Strasburg Tames Cubs

May 19th, 2019

His fastball was not blistering, sitting in the low 90s, but where Stephen Strasburg excels is when his curveball and change are working. He also stayed ahead of the hitters, walking none and getting to a three ball count to just one hitter. Strasburg worked eight innings, retired the first nine in the order and pitched the Nationals to a 5-2 win over the Chicago Cubs.

It was a late arriving crowd. The attendance was announced at 37,582. It was a peppery blue and red mix with most of the blue sitting along the third base side and much of the red occupying the first base side. The Nationals dugout is along the first base side. In many areas of the stands the blue seemed to drown out the red.

The Nationals struck first in the second inning when Brian Dozier lifted a high fly ball into center field that eventually settled into the bleachers. When the weather gets warm the bat starts clicking for Dozier, at least that was true during his Minnesota Twins tenure.

The Nationals poured it on off Jon Lester in the third. Trea Turner led the inning off with a single. Adam Eaton laid a bunt down the third base line. David Bote barehanded it but threw it past Anthony Rizzo at first. Turner advanced to third but Eaton stayed at first. Eaton tried to steal second but the throw from Wilson Contreras got there way ahead of Eaton. He got into a run down before being tagged out, Turner wisely staying planted on third.

Anthony Rendon walked on a 3-2 pitch. Howie Kendrick lined a pitch down the third base line for a double to score Turner. Juan Soto followed grounding a double down the first base line scoring Rendon and Kendrick. Brian Dozier blooped a single into centerfield but Soto had to wait halfway and only advanced to third. The Nationals could not add any more damage as Yan Gomes flied to shallow left and Michael Taylor struck out to end the inning.

The Cubs scored a run in the fifth when Strasburg and Gomes appeared to get confused with their signals. Singles by Wilson Contreras and Addison Russell put runners on first and second with two out. Gomes had a ball pop out of his glove and trickle behind him to allow the runners to move up a base. The next pitch glanced off his glove and hit him in the face mask, ricocheting toward the Cubs dugout. Jayson Heyward scored but Russell was thrown out at home when Rendon was able to retrieve the ball and threw to a back pedaling Gomes, who tagged him out. It appeared Gomes was expecting a fastball and got a curve ball on the first pitch and the second pitch he was expecting a curve ball and got a fastball.

The Nationals got the run back in the bottom of the fifth. Anthony Rendon drove a pitch that nailed the centerfield fence for a double. Juan Soto drove him in lining a single past the second baseman into right field. That ended the day for Jon Lester.

The only big hit of the day Strasburg allowed was in the sixth when David Bote took his first pitch of that inning into the left field bullpen. It was the fourth and last hit Strasburg would allow in the game. He struck out seven and walked none. Five of the eight innings he retired the side in order and in one of the innings the baserunner was eliminated on a double play ground out.

The Nationals could have broken the game open in the eighth when they loaded the bases. Brad Brach came in and struck out Anthony Rendon to end the threat. That created the situation for the Nationals to bring in Sean Doolittle.

Joe Madden put on some theatrics, objecting to the toe tap in the delivery of Doolittle after his first pitch. He claimed the delivery of Doolittle was no different than Carl Edwards, who major league baseball had forced to revamp his toe tap. The Cubs claim this change in delivery has resulted in the Edward’s struggles this year (9.45 ERA). The umpires disagreed and Maddon protested the game. Doolittle was able to retire the side in order to seal the victory, not bothered by Madden’s attempt at getting in his head.

Game Notes: For most of the day Strasburg sat in the low 90s, hitting as high as 94. Normally he reaches 95/96 with his fastball but myworld did not see that. He struck out the side in the third and struck out three consecutive hitters between the seventh and eighth. So six of his seven whiffs came consecutively. He threw just 93 pitches in his eight innings and if not pinch hit for in the eighth may have completed the game. Strasburg has now pitched six or more innings in nine of his ten starts. He also only had one three ball count to a batter, the next to last hitter he faced in the eighth…Jon Lester came into this game with a 1.16 ERA. He could not last past the fifth, coming out of the game with more pitches thrown (98) than Strasburg threw in his eight innings. It was his first start this season where he gave up more than two runs…Myworld did not notice a lot of called third strikes on the National hitters. Trea Turner looked at a third strike in the fourth, one of the seven Nat whiffs…The Nationals have put Justin Miller on the disabled list and recalled Tanner Rainey. Tanner was acquired in the Tanner Roark trade with the Reds. He throws hard but has trouble finding the plate, though in his last seven relief appearances in the minor leagues he has struck out 18 and walked just one. Not finding the plate seems endemic to the Nationals bullpen. Tanner pitched briefly in the majors for the Reds last year and gave up 19 earned runs in seven innings for a 24.43 ERA. That appears to be the typical bullpen fodder the Nationals present.

World Cup 18 Groups

May 17th, 2019

The under 18 World Cup will be played in Gijang, Korea on August 30 to September 8 at the Gijang-Hyundai Dream Ballpark. The United States has won the last four under 18 championships.

Group A

Korea, Australia, Netherlands, Canada, Nicaragua and China

Group B

Japan, United States, Taiwan, Panama, South Africa and Spain

The top three teams from each group advance to the super round. The top two teams from the super round play for the championship. The absence of Cuba could be financial. They have also lost a number of their younger players to the major leagues.

Ramos Further Buries Nationals

May 15th, 2019

The bullpen has been bad for the Nationals as has been their defense. It was their defense that extended the first inning. Wilson Ramos made them pay with a grand slam homerun to give the Mets a 6-2 win over the Nationals. The loss dropped the sliding Nationals to 16-25. With the win the Mets pounced back onto .500 at 20-20.

Jeremy Hellickson was again the victim of the poor defense. It appeared to be a quick inning after a double play grounder hit by Robinson Cano appeared to end the inning. The call was originally ruled out at first base, but upon further review it was determined that Gerrado Parra was drawn off the bag by the throw from Wilmer Difo and never secured the ball as he fell off the bag.

Hellickson had an opportunity to still get out of the inning. Pete Alonso grounded the slowest of ground balls that somehow squirted through the infield out into centerfield. Michael Conforto walked to load the bases. Wilson then hit a line drive that had enough elevation to carry into the left field bleachers for an early 4-0 lead.

It was all the runs Noah Syndergaard needed. The Nationals were one hit on Sunday by the Dodgers. Noah did not give up a hit to the Nationals until the sixth inning. Wilmer Difo and pinch hitter Adrian Sanchez hit back to back singles. Adam Eaton grounded a ball up the middle which Ahmed Rosario turned into a double play. Victor Robles then blasted one deep into the middle row of the left field bleachers to close the Mets lead to 6-2.

The Nationals poor defense also gave the Mets a run in the top of the sixth. Hellickson gave up a single to Michael Conforto and walked Wilson Ramos to start off the inning. That ended the day for him and brought on lefty Matt Grace. Brandon Nimmo lined a 1-2 pitch into centerfield. Victor Robles seemed to dart left, then shifted his feet to try to move backwards but it was too late. The ball travelled over his head for an RBI double. Grace was able to get out of the inning, retiring the next three hitters without allowing another run to score.

In the top of the ninth pinch hitter Dominic Smith mashed a pitch into centerfield, over the 402 foot marker. On this day the Mets would not need their closer, though he was warming up in the bullpen.

Nats Notes: It was a sparse crowd on this night, with the temperatures dipping more towards fall like weather. Attendance was listed at 23,315, but it was a late arriving crowd…Noah was hitting 97-99 with his fastball. Jeremy Hellickson was hitting 87-90….The Nationals have to lead the league in called third strikes. Juan Soto took two called strikes and struck out swinging once. His average has dropped to .235. Brian Dozier took a called third strike and Gerrado Parra ended the game with a called third strike…Eric Fedde pitched two innings of solid relief, but he did have some adventures in the seventh inning. On a ground ball to first where he went to cover, his foot missed the base and then he tried to swipe over the bag and barely made contact. The next batter popped one up, but instead of waiting on the mound for the catcher or third baseman to make the catch he ran off the mound, called it and barely secured it in his glove…The Nationals have now lost 14 of their last 19 games. They have the second worst record in the Nationals League. Only the Marlins have a worse won/loss record…The good news is that Trea Turner is playing some rehab games and could be available

NPB Pacific Update

May 13th, 2019

Softbank Hawks (21-15-2)

It is unusual when the Softbank Hawks are not at the top of this conference. They have been the Japan Series champions in four of the last five years. Yuki Yanagita may be one of the better players in the NPB. He hit 30 plus homeruns in three of this last four seasons and stolen over 20 bases in four of the last five years. This year injuries have limited him to nine games. In those nine games he hit .355 with four homeruns and 14 RBIs. Kenta Imamiya has replaced his offensive production (.336, 8, 22), which if he can keep it up would be career numbers. The big difference is his walk to whiff ratio (13/19), which is also the best in his career. Nobuhiro Matsuda (.279, 9, 26) leads the team in homeruns and RBIs. This is his 14th season with the Hawks where he has slugged 253 homeruns.

Two Cuban players have also been providing excellent production. Alfredo Despaigne (.250, 8, 20) and Yurisbel Gracial (.345, 5, 11) have been providing the Hawks some excellent offense. The two combined to hit homers in three consecutive games last week. Despaigne has been the Hawks slugger for the last three years, but his skills have been declining. Gracial is in his second season and his stock is rising, despite his 33 years of age.

On the pitching front Kodai Senga (4-0, 1.26) may be the top pitcher in Japan. His fastball has hit triple digits and he has struck out 71 in 50 innings. He would like to play in the major leagues but the Hawks do not post players so he will have to wait for free agency in a couple years. Kotaro Otake (1-1, 1.02) may not be getting the wins or the whiffs as Senga, but his ERA is better. This is his second season in the NPB after pitching 11 games last year. One of their traditional aces, Nao Higashihama (2-1, 6.16) has really been struggling. Rei Takahashi (4-0, 2.10) is another second year player who the Hawks have been relying on for the rotation.

Rick Van Den Hurk has been a starter for the Hawks the last four years but has not made an appearance yet this year. Dennis Sarfate has been the Hawks closer, saving 54 games two years ago. He has yet to make an appearance this year because of injury. Ariel Miranda (2-2, 4.94) has not matched Van Den Hurk in the rotation as a foreign pitcher. The Hawks continue to rely on Yuito Mori (1-2, 2.60, 10 saves) to be their closer. Last year he saved 37 games when Sarfate had his season end early because of injury after 18 games.

Livan Moinelo (0-1, 0.56) has been the setup man. The Cuban was to be made available by the Cuban Baseball Federation for major league baseball but Trump has nixed that arrangement. So Japan will continue to benefit from his services. At 23 years of age he still has a lot of future. Robert Suarez (0-1, 21.00) may have seen his last games in the NPB.

Nippon Ham Fighters (18-17-2)

The two big bats are Sho Nakata (.237, 8, 23) and Taishi Ota (.318, 6, 24). At 40 years of age Sho can not be counted on to be a regular producer. Last year he drove in 106 runs with 25 homeruns but at some point he will run out of gas. Ota appears to be coming into his own at 28 years old. The Fighters got him from the Giants for the 2017 season and he has hit double figures in homeruns his first two years with the Fighters. He was a bench player in his eight years with the Giants. Po-Jung Wang (.277, 1, 16) was the big name the Fighters got from Taiwan. He was a big homeruns hitter in the CPBL, but in Japan he only has one. Haruki Nishikawa (.287, 2, 13) stirs the Fighters offense from the leadoff spot and leads the team in runs scored (30). He has stolen 40 or more bases in three of his last five seasons. This year he has six, but he has also been caught three times.

Kohei Arihara has been the ace of the staff (4-1, 1.54). This is his fifth year with the Hawks and appears to be his best as far as the numbers go. The Fighters need him to keep it up because he is the only effective starter they have. Chihiro Kaneko (1-2, 3.94) who was once posted to the major leagues but could not agree on a contract, was acquired by the Fighters from the Orix Buffaloes, but he has not been impressive. His best seasons appear to be behind him. Naoyuki Uwasawa (3-1, 4.54) won 11 games last year but has faced struggles this year.

Other than Wang the Fighters foreign contributions have all been from the pitcher’s mound. Nick Martinez has yet to make an appearance this year after winning 10 games in 2018. Justin Hancock (0-1, 9.00, 2 saves) was used in the pen as the closer but was not reliable. Johnny Barbato (2-2, 3.52) has been unimpressive in the rotation. Bryan Rodriguez (2-1, 3.58) has bounced from the pen to the rotation. This is his second season with the Fighters. So no real superstars from outside Japan.

Lotte Marines (18-17-1)

The Marines have traditionally not been a baseball power. Brandon Laird (.308, 13, 28) has been changing that equation. This is his first season for Lotte after four seasons with the Fighters. With the Fighters he had hit over 30 homeruns and driven in more than 90 his first three years, but last year slumped to 26 homeruns and 65 RBIs, resulting in his release. The Marines took a chance on him and are getting paid in big dividends. They have not been getting much in the first year from Kennys Vargas (.203, 1, 6).

Seiya Imoue (.276, 4, 14) has been the most consistent Japanese bat. Last year he hit 24 homeruns in his first year making the starting lineup. Shogo Nakamura (.200, 7, 20) is three homeruns shy of reaching a career high in his fifth season with the Marines but the hits have been few. Last year he stole 39 bases. This year he has 9.

The veteran Hideaki Wakui (3-1, 3.25) has been the Marines most effective starter. Foreign pitcher Mike Bolsinger (1-3, 4.73) was their ace last year going 13-2, but in just the first few weeks of the season already has one more loss than he put together all of last season.

The bullpen has been the strength of the Marines early in this season, led by closer Naoya Masuda (2-1, 1.00, 10 saves). Last year Masuda was their setup man. Takahiro Matsunaga (1-1, 0.79), Yuki Karakawa (2-1, 2.70) and Yasuhiro Tanaka (1-0, 0.00) have been solid in the set up role.

From the mound on the foreign side, Brandon Mann (0-1, 13.50) has been absent and Josh Ravin has yet to make an appearance in his first season in the NPB. Kuan-Yu Chen (0-0, 0.00) has been good in his eight appearances from the bullpen.

Rakuten Golden Eagles (18-17-1)

The Eagles rely on the foreign bats of Zealous Wheeler (.271, 7, 31) and Jabari Blash(.269, 10, 28) for most of their offense. Wheeler is a veteran of the Eagles, in his fifth year. Last year was a down season for him because of injuries limiting him to 106 games. For Blash, this is his first season in the NPB and he has been worth the effort to acquire him. The bat of Luis Jimenez, acquired from Korea, is still stuck in the Japanese minor leagues.

The Japanese bats lack the power but hit the gaps. Eigoro Mogi (.313, 4, 15) has been getting on base from the leadoff spot. His 19/25 walk to whiff ratio has been the best in his four years in the NPB. He leads the team in runs scored with 30. Hideto Asamura (.292, 8, 25) is the big power bat acquired in free agency from the Seibu Lions. Last year he hit 32 homeruns and drove in 127 runs in his most productive NPB season.

Historically, the Eagles have been known for their starting pitching, providing the major leaguers with Hisashi Iwakuma and Masahiro Tanaka. Takahiro Norimoto has had four seasons of 200 or more strikeouts, but this year he has yet to make an appearance. He has had double digit victories in his first six seasons in the NPB but that streak appears to be in jeopardy this year. There is no solid starter on the mound who has an ERA under 4.00.

The bullpen has been their strength led by closer Yuki Matsui (1-1, 1.69, 9 saves) who may be small in stature but he piles up the saves. In his second through fourth years he picked up 30 or more saves but last year yielded to Frank Hermann (3-2, 6.23). This year it has been Hermann that has struggled, yielding the closer duties back to Matsui. Chia-Hao Sung (0-1, 2.00) appears to have taken over the setup role from Hermann. Alan Busenitz is a foreign pitcher on the roster who has yet to make an appearance. He has been very effective in the minor leagues with three saves and a 0.75 ERA.

Seibu Lions (16-19-1)

Last year the Lions were the class of the Pacific Conference. Losing Asamura to the Eagles via free agency put a dent in their offense this year. Hotaka Yamakawa (.270, 15, 42) continues to bash homeruns for the Lions. Last year he slugged 47. There lacks a second bat to protect Hotaka in the lineup. Shogo Akiyama (.290, 5, 15) prefers to spray the gaps with doubles, hitting over 30 in his last four seasons. Tomoya Mori (.306, 5, 28) is perhaps the best hitting catcher in the NPB. Takeya Nakamura (.241, 5,20) is 10 shy of reaching 400 homeruns in the NPB. He should reach that this year.

No one in the starting rotation to brag on. Most of the pitchers in this rotation have ERAs over 5. The bullpen also sucks. That brings us to foreign pitchers. Zach Neal (1-1, 5.95) has not held his own. Deunte Heath (0-1, 3.60) picked up 13 saves last year but is limited to one save this year. This is his fourth year and most ineffective. Fabio Castillo has yet to pitch in the NPB and Jen-Lei Liao has made three appearances.

The one big foreign bat, Ernesto Mejia (.143, 3, 9) has had a wasted year. This is his sixth year and he has had two good seasons with 35 and 34 homeruns. Last year he hit only .212 with 9 homeruns. They need to go scour the minor leagues to find a foreign bat to bring some power into this lineup.

Orix Buffaloes (14-20-3)

The Buffaloes, who had Ichiro Suzuki in their outfield when they were the Buffaloes have been absent any glory since then. The last time they were in the playoffs was in 2014 as a wild card team. The last time and only time they won a Japan Series was in 1996. They have nothing this year.

Masataka Yoshida (.271, 8, 21) is their only big bat. Last year was hit first year in a starting role and he slugged 26 homeruns. After him no player has more than four homeruns. Foreign hitter Joey Meneses (.206, 4, 14) is that bat. This is his first and possibly last year in the NPB. Chris Marrero (.167, 0, 0) hit 31 homeruns in his first two years but in 14 games this year has not hit a homerun. Stefen Romero (.304, 1, 5) bat has been limited because of injury.

The pitching has been decent. Yoshinobu Yamamoto (2-1, 1.37) has been moved to the starting rotation of the Buffaloes. Last year he pitched 53 innings. This year he has already accumulated 46. Taisuke Yamaoka (4-0, 3.00) has been racking up the wins in the starting rotation. In his first two seasons he had a losing record. Rookie Tsubasa Sakakibara (1-3, 2.09) has not been racking up the victories but he has been effective. Hirotoshi Masui (3.60, 11 saves) is the closer in his second season with the Buffaloes. He saved 35 games last year for Orix and prior to that was the closer for Nippon Ham.

Andrew Albers (1-2, 6.11) has been a big disappointment in the rotation. Last year he was 9-2 with a 3.08 ERA. Brandon Dickson has been a starter for Orix for six years. He has yet to make an appearance in his seventh year with the team. Tyler Eppler has seen minimal time (3 appearances).

Sakamoto Breaks NPB On Base record to Start a Season

May 13th, 2019

The Yomiuri Giants star shortstop Hayato Sakamoto broke a Central League record for most consecutive games reaching base to start the season. The old record was 35 consecutive games. Sakamoto delivered a first inning single in the Giants 4-1 loss to the Yakult Swallows to extend his on base streak to start the season to 36 games, breaking the old record held by Tomoaki Kanemoto back in 1997. The NBP record is 40 games held by Steve Ontiveros back in 1983.

The chances of Sakamoto going into the major leagues is slim to none. Even though he is one of the better players in Japan, the Giants, like the Softbank Hawks do not post their players. The players have to wait to become free agents, and by that time they are past 30 and not as attractive to major league teams.

For those interested, the record hitting streak in Japan is 33 games by Yoshihiko Takahashi of the Hiroshima Carp in 1979. The record for consecutive games on base is held by Ichiro Suzuki, who got on base in 69 consecutive games back in 1994.

Top Prospects from Bahamas

May 12th, 2019

We have not done a top prospect from the Bahamas list because there were not enough prospects to make the list. That has changed with the number of recent signings. There have been six major leaguers from the Bahamas. The first to sign was Andre Rodgers in 1954. The most recent was Antoan Richardson. The ten players below hope to be the seventh major leaguer from the Bahamas. Because many of them are in rookie ball or recently signed myworld has not seen many of these players.

1. Jazz Chisholm SS (Diamondbacks) - Lucius Fox was who everyone was looking at. During that showcase the Diamondbacks liked Jazz. They signed him for just $200,000, much less than what Lucius was asking. Now Jazz appears to be the better prospect. The defensive tools are there to stick at shortstop. The bat could be impactful, with above average power for the position. Last year he slugged 25 homeruns between Low A and High A. This year he has hit 9 homeruns. An inability to make contact could impact his ability to hit for a high average. Last year he struck out 149 times in just 112 games. This year he has struck out 44 times in just 29 games, dropping his average to .184 in AA. If he can get that average up Jazz could see some time in the major leagues. Jazz is one of three players on this list who played for Great Britain in the World Baseball Classic qualifiers, starting at shortstop.

2. Kristian Robinson OF (Diamondbacks) - Two years later the Diamondbacks sign Kristian, but they had to shell out $2.5 million to sign him. He has the five tools to become an impact player. The speed is there to play centerfield while the arm is strong enough to fit in right. The bat has big time power. At 6′3″ he has the frame that could fill out and move him to a corner. Like Chisholm there is a tendency to swing and miss. Last year he struck out 67 times in 57 games but still hit .279 in rookie ball. He has yet to make an appearance in 2019. At 18 years of age he is probably in extended spring training and will see a second year of rookie ball.

3. D’Shawn Knowles OF (Angels) - Imagine finding a prospect and learning he has a twin. The Angels signed D’Shawn in 2017. The Yankees took a flyer on his brother D’Vaughn in 2019. Speed is the big tool for D’Shawn. This could allow him to be a premium centerfielder. His power is limited to the gap, but last year the stroke was solid enough to hit .311 in rookie ball. At 18 years of age Knowles has yet to make an appearance in 2019, showcasing his skills in extended spring until the short season leagues begin in July.

4. Lucius Fox SS (Rays) - He signed with the Giants for $6 million. The Rays traded Matt Moore to acquire him. The biggest impact Lucius can make is with his speed and defense. His bat has been a little slow to progress, especially in the power department where he is lacking. Defensively he needs to gain some consistency in the field. Last year he committed 15 errors in 105 games at shortstop between High A and AA. He also struggled with a .221 average and .298 slugging percentage at AA. No surprise he is repeating at that level this year, where his average is still disappointing (.188) but his OBA has improved (.341). With Wander Franco ahead of him on the depth chart Fox may have to play shortstop for another team if he wants to contribute in the major leagues.

5. Tahnaj Thomas RHP (Pirates) - The first pitcher on this list. The Indians first signed him, paying him a $200,000 bonus and then converted him from a shortstop to a pitcher. The Pirates acquired him last year for Jordan Luplow and Max Moroff. At 6′4″ Thomas has the look of a pitcher, with a fastball that can reach the plate consistently in the low 90s. The pitch that improved his game was the development of his slider, which raised his whiffs per nine innings from 8 to 12.4. He still needs to improve on his change as his third pitch and find the plate more often. It appears he will have a third year in rookie ball. At 19 years of age he needs to make the jump to full season Low A before the year is out.

6. Trent Deveaux OF (Angels) - The Angels signed Trent in 2017 for $1.2 million. It would be an accomplishment that in five years Knowles and Deveaux share the same outfield with Trout. Trent lacks the overall tools of Knowles. His bat has a ways to go, hitting only .199 last year with 68 whiffs in 48 games. He was a sprinter in the Bahamas, so the speed is there to play center. If the bat can develop his game breaking speed could make him a pest in the lineup. He has yet to play this year.

7. Keithron Moss 2B (Rangers) - Moss played in the Dominican Summer League last year, where he hit just .196. The Rangers signed him for $800,000, part of the money they had accumulated for Shohei Ohtani. He is a line drive hitter who preys on the gaps and uses his speed to take the extra base. He is not a big guy, standing 5′11 and 165 so he could mature as he gets older. This should be his first season state side where he will start at one of the rookie level clubs.

8. Chavez Young OF (Blue Jays) - Chavez was born and raised in the Bahamas but went to high school in Florida and Georgia. The Blue Jays drafted him in the 39th round in 2016 and then used $200,000 to entice him to sign. Chavez has the speed to play centerfield and last year used that speed to steal 44 bases at Low A. He hits more line drives into the gaps and is not expected to hit for a lot of pop, though last year he slugged 8 dingers to accumulate a .445 slugging average. This year he finds himself at High A struggling with a .207 average with only four of his 18 hits (.287 slugging) going for extra bases. He will make a greater impact if he can stick in centerfield. Chavez played for Great Britain in the World Baseball Classic qualifiers.

9. D’Vaughn Knowles (Yankees) - The twin brother of D’Shawn. The Yankees signed D’Vaughn in 2019 for $300,000. Like his brother his speed is suited for centerfield. His arm could also fit well in right. He has yet to make his minor league debut. Just look at his brother above and you will find the same tools, maybe just not as developed.

10 Reshard Munroe OF (Reds) - Shard is one of those players signed way back in 2014. While he is not expected to hit for power he did slug .455 in his last season of Rookie ball, before being promoted to Low A. This year he has already slugged two homeruns and is slugging, so the power could be developing. The Reds have used him primarily as a corner. If he hopes to reach the major leagues that power will need to develop. He played for Great Britain in the World Baseball Classic qualifiers, backing up fellow Bahamian Antoan Richardson in left field.

South Africa Advances to European/Africa Cup

May 6th, 2019

There was not much doubt who would advance to the Europe/Africa Qualifier. They had to play the games anyway. In the championship match South Africa defeated Uganda 28-0. They had beaten them earlier in pool play 18-0. Uganda may have been the darlings of the Little League World Series a couple years ago, but they still have a ways to go before reaching the level of play of South Africa. The Europe/Africa qualifier will begin September 18-22 in Italy. And just as it was apparent that South Africa would win the Africa games, it is just as apparent that they will be outmatched against their European adversaries and not advance to the Olympics. But they still have to play the games.

South Africa catcher Kyle Botha was voted the MVP of the tournament. Third baseman Darren Boltman was identified as the top hitter. Now some major league team go out and sign these two players to minor league contracts.

Zimbabwe took 11 innings but beat Burkina Faso 17-16 in the third place game.

NPB Central Update

May 5th, 2019

The Japanese season is a little more than a month old. Below is an update on some of the players making an impact. The two favorites or traditional powers, Yomiuri Giants and the Softbank Hawks sit atop their division. Below is a review of the Japanese Central.

Yomiuri Giants (18-12)

Like the Hawks, the Giants do not post their players. Yoshihiro Maru has been a good free agent acquisition from the Hiroshima Carp. Last year he hit 39 homeruns and walked 130 times while hitting .306. He is staying on that course with the Giants with his .300 average, six homeruns and 20 walks in 30 games. They have also extracted a good bat from their rival Carp team and added it to their lineup. Hayato Sakamoto is their top player. The shortstop is the Derek Jeter of the Giants, hitting .333 with 9 homeruns. At 22 years of age, Kazuma Okamota had his breakout season last year with 33 homeruns and 100 RBIs in his first full season. He has continued to hit this year with his seven pops, though his average has dropped to .231.

On the pitching front Tomoyuki Sugano continues to be one of the top pitchers in the NPB, putting together double digit win totals in five of his six years in the NPB. He is going for double digit win total number six with his early 4-2, 3.21 ERA, though his hits to innings pitched numbers appear to show he has been a little more hittable early this season. Koji Uehara is still on the roster but he has yet to pitch this year after appearing in 36 games of relief last year. Shun Yamaguchi has been their top pitcher this year (4-0, 1.59). In his early years he was a closer for the Yokohama Bay Stars but he has been a starter for the Giants.

On the foreign front, Ryan Cook has been acting as the Giants closer in his first year in Japan. He has picked up six saves and is 0-1, 3.38 ERA. Injuries to Scott Mathieson have left him unavailable for the bullpen so far this year. Christopher Mercedes (3-1, 2.65) has been effective as a starter in his second season in Japan. On the offensive side Christian Villanueva (.240, 5, 13) has not yet been an impact player. The Giants were hoping for more than his .308 OBP and .438 slugging. Alex Guerrero would like to rebound from his poor year last year (.244, 15, 40) after wowing the fans his first year, showing unexpected power (.279, 36, 86). The early results have not been pleasant (.222, 4, 13). If those numbers do not improve Alex may be looking elsewhere for employment.

Yakult Swallows (18-13-1)

Tetsuto Yamada is their big bat. He has had three 30/30 seasons in Japan, hitting at least 30 homeruns and stealing 30 bases. He is going for his fourth with seven homeruns and 10 stolen bases. He has also driven in more than 100 runs in a season twice. His 22 RBIs in 33 games put him on course for a third season. His .318 average puts him at one of the more complete players in Japan. Munetaka Murakami is still a teenager (19) but his 8 homeruns is tied for the team lead. He is a strong candidate to win rookie of the year. Norichika Aoki left the major leagues but he continues to hit (.306, 5, 11). His 24 runs scored is second to Yamada on the team.

On the pitching front, Ryota Igarshi was signed away from the Softbank Hawks and has been playing vulture for the Swallows. In 12 relief appearances he is 5-0 with a 0.73 ERA. The closer is their veteran Taichi Ishiyama (1-1, 1.26, 7 saves). He saved 35 games for them last year. The starting pitching has been a big disappointment early in the season.

The big foreign contributor continues to be Wladimir Balentien. He broke the Japanese record for homeruns in a season back in 2013 with 60. He has always had difficulty staying healthy, but his previous three years he has played in at least 125 games and hit more than 30 homeruns in each of those seasons. This year he is hitting .284, 8, 29. Wladimir has 263 career Japanese homeruns. Pitching is where the other foreign players congregate. Dave Huff (1-0, 3.45) has been pitching in a setup role. David Buchanan (0-1, 4.75) has struggled in his third season as a starter for the Swallows. Albert Suarez (1-1, 1.38) has pitched well in two starts for the Swallows.

Hanshin Tigers (16-15-1)

The Tigers have the most passionate fan base in Japanese baseball. The 24 year old rookie Koji Chikamoto has been exciting that fan base, leading the team in stolen bases (10), runs scored (20), RBIs (17) and triples (3). He is also hitting .316. He is a big reason for surging up the Tiger fan base. Yusuke Oyama is also 24 but he is in this third year in the NPB. He leads the team in homeruns (6) and is tied with Koji for RBIs (17). Last year Oyama hit a career high 11 homeruns and he is almost half way there early in the season.

At one point Shintaro Fujinami was considered a better pitcher than Shohei Ohtani. The last few years he has had trouble finding the plate and hasn’t found the pitcher’s mound yet for the Tigers in 2019. Yuki Nishi, a free agent pickup from Orix has been eating up the innings as a starter (44) with a 2-3 record and a 2.25 ERA. That is about a run below his career 3.26 line. Koyo Aoyagi (2-2, 1.89) has been the other consistent starter.

On the foreign side, Randy Messenger (2-2, 3.66) is in his 10th year pitching for the Tigers. He has 97 career wins, three shy of the century mark. His numbers have been falling and at 37 he may be in his last season pitching in Japan. Pierce Johnson on the other hand is in his first season pitching in Japan and is doing well (2-0, 0.00) as the setup guy with seven holds. He has not given up a run in his first 14.2 innings. Myworld is positive Randy has told Pierce it will not always be this easy. Rafael Dolis (0-1, 2.38, 6 saves) is in his third season as the Tigers closer. Onelki Garcia (0-2, 19.29) has had a little hiccup in his second season in Japan. Last year he was 13-9, 2.99, but this year he has given up 23 hits in just 9.1 innings. On the offensive side Jefry Marte (.158) has struggled in his first year. Efren Navarro (.209) has also not been much of an offensive force in his second year in the NBP. He was also a disappointment in his first year. The two foreign bats have combined for just 4 RBIs on the season.

Hiroshima Carp (15-16-1)

The Carp have won the Central crown the last three seasons, but the Japan Series championship has proved elusive. It was 1984 when they last won a championship. Seiya Suzuki (.348, 9, 22) is the class of this offense. The last three years he has driven in more than 90 runs. At 24 years of age any major league team would love to have him for their outfield. Ryosuke Kikuchi (.280, 3, 13) has expressed interest in playing in the major leagues, but he may not generate enough offense to be an impact second baseman. Hisayoshi Chono was enticed away from the Giants have nine seasons but has gotten a slow start out of the gate (.224, 2, 4). With the Giants he was always in double digits with his homeruns and never hit below .251.

The big strength for the Carp is in their starting pitching with Daichi Osera (2-2, 1.64) and Hiroki Tokoda (4-1, 1.55) leading a solid rotation. For Hiroki this is his first big season in the NPB, especially as a starter. Shota Nakazaki is their closer with 29 or more saves in three of his four seasons. This year he has picked up four saves, but 12 runs in just 12.2 innings of work, but eight of those runs are unearned.

Kris Johnson has usually been a strength to this rotation, but this year has been a struggle (1-3, 5.54). He has a career 2.65 ERA in his fifth season in the NPB with win totals in double digits in all seasons but his worst. Kyle Regnault has been a pleasant surprise in the bullpen. He has yet to give up a run in 16.2 innings, though his walk rate is a little high. If he keeps throwing goose eggs he may replace current setup foreign guy Geronimo Franzua (4-1, 4.20), whose ERA is almost three runs higher than last season. Johnny Hellwig and Casey Lawrence have seen little to no activity with the big club. Xavier Bautista is their only foreign offensive player, second to Suzuki in homeruns and RBIs (.242, 6, 19).

Chunichi Dragons (14-17)

The Dragons have been out of the pennant races the last few years. Toshiki Abe has been a surprise bat (.343, 2, 16). This is his fourth season but he has always struggled to keep his average above .200. The 16 RBIs and two homeruns are already career highs. Dragon veteran Ryosuke Hirata has been raking (.310, 4, 14) in his 14th NPB season. He is good at getting on base (.425 career OBA) but not at stealing bases (38 stolen bases in 63 attempts).

Veteran Dragon starter Yudai Ono has been their most consistent starter (2-1, 2.34). This is his first year in nine seasons when his strikeout numbers are far ahead of his innings pitched (39 whiffs in 34.2 innings). This is the second season for Hiroshi Suzuki but they trust him enough to be their closer (10 saves). His 3.46 ERA could be better. Throwing strikes has been an issue for the 22 year old youngster.

Joely Rodriguez (0-1, 2.31, 12 holds) and Raidel Martinez (0-1, 1.04, 5 holds) have been effective setup guys. Enny Romero throws hard. The Dragons chose to use that heat in the starting rotation (2-1, 3.00). No matter what continent he is on he still has trouble finding the strike zone. Dayan Viciedo handles the offensive fire power for the Dragons (.302, 6, 21). Last year he was one shy of 100 RBIs. Zoilo Almonte (.260, 2, 5) has been a little too vanilla with his offensive numbers. At some point the Dragons may want to see what Steven Moya has. This is his second year in the NPB but all six of his homeruns have been in the minor leagues.

Yokohama DeNA Baystars (12-20)

Back to the basement for the Baystars. Next year they may lose their best hitter Yoshitomo Tsutugo to the major leagues (.301, 9, 22). Finishing last will provide extra motivation to post him to the major leagues. Last year he hit 38 homeruns and in 2016 he hit 44. They play in a band box in Yokohama so the homeruns come easy. The 24 year old third year player Keita Sano is putting up interesting numbers (.357, 2, 12) which could put him in the starting lineup more often.

Shota Iamnaga (3-1, 0.98) has been virtually unhittable in the rotation. He has give up just 28 hits in 46 innings. This is his fourth year in the Bay Stars rotation and could be his best year. Haruhiro Hamaguchi has pitched one shutout in this three starts and has spun together a 1.71 ERA in his third NPB season. Yasuaki Yamasaki is in his fifth season as closer for the Bay Stars. He has only picked up 4 saves but his 0.79 ERA is proof that he has had very few opportunities to pick up saves. He has already give up five unearned runs, a number he never gave up in his previous four years.

The foreign contingent consists of one of the biggest bats in Japan now, Neftali Soto. Last year he hit 41 homeruns. This year he already has 11 with 22 RBIs and a .246 average. Last year he was more consistent (.310). The career of Jose Lopez is winding down. This is his seventh NPB season. His batting average (.238) and slugging percentage (.393) are at career lows. Edwin Escobar (0-1, 3.63) is in his fourth season of set-up work with the Bay Stars. Edison Barrios (6.75) and Spencer Patton (9.72) are struggling with their roles. In the last two years Spencer has combined for 60 saves.

Top Puerto Rican Prospects

May 4th, 2019

The 2014 list will probably be one of the greatest top ten list for any country. Carlos Correa, Javier Baez, Francisco Lindor, Eddie Rosario, Victor Caratini, Edwin Diaz and Jose Berrios have all made their marks on major league rosters. The list from last year revealed some questionable players who may not make a lasting mark such as Joe Jimenez, Victor Caratini (finally graduating), Jorge Lopez and Tomas Nido. They will not have the impact of the 2014 class, filling roles as back end starters, middle relievers and back up catchers with minimal time in the major leagues. Since the 2014 list a number of academies have located in Puerto Rico, but it has not yet resulted in the appearance of any big time superstars that can match the players from that list.

1. Heliot Ramos OF (Giants) - He was a first round pick of the Giants in 2017. His first year he hit .348 with a 1.049 OPS. Those numbers dropped last year to .245 with a .709 OPS. To be an impact player he will have to fall somewhere in between those numbers, preferably falling nearer the former. The speed is there to fit in centerfield, but as he gets bigger his best position may end up in right. The power is there to hit 30 plus homeruns in the majors but he will need to do a better job of making contact. A 35/136 walk to whiff ratio is evidence he will not hit for a high average and his 2018 numbers will be closer to his mean. Early this season the walk/K numbers have been promising (14/20) for his 19 games and his average (.270) and his OPS (1.009) have been closer to his 2017 season.

2. Isan Diaz 2B (Marlins) - Isan was a second round pick of the Diamondbacks back in 2014. His power numbers have always been impressive but his batting average and ability to make contact have been disappointments. His defense is not that strong and second base or left field may be his only defensive options. He also lacks the speed to do any damage on the bases. If he wants to be in the starting lineup he will need to hit. The Diamondbacks and Brewers have already traded him, though players like Jean Segura and Christian Yelich have been players going to other teams. This year with the Marlins his average has been low (.248), his power disappointing (.390 slugging) but his strikeouts reduced (24 in 27 games). This will be the year he should make his major league debut if he puts up good numbers.

3. Tomas Nido C (Mets) - The Mets released Travis d’Arnaud to bring up Nido to be their back up catcher to Wilson Ramos. Those are the tools Nido has, the ability to be a back up catcher. His bat does not possess much major league power and will hit around .250. His defense is above average behind the plate, with a good ability to frame pitches to give pitchers more strikes than they may deserve. Last year Nido got 84 major league at bats but only hit .167. With his recent callup he will have too many at bats to appear on this list next year. An injury to Wilson Ramos could give him an extended opportunity to show what he can do. There are a lot of defensive catchers surviving in the major leagues.

4. Nelson Velasquez OF (Cubs) - The best tool of this fifth round pick in 2017 is his arm. His below average speed will make right field a perfect position for him. The bat has some pop, with the ability to hit for 20 plus homeruns, but he has not shown he can hit for a high enough average to be an impact player. Last year he had a 30/124 walk to whiff ratio in rookie/Low A. He will need to improve on that patience to raise the average. This year after 24 games the power has disappeared, but he has hit for a better average (.326) even though the patience is not there (3/25). The power needs to be plus for him to make an impact in the major leagues. He still has some time to mature and develop that power.

5. Edwin Rios 1B/3B (Dodgers) - The Dodgers will need to find a position for him. He lacks the speed to play outfield. At 6′3″ and 220 pounds the mobility is lacking to play third, though his arm is strong. If he wants to play first the power needs to come out. The 2015 sixth round pick has hit for 27 and 24 homeruns in 2016 and 2017. Last year injuries limited him to just 88 games where he was able to hit 10 homeruns and slug .482. His career minor league slugging percentage is .528. He does hit lefthanded, which is an advantage for those power hitters who wish to play first. This year in AAA he has gotten off to a slow start (.219 average and .354 slugging) but a 4/36 walk to whiff ratio could be a cause for that.

6. Jose Miranda 2B/3B (Twins) - Jose was a second round pick of the Twins in 2016. His range is limited for a middle infielder but if his bat works out he could become an offensive second baseman. The power may be lacking to play third. Last year he did hit 16 homeruns split between High A and Low A. His best use may be as a utility player. The arm is strong enough to play short over the short haul and he could take a liking to the grass if given an opportunity to roam the outfield. This year he has gotten off to a slow start with no homeruns and a .226 average in High A.

7. Delvin Perez SS (Cardinals) - He was number two on this list last year after being a first round pick of the Cardinals in 2016. He was compared to Carlos Correa. Things have not gone well for him since then. A violation for performance enhancing drugs stained his drafting position. An inability to get out of Rookie ball has dropped his prospect status. Last year he hit only .213 with a .272 slugging percentage. That will make you a footnote in the pages of prospect handbooks. Myworld puts him in the top ten because he carries some tools so perhaps they will begin to emerge. There are many players he will have to leap frog over on the depth chart if he hopes to make an impact.

8. Mario Feliciano C (Brewers) - A second round supplemental pick in 2016 Mario has enough defensive tools to make it as a back up catcher. Shoulder issues limited him to just 46 games last year resulting in surgery. The bat will not be super impactful, with occasional pop and the ability to hit in the .250 range. Prior to his surgery his arm was strong. Last year he saw an increased propensity to swing and miss, which could impact his ability to hit for a decent average. This year he continues to strikeout at a higher pace than is desired (38 whiffs in 28 games) but his average has not suffered yet (.272). Depending on how he develops he could make a career out of being a backup catcher or a lower level starter on a team that continues a search for a top notch catcher.

9. Jonathan Rodriguez OF (Indians) - The third round 2017 pick has all the tools that scream out fourth outfielder. At 6′3″ he could develop power, but his lack of speed will limit him to the corners, where power is expected. A strong arm will make playing right field viable. Currently his power is restricted to the gaps. The last two years in rookie ball he has hit just one homerun with a .382 slugging average. He needs to carry more balls over the fence if he wants to shake that fourth outfielder look.

10. Emmanuel Rivera 3B (Twins) - A 19th round pick in 2015 who may get an opportunity on a rebuilding club. The speed and range are not there to fill a middle infield slot and the power may be lacking to fill a corner. He could end up one of those tweener/organizational slugs that fills out the minor league rosters for a number of years. Last year he hit for a decent average (.280) and shot enough balls into the gaps (25 doubles) to fill the corner position. This year his slugging average has fallen below .400 (.381), a location you don’t want to be when trying to fill a corner infield position.

Hawks Take Advantage of their Cuban Connection

May 3rd, 2019

Most of the Japanese teams scout the major leagues to find their foreign players. Some teams like the Hiroshima Carp use their Dominican academy to try to find diamonds in the rough. Alfonso Soriano was one of those diamonds in the rough that first played for Hiroshima before he went to the major leagues. The Hawks work with the Cuban Baseball Federation to find their foreign players.

Alfredo Despaigne was at one time one of the best hitters in Cuba. He rarely plays in the Cuban Nacional Series, saving his at bats now for the NBP. His lack of defense keeps him as a DH now. He started his NPB career with the Lotte Marines, playing with them for three years. This is his third year with the Hawks. His first year he hit 35 homeruns and drove in 103 runs. Last year injuries cut down 30 of his games, dropping his homerun total to 29 and his RBI production to 74. His batting average dropped from .262 to .238. It was his lowest average of his NPB career.

The 2019 season is not showing a lot of promise. His batting average has dropped even further to .236. His power production has dropped to a slugging average of .355, the lowest it has been in the NPB. If his struggles continue this could be his last year in Japan. He will turn 33 years old in June. Major league teams seem to have a reluctance to sign players older than 33.

The Hawks signed Yurisbel Gracial last year. The 33 year old played in 54 games, batting .292 with 9 homeruns. This year the Hawks recently called him up and in his first 8 games he is hitting .357 with two homeruns. Last night he hit a three run homer in the Hawks 12-11 win. In Cuba he was a power hitter for Matanzas for about ten years.

The one pitcher they acquired from Cuba is Livan Moniello. He is not a big guy, standing less than 6′0″ (though he is listed at 6′0″) but less than 140 pounds. He throws left handed and can hit the low 90s with his fastball. Livan pitches out of the bullpen as the Hawks setup reliever. His first two years he picked up 28 holds. Last year he gave up one too many long balls, forcing his ERA to rise from 2.52 his rookie season to 4.53. This year he has yet to give up an earned run. The Cuban Baseball Federation was prepared to make him available to major league teams but Trump nixed the agreement between Cuba and the major leagues.

The Hawks have been the best team the last few years in the NPB, winning the Japan Series the last two years and four of the last five. They generally do not allow their players to be posted. Yuki Yanagita has been one of the best position players in Japan. Last year he hit a career high 36 homeruns with a .356 batting average. Back in 2015 he was a 30/30 player with 34 homeruns and 32 stolen bases, winning the Pacific League MVP award. This year he has been stalled by injuries, playing in only 9 games. At 31 years old major league teams may shy away from him. He does have 154 NPB homeruns in 9 years and could become a free agent soon. He could probably start for any outfield in the major leagues.

One of the better pitchers in Japan is Kodai Senga. He has expressed interest in pitching in the major leagues but he is still a couple years away from free agency. His fastball has reached triple digits but sits in the mid-90s. Since 2016 he has struck out more than one batter per inning. He pitched for Japan in the 2017 World Baseball Classic and was voted to the All World Classic Baseball Team. At 6′0″ he is not a tall pitcher but he is still just 26 years of age. This year his ERA is 1.46 in five starts with 54 whiffs in just 37 innings.