With Brian McCann firmly entrenched at the position, the Atlanta Braves haven't had to worry about having a catcher waiting in the wings, but a rough 2012 season for McCann suddenly has Braves fans wondering what's on the farm. Unfortunately, the most talented catchers in the Braves Minor League system are also some of the most raw players in the organization.
1. Christian Bethancourt: B: R, T: R, Ht: 6'2", Wt: 219, DOB: 9-2-91
The Braves have had high hopes for Bethancourt since they signed him out of Panama, and they decided to challenge him in 2012, sending the 20 year old to AA. Unfortunately, he showed his youth, hitting just .243 with a .566 OPS, 5 doubles, 2 homers, 26 RBI, and 8 steals in 288 plate appearances for Mississippi before a broken hand ended his season in early August. Still, he was named a Southern League All-Star this season, and played in the Futures Game, mostly due to his stellar defense.
Bethancourt's arm is a true 80 on the scouting scale, and often cited as one of the best in the game. In previous season, his blocking and game calling have come under fire, but he was vastly improved in those areas this season and is considered one of the best defensive catchers in all of baseball. Offensively, he's a completely different story, showing little to no patience at the plate and little to no power despite his bulk. He walked in just 4% of his plate appearances this season, which was actually a slight improvement after walking in just 3% of his plate appearances in 2011. His strikeout rate wasn't particularly high, fanning in 17% of his at bats, so at least he is combining contact with his his free swinging approach. Of course, it hasn't been consistent contact, given his .243 average, nor has hit been solid contact, given his pathetic .291 slugging percentage. Just 12% of his hits this season went for extra bases.
At worst, Bethancourt can develop into an excellent backup catcher, though the Braves continue to hope that he develops along the lines of Yadier Molina, a top defender who struggled with the bat early in his career. It's easy to believe that some slugging power will develop as Bethancourt learns to make more consistent, more solid contact, but he will never become an every day catcher if he can't learn some patience at the plate. The bright side for the Braves is that Bethancourt will return to AA in 2013 and still only be 21 years old. He is still young enough to believe he can get better, and his defensive ability means even if his bat never comes around, he will have value.
2. Bryan de la Rosa: B: R, T: R, Ht: 5'8", Wt: 193, DOB: 3-26-94
After a few years of drafting more polished players with limited upside, the Braves returned to their roots this season, drafting a bevy of unpolished high school talents high on upside. de la Rosa was near the forefront of that shift, as the team selected the Puerto Rican native in the 3rd round. He struggled in his pro debut, hitting just .162 with a .415 OPS, 1 double, 1 homer, and 3 RBI, in 73 plate appearances in the GCL.
With a short and stocky build that reminds some of the great Puerto Rican catcher Pudge Rodriguez, de la Rosa is similarly known best for his defense, with his arm rating as one of the best in this year's draft. Like Bethancourt, de la Rosa projects to be a well above average catcher with questionable offense. The Braves aren't sure yet what to expect out of his bat, though given his size they don't expect him to develop much power.
de la Rosa will head to Low A Rome in 2013 as a 19 year old, and his biggest goal will be to improve himself as a hitter. If he can develop into at least an average hitter, he could be a Major League regular due to his stellar defense, but if he can't, he could still have value as a Major League backup. Like Bethancourt, de la Rosa has youth on his side, and the Braves are an organization well known for allowing players to develop at their own pace.
3. Josh Elander: B: R, T: R, Ht: 6'1", Wt: 215, DOB: 3-19-91
The Braves drafted Elander out of Texas Christian University in the 6th round this year, and he made his debut with Rookie Level Danville as their starting catcher and number 3 hitter, batting .260 with a .805 OPS, 6 doubles, 4 homers, and 19 RBI in 145 plate appearances.
As a prospect, Elander is the antithesis of Bethancourt and de la Rosa, projected to be an above average hitter with questionable defense. He's a bit bulky and awkward behind the plate, and there's hope he can become at least average as a catcher. He does have some experience playing the outfield with the USA National Team in the summer of 2011, and there's a possibility he may end up in the outfield in the future. The questions about his defensive future led to him falling to the sixth round in the draft, but the Braves may have gotten themselves a first round bat. He walked in 11% of his plate appearances, walking nearly as many times as he struck out, 11 to 19, and 38% of his hit went for extra bases. He projects to have plus power and could develop into an above average every day Major League hitter.
Elander will likely jump up to High A Lynchburg as a 22 year old in 2013, as the team will look to challenge his bat. The Braves will likely continue to develop him at catcher as long as they can, though they may come to a situation similar to what happened with Evan Gattis, where they decide it would be better off to let him focus on hitting by moving him off a defensively difficult position. Elander could end up being the best of the Braves' catching prospects, though he may not end up being a catcher.
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — San Francisco is cleaning up after some revelers celebrating the Giants World Series victory turned rowdy.
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Eric Davis 1987 Topps Talk about a classic baseball card, right here. I pulled so many of these 1987 Topps cards of Eric Davis back in the day, just seeing this card takes me back to being a 12-year old … Continue reading →
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DETROIT (AP) — Kung Fu Panda, The Freak, The Beard and all their seed-throwing buddies are on top of baseball – again.
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Home runs come in all shapes and sizes. The towering, no doubter that affords the hitter the chance to watch it all unfold. The laser beam, that gets in the seats before the pitcher has even had time to finish his follow through and realize the damage that's been done. The just enough variety, that gives the outfielder a chance to make a highlight reel grab at the fence. Even the inside-the-parker that toggles the eyes between the batter racing around the bases and the outfielders desperately trying to chase down the wayward ball.
As a not-close-to-professional baseball player growing up, I did not hit a lot of home runs. My offensive game relied on lots of singles and doubles and some speed. On the rare occasion where I did hit one out, it would be a line drive that hugged the left field line and carried just long and high enough to clear the fence.
Perhaps this is why one particular baseball event that I love to watch is the low, laser beam home run. These are not necessarily limited to those that barely clear the fence, but any ball that is hit out on a low, line drive.
If I asked you to recall the hardest hit home run of 2012, there is a good chance your mind would bring back images of a broken scoreboard in Miami, thanks to a moonshot by Giancarlo Stanton off of a Jamie Moyer batting practice fastball. If I asked you to guess the longest home run of the season, you would likely also guess Stanton, and you would be correct. His 492 foot blast off Rockies' Josh Roenicke at Coors Field bested the field in 2012.
So here is a less obvious question: who hit the lowest home run that cleared the fences this year? Before you guess an inside-the-park home run, those are not included in this list. Four of the five lowest home run hitters of the season have had 30-HR seasons in the big leagues. Remember your guess, and leave it for us in the comments and we'll see the types of names that arise.
While analyzing the game is what I really love, sometimes everyone just needs to sit back and enjoy watching. Without further ado, here are the five lowest home runs of the 2012 season, with the highest home run shown first as a visual juxtaposition.
Helton's towering drive walked off the Rockies against Arizona in the ninth.
Thank goodness for Coors Field! So far it seems that all the wildest home runs happen there.
Annually one of the highest line drive generating hitters in the league, it is no surprise to see Cano make this list. While impressive, Cano has actually hit at least two other home runs in his career that were lower than this bomb.
The owner of 647 career regular season home runs, this marked Rodriguez' lowest home run since the 2007 season. It also happened to be his 23rd career grand slam, pulling him into a tie for first all-timer in this category with former Yankee great Lou Gehrig. This is the only one of the five lowest home runs of the season that would have gone out in every park in the league.
Chooch had a career-best 2012 season, that included this frozen rope at home in June.
The winner of the home run-that-left-the-ground-the-least competition of 2012 is Orioles slugger Adam Jones, who had already started to cool off from his white hot start by the time he hit this home run in late June. Amazingly this home run was almost four times lower than Helton's rainmaker.
So, did anyone guess Adam Jones as the winner?
Nary a peep around here about the baseball postseason, but I will say I expected the Giants to be deposed in the first round. That they didn't seems to me more like luck than anything else; they got hot at the right time, and their starting pitching turned unaccountably invincible. The Tigers' feel-good story ended with the last out of the ALCS, vanquishing the Yankees in seven, and proving that just because you have plenty of rest doesn't mean your pitching will be better for it.
An interesting followup on yesterday's last out: Sergio Romo's fastball really sucks, except when it doesn't.
Congratulations to the Giants, and bring on the hot stove.
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In a recent interview in the dugout during game 3 of the World Series, one Giant player said, "We're just one big happy family. We play for the love of the game. No bickering among the players. No greed. Lots of teamwork. We entertained our fans. And we didn't get a lot of publicity through the regular season like a lot of other well known players did. And that's the way it should be."
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The Miami Marlins made three signings in the offseason that were designed to bolster a ready-made core that was expected to be close to contention after some rebound seasons from key players. One of the players that the Marlins wanted to pick up was a consistently good starting pitcher on whom the team could count for 200 innings every year. The club felt that there was no better example of such a player than veteran free agent Mark Buehrle, who signed a four-year, $58 million contract before the 2012 season.
What the Marlins received was a very close version of what they wanted. While Buehrle was not as efficient as he was in previous seasons, he still provided the team a lot of what they wanted from him when they signed him.
Mark Buehrle's 2012 season was an oddity in some respects. On the positive side of things, his peripherals improved as expected given his move to the National League. Buehrle's 15.1 percent strikeout rate is the highest he has posted since 2008. He got batters to swing and miss at his stuff in 7.3 percent of his pitches, which is his highest mark since 2007. It also seems that Buehrle was getting more called strikes than in years past, as his swing rate on pitches inside the strike zone decreased from a career rate of 62 percent to 59 percent in 2012, with no change to his out-of-zone swings.
At the same time, Buerle continued to limit walks in a great way. He pounded the strike zone at a similar rate, throwing his pitches in the zone at a 48.6 percent rate that is very similar to his 48.8 percent mark since 2007. But a combination of more strikes on pitches in and out of the zone and a consistent, zone-pounding approach led to the second-lowest walk rate of his career, as Buehrle walked only 4.8 percent of his batters.
Part of the reasoning behind Buehrle's increased strikeout proficiency is his use of the changeup, which we have documented before. Sometime in the middle of the year, Buehrle began missing a lot more bats, and his changeup's increased effectiveness had a lot to do with his success. Buehrle has not only increased his changeup use to its highest level (26 to 27 percent depending on the source), but it also missed the most bats and received the most ground balls out of all of his pitches this season.
Again, all of this was to be expected, as Buehrle was facing the pitcher's slot instead of another real hitter for at least two plate appearances every game. Going into the season, we expected him to put up better strikeout and walk rates simply from the move to the NL, so his improvement should not be all that surprising. So why were Buehrle's ERA and FIP marks similar to his career rates despite this visible improvement?
The answer to that question lies in his only problematic area in 2012, the home run. Buehrle allowed 26 home runs in 2012, good for the third-largest total he has given up in any one season. His home run per fly ball (HR/FB) rate of 11.4 percent was the highest he has recorded since his awful 2006 season. Prior to the season starting, it was perfectly reasonable to expect Buehrle to at worst maintain his home run rates from his time with the Chicago White Sox, if only because he was never all that affected by the bandbox that was U.S. Cellular Field. It seemed even more likely that he would decrease his homers by playing in the spacious Marlins Park, which suppressed home runs all year for pitchers. However, the home runs flew for Buehrle in 2012, and it helped to inflate his overall numbers and make him look significantly worse against the lower run environment of the National League.
However, do not look at Marlins Park as being the problem, as Buehrle performed fairly well at home. His stirkeouts, walks, and home runs were all better at home than on the road this season, leading to a 3.13 ERA and 3.48 FIP at home versus a 4.45 ERA and 5.01 FIP on the road. In particular, Buehrle allowed six more homers on the road while throwing 16 1/3 fewer innings and facing 42 fewer batters. Despite a career with relatively minor home / road splits, Buehrle suffered the wrath of the opposing power bats on the road.
Overall, Buehrle's ERA and FIP suggested a pitcher that was closer to league average than someone who the team will be paying about $50 million over the next three years. Nevertheless, his 200-inning season streak continued in 2012 as the Fish expected, and an average performance for that much playing time is still worth a decent amount, and the Marlins have to be happy that the average performance was consistent throughout the year. With some regression on the home run rates, Buehrle should look a little better in 2013.
While two championships in three years does not a dynasty make, there is something interesting[...]
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