On this page, I'll share my thoughts, and any articles or information I think are of interest. Feel free to use the comments section to join in the discussion!
Indians To Sign Justus Sheffield
By Steve Adams [June 6, 2014 at 3:15pm CDT]
3:15pm: Agent David Sloane of Taurus Sports tells MLBTR that Sheffield has agreed to terms at $1.6MM plus the value of a $250K scholarship with Vanderbilt. Sheffield’s deal is technically under slot, but the additional value of the scholarship money and the fact that the bonus is to be paid up front takes the value of the deal over the slot value while allowing Cleveland to allot roughly $133K to other picks later in the draft.
10:45am: Zach Birdsong of Sheffield’s hometown Tullahoma News tweeted late last night that a “source close to the deal” informed him that Sheffield has neither signed nor agreed to anything. Sheffield himself retweeted Birdsong shortly thereafter, suggesting that there likely isn’t an agreement in place just yet.
12:29am: The Indians and first-round pick Justus Sheffield have agreed to a $1.6MM bonus plus eight semesters worth of tuition to Vanderbilt, reports Jim Callis of MLB.com (on Twitter). The No. 31 overall draft slot carried a value of $1.733MM, meaning Sheffield signed a bit under slot. Cleveland received the No. 31 overall selection as compensation for losing right-handerUbaldo Jimenez to the Orioles via free agency. Including college tuition as a fallback isn’t uncommon among high school draft signings, though it isn’t always reported, either. That money does not count against the team’s bonus pool.
Sheffield, a high school left-hander out of Tennessee, ranked 21st among draft prospectsaccording to ESPN’s Keith Law, 39th according to Callis and colleague Jonathan Mayo of MLB.comand 49th according to Baseball America.
Callis and Mayo feel that Sheffield has the chance to develop three plus pitches. His heater already sits 89 to 92 mph and touches 94, and he also features a mid-70s curveball and changeup, both of which the MLB.com duo refers to as advanced for high school. Law feels that Sheffield’s fourth pitch, a slider in the 82-84 mph range, also has a chance to be plus and can already miss bats. BA called him a strike-thrower with a four-pitch mix and a chance for average or better command. All three scouting reports praised his athleticism.
Tommy John research MLB's 'No. 1 priority'
June 5, 2014
As Major League Baseball searches near and far for ways to stem the proliferation of pitching elbow injuries – which MLB medical director Gary Green calls "our No. 1 research priority right now'' – two new studies have uncovered information that may help forecast and possibly prevent them.
One of the studies, conducted at the Cleveland Clinic under the direction of radiologist Josh Polster, concluded that professional pitchers with lower degrees of torsion in the humerus – the bone that connects the shoulder to the elbow – are at substantially higher risk of severe injury.
The extra torsion, or twist, in the dominant arm often develops in youth league and high school athletes as an adaptation to the pitching motion, and it helps avoid injury.
Those findings are essentially corroborated by the latest work from the American Sports Medicine Institute in Birmingham, Ala., which discovered that pitchers whose throwing shoulder can't rotate as much as their non-dominant shoulder by a significant amount – defined as 5 degrees or more – are two-and-a-half times more likely to land on the disabled list with an elbow injury.
The Polster study has been published by the American Journal of Sports Medicine, while the ASMI analysis has been accepted by the same trade journal but not published yet.
This latest information by itself won't curtail the rash of tears to the ulnar collateral ligament in major league pitchers that has resulted in 21 of them undergoing Tommy John surgery this year – already the second-highest total ever for a full season – but it adds pieces to a puzzle baseball is eager to solve.
"Everyone's trying to find an answer to this,'' Green said, pointing out there has been no definitive study unearthing the root cause of all the UCL tears. "My opinion is we're going to find multiple factors. It's not just going to be one thing.''
The studies took different approaches to reach similar conclusions.
Polster and his group performed CT scans on both humerus bones of 25 pitchers from one unidentified MLB team and processed the data through a local medical-imaging company called Image IQ, which modeled a pitching motion for the researchers.
The pitchers' activity and injury history was then tracked for two years. Researchers found a strong correlation between how much the humerus has adapted and the pitchers' ability to stay healthy.
"If it's more twisted, more torsion, there is less severe injury, and that went for both the shoulder and the elbow,'' Polster said, adding he's confident of the results despite the limited sample size, although reaching conclusions on the incidence of injury would require a bigger investigation.PHOTOS
The Polster study was funded by a grant from MLB and its results were presented to all teams at the winter meetings. Clubs could potentially use this technology to assess a pitcher's injury risk before signing him to a contract, or young players and their parents could rely on it to decide whether to switch positions or sports.
MLB clubs will also have access to the conclusions reached by ASMI, which took a low-tech approach to investigating the relationship between the shoulder's range of motion and elbow injuries.
Using a simple instrument called a goniometer, researchers measured the passive range of motion in both shoulders for a total of 296 Tampa Bay Rays pitchers over eight years. Their conclusions regarding the importance of shoulder flexibility may lead to programs to help prevent elbow injuries, or at least assess the chances of their occurrence.
"I think this study definitely is a component of someone's injury risk, and subsequently, their perceived worth to an organization,'' said Kyle Aune, a researcher involved in the ASMI analysis. "This is very practical. You can do this with everyone from Little League kids to Cy Young Award winners.''
And, ideally, help both groups avoid the operating table.
Now hear this: Moss’ persistence — & power — should be in All-Star Game
Give me a minute, and I’ll let Brandon Moss talk. He will talk and talk and talk — talk so much that he occasionally will wear out his teammates, who love him all the same.
Moss, 30, talks not in sentences or paragraphs, but in chapters. Some are fascinating, astonishing even. Yes, Moss’s story is that good — so good that once he starts, there will be no stopping him. So first, here’s Josh Donaldson.
It’s April 2012. Donaldson has just been demoted to Triple-A Sacramento, where he joins Moss, a newcomer. Sacramento is playing in Tucson’s notoriously hitter-friendly park. And Moss hits a ball that amazes Donaldson to this day, a ball that Donaldson is still talking about now that he and Moss are the leading sluggers for the best team in the American League, the Oakland A’s (who sit just one game behind the neighboring Giants for best record in baseball).
“It’s a day game,” Donaldson recalls. “The ball carries a little bit. And the wind was blowing a little bit out that day as well. But it’s like 400-plus to the right-center gap.
“They had one of those playpens for kids. It was like 100 feet past the fence. You were not going to hit it that far away. But he hit a ball over it during a game. I was like, ‘That’s ridiculous.’ I don’t care where you are. You couldn’t be playing on the moon and hit it that far. It was a joke.”
True or false, Brandon?
“It was the best ball I’ve ever hit,” Moss acknowledges, sheepishly. “But it was the perfect storm of events. A) It’s Tucson, which is like playing on the moon; and B) the wind was blowing out, probably 35-40 mph in the daytime.
“It could not have been a more perfect situation. And I absolutely got into one. I hit it high, also. It was a really good one. It was easily the furthest ball I’ve ever hit.”
Funny, because Donaldson recalls that when he met Moss that spring, he thought that his new teammate might be a “5 o’clock hitter,” someone who excelled only in batting practice.
The home run in Tucson convinced Donaldson otherwise. So did Moss’ performance in Oakland later that season, when he had more extra-base hits (39) than singles (38).
Moss is at it again this season, with 28 extra-base hits and 26 singles. He is batting .280 with 15 home runs and 49 RBI, and his .960 OPS ranks fifth in the American League.
Not bad for a guy who chose free agency rather than minor league assignments with the Pirates in 2010 andPhillies and ‘11. A guy who nearly quit the game to become a fireman in his native Georgia, and who signed a minor league deal with the A’s before the ‘12 season mostly because he thought it might help get a contract in Japan.
That guy since has hit 66 home runs in 904 at-bats for the A’s.
That guy, if there is any justice, will be an All-Star.
OK, time to give Moss the floor.
My tape recorder is on. Moss is talking about the end of the 2011 season.
“Philly had kind of showed me what they thought of me when they were looking for a left-handed bench bat late in the year,” Moss recalls. “I had been having a pretty good year at Triple A for them. And they went outside the organization and got another guy. Things like that are when you see what teams think of you. You see where you stand. I read the writing on the wall.”
The player whom the Phillies acquired, John Bowker, went 0 for 13 the rest of the season and never played in the majors again.
At the time, Moss had 678 major league at-bats — including a grand total of six with the Phillies. He was a .236 career hitter with a .682 OPS, and had hit a total of 15 home runs.
That off-season, as a minor league free agent, Moss’ choice came down to the Phillies and Athletics. He was still upset with the Phillies, mind you. But he nearly re-signed with them, anyway.
“I knew they knew who I was, knew how I played,” Moss says. “It’s always good to be in a place that at least knows what you’re capable of doing. But at the same time, when I found out Oakland had interest, I just felt like it was a good fit.
“The things I do as a hitter are things that they valued. Batting average was not the end-all, be-all of things. They look at numbers outside of that, numbers that usually are in line with what I do well. I thought if I could go show what I was capable of doing, there might be an opportunity to earn some sort of spot. And if not, at least I knew I would be in the PCL (Pacific Coast League).
“IT’S ALWAYS GOOD TO BE IN A PLACE THAT AT LEAST KNOWS WHAT YOU’RE CAPABLE OF DOING. BUT AT THE SAME TIME, WHEN I FOUND OUT OAKLAND HAD INTEREST, I JUST FELT LIKE IT WAS A GOOD FIT.”
“In the PCL, numbers are inflated big-time, especially for power hitters. I knew that if I did well there, there would probably be an opportunity to go to Japan. That was my whole goal. I thought if it doesn’t work out in Oakland, I knew that my power numbers would be there and there would be a good opportunity to go overseas and play.”
Was he ever close to quitting?
“Yeah,” Moss says. “Heck, yeah. After I (left) the Pirates (in Nov. 2010), before I signed with Philly, I thought about it. But me and my wife (Allie) talked about it. She was like, ‘You never know. You’re still only 26. You’re starting to get it.’
“She grew up in a sports family. She could understand that I was starting not to stress so much about baseball and understand what kind of player I was. She said, ‘Things can really turn around.’ I was like, ‘Yeah.’ But just in case, I had talked to a buddy of mine who was a fireman in Georgia. I just wanted to know what I needed to do to be a fireman in case baseball didn’t work out.”
* * * * * * * *
Baseball did eventually work out, but only after Athletics assistant GM David Forst signed Moss on Dec. 1, 2011.
The A’s liked Moss’ left-handed bat against right-handed pitching. At the time, Moss was almost exclusively an outfielder. But with the A’s, only a few players are “exclusively” anything.
The Red Sox had selected Moss as an infielder in the eighth round of the 2002 draft, tried him at first for 41 games in the minors in ’07 and ’08. Moss, in a conversation with the Athletics’ then-Triple-A manager, Darren Bush, suggested a return to first as almost as a last gasp for his career.
“He asked, ‘What can we do for you to help you get back to the big leagues?’” Moss recalls. “I said, ‘Well, Bushie, obviously I want to get back to the big leagues. Everybody does. But I think that ship may have sailed. Honestly, the only thing I think could make me more valuable for a team is to be a little bit more versatile. If you could hit me some groundballs at first base, maybe plug me in there every now and then to at least let teams see that I can play first base, I would really appreciate it.’”
Bush responded, “Let’s do it.”
Moss was taken aback.
“He kind of looked at me like, ‘Really?’” says Bush, who is now the Athletics’ bullpen coach. “I said, ‘Let’s go, right now.’ We went on the field that day. I had him to do some work with our hitting coach then, Greg Sparks, who was a first baseman.
“We hit him grounders. He looked good. He looked athletic. I asked ‘Sparky’ what he thought. He said, ‘I think he looks good.’ We got off the field, I went in and called Keith Lieppman, our farm director. I guess they already had talked about it a little bit.”
Yes, they had.
Farhan Zaidi, a statistical analyst who was then the team’s director of baseball operations, had written an e-mail to GM Billy Beane, urging that the A’s play Moss at first. Beane jokingly refers to Zaidi’s E-mail as “The Moss Manifesto.” But Zaidi, now an assistant GM, was onto something.
Manager Bob Melvin says he was initially skeptical about Moss changing positions — “I had never seen him play first base,” Melvin says. “To me, he was just an outfielder.” To this day, Moss says he is more comfortable as a corner outfielder than a first baseman. But first has been his most frequent position with the A’s.
Of Zaidi’s support, Moss says, “I didn’t know about that until after the (2012) season. Someone sent my wife something that Farhan had said. She showed it to me. I thought it was pretty cool.
“At the time, he wasn’t the assistant GM. He was an analytics guy. Usually those guys are sticking their necks out for the prospects — the guys who haven’t had 600 at-bats in the big leagues and struggled. I was pretty impressed and thankful that the guy would stick his neck out for a 28-year-old minor league free agent. You don’t see that very often.”
Melvin, sitting in his office at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, says that Moss grew more confident as the A’s stuck with him in the majors, explaining that, “he needed to be able to fail and still be in there.”
“I know that I don’t have out go out and go 2 for 4 every night and make my batting average look good,” he says. “My name’s going to be in the lineup. I know if I don’t have a good game, if I go 0 for 3 but turn an at-bat into a walk and get on base for a guy and score a run, that’s a valuable thing.
“I’ve been places before where you 0 for 3 with a walk, and you felt like it was a scuffle. The next day you come in, and you’ve got a hitting coach breathing down your neck talking about adjustments you need to make in your swing.
“I feel like that is one reason it’s so easy to relax here. You don’t have to force anything. They know what kind of player you are. Their stats, their analytics, people don’t like that. But the stats tell most of your story.
“They don’t think I’m going to come in and suddenly hit .330 and strike out 50 times and walk 100. They know I’m going to hit for a moderate average, strike out some, walk an average amount. But when I get it, there’s power behind it. I can drive the ball.”
That’s who Moss is now, an outright slugger, one capable of such damage, Melvin no longer can keep him out of the lineup regularly against left-handed pitching.
Moss made only 88 plate appearances against lefties last season, and batted .200 with a .649 OPS. This season, in 40 plate appearances against them, he’s hitting .343 with a 1.082 OPS.
Melvin values Moss’ versatility, his team-first approach, his ability to hit two home runs even as a designated hitter Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium. This is Melvin’s third managerial stint; he previously was with Seattle and Arizona. Moss, he says, is “one of the great clubhouse guys I’ve ever been around . . . one of the best guys I’ve ever had.”
But is he an All-Star?
The A’s nominated Moss as a designated hitter; their choice at first base was Daric Barton, whom they outrighted to the minors on May 18. At either position, the odds against Moss are considerable.
Perhaps Moss will be a players’ selection or manager’s selection, but when I mentioned the possibility to him Wednesday, he practically laughed out loud. He said he had discussed an All-Star appearance with A’s catcher Derek Norris. But to Moss, the idea still seems far-fetched.
“When you talk about just being considered for an All-Star Game, that means a lot,” he said. “It validates things that you’ve accomplished in this game. It’s a longshot just to get here, and then let alone succeed, and then let alone succeed on that kind of level.”
True enough, but now it’s time for Moss to stop talking, and for me to have the last word.
Here’s to Moss’ All-Star chances. Here’s to the longshot who came in.
Hard knock life: Astros turn to plate discipline for success
June 3, 2014
LAKE ELSINORE, CALIF. -- In the unforgiving heat of another afternoon in the California League, Carlos Correa's cleats scrape the concrete floor on a dark passageway beneath the stands, this day's stop on his journey to the major leagues, a destination still three levels away.
"Hitting is the toughest thing to do in baseball," says Correa, who as a 19-year-old shortstop - the youngest hitter in the league – is contradicting his assessment with a .320 batting average and 48 RBI, and who later this day would hit a 449-foot home run.
"That's what you want to learn about if you're going to play at the next level."
George Springer is where Correa wants to be - Houston. He has preceded Correa through the Houston Astros system, creating instant excitement for a franchise that's had baseball's worst record three years running.
"I'm the light at the end of the tunnel," says Springer, one of the first products of an approach to hitting – and teaching it – the Astros see as a core element to revitalizing the franchise.
Springer was drafted in 2011 under a previous regime, but developed under current general manager Jeff Luhnow, who tabbed Correa with his first selection as GM.
Together, they represent a tangible and hoped-for payoff for an organization bent on a more scientific approach to producing hitters - ones who can flourish in a game where offensive success is increasingly a challenge.
Tuesday, first baseman Jon Singleton joined Springer in Houston and made his major league debut, a reward for agreeing to a contract guaranteeing him $10 million.
Springer already seems primed for stardom: He recently became the first rookie in 77 years to hit seven homers in seven games as the Astros won seven in a row.
Correa, baseball's best shortstop prospect, could be next. For now, he joins his Lancaster JetHawks teammates on the youngest (and division leading) team in the Class A California League, putting in their pre-game work on a 94-degree afternoon with a breeze that has all the effect of a lit fireplace.
The minor leagues are the Astros' laboratory, as they take a sometimes innovative approach to basics.
Building plate discipline
"In baseball, there is a trend toward evaluating plate discipline," says Jeff Albert, the Astros minor league hitting coordinator who oversees a program that combines reams of data on their players with practical application on the field.
"We say it's important," Albert says. "We're actually backing that up."
In the Astros' own way: Albert insists this is not a walk-happy approach that boosts on-base percentages and at the same time inhibits some hitters' best qualities.
Albert recalls long-time major leaguer Torii Hunter summing it up: "Swing at strikes; take balls."
No revelation there.
Where the Astros take a step forward from the crowd is in their staunch belief plate discipline can be taught.
"Selectively aggressive," barks out hitting coach Darryl Robinson to a JetHawks group that features 20-year-old third baseman Rio Ruiz batting cleanup behind Correa and 22-year-old leadoff man Tony Kemp, who has more walks than strikeouts and a .425 on-base percentage.
"We're not looking for walks," Robinson says. "We're looking to do damage. Now, the walk is a by-product of getting a good pitch to hit. We know if we can put a ball in play or not. We know if we can put a good swing on a pitch and hit it hard."
He must be right. His 2013 JetHawks – most of them now at Class AA - led all the minor leagues in runs, walks, on-base percentage and OPS.
Lancaster is just one stop in a coordinated approach from Houston all the way to the club's Dominican academy. And they're not feasting on younger prospects: The Astros' top three farm teams each have hitters with the lowest average age in their league.
"We want to develop players the way that they're going to be successful in the big leagues," says Luhnow. "Swinging at pitches in and out of the zone and making wise swing choices. A lot of these kids have amazing physical skills to put the bat on the ball, but it's the mental discipline to make the right decision in the heat of the moment. That takes a lot of reps."
Those reps aren't just swing after swing day after day in the batting cage.
'Yes' or 'No' game
You'll often find their hitters in the bullpen, part of a plan that bucks a widely-held notion that plate discipline can't be taught.
"We track pitches," explains Kemp, a Vanderbilt product and second baseman in the diminutive mold of Houston sparkplug Jose Altuve. "When a pitcher is throwing live 'pens, we'll stand there and, when the pitcher releases the ball, call 'Yes' or 'No.'"
The idea is to become so adept at identifying whether it's a good pitch to swing at that batters can make the call just as the pitcher releases the ball.
And not just whether it will be in the strike zone, but also in the area where that particular hitter is most effective.
"That stuck out the most to me in spring training," says Kemp, who silently notes "yes or no" in games. "It's a difference for sure. Jeff Albert also talked about making sure you're focused in on a pitcher's release point."
Kemp says that's helped him identify what pitch is coming.
"You can see different things like trying to pronate his hand for the change-up," Kemp says.
Not everyone becomes so adept, but that's no deterrent.
Robinson says the process starts at a more basic level for some players. He places a row of balls on the ground 15-20 feet from the plate.
"I have them call it, yes or no," he says. "Yes, I'm swinging at it, no I'm not. The sooner you can recognize, the better. Once you start to focus, then it becomes a little easier. Now, you take it into the game. You've trained yourself."
The Astros would prefer to not have to start from scratch and that will affect their selections in this week's draft, where Luhnow is coy on the club's third consecutive top overall pick.
Rancho Bernardo (Calif.) High School catcher-outfielder Alex Jackson may be their best chance at an impact bat at the top of the draft, though Luhnow notes such players require some compromise to their organizational approach.
"We do look for attributes that suggest these players might be able to make the right swing decisions," Luhnow says. "You can see that with the college players and you can see it to a certain extent with the high school players."
Correa was one of those when taken first in 2012.
"When you get out of high school, you're just a free swinger," he says. "When you get out here, they teach you how to be aggressive and get your pitch to hit."
Let Robinson take you through the Astros' definition of patience.
Learning to survive
He says if a pitcher paints the outside corner with consecutive strikes, "I don't care about hitting 0-2. I'm OK with that because that pitcher still has to come across that plate. Now, I'll open my zone up. I'm in battle mode. But I'm not just trying to put the ball in play.
"I'm still trying to drive the ball. So, if that pitcher's good enough to nip that corner three times, I tip my hat. But we're not going to give a pitcher that much credit. It's not that easy to throw that ball across that black three times in a row. With two strikes there are borderline pitches we have to hit. But we're going to hook those balls foul. We're looking to get another pitch.
"We know if we can put a ball in play. We know if we can put a good swing on a pitch and hit it hard. And when we can't."
And what do the lab rats think of all this?
"It works," Correa says.
His cites Springer as proof.
"You learn how to survive out there," says Springer, who has simultaneously improved his walk-strikeout rate and OPS every year in the minors. "The process of coming through the minor leagues is huge. All that helps. You grow."
Which makes Correa eager to follow the formula.
"Couple of months ago I was with him in spring training," Correa says of Springer. "Now, you see him on TV hitting home runs almost every other day. You get pretty excited about everything the Astros are doing."