Tagged: Bryce Harper

Mapes vs. Jeremy Returns: 2013 Home Run Derby Draft

HR Derby 2013We’re back! And what better way to break back on to the scene than with a joyous barrage of 500-foot home runs? In case you missed our first Home Run Derby Draft last year, check out the teams here. We see a couple familiar names in there, including A.L. captain Robinson Cano. But how will the results turn out in 2013?

Just like last season, this is all based on points. Whoever hits the most home runs accumulates the most points for his team, and determines the winner of this Mapes vs. Jeremy challenge. The draftees are Cano, Yoenis Cespedes, Prince Fielder, and Chris Davis on the A.L. side. The senior circuit rolls with captain David Wright, Michael Cuddyer, Bryce Harper, and Pedro Alvarez (who recently replaced Carlos Gonzalez).

The scoring system is simple. For each home run by a player on our team, we get points. In the first round, it’s one point per home run. In the second round it’s two points, and the third round is three. The bonus for drafting the winning slugger is five points, and could make or break this battle.

So check out our draft, and vote in the polls below. Who is going to win the 2013 Home Run Derby, and which of our teams will be crowned 3U3D champions?

*If anyone pulls out of the competition, their replacement will be added to that team’s roster.*
1st pick: Prince Fielder, Tigers (Team Mapes)
I want revenge for losing to you last year and taking the safest pick on the board, two-time Derby champ Prince Fielder.  Only him and Robinson Cano understand the preparation in between rounds to take home the title.  Prince will be launching them over the Pepsi Porch in right field all night.  He’s the clear favorite to become the 2nd three-time Home Run Derby champion, joining Ken Griffey, Jr.  I’ll be in attendance and I’m really hoping to be able to track down a Fielder home run in my glove.
2nd pick: Bryce Harper, Nationals (Team Jeremy)Harper HR Derby
There are many who think Harper doesn’t deserve a spot on the squad this year. Nonsense. Harper was pinging the top of the scoreboard (yes, the one behind the right-field bleachers) at Tropicana Field in HIGH SCHOOL. He’s young, aggressive, and has a powerful home run swing. He’s also aching to win this thing. I’d be shocked if Harper isn’t at least in the second round.
3rd pick: Pedro Alvarez, Pirates (Team Jeremy)
I got my wish. When I found out Carlos Gonzalez hurt his finger, I crossed mine and hoped that “El Toro” would replace him. It may be true that Alvarez isn’t the best all-around hitter, but this is a home run contest, and there are few who can hit a ball harder or further than the Pirates’ third baseman. I have a feeling he’ll rack up a big number, but if not, he will at least put on a good show.
4th pick: Chris Davis, Orioles (Team Mapes)
Harper is going to be boom or bust, but I would’ve taken him if I have picked 2nd/3rd.  That being said I’ll gladly take the current MLB home run king in Chris Davis, who I thought about taking at #1 overall.  Davis has always been a batting practice show since he was a rookie and the home run derby is pretty much glorified batting practice.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Davis hits the longest home run of the night.
Chris Davis HR Derby5th pick: Robinson Cano, Yankees (Team Jeremy)
Cano has been there, done that, with his suave attitude and sweet swing. He’ll be hitting in a mostly friendly atmosphere at Citi Field (because Mets fans don’t actually exist, amirite?), and might find himself repeating his 2011 win. Like everything he does, Cano will calmly sail into the second round and will be the overwhelming favorite to go to the finals. I’ve already seen one pundit (okay, so it was just a dude on Twitter) predict a Fielder vs. Cano final. And yes, I know he hit zero last year. Shut up. He’s due.
6th pick: Yoenis Cespedes, Athletics (Team Mapes)
Speaking of guys that put on shows in batting practice, Cespedes certainly fits that bill.  I’ve never seen a ball be hit into the 3rd deck of left field at Citi Field, but if someone can do it, it’s Cespedes (or Evan Gattis).  I am a little worried that he’ll just let it rip and wear himself down to where he won’t go deep into the competition.
7th pick: David Wright, Mets (Team Jeremy)
There is a reason we saved the three right-handed batters for last. Since 2003, Miguel Tejada (20o4) and Vlad Guerrero (2007 – at AT&T Park vs. Alex Rios…REALLY?? No lefties in the final with McCovey Cove sitting there, hungry? Sigh.) are the only righties to win the Derby. Wright has been golfing low and away pitches out all year, so he won’t have to be picky, and has a familiarity with this stadium. He’s the best bet of the right-handed hitters in my opinion, and we all know he comes up clutch.
8th pick: Michael Cuddyer, Rockies (Team Mapes)The Oakland Athletics' Yoenis Céspedes hits a two-run homer against the Seattle Mariners in Tokyo
Oh come on, you knew from the start Cuddyer was being picked last.  Domonic Brown or Paul Goldschmidt might have been better picks.  But, you have to respect David Wright for sticking to his guns and taking his friend and fellow Virginian in Cuddyer.  Now, we’ll see if Cuddy makes Captain America look smart.
There you have it! Vote in the polls below, and don’t forget to watch the 2013 Home Run Derby on Monday.

– Jeremy Dorn (@Jamblinman)

Follow @3u3d on Twitter and like Three Up, Three Down on Facebook for all your 2013 MLB news!

The 2013 Way Too Early MLB Awards

It’s May Day!  Meaning the first month of the MLB season is in the books, also meaning it’s time for the monthly awards rankings.  Last year, I finished by picking four of six awards correctly, missing out on NL Rookie of the Year (I still think Wade Miley should’ve won) and AL MVP (ditto Mike Trout).  Here’s who I think is in line for some hardware after April.

American League Rookie of the Year

Silver Medal: Nick Tepesch, Texas Rangers

Normally, we do a top three with a bronze medal, but the American League rookie crop is so poor right now that you’re only getting two.  Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Aaron Hicks both had promise coming into the year and underwhelmed.  Wil Myers or Dan Straily should hurry up and get called up and take the award you’re supposed to win.  Tepesch has been solid for the Rangers going 2-1 with a 2.53 ERA and an inpressive 14:3 K:BB ratio.

Gold Medal: Justin Grimm, Texas Rangers

Unfortuately for Tepesch, his teammate has been slightly better for now.  Grimm is 2-0 with a 1.59 ERA and a 15:4 K:BB ratio that’s been impressive in place of Matt Harrison.  There’s still plenty of time for someone to step up and become the frontrunner for this award.

In the Running: Stephen Pryor, Seattle Mariners

National League Rookie of the Year

Bronze Medal: Jim Henderson, Milwaukee Brewers

Unlike the American League, there is a plethora of rookie candidates in the NL that had a great start to the season.  Jim Henderson has wrestled away the closer’s role in Milwaukee from John Axford and isn’t giving it back.  He’s six for six in save chances, with a sparkling 0.75 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 12 innings.

Silver Medal: Evan Gattis, Atlanta Braves

It’s clear that Gattis has been the best rookie hitter in the Majors leading all MLB rookies with six home runs and 16 RBI.  He’s journey back to baseball has been nothing short of remarkable.  Can he keep it up though is the main question. Especially with Brian McCann returning from injury, there might not be a daily spot in the Braves lineup for El Oso Blanco.

Gold Medal: Shelby Miller, St. Louis Cardinals

If Tony Cingrani of the Reds had been called up for one more start this month, he might be in the top spot.  For now, I’m giving the edge to Shelby Miller who’s been everything Cardinals fans hoped he would be in place of Chris Carpenter.  Miller is 3-2 with a 2.05 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 30.2 IP this season.

In the Running: Tony Cingrani, Cincinnati Reds, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Los Angeles Dodgers, and A.J. Pollock, Arizona Diamondbacks

American League Cy Young

Bronze Medal: Hisashi Iwakuma, Seattle Mariners

My love for Hisashi Iwakuma has been strong from the preseason.  Iwakuma is only 2-1, but has 1.67 ERA and leads MLB in WHIP at 0.69.  He’s also become more in command of his pitches with a fantastic 7.4 K:BB ratio.  The Mariners have a formidable 1-2 punch now with Iwakuma and Felix Hernandez.  All due respect to Yu Darvish, who leads the American League in strikeouts, I have a feeling he’ll crack the top three at some point this season.

Silver Medal: Matt Moore, Tampa Bay Rays

It’s a close call for the top spot and Matt Moore gets the short end of it for now.  He’s given the Rays rotation a great boost as defending Cy Young winner David Price has been a little bit of a disappointment thus far.  Moore leads the American League in wins, ERA, and hits/9 innings, but his inability to work deep into games keeps him in the silver spot.

Gold Medal: Clay Buchholz, Boston Red Sox

It’s really splitting hairs between Buchholz and Moore, but I’m going to give the razor-thin edge to the Red Sox starter.  Both pitchers are 5-0, Buchholz has slightly worse ERA and WHIP, but has gone deeper into games for Boston.  Buchholz also has the advantage over Matt Moore in WAR and is tops in the AL in that stat.

In the Running: Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez, Detroit Tigers, Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers, Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners, and Hiroki Kuroda, New York Yankees

National League Cy Young

Bronze Medal: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

Kershaw or Verlander?  Who’s the best pitcher in all of MLB?  That’s a debate for another day, but right now based on the stats, Kershaw has been 3rd best in the National League.  The Dodgers ace finished the opening month with a 1.71 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and is tied for 2nd in the National League in strikeouts.

Silver Medal: Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals

Wainwright looks fully back from Tommy John surgery and better than ever.  His streak of not walking a batter to start the season reached epic proportions and leads the league in K:BB, wins, and innings pitched.  He sports a beautiful 2.03 ERA and 0.99 WHIP and hasn’t given up a home run yet this season.  Let me repeat, HE LEADS THE LEAGUE IN BATTERS FACED AND HASN’T GIVEN UP A HOME RUN TO ANY OF THEM.  Amazing.

Gold Medal: Matt Harvey, New York Mets

Who would’ve thought that when the Mets traded 2012 NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey, they would have another Cy Young contender this year?  Harvey has been a revelation for the Metropolitans going 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA and a league-leading 0.81 WHIP.  It’s a shame that he’s not eligible for Rookie of the Year, because he’d be leading that race as well.

In the Running: Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler, Washington Nationals, Mat Latos, Cincinnati Reds, Jake Westbrook, St. Louis Cardinals, and Paul Maholm, Atlanta Braves

American League MVP

Bronze Medal: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers

The defending AL MVP picked right up where he left off in 2012.  The Triple Crown winner is hitting .363 and is tied for the lead in runs batted in with a player we’ll get to soon.  Could there be back-to-back Triple Crowns in the works?

Silver Medal: Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians

Probably the best player this season you haven’t heard anything about.  Santana leads the American League in batting average, on-base percentage, OPS, and offensive WAR.  He’s blossomed into the AL’s Buster Posey so far this season, we’ll see if he can keep it up.  If the Indians can make the playoffs with Santana performing at this level, he’ll be the MVP.

Gold Medal: Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles

He’s cooled slightly since his blistering start to the season, but “Crush” Davis leads the AL in home runs, runs batted in, total bases, and slugging.  He’s even hitting .348 with a great .448 OBP.  He’s one of the reasons the Orioles are proving 2012 wasn’t just a fluke.  Let’s not forget his clutchness too!

 

In the Running: Robinson Cano, New York Yankees, Coco Crisp, Oakland Athletics, Ian Kinsler, Texas Rangers, Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox, and Prince Fielder, Detroit Tigers

National League MVP

Bronze Medal: Shin-Soo Choo, Cincinnati Reds

I may have made a mistake having Carlos Gonzalez over Choo on my preliminary All-Star Game ballot last week.  Choo has been a fantastic pick-up for the Reds.  He’s hitting .337 with a league-leading .477 OBP, that has paced the Cincinnati lineup.  He’s also 4th in the NL in runs scored, OPS, and total bases.  That was a great trade for the Reds so far.

Silver Medal: Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals

It’s entirely possible that Harper is about to repeat Mike Trout’s twenty year-old season (minus the stolen bases).  He’s 3rd in the NL in offensive WAR and leads the league in OPS and OPS+.  Harper also is hitting .344 and getting on base at a .430 clip, both top five in the league.  It’s going to be beat into the ground that he’s doing this before he can legally drink, so get used to it.

Gold Medal: Justin Upton, Atlanta Braves

It’s pretty safe to say that Justin Upton enjoys playing with his brother B.J.  The younger Upton has almost carried the Braves lineup leading the National League in home runs, slugging, runs scored, total bases, and offensive WAR, while hitting .298.  If Upton can start to hit better with runners in scoring position, he could have one of the greatest seasons in Atlanta Braves history.

Who would win your awards after April?  Let us know in the comments!

-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)

Bryce Harper Loves the Wave

There’s been a long debate over the wave at baseball games since it’s inception in the 1980’s.  Many seem it was fun when it first started and is still awesome to do when there’s a full crowd that makes it look good.  It seems that the tide has turned on the wave and true baseball fans want to just enjoy the game without fans standing up in front of them repeatedly.  After this column from Dan Steinberg from the DC Sports Bog, Nationals superstar is the next to weigh in and wants the wave to stay, especially at Nationals Park.

And followed it up with the backing of teammate Jayson Werth.

All-star shortstop is also in on Nationals fans continuing to do the wave during games.

Nationals relief pitcher Ryan Mattheus also weighed in on the controversy.

What are your thoughts on the wave? Should it stay or should fans be paying more attention to what’s on the field than in the stands? Let us know in the comments!

-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)

The Why am I Filling Out All-Stars on April 24th? Ballot

The 2013 MLB All-Star Game is 83 days away, but never fear you can start voting for your favorite players today here.  You get 25 votes that gets bumped up to 35 if you log in with your MLB.com account.  Of course there are still paper ballots that can be found at every stadium and the MLB Fan Cave for you to fill out.  While I don’t fill out mine until I get a better grasp of who deserves it (like that ends up mattering) here’s what my ballot would look like on April 24th.

First Base

American League: Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles Davis is off to a hot start for Baltimore. He’s hitting .382 with an AL-leading 7 home runs coming into the games on the 24th.  Mike Napoli and Prince Fielder have cases and Napoli would be my pick if he was on the ballot at catcher, not first base. (Runner-up: Prince Fielder, Tigers)

National League: Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds The power numbers aren’t there, but Votto-matic is automatic at getting on base leading the league with 26 walks so far and a crazy .485 OBP.  The next highest walk total is 16 by David Wright. (Runner-up Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers)

Second Base

American League: Robinson Cano, New York Yankees I can make a case that Robinson Cano is the MVP of the American League right now.  Then you can make the case that it’s April 24th and that’s stupid. (Runner-up Ian Kinsler, Rangers)

National League: Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati Reds It must be nice for Phillips to just get to drive in OBP-machines Joey Votto and Shin-Soo Choo getting on base ahead of him all the time.  He leads NL second baseman in RBI and is tied for the lead in home runs.  Plus, he’s the best defender at the position in the league. (Runner-up Daniel Murphy, Mets)

Shortstop

American League: Jed Lowrie, Oakland Athletics Lowrie has been quite a coup for Billy Beane’s boys.  Lowrie leads AL shortstops in runs, RBI, and batting average. (Runner-up: Jose Reyes, Blue Jays, I’m not joking either)

National League: Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies Why have the Rockies been surprising in 2013?  A healthy and hitting Troy Tulowitzki is a big part of it. He leads NL shortstops in home runs, RBI, and runs, while hitting .292. (Runner-up: Jean Segura, Milwaukee Brewers)

Third Base

American League: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers The defending AL MVP is off to a quiet start, but is still among the league leaders in hits and is best among AL third sackers in batting average. (Runner-up: Evan Longoria, Rays)

National League: David Wright, New York Mets I really wanted to have NL batting leader Chris Johnson here, but Wright has had the overall better start to the season, especially on the basepaths.  There’s a lot of depth here right now with Todd Frazier, Pablo Sandoval, and Martin Prado off to solid starts.  (Runner-up: Chris Johnson)

Catcher

American League: J.P. Arencibia, Toronto Blue Jays Napoli not being on the ballot at catcher is Arencibia’s gain for now.  He leads the American League in home runs with eight after another one on Wednesday.  He’s my least likely from here to be on my actual ballot in a couple months.  (Runner-up: Carlos Santana, Indians)

National League: John Buck, New York Mets Let’s just sum up Buck’s start with this meme. (Runner-up: Evan Gattis, Braves, wait he’s not on the ballot?!?)

Screen Shot 2013-04-24 at 1.53.30 PM

Outfield

American League: Coco Crisp, Oakland Athletics, Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston Red Sox, and Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles These three have been the best all-around outfielders in the American League this season.  It’s not my fault that they’re all center fielders.  (Runners-up: Austin Jackson, Tigers and Alex Rios, White Sox)

National League: Justin Upton, Atlanta Braves, Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies, and Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals There is a ton of depth at National League outfield right now.  You could take the next four on my list and make a case they deserve it on to the squad.  Justin Upton has been hands-down the best hitter in the game so far this season, it’s ridiculous that he’s still on pace for 90+ home runs. (Runners-up: Shin-Soo Choo, Reds, Dexter Fowler, Rockies, Ryan Braun, Brewers, and Andrew McCutchen, Pirates)

Designated Hitter

American League: Mark Reynolds, Cleveland Indians Reynolds has been a great find for Cleveland with seven home runs and 18 RBI, both are top ten in MLB right now.  (Runner-up: Travis Hafner, New York Yankees)

Who would you have on your All-Star ballot on release day?  Let us know in the comments!

-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)

Top 5 Moments of Opening Day

Opening DayThis is no April Fools prank: Baseball. Is. Back!

After the Houston Astros dis–hey…stop laughing…it really happened–dismantled the Texas Rangers last night at Minute Maid Park, we had our first full day of baseball today.

Naturally, ESPN kicked it off with proof that they are extremely stubborn as a network, pitting C.C. Sabathia and the hobbled Yankees versus Jon Lester and the completely average Red Sox.

There were so many amazing moments in a long day of ball that it was hard to narrow down to just five. But here is our best shot at it. This is what we do at Three Up, Three Down. We write stuff on baseball-related activities for your enjoyment. So, enjoy!

5. Justin Jacks One

Welcome to Atlanta, where the playa’s play and Upton hits bombs like every day. No disrespect to Freddie Freeman, who also went mammo today, but this Justin Upton blast was put in orbit. And it’s not just a top moment because of the distance–the Braves outfield is the most freakish in baseball, and this is just the first sampling. The Braves faithful have been waiting for this moment since the original trade was made, and the little bro definitely didn’t disappoint.

4. Brewers Bailed Out

One of KP’s least favorite memories of the 2012 season was any blown save by John Axford and Co. If you see our tallest group member, give him a hug. Because Axford was at it again on Opening Day, giving up a no-doubter with two outs in the ninth to the Rockies’ Dexter Fowler, which tied the game. Fortunately for Milwaukee and the home fans, the Rockies pitching staff is deplorable and Jonathan Lucroy was able to score a walk-off sac fly and bail the bullpen out.

3. Bryce Decides Twice is Nice

If there was any debate that last year’s NL Rookie of the Year would suffer from a sophomore slump, he killed it quick. In his first two at-bats of the 2013 season, Bryce Harper absolutely crushed two Ricky Nolasco pitches and put them in the right field bleachers. I’m not buying that his second one has landed yet. In fact, it might currently be traveling over the Atlantic Ocean. Keep an eye out for it. The 20-year-old phenom is on pace for 324 jacks this year. 

2. Stan the Man MUSIAL PATCH

The late Cardinals legend and Hall of Famer Stan Musial is being honored by the team with a cool, classy patch (pictured to the right) on their left sleeves in 2013. But the Arizona Diamondbacks, who hosted the Cards on Opening Day, pulled off a fantastic move by paying homage with a video tribute to Musial between innings. Unfortunately, I don’t have video for you, but the gesture itself was a true act of sportsmanship and remembrance of one of the greatest hitters and humans the world has ever seen.

1. Kershaw Goes Krazy

Let me set the stage: The defending champions travel to their heated rival’s new stadium and face their fancy new team in a battle between two of the best pitchers in the league. A pitcher’s duel turns into a one-man show as Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw not only throws a complete game, four-hit shutout, but hits a go-ahead home run that breaks a scoreless tie in the eighth inning. Unbelievable. And in a game that began with a well-choreographed first pitch skit from Dodgers heroes Sandy Koufax and Orel Hershiser. I have to take a second to brag, as humbly as possible. I tweeted THIS about five minutes before magic occurred. Of course it was a coincidence  but it makes me believe in fairy tale endings, and reinforces our love of this magical sport.

Buckle up, baseball fans. This was just day one. Only 161 more regular season games to go! Vote below on which one of these moments should have been in the top five, or comment about any moments we missed!

– Jeremy Dorn (@Jamblinman)

Follow @3u3d on Twitter and like Three Up, Three Down on Facebook! The best baseball coverage, coming at you from five different states and five different fan bases.

3U3D Break It Down: The N.L. East

Has the National League evolved into a two-team arms race between the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves?  It seemed all offseason one would make a move and the other would counter it.  B.J. Upton, Dan Haren, Denard Span, Rafael Soriano, Justin Upton, Chris Johnson, and Jordan Walden all enter the fray and make these two teams on paper the teams to beat.  The Phillies aren’t ready to go down with a fight adding Ben Revere and Michael Young in the offseason.  The Mets and Marlins?  Well they might go down without a fight, let’s break down the National League East.

Projected Order of Finish: Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals, Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets, Miami Marlins

Why the Braves could win the N.L. East: It’s pretty hard to believe that Atlanta lost three of the four best hitters from last season in Chipper Jones, Martin Prado, and Michael Bourn and the lineup is better.  The Upton brothers move into the outfield along with Jason Heyward, giving the Braves two MVP-potential candidates in the corners.  Andrelton Simmons showed in the WBC that he is ready, especially defensively.  Freddie Freeman’s growth continues in an all-star caliber 1st baseman.  The rotation might not be on the Nationals level overall, but Tim Hudson, Kris Medlen, Paul Maholm, Mike Minor, and Julio Teheran is solid.  Teheran could be ready to shine as he was spectacular in spring training.  Craig Kimbrel is the best closer in the game, while Eric O’ Flaherty is among the best setup men.  All the pieces are there for a return to the playoffs.

Why the Braves wouldn’t win the N.L. East: First, the leadership from Chipper Jones, Martin Prado, and Michael Bourn’s departure throws off the clubhouse and no one behind Tim Hudson steps up.  The lineup is filled with just too many strikeouts that kills putting together rallies.  Brian McCann’s shoulder is completely shot and he’s not the player he once was or even comes back at all leaving the catching duties to Gerald Laird and Evan Gattis.  Jonny Venters injury is more serious than planned (i.e. Tommy John surgery) and Jordan Walden isn’t ready to go and the bullpen suffers and becomes overworked.  Brandon Beachy returning from Tommy John surgery mid-season isn’t able to come close to the form he displayed at the start of 2012.

Why the Nationals could win the N.L. East: The rotation is the best in MLB with Stephen Strasburg’s innings cap behind him, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Dan Haren, and Ross Detwiler.  The bullpen is no slouch either with Rafael Soriano (42 saves in 2012) joining Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, and Ryan Mattheus is a great bullpen.  The lineup is good to great and can be better than great if “The Phenom” Bryce Harper continues to progress into an MVP candidate.

Why the Nationals wouldn’t win the N.L. East: The Braves end up just slightly better top to bottom.  Newly-signed Denard Span reverts back to an injury-plagued season like in 2011.  Ryan Zimmerman’s right shoulder, that caused him to receive cortisone shots throughout last season, acts up and his bat his lost from the middle of the lineup.  It’s really hard not to see the Nationals as a probable playoff team.

Why the Phillies could win the N.L. East: Roy Halladay might not be what he used to be, but Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee are both still good enough to carry a rotation.  I highly doubt Lee will only win six games again.  The lineup is improved with a healthy Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, plus Ben Revere providing speed at lead-off.  Michael Young joins Philadelphia to provide leadership and hitting prowess.  He would need get back to hitting .300 for the Phillies to have a real chance.  Domonic Brown’s spring breakout continues into the season and he finally pays dividends for all of those trades Ruben Amaro Jr. refused to do when Brown was a prospect.  Plus, Jonathan Papelbon is one of the best closers in the games.

Why the Phillies wouldn’t win the N.L. East: It’s entirely possible that Roy Halladay never gets back to what he was before 2012.  His velocity has been down after an injury-plagued season.  The lineup is on the wrong side of their prime with Howard, Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Young all over 33 years-old.  Carlos Ruiz’s 25-game suspension messes with the pitching staff and they get off on the wrong foot after Ruiz broke out offensively.  Brown does what he’s done his whole career and tease greatness, but not come through.

Why the Mets could win the N.L. East: David Wright’s injury is nothing and the new Mets captain goes on to be his usual self in the middle of the lineup.  Ike Davis evolves into a 35-40 home run hitting first baseman.  The Mets call up Zack Wheeler and pair him with Matt Harvey and create the best young pitching duo in the division.  Travis d’Arnuad can’t be held back anymore in the minors and starts developing into the next Mike Piazza.

Why the Mets wouldn’t win the N.L. East: Johan Santana is probably out for the season taking leadership out of the clubhouse on a daily basis.  The bullpen in atrocious.  The outfield is near-atrocious, unless Jordany Valdespin steps up big.  The Mets are a rebuilding project, but there are some nice pieces coming to Flushing.

Why the Marlins could win the N.L. East: They can’t, but what kind of season would Giancarlo Stanton have to have to put Miami in contention?  60 home runs?  I do like Steve Cishek a lot as a potential closer, but he may end up trade bait at the deadline.  I might just like him because he’s a submariner.

Why the Marlins wouldn’t win the N.L. East: The rotation is the worst in the division, where their “ace” Ricky Nolasco can’t be trusted to not blow up on any given start.  The lineup has some veterans who can hit for average in Juan Pierre, Placido Polanco, Justin Ruggiano, and Casey Kotchman, but aside from Stanton there isn’t a 2nd run producer.  This might take years for Miami to get into contention.

Awards Watch

N.L. MVP

Jason Heyward and Justin Upton-Braves

Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasberg-Nationals

Cole Hamels-Phillies

David Wright-Mets

Giancarlo Stanton-Marlins

Cy Young

Craig Kimbrel and Kris Medlen-Braves

Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, and Gio Gonzalez-Nationals

Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee-Phillies

Rookie of the Year

Rob Brantly and Adeiny Hechavarria-Marlins

Julio Teheran-Braves

Travis d’Arnaud and Zack Wheeler-Mets

Who do you think wins the N.L. East?  The Nationals?  The Braves?  Can one of the other three teams steal the division away?  Let us know in the comments!

-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)

The 2nd Annual Jeremy vs. Mapes MLB Jersey Draft

I’m sure some or maybe all of you have heard that Jeremy and I made the top 52 for the MLB Fan Cave in 2013. We’ve been blown away by your support so far and we want to start by saying thank you.

Now for the main event! The 2nd annual jersey draft battle! I may have had the worst pick in the draft last year (Adrian Gonzalez, who’s no longer on the Red Sox), but I did score the NL MVP’s jersey (Buster Posey) with the 2nd to last pick. Plus, I got to give grief all season for Jeremy picking Matt Cain 4th overall.

The rules are simple: I will pick 1st because Jeremy had the first choice last year. Jeremy will get 2nd and 3rd picks and then alternate from there. What we’re looking for in our jersey investments are quality of player, potential time in uniform, and overall awesomeness. You can only have one player, per team on your own draft. Both of us can pick a player from the same team, for example Matt Cain/Buster Posey and Miguel Cabrera/Prince Fielder were all picked last year. It does play into strategy, because it let me wait on Posey, knowing Jeremy couldn’t take another Giants player. Without further adieu!

Team Mapes Pick #1, #1 Overall: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Last year, I picked Albert Pujols at #3 overall based on the long length of his contract ensuring great use from his Angels jersey.  This year, Trout is the most exciting player in the game and is under team control through 2017.  Trout’s jersey’s the hands down top pick to me.  You’re getting five seasons of sweet-jersey wearing time. Bonus points for completing the Trout ensemble with a foam Trout hat. I might have just let Jeremy get a steal of Pujols or Josh Hamilton later in the draft though, time will tell. You’re up Mr. Dorn. I have a sneaking suspicion you’ll be repeating your top pick from 2012.

Team Jeremy Pick #1, #2 Overall: Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers of Los Angeles

Two things: First, Mapes is absolutely correct. No way I’m not going to take my first overall pick in last year’s draft, Matt Kemp. Not only is he under contract in Los Angeles through the decade, but when healthy he is the best all-around player in the game. Teammates like him, fans like him, and even opponents like the laid-back, uber-talented center fielder of the Dodgers. He came freakishly close to a Triple Crown and 40/40 season in 2011, and will look to return to that form after injuries derailed him last year. Oh, and secondly — give me crap all you want for the Cain pick, but the dude threw a perfect game last season and I hypothetically had that jersey!

Team Jeremy Pick #2, #3 Overall: Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds

I snatched this pick off Mapes’ team from last year, and I’m glad I did. Votto has been one of the most consistent, destructive hitters (when healthy) since he entered the league, and will be mashing in Cincy through 2024 under his current contract. Votto should always be a favorite in the National League for the MVP award, given his batting average, on-base percentage, power numbers and defense in a given year. Plus, the jersey just looks GOOD!

Team Mapes Pick #2, #4 Overall: Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates

There are so many options at this pick it’s ridiculous. I don’t want to talk (or type) out loud and give you any ideas though! I think that Cutch was going to be your next pick so I’m grabbing him now. He’s under team control through 2018, a great player, and completely entertaining as evidenced by his MLB Fan Cave videos. He’s a player you WANT to root for and a baseball fan that has a Pirates jersey when they finally end their sub-.500 season streak will be looking good. That being said, I really hope you don’t take the player I strongly considered here. McCutchen moves up from the #8 jersey overall selected in 2012.

Team Jeremy Pick #3, #5 Overall: Jason Heyward, Atlanta Braves

Oh, yes I did just pick the J-Hey kid from your own squad! No way I’m letting you stack your lineup with one of the best and most popular players in the game today. After a dismal sophomore season in 2011, Heyward bounced back to prominence and beyond in 2012, and will be a power-hitting, web gem-making, on-base getting (huh?) beast for at least the next four years in Atlanta. Snag his jersey now, before it’s too late. Mapes, when you’re done crying that I’ve drafted your boy, feel free to make your next pick!

Team Mapes Pick #3, #6 Overall: Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants

WHAT DID I EVER DO TO YOU JEREMY?!?! I’ll have to console myself with the TWO Jason Heyward shirseys that I have hanging in my closet. Don’t worry, I have a plan for my Atlanta Braves pick later. There’s only one real way to get back to you and that’s with a picture of the Giants having a champagne celebration. When was the last time the Dodgers did that? Posey is a great jersey pickup, solid name, defending NL MVP, and safety of knowing he’ll be in the orange and black for a long, long time. Plus, Posey and I are birthday buddies on March 27th!

Team Jeremy Pick #4, #7 Overall: Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles

That is a low blow, my friend. I’ll pretend there is just a bubbly leak from the sprinklers in that clubhouse picture. Jones is quickly climbing the chart of all-around athletes in MLB and fans are really starting to take notice. Not only is Jones a graceful defender, but he’s only just starting to fully develop the offensive side of his game at age 27. He’s signed in Baltimore through the 2018 season and is extremely close to breaking into McCutchen popularity territory in my opinion. This is the only orange and black jersey in my collection this year, Mapes!

Team Mapes Pick #4, #8 Overall: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
Adam Jones is a solid pick, but I’d rather have a new Orioles hat than a jersey, I think. I’m going back to an MVP I took at #5 last year. Braun is basically going to be a Brewer forever, or at least 2020 seems forever away. He’s been consistently good so far in his career and I don’t think there will be much of a drop off later in his career. It’ll always be cool to wear a Braun jersey, especially in the Badger State. Eight picks in and we have six National League player jerseys…interesting.

Team Jeremy Pick #5, #9 Overall: Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals

Given recent news, that pick could become problematic for you. I really hope it doesn’t, and I’ll give you mad props for taking the risk. I’ll continue the run on National Leaguers with the first pitcher of the draft. Of all the exciting young pitchers who I was eligible to select here (remember, I already took Kemp, so Clayton Kershaw was out of the question), I wanted to snag one of the most popular pitchers in all of baseball. Strasburg is a freak of nature on the mound and lights up the radar gun and TV ratings every time he pitches. Not to mention, he’s locked up through at least 2017.

Team Mapes Pick #5, #10 Overall: Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

Thanks so much for letting me wait and just steal Bryce Harper at the end of the draft. This pick was basically made for me with the news of King Felix’s extension. He’s now the highest paid pitcher in the history of the game, that shows to how great he is. He’s a Cy Young award winner, the face of the Mariners franchise, and you’ve gotta love the King’s Court fan base. Seven years in a Seattle uniform and those trade rumors go away? I’m sure there will be a large influx of Hernandez jersey’s flying off shelves. Let’s just hope they don’t change their uniform scheme.

Team Jeremy Pick #6, #11 Overall: Derek Jeter, New York Yankees

I have a couple of things to say about that pick: First…SO LUCKY! If only that news had broken after you made your pick. Second, the Mariners should never change those awesome uni’s. Anyway, I’m going old-school with the Jeter pick. One of our criteria is length of contract, which will obviously not last forever for DJ. In fact, in the unlikely event that he declines his option for 2014, this could be his last year in baseball. But some players’ legacies live on forever, and this first-ballot Hall of Famer is one of them. His jersey was still the top-seller in all of baseball in 2012, and will be popular for years to come, and not just in New York.

Team Mapes Pick #6, #12 Overall: Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays

I can’t hate on the Jeter pick even though his time is almost up. The Yankees #2 will join #3, #4, #5, #7, and #8 as timeless jerseys to wear for Bronx Bombers fans. You know who’s time isn’t almost up? Evan Longoria. The Rays all-star is under team control through 2023. I would type that year in all caps, but the year is numbers. Hmm… he will potentially be a Ray for the next DECADE. There that works. I’ve had a Longoria shirsey for three seasons now, I hope it doesn’t wear out over the next ten.

Team Jeremy Pick #7, #13 Overall: Josh Hamilton, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

You know what is a formula for success? Besides signing Albert Pujols and Hamilton in successive years, I mean? It’s taking the guy who had MLB’s second-highest selling jersey in Texas last year, and moving him to Los Angeles for at least five years, where his jersey sales will go flying off the shelves again. You’re going to see a ton of Hamilton jerseys in Anaheim this year, and if this draft weren’t hypothetical, I’d be sporting one myself.

Team Mapes Pick #7, #14 Overall: Starlin Castro, Chicago Cubs

What’s not the formula for success? You taking your Angel when you could’ve waited until the end to grab him. Plus, I think I take the extra years of jersey wearing from an Albert Pujols Angels jersey over Hamilton, but I digress. Can you believe Starlin Castro is only 23 this season? Seems like he’s already been around forever. He’s under team control until 2020, which also gets you through Castro’s prime. You’ll be singing “Go Cubs Go” in the bleachers for a long time rocking the Castro jersey. Bonus that the Cubs will never really alter their jerseys.

Team Jeremy Pick #8, #15 Overall: Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays

Except that the Cubs might still be irrelevant in 2020. Just kidding. Castro is a cool pick, but I’m going with a different shade of blue on this pick. In his return from injury, Joey Bats will enjoy the comforts of a much-improved team in 2013. If the entirety of Canada didn’t already have his jersey, they will after this season when the Jays are sure to be featured on national TV broadcasts as much as possible. He’s signed through at least 2015, and will probably have his option for 2016 picked up by the team.

Team Mapes Pick #8, #16 Overall: Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies

I really want to take Giancarlo Stanton, but his uncertainty in Miami worries me a ton. My final two picks I already have planned out in my head from teams you’ve already taken. That leaves Tulo, who is so talented, but has the injury problems galore. When he’s healthy, he’s an All-star and a potential superstar. He could be in the purple and black for the rest of this decade, so you’ll get plenty use of this jersey.

Team Jeremy Pick #9, #17 Overall: Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals

I’ll admit, I was hoping Tulo would slide to me at this pick. But a very nice consolation prize is somehow grabbing the best overall catcher in baseball this late. The Cardinal jerseys are classics, and Molina is the best all-around player wearing one right now. He had one of the top-selling jerseys last year (probably mostly Cardinals fans), and will be wearing the birds on the bat until at least 2017, likely beyond. He may be one of the least appreciated players in baseball, but I’m showing him some love in the jersey draft for the second straight year!

Team Mapes Pick #9, #18 Overall: Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals

Molina was on my short list, but after what the Cardinals have done to me the last two years I just couldn’t do it. Speaking of team jerseys I don’t want to wear, but I’m going to be objective here. Harper is a future star of the game and will be in the nation’s capitol for three years or more. I’d lean towards the or more part. I don’t like him, but I respect the way he plays the game. It’s a solid jersey for a fan to buy. Plus, I got out of picking David Wright at least?

Team Jeremy Pick #10, #19 Overall: Wil Myers, Tampa Bay Rays

This. Just. Happened. The reason I let you snag Evan Longoria earlier is because I knew I’d have this available to me for the last pick. Myers, the top prospect in baseball, isn’t a sure thing — no prospect ever is. But he’s going to get a chance to play every day for the Rays, who have him under control for at least six years, and will likely lock him up for longer as soon as he puts in a little service time. Judging by the last 15 position players who won Minor League Player of the Year (Derek Jeter, Manny Ramirez, Jason Heyward, Mike Trout to name a few), Myers is going to be a very good player in the Majors, and I’ll be the first to have his pretty-lookin’ Rays on my back. Top that, Mapes!

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Team Mapes Pick #10, #20 Overall: The Upton Brothers, Atlanta Braves

How do I top that? By going with the sweetest custom jersey in Braves history. You get not one, but BOTH Uptons. Special thanks to them for deciding to wear single digits to make this work. I went with the 82 because Justin plays in left, therefore his number goes on the left. This jersey will be good to go for 3-5 years and even if one leaves, just pull off one of the numbers and the S and you’re still set. Truly, saved the best for last!

Honorable Mention Team Mapes: Giancarlo Stanton-Marlins, David Wright-Mets, Justin Verlander/Miguel Cabrera/Prince Fielder-Tigers, Joe Mauer-Twins, Martin Prado-Diamondbacks, and Eric Hosmer-Royals

Honorable Mention Team Jeremy: Clayton Kershaw-Dodgers, Carlos Gonzalez-Rockies, Aroldis Chapman-Reds, Mariano Rivera-Yankees, David Price-Rays, Carlos Santana-Indians, Yoenis Cespedes-A’s, and Jose Altuve-Astros

There you have it. The 2nd annual Jeremy vs. Mapes jersey draft is complete. Now it’s up to you, readers! Vote in the poll below to tell us if Mapes will take home his second consecutive jersey draft title, or if Jeremy strengthened his squad enough to earn the victory. Here are the overall teams:

Team Mapes: Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Buster Posey, Ryan Braun, Felix Hernandez, Evan Longoria, Starlin Castro, Troy Tulowtizki, Bryce Harper, Justin/BJ Upton

Team Jeremy: Matt Kemp, Joey Votto, Jason Heyward, Stephen Strasburg, Derek Jeter, Adam Jones, Josh Hamilton, Jose Bautista, Yadier Molina, Wil Myers

Remember, vote for the 10 jerseys YOU would rather have, not which group makes up the best hypothetical team. Let us know in the comments which jersey you want in your closet! Thanks for reading! You can like Three Up, Three Down on Facebook or follow @3u3d on Twitter!

– Jeremy Dorn (@Jamblinman) & Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)

Cincinnati to Host the 2015 MLB All-Star Game

Commissioner Bud Selig announced today that the MLB All-Star Game would return to Cincinnati for the first time since 1988 when the Reds played at Riverfront Stadium.  It will be the first All-Star Game played at Great American Ballpark, which will join Riverfront Stadium and Crosley Field as Queen City ballparks that have hosted the mid-season classic.  With Great American Ballpark hosting the 2015 game, it will leave just Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, PETCO Park in San Diego, Nationals Park in Washington D.C., Marlins Park in Miami, Tropicana Field in Tampa Bay, and New Yankee Stadium in The Bronx as the only current stadiums not to have hosted the All-Star Game.   The Reds franchise will join the Minnesota Twins (who are hosting the 2014 All-Star Game at Target Field) to host the festivities in THREE different ballparks.

Here’s the glorious part about Great American Ballpark having the All-Star Game in its confines.  It also gets to host the Home Run Derby!  If there ever was a stadium that is perfectly set up for a derby, it’s the stadium that is lovingly called “the Great American Small-Park.”  I’m already getting excited to see the games best mashers blasting homers.  We could be there all night!  Even better, is the Ohio River beyond the right field wall gives lefties a great target to go for.  I mean if Juan Francisco could do it in an actual game in 2011, I think the game’s best could do it in a home run derby.  I almost want to fast-forward to 2015 now to see it play out.  I haven’t been this excited for a home run derby since Ken Griffey Jr. took aim at the warehouse beyond Camden Yards.

I couldn’t resist thinking ahead to 2015 and who could actually be participating in the 2015 Home Run Derby.  I’m going to use the 2012 format to project who will be launching mammos in Cincinnati.

National League

Captain Bryce Harper:  The obvious player for this.  He’ll be 22 and a possible superstar by 2015 if everything goes according to plan.  Even better that he hits left-handed so the Ohio River will be in play.  If this video from when Harper is any indication of his derby abilities, there will more splashdowns than a water park.

Joey Votto or Jay Bruce: Have to get one of the hometown guys into the competition.  I don’t want a Billy Butler situation here.  Both are lefties which plays into my Ohio River hopes.  I think that Bruce is the more likely of the two to participate as he’ll be in his prime at 28 years old.  He also could be a legit 40-homer player by then.

Giancarlo Stanton: This one I’m not sure on.  He could be in the American League for all I know.  We all missed out on Stanton participating in the 2012 Home Run Derby in Kansas City, but I think he’ll return for the derby in 2013 at Citi Field.  That gives him a year to sit out in 2014 (sorry Twins fans) and come back to defend a potential title the way that Prince Fielder did this past year.  I can’t have eight left-handed batters though sadly.  This also gives me an excuse to show this video again.  HE BROKE A SCOREBOARD.

Jason Heyward: Alright a bit of a homer pick.  Pun intended.  Heyward showed that he has the potential to be a 35-homer player in 2012 when he blasted 27 yicketties.  If the power continues to develop, he’ll be 25 for the 2015 All-Star Game and quite possibly could be the best right fielder in the game at that point.  Also helps that, you guessed it, he’s left-handed!

Other potential derby participants: Ike Davis, Freddie Freeman, Justin Upton and Anthony Rizzo

American League:

Captain Prince Fielder: I went back and forth on who potentially would be the captain for the American League.  I settled on Fielder, who I wouldn’t be surprised if he takes a couple years off after winning the derby in 2012.  He’s big, he’s strong, he’s a two-time champion, and he’s left handed.  He’s going to want to eventually match Ken Griffey Jr. with three derby titles and I think he might wait til Cincinnati to do it.  Plus, he has experience hitting it in the water.


Adam Dunn: Hear me out on this one!  A) He’s left handed B) He’s never participated in a Home Run Derby C) It’d be nice for him to have his first one in Cincinnati where he used to play.  He’ll still only be 35 at that point.  If he was ever going to give it a go, I think the lure of doing it in the Queen City would be enough for him.  Especially with the Ohio River calling his name.

Yoenis Céspedes: If Céspedes was left-handed he’d be a dream for this future derby.  However, he will still be a great option.  He’ll be in the heart of his prime at 29 years old.  If he stays healthy, he’ll be a potential All-Star for Oakland.  We all know he has some major power too.  Especially after seeing this.

Wil Myers: The game isn’t until 2015!  I have to have one player that hasn’t even played in the Majors yet to speculate on, right?  I’m going to go with Tampa Bay’s future star in Wil Myers.  Myers has the best power potential of any prospect right now.  I’m deeply saddened though that I’ve now put three righties on the American League side.  Maybe Robinson Cano won’t be broken up and come back to try the derby again?

Other potential derby participants: Mark Trumbo, Robinson Cano, Dayan Viciedo, Mike Moustakas, and Eric Hosmer

Who would you want to see take aim at the Ohio River in the 2015 Home Run Derby?  Let us know in the comments!

-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)

Rate that Roster! USA World Baseball Classic Edition

The World Baseball Classic returns for the 3rd time starting March 2nd.  Fellow blogger Jeremy Dorn gave his rankings of every team in the WBC last week.  (I haven’t figured out how he has South Korea 11th either) I wanted to delve more into team USA’s chances and how the roster stacks up.

Catcher

WBC catchers

Who’s In: Joe Mauer-Twins, J.P. Arencibia-Blue Jays, and Jonathan Lucroy-Brewers

Who’s Out: Buster Posey-Giants and Brian McCann-Braves

Interesting that the deepest offensive position with three players is at catcher.  They clearly want to rotate these guys so they don’t get too banged up before the MLB season begins.  Not being able to score the defending NL MVP in Buster Posey is a tough blow to team USA, but having hitting machine and former AL MVP Joe Mauer lessens the blow.  He could even be the designated hitter option, when Arencibia or Lucroy are behind the plate.  Arencibia’s inclusion seems to coincide with R.A. Dickey’s appearance on the roster.  The two are now teammates in Toronto and have been working together to have knuckleball success.  I’m sure the Blue Jays will be pleased with them getting reps together in high pressure situations.  Lucroy had his best season at the plate last year, but was hampered by injuries.  He’ll be a solid offensive piece down the lineup.   Getting Posey on board would’ve made this an easy A, but alas.  Grade: B+

First Base

Who’s In: Mark Teixeira-Yankees

Who’s Out: Prince Fielder-Tigers, Paul Konerko-White Sox, Adam LaRoche-Nationals, and Freddie Freeman-Braves

I would’ve much preferred the bat of Prince Fielder, but I have no qualms with Teixiera joining team USA for the 2nd time.  He’s not the hitter he once was, but does have pop, will provide for some interesting decisions with his switch-hitting ability, and is one of the best defensive first baseman in the game.  He’s going to get a lot of work in as the only true first baseman on the roster, but could get spelled by Mauer and maybe even Ben Zobrist.  Grade: B-

Second Base

WBC 2B

Who’s In: Brandon Phillips-Reds and Ben Zobrist-Rays

Who’s Out: Dustin Pedroia-Red Sox, Ian Kinsler-Rangers, and Aaron Hill-Diamondbacks

Pedroia and Kinsler are probably better hitters than Zobrist, but the Zorilla’s ability to play mulitple positions makes him a suitable choice.  I don’t think we’d see any of the other possibilities manning right field or shortstop the way Zobrist does for the Rays.  Brandon Phillips will get the majority of time at second base and the three-time Gold Glove winner will flash plenty of leather for the red, white, and blue.   The only better second baseman in the tournament is Robinson Cano for the Dominican Republic.  Grade: B+

Shortstop

WBC SS

Who’s In: Jimmy Rollins-Phllies and Willie Bloomquist-Diamondbacks

Who’s Out: Derek Jeter-Yankees, Troy Tulowitzki-Rockies, and Ian Desmond-Nationals

One would have to believe that Rollins is on the roster over Desmond just based on experience and leadership ability.  Jeter’s ankle may not be 100% in time for the WBC and with Tulo’s injury history it was clear he wouldn’t risk it.  Rollins is the defending NL Gold Glove winner at the position and played in the last WBC for USA.  He’s not the hitter we once was, but can provide speed atop the lineup.  Bloomquist is the questionable pick for the roster, but he’s a clear utility player and can play numerous positions in case of injury.   When compared to the players team USA could’ve had if healthy, I can’t give out a great grade.  Grade: C

Third Base

Who’s In: David Wright-Mets

Who’s Out: Chase Headley-Padres, Ryan Zimmerman-Nationals, and David Freese-Cardinals

This was the easiest call for team USA.  Wright is the best third baseman in America right now.  The only problem for the Stars & Stripes is that Venezuela (Miguel Cabrera) and the Dominican Republic (Adrian Beltre) have better options at the position.  Grade: A-

Outfield

WBC OF

Who’s In: Ryan Braun-Brewers, Adam Jones-Orioles, Giancarlo Stanton-Marlins, and Shane Victorino-Red Sox

Who’s Out: Mike Trout-Angels, Bryce Harper-Nationals, Andrew McCutchen-Pirates, Josh Hamilton-Angels, and Matt Holliday-Cardinals

Now we’re getting to the good stuff.  Even without Trout and McCutchen, I love this outfield.  Braun is the best left fielder in the game and a perennial MVP candidate.  Jones is a budding superstar that helped turned the Orioles around and is one of the best defensive center fielders in the game.  Stanton is a straight masher that you can’t pitch around in middle of the lineup.  Victorino doesn’t have the name of some of the other players that aren’t playing, but his ability to play all three oufield positions, while filling in as pinch-runner and possibly designated hitter is good enough.  I know Mike Trout wanted to have a traditional spring training entering his 2nd full season, but I think that he’s going to come to regret not being around this talented group.  Grade: A

Starting Pitching

WBC SP

Who’s In: R.A. Dickey-Blue Jays, Kris Medlen-Braves, Ryan Vogelsong-Giants, Derek Holland-Rangers

Who’s Out (for now): Justin Verlander-Tigers, David Price-Rays, Jered Weaver-Angels, Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay, and Cliff Lee-Phillies, Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw-Dodgers, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner-Giants

It’s pretty easy too look at those two lists and get a lump in your throat.  There is one spot still open for a starting pitcher that’d presumably would go to Verlander if he wants it.  Let’s look at what is definite right now.  Team USA sports the defending NL Cy Young winner in Dickey, who’s knuckleball will give batters fits seeing it for the first time this season.  Medlen was arguably (and I’d argue was) the best pitcher in the 2nd half last season.  When he’s on his game, he’s unhittable.  Vogelsong is a fantastic story since returning to MLB from Japan and can be useful as he might have some inside knowledge on the Japanese hitters.  Holland is a decent southpaw, great in the clubhouse, and let’s be honest we’re all secretly hoping he faces the Netherlands.  If Joe Torre has a sense of humor, it’ll happen.  It’s not the best, but it’s certainly not the worst.  Grade: B-

Left-Handed Relievers

WBC LHP

Who’s In: Jeremy Affeldt-Giants, Tim Collins-Royals, and Glen Perkins-Twins

Who’s Out: Sean Marshall-Reds, Eric O’ Flaherty and Jonny Venters-Braves, Darren Oliver-Blue Jays, and Sean Burnett-Angels

No offense to Tim Collins, but I’d rather have all five pitchers in the “Who’s out” list than him.  Affeldt is a great big-game pitcher as he proved in the 2012 postseason.  He’ll have to come through in big spots as the best of this bunch.  Perkins has become a solid lefty.  He’s climbed his way up the ranks to become the Twins closer.  Seeing a lot of quality lefties staying in their spring training homes is a little disheartening though.  Grade: C+

Right-Handed Relievers

WBC RHP

Who’s In: Heath Bell-Diamonbacks, Mitchell Boggs-Cardinals, Steve Cishek-Marlins, Luke Gregerson-Padres, Craig Kimbrel-Braves, Chris Perez, and Vinnie Pestano-Indians

Who’s Out: Jim Johnson-Orioles, Jason Motte-Cardinals, Jonathan Papelbon-Phillies, Joel Hanrahan-Red Sox

As long as the words “Heath Bell in a high pressure situation” aren’t used I really like the bullpen that Greg Maddux has to work with.  Craig Kimbrel is the best relief pitcher in the world right now and should lock down any game in the 9th inning.  Perez and Pestano work well together in Cleveland.  Boggs was a revelation in St. Louis this past season.  Cishek will be a change of pace reliever with his submarine delivery.  Cishek did really well filling in as the Marlins closer when Heath Bell fell apart last season.  Gregerson is one of the leagues most underrated relievers because he pitches in San Diego and has never had an ERA over 3.24 in his four seasons.  Having Kimbrel on the roster is such a boon for this bullpen.  Grade: A-

Final Thoughts: Team USA will have a real shot at knocking Japan off the top of the WBC mountain.  The coaching staff with Joe Torre, Greg Maddux, Dale Murphy, Gerald Perry, Larry Bowa, Willie Randolph, and Marcel Lachemann is top notch.  The only real question marks are at shortstop and left-handed pitching to me.  I believe that if the starters can get a lead to the bullpen though, USA will be dangerous.  I expect at least another run to the semi-finals and a trip to San Francisco.  Every team at that level is so talented, it’s going to come down to the little things to decide the champion.

-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)

Arizona Fall League: Winners and Losers From the Rising Stars Game

When we told you that Three Up, Three Down really loves baseball, we weren’t kidding. On Saturday, I watched the Oregon vs. USC football game until 5:00 p.m. Pacific Time, at which point I switched away from one of the best games of the year to focus on MLB Network.

No, I’m not crazy – I just love baseball, and the Arizona Fall League’s (AFL) annual Rising Stars Game was on. For those of you that don’t know, the AFL is basically grad school for each team’s top prospects. All 30 MLB teams assign seven players to the AFL, comprised of six teams.

It’s basically a little extra work for the superstars of tomorrow. Last year, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper played in the Rising Stars Game. Mike Piazza, Roy Halladay and Stephen Strasburg are just a few of the alumni of the AFL. And the game in 2012 was no different, showcasing a plethora of talent we will be sure to see on Major League teams in the very near future, such as Detroit’s Nick Castellanos, who won the Futures Game MVP in July.

I’ve picked five winners and losers from the game yesterday – read on to see if one of your team’s top prospects made an impact!

Full rosters for the Rising Stars Game can be found HERE!

WINNER:

Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds

Hamilton was this game’s biggest draw, and he delivered big time. One of the few players to start and finish the game, Hamilton got to show off the speed that has made him Cincinnati’s top-rated prospect (Minor League record 155 steals in 2012 – that is NOT a typo) right from the get-go. After drawing a walk to lead off the game, Hamilton promptly stole second, stole third, and scored on a double two batters later. Hamilton also laid down a beautiful bunt that forced an errant throw, resulting in him coasting to third base on the play. Though he recently transitioned from shortstop to center field in order to take advantage of those wheels, Hamilton looked right at home, making a diving play later on in the game. This kid is undoubtedly a future star.

LOSER:

Michael Tonkin, Minnesota Twins

Jason Kubel’s brother-in-law had a very rough time against the elite hitters of the AFL. Tonkin pitched to five batters and didn’t get a single one out – instead, he allowed three hits, five base runners and four earned runs (five runs total) on 17 pitches. The 6-foot-7 22-year-old righty has really strong stuff, but melted in a big spot yesterday. To add to the disappointment for Tonkin, he was charged with a blown save, took the loss, and saw a 4-3 lead turn into an 8-3 deficit under his watch. Tonkin has a good, low-to-mid 90’s fastball and a pretty good slider – his 2.08 ERA and 97 K’s in 69 1/3 innings in Minor League ball this past season don’t lie – but he really fell apart in the Rising Stars Game.

WINNER:

Rymer Liriano, San Diego Padres

Holy smokes, can the Padres’ number one prospect swing a bat! There’s a visibly arrogant swagger to Liriano’s game, but he walks the walk on the field, and proved it again last night. In five plate appearances, Liriano went 3-for-4 with two doubles, walked, drove in a run, and scored a run. He had great plate discipline and was being lauded by premiere minor league analyst Jonathan Mayo for his speed as well. The Padres may have a legitimate offensive threat in Liriano, as long as they can keep him grounded when he hits a slump in the big leagues.

LOSER:

Michael Almanzar, Boston Red Sox

It’s been a strange journey for Almanzar, a 21-year-old infielder from the Dominican Republic. When he was originally drafted, the Red Sox thought they were getting a future power hitter. And while he’s shown potential to pop a few out of the yard, he needs to put on some muscle. At 6-foot-3 and only 190 pounds, he has the frame of a guy who should be shooting the gap, yet the eye and the swing of a homer-happy free swinger. The Rising Stars Game proved to be a disaster for Almanzar, as he came up to bat twice, including in the top of the 9th with the bases loaded, and struck out both times. To his credit, Almanzar did have a good at-bat in the 9th, before caving to strike three.

WINNER:

Austin Romine, New York Yankees

Going 1-for-2 with a strikeout doesn’t sound like such a fantastic game, does it? But the Yankees’ farm hand narrowly missed a monster home run in his first at-bat, instead settling for a triple. Romine also was hit by a pitch in the left elbow and came around to score his second run of the game. The reason Romine is a winner here, is because the kid has suffered through injury after injury during his young career, and proved his toughness in front of a TV audience last night. The half inning before getting plunked, Romine took two hard foul tips off the body and walked both of them off. He’s a gamer, and proved it in Arizona – the Yankees will definitely be keeping a close eye on him in Spring Training.

LOSER:

Nick Ahmed, Atlanta Braves

Ahmed actually has a good-looking future, as he swatted 36 doubles and swiped 40 bags in 130 games in the Minors this season. I don’t know if his future with the Braves will be at shortstop, but he didn’t give them any reason to think so in this one-game sample size last night. Ahmed made a couple nice plays and redeemed himself later with a walk and a run, but he started the game with a strikeout at the plate and an ugly error in the field. I’m talking, line drive right to him, off the glove, into left field type of error. With guys like Andrelton Simmons and Tyler Pastornicky already ahead of him, Ahmed might be looking to learn a new position if he wants to break in with the big club.

WINNER:

Brian Goodwin, Washington Nationals

After the West team went up 2-0 in the top of the first, Goodwin sparked the East by hitting a leadoff homer, the only one of the game. The analysis on Goodwin is that he has legitimate five-tool potential. I can see why people might think so; Goodwin’s left-handed swing is extremely quick and he has the abilities to hit for average and power. He has decent speed and plays solid outfield defense, too. The Nationals may need to make room for this guy in their outfield very soon. My guess is he would supplant Harper in center field at some point in the next two seasons. Goodwin, who just turned 22 on Friday, had an OPS of .852 between two Minor League stops in 2012, and showed off his skills in Arizona going 2-for-5 with two RBI and two runs scored.

LOSER:

Jarred Cosart, Houston Astros

I was really excited to watch Cosart start this game, because I knew his reputation (a 2.60 ERA in the Pacific Coast League this year; electric fastball, good change-up, above average breaking ball and great command). He was a key piece, along with Rising Stars teammate Jonathan Singleton, in the Hunter Pence deal to Philadelphia in 2011. Cosart has been a top prospect in both organizations he’s played for since day one, but I was truly disappointed with his outing last night. Though the numbers weren’t bad (2 innings, 1 hit, 2 runs, 2 walks, 1 strikeout), he was missing his spots all day, going 3-0 on multiple batters across those frames. I had no doubt after watching that Cosart has the tools to be a good starter or a great reliever, but he really laid an egg in his start on Saturday.

WINNER:

Mark Montgomery, New York Yankees

Yeah, yeah. I hate putting two Yankees in the winner’s column as much as the next guy. But I can’t pretend I wasn’t very impressed with both prospects I have listed here. Though I probably could have chosen any reliever after the sixth inning on either squad (The 12 total pitchers entering in the 6th inning or later, combined: 7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 7 K), I went with Montgomery for his dominant performance. The 21-year-old righty blew away the West team in his frame, striking out all three batters on 16 total pitches. His 1.65 minor league ERA and 16.1 K/9 are ridiculous, and I wonder if he has the make-up or velocity (tops out at 95 MPH) to some day fill Mariano Rivera’s shoes as the closer in the Bronx. Either way, I expect to see him getting big league action by 2014 at the very latest.

LOSER:

Anyone who didn’t watch the game!

Seriously. It’s not a cop-out. I’m not saying you should also sacrifice your college football or NFL, or even NBA watching during the MLB off-season, but don’t pass up an opportunity to watch some of the next great generation of baseball stars in action. Follow along with the AFL this winter and see how your team’s top prospects are handling some of the best minor league competition in all of baseball. Better yet, just follow the 3u3d blog and we’ll give you everything you need to know until Opening Day is back upon us. If you want to follow us on Twitter, you can find us @3u3d, and you can like us on Facebook at Three Up, Three Down. All the glorious baseball news you can stomach, right here, all winter long.

– Jeremy Dorn (@Jamblinman)