or sexist based upon whoever is posting.

“It doesn’t matter what you tweet. It’s what you read. That’s what I keep telling my guys. We can control what they tweet, to a certain extent. They’re going to get frustrated sometimes and probably say something stupid. But it’s what they read. If somebody’s writing stuff about your daughter when she’s in high school, I’ll bet you look at it a little differently. I’ve had grown men in my office in tears because of what’s being written. That’s what brings the frustration level."
React as you will.  Upon reflection, I understand what Tom Izzo and his Spartans are doing.  I suspect, too, that they will be far happier and emotionally healthier for it.

Now, if you'll excuse me, there's yogurt in my future.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Chamonix 1924

Just for the heck of it, details from the first Winter Olympics, 1924 in Chamonix, France:

*  The gold medal!

*  France, the host nation, had 43 competing athletes.  Norway, meanwhile, sent 14 Olympians; Finland entered 17 Olympians.  This is important because...

*  Norway led all nations with 17 medals, four gold, while Finland amassed 11 medals, four gold.  All the other nations combined for 21 medals, of which France boasted just three -- solely bronze.

*  The United States collected one bronze medal, two silver medals, and one gold medal... but it was the first gold medal of the game, awarded on Day 2 to speed skater Charles Jewtrau.

*  Team Canada's hockey team, the Toronto Granites, was overwhelmingly great compared to its competition, far far beyond 1992 Dream Team great.  Their combined path to the gold medal saw them outscore the opposition 110-3.  (30-0 vs. Czechoslovakia, 22-0 vs. Sweden, 19-2 vs. Great Britain, 33-0 vs. Switzerland, and a mere 6-1 vs. the United States to grab the gold.)  From
"The Canadian goalie was Jack Cameron and he had so little to do that he had difficulty maintaining his interest in the game.  The legend survives that he often skated to the boards to chat up any attractive ladies he could find in the audience."
For more on Cameron, enjoy:  "Female admirers, 110 goals and crossing paths with a Vezina."

Monday, February 10, 2014

Get Smart

I cannot imagine how many athletes have wanted to do exactly as Marcus Smart did on Saturday, shoving Texas Tech fan Jeff Orr.

(Heck, enjoy this great Michael Hudson story from The Classical, which connects Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Ron Artest, and Frankie Francisco.)

Dave Zirin, of The Edge of Sports, wrote a must-read article on the Smart incident.  Among Zirin's ten points:
7.  In a just world, Marcus Smart would not be suspended at all.  Instead the NCAA would enact a FIFA style response.  That means they would either bar Jeff Orr for life from ever going to another Texas Tech game, or, if it is found out that "the n-word" gets dropped from the stands in Lubbock like it's open-season on black players, then make Texas Tech play in front of an empty arena for the rest of the season.
(I'm mentioning this because I really like this as a punishment for racially-abusive fan bases, even though I know we would say as an American society, "It was a select few, and why let a select few idiots ruin it for everyone?"  We're big on saying things like that.)

Oh, and Dave also wrote this:
8.  A lot of former players are saying the equivalent of former NFL player Donte Stallworth who tweeted "You don't get a free pass to say/do whatever you want to athletes because you're a fan... just save that faux tough guy ish for the internet.  If you talk about a players family, fire a racial slur or throw a drink on them, right or wrong, you shouldn't be surprised at retaliation."  Players are tired of enduring this, and they should not have to.
Dave and Donte and Marcus, like Babe and Ty and Frankie, are all on the retaliation side of the argument, advocating the notion of "If someone hits you, hit them back harder."  Retaliation sometimes might stop a fight immediately, sure, especially if it's on a TV show or in a movie.

In real life, retaliation leads to escalation.

Consider the Ron Artest/Ben Wallace incident.  Artest hits Wallace, Wallace shoves Artest.  Was it over?  Hardly:  Stephen Jackson loses his temper, the situation escalates, a fan throws something at Artest, players end up in the stands, and awful chaos ensues.  Or consider this example, Peoria at Dayton in 2008:  The Chiefs hit a Dragons player, the Dragons player slides in hard at second base, the managers start screaming at each other, the players start screaming at each other, and pitcher Julio Castillo fires a baseball (intended for a Dragon) into the packed stands as a battle erupts.

This is why it doesn't matter what a fan says or does -- spitting on Oregon coaches for example, which also happened over the weekend -- you cannot retaliate, or things will get worse in a hurry.

As I wrote at the top, Smart's shove was cathartic.  My gosh, a leather-lunged fan screaming the worst things he/she can think of, they're practically begging to be shoved, if not punched outright.  Most every player would love one free shot at a fan... and, if you're in New York or Philadelphia or other notoriously hostile atmospheres, probably more a couple of free shots.

Marcus Smart, n-word shouted at him or not, had to be suspended, otherwise his shove was condoned.  Players, who get screamed at all the time, watch these things carefully.


Turning our attention to fans:

Unsportsmanlike behavior goes on in cities all over the country, vitriolic screaming that is endured if not outright encouraged and taught.  Are we happy with this, to give fans carte blanche?  Smart's shove may not be condoned, but profane language sure is.  Whatever the line of decency is, fans cross it -- and, my gosh, we applaud them for it.  Hey, that Black Hole in Oakland sure is intense!  Hey, these New York fans sure are passionate!  Man, no one loves their football team like Green Bay Packers fans!  And if you, as a fan, shove a fellow fan in the stands, you're darn sure going to get shoved back.

Yes, Dave Zirin and Donte Stallworth, it is a double standard.  It's unsportsmanlike and undignified.  Jeff Orr is keeping his tickets, and Marcus Smart's future opposing crowds won't be quiet and respectful.

If you'd like somewhere better to bring your family, there's always the Lego Movie.