This is the final installment (Part III) of The Shadow League's 2014 High Heat MLB Preview, where we list the top scoops to peep as the season gets underway.
Top Black Aces In MLB
David Price (Tampa Bay Rays): A 2012 Cy Young Award winner and 20-game winner, who admirably fought through injuries in a subpar 2013, but is still up for some big chips after this season. He is the ace of a Top 3 MLB pitching rotation.
CC Sabathia (New York Yankees): The prototypical workhorse, one of baseball's elite pitchers for the last decade, and the anchor of a World Championship-caliber Yankees team. CC is one of the few free agent pitchers to actually earn every penny of his seven-year, $161-million dollar deal he signed with the Bronx Bombers back in 2008. CC won 14 games last season on a terrible squad and should give you 13-16 wins with this improved lineup. His resume speaks for itself. He has put in major work.
Chris Archer (Tampa Bay Rays): Archer is as intelligent and eloquent as he is effective on the mound. "Talking to Arch is like talking to Einstein," teammate Price said. Archer established himself as a force after his June call-up, going 9-7 with a 3.22 E.R.A. and finishing third in the American League Rookie of the Year voting, behind rookie teammate Wil Myers, who hit .293 with 13 homers, 53 RBIs and a .911 on-base plus slugging percentage while winning the honor. The Tampa Bay Rays already have one of the deepest rotations in baseball and they obviously consider Archer an important part of their future, as they signed the 25-year-old to a $25.5 million, six-year deal on Wednesday.
"It's a contract and its guaranteed money, but I think it's just the beginning of six or eight great years, "Archer, a Raleigh, NC native said.
Look out for this golden-armed, young G.
Tajuan Walker: Walker is another highly-touted arm out of the Mariners' system. He came up late last season and dazzled in his MLB debut. Walker was shut down for seven days in the spring with bursitis in his shoulder. If he can get over that, expect him to have a breakout season.
Curtis Granderson Risks It All And Enters A Dark Cross-town Dimension
Granderson is a three-time MLB All-Star (2009, 2011–2012) and won the Silver Slugger Award in 2011. Granderson developed into a feared lefty slugger in Yankee Stadium, mashing 84 total homers in 2010 and 2011. Injuries wrecked his 2012 and limited him to just 61 games. By the time he was healthy, it seemed he was the odd man out in the Yankees' restructuring plan. The diminutive bomber’s four-year $60 million contract with the Mets was out of the Yankees price range. At age 32 and coming off an injury-plagued season, both parties felt that the relationship had run its course.
Mets fans have been craving for ownership to spend some of that cash they promised to share on a big-name bopper this offseason. As usual the Mets were not being open or aggressive with their plan of pursuit, but other teams such as the Yankees were offering up contracts and mix-mastering the chessboard left and right. Finally, the Wilpon's gave Flushing fans what they desired by signing Granderson, who could have taken a pay cut and remained a Yankee . He certainly could have signed somewhere else for similar cheddar, but obviously Granderson loves NY. He thrived under the bright lights as a key cog in a dope Yankees lineup and, if healthy, will boost this Mets offense considerably. He may not hit 40 home runs, but he will provide some punch. Strike outs will happen, but he’ll come through in the clutch, too.
Signing a “name” like Granderson not only satisfies the hungry wolves a bit, but brings respectability to that Mets lineup and integrity to the front office’s claims to get back in the MLB rat race.
Miami’s Baseball Savior
On Monday, Miami’s Jose Fernandez was the youngest opening day starter since Dwight Gooden in ’86. As a rookie in 2013, he was almost as nasty as Doc was in 1984 when Dr. K stormed the MLB scene as a 19-year-old tossing formaldehyde.
There’s nothing much to see in Miami if baseball is your sport of choice. There’s a shiny, new castle of a stadium with no fans to fill it and no superstar power to illuminate the place. As unpredictable as sports can be, there are still certain things you can count on. Franchises will hit rough patches of losing that prevents growth. It might last a year. It might linger for 20 years, but eventually some flower-power blooms out of that dirt, giving hope for the future.
Last season, Jose Fernandez became the first superstar seed the Marlins have cultivated in a long time. The “Santa Clara Kid” (TSL-named after the small town in Cuba he defected from in 2008) won 12 games on a miserable squad with a 2.19 ERA and 187 whiffs in just over 172 innings.
While opposing rookie stud Yasiel Puig’s bullet-proof bat started cooling down, Fernandez took home National League Rookie of the Month honors in July and August. In August, Fernandez started six games, went 3-1 with a miniscule 1.15 ERA and struck out 49 batters in 39 innings, including a start against Cleveland where he whiffed 14 sorry suckers. Opponents hit just .158 against son, who prior to 2013 was ranked as the Marlins' best prospect and fifth best prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America. His late run helped him snatch NL Rookie of the Year honors right off Puig’s dinner table.
He hasn’t missed a beat this season, as Cuba’s dopest hurler since Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, was nearly flawless in an Opening Day Marlins win. Pitching in front of his grandmother, who has not seen him toss since he was 14 years old, the 21-year-old mound maurader surrendered one run and struck out nine Colorado Rockies in six innings of work on 94 pitches (73 strikes). His strikeout damage ties an Opening Day franchise record set by Josh Beckett in 2002 against the Montreal Expos.
Is Big Papi Out Of Pop?
If it is possible for a team who won World Series c’hips in 2004 and 2007, to come out of nowhere, that’s what Boston did by winning it all in 2013. They were a team in transition who were cellar dwellers the previous season under Bobby Valentine. Former Toronto Blue Jays skipper John Farrell took over, settled the ship and got them back to the promise land with some serious clutch hitting from “Mr. November” Big Papi. David Ortiz has survived it all from steroid accusations to almost being released by the Red Sox a few seasons ago. His WS performance last season was epic. He batted a ridiculous .688 with two homers, six RBIs and eight walks to leave him with the best World Series batting average (.455), on-base percentage (.576) and slugging percentage (.795) among players with at least 50 plate appearances.
Ortiz ranked third in the majors with a .564 slugging percentage last season, and his .972 OPS over the past three years trails only Miguel Cabrera (1.036). But he is 38. He’s played a lot of games over the past decade and carried an enormous burden in that Red Sox lineup. He’s battled injuries and the inevitable erosion of skills that a player pushing 40 faces. A miserable spring training hasn’t helped silence haters who have been critical of the big money extension through 2015 that Ortiz recently got.
Big Papi was 2-37 for an anemic .054 average, with one dinger, two RBIs and 13 strikeouts. Multiple media outlets reported that the sides had reached an agreement that guarantees Ortiz $16 million in 2015. He is set to earn $15 million this season as part of a two-year contract he signed in November 2012. He could be working off the rust. Or he could have shot his biological load last season.
When Will The Incomparable Manny Machado Make His 2014 Debut?
The best glove in the game has no timetable on when he will play. That’s not only a loss for Baltimore as they try to navigate through a treacherous AL East, but for baseball as well. Machado is magic with the leather and a solid batsman as well. He recently picked up his 2013 Gold Glove and Platinum Glove awards.
He is on the 15-day disabled list as he recovers from left knee surgery and likely won’t play for the Orioles until sometime in late April. He’ll return to Sarasota, Fla., on Tuesday and will continue his rehabilitation. He’s running, doing drills, working in the pool and getting in other exercises.
Machado, however, says he still doesn't know when he will be able to play in a game and says you can't put a timetable on his recovery.
"We're at the point that we need to start strengthening it a little more, just to get back on the ground and start sprinting and getting back to 100 percent," Machado said... "Getting the quads stable enough to continue doing what I've been doing."
The process was interrupted late in camp when some scar tissue was breaking up. Machado said he is still dealing with some of that.
"No, it's still there," he said. "It's not something that goes away in a matter of a second. But it's definitely getting better, I can tell you that. It's still not completely gone but it feels good."
Let’s hope he gets back soon and adds his two cents to what is sure to be a wild MLB ride in 2014.
TSL MLB AWARD PREDICTIONS
MVP: Andrew McCutchen/Jason Heyward
CY Young: Jose Fernandez
Mr. Electricity: Billy Hamilton
Manager of the Year: Bryan Price, Cincinnati
MVP: Robinson Cano/Prince Fielder
CY Young: Felix Hernandez/Yu Darvish
Mr. Electricity: Mike Trout
Manager of the Year: Joe Girardi, Yankees