Archive for December, 2012

Gomez Leads Leones to Second Win

Saturday, December 29th, 2012

The defending champ Escogido Leones jumped on top of the round robin with their second win, a 12-5 slaughter of Estrellas.  Mauro Gomez led the charge with his second homerun in two days.  He hit a 2-run homer in the fourth inning.  Alexi Casilla also homered, a solo shot in the second and was a double short of the cycle with a triple and two singles.  He scored three runs.  Jordany Valdespin had two doubles and a single to score twice and drive in two.

Nelson Figueroa went seven innings to get the win.  He gave up eight hits and all five runs, four of them earned.

In the other game, Aguilas picked up their first win with a 3-0 victory over Toros.  Angel Castro pitched six innings of shutout ball then turned it over to three relievers who turned an inning each.  Joel Peralta pitched the last inning to get credit for the save.  Manny Ramirez and Oscar Taveras each hit solo shots.

2013 Hot Stove - Diamondbacks

Saturday, December 29th, 2012

Overall Assessment: Even though the Diamondbacks got to .500 it had to be a disappointment after winning the division last year.  Now with the Dodgers going from bankruptcy to Fort Knox and the Giants looking strong with their second World Series truimph in three years it will be tough to retake the division.  Most of the blame for the poor season was placed on Justin Upton who went from a .289, 31, 88 season to a .280, 17, 67 season.  When scouts see the tools he has they expect better numbers.  Not much criticism was placed on Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson who went from 37 wins in 2011 to 18 in 2012.  Most people thought Kennedy overperformed in 2011 and Hudson was saddled with injuries for most of 2012.  Getting decent years from those three will help resurrect the Diamondbacks to the top spot.

Hot Stove Season: They’ve made some head scratching moves.  They traded talented but disappointing Chris Young for less talented Cliff Pennington in what appears to be a desparate attempt to get a shortstop.  They also got shortstop prospect Yordy CabreraAdam Eaton had shown in a late season callup that he could take Young’s spot in centerfield and bat leadoff and fill it with a better OBA.  They lose some power but they get a more consistent player at the position.  Then they traded Yordy to the Marlins for the horrible Heath Bell, who pitched well in the cavernous Petco Park but could not survive the Marlins new park.  The Diamondbacks park should be worse.  The Diamondbacks continued their shortstop seach trading top prospect and number one 2012 draft pick Trevor Bauer, who they soured on, for another shortstop, untested but promising prospect Didi Gregorious, who shows more long term potential than Pennington, but is untested at the major league level.  They signed Eric Chavez as a free agent, who prefers to play part time role at third base and Eric Hinske, who can cover all the corner spots.  Wil Nieves was signed as a backup catcher.  Add to the mix the addition of free agent signing Cody Ross to an already crowded outfield.

Strength: The Diamondbacks still feel they have extra outfielders and are looking to trade either Justin Upton or Jason KubelGerardo Parra is a gold glove outfielder and A.J. Pollock is ready for more playing time.  Adam Eaton has centerfield covered but Parra can also spell him.  A lot of wasted depth here that can be depleted for help at other postions (now add Cody Ross to the mix).  It will be interesting to see if Aaron Hill replicates his 26 homer performance of 2012.  He had hit 62 homeruns in 2009 and 2010 before plummenting to just eight in 2011.  If he hits like he did in three of those four years second base will be a strength.

Weakness: They would prefer that Willie Bloomquist fill their role as a utiltiy infielder rather than as the starting shortstop.  Didi Gregorious has the defensive chops but there are questions with his bat.  The Athletics saw too little in Cliff Pennington’s bat to keep him.  Those two will fight for the Diamondbacks shortstop job with major rotation from Bloomquist and John McDonald.  The starting rotation lacks an ace.  They have five capable pitchers and good depth in the minors, but lack that pitcher who keeps losing streaks from extending.

Top Position Prospect: Didi Gregorius and Adam Eaton are ready to provide immediate help.  Despite that, the top position prospect appears to be Matt Davidson, who shows good pop for the position.  He hit 23 homeruns in AA last year.  With Chris Johnson and Eric Chavez prepared to share the position he won’t be up until 2014, unless injuries deplete the position.

Top Pitching Prospect: The minor leagues is filled with pitching prospects, a reason they felt they could afford to part with Trevor Bauer.  Tyler Skaggs had the better year and even saw six major league starts.  We still think Archie Bradley, their number one pick in 2011 has the better stuff, but only by an eyelash.  Archie throws in the mid 90s with an excellent curveball.  Tyler throws in the low 90s with an even better curveball.  One throws from the left side and the other throws from the right.  You could pretty much flip a coin.

Watch Out for: Lars Anderson was once a highly touted prospect with the Red Sox.  Myworld saw him play a number of times and came away from those games unimpressed.  A change of scenery to Cleveland did not help him.  Perhaps the hot desert air of Arizona will be more to his liking.  The worst that can happen to him is he can become another Brandon Allen and get an opportunity in Japan.

Rookie of the Year Prospect: Adam Eaton will get a lot of at bats from the leadoff spot and should ignite the Diamondbacks offense.  He’ll score more than 100 runs making him a strong candidate for rookie of the year.

Projected on Paper Finish: Another third place finish, not good enough for the second wild card spot.  They need Justin Upton to be a superstar to rise any higher.

Press Conference (cont - 5)

Friday, December 28th, 2012

Kevin’s fate dictated he drive on. Or perhaps it was his sense of responsibility, a quest to finish out the contract paying him a nice salary to finish out the year. Who would have thought the whole process began with an injury to a catcher allowing him to act as a substitute for the United States national team playing in a tournament in Taiwan. If that injury had never happened he would not have been on the Japan to Taiwan flight to meet Shu. If he had never meant Shu he would have had no motivation to learn Mandarin. If he had not learned Mandarin there would have been no reason for the Orioles to call him to catch Jason. He would probably still be scrounging around to be picked up on a minor league contract. His life would be so much different now.

The ride back to Florida was less joyous than their ride to Maryland. Jason was fast asleep, his head resting on a pillow against the window. He stayed in that condition until they passed Virginia. He had already seen this part of the country once. He didn’t need to see it again. One thing Kevin learned about Jason is he got bored easy. He needed challenges. If he knew he could get a hitter out with a fastball it was time to throw him the new changeup he had not yet fully developed. Kevin would insist on throwing him the fastball. “Get them out with your best stuff. Don’t mess around.”

By the time they left Virginia the sun was up and so was Jason. When he woke he heard the Taylor Swift CD blaring from the car speakers so he took out his tablet ear plugs and tucked them into his ears. His tablet had a wide variety of music he had downloaded. He bought this tablet on a shopping spree a couple days ago.

“We don’t have to listen to her if you want to listen to something else,” was Kevin’s apologetic response. When Kevin was in a somber mood he liked listening to Taylor Swift.

“That OK. I still need to decide on my pitcher music.”

Silence at this time was best for Kevin. For the drive back he didn’t feel much like talking. A lot of thoughts were rolling inside his head, thoughts of the past and the future unknown. He made a promise this would be his last year in baseball if he did not see any progress towards playing in the major leagues. It was time to be a normal person again with a normal job. No playing a boys game with a wife and kid waiting six months out of the year for him to come home. It just wasn’t worth the absence. Not unless he could get another paycheck like this one.

They drove in silence as they passed South of the Border. Jason was bouncing his head to the tunes he was listening to on his phone. His hands played the drums on the dashboard. Kevin could only hear the muffled baritone seeping from the speakers in his ears. He couldn’t remember how they ran across it but Jason liked the song Hell’s Bells by AC/DC for his pitcher music.

“It sounds like a bell that would ring every Sunday morning in a house near our neighborhood, very slow and somber. They don’t have a lot of churches in China, but after this bell would ring people from the neighborhood would slowly filter towards the house like it was a church.”

”That was Trevor Hoffman’s song every time he came out of the bullpen.”

“Who Trevor Hoffman?” Jason had asked in English.

“One of the best relief pitchers in baseball. A Hall of Famer, he had over 600 saves. Normally you try to select a song that is unique to you. You don’t select a song made famous by another, especially when that person is a Hall of Famer.”

“I Chinese. We copy everything. That my song.”

“Well, you need to find an alternative. Just in case they don’t allow you to play that one.” Jason was in the process of choosing some alternatives to listen to on the drive back. “Take your time and think about it. Remember, you want it to define who you are. Major league baseball may not allow you to use Hell’s Bells because of its close association to Trevor Hoffman”.

They arrived at the exit for Larry’s Giant Subs. Jason was not in the mood for a deli sandwich so he turned right to go inside the Chinese restaurant located next door. They agreed the first one to finish his meal would meet the other inside the restaurant. They both walked out the door at the same time, Kevin turning left and Jason turning right, almost bumping into each other.

“That was fast,” commented Kevin in English. “Must have been a buffet.”

It was when they merged back on to I-95 Kevin brought up the Yankees. He had been waiting for lunch to bring it up, but since they ate separately it had to be now, before Jason attached the phone plugs to his ears.

“What would you say if I told you that you have a chance to pitch against the Yankees?” Kevin asked him in Mandarin. Kevin had forgotten what day it was. Their conversation alternated between English and Mandarin depending on who spoke first.

Jason was cracking open a fortune cookie from the Chinese place. “Who are Yankees?” It was the same disinterested response he had gotten from Shu.

“They are the New York Yankees.” He sounded like a broken record, repeating his speech he had given Shu a couple weeks ago. “They are greatest team in baseball. Their hitters have ended the careers of many young pitchers.”

“And why do you bring this up?’

“Because on March thirteen you have to prepare yourself to pitch against the best team in baseball, the New York Yankees.”

“That nice,” he said in English, showing more interest in the paper he extracted from the fortune cookie than the New York Yankees. “It say ‘To achieve a future filled with wealth and fame you must first overcome a major obstacle’. Maybe that obstacle is Yankees.” He laughed.

Chris Smith Whiffs 15 Aces

Friday, December 28th, 2012

If you google the name Chris Smith you will find a couple names of players who had brief careers in the minor or major leagues.  Who you won’t find is the Chris Smith who is dominanting in the Australian Baseball League.  The Chris Smith who pitched his second complete game shutout, striking out a record breaking 15 Aces in a 4-0 win on Friday.  The 15 strikeouts broke the record held by Chris Oxspring, who had 14 strikeouts in a game.  The Chris Smith who has already won two pitcher of the week honors.  And finally, the same Chris Smith who now has three games in which he has struck out 10 or more hitters, the first two accomplishments coming in only seven innings of work.  Chris Smith is 3-3, 2.36 ERA in eight starts with 65 strikeouts in just 49 plus innings.  The opposition is hitting only .198 off him.

So where did this Chris Smith come from?    You can read about him here: http://www.theabl.com.au/news/article.jsp?ymd=20121023&content_id=39995904&vkey=news_t4065&fext=.jsp&sid=t4065.  He comes from Kentucky, pitching for Kentucky Wesleyan College.  Since graduating from college he has bounced around a couple Independent Leagues, even getting released from a couple teams.  Last year the 24 year old put it together playing in the Frontier League for the Washington Wild Things, going 9-6, 2.92 in 19 starts.  No major league team has drafted him or picked him up.  Yet.

Chris Smith did so well over the summer he wanted to continue pitching through the winter.  The Wild Things manager Sal Bando knew David Nilsson, the owner of the Brisbane Bandits and got him on the roster.  The Bandits are happy to have him.  Not a bad place to have an opportunity to play baseball in Australia.

Smith is not overpowering, throwing his fastball at 88-91.  He also has a curveball and changeup, but the slider is his strikeout pitch.  If Smith continues to strike out hitters at this pace some major league team might be willing to take a chance on him.

Escogido and Toros Surprise in Round Robin Openers

Friday, December 28th, 2012

As my world stated, winning games in the regular season is one thing, winning in the round robin is another.  The two teams with losing regular season records defeated the two teams with winning records during the opening round of the round robin yesterday.

The defending champion Escogido Leones rolled over Aguilas 8-2, accumulating 16 hits.  Mauro Gomez, Melky Mesa and Carlos Santana each tagged solo homers for Leones in the rout.  Mesa and the tempermental Jordany Valdespino each collected three hits in the victory, with Mesa getting a team leading three runs driven in.  Seven of the nine hitters collected at least two hits.

Edward Valdez got credit for the win, working seven innings.  He gave up only two unearned runs.  Lorenzo Barcello, who pitched well during the regular season got racked with the loss, giving up four runs on six hits in just two plus innings of work.

Toros del Este got seven innings of two hit shutout ball from Raul Valdes to lead them to a 3-1 win over Estrellas.  Valdes walked one and struck out seven in the win, facing the minimum number of batters after the first inning, when his struggles put two runners on with a single and a walk.  Junior Lake roped him for a single in the first and led off the fourth with a single but was wiped out by a double play.  Lake got the only two hits off Valdes.

Ricardo Nanita hit a solo homerun in the fifth to lead the offense.  Estrellas scored their only run when Felix Pie launched a solo shot in the ninth for Estrellas.

2013 Hot Stove - Cubs

Friday, December 28th, 2012

Overall Assessment: Unfortunately, the Cubs are still going through their rebuilding process, though Theo Epstein does not like to use that word.  They have a couple keepers in Anthony Rizzo and Starling Castro, but after that their lineup gets kind of stale.  They tried to get some value for Bryan LaHair but finally sold him to the Softbank Hawks of Japan.  The Astros have bolted from the division for the American League West so there is probably nothing to prevent them from finishing at the bottom of this division.

Hot Stove Season: They have been quite active in Japan building their bullpen.  They signed from Japan as free agents closer Kyuji Fujikawa and used to be closer from Korea via Japan Chang Yong Lim.  If the Cubs can trade Carlos Marmol, Fujikawa will slide into the closers role.  Lim will not be ready until mid season as he missed most of 2012 because of Tommy John elbow surgery.  They also claimed Hector Rondon in the Rule V draft and hope he can make the team coming out of the bullpen.  Most of their domestic free agent signings have not amounted to much.  Nate Schierholtz was signed and he will compete for a barren outfield post.  Ideally he would be best suited as a fourth outfielder type.  Ian Stewart was resigned for third base after Josh Vitters failed miserably in his major league debut last year.

Strengths: The bullpen looks strong provided they don’t trade Carlos Marmol.  With Fujikawa they have a good closer/setup role.  They would like to have Rafael Dolis harness his control to have his overpowering stuff fit in the bullpen.  Even without him they have workhorses Shawn Camp and James Russell who can provide innings.  They could use another lefthander besides Russell, but most of their possibilities were picked up on waivers or through minor free agent signings  Anthony Rizzo will see what he can do in his first full season.  In a little more than half a season he hit 15 homeruns and drove in 48 runs.  As a young bat Starlin Castro is an impressive offensive player for shortstop, but he still makes too many mental mistakes to be considered polished defensively.

Weakness: Their outfield is unknown.  They’d like to trade their most productive hitter Alfonso Soriano, but have no takers willing to provide any value for him.  The outfield is filled with borderline starters who fit a team expected to fall in the bottom of the standings.  The combined average for Ian Stewart and Josh Vitters at third base was .173.  The starting pitching is filled with question marks after Matt Garza, but even he has lost the number one starter luster he had when the Cubs paid some impressive prospects for him.

Top Position Prospect: Their top position prospects play the same position as Starlin Castro, so the Cubs have some decisions to make.  Javier Baez  and Junior Lake could both move to third and one will probably anchor a trade offer.  Javier is considered to have the better defensive tools and a stronger bat but Junior is ahead of him in the organization.

Top Pitching Prospect: The Cubs don’t have a lot of strong choices here.  They spent a lot of money on Cuban Gerard Concepcion, but he bombed in his first season and the Cubs removed him from the 40 man roster.  They traded for former Diamondback number one pick Barret Loux whose contract was made null and void and he was released.  The Rangers signed him, he went 14-1 in AA and they traded him to the Cubs for almost nothing.  Myworld will have to go with twice traded Arodys Vizcaino, who was shutdown for Tommy John surgery to end his 2012 season without an appearance.

Watch out for: Jorge Soler.  This will be his first complete year in the United States.  He comes advertised with a lot of pop so time will tell.  If he meets expectations he could jump forward to the top position prospect.

Rookie of the Year Prospect: Brett Jackson had more than 130 at bats so he does not qualify and I believe Vizcaino had more than 45 days on the major league roster, even though he meets the innings requirement.  Though he is considered a rookie Kyuji Fujikawa will use his NPB experience to compete for the rookie of the year award.  To have any chance he needs to settle into the closer role.

Projected on Paper Finish: Last in the NL Central.  Theo still has a lot of work to do.

Press Conference (cont - 4)

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

It was fascinating for Kevin to watch the precision Jason went through in accomplishing his every day activities in life. There were no wasted motions or precious seconds clicked off the clock without him making some movement important to his quest in accomplishing the task at hand. Making oatmeal was one of those tasks.

Every morning he came down to the kitchen to make his instant oatmeal. His first action was to grab the same cup he used every day to fill it half full with water. When the cup was filled to his specifications he put it into the micro wave, pushed the button for one minute. During that one minute he grabbed the same bowl he used every morning, went to the pantry to get the box of instant oatmeal, took out two packages from the box, opened them, poured them into the bowl, opened the refrigerator to bring out the blueberries at the precise time when the ring of the microwave told him his water was ready. He went to the microwave, opened it, poured the hot water into the bowl, topped it with the blueberries and by the time he returned from putting the box of oatmeal packages back to the pantry and the blueberries back into the refrigerator the one minute had elapsed for the heated water to soak into the oatmeal. Kevin watched him in awe as he glided through the kitchen. Not once did he ever notice a pause in his actions or a change in his process. It was just like his windup. Every movement had a purpose. Every second had a meaning. There were no wasted motions.

It seemed unfair they had to leave for spring training on Valentine day. Whoever required the reporting date to be February 15 was not married or lacked the intimacy of a relationship. Kevin and Shu celebrated it a day early while Jason and Shu’s mother baby sat Jasmine.

At the dinner Shu broke the news to him she was thinking of going back to work at the airlines part time. Thinking about it for Shu normally meant the process had already been put in motion. Kevin hoped she was going back to work because she wanted to and not because she felt it as an obligation. He still didn’t know where he would be assigned this year, but if it was the Orioles minor league teams in Frederick or Bowie he could commute to work. If she worked part time he would hardly see her.

“You don’t have to go to work if you don’t want to. I’m making enough money now.”

“That money only good for this year. You confident you make same money next year.”

Kevin was pretty confident he would not be making the same amount of money next year. He felt it best not to answer that question. “Can’t you wait until April, until I get assigned to a team before making a decision? If I get assigned to Bowie I could commute to the ballpark from the house, but if you’re working you’ll be gone during the day and I’ll be playing ball during the evening.”

“Work will be in afternoon. You be gone to ballpark by then. We still see each other in morning. Besides, we have nice house with big mortgage and we need extra money for Jasmine to go to good school.”

That is when Kevin recognized he no longer had Shu to himself. Her decisions would be made based on what was good for both him and Jasmine. He yielded on the discussion.

When Jason finished his oatmeal they began packing the car. As they packed the car for the early morning drive Kevin felt as if he was a tree whose roots were being pulled out from under him. Only he was the one doing the pulling as he walked to the car, each step a burden to make. The sun had still not shown its face. It did not seem right to be leaving so early. Everyone else in the neighborhood was still asleep.

Shu and her mother waved as the car pulled out of the driveway. It seemed like yesterday when Kevin pulled into the driveway one week ago. Shu still looked radiant in the morning hours, the porch light shining on her angelic mystical figure adorned in a simple robe, with little makeup on her face and eyes lacking sleep. She couldn’t stop shedding tears as the car pulled out of the driveway. She lifted Jasmine up and moved her little stubby arms to wave bye bye. Jasmine began to cry. At that point Kevin wanted to stop the car and cancel the drive to Florida. Jason could fly back and he would announce his retirement.

Dominican Round Robin Playoffs Begin

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

It kind of snuck up on me.  Defending champion Escogido Leones and the Toros Este snuck into the round robin event with the only two teams who played over .500, Cibaenas Aguilas and Oriente Estrallas.  It will be interesting to see how competetive these round robins are.  Sometimes, how a team finishes during the regular season has no bearing once the round robin begins.

Since the season has ended myworld lists some of the leauge leaders plus our All Dominican Winter League team.

Batting Leader: Jean Segura (Gigantes) .324

Homerun Leader: Juan Francisco (Licey) and Marcell Ozuna (Gigantes) 9

RBIs: Mauro Gomez (Escogido) 38

Stolen Bases: Eugenio Velez (Toros) 20

On Base Plus Slugging: Juan Francisco (Licey) .944

ERA: Daniel Cabrera (Escogido) 2.16

Wins: Daniel Cabrera (Escogido) and Tony Pena Jr (Aguilas) 5

Strikeouts: Fabio Castro (Gigantes) and Jose de Paula (Gigantes) 42

Saves: Jairo Asencio (Toros) 12

It is interesting to note the only two teams to have a record over .500 had only one player (Pena) leading in the above categories.  If you looked at the league leader list you would have thought Gigantes was the best team, but they didn’t even make the playoffs.

Myworld’s All Dominican Team

Catcher: Francisco Pena (Aguilas) .271, 3, 21

First Base: Mauro Gomez (Escogido) .242, 8, 38

Second Base: Anderson Hernandez (Licey) .295, 1, 22

Shortstop: Junior Lake (Estrellas) .313, 5, 24

Third Base: Juan Francisco (Licey) .307, 9, 29

Outfield: Oscar Taveras (Aguilas) .316, 5, 17

Outfield: Marcell Ozuna (Gigantes) .236, 9, 27

Outfield: Moises Sierra (Gigantes) .268, 6, 21

Designated Hitter: Hector Luna (Aguilas) .303, 7, 25

Utility: Jean Segura (Gigantes) .324, 2, 21

Starting Pitcher: Daniel Cabrera (Escogido) 5-0, 2.16

Starting Pitcher: Lorenzo Barcelo (Aguilas) 4-2, 2.63

Starting Pitcher: Fabio Castro (Gigantes) 0-1, 2.38

Starting Pitcher: Anuery Rodriguez (Toros) 3-1, 3.38

Closer: Jairo Asencio (Toros) 0-2, 2.67, 12 saves

Setup: Johan Yan (Aguilas) 1-0, 1.53, 4 saves

Bullpen: Tony Pena Jr (Aguilas) 5-0, 2.28, 1 save

Bullpen: Jerry Gil (Estrellas) 2-0, 1.52, 8 saves

Bullpen: Rommie Lewis (Estrellas) 4-0, 1.23, 5 saves

Choi Providing Some Bite in Australia

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

Another hot hitter is swinging the bat in Australia.  He is a Mariner propspect Ji-Man Choi, signed as an after thought in Korea when he was catching a pitcher (Seon Gi Kim) the Mariners liked.  They liked the look of Ji-Man Choi so they signed them both.

Choi had a phenomenal season in his first year with the Mariners in 2010 hitting .378.  Back problems surfaced in 2011 and he didn’t play a game.  In 2012 they discovered a broken bone in his back.  He healed enough to play 66 games in 2012, hitting .298 with 8 homeruns and 43 RBIs.  Those would be great numbers for a catcher, but because of his back issues he moved to DH and first base.

The Mariners sent him to Australia to get some at bats.  Not a bad place to go to play baseball.  Anytime the Mariners want to send me to Australia to play baseball I would not object.  In Choi’s first 15 games with the Adelaide Bite he hit a decent .302, but he had yet to hit a homerun and he had only driven in seven runs, not the kind of production you want to see from your DH/firstbaseman.

Choi is on fire now.  In his last two games he has hit homeruns and driven in five runs.  In his last six games he is hitting .429 with five homeruns and ten RBIs.  In those 21 at bats he has only struck out four times, excellent for a power hitter.  He now leads the Bite in average (.338), RBIs (17) and is second in homeruns (5).

The Bite continue to fight for that last playoff spot in the ABL.  They are four games back of the leaders at 13-14, but only a half game from fifth, which would not get them into the playoffs.  They will need Choi’s bat to continue to stay hot if they want to continue their hopes for a playoff run.

2013 Hot Stove - Cardinals

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

It looked like a white day after Christmas and then the snow turned to ice, which turned to rain, a recipe for sludge as it all mixed on the ground.  Not a pretty sight.  Makes me long for February when spring training begins.

Overall Assessment: Still making the playoffs after losing Albert Pujols to free agency and Chris Carpenter to injury is a pretty nice accomplishment.  They also broke the hearts of Nationals fans continuing their cardiac adventures they started last year in the playoffs, coming back from a 6-0 deficit in game five to win the playoff series.  They got a taste of their own medicine against the Giants, the eventual World Series winner.  They enter 2013 in pretty good shape, possibly losing only Kyle Lohse to free agency.  He still has not signed with a team yet, but Chris Carpenter’s return to the rotation is more than enough to replace him.

Hot Stove Season: There has been little movement here.  They signed Randy Choate as a free agent to bring a reliever to the left side.  They traded excess Skip Schumaker to the Los Angeles Dodgers for shortstop Jake Lemmerman.  His best hope is to make the team as a utilty player.  They also signed Ty Wigginton, but he is only fon the roster for depth at the corner infield positions.  He will also be used as a pinchhitter.

Strength: They got some strong bats at the corner outfield and infield positions.  Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran, Allen Craig and David Freese are a formidable presence in the middle of any lineup.  There are no gold glovers here, but they won’t hurt you.  Their best player is behind the plate.  Once Yadier Molina added offense to his game he became one of the better catchers in the National League.  Buster Posey may still beat him with the bat but Yadier beats him with the glove.  They have two big time starters for their rotation in Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter and myworld was impressed with the heat thrown by youngsters Trevor Rosenthal and Joe Kelly.  They pitched out of the bullpen for the Cardinals but were effective starters in the minors.  We still are not sold on Shelby Miller.

Weakness: Daniel Descalso played well in the playoffs but the Cardinals will not be patient with a .220 average.  He has been given the second base job before and lost it.  Kolten Wong will take over the position if that happens and Descalso will return to his utility role.  The Cardinals may experience some growing pains with Kolten.  Even with the return of Rafael Furcal shortstop may still be a hole.  Furcal’s skills have dropped from what they were and he has had some issues staying healthy.  Don’t expect Pete Kozma to hit .333 over a full season.  Up the middle except for catching just doesn’t impress and that is where teams normally win championships.  The Cardinals have been having success doing it with strong corners with big bats.  They may need the depth in their young pitchers to take over for the third through fifth spots in the starting rotation, but the bullpen will bring the heat if not asked to fill any of the starting roles.

Top Position Prospect: Oscar Taveras will be rated as one of the top five prospects in the minor leagues.  He hits for average and power.  If he was a natural center fielder his ascent to the majors would be quicker, but he does not have the speed to play center.  An injury to Beltran or Holliday will give him an opportunity.

Top Pitching Prospect: Carlos Martinez.  Like many of the Cardinal pitchers ahead of him he throws hard, hitting the mid to upper 90s as a starting pitcher.  He will probably appear on many top 100 prospect lists.  You can count the starting pitchers who throw harder than him on one hand.  The only concern with him is for a player his size (6′0″, 160) who throws as hard as he does is his durability.  If he breaks down the Cardinals may decide his best use is in the bullpen.

Watch out for: Most people already know about Trevor Rosenthal.  His three digit fastball blew me away.  So our choice here will be the Cardinals number one pick in 2012, James Ramsey.  He only hit .229 last year in his debut but he has the potential to be a fast riser.  And he has the speed where he could play centerfield.

Rookie of the Year Prospect: We like Kolten Wong’s ability to win the second base job.  We think Trevor Rosenthal will be stuck in the bullpen, not a good area for rookie of the year possibilities.  If Trevor finds his way in the starting rotation he would pull ahead of Kolten.

Projected on Paper Finish: The Cardinals will just miss out making the playoffs even though they will finish second in the NL Central.  The Giants and Braves will win the wild card spots.