The Situation: Arizona made a smorgasbord of moves this winter to position themselves as contenders in the NL West. They currently sit two-plus touchdowns out of first place. With the team all but eliminated from playoff contention and Zack Greinke ailing, the Diamondbacks will call on the best prospect in the system, right-hander Braden Shipley.
Background: Shipley came to Nevada as a true two-way prospect, and was actually better with the bat early on, earning second-team All-WAC honors as a shortstop. That quickly changed, as Shipley transformed himself to one of the best right-handed starters west of the Mississippi, and earned top-10 consideration during his junior year. However, Shipley’s stock slid on draft day causing him to fall to the Diamondbacks with the 15th overall pick. Since then, he’s put up solid—if not spectacular—numbers, posting a career 3.79 ERA in just under 442 innings with a career strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2.70. As is so often the case, those numbers don’t truly tell the story of how talented Shipley is, and the DBacks have seen enough to believe he’s ready to get big-league hitters out.
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Monday is turning into a great day for prospect debuts, but this one is the most great.
The Situation: Houston is right in the thick of the playoff chase again, and with A.J. Reed struggling to get on base or hit for power upon his promotion, the Astros will instead call on the best prospect in their system, Alex Bregman.
Background: Bregman was a potential second-round selection coming into the 2012 draft out of Albuquerque, but it was clear that he was set on attending LSU, and attend LSU he did. He quickly established himself as one of the best players in college baseball, posting a .963 OPS in his freshman year and quickly became a legit candidate to be the top player taken in the 2015 draft. A so-so sophomore season saw his stock slide ever so slightly, but he hit .323/.412/.535 and was taken second overall by Houston that June. After an impressive first professional season, Bregman destroyed pitching this spring/summer, posting a 1.016 OPS, earning a trip to the Futures Game (where he nearly hit for the cycle), and becoming one of the best prospects in baseball.
Scott Servais was hired with no managerial experience--but with a long front office resume, a close friendship with his GM, and a history of being chummy with analytics. How's it going?
“It’s gonna be much different than what you’ve seen in other camps. And there’s a reason—we’re trying to get a different result. I think if you wanna get a different result, you gotta do something different...You gotta be open to change. Change is uncomfortable. Just not used to it. But we’re talking about changing the culture, you gotta do something different.” —Scott Servais, January 28, 2016
When the Mariners hired Jerry Dipoto, and gave him authority to hire a new manager, he seemed keen to avoid the power struggles that had marked his time in Los Angeles and necessitated his eventual departure. In the days leading up to his resignation in July 2015, Ken Rosenthal reported that Dipoto and Mike Scioscia had clashed over the coaching staff’s over-reliance on “feel” and resistance to advanced analytics to prepare the Angels for matchups. In Seattle, Scott Servais offered something else—a career’s worth of collaboration, coupled with a willingness to try new things. In many ways, Servais looked the part of a major-league manager. He was a former catcher, and head of player development. He had an extensive coaching background even if he had never previously managed. Perhaps more importantly, he had an extensive background with Dipoto. Even before Los Angeles, they had overlapped several times. They were friends and colleagues of 15 years, and Dipoto had praised Servais’ willingness to listen to and try new things. Dipoto was the stathead, and Servais the player development guy, but they met in the middle.
Yesterday, ESPN’s Buster Olney listed nine improvements he would like to implement in major-league baseball. Olney touched on a number of hot topics, including the length of games and the ever-present debate surrounding home field advantage in the World Series. His list incited various levels of support and opposition, but I’m assuming that Olney endeavored less to craft an op-ed than to start a conversation. To that end, it was extremely successful. Many pundits and fans crafted their own list in response, and you can count me among those so inspired. Below, you’ll find the nine things I would change about the game if I had Rob Manfred’s power and enough time to bring my vision to baseball.*
*As a baseball fan, my interests and loyalties lie more with creating a watchable product than maximizing profits. I fully recognize that the preceding caveat turns this exercise into theoretical and unrealistic wishcasting, but why stop now?
1. Remove convenience fees on ticket purchases: We’ll start with something fan-friendly and self-explanatory. Currently, any time you want to buy tickets in advance, you have to order them from a team’s website, or a third-party service like StubHub. The third parties have their own set of baggage, but the team sites are a headache too. The biggest issue is that they charge a “convenience” fee for processing, regardless of whether you print your tickets at home, pick them up at will call, or download them onto your phone. As any fan knows, there’s no convenience associated with paying an extra $3 per ticket, particularly since the surcharge is unavoidable; it’s just a tax on buying tickets. If I was the commissioner, I would ensure that any fan buying a ticket online would only be paying the advertised price.
2. Eliminate barriers to ticket exchanging/re-selling: This isn’t an issue for much of the league, but anyone following the Yankees-Ticketmaster snafu can probably feel which way the winds are blowing. To summarize a long story, the Yankees have made it very difficult for fans to get into the stadium without buying their tickets on Ticketmaster; purchasers are no longer allowed to print their own tickets, which limits everyone’s ability to buy seats from friends, scalpers, or on a website like Craigslist or StubHub. While important looking people in suits will dress these decisions in fancy rhetoric laden with ridiculous phrases like “safer ticketing experience,” the reality is that these policies make it more difficult for fans to attend games affordably. It’s always unseemly when a multi-billion dollar industry squeezes every last cent out of its paying customers, and as commish I would put the kibosh on the practice before it spreads throughout the league. You should be allowed to download your tickets, sell them to friends or fellow Craigslisters, and pay less than face value for tickets to a game with thousands of available seats. Criminy.
3. Remove metal detectors from stadiums: There’s no evidence that metal detectors make attending a baseball game any safer. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence, however, that the long lines outside of metal detectors can make you late for first pitch. There’s also no history of people bringing weapons to ballgames with the intent to cause mayhem, and even if an enterprising terrorist saw fit to do so, the metal detector wouldn’t necessarily impede his plan; instead of bringing a weapon into the stadium, he could instead wreak havoc outside the gates, where he'd find scores of immobile fans helplessly stuck in line while they waited to march through a metal detector. Ultimately, metal detectors are security theater, and if we’re going to trade freedoms for enhanced security, the security should actually be enhanced, damn it.