Trea Turner's first 162 games have featured some greatness, some goodness, and a few remaining questions.
No matter what happens during Trea Turner’s career on the field, he forever left his mark off the field by motivating Major League Baseball to change the way it handles trades of recent draft picks—the Trea Turner Rule, unofficially. Turner was drafted 13th overall by the Padres in 2014 out of North Carolina State, where he hit .342 with 113 steals in 173 games. After signing quickly for $2.9 million, he debuted by hitting .323 with 23 steals in 69 games between rookie-ball and low Single-A, establishing himself as a consensus top-100 prospect right away. And then that winter the Padres traded him. Sort of.
New general manager A.J. Preller was hell-bent on turning a 77-85 team into an immediate winner, giving up prospects, young major leaguers, and piles of cash to bring in Craig Kimbrel, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Matt Kemp, James Shields, Melvin Upton, and Derek Norris, among others. Myers was acquired from the Rays in a three-team blockbuster that involved Turner being dealt to the Nationals. However, because he was just six months removed from signing and MLB rules prohibited draft picks from being traded for a full year, Turner’s inclusion in the swap had to be masked as a “player to be named later.”
Minnesota's hitting and defense look ready for prime time, but the pitching remains a mess.
Monday was an off day for the Twins, and boy did they need it. As of Friday night they sat atop the American League Central, the unlikely owners of a 34-29 record following a disastrous 103-loss season. Then the second-place Indians came to town for a three-day, four-game series at Target Field and swept the Twins out of first place, thoroughly thrashing Minnesota by a 28-8 aggregate score. In less than 48 hours the Twins went from surprising division leaders to looking like merely something that the defending American League champions had to step over on their inevitable climb back to the playoffs.
Albert Pujols is one of the greatest players of all time, but the Cardinals version and the Angels version have been much different.
As a teenager, I took an annual trip to Arizona with my uncle to watch baseball. It started with going to spring training in March, but later we opted for the Arizona Fall League in November and I came to enjoy those trips even more. There were rarely more than a few hundred people in the stands, and the game results themselves mattered little; it was all about prospects furthering their development. As a young baseball fan who had begun down the path to baseball obsessive, I spent weeks before every trip reading up on prospects so that I’d know who to look for, and could impress my uncle with tidbits about players.
Our last trip to Arizona was in 2000. I was 17 years old and had started reading Baseball Prospectus, Rob Neyer, Baseball America, and old-school Bill James, so I was fully prepared for serious prospect spotting. Three times during our week-long stay we saw Albert Pujols' team. We sat a couple of rows behind the first-base dugout, which gave us an excellent view of the 20-year-old third baseman. I remember my uncle immediately making note of how huge Pujols was for the position. I dumped my prospect notebook, telling him that Pujols was a former 13th-round pick who crushed Single-A to get on the prospect map.
Taking stock of the Twins' young outfielder after his first 162 games in the majors.
Max Kepler was a project, albeit an expensive one. He left Germany as a 16-year-old in 2009 to sign with the Twins for $800,000, the largest bonus ever given to a European-born amateur. Back then Kepler was a lanky center fielder who oozed athleticism, raw tools, and inexperience, and for the next several years the Twins set about trying to mold him into an actual baseball player. Kepler made his pro debut in 2010 and spent three seasons in rookie-ball, upping his OPS there from .689 to .714 to .925, at which point the Twins promoted him to low Single-A for 2013.
Consistent greatness in sports is incredibly difficult to achieve. There are off years and injuries and aging and all sorts of other factors conspiring to keep athletes from remaining at the very top of their sport for long stretches. And yet in the rare instances when someone comes along and actually does it, they’re often taken for granted eventually. Michael Jordan won “only” five MVP awards despite most media, fans, and players agreeing that he was the best player for perhaps twice that many seasons, because on some level a fatigue set in. The best player in the world being the best player in the world became monotonous.
It was a good first quarter for the Rockies, Yankees, Nationals, and Diamondbacks.
In this space yesterday, I examined the four struggling teams that have seen their BP Playoff Odds drop the most through one-quarter of the season. Let’s flip things around now and look at the four teams that have seen their odds rise the most since Opening Day.
The first quarter of the season has not been kind to the Giants, Mets, Pirates, and Mariners.
To slightly tweak a well-worn saying, you can't win a playoff spot in the first quarter of the season, but you can lose it.
The following four teams have seen their BP Playoff Odds decline the most since Opening Day, through slow starts, crowded disabled lists, and various other calamities. Let's take a closer look at how each team fell so far so fast, as well as how they might climb out of the early hole with three-quarters of the season left to play.
This season is old enough to know better, but some early hitting performances really stand out.
I know it’s still too early in the season to draw meaningful conclusions about much of anything because my beloved Twins have a winning record, but we are far enough along that only seven hitters with 100 or more plate appearances are beating their 90th percentile PECOTA projections by at least 200 points of OPS. Two of those seven, Bryce Harper and Freddie Freeman, are great hitters off to especially strong starts, leaving five genuine, out-of-nowhere surprises among full-time position players. By the end of the season they may all have turned back into pumpkins, but in the meantime my curiosity is piqued.
Bryce Harper is off to a great start, which is business as usual for one of the best April hitters of all time.
I realize, given the Nationals’ lack of October success, that using a “Mr. April” moniker in relation to Bryce Harper may be viewed as criticism of some sort. That’s not my intention. Harper has hit four career playoff home runs—tied with Miguel Cabrera, Jimmie Foxx, Johnny Bench, Chipper Jones, and Jose Canseco for the 10th-most ever through age 24—and I have no doubt that he’ll put up plenty of big playoff numbers in the future. For now, though, his opening-month numbers are the ones worth drooling over, because few players in baseball history have ever hit like Harper in April.
Maybe teams should be being even more aggressive signing prospects to long-term contracts.
Jon Singleton signed a long-term contract with the Astros before he’d even played a major-league game, inking a five-year, $10 million deal one day ahead of his June 3, 2014 debut. At the time Singleton was a 22-year-old consensus top prospect, cracking both the Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America top-100 lists in four consecutive seasons. Other prominent prospects—including Astros organization-mate George Springer—had turned down similar pre-debut offers, and some critics believed that Singleton was signing away his future too cheaply.