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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

CF Prospect Recap

Back in February I wrote about eight center field prospects to keep your eye on this season. While not all of them were promoted to the majors like I predicted, 2009 gave us an even better idea of what to expect from them in the future. With just a few games left in the season, here's a look at how they fared in 2008:

Colby Rasmus, StL: .254/.306/.414 16 HR, 3 SB
Rasmus made the club out of Spring Training and began the year as a spot starter and defensive replacement. As the summer warmed up so did Rasmus. His hitting numbers may not be the best of the bunch but his defensive numbers are off the charts. I repeat what I predicted earlier this year: Rasmus will make many All-Star appearances and will be a superstar.

Andrew McCutchen, Pit: .283/.355/.468 12 HR, 17 SB
Once Nate McLouth was surprisingly traded to Atlanta in June, there were no excuses for holding McCutchen back. He began with a splash by getting two hits and stealing a base in his first MLB game. He also displayed more power than I expected. He should be the front runner for Rookie of the Year.
My opinion of him has actually improved. I believed he would be a slightly above average major leaguer with some good seasons but now I believe he'll be a good major leaguer and one of the few Pirates in recent memory actually deserving of his All-Star roster spot.

Dexter Fowler, Col: .267/.366/.408 4 HR, 27 SB
After a cup of coffee in September of '08, Fowler was the starting center fielder and leadoff hitter pretty much from the get go. His defense has been a little shaky but that could be due to playing in the largest park in baseball; I'm not sure exactly how to interpret his defensive stats. He did, however, display his blazing speed and a keen batting eye for a young player. Colorado loves this kid and with reason. He's good.

Drew Stubbs, Cin: .264/.306/.441 8 HR, 9 SB
I wasn't surprised Stubbs didn't start the year in Cincinnati but more surprised that he wasn't called up before August. While Dusty Baker and Willy Taveras tag-teamed to eliminate the Reds from postseason contention (Baker continuously batted Taveras leadoff despite a .275 OBP and 14 XBH in 400+ plate appearances!), Stubbs was in AAA (although he wasn't exactly lighting the place on fire). Next year will be a big year for him as he will be expected to be a key contributor for a team that believes it will compete. Although I'm not sure he's a leadoff hitter, Dusty Baker says otherwise.

Cameron Maybin, Fla: .236/.313/.395 4 HR, 1 SB
Expected to be the complimentary piece on this team next to superstar Hanley Ramirez, Maybin struggled mightily out of the gate. His contact rates where extremely low causing his batting average to plummet as well. Even worse, he only had 1 home run before he got sent back down. Recalled in September, Maybin appears to have righted the ship a bit. It is still too early to give up on him if he struggles again next year, but he's now had enough chances that Florida expects to see some major improvements. If he ever learns to walk he could be Jack Cust with speed, but right now I'm just confused as to what he'll turn into. He's still only 22 so there's time.

Jordan Schafer, Atl: .204/.313/.287 2 HR, 2 SB
A home run in his first major league at bat on opening day had Braves fans excited about their center fielder of the future. The team knew he couldn't hit left-handers and even batted him eighth in an effort to give him the best chance to succeed. It didn't work. Even his defense was subpar. Many wondered if there was an injury he was trying to hide so as not to lose his spot on the roster. After he was demoted in late May, he admitted to having a bum wrist that bothered him since the first week of the season. He's been on the DL pretty much ever since. I expect major platoon splits with Schafer along the lines of Curtis Granderson's with a few 20-20 seasons. I'm still a believer!

Austin Jackson, NYY: .300/.354/.405 4 HR, 24 SB (AAA Scranton/Wilkes Barr)
The one guy on this list that didn't get to make his major league debut. He still hasn't taken the giant leap forward scouts had anticipated years ago. He's still very fast but lacks much power. At best he turns into Brett Butler (and that's pretty good). At worst Brett Gardner. It's most likely he ends up somewhere in between like Jose Cardenal.

Michael Saunders, Sea: .227/.267/.273 0 HR, 4 SB
With Seattle moonlighting as a contender, the team did not want to risk calling up a prospect who was an unknown commodity. When Endy Chavez got injured the door was open and Saunders has been up since. He hasn't done anything to excite management but you can expect him to start 2010 in the outfield. I don't foresee him becoming an All-Star but whose to say if it all comes together he won't turn into Jim Edmonds? The tools are there it's just a question of whether or not he puts them together.

Monday, September 28, 2009

NCAA Top 25 - Week 4

The SEC continues to be more unimpressive than impressive. Numbers 4, 5, and 6 all fall and 7 should have too. Boise State is smelling their chance. Who deserves to be ranked anymore?

1. Florida - Tebow looked good with his flu-like symptoms until the concussion. Lucky for Gators they get an extra week for his recovery.
2. Texas - Trying to prove a point after the struggle with Tech last week.
3. Alabama - They finally proved to me they deserve this ranking.
4. LSU - Watch these guys make it 5 weeks in a row a top-5 team falls.
5. Boise State - They really need to increase the difficulty of their schedule. When the BCS rankings come out in a few weeks, watch Boise be 3-5 spots lower than their AP & Coaches poll rankings.
6. VaTech - I predicted they'd be trashed by Miami. They were a completely different team than the one that almost lost to Nebraska...or is Nebraska that good?
7. Ohio State - So the defense is good...I could go for some more offense.
8. TCU - Clemson on the road was a real test, and these guys are for real.
9. USC - I didn't see this game, but the box score tells me they shut it down after the 1st.
10. Oklahoma - Bye weeks mean you don't get to move up THAT much.
11. Georgia
12. Kansas
13. Cincinnati
14. Houston
15. Iowa
16. Missouri
17. Michigan
18. Oregon
19. Oklahoma State
20. Penn State
21. Miami
22. South Florida
23. Nebraska
24. Georgia Tech
25. South Carolina

Sunday, September 20, 2009

NCAA Top 25 - Week 3

Sad to see Nerbaska lose...even worse was how it happened. Lots of teams near the top go down, and Florida State bounces back?

1. Florida - Gators can't claim they destroyed everyone this year...nice try Vols.
2. Texas - Survived the scare of repeating last year's loss to Crabtree, er, Texas Tech.
3. Alabama - Fine, you can have 3rd place.
4. Penn State - I wanted to jump them to 3, but they haven't played anyone yet.
5. Cal - Got a little dicey vs. the Gophers, but Best was best and got it done.
6. Ole Miss - [snore] I guess Sneed played well...I wasn't watching.
7. LSU - Almost every SEC team on here is worse than their ranking, but I stick to my rules.
8. Boise State - Friday night shootout and the Broncos keep rolling.
9. Virginia Tech - F&%$-ing Hokies
10. Ohio State - I know you're thinking, "but USC already beat them"....but OSU's loss is to a legitimate team and USC's isn't.
11. Oklahoma
12. TCU
13. USC
14. North Carolina
15. Georgia
16. Kansas
17. Cincinnati
18. Miami
19. Houston
20. Oklahoma State
21. Missouri
22. Michigan
23. Oregon
24. Florida State
25. Nebraska

Saturday, September 19, 2009

NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup - 2009

Last week's regular season finale at Richmond provided plenty of action. The stage is set for what I expect will be the most hotly contested Chase for the Cup in years.

The race began with only 4 drivers locked into the Chase by points earned in the first 25 races. Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Jimmy Johnson, and Denny Hamlin had performed well enough to guarantee a chance at the title, no matter how they finished. The other 8 playoff spots were up for grabs with 11 drivers vying for those roles. Actually, David Reutimann was practically eliminated by the race's start anyway. He basically would have needed a win and with the next 3 drivers ahead of him all finishing near the back to qualify - very unlikely. I'll save you the drama...he didn't win and the guys in front all raced better than him anyway. The real drama centered around 3 drivers tyring to lock up the final spot.

Matt Kenseth - Kenseth has qualified for the Chase every year since it's inception in 2004 (Jimmie Johnson is the only other driver to do this). He started the year with back to back wins at Daytona and California and saw reasonable success over the first half of the year. In the most recent weeks leading up to Richmond, Kenseth and his team were really struggling and falling each week in the overall points race. Before the race, Kenseth was even quoted as saying, "If we don't make the Chase, I'll be disappointed...but I won't be surprised" seemingly foreshadowing his own fate. He entered the race with a 20-point lead over 13th place Brian Vickers.

Brian Vickers - Prior to the 2009 season, Vickers's only win came in controversial fashion at Talladega Superspeedway in 2006. (If you read my article about this season's Spring Talladega race, you will see that it basically takes patience and luck to win there.) Vickers had a consistent season, often running in the top 5 and finishing an average of 15th. He's also been the fastest in qualifying 6 times, leading all drivers this year. He won just his second career race at the Sprint Cup level this year by appropriately beating the rest of the field in a fuel-mileage race at Michigan International Speedway (Vickers drives a Toyota and Michigan is often referred to as the big 3 auto-makers backyard). Hopes were high, but cautious, at Richmond because Vickers is not necessarily known for his short-track skills, and Richmond measure only .75 miles around.

Kyle Busch - Trailing Brian Vickers by 17 points and Matt Kenseth by 37, Kyle would need to beat Vickers by 4 or more spots and Kenseth by about 13 spots to earn his place in NASCAR's playoff. If everything fell into place, Busch would then get a boosted to a tie for 1st place with Mark Martin, as each has won 4 races this season (regular season victories counts as 10 bonus points to start the Chase). Something else working in Kyle's favor was the memory of the Spring Richmond race 4 months ago which he won.

No need for specifics, so here's a fast rundown of the 400 laps last Saturday night. Kenseth started near the back of the pack after a poor qualifying effort. He spent most of the race around 25th-30th, all but sealing his fate. His last-ditch effort was to stay on the track when caution flew with 25 laps to go. He was one lap down, and visiting pit road would guarantee him no better than 28 place...he finished 25th instead. The door was wide open for Kyle and Brian, and they provided some great action.

At various points throughout the night, Busch and Vickers swapped spots for the final place in the playoffs. During that last caution, Kyle left pit road a few spots ahead of Brian. But as the final laps ticked away, Busch crossed 6th and Vickers 8th, allowing Brian to hold onto an 8 point lead and a shot at the title.

The other big story of the night was hometown hero Denny Hamlin. Hamlin is from Chesterfield, Virginia which is about 30 minutes Southwest of Richmond. In a half-dozen previous races at Richmond International Raceway, Denny had seen successful runs falter in the final laps. This weekend he was able to put together a complete performance, earning his 2nd win of the season and an additional 10 bonus points to his Chase effort.

What's to come:
Tomorrow (probably "today" by the time I finalize this post) is race 1 of the 2009 Chase for the Sprint Cup. The race will be run at the flat, 1-mile oval known as New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Jimmie Johnson looks to continue his amazing playoff performance by going for a record-breaking 4th straight Sprint Cup Championship. The most impressive drivers during the regular season in '09 all drive Hendrik Motorsports (think New York Yankees) engines in their Chevrolets...a recurring theme for a sport that is supposed to have an even playing field. One of these 4 contenders (Stewart, Gordon, Johnson, and Martin) probably accounts for 99% of experts' picks to win it all. Though I can't disagree, I'm hoping for more parity than is expected.

So if you are a sometimes watcher of NASCAR, Sunday is a good time to tune in. I know the football season is young and exciting, but for the local Bears fans that might be reading this, I promise you will find more surprises and entertainment here than the Steelers blowout looming on the horizon. In the past few seasons, a driver that quietly made the playoffs usually asserts himself early in the Chase.

Last year Greg Biffle immediately moved from 8th to 2nd (and only 10 points out of first) by winning the first 2 Chase races at New Hampshire and Dover. These were Biffle's first two wins of the year. Tomorrow, Juan Pablo Montoya looks to follow suit as he won no races during the regular season and currently sits tied for 9th in Chase points. Montoya won the poll in qualifying Friday afternoon and also had the fastest lap in final practice today.

Current Standings:
1 - Mark Martin - 5040 (4 wins)
2 - Tony Stewart & Jimmie Johnson - 5030 (3 wins each)
4 - Denny Hamlin & Kasey Kahne - 5020 (2 wins each)
6 - Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Brian Vickers - 5010 (1 win each)
9 - Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, Juan Pablo Montoya, Ryan Newman - 5000

Though it's far too early to make any quality guesses, I will still throw out mine below. I swear NASCAR is a sport you can really get behind, and I hope some of you skeptics will give it a chance.

Likely Winner Based on Recent History - Jimmie Johnson - #48 Lowes Chevrolet
Likely Winner Based on Season Performance - Tony Stewart - #14 Office Depot Chevrolet
Fan-Favorite (and my pick) - Mark Martin - #5 Kellogs Chevrolet
Sleeper Pick to Watch Out For - Carl Edwards - #99 Aflac Ford

Gentlemen, start your engines!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

NCAA Top 25 - Week 2

This week, the Big XII took some shots, and other than Florida, the SEC looked soft again too. Perhaps USC or a Big Ten team makes it to the title?

1. Florida - Tebow must continue his college legacy, cuz he won't have a pro legacy.
2. Texas - Trailed Wyoming long enough for Colt McCoy to pull his head out.
3. USC - Happy to see Ohio State played well, but this team is loaded with talent.
4. Alabama - Struggled for a bit vs. FIU...FIU? Come on Tide, man up.
5. Penn State - JoePa jumps into the top 5.
6. Cal - Big win over nobody. Stay healthy for the USC game.
7. Ole Miss - Don't like to bump teams on the bye week, but Okie State gave a gift.
8. LSU - Another sloppy win...please lose already.
9. Boise State - Looked much better on offense this week.
10. Virginia Tech - A win vs. Nebraska next week will justify this ranking.
11. Ohio State
12. BYU
13. Oklahoma
14. TCU
15. Georgia Tech
16. Utah
17. North Carolina
18. Georgia
19. Nebraska
20. Kansas
21. Cincinnati
22. Houston
23. Oklahoma State
24. Missouri
25. Oregon

Thursday, September 10, 2009

NCAA Top 25 - Week 1

I will weekly post my Top 25 for College Football. The "rules" for my top 25 don't follow the standard format. I didn't do a preseason poll because, simply, I don't know enough about the teams until later in the season. For the first few weeks you will see my similarly mimic the major polls, but at the end of the season, I show no bias for "quality teams with quality wins in quality conferences." If you are Boise State and you are 12-0, chances are you will be in my top 3 and possibly in my BCS Title Game. Without further delay, here they are:

1. Florida - Defending champs won't lose this spot unless they lose.
2. Texas - With or without Oklahoma's loss, they'll play Florida in Pasedena.
3. USC - Always worthy of a top 5 this early.
4. Ohio State - Makes this weekend's matchup more interesting I'd say.
5. Alabama - Not sold on them. I like Saban, but these guys find a way to lose.
6. Penn State - PSU returns to glory...soon to be Top 5!
7. Oklahoma State - This year's Texas Tech?
8. Ole Miss - Make me think the SEC might be overrated.
9. Cal - Soft schedule may bite them in polls...may equal Rose Bowl in mine.
10. LSU - Sloppy win, but recent success and talent on the team justifies this spot.
(The rest are based off pre-season rankings and week 1 results...not subjectivity)
11. Boise State
12. Virginia Tech
13. BYU
14. Oklahoma
15. Georgian Tech
16. TCU
17. Utah
18. North Carolina
19. Georgia
20. Notre Dame
21. Nebraska
22. Kansas
23. Missouri
24. Oregon
25. Miami (FL)