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Blue Jays land Grichuk from Cards for 2 arms

Right-hander Leone, pitching prospect Greene headed to St. Louis for outfielder
MLB.com @gregorMLB

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays' potential Opening Day lineup received a little bit more clarity on Friday afternoon when Toronto acquired outfielder Randal Grichuk in a three-player trade with the Cardinals.

Right-hander Dominic Leone and prospect Conner Greene were sent to St. Louis as part of the deal. It marks the second move between these organizations this offseason, and comes on the heels of a December trade that saw infielder Aledmys Diaz join Toronto.

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays' potential Opening Day lineup received a little bit more clarity on Friday afternoon when Toronto acquired outfielder Randal Grichuk in a three-player trade with the Cardinals.

Right-hander Dominic Leone and prospect Conner Greene were sent to St. Louis as part of the deal. It marks the second move between these organizations this offseason, and comes on the heels of a December trade that saw infielder Aledmys Diaz join Toronto.

Grichuk immediately becomes the heavy favorite to replace free agent Jose Bautista as Toronto's starting right fielder. The 26-year-old is coming off a season in which he hit 22 home runs over 412 at-bats for the Cardinals. While nothing is guaranteed, the Blue Jays envision using him as an everyday player.

"I think he'll have the best chance of our group to take that position over for us in right field," Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said. "But the fact is, we have options and we'll have some balance. In today's game, asking someone to get 700 plate appearances is a lot. There are very few players who are doing it day in and day out. So where that number ends up, we'll see, but I think he has the best chance at the outset to be the regular for us."

Video: STL@BOS: Statcast™ measures Grichuk's five-star catch

Toronto's outfield appears somewhat set following the trade and the recent signing of Curtis Granderson. Grichuk is expected to start in right field with Kevin Pillar in center and a platoon of Granderson and Steve Pearce in left. That scenario would leave Ezequiel Carrera without a job and the prospect duo of Anthony Alford and Teoscar Hernandez beginning the year at Triple-A Buffalo.

Carrera recently avoided arbitration by signing a one-year deal worth $1.9 million. He has spent the majority of the last two seasons as Toronto's fourth outfielder but there's no longer a clear path to playing time now. He could be shopped to fill a hole elsewhere or it's possible Carrera will stick as additional insurance during Spring Training.

"We have to stay open about all of the players on our roster," Atkins said when asked about a possible move. "If there's any way to make our team better, more fluid, provide more versatility, we'll look to do that."

If Grichuk becomes the final piece of significance the Blue Jays add this winter, the question will become whether Toronto did enough to improve its offense. The Blue Jays ranked last in the American League with 693 runs scored, and while the team undeniably has more depth following the additions of Grichuk, Diaz and Yangervis Solarte, most of the starters remain.

Video: PIT@STL: Statcast™ measures Grichuk's 478-foot homer

Instead of adding a big-name this winter, the Blue Jays are banking on a return to health as the primary way to improve. Full seasons from Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis would certainly help but if the injuries become a problem once again, at least the Blue Jays are in a better position to handle them.

The Blue Jays still have some flexibility to make additional moves, but the focus now shifts to the pitching staff. Toronto remains in the market for a fifth starter and following the departure of Leone, another piece in the bullpen could be needed as well.

"I think at this point [it's] pitching," Atkins said. "If there's a way to improve our position player roster, we'll look to do that. At this point that would mean subtraction, or other players being optioned. We have a little bit of uncertainty around playing time for some of our players so we have to build as much depth as possible."

Video: Zinkie on fantasy impact of Grichuk to Blue Jays

Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)
Now set to hold a regular role on a team with a hitter-friendly home park, Grichuk has the power (lifetime 39.7 percent hard-hit rate, .239 ISO) to tally 30 long balls and 75 RBIs in spite of his poor plate discipline (career 0.2 BB/K ratio). While the 26-year-old gains late-round status in mixed leagues, the deal will have the opposite effect for Hernandez. Likely to open 2018 in Triple-A, Hernandez can go undrafted in all mixed formats. Meanwhile, Jose Martinez (career .903 OPS) becomes a sleeper in deep mixed leagues on the expectation that he will serve as a fourth outfielder and backup first baseman for the Cardinals.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

 

Toronto Blue Jays, St. Louis Cardinals, Randal Grichuk

Best Machado fit might be Cleveland

Tribe has depth in rotation to send Baltimore a much-needed starter
MLB.com @jonmorosi

The Manny Machado trade market has been relatively quiet in recent days, but a number of intriguing destinations remain -- including Cleveland, where his brother-in-law, Yonder Alonso, signed a two-year contract in December.

The Indians and Orioles were in contact last month regarding a possible Machado trade, although sources said Friday that the sides aren't actively discussing him now.

The Manny Machado trade market has been relatively quiet in recent days, but a number of intriguing destinations remain -- including Cleveland, where his brother-in-law, Yonder Alonso, signed a two-year contract in December.

The Indians and Orioles were in contact last month regarding a possible Machado trade, although sources said Friday that the sides aren't actively discussing him now.

The Orioles signaled early in the offseason that they are willing to entertain trade offers for Machado. The D-backs have shown the "most persistent" interest in trading for the three-time All-Star, according to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal.

• Hot Stove Tracker

On the surface, the Indians and Orioles match up well on a Machado trade. Baltimore has only two proven Major League starting pitchers on its roster -- Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman -- and Cleveland has a surplus of starters.

Video: NYY@CLE: Salazar K's 12 over seven frames vs. Yankees

Many in the industry believe the Indians are open to trading right-hander Danny Salazar, a talented yet inconsistent starter who has averaged roughly 120 innings pitched over the past two seasons. A trade of Salazar would signal that the Indians are confident in Mike Clevinger as a full-time starter in 2018; Clevinger compiled a 3.11 ERA in 121 2/3 innings for the Indians during the '17 regular season, mostly as a starter, but pitched out of the bullpen during the Indians' American League Division Series loss to the Yankees.

If Machado were traded to the Indians, he'd likely become Cleveland's everyday third baseman, with Jose Ramirez at second base. That would leave Jason Kipnis without an everyday position on the infield, unless he was included in the trade to Baltimore or dealt elsewhere.

The Mets nearly acquired Kipnis in a trade earlier this offseason before the deal fell apart, "very likely" for financial reasons, according to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman.

Machado and the Orioles avoided salary arbitration last week by agreeing to a one-year, $16 million contract. Machado is on track to become a free agent after the 2018 season; based on recent trades involving J.D. Martinez and Andrew McCutchen, teams are reluctant to pay a high acquisition cost for one year (or less) of control on even the most accomplished position players.

Thus far, the Orioles have not made major moves in advance of what's likely to be a pivotal year for the franchise. Machado, center fielder Adam Jones, manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette all are unsigned beyond 2018. If the Orioles trade Machado now, they could find his long-term replacement in a slow-moving free-agent market that still includes third basemen Mike Moustakas and Todd Frazier.

Jon Paul Morosi is a reporter for MLB.com and MLB Network.

 

Cleveland Indians, Baltimore Orioles, Manny Machado

Giants introduce Longoria to Bay Area

Three-time All-Star eager for fresh start, opportunity to win
MLB.com @_dadler

Evan Longoria has been preparing to play for his first new team in a decade-long career, and he's ready to go.

The Giants third baseman, acquired from the Rays in late December, was officially introduced to the San Francisco media at a news conference on Friday. Last week, Longoria joined MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM to discuss joining San Francisco after spending his first 10 Major League seasons with Tampa Bay.

Evan Longoria has been preparing to play for his first new team in a decade-long career, and he's ready to go.

The Giants third baseman, acquired from the Rays in late December, was officially introduced to the San Francisco media at a news conference on Friday. Last week, Longoria joined MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM to discuss joining San Francisco after spending his first 10 Major League seasons with Tampa Bay.

"It shook everything up, definitely," Longoria said. "It's gonna take some time to settle in. There's gonna be a lot of things that I'm gonna experience this year -- having to find a place in a new city, having to get the fans on my side again, go out and perform in a new environment. All those things are legitimately scary. It's like going to a new school when you're a kid."

Video: Longoria excited to join Giants' winning tradition

Longoria is in Arizona, where the Giants play their Spring Training games and where he already has a home. He made the drive to the Giants' Spring Training facility in Scottsdale for the first time on Monday, where he met some of his new teammates who have also started their workouts.

• Power behind Posey could perk up SF in 2018

"It hasn't really set in all that much," Longoria said. "It definitely feels foreign, putting on the different colors and trying to find a locker. It's a different experience."

Tweet from @SFGiants: Behind the scenes.#HelloLongo | #SFGiants pic.twitter.com/BIyNPRTyD1

"The conversations I've had with Bruce Bochy and Brian Sabean, and the front office staff, we couldn't be more excited to add Evan to our core," GM Bobby Evans said. "The caliber of third base that he plays, the presence he has in the lineup. As I've talked to some of our players about -- Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford and others -- just the fact that you'll see that name in the lineup every day, and for Bruce Bochy, knowing that this is a guy that's gonna go out there every day, it's a thrill for us."

The 32-year-old was the face of the Rays, a three-time All-Star and the American League Rookie of the Year in 2008. That year, he helped lead Tampa Bay to its first World Series appearance, and he led the Rays to three more postseason appearances in 2010, '11 and '13. Longoria is the Rays' all-time leader in home runs (261), RBIs (892) and runs scored (780).

Video: Longoria expecting Giants to have success

"I thought I would be [with the Rays my whole career]," Longoria said on Monday, "but I also want to win, and I think that Tampa, they kind of made it clear that they wanted to go in a different direction. I'm very grateful to them for the way that they handled it, the way that the front office handled it, and for them to kind of just give me an opportunity to go out and win somewhere else."

Now he'll be the newest face in a clubhouse that's used to doing just that -- the Giants have won three World Series since 2010 -- and will also be trying to rebound from a disappointing 2017 season. San Francisco finished in last place in the National League West at 64-98 while three of its division foes -- the Dodgers, D-backs and Rockies -- made the playoffs.

"We're excited about our future," Giants CEO Larry Baer said. "We're excited about the core that we have. Evan provides another tremendous leadership presence in our clubhouse, and we're excited about the opportunity for Evan to take us back where we want to go."

Video: Longoria on becoming a Giant after trade from Rays

The Giants went out and got Longoria with postseason contention in mind for 2018. So after he was traded, Longoria reached out to Posey and Madison Bumgarner, the Giants' two franchise cornerstones who led them to those three championships.

"I just shot them a text to say, 'Obviously I'm here to win and I'm here to follow you guys' lead,'" Longoria said. "They obviously have been the two mainstays and the faces of the team for quite some time. So I definitely wanted to make it a point to reach out to them and let them know that I'm here to be on their program and I'm excited to be here."

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.

 

San Francisco Giants, Evan Longoria

MLB Buzz: Red Sox's J.D. offer up to $125M

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

Red Sox's offer to Martinez reportedly $125 million
The Red Sox's much-discussed interest in free-agent slugger J.D. Martinez reached a new level on Friday with a report from the Boston Herald that the club has made Martinez an offer of five years and approximately $125 million. The club hasn't confirmed the report.

It had been reported recently that the Red Sox had extended an offer to Martinez of five years and about $100 million.

Martinez's agent, Scott Boras, told MLB Network insider Jon Heyman that the reports of the first 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. Boston has been seen as the favorite to land Martinez.

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

Martinez hit 29 homers with 65 RBIs in just 62 games for the D-backs after being acquired on July 18, trailing only National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton in each category during that span. Martinez hit 45 homers during the 2017 season, despite playing in just 119 games. He became the first player in MLB history with that many home runs in so few games.

If the Red Sox do indeed sign Martinez, that would create a dilemma in the outfield. Martinez would reportedly prefer to play outfield, but Boston already has Gold Glove Award winner Mookie Betts, along with Jackie Bradley Jr. and Andrew Benintendi. That means Martinez would likely be the club's designated hitter, which in turn may give Arizona an edge, in addition to the fact that the club recently hired Martinez's personal hitting coach.

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.

The Marlins, Rangers and Yankees have separated themselves as favorites to sign Martinez, who is among the top young players from Cuba, sources tell MLB.com and as was first reported by Baseball America. Because of his age, Martinez will be subject to international bonus pool rules.

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

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.

 

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 throws 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 White 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
McKay is 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 Cleveland's 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 Thaiss 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.

 

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

Tebow headlines Mets' spring camp NRIs

MLB.com @AnthonyDiComo

NEW YORK -- Tim Tebow is about to receive his most significant exposure yet to top-level baseball competition. The Mets announced Friday that they have invited Tebow to Major League Spring Training, giving the former college and professional football star another opportunity to stride forward in his baseball career.

Tebow is among 13 non-roster invitees to Spring Training -- a list that also includes blue-chip first-base prospect Peter Alonso (ranked as the Mets' No. 7 prospect by MLB Pipeline) former Nationals catcher Jose Lobaton and Drew Smith, the reliever the Mets acquired for Lucas Duda last July.

NEW YORK -- Tim Tebow is about to receive his most significant exposure yet to top-level baseball competition. The Mets announced Friday that they have invited Tebow to Major League Spring Training, giving the former college and professional football star another opportunity to stride forward in his baseball career.

Tebow is among 13 non-roster invitees to Spring Training -- a list that also includes blue-chip first-base prospect Peter Alonso (ranked as the Mets' No. 7 prospect by MLB Pipeline) former Nationals catcher Jose Lobaton and Drew Smith, the reliever the Mets acquired for Lucas Duda last July.

But the most significant number of eyes will surely follow Tebow, as they did a year ago when the Mets -- citing a need for outfielders, though general manager Sandy Alderson later admitted that his motivations at least partially had roots in the "entertainment business" -- frequently borrowed him for Grapefruit League games. Tebow hit .148 in nine such contests, going on to bat .226 with eight home runs over two Minor League levels. Following a successful debut at Class A Columbia, Tebow ended his season with Class A Advanced St. Lucie.

"I think he's exceeded a lot of people's expectations," Alderson said during the summer.

The former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at the University of Florida drew rave reviews for his plate discipline and power, putting on batting practice shows during Spring Training. He took so many practice cuts early in the year that his hands bled, calloused over and bled again. But it wasn't all storybook stuff; Tebow also struck out in 26 percent of his professional plate appearances and was raw on defense, his overall numbers overshadowing his clear improvement over the course of the season.

"It's not the grind of football, where you're like, 'Dang, some days I don't know if I can get out of bed,'" Tebow said during a midsummer interview. "This is more of a monotonous, every day, having to lock in with that focus. It's the awareness every day to make sure you're not just trying to get by, but you're getting better."

There is no end date for Tebow's flirtation with baseball. He remains active in his role as a football analyst for the SEC Network and with his foundation, which has raised millions for disabled orphans and children battling life-threatening diseases. For now, the Mets appear willing to accommodate Tebow for as long as he is willing to play.

But his prospects as a potential Major Leaguer remain dim. Now 30 years old, Tebow is at an age when many successful big leaguers' careers begin to wane. Still, the Mets often cited Tebow as a capable mentor for teammates a decade younger than him, considering his history of success on significant stages.

"I love what I'm doing," Tebow said last year. "And when you have a chance to love what you do and you're passionate about it, it's fun. You don't wake up and go, 'Man, I've got to go face this day.' You go, 'I'm excited about this day.' And that's a good feeling."

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook.

 

New York Mets

Busy Yadi returns to PR to continue relief effort

Molina dedicating time, money to native island in wake of Hurricane Maria among numerous offseason initiatives
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

ST. LOUIS -- Having already spent two weeks going door-to-door to deliver food and water to hurricane victims in Puerto Rico last October, Yadier Molina is headed back to his homeland on Friday to continue assisting with relief efforts.

Molina is providing assistance through his personal foundation and has raised more than $180,000 for Puerto Rican aid through a Go Fund Me page that was set up by his wife in September. Donations, Molina said, are still welcome and needed for an island that will be recovering for many more months.

ST. LOUIS -- Having already spent two weeks going door-to-door to deliver food and water to hurricane victims in Puerto Rico last October, Yadier Molina is headed back to his homeland on Friday to continue assisting with relief efforts.

Molina is providing assistance through his personal foundation and has raised more than $180,000 for Puerto Rican aid through a Go Fund Me page that was set up by his wife in September. Donations, Molina said, are still welcome and needed for an island that will be recovering for many more months.

"The power is still out in some areas, but we're doing a lot better," Molina said. "We're slowly getting back."

This trip, however, is just another in a series of initiatives through which Molina has given back to various communities this offseason.

His work started in Puerto Rico when he arrived two days after the conclusion of the Cardinals' season. He supplemented that aid with a December Home Run Derby and Celebrity Softball Game that raised more than $200,000 for hurricane victims. Over 20,000 fans came to the event, which featured several current and former Major League players.

But his efforts have spanned other areas, too. After insisting to teammate Jose Martinez that he would come visit him in Venezuela, Molina took a trip to the politically unstable country so that he could work with aspiring Major Leaguers. Over three days, he provided instruction and advice to young players who are hoping to one day catch the eye of a big league scout.

"A lot of Venezuelans, they don't want to go to Venezuela right now," Martinez said. "And for him to come, it was pretty special because it shows you that you cannot forget where you come from. It [provided] life for the people."

"I just tried to go there and help any way I could," added Molina. "I had fun with the kids and tried to teach them. It was a good experience for me. I'm glad that I did go. Those kids love baseball. They're passionate about it."

Video: Yadi delivers water and supplies to Puerto Rico

Molina also found time this offseason to try his hand at managing, as he guided the Puerto Rican U-23 National Team to a 6-3 record and third-place finish in the Pan American U-23 Baseball Championships. In doing so, the team qualified for the U-23 Baseball World Cup, which will be held in October.

Molina enlisted his brother, Jose, and long-time Cardinals coach Jose Oquendo to serve on his coaching staff. Cardinals prospects Delvin Perez and Yariel Gonzalez played on the squad.

"It was fun," Molina said of that experience. "It was hard, too, to please 22 guys. But at the same time, I learned a lot. You have to learn to do different stuff than when you were a player."

Video: Molina explains Cardinals' tradition to young players

Molina added that it was "too early to decide" whether he would like to pursue a managerial career after he's done playing. The veteran catcher plans to retire after the 2020 season. As the longest-tenured player in the organization, Molina was also recently enlisted to speak to a group of Cardinals Minor League players at the club's January instructional league camp. There, he spoke about his experience as a Cardinal, what it means to play for such a storied organization and provided tips on how to make the most of one's abilities.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

 

St. Louis Cardinals, Yadier Molina

MLB could implement pitch clock this season

MLB.com @_dadler

The stage could be set for Major League Baseball to implement a slate of rules changes aimed at targeting pace of play for the 2018 season.

On Thursday, MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi reported that the MLB Players Association rejected the league's most recent proposal of pace-of-play rules, which was a revised version of an initial proposal submitted last year, addressing the players' concerns with the original. But with the union's rejection of the revised proposal, MLB could unilaterally implement the original rules changes -- even without the MLBPA's approval -- based on the Collective Bargaining Agreement that was ratified last offseason.

The stage could be set for Major League Baseball to implement a slate of rules changes aimed at targeting pace of play for the 2018 season.

On Thursday, MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi reported that the MLB Players Association rejected the league's most recent proposal of pace-of-play rules, which was a revised version of an initial proposal submitted last year, addressing the players' concerns with the original. But with the union's rejection of the revised proposal, MLB could unilaterally implement the original rules changes -- even without the MLBPA's approval -- based on the Collective Bargaining Agreement that was ratified last offseason.

The proposals would both include a form of a pitch clock limiting the time allowed between pitches. (According to Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan, the clock would start when the pitcher has the ball on the mound and stop when he begins his windup or comes set.)

Under Major League Baseball's CBA, the league must give the players' union a year's notice before implementing new rules. According to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal, that means that if MLB decides to move forward with the pace-of-play changes without MLBPA approval, it will have to be under last year's original proposal, rather than the new version rejected by the MLBPA.

MLB and the MLBPA could also still come to an agreement on a modified version of pace-of-play rules changes, and according to Rosenthal, Commissioner Rob Manfred and MLBPA executive director Tony Clark are scheduled to meet next week to discuss the issue.

Here's how they break down:

Original pace-of-play proposal
• 20-second pitch clock in all situations
• 30-second time limit between batters
• Beginning Opening Day 2018, all violations enforced with automatic ball/strike penalty
• One warning per player per game before being penalized
• One mound visit from manager, player or coach per inning; second visit necessitates a pitching change

New proposal (Rejected by MLBPA)
• 18-second pitch clock only with no runners on base
• 35-second time limit between batters
• 20-second timer with runners on base would be implemented after any season with an average time of game of more than three hours or a game-time increase of more than five minutes
• Automatic ball/strike penalty for violations would be delayed until May 1
• Six total mound visits per team per game

There are several key differences between the two proposals.

• Under the original proposal, the pitch clock would be 20 seconds and would be enforced even with runners on base -- a situation where pitchers tend to work more slowly and methodically. The revised proposal would have a slight time change to 18 seconds, but more importantly would not apply with runners on.

• The time limit between batters is five seconds longer under the new proposal, 35 seconds as opposed to 30.

• Under the original proposal, there is no phase-in period for the penalties for pace-of-play violations. Pitchers or batters taking too long would be penalized from the first game of the season. The new proposal allowed for a month-long period before enforcement of the penalties would begin.

• The new proposal, while more in line with the players' wants, would still allow stronger rules changes to be triggered in subsequent years if there wasn't a significant enough improvement in the pace of play. If game times stayed long enough over the course of a season, or increased by a large enough degree, then the 20-second runners-on-base pitch clock would kick in.

• The rules governing mound visits would be much different. The original proposal is largely similar to MLB's current rules, but with the major difference that a visit to the pitcher from a fellow player would also count toward the limit. The new proposal takes a different direction, allowing teams six "no-charge" visits where the pitcher wouldn't have to leave the game.

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.

 

Twins steady in pursuit of top-tier starter

Falvey says club not ruling out any free-agent pitcher
MLB.com @RhettBollinger

MINNEAPOLIS -- Even after signing three relievers this offseason, including Addison Reed for two years and $16.5 million last week, Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey said the club still has room in the budget for a front-line starting pitcher and hasn't ruled out any free-agent options.

Falvey said the front office has the full support of owner Jim Pohlad and that he doesn't believe the Twins have any major budget constraints to sign a much-needed starter. The Twins have been linked this offseason with the top starters available, such as Yu Darvish, Alex Cobb, Jake Arrieta and Lance Lynn. The signing of Reed hasn't changed their offseason plans.

MINNEAPOLIS -- Even after signing three relievers this offseason, including Addison Reed for two years and $16.5 million last week, Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey said the club still has room in the budget for a front-line starting pitcher and hasn't ruled out any free-agent options.

Falvey said the front office has the full support of owner Jim Pohlad and that he doesn't believe the Twins have any major budget constraints to sign a much-needed starter. The Twins have been linked this offseason with the top starters available, such as Yu Darvish, Alex Cobb, Jake Arrieta and Lance Lynn. The signing of Reed hasn't changed their offseason plans.

"We committed some money [to Reed], so we're more sensitive to the next step, but if we bring the right deal to Jim, he'll support it," Falvey said at the annual media luncheon before TwinsFest. "I'm not going to comment on a specific player, but I see 5-10 pitchers out there who could impact us. We're not ruling out any of those guys until they're off the board. Any player we add, there won't be a budget limitation."

Hot Stove Tracker

The Twins are confident they'll sign a starting pitcher this offseason, and a top-tier starter is their preference, but they'll also look for potential bargains, especially with how late it is in the offseason with so many starters still available.

"We'll stay engaged on a group of names that are considered top end, as well as value adds that could help us," Falvey said. "We'll look at both groups. We'll wait as long as necessary in terms of finding the right fits. There are still a lot of guys on the board. Whenever the signings happen, they happen."

TwinsFest tidbits
• Right-hander Phil Hughes was scheduled to attend TwinsFest this weekend but had to cancel at the last minute to deal with kidney stones. Hughes, though, is healthy after undergoing a second surgery to alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome and will be ready for the start of Spring Training, Falvey said. Hughes will come in competing for a spot in the rotation.

Tweet from @PJHughes45: Due to my latest bout with a kidney stone I unfortunately won���t be able to make it to Minneapolis this weekend. Very sorry guys. However, I will be giving away a signed used jersey and making a $10,000 contribution to the @Twins Community Fund. RT to be eligible for the jersey

• Third baseman Miguel Sano continues to rehab his surgically repaired left shin in Florida with newly hired trainer Masa Abe. Sano also will not attend TwinsFest. The Twins believe Sano will be ready for the start of the season, not necessarily Spring Training. MLB's investigation into Sano's alleged sexual assault is ongoing and there's no timetable for a resolution, Falvey said.

• The Twins are aiming for 2.2 million fans in 2018 after roughly 90 percent of their season ticket holders renewed. Tickets also remain for the rest of TwinsFest, which runs through Sunday, and the club anticipates 12,000-15,000 fans attending.

Tweet from @morsecode: First two players to show up for #TwinsFest pic.twitter.com/Q5d0YhqlUT

• The Twins are renaming Field 5 at their Spring Training complex after longtime bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek, who passed away in early November. He's the longest-tenured coach in Twins history, serving as bullpen coach for 32 years from 1981-2012.

• The Twins hired Elvis Martinez, 31, as their new Spanish-language interpreter. He's a native of La Romana, Dominican Republic, and worked in the Cardinals' organization last year.

• The Twins signed infielder Jermaine Curtis and right-hander Omar Bencomo to Minor League contracts. Non-roster invites to Spring Training will be announced at a later date.

Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.

 

Minnesota Twins

Who will fill Braves' final rotation spots?

MLB.com @mlbbowman

ATLANTA -- Sean Newcomb and Luiz Gohara stand as the favorites to win the final two available spots in Atlanta's rotation. But the Braves aren't making any guarantees as they approach Spring Training looking forward to the chance to see their young starters compete for a job.

Braves president of baseball operations and general manager Alex Anthopoulos has said Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz and Brandon McCarthy will most likely fill three of the rotation's five spots. The primary candidates for the final two spots are Newcomb, Gohara, Lucas Sims, Max Fried and dark horse veteran Scott Kazmir.

ATLANTA -- Sean Newcomb and Luiz Gohara stand as the favorites to win the final two available spots in Atlanta's rotation. But the Braves aren't making any guarantees as they approach Spring Training looking forward to the chance to see their young starters compete for a job.

Braves president of baseball operations and general manager Alex Anthopoulos has said Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz and Brandon McCarthy will most likely fill three of the rotation's five spots. The primary candidates for the final two spots are Newcomb, Gohara, Lucas Sims, Max Fried and dark horse veteran Scott Kazmir.

There's certainly a chance an injury, acquisition or trade could force the Braves to alter their plans. But with this being the current field, here is a look at the candidates:

Newcomb: Having made 19 starts after receiving his first call to the Majors in June, Newcomb stands as the most experienced member of the group of young candidates. The highly touted rookie made a good impression through his first four starts, struggled throughout most of July and then ditched his slider as he began throwing his changeup more frequently in August.

The southpaw, who will turn 25 in June, is far from a finished product. He didn't ease concerns about his command as he issued 5.1 walks per nine innings, but it's worth noting that figure dropped to 4.75 over his final nine starts. His curveball has the potential to be a great weapon, but he'll either need to find the strike zone with it more frequently or induce some more chase swings.

Video: ATL@NYM: Newcomb fans seven over five frames

Per Statcast™, Newcomb recorded a strike with 66.38 percent of the fastballs he threw. That ranked 37th among 147 pitchers who threw at least 1,000 heaters. He recorded a strike with 56.60 percent of his curveballs, which ranked 51st among the 63 pitchers who threw at least 300 hooks.

Newcomb allowed more than four earned runs in just two of his 19 starts last year, but after completing at least six innings in each of his first four career starts, he did so in just three of the 15 that followed.

Gohara: There was a lot to like as Gohara displayed his tremendous potential during his first five career starts in September. But you should never allow yourself to be fooled by what you see during the season's final month, especially by a rookie who started the year at the Class A Advanced level.

Per Statcast™, Gohara's 96.5-mph average fastball velocity ranked sixth among all pitchers who threw at least 200 fastballs last season. The big 21-year-old southpaw has drawn comparisons to CC Sabathia, and he stands as the most physically gifted pitching prospect the Braves have brought to the Majors in the past three seasons. But as impressive as he might have been while completing at least six innings in each of his final four starts, Gohara still has plenty to prove.

Video: Top Prospects: Luiz Gohara, LHP, Braves

Sims: The suburban Atlanta resident might not have the same upside as the other three young candidates, but his competitive spirit has drawn the respect of manager Brian Snitker and seemingly every other coach he has had. He posted a 5.79 ERA over the 10 starts he made for the Braves last year, and he got a taste of the bullpen as he made four relief appearances in September. If Atlanta opens the season with an eight-man 'pen, he'll stand as a top candidate to serve as a multiple-inning option.

Video: ATL@MIA: Sims freezes Ellis, escapes trouble in 2nd

Fried: The 24-year-old southpaw showed the potential of his curveball as he limited the Cubs to one run over five innings and earned the win in his first Major League start on Sept. 3. But he completed at least five innings in just two outings, and he also posted a 5.92 ERA over the 19 starts made for Double-A Mississippi last year.

Video: Top Prospects: Max Fried, LHP, Braves

Fried is two seasons removed from his long recovery from Tommy John surgery, and he's once again considered one of the game's top left-handed prospects (ranked 10th by MLB Pipeline). But he may need a little more seasoning at Triple-A Gwinnett. Fried will be a top candidate if there's a need for an early-season promotion, but by the time June rolls around, Mike Soroka and Kolby Allard might also be deemed MLB-ready.

Kazmir: Whatever the Braves get from Kazmir will be considered gravy, as they acquired the veteran pitcher as part of the Matt Kemp trade. If Kazmir pitches well during Spring Training, he might draw interest from a club in need of a starter. But the Braves also might opt to roll the dice and attempt to further enhance his value before flipping him during the early portion of the regular season.

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

 

Atlanta Braves

Stewart's goal: Get to Detroit and stay there

Tigers prospect displaying pop, potential in Minors, but seeking consistency
MLB.com @beckjason

DETROIT -- The stretches when Christin Stewart looks every bit the power-hitting outfield prospect the Tigers desperately need in their rebuilding plans are easy to find. It's not just about the ball jumping off his bat toward the outfield fence. It's also about the former first-round pick shrugging off pitches he can't hit, thinking along with the pitcher.

"You have your mental bank you go through from when you faced them the last time, what he tried to do to get you out, stuff like that," Stewart said near the end of last season. "But they also have a report about you, how they pitched you. Especially being in the 3-4-5 hole, usually they remember who you are. They know how to have success against you. They try to go back to that. They're just trying to outsmart you, and you have to stay within yourself and not fall into their trap.

DETROIT -- The stretches when Christin Stewart looks every bit the power-hitting outfield prospect the Tigers desperately need in their rebuilding plans are easy to find. It's not just about the ball jumping off his bat toward the outfield fence. It's also about the former first-round pick shrugging off pitches he can't hit, thinking along with the pitcher.

"You have your mental bank you go through from when you faced them the last time, what he tried to do to get you out, stuff like that," Stewart said near the end of last season. "But they also have a report about you, how they pitched you. Especially being in the 3-4-5 hole, usually they remember who you are. They know how to have success against you. They try to go back to that. They're just trying to outsmart you, and you have to stay within yourself and not fall into their trap.

"You have to stay within the strike zone. You can't go chasing the stuff they want you to chase. You just have to stay within your zone, if that makes sense."

When Stewart does that, it not only makes sense, but it also looks easy. He'll confidently use his left-handed swing and pull a ball over the fence, or off the wall for a double, after taking a pitch to get in his count. It might be a week, or a game, or sometimes just an at-bat, but it reminds you why he was ranked for so long as the Tigers' best position-player prospect by MLB Pipeline until the flurry of Tigers midsummer trades brought in Jeimer Candelario and Daz Cameron.

And then Stewart will have at-bats when he looks nothing like that.

"He looks great one AB, and then he looks like he's chasing butterflies up there the next," his former manager at Double-A Erie, Lance Parrish, said last summer. "It's always a work to try to get hitters focused and balanced and where you want them to be. Sometimes you see it and then, poof, it goes away. And he's no different.

"He's got tremendous power, obviously. He'll go through stretches where he hits the ball, and then there's other times where it's, like, 'Man, what happened?' But as I've explained to these guys, the difference between you guys and the big league guys is they're more consistent than you are. Those stretches are fewer and far between, and they don't last very long, not for the good hitters, anyway."

Video: Christin Stewart is Minor League Player of the Year

The Tigers believe Stewart is good, and that he can make the strides to become more consistent. That's one reason they've practiced patience with him after his 30-homer season between Erie and Class A Advanced Lakeland in 2016 sent him vaulting up the Tigers' prospect rankings. He nearly matched that total this past season, homering 28 times for the SeaWolves, but they came in bunches.

Stewart powered through the early-season chill of April in Erie to bat .295 with a .991 OPS, but then he fell to a .235 average in May. He came through again for a .317 average and .891 OPS in June, then hit just .195 in July with nearly twice as many strikeouts (30) as hits (17). He leveled things out in August with six homers and a .255 average, but he closed with an 0-for-11 slump over his final three games in September.

The result for the season was a .256 average, one point above Stewart's 2016 rate, with similar power and a lower on-base percentage.

"For me, personally, it's just trying to stay more consistent, staying within myself and not trying to do too much at the plate," Stewart said. "I just have to try to stay more consistent at what I do best, which is getting that run in. If there's a runner at third with less than two outs, I feel like I should always get that run in at a very high clip."

If things go to plan, Stewart should get his first chance at Triple-A Toledo this year, putting him on Detroit's doorstep. The Tigers will exercise similar patience with him, giving him a chance to see more experienced Triple-A pitchers two and three times in a season, letting him get through his growing pains.

At some point, whether it's at season's end or in 2019, the Tigers need Stewart, both for the left-handed hitting and the power. If he makes it, the Tigers' rebuild will get a little easier with an offensive bump.

"You know there's an opportunity right there," Stewart said. "You play pro ball to try to get to the big leagues, try to get to The Show. That's my goal every day, try to get to The Show and stay there. I don't want to get there and bounce around. I want to get there and be able to stick. That's what I'm working towards every day."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

 

Detroit Tigers