How Young Is Too Young To Consider a MLB Career?

Sunday morning I read about three high school pitchers in Texas who threw consecutive no-hitters last month. Casey Brownlow threw the first. Zach Hahn threw the second. Judson Hudson threw the third. For a high school team like the Grandview Zebras to record one no-hitter is impressive enough. But for three different pitchers to throw three consecutive no-no’s is unheard of. This kind of an accomplishment is sure to make these boys consider a MLB career. The problem is that while such an ambition is inspiring, its also extraordinary difficult to accomplish.

We’ve all read about teen prodigies who made it to the majors. Al Kaline was just 18 whenMLB Career he broke in with the Detroit Tigers in 1953. Mickey Mantle was 19 when he joined the Yankees. Carl Scheib was only 16 when he got his first strikeout for the Philadelphia A’s in 1943.  Considering these feats, it’s easy to jump to the idea that a MLB career isn’t too far away for these boys. But looking at the following numbers will make anyone think twice.

According to chasingmlbdreams.com, only 1 in every 200 high school baseball players are drafted by a major league team into the minors. According to motherjones.com, only about 10% of those players will actually make it to the majors. So if my math is correct (granted I failed math in high school) only 0.005% of high school baseball players will make it to the majors.

Laying the ground work for a MLB career is no small task. In fact, most players miss that window of opportunity by the time they’re of legal drinking age. This also means that high school players like Brownlow, Hahn, and Hudson may have some hard decisions to make. Thinking about a career in baseball is a lot for a high school senior. As a high school teacher, I can tell you that teens already have it harder than any other generation. They don’t need pressure. They need selfless guidance and support.

There’s a Lot That Goes Into Building a MLB Career

The exposure to social media and advancements in technology is making it harder than ever to be a teen. Social obligations, peer pressure, efforts to fit in, and wondering what to do with his or her life all weigh on a teen’s mind. Not to mention their brains haven’t fully developed yet making it harder to make rational decisions (though you could say the same about members of Congress). It’s a real dilemma of you think about it. Giving up time with your friends and family to focus solely on baseball is hard enough. It’s even harder when you consider there’s still no guarantee of making it to the majors no matter how hard you work. But the idea of looking back one day and wondering what could have been can also be daunting.

Whether Brownlow, Hahn, and Hudson are seriously considering a MLB career is unknown. What I do know is that regardless of their decision, as teens they’ll need a lot of help and support. If they want to pursue a career in baseball they’ll need as much support as they can get. They’ll have to recognize what it’ll take and what sacrifices they’ll have to make. But at the same time, whoever is there for them also needs to remember that they’re young. They’re going to make mistakes. They’ll have regrets from time to time. In those instances they’ll need to know that they’ll always be supported and loved. I’m not their coach, nor am I their dad or brother. But I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who disagrees with my sentiments.

John Lackey Should Still Be With Boston

Chicago Cubs starting pitcher John Lackey was a strong contributor to the 2013 World Series team and trading him was a big mistake. Lackey had a roller coaster ride in a Sox uniform as he struggled in his first two seasons before becoming a reliable arm every fifth day for the organization. When the 2014 team was scuffling and the trade deadline came around, former Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington decided to part ways with John Lackey, trading him for Joe Kelly and Allen Craig.

Craig was struggling and his career looked to be dwindling and Kelly had his struggles inJohn Lackey the National League which typically doesn’t lead to success in the more hitter friendly American League. Meanwhile, Lackey seemed to be gaining form and becoming who the Sox thought they were getting him when they signed him to a five year $82.5 million deal. That improvement has continued and John Lackey is pitching like an ace, often going unnoticed behind Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester in the best starting pitching rotation in baseball.

Last season in St. Louis, Lackey had a 2.77 ERA and this season he has a 2.63 ERA for the Cubs. At this point in his career he will not wow you with his stuff but he hits his spots and gets guys out, something many Sox pitchers struggle to do. Lackey seems to be blossoming late in his career as last season was his best season to date and he’s on track to improve on those numbers this year. With John Lackey pitching so great, the Sox return of Joe Kelly and Allen Craig in the trade has been a catastrophe.

John Lackey Belongs with Red Sox Nation

Kelly has not established himself in the Sox rotation and is not looking likely to do so. Kelly has good stuff to work with but he has yet to put it together and it seems like yesterday the 28 year old was still a promising prospect. Kelly is now in the minor leagues, joining the other piece in the trade, Craig. Craig has been a disaster as he has been a minor leaguer for most of his tenure with the Sox organization. A once promising offensive player for the St. Louis Cardinals, Craig has seen his career vanish quickly and likely has played his last inning in the major leagues.

The Sox let go of a pitcher that was big time in the postseason in 2013 in order to gamble on a pitcher with upside who hadn’t put it together and a bat that was on the downfall. As a result, this trade is one of the worst in recent memory and the Sox 4.22 ERA as a pitching staff would be much better if Ben Cherington had stayed with John Lackey.

Red Sox Fans Look Ahead to the Trade Deadline

With Memorial Day behind us, attention is slowly turning towards the trade deadline in Major League Baseball. For perhaps the first time since 2013, the Red Sox are in a strong position as the calendar flips to June, which means they should be buyers in the market, looking to add pieces for a championship run rather than selling them to assist a rebuild.

Trade deadline

Right now, Dave Dombrowski doesn’t need to worry about offense or defense. The Red Sox lead baseball in almost every offensive category, and the everyday lineup could produce some historic numbers before the season is over. Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Xander Bogaerts have taken another step forward. Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz are turning back the clock with tremendous performances. And even unheralded guys like Travis Shaw and Christian Vazquez have taken their turn leading this team. All around the diamond, the Red Sox are really solid with the leather, which is also fun to see.

So, we come to the one area where Boston must improve: pitching. At this point, almost everybody on the planet must know that the Red Sox lack elite rotation depth. Boston starters have a 4.57 ERA, thanks mostly to Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly. That ranks 21st in baseball, and must improve if Boston is to compete for a World Series championship.

What Can the Red Sox Give Up at the Trade Deadline?

We’ve already heard enough about potential trade targets for the Red Sox, and those discussions will intensify in the coming weeks. By the time July arrives, you will likely be tired of hearing about Sonny Gray and Julio Teheran, so it’s time to take a different approach. Let’s look not at what the Red Sox can acquire at the trade deadline, but rather what they can actually give up. Who, exactly, are their most realistic trade chips?

By hiring Dombrowski, signing David Price and acquiring Craig Kimbrel, the Red Sox signaled a shift in philosophy, away from prospect conservation and toward a win-now mentality. However, we live in an age where sustainable contention is only achievable by delivering constant waves of young talent to the major league roster. Therefore, it’s still safe to assume that certain elite prospects are untouchable in trade deadline negotiations. Personally, I would include the following players in that group: Betts, Bogaerts, Yoan Moncada, and Andrew Benintendi.

Due to a very deep system, that still leaves plenty of chips with which Dombrowski can work. Down on the farm, guys like Rafael Devers, Anderson Espinoza, Brian Johnson and Michael Kopech may be expendable, although the latter three are promising pitchers in an organization starved of talent at that position. Elsewhere, fringe big leaguers like Henry Owens and Rusney Castillo may also be better utilized as trade deadline currency at this point.

Yet, at present, I think the Red Sox’ biggest trade chip is Blake Swihart. He possess a really strong bat with plenty of upside, but has struggled defensively behind the plate. Given the dearth of catching talent, many teams would overlook that deficiency in favor of his offense, but the Red Sox are in a position where their lineup is so dominant that carrying an elite defensive catcher like Christian Vazquez is preferable. That leaves Swihart without a position and, perhaps, without a future in Boston.

Ultimately, Dombrowski has many options as he attempts to tweak and improve his team. For that, he can thank Ben Cherington and – to a lesser extent – Theo Epstein, who did tremendous work stockpiling such a wide array of young talent. Now might be the time to flip some of these prospects for a true difference-maker in 2016 and beyond. With young stars blooming at the major league level, the future has finally arrived for the Red Sox. The trade deadline is an opportunity to grasp it and take full advantage.

Xander Bogaerts, Others On the Move in Minors

xander bogaerts

Courtesy of espn.go.com

The news and movement around the Red Sox minor league farm system is electric. A perfect example is World Baseball Classic player, and former Portland Seadog, Xander Bogaerts.  Bogaerts, promoted this week to triple-A Pawtucket, made a great first impression on Friday. During the doubleheader, he single-handedly won the first game with a walk-off hit scoring the game’s only run. In the second game, he hit his first triple-A home run, and another walk-off to the win that game, too. He is setting the world on fire. All the girls want to date him, and all the men want to be him. He is just 20 years of age and from Aruba. Everyone’s interest has been captured, for one reason or another, with info like that.

A source on Twitter believes Bogaerts will put even more pressure on the Red Sox’ shortstop decision in the 2014 season. As good as Iglesias is, Xander just may be better. He has strong fielding ability, and provides blistering offense. He is young, the world is his oyster. Any position is possible.

Another player promoted from Double-A to Pawtucket was right-handed pitcher Brandon Workman. I was delighted to hear this promotion for a few reasons. This allows Portland Seadogs’ right-handed pitcher, Anthony Ranaudo, to get the attention he deserves. This kid is finally coming into his own, and deserves to have a spot in triple-A someday. (I know I am really obsessed with Ranaudo, maybe it is the combination of a great year, periodic NESN coverage, and the Italian last name). Workman has had more time in the system and it was his time to move up. He won his first start, and struck out four batters and allowed three earned runs. Hopefully, it was first game jitters. I know he can do better and feel confident that he will in the future.

Changes had to be made within the organization since Trey Ball and Teddy Stankiewicz were picked up in the draft. Perhaps more changes are on the horizon as the July 31st trade deadline approaches. It is never too early to start talking player trades, since I feel like I have been thinking about it since mid-May.

It is an extraordinary time in this organization. We have so much to look forward to for the first time in a long time. Let’s hope these stars stay in our galaxy.

John Farrell’s No Tolerance Policy Leads to Wins

john farrell

Courtesy of newenglandsportsjournal.com

 

There is no tolerance for poor performance.  We have John Farrell to thank for clubhouse climate change. (Seems he has also had a positive effect on the weather.) Only winning is allowed in Boston. Come hell or tight games, like the one played on Wednesday, Farrell will deliver. We saw the mistakes of managers of the past and asked ourselves, “Why does it seem that [insert manager’s name here] is not making any decisions?” Nope, 2013 is the year of decisions and managerial strategy. There is a new sheriff in town. Sheriff Farrell’s rules are simple: shape up or ship out. You either produce, or it is time for you to go. There are plenty of people waiting in the wings to fill your spot in the lineup, while you work on fielding and at-bats at one of the Red Sox farm affiliates.

For instance, Farrell told reporters on Thursday that the decision to move Alfredo Aceves down to Pawtucket was solely performance based. The same goes for outstanding performances by players in Pawtucket or Portland. Great examples reside in Daniel Bard earning his way back to the mound Thursday night. With all the talent that we have in the minor leagues, so many guys nipping at the major league players’ heels, it creates an atmosphere of excellence and a little bit of fear. Fear is a motivator. I think we have seen this fear take hold of Clay Buchholz. Even when he performs well, we see at press conferences that he wants to do even better. He is not satisfied. That is fear. He hears the feet of those who want his place in the rotation pounding behind him.

Farrell is throwing every bit of talent he has at the game. This is not about playing guys who are highest on the payroll. This is a meritocracy. It seems, as far as pitching, third base, and some of the outfield positions are concerned, he has not come out of Spring Training mode. He changes things up in the middle of games. He moves players like Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes between right and left field, or even first base. Pitching, clearly his bread and butter, is where he makes constant changes.  In the last week alone, we have seen Steven Wright, Allen Webster, and Bard come up and down between the farms and the majors.

No stone will be left unturned when looking for talent. It is exciting for fans to see new players on the field. It is exciting to see Farrell, ever the mad strategist, at work. It is the beginning of a great season. 2013: the year of decisions, zero tolerance for losing, and sky-high expectations.