This is Part II of The Shadow League's 2014 High Heat MLB Preview, where we list the top scoops to peep as the season gets underway.
Guard Ya' Grill
Cincinnati Reds closer Aroldis Chapman is rocking a metal plate in his forehead compliments of a vicious line drive. As the game of baseball speeds up and players get stronger and faster and technology improves equipment, pitchers have become much more susceptible to head and facial injuries as a result of line drives coming back up the middle. In February Major League Baseball informed the 30 clubs that it has approved a protective cap product for pitchers. The players union was consulted during the process and both sides reached common ground on improving pitcher safety.
Research revealed on ESPN’s "Outside the Lines" found that 12 pitchers have been hit in the head by line drives in the past six seasons, including five pitchers during a five-month stretch of action in 2012 and 2013. This spring training added to those figures as Chapman already got one of his 100 mph-peas lined back into his face, and he suffered fractures to bones in his nose and near his left eye. Just four days later Xander Bogaerts drilled a comebacker off Ray’s lefty Matt Moore’s mouth, but luckily Moore minimized the impact by deflecting the ball with his glove.
Pitcher’s don’t want to wear cumbersome head braces and no MLB pitcher has adopted the available protective gear yet, but if cats keep taking line drives off the dome, this might be a crusade the “new” commish wants to set his reign off with.
A Don's Last Licks
Derek Jeter began his festive farewell tour against the Houston Astros on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park, where the careers of longtime teammates Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte was put to bed last season. Jeter, no longer the centerpiece of a Yankees powerhouse, is now a glue guy in a star-studded lineup that cost the Yankees a whopping $458 million to construct. The Captain has rebounded from injuries and is back to make one last run. Two decades of leadership, clutch performance and flawless character will be on display at a ball park near you this summer, and it would only be fitting that a five-time World Series champion and the heart-and-soul of another Yankees dynasty, go out on top.
If the Yankees high-priced acquisitions (Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann etc.) do their part at the plate, Jeter could get his wish. The return of first baseman Mark Teixeira is invaluable defensively. The pitching is much improved with a rotation of CC Sabathia (who despite getting rock for six runs on opening day, is always good for at least 15 wins) Hiroki Kuroda, Japanese sensation Masahiro Tanaka, the talented Ivan Nova and intriguing rookie Michael Pineda. Brian Roberts isn't Cano but if healthy, he's a solid team guy. Replacing Mariano Rivera is impossible so the Yanks will have to gut it out in the pen. As the Yankees reload for the future, Jeter begins his 20th and final season as the all-star shortstop baseball's most valuable franchise. I mean, gatekeeper to heaven is probably the only job trumping that, so he’s had a historical run.
Will Yasiel Puig Be The Death Of Don Mattingly Or Continue To Lead The Birth Of A Dynasty?
Yasiel Puig jumped out of a Cuban spaceship, landed in LA and transformed the Dodgers season from one of wasted dollars and unfulfilled promise, into a positive step closer to achieving their first WS ring in over 25 years. He turned a move of desperation into a jackpot maneuver that changed the entire culture of the squad and lit a fire under the asses of the rich and complacent veterans. Despite his personality quirks, wreckless play and celebrity swag, his record-setting rookie numbers made him a welcomed addition to the squad and probably saved manager Don Mattingly’s job.
Problem is, Puig’s fame seems to be going to his head and he's been a headache for the Dodgers. It started at the end of last season and has continued. His numbers have almost tailed off simultaneously with his increasingly erratic behavior. He’s temperamental, immature and that hunger he showed last season seems to be waning a bit. He’s still a physical specimen with freakish skills and can turn a baseball game into a football atmosphere, but his act could wear thin if the Dodgers begin to slide.
Seriously though, Puig needs to take a chill pill and play ball.
Albert Pujols is approaching 500 homers, 1500 runs and 1500 RBI’s, but does anybody care?
Before Miguel Cabrera grabbed the No. 1 spot, and before Pujols left St. Louis heart-broken, making the mad dash for cash in Hollywood, Pujols was baseball’s Ben Diamond. His bat was nutty and unpredictably lethal. The two-time WS champ has cooled off a bit since coming to Hollywood and signing a record 10-year, $242 million contract in 2012, but the three-time MVP is coming up on the 500-homer, 1,500 RBI-mark and doing interior decorating for his HOF lodgings once he retires.
Let’s hope the PED Police don’t lock him up before he can get to Cooperstown. It would serve Pujols well to average more than the 24 home runs, 84 RBI and .275 batting he's feebly flexed during his two injury-plagued seasons with the Angels. But how much better can he get at 34-years-old?
Is Bryce Harper more Mickey Mantle or Eric Davis?
In my piece, “Bryce Harper Is In The RG3 Zone,” I spoke of the phenom’s injury-plagued rise and wondered if he would ever reach his potential because he seems to be injury-prone. Harper had surgery back in October to repair the bursa in his left knee. He worked on building mass during the offseason in hopes of staying injury-free. Just as the season began, Harper got a clean bill of health and talk of him winning an MVP picked up steam across media chatter-lines. Then on Opening Day I see son take a knee to the head trying to break up a DP at second base and he had to leave the game for a minute. The last thing the big homie needs is another concussion. He’s already caught a couple of those crashing into outfield walls. As great a ball player as he is, if these things keep happening to young Bryce, I’m going to start questioning his baseball I.Q., his luck and his chance to fulfill the hype of being a once in a generation talent.