Monday, April 30, 2012

Pittsburgh Pirates Top Prospects 1-5

We finish the Pirates series today and I hope to start the Indian series as soon as possible....

1) Jameson Taillon-RHP
I give Taillon a shade of an advantage for the top spot over Gerrit Cole.
Taillon does not throw quite as hard as Cole,but he can still turn the heat up to the high 90's.
Taillon has an A+++ curve and frankly,it is unhittable when Taillon is on his game.
When I saw Taillon face the Hagerstown Suns last season,the Suns were overmatched anytime that Taillon threw the curve.
As in ZERO chance.
The fastball tended to get up into the zone and the Suns then had success.
Wilbur Miller says the only issue with Taillon is that he can allow the fastball to run high and flat and that can result in problems.
Taillon is currently at High A Bradenton and will not turn 21 until after the season concludes.

2) Gerrit Cole RHP
Most observers list Cole above Taillon by a nick,although I have the two reversed.
Cole has been known to hit 100 MPH and can be dominant at times.
Cole also however,has been known to post numbers that are less than the sum of his parts.
Cole has the same type of issues as Taillon,as in keeping the ball down and the fastball can occasionally get a bit straight and lack movement.
Cole does have all the tools to be a top of the rotation starter and will  hopefully mature to part of what could be a tremendous rotation in Pittsburgh....

3) Starling Marte OF
Marte is a four tool player that might even develop the fifth tool (power) as time goes along as his homer total at AA Altoona jumped dramatically last season.
Marte will steal 30 bases a season and plays such a strong defensive center field that he could move Andrew McCutchen to left,which in massive PNC Park is preferably manned by a plus defender.
Marte hit .332 with the Curve and cut down his strikeout total as well.
Marte could have started the season with the Pirates after a terrific spring training and only the urge to not rush him sent him to AAA Indianapolis.
I would bet that Marte is on schedule to make his debut in Pittsburgh by September and perhaps well before that....

4) Josh Bell OF
The best power prospect in the system was an expensive sign (five million) to keep Bell from the University of Texas and Bell instantly earned that title in a system that lacks power hitters.
The switch hitting outfielder does not appear to be a swing and miss guy and could hit for a strong average as well.
Bell looks to be a right fielder,although he could likely play center field right now.
Bell was fast tracked to Low A West Virginia and was holding his own until a recent knee injury that required surgery.
Bell is expected to return before the season ends.

5) Robbie Grossman OF
The breakout player of 2011 with a solid year in Bradenton as Grossman raised his average significantly and his power numbers dwarfed his previous pro numbers.
The only worry for me was that Grossman did that in his second year at the High A level.
Grossman walked over 100 times which shows a great deal of plate patience from both sides of the plate.
Grossman has the speed to play center,but might wind up in left considering his average arm strength.
Even though Grossman is still just 21,I am very interested in how he does at AA Altoona as my mild skepticism of his terrific 2011 is because of his repeat time there....

I hope to start the Indians series shortly when time permits....

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Devils drop Game One in extras..

The New Jersey Devils looked like the superior team to the rested Philadelphia Flyers.
For the first period anyway.
After that,the Devils were generally overwhelmed by the stronger offensive team and somehow tied the game twice to force overtime in Philly.
Sooner or later,when you make enough mistakes in your own zone,they will make you pay and finally the errors did just that as Daniel Briere scored the game winner for the Flyers as the Devils dropped the first game of the series 4-3.
Devils goals to Zach Parise,Travis Zajac (Powerplay) and Petr Sykora.
Game two is Tuesday night in Philadelphia...

Hell Raisers

1) The Devils were outplayed for most of the game.
Frankly,they should consider themselves lucky that they were in a position to possibly win the game.
The defense needs to step up,play more physically and better in their own zone.
None of the defenders covered themselves in glory today....

2) Peter Harrold was awful and now might be the time to bring Adam Larsson off the scratch list.
Maybe I would think about waiting until the series returns to Newark for game three,but it needs to be done.
Larsson was struggling prior to the playoffs and might not improve after the downtime,but Harrold was really bad today....

3) Ilya Kovalchuk is nowhere near full strength and it shows.
Never a strong backchecker,Kovalchuk is struggling with his strength-skating.
It is very visible and the Flyers have to know it.
Give him credit for playing through whatever the injury is,but he is a borderline liability right now.

4) Zach Parise played well and his line with Patrik Elias and Dainius Zubrus was the Devils best line.
I look for the Devils to use Parise in the series in a similar fashion to how they use a healthy Kovalchuk-double shifting in order to keep their best scorer on the ice as much as possible...

5) Martin Brodeur was dazzling at times and ordinary at others,for the most part his play was strong enough to not deserve blame for the loss.
His defense gave him next to no help and the final two periods/overtime,Brodeur faced far more shots than the Flyers allowed the Devils...

6) All told,I do not feel that bad.
A loss is a loss,but considering the final two periods and overtime and that the game was a road game,they had a chance to win-that is all that I could ask for going into the game....
Game two will be a huge one.I would not go as far to say a must-win,but a win would go a long way towards winning the series....

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Watching the Browns Day Three

I had a bit of hesitation in watching the Cleveland Browns on the third day of the draft after a confusing and controversial second day.
In the end,I thought the Browns had a few steals,a few interesting selections and no one stood out as a real head scratcher like the day before.

Cleveland would add seven players on this day with two picks each in the fourth,sixth and seventh rounds and for the most part,I must admit I was pretty pleased.

The Browns first pick in the fourth round finally addressed the need at wide reciever and the addition of Miami's Travis Benjamin will hopefully help the less than terrific gang.Benjamin has blazing speed and can flat out fly.
The issue that concerns me the most about the Hurricane wideout is his size (5'9+) and his slight build.
Benjamin's size works against his playing outside and his less than ideal weight might make it difficult for him to get open coming out of the slot.
Benjamin does have value as a kick returner,so that might help Josh Cribbs stay a bit fresher in the return game...

Cleveland then used the fourth rounder that they obtained from Denver on day two to tab Nevada linebacker James-Michael Johnson.
Johnson is a hard tackling weight room demon that will not be a liability as far as speed wise in a group that badly needs it.
Johnson has a chance to fill the spot that Scott Fujita might vacate due to suspension and often does due to injury.
Johnson is reported to be a high motor player that could be a long term starter and will help immediately on special teams.

Round five saw the Browns add Colorado's massive Ryan Miller and this could be a player that could be a very nice pick.
The 6'7 330 lb Miller can play either guard or tackle and could push either Jason Pinkston or Shaun Lauvao for a starting position.Miller is a better pass blocker than you would think and is noted for his terrific game blocking Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh in 2009.
The versatility that Miller provides is an added bonus and this looks to be a very good addition to the line...

Cleveland took two players that I liked very much in the sixth with back to back picks.
Linebacker Emmanuel Acho of Texas is another high motor linebacker that will help on special teams at minimum.
Acho has speed off the end and could develop into a pass rusher on passing downs.
Acho's brother was a steal for the Cardinals in a recent draft and he could also be a similar steal.
Acho might need to learn to improve in coverage before being more than a situational player,but I think Acho has a decent chance to help this team down the road,if not right away.

The Browns then selected a player that that most had projected to be a day two pick in Boise State defensive tackle Billy Winn.
In fact,if the Browns had picked Winn in the third round and John Hughes in the sixth,few eyebrows would have been raised.
Winn fell due to mixed reports.Some had said Winn takes plays off,others loved his intensity.
The 6'4 Winn has excellent pass rushing skills for an interior lineman and again looks to be an excellent pick.
The questions are about consistency,not ability with Winn.

Cleveland finished off the draft with two picks in round seven.
Arizona corner Trevin Wade was once highly thought of before an bad junior season.
Wade has good hands with 12 interceptions in his Wildcat career,but the questions are about his size and speed.Wade could go either way,but well worth a later round pick...

Alabama tight end Ryan Smelley finished the draft for the Browns.
Yet another catch first tight end as the Browns now have three of those in Evan Moore,Jordan Cameron and Smelley.
Smelley also could be a fullback in passing situations and could pressure defenses further as a gimmick player as Smelley was recruited by Alabama as a quarterback.
This is a very interesting pick mainly because I do not see the Browns carrying five tight ends (Smelley,Cameron,Moore,Alex Smith and Ben Watson),so one of those five could be gone shortly from the team.

All and all,a very nice bounce back day for the Browns.
Billy Winn and Emmanuel Acho were great selections for round six and should have been long off the board.
Ryan Miller is a very intriguing lineman and I could see him as an eventual starter.
The only disappointment was only one wide receiver in the smallish Travis Benjamin,who brings deep speed but other issues and I would have liked to have seen another receiver taken with a little more size.
Pretty good day,I think...

I will be doing a draft wrapup one day next week to look at the entire body of work for the three day selection meeting...

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Browns disappoint and then enrage in Draft day two

I have to admit it.
I was excited for the Cleveland Browns in day two of the NFL Draft.
I thought that Trent Richardson was a terrific addition and despite some clumsy treatment of Colt McCoy and some lack of judgement on value on the selection of Brandon Weeden,that the Browns were going to add a solid starter in round two.

After all,the Browns had the fifth pick and with three top receivers and three more excellent offensive tackles,the Browns could not screw this up,right?
Well,they managed to pass on ALL of them to select a good tackle in California's Mitchell Schwartz in the second round.
I liked Schwartz,but not as much as Ole Miss tackle Bobby Massie and not nearly as much as projected first rounders Jonathan Martin of Stanford and Cordy Glenn of Georgia.
However,I am not slamming Schwartz as I do believe that he will help the Browns line and should be an instant starter.
Schwartz is noted as especially strong as a run blocker and I certainly think highly of his ability to plug a hole and help the Browns get the most out of Trent Richardson.

However,the selection of Schwartz broke the cardinal rule of ours about drafting anything-It is just as important WHEN you pick someone as who you pick!
Shortly after the selection of Schwartz,two of the three pass catchers went off the board as did the two of the three tackles in Martin and Glenn,but Bobby Massie is still available going into day three.
Massie could have been drafted at the Browns pick in the third round (or Schwartz if the Browns loved him so much) and Cleveland could have landed the receiver that the team needs so badly,even if the law firm of Holmgren,Heckert and Shurmur seem to deny.
Anytime that you fall in love with a player so much that you have to have him and take him too soon,it affects the rest of your draft and the Browns would befuddle me with more of this in round three.
The saying that patience is a virtue could come from strong drafters....

So following the final receiver to go off the board in LSU's Reuben Randle at the final pick of round two to the Giants,Tom Heckert then traded the Browns third rounder to Denver to drop twenty spots to Denver's third round spot and add the Broncos fourth rounder to again give Cleveland two picks in the fourth round.
So using the TRS theory,the Browns could have had any of three WR's and Bobby Massie (or possibly Schwartz) and instead settled for Schwartz and then because none of the wideouts were available in the third,traded down.
The Browns third rounder is on the clock and I figured well,this will be either a mild reach at wide receiver or maybe the linebacker or corner that is needed.
Nope,Heckert takes a defensive tackle from Cincinnati in John Hughes,who I thought made 80's teen movies.
Hughes was rated by most as a day three pick at best and as a free agent at worst.
Hughes is noted as "big,strong and capable of beating his man to enter the backfield,but doesn't finish the tackle well and can be lazy".
So a lazy day three player is a third rounder?
Well,it gets better as Tom Heckert commented that they loved Hughes and almost took him in Round two!
Again,breaking the rule,taking a player too early because you love him keeps a team from adding another player to help the team.
Hughes might have been overdrafted if taken in the fourth,was taken in the third and was a serious consideration in the second!

I must admit that my optimism took a huge hit tonight.
Mitchell Schwartz will help,but I think the Browns could have used the system more to their advantage and gained even more help and I am very underwhelmed with the selection of John Hughes.
The Hughes pick might have made sense had he been a young defensive end,but a tackle on a team with Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor?
That selection in particular has me just speechless....
Cleveland has seven picks tomorrow,here is hoping that the Browns can add some more talent to the team and use these picks in a better manner than it appears that they did on the drafts second day....

Friday, April 27, 2012

Richardson,Weedon and Day Two

Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert made some big moves on the first day of the NFL draft and those moves just might decide one or both of their futures in Cleveland.

The Browns traded excess picks in the fourth, fifth, and seventh rounds to move up one spot to land Alabama's Trent Richardson to be the workhorse running back that the team badly needed.
If Richardson pans out, you could make a real case that Richardson would give the Browns the best running back in his prime in the last 25 years as I don't count the one-year blips of Jamal Lewis and Peyton Hillis.
Backs that can catch the ball and play all three downs are rare indeed and if Richardson is able to do that, the small price that the Browns paid to move up will be well worth the cost.
My only small concern about Richardson is this-If Richardson was such a dominant back, why could he not beat out Mark Ingram for Ingram's term with the Crimson Tide?
All and all I believe Richardson has a good chance to be exactly the type of back that is going to thrive in the cold weather climate of the AFC North and he has the low to the ground body type that I think is going to dish out as much punishment as he takes.

Brandon Weeden was taken with the 22nd pick and even though I think that I would have passed and hoped that he would make it through to the Browns' second-rounder on day two.
However, three very good receivers are still on the board at the end of day one, and considering that the Browns hold the fifth pick in the round and two very good offensive linemen have slid out of the first round that was expected to be first-rounders (Stanford's Jonathan Martin and Georgia's Cordy Glenn), one of the three pass catchers should be Cleveland bound.

If one of the three (Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill, South Carolina's Alshon Jeffrey, who would be my choice, and LSU's Reuben Randle) is selected by the Browns, then the Weeden selection will not bother me as much as I would have picked one of those players possibly anyway, although I seriously winced when Iowa's powerhouse tackle Riley Reiff was available to be selected.
Reiff went to Detroit with the following pick and would have been a perfect fit at the gaping hole that is right tackle.
On one hand, Weeden is quite a gamble considering his age, but considering his strong arm and ability to make all the throws, if Weeden was 24 instead of 29, he never would have fallen to the 22nd spot in the first round.

The Browns did not draft a 29-year-old quarterback in the first round for him to sit behind Colt McCoy, so I would bet that Weeden will be the starting quarterback when the season starts.
I might even wager a nickel or two that Colt McCoy might not even be a Brown by the end of this draft.
Considering the lack of confidence that the Browns seem to have in McCoy at this time, I'd bet that if a team offered the Browns a day three draft pick that team just might land McCoy for a backup job elsewhere.
My biggest concern with Weeden is the age and that relates to the former baseball player issue.
So many of these types have entered the league and only Jay Schroeder had any kind of success at all and Schroeder was not exactly Johnny Unitas.
Chris Weinke, Josh Booty, Chad Hutchinson, Drew Henson, etc all came from similar backgrounds and none hit it big in the league, so Weeden would be the first to have real success after all the time spent elsewhere.
As noted, if the Browns can grab a needed player at 37 at wide receiver or tackle, then all is forgiven, and looking at the players on the board, I think that is a pretty safe bet to make.....

So looking at day two, Cleveland has their own second and third to use and I would be stunned if those two picks were not used on a receiver and a tackle.
But in the event that they pass on one of those two positions, I would love to see a linebacker, especially if that backer was Demario Davis of Arkansas State.

I listed three pass catchers above that all would look very nice opposite Greg Little and if the Browns are not able to land someone to take the pressure off Little,I believe that it will be difficult for Brandon Weeden, Colt McCoy, or anyone else to move the football effectively.

There are a few tackles that slipped from beyond round one and would be instant starters, but to take one of them means that none of the wide receivers could be taken and I think that the receiver would be a better pick in round two.
Jonathan Martin, Cordy Glenn, and Bobby Massie will likely be taken by the time round three rolls around, although if one of them does last that long then the decision would be pretty easy for the Browns.
Ohio State's massive Mike Adams has similar talents to the mentioned players, but failed a drug test at the combine and could slide to round three because of that reason alone.
Adams could provide the value that the Browns need if they are willing to take a chance.

The Browns could have a chance to have a vastly improved offense depending on the results on day two of the draft.
Brandon Weeden is under center, a durable, a high floor back in Trent Richardson, another receiver to add to Greg Little, and the only weak spot of the line addressed-now I am not saying the Browns become a playoff team, but they could take a large leap forward.
That is the optimistic view.
If Brandon Weedon is unable to make the transition, if the Browns miss on the second-round receiver etc, the Browns could be in a further hole as they will have spent a first-round pick on a passer that did not pan out.

Time will tell.
Back tomorrow with a look at day two.  

Rats! Henrique ends Panthers season in 2nd OT!

Adam Henrique scored his second goal of the game 3:47 into the second overtime to lift the New Jersey Devils to a 3-2 win over the Florida Panthers,winning the series four games to three and picking up a ticket to the conference semi-final against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Stephen Gionta scored the other Devils tally that was sandwiched in between the Henrique goals.
The Devils led 2-0 until two third period Florida goals that were both scored on the power play.
The league will announce tomorrow the dates and times for the Flyers series.
I would guess on Game one being Sunday,but Saturday is possible....

Hell Raisers

1) I had to listen to the third period and the overtime sessions via the XM,so my thoughts on those periods are colored by the Devils radio team,but once again the Devils penalty killers failed them when they could have put the game away.
The penalty killing was a strength entering the series,it leaves the series as a possible vulnerability....

2) 43 saves from Martin Brodeur and Brodeur appears to be reaching an up cycle after hitting a low earlier in the series.
Brodeur had better be sharp entering the Flyer series as the Philly offense is running on high octane...

3) Have to be happy for Adam Henrique and his first two goals,but he almost had two more in regulation.
Henrique might be getting hot at the right time.

4) As is Stephen Gionta,who has went from Albany to scoring his first NHL goal in the last game of the season to dressing for all seven playoff games and scoring two goals.
Rachel asked me after his goal:"Think Gionta will be back with Albany when Josefson comes back?"
Maybe,but he is making a case to stick around,besides I had forgotten all about Jacob Josefson being injured.
That is just one reason that I love that girl!

5) I wish that I had more to add,but since I missed so much of the game,I would like to say to the Panther organization-good series on the ice,but you have much to learn off the ice.
And I am not talking about the players.
The antics of the Florida owner left tons to be desired and the rat thing was something that came back to bite them-Pun definitely intended!

6) The Devils split the season series with the Flyers and will be the deserved underdogs in the series,especially after the Flyers dispatched Pittsburgh so impressively.
That said,the Devils are under no pressure and that can go a long way.
The Devils have the first round monkey off their back and everything now is house money.
Besides,the one thing that the Flyers do not have is a proven goalie as far as making long playoff runs,the Devils happen to have one that has....

Photo Credits
Celebration:AP Photo
Theodore: Getty Images

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Brandon Weeden to the Browns at 22

The Cleveland Browns used their first round selection obtained from the Atlanta Falcons and selected 29 year old quarterback Brandon Weeden of Oklahoma State.
Weeden has all the tools that you look for in a quarterback,but as noted,is 29 years old.
To put this in perspective-Brandon Weeden is one year younger than Ben Rothlisberger and is three years OLDER than incumbent Colt McCoy.

I'll be adding more on this later tonight,but I am battling mixed feelings on this pick.
One thing that I will say is this-you don't draft 29 year old rookies to sit and learn-the Browns drafted Brandon Weeden and intend him to be the starting quarterback this season....

Browns move up and nab Trent Richardson!

The Cleveland Browns used their excess picks and packaged them together to move up from the fourth spot to the third position and select Alabama running back Trent Richardson.
The 5'9 Richardson was head and shoulders above the remaining backs in the draft and the Browns felt the need to stay ahead of other interested teams to make the trade with the Vikings.
Cleveland traded their first rounder at 4 and added the Falcons 4th rounder that was obtained last season along with their own fifth and seventh rounders to get the deal finished.

I'll be back later with the Browns other first rounder and a more detailed look at Richardson later this evening!!!

Photo Credit:Unknown

Cleveland Browns Draft Preview-Players of Interest

The Cleveland Browns have several needs as we addressed earlier and while most of the focus is on the fourth pick,the Browns also have the Falcons first rounder at 22 and their own pick in the early second round at 37.

If the Browns do their job,those selections should fill three spots in the starting lineup.
The question are pretty simple at 4-Do the Browns take the best player at their position or positions of highest need?
Or do they take who might be their highest rated player on the board?
Three players stand above the rest that might be available at the Browns pick at four,at least two will be on the board and perhaps all three.

Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon is the best receiver in the draft and to me,I think by a sizable margin over Michael Floyd of Notre Dame.
Alabama's Trent Richardson will be the top rated back by far and has been compared to Adrian Peterson by some experts.
Both positions are badly needed and it is very possible that the position selected at four could have the other be the target at 22.
LSU corner Morris Claiborne might be the best player on the board and even though corner is not a position of huge need,but a Joe Haden/Claiborne tandem might be the type of pairing that is so good that teams will have their passing games taken away and that has some appeal to me!

There are a few running backs that would be helpful at either 22 or 37.
Doug Martin of Boise State would be the best every down back,but David Wilson of Virginia Tech is a close second.
I like LaMichael James of Oregon,but as much as I love his all around skills,I am unsure if he can stand up under a pounding of an every down back.

The wide receivers are a bit deeper for the Browns second  and third picks,so I can see the argument for Trent Richardson at 4 and a pass catcher later.
Notre Dame's Michael Floyd should be the only other receiver than Blackmon to be off the board by the time the Browns pick at 22.
Stephen Hill of Georgia Tech is this seasons player that stands out for his physical skills that looks to be a boom or bust player.
Kendal Wright of Baylor is highly regarded and has great speed,but I am unsure about his height (5'10) against the bigger NFL corners.
I really like Alshon Jeffrey of South Carolina and he might last to 37.
If I was convinced that Jeffery was available at 37,I might hit right tackle at 22.

As far as the offensive tackles go....
I love Riley Reiff of Iowa and I doubt that he will drop to 22,but if so,Reiff would be a slam dunk to me.
Bobby Massie of Ole Miss is a pure right tackle that would be a nice fit at 37 and Jonathan Martin of Stanford would be a consideration at 22 depending on the other players available and certainly at 37.

The Browns need more speed at linebacker and if I could add one player it would be Demario Davis of Arkansas State.
Davis looks to be the speedy sideline to sideline backer that would be a perfect fit to replace Scott Fujita.
I know many are down on Vontaze Burfict of Arizona State after a down season and poor combine performances,but I would not give up on him.
If Burfict was available anytime after the fourth,I would have to give real consideration to him.
A motivated Burfict could be a star.

The safety that I like that might be available in the third or fourth round is Markelle Martin of Oklahoma State.
Martin has the physical tools and can lay the wood down when receivers go over the middle.
Martin is an interesting player to me.

I would rather the Browns fill holes than go after a quarterback early,but three passers that have caught my eye were huge Brock Osweiler of Arizona State,Kellen Moore of Boise State and G.J. Kinne of Tulsa.
Osweiler is raw but his tools are big time and he might go in the second to fourth round.
Moore or Kinne might be available when the Browns start using the untradable compensation picks in the sixth and seventh rounds....

If the Browns stay at four,the team could pick any of the three players (Blackmon ,Claiborne and Richardson) and I would be pleased.
If I was making the pick,I shade towards Blackmon,but not enough to howl if they go with one of the other two....

I hope to get a Browns day one post up tomorrow with the Devils-Panthers Game seven as well......

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Cleveland Browns Draft Preview-Team Needs

For the Cleveland Browns the needs are many,whether the solutions are similar in number,only time will tell.
Cleveland has so many needs that not even the 13 picks in this draft will totally eliminate the issues that have made the team a perennial bottom dweller.

Most of the holes are on the offense with the skill positions most of all.
Running back and wide receiver are the top needs and which one is more important depends on the reviewer.
Running back returns the disappointing Montario Hardesty and waiver wire addition Chris Ogbonnaya after the departure of Peyton Hillis to the Chiefs.
I do not see the Browns drafting a fullback after the selection of Owen Marecic in last seasons draft.
I would wager that the Browns will take a back no later than the third round and more likely with one of their top three picks.

Wide receiver is another spot of desperate need.
Only last years second rounder and team leading receiver Greg Little should be counted on in any way.
Mohammed Massaquoi is back in what might be his last chance and Carlton Mitchell has barely hit the field.
Jordan Norwood has shown flashes as a slot receiver,but is not a sure thing.
Josh Cribbs rounds out a crew that needs an upgrade badly.
Tight end looks fine as long as Ben Watson is able to stay healthy.
If that is not the case,then Alex Smith will be the blocking tight end with Evan Moore and Jordan Cameron the pass catchers.

The offensive line has a huge hole at right tackle that will likely be filled in the first three rounds.
Joe Thomas and Alex Mack are past Pro Bowlers,Jason Pinkston was decent as a rookie at one guard and I'll give Shaun Lauvao another year at the other guard,but Tony Pashos was a huge disappointment at right tackle and was released.
Oniel Cousins was re-signed for depth,but that spot is an almost certain early round target.

I know many want the Browns to replace Colt McCoy at quarterback and I am not sold on him either,but since Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin are out of the picture,I am fine with the Browns not spending a high pick at the position.
I would not be against a selection on the third day of the draft.

The defense could still use help,but is not as awful as the offense.
The defensive line was upgraded last season with the additions of Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard and the signings of free agent ends Frostee Rucker and Juqua Parker will hopefully give the Browns the rush opposite Sheard that is needed badly.

The linebackers need speed.
D'qwell Jackson was very good last season and Chris Gogong played well at times,although I would not have given him the sizable contract extension that he received.
Scott Fujita has been injured in both of the seasons with the Browns and there is no young players that look to threaten to start.
I would like to see the Browns draft a linebacker or two for sure..

Joe Haden is strong on one corner and Dmitri Patterson was good enough to earn a new contract as a starter at the other.
I liked what I saw from Buster Skrine and the position seems solid,although a draft pick that would come right in and start could make corner the deepest spot on the team.

Safety is a different story.
T.J.Ward took a step back last season after a great rookie year and missed eight games at one safety.
Sheldon Brown might be moved from corner and seems to be a better fit at safety at this point of his career.Usama Young was a disappointment after being signed last season from the Saints as he could not bust the starting lineup ahead of the departed Mike Adams
Eric Hagg played decently in his games late in the season and could challenge for a starting spot in his second year.

Phil Dawson will be back as the kicker and Reggie Hodges returns as the punter after missing last season due to injury.

The top five positions of need in order
1) Wide Receiver
2) Running Back
3) Offensive Tackle
4) Linebacker
5) Safety...

Back later with a look at a few players that I hope could be Cleveland Browns...

Devils survive Game 6 in OT!!!

It appeared that the New Jersey Devils were on their way to losing another multi-goal lead as the Florida Panthers had rallied from a 2-0 deficit and tied the game at two.
As the game entered overtime,only one team faced elimination.
At the conclusion of the overtime,both teams will be looking into the abyss of a season ending game as Travis Zajac's goal 5:39 into overtime lifted the Devils to a 3-2 win and tied the series at three games apiece.
Ilya Kovalchuk and Steve Bernier scored to build the early lead for New Jersey.
Game 7 is tomorrow night in Florida and yes,I know same night and time as the NFL Draft.
Suffice it to say-I am not pleased.
However,we will have the Devils on TV,the draft on the PC and looks like a big night of coverage.
I plan on the Browns draft preview tonight.....

Hell Raisers

1) Full disclosure.
I missed the first two periods of the game.
The Hagerstown City Council held an open forum on the building of a new stadium for the Hagerstown Suns and I spoke at the forum.
After spending most of the day at the car dealership,I would have much rather sat at home and watched the Devils,but in the big picture,it was better for me to have my views heard...

2) Good news/Bad news stat.
The bright side was the Devils outshot the Panthers 42-16.
The dark was that it took that high of a shot differential for the Devils to pull out an overtime win...

3) I missed his goal,but Steve Bernier has played well in this series.
Put the two goals aside,Bernier has been tough and physical,which are portions of his games that he has always possessed,but did not always use...

4) Travis Zajac scored the winning goal,but give credit to the sometimes maligned Ilya Kovalchuk,as two defenders were forced to cover him under the threat of his shot,which allowed Kovalchuk to pass to Zajac.
Sometimes the threat is just as important as the actual deed as long as the teammates can take advantage of the opportunity...

5) So we move to Game seven and time for me to gripe about a team that finished the year with eight fewer points getting home ice for the season deciding game.
The NHL should clean up this mess by giving a champion an automatic playoff spot to a division champion,but then seeding by points.
Home ice for a game that will send one team home for the summer should not be decided that way.

6) All on the line again tomorrow night in the home of the rats and the morons that buy them for five bucks each.
The Panthers then sweep them up and re-sell them.
My opinions on these southern fans are well known-lets hope that the next Devils post will not be my last for the season...

Photo Credit:AP Photo

Monday, April 23, 2012

Lassoed by Lohse

The Pittsburgh Pirates weak offense continued Sunday against Kyle Lohse and the St.Louis Cardinals in a 5-1 loss at PNC Park.
Only a eighth inning pinch hit single by Casey McGehee that scored Michael McKenry from second allowed the Pirates to avoid the shutout.
Erik Bedard again pitched well and again added another loss to his list in falling to 0-4 on the season.
Today's game against Colorado has already been cancelled due to rain,so not sure about what a possible post will be tonight as it could cover the Giants-Mets doubleheader or finish the Pirates prospect series....

Pirate Hooks

1) Erik Bedard survived a rocky first inning with just one run allowed after loading the bases without an out.
Normally,one would consider that a bullet dodged,but not with this team.
Bedard has been beyond what the team could have asked for thus far,but the offense has not backed up Bedard as they have scored just three runs in Bedard's appearances this season...

2) Just six hits in another anemic offensive performance.
I hate to keep harping on the same issue,but two points-one is that it continues be one and the other is that I have no ideas on how to improve the offense.

3) The players that were added at positions have gotten off to a very slow start (Clint Barmes and Rod Barajas) and a player that the team counted on to improve has done anything but (Pedro Alvarez).
The season is young,but Alvarez looks lost at the plate and Barmes is making me wonder about his viability.

4) The biggest problems above is the fact that at only one position do the Pirates have a player that could possibly upgrade the struggling player.
Michael McKenry will certainly not upgrade at catcher and any of the various players available at shortstop between Pittsburgh and Indianapolis are not a sure bet to be a significant improvement at shortstop.
Chase D'Arnaud has been injured and I think Jordy Mercer needs more AAA time,so unless you think Josh Harrison or Yamaico Navarro is the guy (and the glove in each case adds further questions),shortstop does not look to have an immediate improvement available.
Only Casey McGhee might be an improvement at third base and there the team has the puzzle of their investment in Pedro Alvarez to deal with.
The problems of dealing with tough issues with a bad team...

5) Jose Tabata did have two hits to raise his average to approach the Mendoza line.
Of all the young players struggles,I might be concerned about Tabata most.
Yes,even more than Pedro Alvarez.
The Pirates have made an investment in Tabata with a contract extension and if he does not pan out,the Bucs are stuck with a reasonably large contract for a player that would be a disappointment.
Long way from that yet,but something to ponder.

Photo Credit:Jared Wickerham-Getty Images

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Devils come out flat,drop Game 5....

The New Jersey Devils were outplayed,outhustled and outthought tonight in Florida.
The result equalled a 3-0 loss and are now facing elimination against the Panthers having fallen behind 3-2 in the Eastern Conference playoff series.
Since their scoring was non-existent,there is little else to say.
Game 6 at the Rock on Tuesday night....

Hell Raisers

1) Martin Brodeur was caught out of the net in a communication snafu that allowed Scottie Upshall to score into an open net to make the game 2-0 and put the game away.
Other than that,Brodeur was the Devils best player and kept the team in the game and gave an inept offense a chance to win.
The play looks bad and it was,but do not overlook the contributions of Brodeur over the course of the game for just one bad decision....

2) Too many penalties.
Six in fact and that led to the first Florida goal on the power play by Kris Versteeg.
Even though five of the six were killed off,the toll that it takes on the penalty killers is huge on the legs.

3) Faceoffs.
It seemed that the Devils simply lost far too many of them,especially in the Florida zone.
Anytime that a key faceoff took place,the Panthers usually won it.

4) Zach Parise was almost invisible with one shot and Ilya Kovalchuk was not exactly a huge help either.
That line was a decent part of the lack of offense in the loss.
You expect your best players to step up and in this one,neither Parise or Kovalchuk did anything that resembled that....

5) Had to watch the Florida announcers on the NHL Network feed.
My favorite line was one of them offering this on the Brodeur mistake “the drool of regret into the pillow of remorse”.
Someone has been reading too much poetry lately...

6)  This rat thing with the Florida fans has to be stopped.
Tons of these things being thrown on the ice is just asking for trouble and the league tolerating this crap needs to be stopped.
The fact that the team sanctions this nonsense is beyond belief...

7) The Devils will need to win two games in a row to win the series.
The Devils have not won two playoff games in a row over their last 27 playoffs starts.
Time to end that streak!

Photo Credit:AP Photo

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Pittsburgh Pirates Top Prospects 6-10

The Pirates prospect series continues with 6-10.
Please keep in mind that most of this was written before the season and contains a small amount of editing on the Stetson Allie description.

6) Luis Heredia LHP
Heredia has yet to make his debut beyond the Gulf Coast league,but the 17 year old Mexican might be the most anticipated player from the International free agent pool that the Pirates have ever signed.
Heredia has already been clocked in the mid-90's and has room to grow.
The 6-6 Heredia has an advanced changeup and an improving curveball that has brought comparisons to Felix Hernandez.
If Heredia is able to come close to that mark,the Pirates will have themselves quite a prospect.
The Pirates may make the move to start Heredia at State College this season,although I would not be surprised to see the team keep him in Florida and go full tilt at West Virginia next season....

7) Stetson Allie RHP
The Ohio native has been described as having the best stuff in the system by Pirate prospect guru Wilbur Miller with a fastball clocked at 100 mph and a hard slider that can buckle knees.
What's not to like?Well,his control has tons of room to grow and another pitch to add to his toolbox could go a long way in being less dependent on the fastball.
Allie is a risk/reward pitcher and could be a dominant starter or reliever,he also could be the latest hard throwing hurler that is simply unable to harness any type of control,bounces from team to team as most teams would be willing to take the chance on that type of gun..

Editors Note: I saw Allie's season debut against the Hagerstown Suns and frankly,I have never seen a meltdown like that from a touted prospect in person.
As described here,the performance might be the most memorable one third of an inning that I have spent at the Muni.
Allie returned to action tonight from the bullpen,lasting another third of inning,walking four batters in allowing two runs in another crazy outing.
At this rate,Allie will be lucky to make next years top fifty prospects....

8) Tony Sanchez C
The former first rounder returns to AA Altoona after a season that saw him injured,suspended for criticizing umpires via Twitter and a less than stellar season at the plate.
The Pirates do not expect Sanchez to hit for power,but they would like to see him hit for average and use his plus defensive skills.
Sanchez throws well,but still could use some refinements against the running game.
A quick start with the Curve could see Sanchez hit AAA Indianapolis and with a solid start there,Sanchez could move him to Pittsburgh as soon as next season.
That might be the best case scenario as the questions still are there on Sanchez being able to be an everyday starter or a solid backup....

9) Colton Cain LHP
Cain moves up to Bradenton after finishing 2011 as the best of the prospect laden West Virginia rotation.
The burly lefty throws in the low 90's and has an above average changeup that played very well in the SAL.Cain is working on a curveball that would give him three solid pitches,but needs to show that he will not wear down under a full season workload as he dealt with a 2010 back injury at State College and wore down last season in the second half.
Cain could be a solid lefty in the rotation down the road,if things move as projected...

10) Kyle McPherson RHP
McPherson took the largest leap last season as he moved from one notch above organizational soldier to solid prospect with a terrific season at both High A Bradenton and AA Altoona.
McPherson has extremely good control and uses a standard three pitch mix and posted solid numbers at both stops last season.
McPherson throws in the low to occasional mid 90's and could be a contender for the 2013 rotation with a strong season with the I-Tribe..

Editors Note:McPherson has yet to make his 2012 debut as he has been placed on the disabled list with shoulder issues....

Crippled by the Cardinals..

The Pittsburgh Pirates returned home from an exhausting road trip and promptly laid an egg against the St.Louis Cardinals and Lance Lynn in a 4-1 loss.
Only an inside the park homer by Alex Presley (1) in the first Pittsburgh at bat of the game allowed the Pirates to avoid the shutout.
Charlie Morton allowed two runs in five innings to pick up the loss (0-1).
The Pirates will be back against the Cardinals tomorrow night without coverage here due to Game five of the Devils-Panthers series.

Pirate Hooks

1) Charlie Morton did not pitch badly over five innings,but threw 93 pitches and apparently hit his limit and was finished for the night.
Morton walked three Cardinals and seemed to battling his command through the entire start....

2) Jared Hughes knew that he had missed his pitch to Daniel Descalso,who smashed it over the fence by the reaction as soon as it was hit.
The pitch was a grapefruit for the hitter,but Hughes was being asked to throw a third inning after throwing almost three in Arizona,you could make an argument that was excessive use by Clint Hurdle...

3) The underrated part of the Cardinal ninth was not the Descalso homer,but the error by Neil Walker that would eventually add another run to the scoreboard.

4) Just four hits on the night for the Pirates against the three Cardinal pitchers and none of them for extra bases other than the Alex Presley homer.
The offensive struggles are going to be more often than not with this years Buccos...

5) The Presley homer came mainly due to Skip Schumaker's crash into the wall on the attempted catch and resulted in Schumaker leaving the game due to injury.
Tough break for the Cardinals,but it was the only break that Pittsburgh would get on this night.

6) Four of the eight Pirates starters are hitting less than .150 thus far.
Jose Tabata at .150,Clint Barmes .103 and the team of Rod Barajas and Pedro Alvarez at a sizzling .067 apiece.

Photo Credit:AP Photo

Friday, April 20, 2012

Dominant Devils tie the series 4-0!

The New Jersey Devils needed a big game from Martin Brodeur in their attempt to tie their series with the Florida Panthers and they got exactly what they asked with 26 saves,the career playoff shutout record and a 4-0 win.
Zach Parise opened the scoring in the second period before the Devils opened the floodgates with three goals in the final period from Steve Bernier,Travis Zajac and Ilya Kovalchuk.
The series returns to Florida Saturday night with an unusual 6:30 start time.

Hell Raisers

1) Martin Brodeur bounced back from his benching with an incredible outing that broke his tie with Patrick Roy for the most playoff shutouts.
Brodeur was solid and made several key glove saves and was even helped by the pipe a time or two.

2) Brodeur also assisted on a goal,which gives him two for the series.
The greatest puckhandling goalie of all time has a total of 10 assists in the playoffs,which is second to Grant Fuhr in that category...

3) Nice to see Steve Bernier hit the scoreboard with the third period goal that started the barrage of goals.Bernier had just one regular season goal,but always seemed to be working hard and has erased the rap of being someone that took shifts off...

4) Special teams began to bounce back with the Parise and Kovalchuk goals coming from the power play.
The Parise goal was especially interesting as it was tipped by Travis Zajac and then Parise off the initial shot by Marek Zidlicky.
Sticks on the ice causes deflections sounds simplistic,but it is very effective...

5) Two assists for the usually offensively challenged Bryce Salvador,who along with Marek Zidlicky has gotten better as the series has gone on.

6) Finally,the series down to a best of three.
The Devils will have to win one game in Florida.
I feel safe in saying that they can do that,but I am not sure that I would want to bet on it.
The Florida power play was the most effective part of the Panther offense until Game four,so that unit might be what decides this series....

Photo credit:AP Photo

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Cleaning out the inbox

The inbox has some mails that have sat inside it for a month,so it is far past time to clean it out a bit.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has spent  just under seven million dollars on a redesign/renovation .
It is said to make it "easier to find the Hall of Fame section".
That this was needed in a Hall of Fame says much for the original design of the museum,as in a flawed one.
I must say I was not really overwhelmed by the Rock Hall when Ryan and I visited it a while back and any improvements might go a long way in a return visit....

C-SPAN's founder and long time director Brian Lamb is stepping down from his position.
Lamb's duties will be split between two replacements,one of which is Susan Swain,a long time host on the network's programs.
Lamb will remain as host of the Sunday evening Q and A program in which Lamb interviews a different guest for 60 minutes each week.
For five of the best moments of Brian Lamb on the air,click here to check them out...

The Current TV network marriage with Keith Olbermann ended in divorce as the network released the mercurial Olbermann,who promptly sued the network for breach of contract.
I have always liked Olbermann's work,but there can be little doubt that he has burned so many bridges that he may have issues finding another high profile job.
Like it or not,this could be the end of Olbermann in the mainstream.... founder Jeff Bezos claims that he has found the engines of Apollo 11 and plans to raise them.
The F-1 engines condtion is unknown as they have been sitting under and in corrosive salt water since 1969.The engines provided 32 million in measured horsepower in sending the Apollo 11 astronauts to the moon and might have survived reasonably well due to their strong construction and massive size...

The NASA Messenger spacecraft is currently orbiting the planet Mercury and seems to have a few surprises from the trip.
Mercury appears to have a iron core that is far larger than originally thought and the planet was geoologically active for far longer than originally thought.
Messenger was planned to be a one year project,but has been given a one year extension by NASA....

Popcorn better than fruits and vegetables?
Well,it appears so in one way at least as a study claims that antioxidants in popcorn are more prevalent than in fruits and veggies.
As a popcorn buff (Non-buttered,thanks),I am all for giving one of my favorite foods some props.
Antioxidants are thought to have natural cancer and heart disease fighting properties...

Ryan sends me this article on former Cy Young winner, doctor and controversial teacher of pitchers, Mike Marshall.
You may not agree with all that Marshall says,but the Doctor does make you think a bit about what we are teaching our arms of the future..

Finally,Big Don sent me a link from Baseball America that I was going to add to this,but was too interesting to confine to the inbox,so look for a future post dealing with their ten ways to improve minor league baseball.....

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Pirates take two in AZ!

The road trip for the Pirates had resulted in just one win before yesterday,but a Andrew McCutchen ninth inning single scored Alex Presley for the winning run in a 5-4 win yesterday and a Neil Walker blooper in the eighth inning lifted the Pirates to a 2-1 win this afternoon over the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Pirates received homers from Garrett Jones yesterday (2) and Pedro Alvarez today (2).
Jason Grilli was yesterday's winner (1-1) despite allowing a game tying homer to the less than powerful John McDonald,while today's W went to the recalled Brad Lincoln (1-0).
Juan Cruz saved both games (1 and 2) for Pittsburgh.
The Pirates improved to 5-7 on the season and finally return to PNC Park this weekend for a six game homestand against the Cardinals and Rockies....

Pirate Hooks

1) Brad Lincoln fired three shutout innings after being recalled from Indianapolis with the shoulder injury to Jeff Karstens on Tuesday.
Lincoln struggled with control at times (three walks),but allowed just one hit and looked good doing it with the exception of a sixth inning jam that he used a double play to work his way out of.

2) Odd note,Pedro Alvarez on the season-2 hits,2 homers,2 RBI.

3) Super game from Garrett Jones last night with three hits and three runs batted in.
Considering that Ian Kennedy was the starter,the numbers look even better...

4) Give a big chunk of the win yesterday to the Pirate bullpen.
After Jeff Karstens left the game with his injury,five members of the bullpen held Arizona down as a group effort.
Extra points to Jared Hughes and Tony Watson for pitching far longer than usual and doing so effectively...

5)  Jeff Karstens injury is "shoulder inflammation".AKA it hurts.
Karstens spot will be taken by Brad Lincoln on Tuesday against the Rockies and likely by the return of A.J. Burnett thereafter...

6) I wondered why Juan Cruz was the closer last night and today after that.
Well,the answer is that Joel Hanrahan is day to day with a bad hamstring.
Hopefully,it will not be bad enough to spend time on the disabled list...

7) Well, 5-7 after a brutal nine game road trip is passable,especially considering the 1-6 start to the trip.
Things could have been far far worse.....

I plan on being back tonight from the road office with either a inbox cleaning or Pirates prospects 6-10.
I have loads of posts coming up.The Pirates prospects series,the eventual Indians prospect look,a Browns draft preview,Inbox cleanings and of course the signing front....

Photo Credit;AP Photo

Fast Start-No Finish

The New Jersey Devils came out for Game 3 of their series with the Florida Panthers with all guns blazing as they ripped off three goals in the first 6:16 and seemed to be on their way to a rout.
However,the Panthers answered each,added one more and had the luck of the Irish as New Jersey had the game tying goal taken off the board with a mildly controversial call for a 4-3 Florida win and a 2-1 edge for the Panthers in the series.
Devils goals to Patrik Elias(power play),Stephen Gionta and Zach Parise.
Game four will be Thursday night in New Jersey with game five Saturday in Miami,which means hit and run for the Lakewood Blue Claws at the Muni....

Before I go to Hell Raisers,a quick pair of notes for the seamheads.
The Pirates road trip out to the left coast has made things tough to follow,hang in there-it gets better.
I also have not forgotten the latest saga in the battle for a new stadium for the Hagerstown Suns with the unveiling of the study of the Ripken Group as far as feasibility for a new ballpark.
The city council heard the study yesterday and there are plans for a public forum next week on the matter.
I do plan on attending and hopefully will have the chance to speak.
Now,bear with the following lines from an extremely frustrated author.

Hell Raisers

1) I have seen this game before and I noted it to Rachel after the third goal and the resulting 3-0 lead.
Not right away though,not until I saw former Devil Scott Clemmensen skate onto the ice in place of Jose Theodore.
I thought back to this night in November and wondered about a blown lead and Clemmensen in net.
It would prove to be quite haunting...

2) The controversy on the "fourth" goal that was waved off.
The referee ruled no goal due to incidental contact between Steve Bernier and Scott Clemmensen on a Marek Zidlicky goal.
By the letter of the law that states there can be incidental contact that does not result in a penalty,yet can result in a goal that is disallowed.
So the taking of the goal is legal,that does not mean the rule is good.
If contact is not enough to call a penalty,then it should not be enough to disallow a goal....

3) Martin Brodeur was pulled out in the second period and at least two of the three goals that he allowed were not great goals,but the decision by Peter DeBoer to remove Brodeur appears to be a panic move to losing a three goal lead and the Panthers pulling Jose Theodore after three goals.
Brodeur was playing under par,but I still wonder about that call.
Brodeur will get the start for Game four...

4) Recall the Game two post in which we looked at the Florida power play? Well,three of the four goals for the Panthers were scored with the man advantage.
For all the vaunted stats on the Devils record setting penalty killing,it is the Florida power play that has made the difference in the last two games...

5) And just what allows the power play to exist?
Penalties and the Devils were taking dumb one after dumb one.
Patrik Elias for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Bryce Salvador for roughing and the dumbest of all-Petr Sykora's high sticking.
All avoidable penalties and all led to Panther goals...

6) I did like Marek Zidlicky's game as one of few.
Andy Greene was good and Mark Fayne was not bad,but Anton Volchenkov was slow and bad.
Volchenkov is not Bobby Orr on his best day,but Florida is finding a way to isolate fast forwards on the Russian defensemen and that is making the veteran look VERY bad....

7) Not much else that I can say.
Home ice has been handed back,but 2-1 is not too bad compared to 3-0,but the energy level must move up and used for an entire game.
Game 4 is a must win.

Photo Credit:AP Photo

Monday, April 16, 2012

One good period cannot override two poor ones

The New Jersey Devils were off their game for two periods and the result was a three goal deficit.
A different Devils team showed up for the third period and came within inches of tying the game before a meaningless empty netter by the Florida Panthers with no time on the clock allowed the Panthers to escape with a 4-2 win and a tie in the series as the teams head to New Jersey for Game 3 tomorrow night.
Travis Zajac and Ilya Kovalchuk scored for the Devils.

Hell Raisers

1) Well,the title says it all for me as the Devils played twenty minutes of solid hockey and forty minutes of pretty mediocre hockey.
Even against the worst of the leagues teams,you will not often get away with that very often,let alone earn wins in the playoffs....

2) The goals that set the tone were the two Stephen Weiss power plays goals.
For all the stats of the Devils record setting penalty kill,it was the lack of the kill on this night that set the stage for the loss.
The puck bounces funny sometimes,so I am not concerned yet,but something to look at for Game 3.

3) The two Weiss goals were not soft goals,but the Marcel Goc goal that proved to be the game winner sure was against Martin Brodeur.
Brodeur was only able to get a piece of the puck as it flew under his arm,that one was on Marty's head.

4) Peter DeBoer used both Adam Henrique and Travis Zajac as centers on the Zach Parise/Ilya Kovalchuk line and both produced a goal.
I would like to see both centers get time with the star pair as each brings a different touch to the unit.
Zajac is the more adept passer in the offensive zone,while Henrique offers more of the breakaway chances that the team can use more of.

5) OK,the series is 1-1,not bad.
The Devils now have home ice and played an excellent third period that had the Panthers reeling,I would not say I feel cocky,but very confident going into Game three.

Photo Credit:AP Photo

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Pittsburgh Pirates Top Prospects 11-15

The prospects series begins today with a look at the 11-15 prospects in the Pirates system.
I hope to get this finished over the course of the next week and move on to the Indians system,which looks to have a far more dismal outlook for the immediate future.

11) Nick Kingham RHP.
Kingham spent last season at short season State College,where he was dominant with an ERA barely over two.
The 2010 fourth rounder throws in the low-mid 90's range and uses a curveball along with an advanced changeup.
The tall (6'5) Kingham needs to work on the curve a bit as he was having issues controlling it in his first start at Low A West Virginia against the Hagerstown Suns.
Kingham will likely spend his first full season in West Virginia......

12) Jeff Locke LHP
Locke has already reached the bigs with a four start cameo in September with the Pirates in which he was ripped royally in each start.
Locke pitched well at AA Altoona before a strong stint late in the season with AAA Indianapolis earned him a September callup.
Locke has the "drop curve" that the Pirates have acquired from other teams twice with Locke from Atlanta and James McDonald from the Dodgers.
A good month or two with the I-Tribe could see Locke as the first callup if the rotation needs a reinforcement....

13) Jarek Cunningham 2b
Cunningham might be the most interesting prospect in the system as far as upside.
Cunningham shows plus power at second base,which is a rare commodity for that position.
The former shortstop hit 15 homers in roughly 300 at bats before missing the final two months of the season with concussion issues.
Cunningham is in the lineup for AA Altoona currently and the jump will tell the Pirates a lot of what they have in Cunningham.
Cunningham swings and misses a lot and the walk numbers are very low,so patience is a major issue in his progression.
Cunningham could be the replacement for Neil Walker at second,he could also be a player that has his contact issues force a step back in his development.
This season will be a interesting to follow for Cunningham.

14) Rudy Owens LHP
Owens returns to AAA Indianapolis after a year that saw him suffer through shoulder issues and an unusual lack of control.
When Owens is right,he uses the off speed stuff to set up a fastball that is a little below average,but nothing to consider Owens as just a soft tosser.
Owens will need to show this season that he can be able to get AAA hitters out in the rotation in order to avoid being tagged as a possible long relief type...

15) Alex Dickerson 1b
Dickerson was the Pirates third round pick last season out of Indiana in a college career that saw him win the Big Ten triple crown as a Hoosier.
Dickerson was an outfielder in college and is being shifted to first base.
Dickerson was excellent in 150 at bats at State College and will jump to High A Bradenton this season.
The lefty swinger hits for power and average and could advance through the system quickly as first base is a position of need for the team through the organization.
Dickerson could possibly be the opening day first baseman as soon as 2014,if he can get by Matt Curry,who is one spot ahead of Dickerson in the system,but Dickerson is the superior prospect and only his limited pro experience rates him this low and I would not be surprised to see a huge leap in these rankings next season...

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Matt Cain fires one hitter against Buccos

The Pittsburgh Pirates came within one batter of being no-hit and the hit came off the bat of the pitcher of all people as James McDonald's sixth inning single was the only Pirate to reach base against Matt Cain of the Giants in a 5-0 San Francisco win.
The loss was the fourth in a row for the Pirates,who are winless on this trip on the left coast.
Pittsburgh takes on the Giants today at 9:05,so no coverage on the game.

Pirate Hooks

1)  I listened to the second Dodger game via the XM and skipped the third game of the Dodger series sweep.
I was able to see this one,will miss the Saturday game before the series finale' on Sunday.
Just a little house cleaning....

2) Matt Cain was simply dominant with the one hitter and eleven strikeouts.
I watched the game on tape at work (don't ask why ) and you could see that Cain had his A game working from the first inning on.
Other than the single to left by James McDonald,the Pirates were not even close to smacking a base hit other than the occasional long flyball.
Pittsburgh was simply overmatched....

3) The Giants did score one run off James McDonald that was directly applied to a defensive blunder as Andrew McCutchen broke back on a ball that would fall in front on him with two outs.
McCutchen occasionally does these types of things defensively,which is the difference in a good defender and one that is an average one that occasionally does great things.

4) James McDonald caught the above bad break,but his breaking ball was having trouble staying in the zone.
Mike Krukow made an observation about the 12 to 6 curveball that McDonald favors that it can be very inconsistent from game to game compared to the standard curve.
It would explain much about McDonald's occasional lack of command with the curve,which he uses as his breaking pitch of choice..

5) Garrett Jones started in right field for the first time this season with Casey McGhee starting at first base.Jones would strike out in all three at bats vs Cain.

6) I occasionally get asked why I pull for the Giants other than in their games against the Pirates.
Sometime in the future,I may do a post on the topic,but one reason is the Giants broadcast team on Comcast Bay Area is just so enjoyable to listen to compared to the shrill and forced Greg Brown.
I'll get more detailed in that future post....

Photo Credit:AP Photo

Devils win game one over Florida 3-2

The New Jersey Devils came out fast with three first period goals and seemed to be well on their way to a crushing victory in Game 1 of their playoff series against the Florida Panthers.
The Devils faded a bit in the final two periods and allowed Florida to climb back into the game,before stabilizing a bit and earning the 3-2 win.
The win gives the Devils a 1-0 (duh) series lead.
The Devils received goals from Patrik Elias,Dainius Zubrus and the game winner was scored by Ryan Carter.
Game two returns to Miami on Sunday night.

Hell Raisers

1) The Devils certainly came out firing against Jose Theodore as the team put 26 shots on goal in the first period,which is often times a total for an entire game for New Jersey.
The bad part came in the final two periods in which the Devils combined for just 12 shots.
That total is not going to cut the mustard over the long haul...

2) All three of the goals came on very solid plays,but the best of the three was the Patrik Elias goal that saw him make multiple moves on Jose Theodore before scoring the goal.
Making the moves on the interior part on the ice will eventually either draw defenders to open up the pass or give the player time to create a shooting lane...

3) The victory was the 100th playoff win of Martin Brodeur's career.
Brodeur also earned an assist on the Dainius Zubrus goal and finished with 24 saves on the game.

4) Lets also be honest,the refereeing left much to be desired and the Devils likely drew more calls than the home Panthers.
The high stick that cost Shawn Mattias four minutes and led to the Zubrus goal was pretty bad and I thought the refs were calling things especially tight in order to set the stage for control of the series.

5) Give Jose Theodore credit as well.
Despite the three first period goals,Theodore made plenty of nice saves that gave his team a chance to win after a Devils barrage that would have wiped out the average netminder.
Without his play,the Devils would have put this away early...

Photo Credit:AP Photo

Friday, April 13, 2012

Cleveland Indians Season Preview

Better late than never for the Cleveland Indians season preview and let me say this up front.
I love the Indians and as previously stated,if the National League adopted the DH or the American League dropped it,I would cover the Tribe.
I have been a Pirates fan longer and love the NL game,but if the games were the same,I am an Ohio guy....
That covered-This is one boring team.
There are very few things worse than watching a bad and boring team,ask any Browns fan..
The team has been disappointed often with their prospects and of the few that have panned out,most have come from other teams.
If there is an indictment of the problems with the Indians organization-that is the smoking gun.

Cleveland does have a good and young catcher in Carlos Santana,who the Indians recently signed to a five year contract extension,so they have that goin' for them.
Santana's average was disappointing last season (.239),but 27 homers from your catcher is very good news.
Locking Santana up for the long term is a smart move by the Indians.
Glove first backstop Lou Marson will spell Santana as the caddy on Santana's day off.

Casey Kotchman was signed from Tampa Bay to start at first base after his best year in the league.
Don't get too excited as despite Kotchman's .300 plus average,he hit just ten homers and for a team crying for power production,looks to bring very little help in that area.
Cleveland will hodgepodge backups for Kotchman from other positions as both Carlos Santana and Shelley Duncan will occasionally grab the first baseman's mitt as the perpetually disappointing Matt LaPorta was sent to AAA Columbus.
The only exciting newcomer is rookie Jason Kipnis at second.
Kipnis was a college outfielder was switched to second after the Indians drafted him.
Kipnis will never be a stellar defensive second sacker,but his bat will hopefully make up for those deficiencies.
Asdrubal Cabrera returns at shortstop after a 25 homer season that represents over half of his career homer total.
Can Cabrera maintain those power numbers?
I am dubious,but if so,the Indians will be much the better for it.
Jack Hannahan turned back the challenge of Lonnie Chisenhall in Arizona to earn the starting spot at third base.Chisenhall was sent to play every day at Columbus.
Hannahan is better suited to a backup role,so the hope is for Chisenhall to put together a solid month or two in Central Ohio and grab the job at third for the duration.
Utilitymen Jason Donald and Jose Lopez will cover the backup spots between them for the spot starts behind Kipnis,Cabrera and Hannahan.

The outfield is nothing to fear either with journeyman Shelley Duncan in left,enigmatic Michael Brantley in center and Shin-Soo Choo in right.
Only Choo,who missed plenty of time last season with injuries is anything remotely considered as a solid starter on a good team.
Blog favorite Aaron Cunningham is on the team as the fourth outfielder due to his speed and ability to play all three outfield positions,but his time may be numbered with the signing of aging veteran Johnny Damon.
The 38 year old Damon is clearly in decline,but he is very durable,which is far more than can be said for the once brilliant and now embattled Grady Sizemore,who is yet again on the disabled list.

Travis Hafner finishes a long and lucrative contract this season and will be the designated hitter for as long as his health holds up.

The starting rotation ranges from strong to riddled to old to question marks.
Justin Masterson was terrific at the top of the rotation in what was his clear breakout season.
Can Masterson repeat that and prove himself as an ace?
Maybe and speaking of maybes-Ubaldo Jimenez has went from dominant to average in almost record time.
Jimenez started an All-Star game and has been traded and pitched poorly since.
Jimenez has seen a drop in his velocity and considering the three pitchers that were swapped to Colorado for him that all resided in the Indians top ten prospects at the time,the trade could eventually be the Waterloo of the Indians front office.
Jimenez looked very strong in his first start,so I have not given hope.
Veteran Derek Lowe was obtained from Atlanta after posting the highest ERA of his career (5.05) to lend stability to the rotation.
Lowe turns 39 in June,so this season will go a long way into seeing what he has left in the tank.
Another favorite of ours in Josh Tomlin won 12 games last season with an ERA a bit above four.Tomlin's stuff is not the top of the line,but he manages to keep his team in the game and should have the chance to cement a spot at the end of the rotation.
Jeanmar Gomez will have a chance as well as the injury that will keep Carlos Carrasco out for the year will give Tomlin,Gomez and likely a few pitchers from Columbus given chances in the rotation.
Lefthander David Huff will have the first chance at that once he returns from the disabled list..

Chris Perez returns as the closer after a 36 save season in 2011.
Perez heads a non-descript bullpen filled with names that few would consider top notch.
Vinnie Pestano looks to be the top setup man with Tony Sipp and Rafael Perez the top lefthanders.
Veteran Joe Smith leads the remaining relievers as he is joined by former Brave Jairo Ascencio and well traveled Dan Wheeler.

The Indians do not look like a contender,nor do they look exciting.
They look well...dull...


Photo Credit:Chris Creamer

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Talking to myself about the Hagerstown Suns

My head is spinning after a day that saw me bounce back in forth on the future of the Hagerstown Suns.

I felt good about the team staying recently and felt even better after a pre-game visit to the Muni for another attempt at Lexington manager Ivan DeJesus as I saw Mayor Bob Bruchey,Suns owner Bruce Quinn and many fellows in suits,who were either important or trying to look that way.
My buddy and Suns employee "Hank" told me that there was quite a setup down the left field line as far as a presentation goes for a new stadium.

So I left the park feeling pretty good.
Until I got home and saw the Herald Mail's report on the City Council meeting the night before,where city council members had taken the private negotiations and tossed them into the public arena.
That never helps to get a deal finished and only tends to throw things into flux.
A barrage of silliness from the three members did just that as our favorite councilperson Ms.Haywood decided to complain about the expense of the Suns request to have a ambulance at every Suns game,Lew Metzner decided to take a private negotiation public while Martin Brubaker kept referring to the Suns placing new demands on the proposed lease.
None of which moves a deal any closer to an eventual success..
Ms.Haywood fails to realize that the city pays fifty thousand dollars a year to the community rescue service,which last I checked was more than eight thousand,which would be the cost of putting an ambulance at Municipal Stadium for every game.
Mr,Metzner's insistence of making private negotiations public has made a difficult task harder and Mr.Brubaker's nickel and dime line items have done little to improve the problem of getting the stadium funded.

So feeling even more dismal about the situation,Mayor Bruchey,who loves to spar with the people that leave comments on the H-M website offered this body blow to a person that said "Maybe they should just leave".
Bruchey's comment of "they probably will" was a comment that made my heart sink.
I thought the situations was looking grim,but then after a return from Frederick,the Herald-Mail reported  that one of the people at the stadium was Maryland comptroller Peter Franchot.
Franchot seemed to be inferring that the money would be there from the state,if the city and county did their part.
I get the feeling that this is not exactly what the state would like to do right now,but with a tax revenue source like the Suns threatening to leave the state and take their money elsewhere,the state might be finally after all these years be ready to help replace the elderly Muni....
So my spirits went up a bit from earlier.

I am surprised at the willingness of some to complain about a baseball team and its 70 home dates getting too much money,but money going to things such as the Miss Maryland pageant are fine.
Here is an example,the city pays eight thousand dollars a year for the three days  and the county adds sixteen thousand a year.
Where does the county get this sixteen thousand to pay towards a three day beauty pageant,yet wants to fight over a team that has seventy dates?
Well,wait  for  it-the hotel/motel tax that was intended to help build a new stadium!
Just for a fun exercise and not to be at all taken seriously-if the hotel tax gives the Miss Maryland people $5,333 per day and gave the Suns the same ratio per game,the Suns would be able to pay over 373 THOUSAND dollars a year on a stadium payment.
Now I realize the funding is not to that level,but that shows how the stance on this issue can be picked and chosen over.
Eight thousand dollars for seventy dates for an ambulance at site is too much to bear,but the exact same amount for three days to fill a facility that has capacity at 1,300 is fine?
I would not know how many of those seats are sold for the pageant,but if I had to guess,I'd bet against a sellout.

Now let's look at things that money goes towards that I am not against the community having,but that I do not use-the Maryland Community Orchestra,Black Rock golf course,Blues Fest,etc.
I do not attend any of these things,but having them makes a nicer community to live in,but I do not hear anyone threatening the people that enjoy those things that their passion should be allowed to leave.
Please show me the numbers that show that the MSO brings more money to our city/state/county than the Hagerstown Suns.
Please show me where the MSO or Blues Fest or Miss Maryland etc, has brought more recognition to the area than the various baseball stars that have been through the Muni.
I really do not want to make this about baseball vs art or baseball vs music or God forbid baseball vs beauty pageants,but there should be room for all of these things in a community that has multiple interests to offer.

A stadium that can be used for many different events would be an asset to the area would bring jobs and recreation to a desperately needed part of a town in need of a makeover.
If the people opposed to the stadium are truly opposed to it because of their tax dollars,then I would like to see them opposing all the groups with their hands out as well.
If it is a budget issue,then I want to see them all slashed in order to save money in order to be fair..

We have an opportunity to make things right and build the stadium that was promised to us and add to the community in other manners as well.
Hagerstown has always been a "baseball town" that has lost its luster through the years through poor and uncaring management and a rundown facility.
The shine can return with some polishing and I think fans that were lost due to the Muni and the management issues will return with an improved facility and product.

This can be done-lets do it!
If you live in the area.please visit this link.
Sign the petition,write a note,show them that you care.
Please do not put it off as we have less than a week before the Ripken groups presentation.
Jump in and take a minute and help out for the future of Hagerstown baseball....
If you do not live in the area,write anyway,tell them you travel here to see games and it is important to you as well.

I am running short on time as I wrote and lost half of this earlier tonight,so unsure on Pirates and Cavalier recaps,so the answer there is a big maybe.
I hope to work on the tardy Indians preview tomorrow!