Posted on: February 9, 2012 4:51 pm
Edited on: February 27, 2012 10:47 am
By C. Trent Rosecrans
The National League Central is often looked down upon, but it produced both teams in the National League Championship Series last year, as well as the World Series. Both the Cardinals and Brewers have large voids in their lineup due to free agency, but all the teams have some questions when pitchers and catchers report to camp. Here's the NL Central spring position battles:
Old vs. Young: Bryan LaHair and Marlon Byrd vs. Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson
For so long the Cubs' motto has been "wait 'til next year" -- that may have been changed to "wait 'til a couple of years" as Theo Epstein has fully embraced the rebuilding effort. The question is whether the braintrust thinks it's better for some of their younger players to learn at the big-league level or continue in the minors. The two biggest choices will be Rizzo and Jackson. Rizzo, 22, struggled in his call-up last season, hitting .141/.281/.242 with a homer in 153 plate appearances, but that was as a 21-year-old in San Diego. LaHair may only have 65 games in the big leagues, but that doesn't make him young -- just inexperienced. LaHair turned 29 in November and spent eight years in the minors. He hit .288/.377/.508 in his 20 games with the Cubs last season, but he's hardly anyone's idea of a long-term solution. Epstein drafted Rizzo while with the Red Sox and then traded for him when he took over the Cubs. It's Rizzo's job to lose. Meanwhile, Byrd is in the last season of his three-year, $15 million contract, so he's more likely to get traded than to be unseated in spring. The 23-year-old Jackson put up a .297/.388/.551 line at Triple-A Iowa with 10 homers in just 48 games after being called up from Double-A. The team's first-round pick in the 2009 draft will have a chance to show he's big-league ready. If the team does go with Rizzo and Jackson, it could be a sign of the team's future and the patience that Chicago will show going forward.
Left field: Chris Heisey vs. Ryan Ludwick
The Reds signed Ludwick to a bargain deal, hoping he can find the stroke he left in St. Louis. The 33-year-old has always hit well at Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park, putting up a .276/.321/.600 stat line with nine homers in 30 games and 112 plate appearances in his new home park. Both Ludwick and Heisey are right-handed batters who fare better against right-handed pitchers. Ludwick is a career .272/.339/.464 hitter against righties and .237/.316/.435 against lefties. Heisey's split is more extreme -- .288/.346/.539 against right-handers and .180/.248/.300 against lefties. One thing that helps Ludwick's case may be Heisey's strength as a pinch-hitter. Last year the 27-year-old Heisey hit .324/.333/.529 with two homers as a pinch-hitter. There's another option here, as well. If Drew Stubbs struggles at the plate, Hesiey could be an option to play center alongside Ludwick in left. That's a remote possibility, though. The Reds are high on Stubbs' power/speed combination and he is an excellent defender in center.
Third base: Brett Wallace vs. Chris Johnson vs. Jimmy Paredes
The fact that the Astros are looking to move Wallace to third base may tell you what they think of Johnson and Paredes. If Wallace shows he can play third, he's the likely favorite. Johnson struggled in 2011 after showing promise in 2010. Paredes hit .286/.320/.393 after taking over the position for the last two months of the season, but he's not seen as a long-term solution. Wallace could be.
First base: Mat Gamel vs. himself
With Ryan Braun's status resolved, the Brewers don't really have many question marks. All five starters return, as do its closer and top set-up man. The lineup, with a platoon of Carlos Gomez and Nyjer Morgan and newcomer Aramis Ramirez at third base seems pretty much set -- barring injury. The only hole is a big one -- the one left by first baseman Prince Fielder. The position is Mat Gamel's to lose. The 26-year-old played in just 10 games last season, getting 27 plate appearances. His only extensive big-league experience came in 2009 when he hit .242/.338/.422 with five homers, primarily playing third base. However, he's never been able to establish himself and after playing both third base and the outfield, he played primarily first base at Triple-A Nashville last season, while making six errors in 20 games at third base. He's a first baseman now and a first baseman only. He's hit well at Triple-A, hitting .301/.374/.512 in parts of four seasons at the top level of the minors, hitting 28 home runs for Nashville last season. Gamel will probably start at first on opening day even if he struggles in spring, but right fielder Corey Hart could be used at first if Gamel struggles even more. The team did sign Japanese outfield Norichika Aoki, who could play right if Hart moves to first.
Third base: Pedro Alvarez vs. Casey McGehee
Acquiring the veteran McGehee from Milwaukee could be seen as a kick in the pants for the second-overall pick of the 2008 draft. Alvarez hit just .191/.272/.289 in 74 games last season and the team may be getting worried about whether he'll ever develop into the star as expected. McGehee is coming off a rough season of his own, hitting just .223/.280/.346 with 13 homers after hitting 23 homers and 104 RBI in 2010. McGehee was replaced by Jerry Hairston Jr. at third base during the playoffs and by former Pirate Aramis Ramirez after the season.
St. Louis Cardinals
Second base: Skip Schumaker vs. Daniel Descalso vs. Tyler Greene
General manager John Mozeliak has insinuated he'd like to see Greene win the job. The 28-year-old has yet to produce at the level expected of him, hitting just .218/.307/.313 in 150 games and 359 plate appearances. Descalso filled in for the injured David Freese last season and responded with a .264/.334/.353 line, while Schumaker is the incumbent having hit .283/.333/.351 while starting 89 games at second, but none in the World Series. All three have some positional versatility.
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Tags: Anthony Rizzo, Aramis Ramirez, Astros, Brett Jackson, Brett Wallace, Brewers, Bryan LaHair, C. Trent Rosecrans, Cardinals, Carlos Gomez, Casey McGehee, Chris Heisey, Chris Young, Corey Hart, Corey Hart, Cubs, Daniel Descalso, David Freese, Drew Stubbs, Jerry Hairston Jr., Jimmy Paredes, John Mozeliak, Marlon Byrd, Mat Gamel, NL Central, Norichika Aoki, Norichika Aoki, Nyjer Morgan, Pedro Alvarez, Pirates, Reds, Ryan Braun, Ryan Ludwick, Skip Schumaker, spring position battles, Theo Epstein, Tyler Greene
Posted on: February 8, 2012 12:47 pm
By C. Trent Rosecrans
Moving to third base is the new black.
Kevin Youkilis did it last year, the Tigers say they'll do it with Miguel Cabrera, the Marlins hope Hanley Ramirez will do it -- and now the Astros want Brett Wallace to move across the infield as well, according to Zachary Levine of the Houston Chronicle.
Wallace, drafted as a third baseman by the Cardinals in 2008, hasn't played anywhere but first base since coming up with the Astros in 2010. But the Astros have Carlos Lee's $18.5 million contract at first base for one more year before they could actually use him as a designated hitter in their move to the American League. By that time, though, the Wallace experiment at third base will likely have failed and Wallace can play first (or DH) and Lee will be somewhere else making much less money.
Wallace, 25, has hardly lived up to expectations since the Astros traded fellow prospect Anthony Gose to Toronto for the left-handed hitter. Wallace was traded twice in a year and five days, first by the Cardinals to Oakland for Matt Holliday and then to Toronto for Michael Taylor. Since being called up in 2010, Wallace has managed to hit just .248/.323/.354 with seven home runs in 537 plate appearances. Last season he hit .259/.334/.369 with five homers in 115 games.
Wallace hasn't played third base since 2009, when he played 52 games at the position for the Cardinals' Triple-A team in Memphis. Toronto and Houston never used him at third.
Levine writes that Astros general manager Jeff Lunhow, who drafted Wallace for the Cardinals in 2008, said Wallace has been taking ground balls at third base this offseason and will continue to play there in the spring.
The Astros hardly have Mike Schmidt or George Brett in waiting at the hot corner, as the other candidates for third base are Jimmy Paredes and Chris Johnson.
Johnson, 27, started 98 games at third base for the Astros last season, hitting .251/.291/.378 with seven home runs in 107 games and 405 plate appearances. Paredes, 23, played 46 games for Houston last season, hitting .286/.320/.393 with two homers in 179 plate appearances. Paredes hit.270/.300/.426 with 10 home runs in 93 games at Double-A Corpus Christi before being called up to Houston.
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Posted on: September 10, 2011 1:17 am
By Matt Snyder
Cardinals' late offense. I utterly refuse to put Craig Kimbrel in the "down" section for having his 37 2/3-inning scoreless streak broken, but it needs to be mentioned, so we're going to the Cardinals here for being the team to break it up. The Braves' rookie closer had not been scored upon since June 11 until Friday night. He had converted 25 straight saves in that time period. Friday, though, the Cardinals showed he was human. Skip Schumaker singled to open the ninth, following by a fielder's choice and strikeout. So it seemed like just another Kimbrel save. But then Rafael Furcal drew a walk. And then Ryan Theriot did the same. All of a sudden, the bases were loaded with two outs in the bottom of the ninth with a 3-1 Braves lead. Who walks to the plate? Why, Albert Pujols, of course. It's the type of matchup that makes baseball great. Power vs. power. One swing can end it for either side, or Kimbrel could sit Pujols down himself. Pujols ended up going down the first-base line for a base hit. It scored two to tie the game before Jason Heyward gunned the ball to second base. He would have had Pujols dead to rights -- as he tried for a double -- but then Theriot attempted to get home and the Braves nailed him instead to end the inning. Still, a Nick Punto sacrifice fly would win the game for the Cardinals next inning against Scott Linebrink. But the mighty Kimbrel had been exposed as a human being and that was the big news of the game. Let us all tip our caps to him for the very impressive scoreless innings streak.
Lonnie Chisenhall, Indians. Big night for the young third baseman, as he hit a two-run home run off Mark Buehrle ... twice. The Indians won 8-4. While the Tigers have run away with the AL Central, the Indians have seen enough from several young players, like Chisenhall, to consider this season a success to this point. It will be very intriguing to see the strides made in 2012.
Jeremy Guthrie, Orioles. Maybe the intervention helped? He said he'd start listening to Metallica, after all, so maybe Guthrie did and was fired up for the start Friday night. He shut out a good Blue Jays' offense for seven innings, allowing just three hits in a 2-0 Orioles victory. In the process, he lowered his season ERA to 4.29.
John Lackey, Red Sox. There might be a Wild Card race after all, as the Rays worked the Red Sox over, 7-2, Friday night. The biggest problem was Lackey. Again. This would be the perfect time for Lackey to step up and earn his gargantuan contract, considering the injuries in the Red Sox's starting rotation. Instead, Lackey went out and allowed five hits, three walks and five earned runs in just three innings. His ERA is now 6.30.
Joe Girardi, Yankees. Rough ninth for the skipper. He pinch ran for A-Rod with Eduardo Nunez, only to send Nunez on the exact pitch the Angels called for a pitchout. The result was Nunez being nailed at second with ease. Then Girardi went with Aaron Laffey and Luis Ayala on the hill in the ninth. The result was a 2-1 loss. On the bright side, the Yankees don't seem in any danger of missing the playoffs. Also, they were playing in their third city in three days. So, in and of itself, this wasn't a huge deal.
Jimmy Paredes, Astros. In the 11th inning, Paredes gave the Nationals a walk-off throwing error. With one out and runners on first and second, Paredes fielded a bouncing ball at third base and looked to at least get a force out at second -- if not an inning-ending double play. But he threw the ball into right field, which allowed Ryan Zimmerman to come around and score. The Astros have now lost 96 games. In the history of the franchise, they've never lost more than 97 in a season.
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Posted on: September 3, 2011 2:20 pm
By Evan Brunell
The Opening Day starters at first and third base for the Astros are back after being demoted to Triple-A, but Chris Johnson and Brett Wallace (pictured) aren't reclaiming their starting spots, as Carlos Lee and Jimmy Paredes have impressed in the interim.
“Those guys have been playing pretty well,” manager Brad Mills told the Houston Chronicle. “They deserve to get the bulk of the time. That’s not saying that CJ and Wally aren’t going to play. At the same time, those guys are doing a real good job.”
Johnson, son of Red Sox first base coach Ron Johnson, grabbed the third base job in Houston on the strength of a strong 2010 but couldn't keep the good times going this year, struggling with a .245/.286/.373 line before being demoted. Johnson wasn't a heralded prospect prior to his ascension to the majors, but expected more of himself after slashing .308/.337/.481 with 11 homers in 362 plate appearances last season.
“It was the first time of my life getting sent down playing baseball,” Johnson said. “It was definitely tough. I just basically told myself I’m not going to let this one bump in the road ruin my career. So I got back on the horse, worked hard, worked on some of the things I needed to work on, and now I’m back.”
In lieu of Johnson, Paredes is the man at third. A former Yankee who came over with Mark Melancon in the Lance Berkman deal, the 22-year-old is hitting .308/.348/.452 in 113 plate appearances. He wasn't a highly-regarded prospect, but is playing like it so far.Meanwhile, Wallace, who was hitting .318 at the end of May before sinking to .268 prior to demotion, won't regain his job with Carlos Lee anchoring first. Lee can play left field, but the Astros have a J.D. Martinez - Jordan Schafer - Jason Bourgeois trio they aren't eager to switch up. That leaves first base for Lee and his bloated contract, which isn't up until after 2012. It says a lot of what the Astros think of Brett Wallace that they're allowing Lee and a motley crew of outfielders to stand in the way.
Wallace was a former first-round pick who was traded once upon a time for both Matt Holliday (St. Louis to Oakland) and then to Toronto as part of a satellite deal when Roy Halladay was dealt to Philadelphia. He was part of another satellite deal in Toronto that landed him in Houston as part of the Roy Oswalt move to Philly. Throughout all this, Wallace was considered a good hitter for average with solid pop, but he hasn't come close to reaching his potential in the majors. Wallace is staying patient, though, and hoping his chance will eventually come again.
“As a competitor you want to be out there every day,” Wallace said. “I think my job is just be prepared whether they need me late in the game defensively or to pinch-hit or a spot start or whatever they might need. I can’t control how much I play or how many at-bats I get. I’m just going to work hard and be ready to go when I get called.”As part of the September callups, catcher J.R. Towles, outfielder J.B Shuck and pitchers righthanders Jordan Lyles, Lucas Harrell and Enerio Del Rosario were called up. Harrell made his Astros debut on Friday in an eventual loss.
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Posted on: August 5, 2011 3:01 pm
The Houston Chronicle's Steve Campbell figured that stat out for his feature on Carlos Lee. Lee has 7,967 career plate appearances -- four more than the rest of Astros' position players combined.
Only three Astros, shortstop Clint Barmes (2,826), outfielder Jason Michael (2,588) and catcher Humberto Quintero (1,033) have more than 1,000 career plate appearances. Last season Hunter Pence led the team with 658 plate appearances in 156 games, so to put it in perspective, besides Lee, only two current Astros have more than two full seasons worth of big league plate appearances.
How about this? Lee is mired in an 0-for-23 funk -- tonight he'll have three teammates in uniform who don't have 23 career at-bats. In fact, the trio -- outfielder J.D. Martinez, third baseman Jimmy Paredes and outfielder J.B. Shuck have a combined 27 at-bats in the big leagues (and nine hits).
Lee's probably not going anywhere anytime soon, though. He's signed through next season -- and his $18.5 million salary is actually more than twice the rest of the team's position players combined salary.
"I’m more of a teacher, a mentor,” Lee told Campbell. “Pretty much whatever I can do to help, I’m open for it. I try to keep it loose, make ‘em understand to go out and have fun and play hard. Regardless of the situation, it’s still my job to go out there and do the best I can, compete as hard as I can."