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15 phenoms ready to make the leap

Some of the game's superstars of the future will debut this season
MLB.com @RichardJustice

At some point this season, the Washington Nationals are going to pencil center fielder Victor Robles in their lineup and leave him there. This will be an important moment for the franchise, because Robles could be one of those special players that comes once a generation or so.

(Considering the Nationals already have one of those players in Bryce Harper, it happens more than once a generation for some franchises.)

At some point this season, the Washington Nationals are going to pencil center fielder Victor Robles in their lineup and leave him there. This will be an important moment for the franchise, because Robles could be one of those special players that comes once a generation or so.

(Considering the Nationals already have one of those players in Bryce Harper, it happens more than once a generation for some franchises.)

Robles can win games with his bat, glove, legs and arm. He has speed that dazzles and a confidence that's infectious. Did we mention that Robles is just 20 years old? Or that he has played only a handful of games above Class A ball?

Doesn't seem to matter anymore, does it? Robles may eventually be the poster boy for an entire franchise or maybe even a generation of players. For now, though, he's simply part of the next wave of young talent that has reshaped Major League Baseball.

Video: Top Prospects: Victor Robles, OF, Nationals

Once upon a time, teams were timid about pushing young players through their system. They relied more on timetables than talent.

Maybe things began to change in 2012, when the Nationals called up Harper and made him an everyday player at 19. He hit .270 that first season and had some good times and some not so good.

But there was never a moment when Harper looked overmatched on his way to making the National League All-Star team five times in six seasons and winning the NL MVP Award in 2015.

Around that time, other teams began to tear up the old player development formulas. They pushed their best prospects, challenged them, trusted their talent more than their age.

Yes, there's an economic component to all of this given that young players are cheaper and controllable for at least six seasons.

Since then, everything has changed. Last season, the All-Star Game had seven players 23 or younger, including 21-year-old Dodgers first baseman Cody Bellinger.

Almost half the 2017 All-Stars (33) were 27 or younger. Overall last season, MLB had 35 position players and 26 pitchers who were 22 years old or younger.

Which brings us to the threshold of another Spring Training, and an opportunity for all 30 teams to get a look at their best prospects. With that in mind, here are 15 to keep an eye on. Among them, all but three (Ozzie Albies, Rafael Devers and Yoan Moncada) still have rookie eligibility and ended last season on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list. And they'll almost certainly find themselves on the 2018 Top 100 list that will be revealed on MLB Network on Saturday, Jan. 27 at 8 p.m. ET.

Video: Robles hoping to build on breakthrough 2017 campaign

Victor Robles, CF, Nationals
Age: 20
2017: .875 OPS, 10 homers, eight triples, 27 steals at Class A/Double-A
The Nationals' outfield is set with Harper, Michael A. Taylor and Adam Eaton, so Robles almost certainly will open the season in the Minors. Harper's impending free agency could open a spot in 2019, but Robles appears to be ready now.

Video: HOU@TEX: Calhoun launches his first career home run

Willie Calhoun, LF, Rangers
Age: 23
2017: .927 OPS, six triples, 31 homers at Triple-A
Calhoun brings speed and power to the table. With him in left and 22-year-old Nomar Mazara in right, the Rangers seem set at the corner outfield spots for the foreseeable future.

Video: Top Prospects: Gleyber Torres, SS, Yankees

Gleyber Torres, 3B/2B, Yankees
Age: 21
2017: .863 OPS at Double-A/Triple-A
The Yankees could have dominated this list with infielder Miguel Andujar and pitchers Chance Adams and Justus Sheffield all expected to play this season. But Torres is the crown jewel of the Yans' farm system, and he will be one of the most watched players in Spring Training.

Video: Must C Classic: Albies homers for first career hit

Ozzie Albies, 2B, Braves
Age: 21
2017: .810 OPS in 244 MLB plate appearances.
Albies did not disappoint in 57 games for the Braves last season, and he is one of the reasons Atlanta's future is so bright. (And, of course, there is also Ronald Acuna, Albies' teammates in Atlanta. He might be the most hyped youngster in baseball this side of Shohei Ohtani and doesn't need much more pub from me.)

Video: Must C Combo: Devers crushes two solo home runs

Rafael Devers, 3B, Red Sox
Age: 21
2017: .819 OPS in 240 MLB plate appearances
The Red Sox shopped for a veteran third baseman before becoming convinced Devers was their best option. He debuted at 20 in July and did almost everything well.

Video: CWS@KC: Moncada clears the bases with triple

Yoan Moncada, 2B, White Sox
Age: 22
2017: .750 OPS, eight homers in 231 MLB plate appearances
Moncada struggled some in 54 games, but his skillset and Minor League resume are so solid that he's almost certain to be a cornerstone for the South Siders' rebuild.

Video: Flaherty named Cardinals' Pipeline Pitcher of 2017

Jack Flaherty, RHP, Cardinals
Age: 22
2017: 8.9 K/9, 1.043 WHIP at Double-A/Triple-A
Flaherty has gotten consistently better during 72 Minor League starts, and he has developable four other serviceable pitches to go with a 95-mph fastball. The Cardinals have smartly resisted any temptation to deal him for a closer or third baseman.

Video: Top Prospects: A.J. Puk, LHP, Athletics

A.J. Puk, LHP, A's
Age: 22
2017: 13.2 K/9, 1.248 WHIP at Class A/Double-A
Puk made 13 starts at Double-A last season, and he is on the fast track to make his Oakland debut sometime this season. The A's are getting better quickly, and Puk is one of the reasons.

Video: COL@LAD: Buehler tosses two shutout innings in debut

Walker Buehler, RHP, Dodgers
Age: 23
2017: 12.7 K/9, 1.11 WHIP at Class A/Double-A/Triple-A
Buehler's Twitter handle is @buehlersdayoff, and please don't tell me you have to look it up. He has three power pitches and will have his workload carefully monitored after throwing 98 innings last season in his return from Tommy John surgery.

Video: Top Prospects: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B, Blue Jays

Vladimir Guerrero Jr., INF, and Bo Bichette, INF, Blue Jays
Age: Guerrero is 18, Bichette is 19
2017: Guerrero .910 OPS at Class A; Bichette .988 OPS at Class A
Neither is likely to play in the Majors this season, although stranger things have happened. Instead, they're two reasons Blue Jays fans should be optimistic about the future.

Video: Top Prospects: Jorge Alfaro, C, Phillies

Jorge Alfaro, C, Phillies
Age: 24
2017: .874 OPS in 114 MLB plate appearances
Alfaro was the cornerstone of the trade that sent Cole Hamels to the Rangers, and he is part of the foundation the Phillies are constructing. Power arm and power bat.

Video: Honeywell's potential impact in 2018

Brent Honeywell, RHP, Rays
Age: 22
2017: 11.3 K/9, 1.24 WHIP at Double-A/Triple-A
Honeywell's fastball touches 95 mph at times, and he has four other big league-ready pitches. But it's his changeup -- a screwball -- that generates a high number of swings and misses.

Video: Top Prospects: Kyle Tucker, OF, Astros

Forrest Whitley, RHP, and Kyle Tucker, OF, Astros
Age: Whitley 20, Tucker 21
2017: Whitley 13.9 K/9 at Class A/Double-A; Tucker .874 OPS, 25 HR at Class A/Double-A
GM Jeff Luhnow made both of these guys untouchable, and Houston could get nice contributions from both in 2018. Neither will open the season in the big leagues, but both give the Astros nice depth.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.

 

Why is Martinez's big bat still out there?

MLB.com @feinsand

In a season marked by a surge in home runs, nobody other than Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge hit more of them than J.D. Martinez.

The outfielder hit 45 overall, including 29 for the D-backs to help Arizona get to the postseason for the first time since 2011, all while leading the Majors with a .690 slugging percentage (yes, higher than Judge and Stanton). Martinez was as big a difference-maker as any player acquired last summer -- so why does there seem to be such a small market for his services this offseason?

In a season marked by a surge in home runs, nobody other than Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge hit more of them than J.D. Martinez.

The outfielder hit 45 overall, including 29 for the D-backs to help Arizona get to the postseason for the first time since 2011, all while leading the Majors with a .690 slugging percentage (yes, higher than Judge and Stanton). Martinez was as big a difference-maker as any player acquired last summer -- so why does there seem to be such a small market for his services this offseason?

"The Phillies jumped to sign Carlos Santana, moving their best prospect [Rhys Hoskins] from first base to left field," one industry source said. "If you gave me a choice, I would take Martinez over Santana any day. So why is he still out there? The price point is the difference."

Hot Stove Tracker

Early in the offseason, word circulated that Martinez was seeking a $200 million deal. Did that number scare prospective teams away?

The Red Sox have seemed like the natural fit for Martinez all along; Boston, which ranked 27th in the Majors with 168 homers last season, needs a slugger in the middle of the lineup, and it can slot him into its designated-hitter spot with relative ease.

The two sides have been dancing the dance for two months, but when Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski re-signed first baseman Mitch Moreland on Dec. 18, it was Boston's way of telling agent Scott Boras that while the Sox may want Martinez, they won't be bullied into giving him more than they feel he's worth.

Video: Red Sox have stability but still seek helpful bat

Boras, of course, has never been one to be bullied himself, so it's unlikely that he will allow Martinez to ink what he feels to be a below-market deal. So what is a fair-market deal in a market that has been colder than a Northeastern winter?

A report surfaced Wednesday that the Red Sox's offer stood at five years and $100 million, though a source told MLB.com the figures were "not accurate" -- an assertion echoed by Boras, who said the same to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman.

Video: Rosenthal talks Red Sox making offer to J.D. Martinez

The inaccurate portion is unknown -- is it the years, the dollars or both? -- but Martinez is said to be seeking a deal of at least six years. While the $200 million number was thrown around early in the offseason, that seems far-fetched given the way the market has developed -- or not developed, as the case may be.

"If you're Boras, J.D. and the Red Sox, there has to be some creativity involved to get a deal done," the industry source said. "They're a perfect match. They're really the only match."

Martinez's offense is not in question; as noted, his .690 slugging percentage was the highest in the Majors last season, and he's averaged a .936 OPS during the past four seasons. There isn't a team in the game that wouldn't be better with Martinez hitting somewhere in the middle of the lineup.

Video: SF@ARI: Martinez slams 45th homer in 9th off Dyson

That's not to say that Martinez doesn't come with some question marks, most notably his defense and durability. He has played more than 123 games only once in his career, when he appeared in 158 in 2015.

The defense could be a bigger issue, however. It seems that clubs are concerned that Martinez could be a liability in the outfield in the latter stages of a long-term deal, something that would certainly be an issue for National League teams.

So if Martinez's market is cut in half to 15 American League teams, and several of those teams are either in rebuilding mode, are not in financial position to hand out a nine-figure contract or have no apparent need for a power-hitting right fielder/DH, that leaves a limited market for the 30-year-old's services.

The Orioles and Blue Jays could certainly use Martinez, though neither seems prepared to pay the price. The same goes for the Rangers, who would be more likely to use big free-agent dollars to bring back Yu Darvish rather than adding Martinez.

The Angels? They've already added Justin Upton, Zack Cozart, Ian Kinsler and Shohei Ohtani. The Mariners? They have Nelson Cruz penciled in as their DH, and they are prioritizing defense. The Astros? Martinez would be a luxury item for the defending World Series champs, whose lineup already seems set.

Boras and Martinez could also wait out the market, figuring a Spring Training injury might open a spot on a contending team the way it happened for Prince Fielder -- another Boras client -- when he signed a nine-year, $214 million deal with the Tigers in late January 2012 after Victor Martinez tore his ACL.

Video: J.D. willing to wait for contract of his liking

Boston and Arizona remain the most logical landing spots, though the D-backs haven't been able to move Zack Greinke's contract, and they are likely watching their payroll closely with the knowledge that Paul Goldschmidt will be a free agent after 2019. Arizona might be lying in the weeds, hoping things fall apart with Boston and Martinez comes back to the desert at a reduced rate.

The reported five-year, $100 million offer seems light when you consider some recent notable comparisons. Josh Hamilton got five years and $125 million (an AAV of $25 million) from the Angels before the 2013 season, while Yoenis Cespedes got $110 million over four years ($27.5 million AAV) from the Mets prior to last season.

Video: Ghiroli discusses J.D. Martinez's value with Alexa

Perhaps a five-year, $125 million contract with an opt-out clause after two years is the answer, giving Martinez an opportunity to become a free agent after the 2019 season if he continues to mash over the next two seasons.

This much we know: Martinez should be hitting fourth for somebody by the time the season opens in late-March. Whether it's the Red Sox, the D-backs or some other team may not be known for a few more weeks.

Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001.

 

J.D. Martinez

McKay, McMahon pace Top 10 1B Prospects list

MLB.com @JonathanMayo

It's time to move around the infield with MLB Pipeline's Top 10 by position lists, starting with first basemen. It's a position that has a certain profile associated with it, involving power and run production. Some on this list look the part already, others are more hit-over-power right now, with perhaps the need to show more extra-base ability to match that description.

It's quite a different list than a year ago, thanks largely to the 2017 Draft. Four of the top five on this year's list were taken in the first round, starting with the top spot. The Rays took Brendan McKay with the No. 4 overall pick in the Draft and while he's going to both hit and pitch in 2018, many see a permanent move to the infield in the future. Pavin Smith was also a top 10 pick, going No. 7 to the D-backs while Nick Pratto (Royals, No. 14) and Evan White (Mariners, No. 17) went in the teens. Pratto is the lone high schooler from that quartet.

It's time to move around the infield with MLB Pipeline's Top 10 by position lists, starting with first basemen. It's a position that has a certain profile associated with it, involving power and run production. Some on this list look the part already, others are more hit-over-power right now, with perhaps the need to show more extra-base ability to match that description.

It's quite a different list than a year ago, thanks largely to the 2017 Draft. Four of the top five on this year's list were taken in the first round, starting with the top spot. The Rays took Brendan McKay with the No. 4 overall pick in the Draft and while he's going to both hit and pitch in 2018, many see a permanent move to the infield in the future. Pavin Smith was also a top 10 pick, going No. 7 to the D-backs while Nick Pratto (Royals, No. 14) and Evan White (Mariners, No. 17) went in the teens. Pratto is the lone high schooler from that quartet.

:: Top 10 Prospects by Position ::

The Top 10
1. Brendan McKay, Rays More »
2. Ryan McMahon, Rockies More »
3. Pavin Smith, D-backs More »
4. Nick Pratto, Royals More »
5. Evan White, Mariners More »
6. Bobby Bradley, Indians More »
7. Peter Alonso, Mets More »
8. Ronald Guzman, Rangers More »
9. Lewin Diaz, Twins More »
10. Matt Thaiss, Angels More »

Top tools

Hit: 60 - McKay, Smith
Both were called the best advanced college hitters in the 2017 Draft class by different scouts. Smith gets the slight pure hit tool edge mostly because of his plate discipline after walking more than he struck out in three years at Virginia and continuing that pattern during his pro debut (27 walks, 24 K's last summer).

Video: Top Prospects: Brendan McKay, 1B, Rays

Power: 60 - Bradley
The Indians' prospect has as much, if not more, raw power than anyone on this list and he's tapped into it consistently as he's moved up the ladder, as evidenced by his .499 career slugging percentage and an average of more than 26 homers per year in each of his first three full seasons of pro ball.

Video: Top Prospects: Bobby Bradley, 1B, Indians

Run: 60 - White
You don't see many above-average or plus run grades from this position, but White isn't your typical first baseman. He's athletic enough to play the outfield well, which did he for the U.S. National Collegiate Team.

Arm: 60 - McKay
The guy's on the Top 10 LHP Prospect list after all, so this is a no-brainer. He's 92-95 mph off the mound and the arm works well in the infield.

Field: 70 - White
Here's the reason why the Mariners will let him develop at first rather than in the outfield. He has the defensive chops to be a Gold Glove-caliber player at the infield corner position in the future.

Video: Top Prospects: Evan White, 1B, Mariners

Highest Ceiling - McKay
He's tied for the highest hit tool AND has a 50 power grade, with a very, very good chance of reaching, if not surpassing, that in terms of production. And if he starts focusing only on hitting eventually? Look out.

Highest floor - Smith
With such an advanced approach at the plate, the combination of pure hitting ability, low strikeout rate and high walk rate, few doubt Smith will hit his way up to the big leagues. Just how much the power shows up will ultimately determine his ceiling.

Video: Top Prospects: Pavin Smith, 1B, D-backs

Rookie of the Year candidate - McMahon
None of the others on this list are likely to see time in the big leagues to compete for top rookie honors. McMahon is ready to hit in Coors field full-time, even if he has to move around the infield a bit to get at-bats for the time being.

Video: Top Prospecst: Ryan McMahon, 1B, Rockies

Highest riser - Alonso
Alonso entered his first full season of pro ball nowhere near the Top 10 first basemen list, even though he had hit very well during his summer debut following his second-round selection by the Mets out of the University of Florida. But then he showed that wasn't an aberration and hit his way to Double-A, with very solid hit and power tools showing up.

Video: Top Prospects: Peter Alonso, 1B, Mets

Humblest beginnings - Bradley
Five of the 10 on this list are former first-round picks, but the Indians got Bradley in the third round of the 2014 Draft. He did get an above pick value bonus to sign, but he's moved gradually, one station at a time, through the Indians system to be knocking on the door now.

Most to prove - Thaiss
The 2016 first-round pick out of Virginia did make it to Double-A in his first full season, fulfilling the scouting report as an advanced college bat with 77 walks and a .375 OBP. But he will eventually have to prove that he has extra-base pop (he slugged .395) to fit the everyday first base profile in the big leagues.

Video: Top Prospects: Matt Thaiss, 1B, Angels

Keep an eye on - Gavin Sheets, White Sox
Chicago nabbed Sheets in the second round of last June's Draft after he topped the ACC with 21 homers and 84 RBIs in his junior season at Wake Forest. Larry Sheets' kid had a solid pro debut, mostly with full-season Kannapolis, and has the offensive tools to hit for average and power.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

 

After strong rookie year, Benintendi eyes more

Left fielder thinks experience will help him keep improving
MLB.com @IanMBrowne

BOSTON -- Red Sox left fielder Andrew Benintendi turned heads at Thursday's Boston Baseball Writers Dinner with strikingly shorter hair. Benintendi also plans on making something else a lot shorter in 2018 -- his slumps.

Although Benintendi collected the Red Sox Rookie of the Year Award on Thursday as voted on by the Boston chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, he doesn't think he was good enough.

BOSTON -- Red Sox left fielder Andrew Benintendi turned heads at Thursday's Boston Baseball Writers Dinner with strikingly shorter hair. Benintendi also plans on making something else a lot shorter in 2018 -- his slumps.

Although Benintendi collected the Red Sox Rookie of the Year Award on Thursday as voted on by the Boston chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, he doesn't think he was good enough.

Many rookies would love to have 20 homers, 90 RBIs and 20 stolen bases. But Benintendi scoffs at some of his other numbers, such as a .271 batting average, 84 runs and 26 doubles.

"I think I'm a better hitter than what I showed last year," Benintendi said. "There were too many slumps. More valleys than peaks, it seemed like -- just being inconsistent. I feel like every other month, it was a bad month. [I'm] just trying to even that up, and I think I'm going to be a lot better hitter overall."

Benintendi is demanding more of himself, and he doesn't think being a rookie was an excuse for being inconsistent.

"That's not the issue. I've just got to be better," Benintendi said.

There's no question, however, that a year of knowledge under his belt should position Benintendi for improvement.

"Going into this year, I'll have faced a lot of the guys before now, so I can go back, watch film, see how they pitched me and try to make adjustments," said Benintendi. "I know what to expect going into Spring Training, kind of how everything works. I know all the guys, and I know how to prepare for a full season. [I'm] just kind of looking forward to being down there, getting started."

Manager Alex Cora is excited about the type of damage Benintendi can do in the lineup, hitting behind leadoff man Mookie Betts.

Big Hot Stove move or not, Cora confident

"He's a good player. Stronger than I expected and put together," said Cora. "The way he runs the bases, the way he hits the ball out of the ballpark, it's impressive. He's a good player, and I think that the spots where we're going to use him and how we're going to use him, he's going to improve."

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

 

Boston Red Sox, Andrew Benintendi

Gallo: Harper 'as focused as I've ever seen him'

Rangers infielder, Nats right fielder working out together in offseason
MLB.com @JamalCollier

WASHINGTON -- Rangers infielder Joey Gallo has been working out with Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper regularly for the past three or four years in their hometown of Las Vegas, Nev. They played travel ball together and grew up together along with Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant.

As Gallo has trained with Harper this winter, he has noticed something in him.

WASHINGTON -- Rangers infielder Joey Gallo has been working out with Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper regularly for the past three or four years in their hometown of Las Vegas, Nev. They played travel ball together and grew up together along with Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant.

As Gallo has trained with Harper this winter, he has noticed something in him.

"At the workouts, he's as focused as I've ever seen him," Gallo said Thursday on MLB Network Radio. "He always is, but I mean, he's going through those workouts like nothing now. He's really focused, he's hitting and just the way he's talking, you can tell he's really prepared."

It's a fact that could be cause for intimidation in opposing National League pitchers. Harper altered his training programs a year ago, and he added 15 pounds of muscle before Spring Training. The results were easy to spot, as he spent the spring mashing homers. During the season, he quickly returned to form as a candidate for the National League Most Valuable Player Award before his season was interrupted by a hyperextended left knee. In 111 games, Harper posted a 1.008 OPS with 29 home runs and 4.7 Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball Reference.

Video: CHC@WSH Gm2: Harper rips game-tying homer HR 421 feet

Yet perhaps Harper is motivated to reach another level in 2018, in what is set to be the final season on his contract with the Nationals. His pending free agency has already been anticipated for years, especially if he can add to his already impressive resume of five All-Star Games, a National League Rookie of the Year Award in '12 and the NL MVP award in '15 -- all before his 25th birthday this past October.

Gallo believes Harper's motivation is in part tied to getting injured last season, which halted a bid for perhaps another NL MVP Award. To what extent the knee injury or time off hampered Harper in the postseason is still unknown, but Harper posted just a .725 OPS in five games during the NL Division Series vs. the Cubs.

"I think what was tough for him was missing time last year with that injury," Gallo said. "Obviously, he didn't put up the numbers and they didn't win the amount of games that they wanted to win [in the postseason], and that was tough for him."

Whenever he has the chance, Gallo has been sure to point out that he actually hit more homers (41) than Harper (29) last season, regardless of Gallo's edge in games played. Gallo is sure to have his fun now, because he has seen the voracity with which Harper has worked out this offseason.

"He's just a competitor," Gallo said. "I think, this year, I've never seen him as focused and as ready to play as I have, and I've trained with him [for] 3-4 years, so I'm really excited to see what he brings to the table this year."

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

 

Washington Nationals, Bryce Harper

Mariners female scout Hopkins blazing trail

Daughter of longtime talent evaluator making name for herself
MLB.com @TracyRingolsby

Amanda Hopkins smiles at the memory of those afternoons when she was 5 years old, sitting in a ballpark with her father, who was scouting a high school baseball game.

"I would go to games with my dad, traveling in the summer to see players in the Cape Cod League, Alaskan League, the East Coast Showcase," she said. "People would see me and would ask, 'What do you want to do when you grow up?' I'd tell them I want to be a baseball scout, and they'd be like, 'Oh, that's cute.' I'm sure they thought I'd grow out of it."

Amanda Hopkins smiles at the memory of those afternoons when she was 5 years old, sitting in a ballpark with her father, who was scouting a high school baseball game.

"I would go to games with my dad, traveling in the summer to see players in the Cape Cod League, Alaskan League, the East Coast Showcase," she said. "People would see me and would ask, 'What do you want to do when you grow up?' I'd tell them I want to be a baseball scout, and they'd be like, 'Oh, that's cute.' I'm sure they thought I'd grow out of it."

Nineteen years later, and the dream has come true. Hopkins is back on the road, starting her third year as a scout for the Seattle Mariners, keeping track on players from the Four Corners area, which consists of the states of Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico, along with a tip of Texas that includes El Paso.

"When I got into my teen years and was in college, I knew I really wanted to do this, and decided I'd go for it," Hopkins said. "I never imagined that I would have the chance at 22, when I was hired, but I'm thankful for it."

Historically, scouting predominantly has been a male profession, though the A's recently hired 24-year-old Haley Alvarez as scouting coordinator. Coincidentally, Alvarez and Hopkins were scout school roommates. Edith Houghton was baseball's first full-time female scout, working for the Phillies from 1946-52.

Video: Haley Alvarez talks about her role with the A's

The world of scouting has been everything Hopkins imagined back in those days when her father, Ron, now a special assistant to the general manager with the Pirates, was a scout with the Mariners in 1988 and a scouting director for the Rangers and Bucs.

"Part of the reason I love this job, specifically working for the Mariners, is the team aspect," said Hopkins. "I played college softball on a close-knit team, and I feel that way with the Mariners. I think knowing each day that you're doing a small part to help you team is rewarding."

Hopkins has played her part so far. Two years on the job, and she has seen the Mariners draft and sign three players she evaluated, and sign a fourth player who went undrafted.

"I would say a surreal moment was when we drafted David Greer," Hopkins said of the Mariners' 10th-round Draft pick out of Arizona State in 2016. "Just hearing his name called, listening to the Draft. ... I was like, 'Whoa, I got a Draft pick now.'"

Greer, a third baseman, was selected after his junior year at ASU, where he earned All-Pac 12 and a third-team All-America honors. He hit .274 at Class A Short-Season Everett in 2016, but he was sidelined by injuries last year.

Right-hander Nathan Bannister was a 28th-round Draft selection in 2016 as a senior out of the University of Arizona. He debuted last year for Class A Advanced Modesto and went 8-7 with a 4.33 ERA. Bannister also made three starts for Triple-A Tacoma, and he tossed seven scoreless innings in a win in August.

Shortstop Louis Boyd was a 24th-round pick out of the University of Arizona as a senior in 2017. He suffered a torn UCL in his left elbow last spring, and not only returned to play wearing a brace, but he hit a combined .293 with 17 doubles, a triple, six home runs, 32 RBIs with nine bases in 12 attempts in a season that saw him debut in the Rookie-level Arizona League, and also play for Class A Short-Season Everett and Class A Clinton.

And then there is AJ Franks, an undrafted senior from Grand Canyon University, who debuted as a reliever for the Mariners' Arizona League squad in 2017. He allowed one earned run in 12 2/3 innings of work in seven appearances.

The bonus is that once the Draft is over, Hopkins has been given a chance to do some pro work.

"The cool thing is being able to see a player you saw in your area during amateur work, and comparing what you thought from seeing them as an amateur to what you are seeing on the professional field," Hopkins said. "It's part of the learning experience. You go back and dissect how the player developed and what you can learn from that to make you better in evaluations."

And it is a constant learning process.

"The first year went really fast," Hopkins said. "I was moving to a different geographical location [the Phoenix area], trying to getting settled in, learning my way around my [scouting] territory. Looking at players in high school and players in college and then seeing them in the Minor Leagues, looking at the turnaround as they advance to the next level.

"Heading into my third year, by no means do I have all of this figured out," Hopkins said. "That's one of the thing I understand, having my dad, who has been in the game so long, mentor me and knowing that he's still learning when he goes to a park. So by no means do I think I am a veteran, but my third year it does feel different in a good way."

In part because of her father's long history in the game, but just as significantly because of the professional way Hopkins handles her job, the acceptance by other scouts was never a question.

"A few of the veteran guys in the area have known my father, so they were friendly faces, and the younger scouts have been very respectful," said Hopkins. "They treat me like a baseball scout. I think part of it is I'm not looking to be treated any differently."

And Hopkins understands the competitive nature of the game.

Still living at home when the Mariners initially hired her, Hopkins put a sign on her bedroom door as a warning to her father that read, "Stay out, we're opponents."

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com.

 

Seattle Mariners

Boston BBWAA honors Yankees GM Cashman

MLB.com @BryanHoch

NEW YORK -- Brian Cashman heard applause in enemy territory on Thursday evening, as the Yankees' general manager was honored by the Boston chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA), bringing home honors as the game's Executive of the Year.

Seated at a head table next to Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, Cashman lauded the "great rivalry" between the Yankees and the Red Sox, one that should only intensify this year with the introduction of slugging outfielder Giancarlo Stanton.

NEW YORK -- Brian Cashman heard applause in enemy territory on Thursday evening, as the Yankees' general manager was honored by the Boston chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA), bringing home honors as the game's Executive of the Year.

Seated at a head table next to Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, Cashman lauded the "great rivalry" between the Yankees and the Red Sox, one that should only intensify this year with the introduction of slugging outfielder Giancarlo Stanton.

"You guys are no different than us at the Evil Empire," Cashman said. "You want to win, as do we. I think the rivalry is alive and well, as it should be."

Video: How will Judge, Stanton play together in 2018?

Cashman was celebrated for a 2017 season in which his Yankees finished one victory shy of the World Series, riding the emergence of young stars such as Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Luis Severino to a 91-victory campaign that exceeded the expectations of many.

Although the Yankees took the eventual World Series champions to the limit in a memorable seven-game American League Championship Series, Cashman reminded the audience that it was the Red Sox who won the AL East by two games.

"Despite whatever goes on, you won the division the last two years," Cashman said. "We are trying to catch you at the moment, not the other way around. So I'm doing everything in my power, and [with] all the players that we have on this club, to figure out a way to compete every time we run out on the field."

In his remarks, Cashman joked that the Red Sox and their fans have turned "into a bunch of George Steinbrenners: critical, passionate, you spend a lot of money on your team." He added that he has enjoyed watching Jackie Bradley Jr. and Andrew Benintendi, both of whom were on hand for Thursday's festivities.

"Listen, we love to compete," Cashman said. "You guys [in Boston] are always awesome. The ownership group you have here has turned my life upside down a few times more than not. I've lost a lot of sleep. I've been forced to change my ways and evolve and grow and find different ways to figure out how to catch you.

"I congratulate the ownership group, the baseball ops department and everybody on that field we have to go to war with. It's a pleasure coming here to compete, and I appreciate being awarded this honor on behalf of the Steinbrenner family."

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook. Ian Browne, a reporter for MLB.com, contributed to this story.

 

New York Yankees

Why Chipper is a no-doubt HOF selection

A closer look at the Braves legend's incredible career
MLB.com @mlbbowman

ATLANTA -- Chipper Jones grew up and progressed through his distinguished Major League career aspiring to be like his father's childhood idol, Mickey Mantle. During his successful journey, the Braves' legend earned the opportunity to forever be included within discussions that solely focus on Cooperstown's most revered immortal residents.

Jones has had a few years to prepare for the celebration that will take place on Wednesday, when he is elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The only remaining questions about his candidacy center around where his vote total will rank in comparison with the Hall's previous near-unanimous electees. No player has been unanimously elected via the ballots cast by qualified members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

ATLANTA -- Chipper Jones grew up and progressed through his distinguished Major League career aspiring to be like his father's childhood idol, Mickey Mantle. During his successful journey, the Braves' legend earned the opportunity to forever be included within discussions that solely focus on Cooperstown's most revered immortal residents.

Jones has had a few years to prepare for the celebration that will take place on Wednesday, when he is elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The only remaining questions about his candidacy center around where his vote total will rank in comparison with the Hall's previous near-unanimous electees. No player has been unanimously elected via the ballots cast by qualified members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

As of Thursday afternoon, Jones had received a vote on 98.5 percent of the 195 ballots that had been submitted to ballot tracker Ryan Thibodaux, who provides regular balloting updates via his @NotMrTibbs Twitter account. It remains to be seen how many votes Jones receives from the approximately 150 voters (442 official ballots were submitted last year), who have chosen to not publicly reveal their ballot.

If Jones' percentage remains the same, he would become just the seventh Hall of Famer to be elected while being included on at least 98 percent of the ballots. The legends who have already gained this distinction are Ken Griffey Jr. (99.3 percent), Tom Seaver (98.8), Nolan Ryan (98.8), Cal Ripken (98.5) George Brett (98.2) and Ty Cobb (98.2).

There's a chance Jones' percentage could drop when the final results account for the ballots not made public. But it still appears he is destined to become just the 16th Hall of Famer to gain election while being included on at least 95 percent of the ballots. This list includes the players listed in the previous paragraph, along with Hank Aaron (97.8), Tony Gwynn (97.6), Randy Johnson (97.3), Greg Maddux (97.2), Mike Schmidt (96.5), Johnny Bench (96.4), Babe Ruth (95.1) and Honus Wagner (95.1).

Video: Tom Glavine on Chipper Jones as a player with Braves

However you look at it, Jones will be joining elite company as he reaps the rewards of a career that included a .303 batting average, a .401 on-base percentage, a .529 slugging percentage, 468 home runs, 1,623 RBIs and 1,619 runs scored. He earned eight All-Star selections, won the 1999 National League Most Valuable Player Award and proudly retired having struck out fewer times (1,409) than he walked (1,512).

Here's a glance at some numbers that validate why Jones has garnered so much love from this year's Hall of Fame voters.

Hanging with The Babe, Stan The Man and The Iron Horse
Jones joins Ruth, Stan Musial, Lou Gehrig, Mel Ott and Ted Williams as one of only six players in MLB history to record a .300 batting average, a .400 on-base percentage, a .500 slugging percentage, 450 home runs, 1,500 walks, 1,600 RBIs and 1,600 runs.

If you want to take runs, RBIs and walks out of the equation -- because they are dependent on more variables than the other outputs -- Jones stands as one of nine players to hit .300 with a .400 OBP, .500 SLG and 450 HRs. This club consists of the six players mentioned above, Ott, Jimmie Foxx and Manny Ramirez.

Video: Bowman on Chipper, Andruw Jones' HOF chances

Patience is a virtue 
Jones stands as one of 39 players to hit at least 450 home runs and just one of 12 players to do so while producing a .400 OBP. He drew the 11th-most walks among the members of the 450-homer club and recorded the 14th-fewest strikeouts.

The sample size isn't necessarily large as the longevity and era of Jones' career led him to become one of just 93 players to strike out at least 1,400 times. But it should be noted that he stands with Mantle, Schmidt, Jim Thome, Harmon Killebrew, Rickey Henderson, Barry Bonds and Darrell Evans as the only players to reach that strikeout total while still drawing at least 1,500 walks.

Bonds (.444), Mantle (.421), Thome (.402), Henderson (.401) and Jones (.401) were the only members of that more-walks-than-strikeouts group to produce a .400 on-base percentage.

Mastering both sides
Among switch-hitters who have compiled at least 5,000 plate appearances, Jones ranks third in home runs, third in batting average, fourth in on-base percentage, third in slugging percentage and third in OPS.

Jones will be the 12th switch-hitting position player elected to the Hall of Fame, but just the seventh who has played within the past 75 years. The only other switch-hitting position players who played after the end of World War II and were elected to the HOF are Mantle, Eddie Murray, Ozzie Smith, Tim Raines, Roberto Alomar and Red Schoendienst.

Jones' switch-hitting splits highlighted the consistency of his career. He hit .304/.391/.498 against left-handers and .303/.405/.541 against right-handers.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.

 

Atlanta Braves

Report: MLBPA rejects pace of play changes

MLB.com @feinsand

After recent discussions with Major League Baseball, the MLB Players Association has rejected the most recent proposal regarding pace of play rules, according to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal.

MLB would have the right to implement rules changes based on the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

After recent discussions with Major League Baseball, the MLB Players Association has rejected the most recent proposal regarding pace of play rules, according to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal.

MLB would have the right to implement rules changes based on the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Rosenthal also reported that the league is hopeful to make a deal and that Commissioner Rob Manfred and MLBPA executive director Tony Clark are slated to meet next week to discuss pace of play.

Rules being considered include a pitch clock and a limit on catchers' mound visits per inning. Last year's average game time of three hours, five minutes was the highest in MLB history.

MLB's proposals have shown "flexibility" in how the league could regulate mound visits, one source told MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi, and it remains unclear what the final rule will be.

At the conclusion of November's Owners Meetings in Orlando, Fla., the Commissioner indicated that pace of play remained a top priority for him. Manfred said last February that during the 2016-17 offseason, the MLBPA declined to accept MLB's proposals regarding the pitch clock and mound visits during negotiations for the CBA. Baseball's CBA permits MLB to impose on-field rule changes unilaterally when at least one year of notice is given to the union. MLB initiated that process in early 2017, and Manfred consistently has said MLB prefers to make changes with MLBPA cooperation.

"What's going to happen with respect to 2018 rule changes is fully dependent on which path we're on," Manfred said in November. "I've been really plain about the fact that my hope -- my preferred path -- is a negotiated agreement with the players, but if we can't get an agreement, we are going to have rule changes in 2018."

It's unclear what the time limit on a pitch clock would be under any rules changes, but Minor League Baseball has been using a 20-second clock. It begins when a pitcher takes possession of the ball on the dirt area around the rubber and ends as the pitcher either goes into his windup or arrives at the set position. The clock resets if a pitcher disengages from the rubber with runners on base or fakes a pickoff attempt.

USA Today first reported last offseason that MLB proposed a limit of one mound visit by a catcher per pitcher, per inning. The union raised concerns about that plan, noting the risk of cross-ups between pitchers and catchers.

Mark Feinsand, executive reporter for MLB.com, has covered the Yankees and MLB since 2001 for the New York Daily News and MLB.com.

 

MLB Buzz: Marlins, Rangers, Yanks eye Cuban prospect

MLB.com

The Hot Stove is open for business. As the top free agents begin to ink new deals and clubs begin to make the moves they think will vault them into contention or put them over the top, MLB.com will have you covered with all the latest buzz right here.

Hot Stove Tracker

The Hot Stove is open for business. As the top free agents begin to ink new deals and clubs begin to make the moves they think will vault them into contention or put them over the top, MLB.com will have you covered with all the latest buzz right here.

Hot Stove Tracker

Yankees, Rangers, Marlins favorites for Cuban prospect Martinez
Twenty-one-year-old Cuban outfield prospect Julio Pablo Martinez is still waiting to be cleared by Major League Baseball to sign, but three teams have emerged as favorites to sign him if and when he becomes eligible.

According to a report by Baseball America's Ben Badler, the Marlins, Rangers and Yankees have separated themselves as favorites to sign Martinez, who is among the top young players from Cuba. Because of his age, Martinez will be subject to international bonus pool rules.

Badler reports that Martinez's talent is on par with a first-round Draft pick and that he would likely be ready for a Class A Advanced or Double-A assignment. At 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, the left-handed hitter has a promising combination of speed, power and athleticism that should allow him to stick in center field.

Martinez slashed .333/.469/.498 with six home runs and 24 stolen bases last season in the Cuban Serie Nacional while walking 52 times compared to 30 strikeouts. He also competed in the Canadian-American Association in 2017 and posted a .297/.345/.449 line with seven home runs and 20 stolen bases.

Martinez is likely to be cleared by Major League Baseball before the current signing period ends on June 15, but depending on which team he chooses, he could opt to sign in either the 2017-18 or 2018-19 period.

Because the Marlins and Yankees -- both of whom have held private workouts for him this week in Florida -- have limited bonus pool space left, Martinez would likely wait until July 2 to sign with either team. The Rangers, however, have significant international money left after failing to sign Japanese two-way star Shohei Ohtani and would likely choose to sign him in the current period.

Reynolds wants to return to Rockies on Major League deal
Free-agent first baseman Mark Reynolds would like to return to the Rockies, but not on a Minor League deal like he signed prior to the 2017 season, according to the Denver Post.

The 34-year-old Reynolds slashed .267/.352/.487 with 30 home runs in 148 games for Colorado in 2017, providing a lift when Ian Desmond, whom the club signed to a five-year, $70 million contract to play first base, was injured to open the season.

Despite slumping in the second half (.762 OPS with 11 homers), Reynolds produced a 105 OPS+ overall, his best since 2012. He did have stark home-road splits, however, slashing .294/.393/.584 at Coors Field, and .242/.311/.392 away from Denver.

When the Rockies signed Reynolds to a Minor League deal last February, he was coming off an injury-shortened season in which he posted an .806 OPS with 14 homers in 118 games for Colorado.

"I think I proved last year that I can produce and help a team," Reynolds told the Post. "I am looking to sign a Major League deal. ... Things are different this year."

The Rockies could use a first baseman, with Ryan McMahon waiting in the wings. Signing Reynolds could open the possibility of a platoon between him and McMahon, especially given that the 148 games Reynolds played in last season were his most since 2011.

Video: LAD@COL: Reynolds reaches 30 homers with two-run shot

Marlins want Acuna in a Yelich deal with Braves
Christian Yelich's name has been in the trade rumor mill for much of the offseason, and the buzz has picked up again after the center fielder's agent said Tuesday that Yelich hopes to be traded before Spring Training starts. According to MLB Network insider Peter Gammons, any deal would have to bring a "huge return" for Miami.

Citing conversations with teams that have called the Marlins about Yelich, Gammons said Wednesday on MLB Tonight that the Marlins won't move the 26-year-old unless they get back "star-level talent." As one example, Gammons said Miami has told the Braves that uber-prospect Ronald Acuna would have to be included in any trade for Yelich.

"The Marlins told the Braves, 'Look, we'll do a three- or four- or five-for-one, but Ronald Acuna has to be in it or we don't go even to the second player,'" Gammons said on MLB Network.

Acuna is one of baseball's very top prospects. He currently ranks as MLB's No. 6 overall prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, and could move up even further on that list in the upcoming 2018 rankings. The 20-year-old outfielder seems likely to be promoted to the big league club early next season.

Gammons said Acuna is a player the Braves won't trade, and the fact that the Marlins would tell the Braves that he would have to be the minimum headliner of any Yelich deal indicates that they're "shooting very high."

Following Miami's trades of Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Dee Gordon to the Yankees, Cardinals and Mariners, respectively, Yelich and catcher J.T. Realmuto have been floated as the next players the team could potentially move as part of its rebuilding effort.

Gammons also mentioned Realmuto in the segment, saying that other teams' general managers think the Marlins might wait to trade Realmuto closer to the 2018 Trade Deadline.

Video: Gammons on Marlins asking for Acuna in Yelich deal

Red Sox offer to Martinez reportedly $100 million
Negotiations between the Red Sox and free-agent slugger J.D. Martinez haven't yet culminated in a contract agreement, and his agent, Scott Boras, has refuted recent reports that Boston extended an offer of five years in the $100 million range.

Boras told MLB Network insider Jon Heyman the reports of the offer, which was said to be less than what Martinez was seeking, were "not accurate." Heyman reported last week that Martinez is looking for a six-year deal valued at $30 million per year.

Video: MLB Tonight: Red Sox offer Martinez five-year deal

The Red Sox have long been linked to Martinez since before he hit free agency, first as a speculative fit following his monster season and then after multiple reports this offseason indicated the two sides were talking. Boston has been seen as the favorite to land Martinez, though a snails-pace free agent market this winter has stalled potential agreements with nearly every high-profile free agent.

Heyman reported last week that Martinez is willing to hold out into Spring Training for a contract that he believes meets his market value, which indicates other clubs are also involved. Martinez was a remarkable catalyst for the D-backs last year in helping them reach their first postseason since 2011, and Arizona is reportedly still interested in bringing him back, per Heyman.

Video: J.D. willing to wait for contract of his liking

After he was acquired on July 18, Martinez hit 29 homers and 65 RBIs in just 62 games, trailing only National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton in each category in that span. On the season, Martinez hit 45 homers despite playing in just 119 games, becoming the first player in MLB history to do so.

Martinez, who will be 31 in August, would reportedly prefer to play outfield, and Boston already has established Gold Glove Award winner Mookie Betts to go with Jackie Bradley Jr. and Andrew Benintendi. Martinez's fit would likely be at designated hitter, which may give Arizona an edge, in addition to the fact that the club recently hired Martinez's personal hitting coach.

Castellanos on the trade block?
While the Tigers were ultimately able to avoid an arbitration hearing with Nicholas Castellanos, Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press reports that Detroit remains open to trading the rising slugger, citing multiple clubs that have engaged in discussions with the Tigers this offseason.

Video: Castrovince, Justice on Tigers, Castellanos' options

Castellanos, 25, agreed to a one-year, $6.05 million contract with the Tigers on Friday. Detroit's first-round Draft choice from 2010 is about to embark on his first full season in right field, but Fenech reports that the Tigers' uncertainty about his defensive ability could still lead to a trade before Opening Day. Castellanos has primarily manned third base during his first four full seasons in the Motor City, but he has rated below average in terms of Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) in each of those campaigns. He played 21 games in right last season.

Castellanos' prowess at the plate is much less in doubt. He broke out for a career-high 26 home runs and 101 RBIs for the Tigers in 2017 while recording a league-adjusted 110 OPS+ (where 100 is average) and pacing the American League with 10 triples. He was even more productive in some respects in '16, finishing with a 120 OPS+ over 110 games. While Castellanos will be eligible for arbitration again next winter, he will not test the free-agent market until 2020. That means Castellanos, for the moment, represents a controllable, relatively cheap hitter coming into his own -- regardless of his defensive ability.

Tigers general manager Al Avila revealed at the Winter Meetings that the team approached Castellanos about a contract extension toward the end of last season, but that no progress has been made.

If Pirates aren't contending, J-Hay wants to be dealt
A day after Andrew McCutchen was traded to San Francisco, Josh Harrison effectively asked to be traded "if indeed the team does not expect to contend this year or next" in a statement released Tuesday to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal. Harrison, 30, is under contract for $10.25 million this year, with club options for 2019 ($10.5 million) and '20 ($11.5 million). More >

Giants still looking for OF upgrades
Fresh off acquiring Andrew McCutchen from the Pirates on Monday, the Giants are trying to add even more talent to their outfield, with the former National League Most Valuable Player being told that he'll play a corner spot with the team this season, according to ESPN's Buster Olney.

San Francisco's main desire is to upgrade defensively in center field, and sources tell ESPN's Jerry Crasnick that the Giants rank Jarrod Dyson as their most coveted option behind Lorenzo Cain. The club is also interested in Jon Jay and Cameron Maybin, according to Crasnick, but values Dyson's "speed, defensive metrics and stolen-base ability."

The Giants, after bringing in McCutchen via a trade with the Pirates, do not have the space under the luxury-tax threshold to sign Cain at his projected salary, according to MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi. Morosi reported that the club is looking to add a "defense-first player" in center field "who will be less expensive than Cain."

Dyson, Jay and Maybin will certainly all be less expensive than the former Royals center fielder, and Dyson led that group with seven Outs Above Average last season, according to Statcast™. Maybin was at plus-2 two while Jay was minus-3.

Dyson, 33, has stolen at least 25 bases in each of the past six seasons and would be a big boost to a Giants club that ranked 20th in the Majors with 76 steals last year. Jay has 51 steals in eight Major League seasons, but his .738 career on-base-plus-slugging percentage bests Dyson's .677 total.

Maybin owns a career .693 OPS and stole 33 bases during his time split between the Astros and Angels last season.

Brewers remain interested in Arrieta, Moustakas
The Brewers "continue to be in" on free-agent right-hander Jake Arrieta and third baseman Mike Moustakas, according to Jim Bowden of SiriusXM.

The Brewers have been known to be seeking starting pitching in free agency, and Arrieta would certainly be a boost to Milwaukee's rotation, especially with Jimmy Nelson's 2018 status unclear. Nelson, who underwent surgery on his right shoulder in September, went 12-6 with a team-best 3.49 ERA and 199 strikeouts in 175 1/3 innings last season.

It was reported earlier in January that the Cubs and Cardinals were the two clubs most interested in Arrieta's services, but the Brewers' desire to sign the 2015 National League Cy Young Award winner could create a potential bidding war between the NL Central rivals.

Arrieta, 31, went 64-29 with a 2.67 ERA in 119 starts for the Cubs over the past four seasons.

According to Bowden, the Brewers' interest in Moustakas comes with the idea that the club "could trade Travis Shaw" to the Yankees, Braves or Mets.

Milwaukee does not necessarily have a need at third base with the incumbent Shaw being younger and cheaper than Moustakas. The 27-year-old Shaw, under team control through 2022, also excelled for the Brewers last season, batting .273/.349/.513 with 31 home runs and 101 RBIs in 144 games.

 

Make no mistake, Manny was a genius at plate

Former slugger cemented legacy with astonishing numbers
MLB.com @JPosnanski

If there is one thing you learn doing this series year after year, it is that you can do some fascinating things by mixing up some baseball numbers.

For instance: Can you name the only three players in baseball history to hit 500 homers and 500 doubles with a .310 career batting average?

If there is one thing you learn doing this series year after year, it is that you can do some fascinating things by mixing up some baseball numbers.

For instance: Can you name the only three players in baseball history to hit 500 homers and 500 doubles with a .310 career batting average?

Answer: Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Manny Ramirez.

Hall of Fame coverage

How about this one -- there are only five players with 600 WAR runs batting (Rbat) and a .580 slugging percentage.

Answer: Ruth, Williams, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx and Ramirez.

Video: 1997 ALCS Gm2: Ramirez hits two-run homer off Key

Or this one: How many players have scored 1,500 runs and driven in 1,800 runs in fewer than 10,000 plate appearances?

Answer: Williams, Foxx, Gehrig, Al Simmons and Ramirez.

Or this one: How many players have hit .310 with a .410 on-base percentage and a .510 slugging percentage and also created 2,000 runs?

Answer: There are eight of them -- Ruth, Williams, Ty Cobb, Gehrig, Stan Musial, Rogers Hornsby, Foxx and Ramirez.

Here's a goofy one: How many players have 500 homers, a .400 on-base percentage and 20 grand slams?

Answer: Only Ramirez.

Video: 1998 ALCS Gm1: Ramirez's homer spoils Wells shutout

It is fun to do this with Ramirez's career, because his career is a perfect storm, a spectacular match of a hitting genius meeting the best hitting era in 75 or so years. His career numbers are absurd on so many different levels. They are so fun.

And that's good because it isn't much fun to talk about Ramirez's Hall of Fame chances. At the moment, they are roughly zero percent. Ramirez failed two drug tests, which, even for those of us willing to vote for pre-testing PED users, is hard to swallow. Ramirez was at less than 25 percent of the vote last year, and it's unlikely that his percentage moves much at all. He is likely to linger in Hall of Fame ballot purgatory for the next eight years, unless something substantial changes in the voting process or thinking.

Video: 1996 ALDS Gm3: Ramirez's solo home run off Mussina

But that whole PED argument is dead, entirely exhausted. There's no apparent way to make progress on it, so let's talk about Ramirez as a hitting savant, because we are unlikely to ever see another one just like him.

"I never saw anybody hit a baseball quite like Manny Ramirez," I wrote back in 2011, on the day of his retirement. "And he hit the ball that hard without even the slightest outward suggestion of anything resembling discipline or exertion or dedication. People may not have liked Barry Bonds, but nobody could doubt the commitment he made to being a sensational baseball player. Manny hardly seemed to care at all.

"I can only assume he did care, and that he did work hard on his hitting -- it doesn't seem even remotely possible that anyone could become that good at anything without extreme drive -- but, yeah, he did an amazing job hiding that part of himself from the world. He seemed to care so little, generally, that the main defense his fans had against the likelihood he was using steroids was that using steroids would take too much effort. He cared so little that at one point when he was still hitting rockets all over the park, the Red Sox put him on waivers. It was a bit like putting Alexander the Great on waivers just after he crossed the Tigris."

Hey, check out the Alexander the Great historical reference! I was overselling the point, though: Ramirez did care about his hitting. His batting-cage sessions were pretty legendary. He was known to study video hard. But you got the sense that in the end, it was natural -- see the ball, hit the ball. He was like Rey from the new "Star Wars" trilogy. The force just flowed through him. The first time he picked up a lightsaber, he could match Kylo Ren.

Video: 2003 ALCS Gm5: Ramirez hits a solo homer off Wells

Ramirez grew up in the Dominican Republic, but moved to New York when he was 13. His senior year at George Washington High School, he only played 22 games because of the weather. He hit .650 with 14 home runs. Cleveland took him with the 13th pick in the 1991 MLB Draft. That was the year the Yankees had the first pick in the Draft, and George Washington High School is just 2.2 miles away from Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees chose left-handed pitcher Brien Taylor instead. Taylor got injured in a fight and never pitched above Double-A. It is beyond frightening to think about what those late 1990s Yankees teams would have been like with Ramirez.

All Ramirez did was hit, right from the start. At age 21, he hit .333/.417/.713 with 44 doubles and 31 home runs in 129 Minor League games. Cleveland called him up.

In his first full year in 1995, Ramirez hit .308/.402/.558 with 31 homers and 107 RBIs.

Video: CLE@NYY: Manny has two-homer game in second MLB start

And that was the baseline for Ramirez's career -- those numbers roughly match his career numbers. Oh, he had bigger years. In 1999, he drove in 165 RBIs, the most in a season by anybody since 1938, almost a decade before the color line was wiped out.

In 2000, Ramirez hit .351/.457/.697. He was just the third American League player in the expansion era to have a .350/.450/.650 season, joining George Brett and Frank Thomas.

In 2002, Ramirez won the AL batting title at .349 and led the AL in on-base percentage (.450). In '04, he led the AL in homers (43) and slugging (.613). From 1999-2004, Ramirez had an OPS of 1.000 or more every year. The only other AL hitters to have a 1.000 OPS streak of at least six years are Hank Greenberg, Gehrig, Ruth and Williams. Williams had a 1.000 OPS in every season he played from when he was 20 to when he was 39. The guy was from another planet.

Video: 1996 ALDS Gm1: Ramirez belts a solo homer in 2nd

Ramirez hit every year. He had 30 homers and 100 RBIs 12 times (only others: Rodriguez, Pujols, Foxx, Ruth).

Ramirez had 30 homers and 30 doubles in a season 10 times (only others: Albert Pujols and Carlos Delgado).

Ramirez had 300 total bases 10 times (the others make up a slightly longer list: Aaron, Willie Mays, Musial, Gehrig, Miguel Cabrera, Pujols, Ruth and Foxx).

Along the way, Ramirez did goofy, charming and infuriating things. He drove the Red Sox utterly insane, and yet, they probably don't win either World Series in 2004 and '07 without him. He developed a reputation as a selfish player who put his team second, but his teams always won.

The first 15 full years of Ramirez's career, his teams made the postseason 11 times and had winning records the other four. They won four pennants and two World Series. I'm not saying it was his leadership that got them there, but I am saying that if he was as much of a team-wrecker as some claimed, such a record would be all but impossible.

Video: BAL@BOS: Manny cuts off Damon's relay throw

The hitting genius -- that was always there. There are so many stories about that genius. Pitchers would say Ramirez pretended to look fooled on a pitch in Spring Training so that they would throw it to him again during the season. Pitchers said he would let a pitch go by with the bases empty in the hopes they would throw it to him again with the bases full (he hit 30 points higher for his career with men on base).

The famously skeptical Bill James claimed that it was possible that Ramirez used to get into full counts on purpose with runners on first base. That way, the runner would be off with the pitch and could score on the double Ramirez intended to hit.

My favorite thought about facing Ramirez came from my friend Brian Bannister, who is now the assistant pitching coach for the Red Sox and who once gave up what just might be the hardest-hit ball in the history of baseball -- to Ramirez.

"He has such an ambiguous personality," Bannister said. "He doesn't give anything away. You have no idea what he's feeling at the plate. He could be in the middle of a slump or the best hitting streak of his life, and he has that same blank expression on his face.

"It's freaky. Sometimes, he will just let a pitch go by like he doesn't care. If you're lucky enough to strike him out, he will just kind of walk back to the dugout, like it didn't even matter. And you're on the mound thinking, 'What's going on here? Is he setting me up? What's going on in that head of his?'"

Video: 1997ALDS Gm5: Manny's two-run double gives Tribe lead

Well, you wondered that all the time with Ramirez: What's going on in that head? Aside from the hitting, he was something of a train wreck. He was generally slow and not an instinctive baserunner. On defense, Ramirez was mostly uninterested. Every now and then, he would uncork a throw that would drop your jaw -- he twice led the AL in outfield assists -- but most of the time, runners had their way. His minus-22.5 defensive WAR ranks fifth worst among all outfielders. And in the clubhouse, he was enough of a distraction that the Red Sox put him on waivers when he was still an amazing hitter.

But what an amazing hitter. If you needed an extra-base hit against a dominant pitcher in order to save your own soul, well, Ramirez might not be your first pick, but he'd be on a very short list. And heck, on the right day, he might even be your first.

Joe Posnanski is a national columnist for MLB.com.

 

Bochy healthy, stronger heading into 2018

Giants skipper dealt with arrhythmia during '17 campaign
MLB.com @jonmorosi

Bruce Bochy enters 2018 as Major League Baseball's winningest active manager.

More important, he's starting his 12th season with the Giants in improved health.

Bruce Bochy enters 2018 as Major League Baseball's winningest active manager.

More important, he's starting his 12th season with the Giants in improved health.

Giants general manager Bobby Evans said on MLB Network Radio this week that Bochy is noticeably stronger after undergoing two cardiac ablation surgeries last year -- in April and October -- to address atrial fibrillation.

"He looks better," Evans said in an interview that aired Tuesday on MLB Roundtrip. "I can tell just from his voice, his demeanor, spending some time with him in December. I can just see it."

Bochy, 62, also underwent a heart procedure in 2015, when he had two stents inserted after blocked blood vessels were discovered. Last year's arrhythmia coincided with a 64-98 season, the Giants' worst since moving to San Francisco.

"The fire has never gone out with him," Evans said. "Physically, the challenges of arrhythmia are now behind him. I think that's refreshing for him. I think that's refreshing for his family. It's relieving for all of us. I look forward to the year ahead with him feeling better.

"When the club struggles, none of us feel good. But on top of that, with the arrhythmia, [that] made it worse. Now, we can put that behind us."

Bochy's contract with the Giants runs through 2019. When asked about Bochy's long-term future with the club, Evans replied, "I can't foresee anything but 'Boch' feeling better already."

Bochy is widely viewed as a future Hall of Fame manager. He is one of only 10 managers in MLB history to win at least three World Series titles. The other nine are enshrined in Cooperstown.

Jon Paul Morosi is a reporter for MLB.com and MLB Network. He is a contributor to MLB Network Radio and conducted this week's interview with Evans alongside co-host Jeff Joyce.

 

Higashioka returns to MLB Youth Academy

MLB.com

COMPTON, Calif. -- When Kyle Higashioka earned his callup with the Yankees last April, he became the latest MLB Youth Academy alumnus to break through to the big leagues.

Higashioka was among the first youth athletes to compete at the Compton academy, which first opened its doors in 2006 and has grown into a training ground for young baseball and softball talent in the Southern California area. The 27-year-old catcher returned to his old haunts Thursday, looking to re-establish a connection with a place that featured prominently in his development.

COMPTON, Calif. -- When Kyle Higashioka earned his callup with the Yankees last April, he became the latest MLB Youth Academy alumnus to break through to the big leagues.

Higashioka was among the first youth athletes to compete at the Compton academy, which first opened its doors in 2006 and has grown into a training ground for young baseball and softball talent in the Southern California area. The 27-year-old catcher returned to his old haunts Thursday, looking to re-establish a connection with a place that featured prominently in his development.

"I figured it'd be good for me to kind of use whatever platform I have to give back, and this is one of the places that really made an impression on me," Higashioka said.

Video: Higashioka ready to join Yankees' youth in Bronx

Higashioka, who grew up in nearby Huntington Beach, Calif., toured the facility, which has undergone significant renovations and improvements in the years since he played there, and spoke with a few local youth teams. He hopes to help support the Compton academy by fundraising in the future.

The academy provides free baseball and softball instruction, as well as educational and vocational training for young athletes in the community, many of whom may not otherwise have access to these opportunities. The success of the Compton academy eventually became the blueprint for MLB to expand its reach with additional facilities in Cincinnati, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Philadelphia and Washington.

"Me being from Huntington Beach, I didn't have to worry about equipment or finding a place to play," Higashioka said. "[For] underprivileged kids or kids that maybe baseball is a tough game for them to afford, it gives them a level playing field with kids who don't have to worry about that stuff."

Video: TB@NYY: Higashioka enters his first big league game

Major Leaguers such as Anthony Gose, Mike Moustakas, Freddie Freeman, Dominic Smith, J.P. Crawford and Higashioka's Yankees' teammate Aaron Hicks are alumni of the program, as is last year's No. 2 overall Draft pick, Reds prospect Hunter Greene.

Many of them, like Higashioka, are still engaged with the academy by making visits, assisting with clinics or instruction or fundraising. They've established a culture of giving back with each generation of athletes paying it forward to the next.

"What's kind of interesting is we didn't have to say anything," said Derrell Miller, a former Major Leaguer who now serves as MLB's vice president for youth and facility development. "We never said, 'Hey, by the way, you guys owe us, you better come back.' But these guys all know what got them there.

"They're really looking to give back because they appreciate what was given to them."

Higashioka, a seventh-round Draft pick by the Yankees in 2008, has come a long way since his days at the academy, logging nine years in the Minor Leagues before making his MLB debut on April 10 last season, when Gary Sanchez landed on the disabled list. Higashioka played in nine games (five starts) last season, and he now has an opportunity to contribute to a team expected to contend for a World Series title this fall.

"I'm hungry to get back on that squad, hopefully permanently," Higashioka said. "We'll just see how it unfolds."

Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles.

 

Kyle Higashioka