Five Breakout NBA Players of the Second Half

Miles Bridges, Charlotte Hornets

Ten games leading into the All-Star break Miles Bridges became a consistent scorer and productive player for the crappy Charlotte Hornets.  Bridges averaged 16 PPG to go along with five rebounds. Take away two stinkers and he would be averaging over 20 PPG. Most importantly Bridges saw a rise in usages percentage over those games despite competeing with ball dominant Terry Rozier. 

The Hornets will not compete for a championship or even a playoff spot but they do have a chance to continue to develop their up and coming forward.  The former Michigan State Spartan underwhelmed their first season but has come on to be a mainstay in the rotation. Bridges showed a flash of his ability over All-Star Weekend putting up 20 points in the rising stars game.  Bridges increased usage to go along with his consistent minutes should lead to production. 

Jaylon Brown, Boston Celtics

Jaylon Brown is already doing everyting better in 2020.  The loss of Kyrie Irving has allowed Brown to open up his game.  Brown has seent he production jump in all advanced stats. His PER jumped up to 17.28 from his 13.58 from the previous two seasons. Brown’s length and athleticism along with a 3-pt shooting percentage of 38% makes him the perfect player for today’s game.  

Brown is still just 23 years old and is a key piece of one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.  Being the 3rd and sometimes 4th option for Boston keeps opposing defeneses from game planning against him.  When Tatum struggles, Brown is the guy to bring the Celtics to the next level come playoff time.  

Jordan Clarkson, Utah Jazz

Quietly Jordan Clarkson is having the best season of his career.  He has his highest true shooting percentage of his career at 58.1% along with a PER of 18.87.  Clarkson’s move to the Utah Jazz has allowed him to flourish as the #1 scorer off of the bench.  The Jazz were in need of more scoring and Clarkson is the perfect fit. The last three games of the All-Star break Clarkson put up 21, 25 and 30.   He has finally found a place that he fits and he will excel in the second half. 

Christian Wood, Detroit Pistons

Christian Wood has been a DFS darling of mine for the last two years. With the departure of Andre Drummond it’s finally time for Wood to show the type of production he can bring to the table.  Wood has become the vocal point to a terrible Pistons team. His player effenciency rating ranks 15th in the NBA while his minutes continue to increase. Averaging over 30 minutes per game since the Drummond trade has immediatetly put him in the place to be the new cornerstone of the organization.  

Furkan Korkmaz, Philadelphia 76ers

While Korkmaz is not going to be a star on a Sixers team with big personalities he could be the biggest reason they have a chance to win the East.  Korkmaz has shot 39% from three over his last ten games. Entering the starting lineup gives the Sixers a legit long range threat that is needed to go along with the Simmons work getting into the interior of the defense.  Furkan will never be the name that people bring up when they are playing Philly but his shooting ability will be a huge asset to a team with a lot of promise. 

Five role players that will make or break their teams.

Stars in college basketball will get the headlines. In college basketball the game is more about a team concept.  Rarely do you have a team that is star drive go win the whole thing. Virginia was loaded with key players that were all assets to their eventual championship.  I want to highlight the players people don’t talk about enough that could be the reason their team makes it deep into March Madness.  

*These players will be from power conference teams.

Quincy McKnight, Seton Hall

Most common college basketball fans know that Seton Hall is Myles Powells team.  When Powell is not on his game it is the senior point gaurd Qunicy McKnight that picks up the slack. McKnight is veteran that isn’t afaid of prime time competetion.  His ability to run the offense and create off the dribble will open up the floor for Myles Powell and Sandro (Not trying to spell last name). 

In the NCAA tournament McKnight will have to force the defense to pay attention to him, his 84% free throw shooting will also be a huge advantage for the Pirates.  He will be the guy forced to take the ball against top defensive teams that will not allow the ball into Powell’s hands.  

Marcus Garrett, Kansas

Who doesn’t know Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike.  The unsung hero of KU is Junior Guard Marcus Garrett.  Garrett is a solid two way player that has shown up in the big moments of the season. Garrett showed his potential this weekend taking over the game agaisnt Oklahoma after Kansas got off to a slow start.  Garrett’s defense has alwasy been his trademark but it was his ability to shoot the three that shocked most fans, knocking down nine of them.  

If Garrett can provide the outside shot to go along with his defense he will be the difference maker for Kansas in the tourney.

Chris Clarke, Texas Tech

The popular sleeper team in college basketball is Texas Tech.  They have flashy scorers in Jahmi’us Ramsey, Davide Moretti and Kyler Edwards steal the headlines. It’s the Virgnia Tech transfer Chris Clarke that provides the grit work for the Red Raiders. Texas Tech has the skilled players to compete with anyone.  What they lack is the power on the inside to compete with the big boys of college basketball. Clarke’s toughness is a necessity for last year’s runner up to the national title. His perfromances against K-State, Louisville and Kentucky all carried the team to victories or near victories (Kentucky).  

Toughness and experience are what seems to be lacking from Texas Tech.  His ability to help run the offense and help thems stay up tempo will be important downt he stretch. 

Daryl Morsell, Maryland Terrapins

Maryland has issues. Their ridiculous talent can overshadow their ineffeciencies. Daryl Morsell is a player that has become a key player in their big matchups.  Wins over Illinois and Rutgers showed off the potential stat stuffing ability of Morsell. Morsell is currently shooting 36% from three, which is a huge improvement over last season 28%.  The Terrapins have issues shooting the ball, if Morsell can provide the threat from distance it will make their ridiulously athletic point guard Anthony Cowan even tougher to defend.  

Morsell is the third leading scorer on Maryland behind the aforementioned Cowan and NBA prospect Jalen Smith.   Morsell will be the player that gets the open looks and if he hits this team has final four written all over them.

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Villanova

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl was a highly rated recruit, the freshman forward has lived up to the rating.  Averaging 10 points and nearly 9 boards a game is nice but his ability to play the five in an uptempo Villanova offense has allowed them to play at a faster rate.  

Robinson-Earl is matchup nightmare for traditional bigs and has the ability to post up opposing players that match his size.  Colin Gillespie and Saddiq Bey are the guys that catch the headlines but Robinson Earl is the guy that allows them to before by cleaning up the glass.  If you question the freshman at all check his game logs against higher level competition. His play will determine where this team goes.

The Cards future is based on Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter sucked in 2019.  I wanted to come up with a more sophisticated way of saying that but as a Cardinals fan and a baseball fan there are really no other words that encapsulate the horrible season the Cardinals third baseman had.  He stunk, he knew and we knew it.

An MLB player having a regression year happens, pitchers begin to understand how to pitch to him or an injury slows them down.  The regression level Carpenter saw when compared to 2018 though was astronomical. You may call it Dexter Fowler-esque.

WAR WRC+ ISO SLUG

2018- 5.0 2018- 141 2018- .266 2018- .523

2019- 1.2 2019- 95 2019- .166 2019- .392

Analytics driven stats destroy Carpenter..  The acquisition of Paul Goldschmidt was made to solidify the middle of the order behind Carpenter.  Carpenter, well known for starting the season slow, started about as slow as you can possibly start.  Starting the season hitting just .204 along with a .328 OBP during the first month and a half of the year.  Things didn’t get much better for Carp as his struggles forced the organization to move Carpenter from the top of the order.

The point is, Carpenter sucked last year.  There are no ways around it. Entering his age 34 season Carpenter’s regression seems real.  The scariest stat is his 12% walk rate in 2019. Carpenter was known for his ability to get on base and that took a huge hit last season dropping his OBP a staggering 40 points!  St. Louis needed Carpenter to step up his power in 2018 so a likely regression from 2017 OBP was going to happen. His approach at the plate changed and he has not been able to get back to where they need it to be.  

The question is which Carpenter are they going to get enteing 2020?  A change in his swing is the early story of spring training so hopefully he can regain his batting eye.  Being locked into a contract that is going to pay him $18.5 million over the next three seasons will force him into the order.   He has to retool his approach at the plate, find that batting eye that forced opposing pitchers to put the ball over the plate and allow him to extend and drive the ball. If he bounces back to even a shadow of the player that became a cornerstone in the lineup from 2012-2018 the Cardinals will be able to wait on the further development of their young players.  

Carpenter’s role on the Cardinals will be an interesting case in how the season will develop.  If he continues to struggle the organization will be forced to play Tommy Edman more at 3rd base which would most likely lead to more playing time for Lane Thomas in the outfield.  If they go another route the Cardinals could be forced to push Dylan Carlson up whether they believe he is ready or not. I am a believer in waiting for the development of minor league talent.  In today’s baseball world patients is not a virtue. Talented players are put into positions to sink or swim. The players that swim, jump straight into the limelight of the profession. The Cardinals giant marketing push of Harrison Bader heading into 2019 was an example of a team that saw a spark in a young player and rode with it.  That didn’t work out very well, which could halt the organization from pushing the talented Carlson to the big club. 

The Cardinals didn’t add Anthony Rendon or Nolan Arenado to the team due to the fact that they had Carpenter written in at 3rd base in permanent marker.  A team that should be looking to always be moving forward has shown an inability to move on from players and coaches that have impeded the growth of the organization.  Carpenter’s play will be the biggest factor to determine the success and direction of the franchise for the next three years. While I hope he is successful, I’m not going to hold my breath.  

Grading the Mookie Betts Trade

Los Angeles Dodgers- Receive Mookie Betts and David Price

The Dodgers are perennial contenders year after year.  Losing three straight times in the postseason to the eventual champions. They were very open about doing what it took to add another impact player.  They were in on Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg. When they got Scott Boras’d (that’s a thing now) on all of them it was time to go after a team looking to begin a rebuild in the Boston Red Sox.  

Betts was not going to re-sign with Boston.  The Red Sox saw the writing on the wall and it was time to get what they could out of their All-Star.  The Dodgers didn’t hesitate when they saw the opportunity. Moving top prospect Alex Verdugo as well as a picking up a portion of the David Price contract has allowed the already talented Dodgers to become a legit SUPER team. 

Grade: A++++++

Boston Red Sox- Receive Alex Verdugo and Brusdar Graterol #53

I understand that Boston fans are angry but they should really look on the bright side of the situation. Alex Verdugo immediately puts himself in the starting lineup for the Red Sox for years to come. 

Verdugo, 23, is a future star in Boston.  In 2018 mlb.com called him “One of the best pure hitting prospects in baseball”.  The Dodgers loaded roster was unable to find consistent AB’s for Verdugo but when he played he excelled.  He is not just just a hitter either, Verdugo has one of the highest rated arms in baseball, which should fill in nicely in right field.  

So, who is Brusdar Graterol?

Graterol, 21, is currently the #53 overall prospect in all of baseball.  He brings a ridiculous fastball that will consistently stay in the triple digits. He has dealt with injuries over the last two seasons but his plus arm should make him a candidate for a bullpen role.  With the Red Sox severe need for bullpen pieces they may have a future closer on their hands.  

Boston loses the trade because they lost the best player, but really did they do that bad? I say no. If they were not going to re-sign Betts, this isn’t that bad.

Grade: B-

Minnesota Twins- Kenta Maeda

The Twins need pitching.  Behind Jose Berrios there is not much that you can depend on in the Twins rotation.  Jake Odorizzi, Homer Bailey, Rich Hill and Michael Pineida are the probables behind their star.  Adding Maeda gives the Twins another guy that has proven himself in the rotation as well as out of the bullpen. 

The Twins gave up a prospect they didn’t see a future in and added depth in a place they needed it most.  Solid job.

Top 7 Offensive 2nd Baseman in MLB

When I was a kid second base was my favorite position.  I grew up idolizing Delino Deshields, Fernando Vina and Craig Biggio.  The best part about second base is that you can be a little out of shape but still are a good athlete, you can have some power but don’t have to hit 35 homers.  A great second baseman is like having a wild card that can take a team from good to great. I want to break down the best offensive second baseman heading into 2020.  The players I have on this list are projected to be primarily second baseman this year. Guys like Javier Baez, Matt Carpenter (lol), Jose Ramirez and one of my favorites Gleyber Torres are not actually going to be 2nd baseman this season.  Why top seven? Why not? Let’s do it.

7. Kolten Wong, St. Louis Cardinals

Wong is the best defensive second baseman in baseball. He had not lived up to his hype as a prospect on the offensive end until the 2019 season.  His slash line of .285/.361/.423 were all career highs. Wong added speed to his repertoire in 2019 with 24 stolen bases.  

Entering the 2020 season the Cardinals will be relying on a lot of youth including Tyler O’Neil, Tommy Edman and Harrison Bader to pick up the slack of the departed Marcell Ozuna.  Wong, now a veteran by those standards will hopefully be placed in the upper part of the order giving him the chance to produce in more areas. His power numbers are not nearly on the level of others on the list but he can be an above average major league hitter.

6. Brandon Lowe, Tampa Bay Rays

Brandon Lowe only played in 82 games in 2019.  In that amount of time he performed beyond what anyone could have imagined.  Lowe’s .336 on-base percentage is a little lower than I would like to see from a projected leadoff hitter but his power is hard to ignore.  Lowe’s slugging percentage was .514 was one of the tops at the position. A healthy Lowe should be a candidate for 30 homers. His strikeout rate is worrisome but the more at bats he gets while healthy the better he will be. 

Lowe needs to get better at hitting lefties and reduce the strikeouts but he has the ability to be an impact performer if able to stay healthy. 

5. DJ LeMahieu, New York Yankees

This would have been the spot for Gleyber Torres but with his move to full time SS LeMahieu jumps to this spot.  I love DJ, he brings stability to the top of a lineup. LeMahieu had what could be considered a career season. I know he won a batting title in 2016 but DJ had not hit over 66 RBI in a season before 2019.  LeMahieu showed unprecedented power last season, it would be hard to believe that he could do repeat the numbers with RISP but DJ still plays in a baby ballpark and should have a solid season.

4. Ozzie Albies, Atlanta Braves

Ozzie Albies is just 23 years old! A lot of the talk in the league was about Ronald Acuna, as it should be, but the emergence of Albies.  While being grossly underpaid Albies performed like a future star in 2019 especially down the stretch, hitting .302 in the second half. Albies great second half propelled the Braves, allowing them to dominate the National League East.

Albies will enter the season with high expectations.  He brings multiple tools to the table, power, speed and switch hitting. Albies has a shot to be a 20/20 player while hitting over .300.  At such a young age he will only be able to improve as the years go on.

3. Keston Huira, Milwaukee Brewers

Keston will be #1 by the end of the season, but going into the season I have to take into account the potential of a sophmore slump.  Hiura’s 30% strikeout rate scares me a bit but the power he brings is legit and he will have back the protection of Christian Yelich. Assuming he will hit behind Yelich there is no way that teams will elect to face the former MVP over the second year player. 

Hiura’s power is legit and he smashes at Miller Park. Hiura added nine steals to his 19 dingers and 50 runs scored in only 84 games last season. 

2. Jose Altuve, Houston Astros

Jose Altuve is under a lot of scrutiny.  But we have to ignore that when you are ranking, all I am looking at is the 37 bombs Altuve hit last season.  Altuve is still on 29 years old despite the fact that it feels like he has been playing for a lifetime. Altuve’s power versus righties was the most impressive feat of all.  20 of Altuve’s 31 homers were against righties, with a slugging percentage of .505.  

Altuve’s home and away splits were obviously different but he still was above the norm with a 119 WRC+.  Altuve will have to ignore the press that comes with the sign stealing scandal. The Astros lineup is still stacked and should provide the protection he needs to succeed on the offensive end.

1. Ketel Marte, Arizona Diamondbacks

Picking up Starling Marte allows us to get excited about the possibility of potentially the best all around player in baseball (other than Mike Trout) getting cemented at the position of the gods second base.  Marte is an all around hitter with a slash line that put him right in the middle of the NL MVP race .329/.389/.592 and a 150 WRC+.  

Ketel still projects as the potential leadoff hitter for Arizona due to Starling Marte’s lackluster OBP.  If Starling is able to move into the leadoff role Ketel should be able to thrive with speed on the base paths.  Marte at #1 may seem odd but this guy at just 26 has worked his way up from promising prospect to legit MLB star.

Milwaukee Brewers 2020 Season Outlook

The Milwaukee Brewers made it to the National League Wild Card game in 2019 thanks to a dominant second half of the season.  The Brewers went an amazing 42-29 in the second half propelling them into the playoffs and nearly catching the St. Louis Cardinals for the division lead.  What made this even more amazing is that they had much of their success without the league’s MVP Christian Yelich. 

Key Losses:  

Position Players: Yasmani Grandal, Mike Moustakas, Travis Shaw, Eric Thames and Trent Grisham


Pitchers: Jordan Lyles, Chase Anderson, Zach Davies, Drew Pomeranz and Junior Guerra

Key Additions: 

Position Players: Luis Urias, Jedd Gyroko, Omar Narvaez, Avisail Garcia and Ryon Healy

Pitchers: Eric Lauer, Josh Lindblom and Brett Anderson

Lineup Questions:

How do you replace Yasmani Grandal?

Yasmani Grandal signed a bargain deal with Milwaukee in 2019, he paid off his price giving the Brewers a 5.2 WAR, ranked just second behind JT Realmuto.  Grandal was a major reason that the Brewers were able to handle the loss of Yelich providing stability in the middle and sometimes top of the order.  

With Grandal out the Brewers went out and added Omar Narvaez.  LOVE this move. Narvaez is the perfect replacement on the offensive end for Grandal.  Quietly one of the best upcoming offensive catchers in all of baseball, Narvaez smashed 22 homers last season in Seattle and was able to produce a comparable slash line with Grandal

Grandal: .246/.380/.466

Narvaez: .278/.353/.460

Narvaez doesn’t bring the pitch framing that Grandal does but he is serviceable and will be a perfect split with defensive minded Manny Pina in 2020.

Whos on the corners? 

Milwaukee will have to replace all of their corner infield players in 2020.  Ryan Braun will be moving to first base a position he has little experience playing while third base projects to be a mix of the returning Eric Sogard, Luis Urias and Jedd Gyroko.  

Eric Sogard is coming off of a career season splitting time between the Blue Jays and Rays, providing both teams with a consistent bat finishing with a 2.8 WAR.  Sogard will likely be primarily a 3B/SS option for Milwaukee as they have established Keston Hiura as the face of the franchise along with Christian Yelich.  

The Brewers would love for Luis Urias to take over 3rd base.  Urias could see time at shortstop if Orlando Arcia is not able to hit at the major league level.  Picking up Urias was a great move by the organization, adding a guy that was recently a top 35 prospect. Arcia has shown the ability to be a defensive force but the offense has not had an impact on the major league level. I could see Urias being the full time shortstop by the end of the 2020 season.

Does the rotation have enough to compete?

Milwaukee has found success without the need of a strong rotation for two years.  They have found a way to piece together wins by getting the most out of the starters they have and utilizing a stellar bullpen. 2020 will see a similar approach.  The rotation will be headlined by 2019 All Star Brandon Woodruff. Woodruff was establishing himself as the ace of the staff before an oblique injury sidelined him for most of the second half of the season.  With Woodruff the Brewers have a starter that they can build their rotation around. The organization moved on from mainstays Zach Davies and Chase Anderson in the offseason to open up spots for a few question marks. 

The projected rotation at the moment according to ESPN and Rotochamp would be Brandon Woodruff, Adrian Houser, Josh Lindblom, Brett Anderson, Eric Lauer and Brent Suter.  If you were counting that would be six names for five spots. The Brewers will most likely go with a five man rotation but outside of Woodruff the pitchers behind him have not been known for their ability to pitch long into games.   

The most intriguing players that will be given a chance would be former Padre Eric Lauer, 25, has the most potential of the projected starters.  Lauer is still young and was able to provide a terrible Padres squad with a 2.4 WAR in 2019 but his xFIP was pedestrian at 4.77. If Lauer can handle the smaller confines of Miller Park he should be a valuable piece in the long term for Milwaukee.  

Josh Lindblom is an interesting piece to the puzzle.  2019 saw a revitalization of his career while pitching in the KBO, receiving the Most Valuable Player award.  Lindblom has spent time in the majors with four different clubs most recently with the Pirates in 2017. Can he have similar success as pitchers like Miles Mikolas have had after seemingly reinventing themselves in other leagues?  Only time will tell. 

The Brewers rotation will be the biggest question as they head into spring training.  Their success beyond just the division will be determined by their health and progression.

Conclusion

The Brewers made a lot of changes in the offseason.  Players like Avisail Garcia and Omar Narvaez should thrive in more hitter friendly atmospheres. A full year of Keston Huira and  Christian Yelich being healthy for opening day should also be a spark to the offense. Josh Hader and company will be great as they have been for the last few years.  It’s about the rotation, if the rotation can take big strides in 2020 Milwaukee will be a force in the central again.  

If the Brewers find themselves in need of help going into the trade market they will have some problems as they have depleted what was once a very promising farm system.  Currently they rank 29th in baseball according to Bleacher Report. This team is built to compete right now, they are young and have a terrific manager in Craig Counsell. I would project them as a clear contender for a Wild Card spot heading into the season, anything past that would be a surprise.

The Story of Marcell Ozuna and the St. Louis Cardinals


Marcell Ozuna signe a 1-year $18 million dollar “prove it” contract with the Atlanta Braves officially ending his two-year relationship with the St. Louis Cardinals.  The St. Louis Cardinals were in need of an impact bat in the middle of their order. Long gone were the days of Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday anchoring the middle of the order striking fear into the opposing pitching staff.  Ozuna had two years left on his contract when he was picked up in 2017. Those two years were supposed to be a showcase of his excellency, forcing the Cardinals to make him a huge offer cementing him as the new face of baseball in the gateway to the west. Ozuna was going to cash in and both the player and the team will live happily ever after.  That would have been a great story unfortunately professional sports is not a fairy tale.

The Cardinals picked up a 27-year old, two-time all-star coming off of a breakout season where he posted a .312/.376/.548 slash line to go along with 37 homers, 128 RBI and a gold glove.  It wasn’t former teammate Christian Yelich that was the future MVP, Ozuna was considered as the prized piece. The Cardinals gave three pitching prospects Daniel Castano, Zac Gallen, Sandy Alcantara and outfielder Magneuris Sierra for Ozuna.  Alcantara was named an all-star in 2019 giving him one more than Ozuna in his time with St. Louis while Zac Gallen has become a part of the rotation for the Arizona Diamondbacks.  

When the acquisition was made the Cardinals looked like the clear winner adding the power that was going to take them out of the dreaded middle pack of the central division.  The days of Jhonny Peralta, Jedd Gyroko and Randal Grichuck batting cleanup were over. Finally a power bat to accommodate the on-base prowess of Matt Carpenter and Dexter Fowler.  The 2017 Cardinals needed this bat.

2017 Team Stats (Non-Pitcher)

ISO: 176

Slug: .439

WRC+: 107

Entering 2018 was exciting with their new power bat the Cardinals had to improve their offense…right?

2018 Team Stats (Non-Pitcher)

ISO: .169

Slug: .419

WRC+: 100

Ozuna’s first season in St. Louis was marred by a shoulder injury, limiting his production.  His slash line .243/.330/.435 was not nearly as productive as his final year with Miami. Coming into the 2019 season the team added Paul Goldschmidt to go along with Ozuna, that should have helped…right?

2019 Team Stats (Non Pitcher)

ISO: .177

Slug: .428

WRC+: 105

The Cardinal offense continued to be mediocre in 2019 even though Ozuna was electric to begin the season hitting ten homers in his first 27 games, he floundered down the stretch, hitting just .219 in the second half.  Ozuna had a chance to erase two years of sub-par production and looked to be on the right track in the NLDS, hitting two homers with a slash line of .429/.478/.857 in five games against his new team. Continuing that production could have changed the opinion of the public on Ozuna, unfortunately the NLCS wiped away any memory of dominance at the plate.  The numbers are literally not worth typing at this point.  

Two years with Marcell Ozuna did not change the offense for the St. Louis Cardinals.  Ozuna provided the fanbase with some mathom shots that showed the potential he brings to any lineup but he came into the 2018 season out of shape and injured.  His swing produced long home runs but resembled a cleanup hitter at your local slow pitch softball league. Those guys can hit the ball pretty far to, doesn’t make them major league All-Stars.  Both the Cardinals and Ozuna have found themselves in a place that they could have never imagined.   

St. Louis is currently looking at a potential outfield of Tyler O’Neil, Dexter Fowler and Harrison Bader.  Banking on a bounce back season from Bader and a breakout season from O’Neil are large questions marks for a team that is always looking to compete.  With super prospect Dylan Carlson on his way there is some hope for the future of the Cardinals outfield but if Ozuna could have been the player the Cardinals thought they traded for it you could have the building blocks of a great outfield for years to come. 

Ozuna was supposed to be that building block entering his age 29 season, this offseason was supposed to be the one that paid off in the long run of his career.  Whether it was the Cardinals or someone else this was the time that the “Big Bear” was supposed to get his contract that could allow him to find a permanent spot to hibernate for the rest of his career.  Accepting a one-year deal was the worst case outcome for him. If he is not able to pick up his production this could be a trend that follows him for years to come.  

Trades don’t always work out for most teams.  This one didn’t set the organization back, but it leaves them in a vulnerable place as we see the progression of the prospects.  Marcell Ozuna and the St. Louis Cardinals was supposed to work. Sports stories don’t always have happy endings…luckily for both their stories continue, this was just a crappy chapter.

CBB pick ATS Jan. 21

Florida Gators at LSU Tigers -2.5

Florida’s had a disappointing start 2019-2020 campaign.  Their loss to Missouri on January 11th was not only bad, it was downright embarrassing.  Florida has bounced back with two straight victories and covers versus Ole Miss and Auburn.  The Florida defense has been outstanding all season and they were able to shut down Auburn the entire game holding the undefeated Auburn Tigers to just 47 points.  

LSU is currently on a six game win streak, currently being undefeated in the SEC.  The Tigers will face their stiffest competition within the league. 

Florida’s offense has not been great most of the season but they have seemed to find it in SEC play averaging 80 points per game in their five games.  Florida will be able to cause problems for the LSU offense with Kerry Blackshear and 6-10 freshman Omar Payne both controlling the paint. Florida has found their mojo as they have begun to play well as all the new pieces are beginning to fit together.  Mike White has found the right mix that works. The Gators were a top ten team to begin the season and they will begin their climb back up the NCAA rankings.  

Pick: FloridaGators +2.5 

Texas Tech Red Raiders at TCU Horned Frogs +3

Texas Tech has the best player on the court in guard Jahim’us Ramsey.  Ramsey will have trouble tonight versus Jamie Dixon’s TCU defense. Known for their tight man to man coverage should be a problem for Ramsey but the Red Raiders have more to offer on the offensive end than just their freshman guard.  Kyler Edwards, Davide Moretti and Chris Clarke are all offensive options that can be a problem for the Horned Frogs. 

The Red Raiders have been streaky all season but have wins over Louisville, Iowa State and Kansas State were all wins that show the potential they have to take over the Big12.  Texas Tech will have the advantage on the offensive end, the key will be to keep TCU off of the boards. TCU is just 4-7 ATS the spread at home in 2019-2020, Texas Tech is also 5-0-1 in their last six versus the Horned Frogs.

Texas Tech is in need of another signature win and their ability to utilize multiple players on the offensive end should be enough to cover.

Picks: Texas Tech Red Raiders -3

New Direction- A look at the Pittsburgh Pirates 2020


The Pittsburgh Pirates started out 2019 looking like the breakout team of the season. Josh Bell emerged into an All-Star while Kevin Newman and Bryan Reynolds both excelled in their first full seasons in the majors.  The Pirates were a trainwreck in the second half going 28-48 while dealing with more turmoil in the clubhouse than a reality TV show about rich guys wives. Suspensions of Kyle Crick, Keone Kela and of course Felipe Vasquez made an already bad bullpen even worse.  The Pirates management made the right decision and moved on from Clint Hurdle. A change of culture was needed, in comes Derek Shelton, a man that knows how to win.

Derek Shelton has a lot to fix in Pittsburgh, the offense may be the one thing he doesn’t.  A projected lineup that will include Josh Bell, Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco and Bryan Reynolds should be a solid starting point for the organization.  Marte, 31, is the oldest of the aforementioned players has been the mainstay of the organization for years. It’s time for the organization to move onto the Josh Bell ERA.  Bell is the evolution of the modern day player, supplying both power and on-base ability. 

While the offense has the pieces to build around the pitching staff is lackluster to say the least. The rotation has two young starters to begin their rebuild in Chad Kuhl and Jameson Taillon. Joe Musgrove was a surprise llast year bringing in a 3.3 WAR and solidifying himself as a potential mainstay for years to come.  Pittsburgh still has Mitch Keller at the top of their prospect ranks. His first time in the majors was not great but the talent is still there and can help build a strong core for the future.

The Pirate bullpen has more problems than I can fit onto one blog post. Keone Kela will be projected in the closer role followed behind by Kyle Crick, Richard Rodriguez, Michael Feliz and the emergence of Edgar Santana.  Last season’s Pirate bullpen was horrible on most accounts, finishing bottom ten or bottom five in most categories. Pittsburgh had serious issues with putting people on base for free, walking 304 players and allowing a .255 BA.  They not only put people on but they regularly allowed them to score. With no major additions to the bullpen they Pirates are hoping that new Pitching Coach Oscar Marin can find a way to change up the fortunes of the staff. Marin spent last season as the bullpen coach for the Texas Rangers.  Marin was a bargain basement cost but a new face and new appeal could be exactly what the organization is looking for.

Conclusion: 

 Moving Chris Archer, Trevor Williams and Starling Marte should be enough to bring back the prospects to take them from bottom ten ranking (#22 according to Bleacher Report).  The Pirates have the assets to help a team that will be in contention. Pittsburgh has to commit to their rebuild by moving their pieces while they still have the value. By moving on from Clint Hurdle they are showing the first step towards a new direction. 

The future for Pittsburgh is on the shoulders of Ke’Bryan Hayes, the 34th ranked prospect according to Baseball America.  Hayes will likely find his way to the majors in 2020 joining their young rotation pieces. A new direction in the steel city has the chance to work if they are willing to follow the same game plan as fellow NL Central foes Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Cubs.  Tough times are ahead for Pittsburgh.

Breaking Down the Reds

I was at a Cardinals/Cubs game last year at Busch Stadium when the news broke about Trevor Bauer being traded within the Central Division.  When I first heard that, naturally I would have assumed that it was either the Cubs, Brewers or Cardinals that made the move to put themselves over the top in a competitive division. I found a place with Wifi and realized that it was the cellar dwelling Cincinnati Reds that made the move, shocking most baseball pundits. Cincinnati has continued to improve their team in the offseason with additions that are not being made for the future but for right now.  They are coming for the Central division and it’s time to take notice. 

Offseason Additions: Mike Moustakas, Wade Miley

The Red’s had some holes to fill coming into the offseason.  Most notably was at second base. With their top prospect Nick Senzel becoming firmly planted in center field for most likely many years to come they had to fill that hole.  They were able to add the power hitting Mike Moustakas. Moustakas is coming off a great year with the Milwaukee Brewers hitting 35 homers, .503 slugging percentage, .262 ISO and a 2.8 WAR.  The addition of Moustakas adds power behind Joey Votto and Eugenio Suarez. His consistent power gives the Reds a great safety net in case Aristedes Aquino falls into the classic sophomore slump as he enters the full time lineup.  

Wade Miley had a great 2019 with the Houston Astros.  The basic numbers are solid 14 wins, 3.98 ERA and holding lefties to a .207 batting average.  Miley faded down the stretch as his cutter seemed to lose its zip. While Miley’s August- October cost him a spot in the playoff rotation, he still did what was needed for the Astros. Miley is realistic a league average pitcher with upside.  Putting him at the end of the Reds rotation behind Sonny Gray, Anthony DeScalfani, Luis Castillo and Trevor Bauer makes their rotation arguably the best in the National League and for sure the Central Division.

What else do they need?

The Red’s continued their offseason additions by adding 31-year old Shogo Akiyama.  The addition of Akiyama could end the reported interest in Marcell Ozuna. Cincinnati’s outfield consists of Jesse Winker, Nick Senzel and Aristedes Aquino with the reserves being Phillip Irvin and Travis Janikowski.  Aquino provides power, Senzel speed and Winker…well he is ok.   

Akiyama projects to bat leadoff for the Reds which is the biggest need going into the 2020 season.  Votto, Suarez, Aquino and Moustakas provide a middle of the order that can match up with any lineup.  It also helps that Great American Ballpark should provide even more pop for a lineup with already legit power.  If Akiyama can provide any kind of on-base statistics, this team should be set for a huge offensive season. 

Conclusion

The Red’s farm system lacks the depth ranking at the bottom ten of the league.  Last season they entered ranking 20th overall. Adding established major league talent has pushed the Reds into contention entering 2020.  Last season the bullpen established themselves as a force. Ending with Raisel Iglesias, who has established himself as one of the best closers in all of baseball.  The Reds now have more flexibility with the addition of Miley. Amir Garrett. Michael Lorenzen and Lucas Sims have all become valued middle relievers. Cincinnati has made the moves necessary to be a problem in the Central Division.