1). On January 23, somewhere between 12 and 20 teams will attend an indoor showcase outside Boston to watch Craig Breslow throw. Depending on whether or not he insists on a guaranteed deal, one club, after watching his video, estimates as many as a dozen teams could offer to sign the 36 year old.
Yes, this speaks to the unending search for lefthanded relievers. But it also speaks to Breslow’s fierce competitiveness and love of the game, as well as the, marriage of science and technology with the act of throwing a baseball that has changed the sport so much. Just ask his workout partner Rich Hill, who made $3M from 2007 through 2015, was taught by Brian Bannister to use science to reinvent himself, made $6M last season and now has a three year, $48M deal with the Dodgers as he turns 37 in March.
Breslow, who in his senior year at Yale as a molecular biophysics and biochemistry major was supposed to start medical school in the fall of 2002, now talks of pitching four more seasons. After 15 postgraduate seasons and 812 games for 11 major league teams and the independent New Jersey Jackals.
After finishing last season with the Marlins, Breslow bought a Raspodo device, which tracks total spin, spin efficiency, tilt axis and velocity. It can be downloaded onto his iPad and costs far less than Trackman or Pitch f/x devices. He has dropped his arm angle, worked on his breaking ball, hashed philosophy with Hill and after an in person viewing, one scout described Breslow’s movement as “sick.” The Red Sox, Dodgers, Yankees and Mets will be among the teams on hand to view the workout. There was a time when Breslow appeared to be the next big thing in Stem Cell Research, but that got postponed in 2002 when he beat Harvard’s much-watched Ben Crockett—now Boston’s VP and farm director—in Cambridge, and might just get postponed until Breslow is in his Fourties.
The scientific wave has the potential to become an industry tsunami as we may see pitchers from the Gulf Coast League to The Show buying Raspodo tools. Hill and Clayton Kershaw work on this together during the season, studying ways to vary their curveball spin rates and angles. Justin Verlander and Rick Porcello reinvented themselves with countless hours of study and preparation. Max Scherzer is like a professor, and he is impacting Stephen Strasburg, Tanner Roark and has already impacted young pitchers like Eric Fedde, arguably the Nationals best prospect, as well as Reynaldo Lopez, considered by many the best prospect going to the White Sox in the Adam Eaton trade.
Says one pitching guru: “People see these guys carrying a bag and think it’s gold clubs or a guitar,” says one guru. “It’s Raspodo or some kind of pitch tracking device.”
2). Teams throughout baseball are waiting to see if President Donald Trump will take a harder stance on Cuban immigration as long as someone in the Castro family is in power. “It may be a lot more difficult to get access to their best young talent with this administration and the pressure brought by Marco Rubio and other anti-Castro figures. The talent flow has already slowed down, and now it’s really about the very young players.”
3). Speaking of President Trump and Florida figures, Trump and Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria are good friends. Could we be looking at consideration as the next U.S. Ambassador to France?
4). When the Brewers talked to the Dodgers during last season about a Ryan Braun deal, they expected there would be clubs interested this winter. He’s 33. He hit .305 with 30 homers last season. His OPS the last three seasons has risen from .777 to .854 to .903. The Brewers clearly would pay down some of the $76M remaining on his contract.
But the interest in Braun hasn’t been there. One general manager says why would anyone give up a couple of prospects and take on some of the money when there are bats like Mark Trumbo and Jose Bautista on the market who require only cash, no talent in return? And one more factor—the way his representatives handled his 2013 suspension, trying to put the blame on a UPS driver, still leaves a bad taste in many mouths around the game.
5). You could make a feature film on the last 12 months in the life of Kris Bryant, from his MVP season to fielding the final out of the World Series to his wedding last Saturday (let’s have his father Mike’s song to the couple on Youtube). And the player the Astros took instead of Bryant with the first pick of that 2013 draft, Mark Appel…
Not so much. It has not been an easy four years for Appel. He is shy, as well as very smart, and has always been faced with expectations; Houston is his home town, Bryant was clearly headed for stardom. Mark’s minor league earned run average is 5.59. He has allowed 320 hits in 291 1/3 innings. His delivery and makeup have been questioned. Then he was part of the December, 2015 trade to Philadelphia for reliever Ken Giles.
After eight starts in the Phillies’ system and a 4.46 ERA, Appel had surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow. And now some feel those chips had been a problem for awhile. Not being able to fully extend his delivery for a couple of years diminished his velocity, and may resulted his in lack of command.
He is fully healthy now, throwing and preparing for spring training, and while the Phillies will start him in the minors, what he does in Clearewater Florida will give them an idea if he shows glimpses of what so many thought Mark Appel was going to be, which could be a significant second half piece in the Phillies’ rebuilding process.
6). A lot of baseball folks have been critical of Tyson Ross, who pitched once last season before undergoing Thoracic Outlet Syndrom Surgery, for wanting a one year deal and not settling for a rebuild in 2017 and a second year in ’18. But Tyson is convinced he’s healthy, always cautious in how he proceeds, and whether it’s the Cubs, Rangers, Nationals, whoever, he wants one year and a trip into the free agent market at the end of the 2017 season.
7). But, now knowing that the Orioles didn’t offer Mark Trumbo a $52M deal, what is going on? And if the Rockies can make one other move or two interested American League teams jump in, where next for the O’s?
8). The Twins have at least a half-dozen very good young positional players. Brian Dozier is a 40 home run hitter. He makes $16M in 2017-18 combined. The Twins have a fan base that deserves management that is fully aware of the Twins brand, and while Jose DeLeon may be a very good prospect, to trade Dozier and promise 2020 bliss requires at least one or two more players in the deal, with the rightful ask of Yadier Alvarez—a Cuban with exceptional upside.
9). Watching Billy Spiers as a 50-year old graduate assistant helping with Deshaun Watson in Clemson’s tremendous win Monday reminds me of the tackle Spiers—the Clemson punter—made in the open field on Sterling Sharpe to save a tie with rival South Carolina nearly 30 years ago.
10). Yes, between the NCAA limits on baseball scholarships and the expensive showcase circuit which makes baseball an increasingly elitist sport, I offer this note: the U.S. Hockey team that last week beat Canada in the finals of the World Junior Championships had three African-American players, as many as last summer’s Team USA baseball team comprised of the best college players. Reminds me that the Bruins had an African-American (Willie O’Ree) before the Red Sox had their first (Pumpsie Green).