Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Transaction Tuesday: Sims, Marksberry, Kinman

I'm going to try something new this season and that's keeping up with minor league transactions. Every Tuesday, I'll take a look at each level to go over some of the moves and provide analysis. If this is the kind of thing that interest you, let me know. Apologies that this was released so late today. Planning for a 5 year-old birthday's party takes a lot out of you. I will not include any of today's transactions and instead push them off to next week's version.

Review last week's transactions.

Gwinnett
Activated: Jose Ramirez...He was placed on the DL after he was outrighted, but didn't stay on it for long. The righty has been active with three games already and has flashed the strikeout potential that led to him making the roster out of spring training (7 K's in 4 ING). He's also surrendered a solo homerun.

Promoted: Lucas Sims...I was a bit surprised to see him get a callup so quickly, but you have to remember that Sims had a dozen starts at Double-A and five starts last fall in Arizona. His first go-around with Gwinnett continued his season-long control issues, but also continued his strong strikeout numbers. It'll be interesting to see how Sims reacts over the next month or so. Hitters in Triple-A are often guys who have seen major league-quality pitches and will make a young pitcher work if he doesn't throw strikes.

Optioned: Casey Kelly...Talk about doing little to hurt your case to return. Kelly worked three innings in his Braves debut and kept a game from becoming a blowout after Bud Norris struggled. It was a good follow-up for Kelly, who worked seven scoreless in his second start with Gwinnett. It wouldn't surprise me any to see Kelly still turn into a capable major league option. After all, there was a time where he ranked in the Baseball America Top 100 in four consecutive seasons.

Optioned: Matt Marksberry...It's a bit surprising that the Braves choose to keep Eric O'Flaherty over the younger lefty. Say what you will about Marksberry's limitations, but he has been studly against lefties in the majors (.164/.270/.255). He handled Mississippi hitters with ease before his short promotion to Atlanta. He'll be the next lefty called up when the Braves want one.

Optioned: Williams Perez...The biggest problem for Perez in the majors is that he really doesn't have the stuff to be a big league starter. He can stick around and even might have a nice run where he holds down the fort for a few starts, but he relies on deception and control in the minors - things that don't get him far enough with major league hitters. He struggled in his return to Triple-A, giving up three runs on three walks over five innings. He also struck out five.

Demoted and Promoted: Braeden Schlehuber...It's been a slow start to the season for Schlehuber, who began things on the DL. After being activated the week before last, he was "demoted" to Danville to get the roster numbers under control before being "brought" back. The career .218 hitter is 1-for-6 in two games this year.

Outrighted, Demoted, and Promoted: Joel De La Cruz...What a quick major league experience for De La Cruz. He didn't appear in a game when he was called up with Hunter Cervenka before being not just demoted, but outrighted off the 40-man. He's been pretty decent in the early going for Gwinnett and will look to continue that.

Mississippi
Activated: Kyle Kinman...Good to see Kinman's stay on the DL was short-lived. A lefty with a lot of believers, Kinman struggled a bit out of the gate after making a late run in camp with the big league club. In his first appearance since being activated, he threw a quiet inning with a walk, but induced a double play to face the minimum.

Demoted: Danny Burawa...The former Yankees product opened camp with a chance to make the major league roster. He's not back down in Double-A, marking the fourth consecutive season he's spent time at the level. Part of his demotion was related to the numbers game, but he did little to earn more opportunities with the G-Braves. Of particular concern was the 11 walks in 7 innings.

Demoted: Madison Younginer...Signed this offseason on a minor league deal out of the BoSox organization, Younginer has not had the kind of start a player likes to have with a new team. He maintained a nearly 2 WHIP with Gwinnett before being demoted and got roughed up for three runs with Mississippi in his debut there.

Carolina
Activated: Bryton Trepagnier...A 41st rounder by the Pirates in 2010, Trepagnier signed with the Braves last year and appeared in 42 forgetful games for Mississippi last year in which he walked 44 and struck out 30. He must have a believer or two because statistically, the results simply have never really been there.

DL'd: Raymar Navarro...Signed this offseason after defecting from Cuba, Navarro's early-season numbers haven't been much to write home about (6.2 ING, 6 K, 3 BB, 4 ER).

Demoted and Promoted: Sean McLaughlin...A 19th rounder out of Georgia last June, McLaughlin briefly was taken off the roster last week. The undersized righty has had a pretty good start to his professional career with 52 K's in 49 innings to go with his 2.39 ERA. That includes stops last year with Danville and Rome and this season with the Mudcats.

Rome
Promoted: Oriel Caicedo...Caicedo has been up-and-down a few times between Rome and "Danville" since the season began. He's struck out 8 in 8.1 innings for Rome when he's been around to pick up game action. Included in his four appearances was his first professional save.

Danville
Promoted and Demoted: Michael O'Neal...Signed out of the independent leagues after he was undrafted coming out of Auburn, O'Neal briefly was on the Carolina roster last week. He appeared in two games and gave up a homerun over three innings. He walked two and struck out a pair. O'Neal throws in the low-90's with a two-seam fastball according to this article.

Demoted: Victor Mateo...A repeat name on this list, Mateo was just activated and had appeared in four games before being moved down to Danville as a procedural move. He probably is still with the Mississippi Braves, but is simply not "active."

Demoted: Joe Kennedy...I mentioned him last week as well. Kennedy spent three seasons in Australia getting very little work before an eight start run with Melbourne last year. The lefty appeared in four games with Rome with pretty poor results.

Demoted: Rob Wooten...Yep, Danville's pretty much a place the Braves stash arms until they need them. Wooten is a veteran of 71 major league games before this season and had appeared in five games with Gwinnett before being "demoted."

GCL Braves
No moves.

DSL Braves
No moves.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Welcome to the Show, Aaron Blair!

If you haven't heard by now, where have you been? It's Aaron Blair Day at Turner Field as the young righty becomes the first Top 5 Braves prospect to make his debut in 2016. It seemed likely after his last outing where he tossed seven no-hit innings with a walk, but we learned last night it would be Blair and not Mike Foltynewicz who would replace Williams Perez in the rotation.

Was it the right call? Should we worry about service time considerations in a lost year? Regardless, Atlanta is moving on and for a day, things got really interesting in Atlanta for it.

Please read my short profile/scouting report on Blair. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Minor League Saturday Stats Pack (4/23/16)

Time for another Saturday Stats Pack, minor league edition. Please remember to check out the major league version which looks at the Atlanta Braves' lack of power so far, pinch-hitting woes, and whether Matt Wisler is Shelby Miller 2.0.

Gwinnett - 8 players

In the early going this season, the Gwinnett Braves have used 31 players to play just 16 games. A 32nd pitches tonight in Lucas Sims. He'll become the 9th player to play for Gwinnett this year who hasn't also played in the majors at some point. That number isn't totally fair because Mallex Smith made his major league debut after beginning the year with Gwinnett, but it's still pretty surprising to see so few major league virgins in AAA.

Mississippi - 0 Strikeouts

If you follow Kyle Tait on Twitter, you will notice that the voice of the Mississippi Braves has instituted a #WilliansWatch. The hashtag refers to Willians Astudillo, signed this offseason by the Braves from the Phillies' organization. A catcher/whateveryouwanthimtoplay, Astudillo has already posted some quirky stat lines in his career. Last year, he came to the plate 418 times. He walked ten times, he struck out ten times. In nearly 1700 plate appearances during his six year career entering 2016, he had struck out just 51 times. So far this year, he's only added to the plate appearances total. After last night's game, he's up to 50 PA with no strikeouts - or walks for that matter. Going back to last season, he has gone 152 PA without a strikeout, which is damn near amazing for the deadball era, let alone a modern era of baseball. How long will the streak continue? Remember to follow Kyle Tait for all of your #WilliansWatch information.

Carolina - 17.2 K/9

Few have had a stranger start to their 2016 than Carlos Salazar, the 21 year-old right-handed reliever for the Carolina Mudcats. In five games, Salazar has struck out 14 in 7.1 ING while giving up just one hit. The bad news is that he's also walked 8 and been called for two balks. The walk rate, sadly, is not too extreme from his previous results. He clearly has an electric arm, but he'll be stuck in the minors unless he's able to turn around the flaws in his game.

Rome - 18 K's in 17 ING

It's not easy getting noticed if you're Patrick Weigel this season. Stuck in a rotation with Max Fried, Touki Toussaint, Mike Soroka, and Ricardo Sanchez, Weigel won't attrack much attention. Yet, Weigel has been just as good as any of his rotation mates in the early going. A 7th rounder out of THE Oxnard College (go Condors!), Weigel was unimpressive in his run with Danville last summer, but has been solid in his first three starts this year with a 3.6 K/BB and 2.12 ERA. If Weigel can be consistent with his delivery and throw strikes, he will definitely shed the afterthought label and enter some prospect rankings.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Transaction Tuesday: Foltynewicz, Toscano, Kinman

I'm going to try something new this season and that's keeping up with minor league transactions. Every Tuesday, I'll take a look at each level to go over some of the moves and provide analysis. If this is the kind of thing that interest you, let me know. For this week, I am going to ignore the moves to set the opening day roster and simply focus on releases and moves because of injuries/promotions.

Review last week's transactions.

Gwinnett
Activated: Mike Foltynewicz...He's still building arm strength, but Folty's early returns since being activated are both solid (15 ING, 13 K) and disappointing (10 BB, 2 HBP, WP). This could be an extremely important season for Folty as he is joined in the starting rotation by prospects like Aaron Blair and Tyrell Jenkins with Sean Newcomb and Lucas Sims waiting in the wings at Double-A. If Folty doesn't establish himself as a future starter soon, he might find himself moved to the pen.

Activated: Braeden Schlehuber...With Schlehuber in the fold, Gwinnett can use both Ryan Lavarnway and Blake Lalli in the catcher and DH positions without worrying about losing the DH if a change is needed behind the plate. A minor league lifer, Schlehuber appeared in Triple-A for the first time last year in his eighth season. He's a career .218 hitter with a .602 OPS.

Activated: Kanekoa Texeira...Another veteran, the Hawaiian, who was originally a White Sox pick in 2006, is in his third season with Gwinnett. He's been a swingman to this point, but with no room in the rotation, Texeira will work out of the bullpen for the time being. He's appeared in 49 games in the majors with his most recent exposure coming in 2011 with the Royals.

Activated: Rob Wooten...He's struggled in the majors and lacks good-enough stuff to match up with major league hitters, but he's a decent placeholder in Gwinnett for depth purposes. Wooten has already logged a couple of scoreless appearances with 3 K's.

Optioned: Joel De La Cruz...The 27 year-old's time in the majors was very brief. He was brought up for just one day after the Braves demoted John Gant. His value was that he was a fresh arm. De La Cruz's road to the majors was long and though he didn't play in a game, I'm sure he felt great just to dress in a major league dressing room. In his ninth year out of the Dominican Republic, De La Cruz has a 3.38 ERA through four games out of the pen for Gwinnett.

Outrighted and DL'd: Jose Ramirez...After a solid spring, Ramirez had high hopes that this was the year it all came together for the fireballer out of the Dominican Republic. However, after a pair of ugly games in which he could only retire six of the 15 batters he faced, Ramirez was designated for assignment and outrighted to Gwinnett, where he was immediately placed on the DL. I'm unsure what the DL trip is for.

Mississippi
Activated: Steven Kent...This may be one of my favorite pick-ups this offseason. Kent was originally signed by the Braves over a decade ago as a teenager out of Australia. He was impressive in a second go-around in the Gulf Coast League (3.7 K/BB, 1.14 WHIP) as an 18 year-old and upped his K-rate to over a batter an inning with Danville the following year. Then, injuries. He was limited to less than 90 innings over the next three years and was released after the 2011 season. He went back home and in 2015, at the age of 26, became one of the finer pitchers in the Australia Baseball League, recording 64 K's in 65 innings and even pitching his first shutout. That's when the Braves brought him back. A lefty, it's going to be interesting to see if he carves out a second career here in the states.

Activated: Victor Mateo...Welcome to Year 10 of Mateo's career. He finally made it to Triple-A last year, but he's back in Mississippi because there was no room for him in Gwinnett. You won't get many strikeouts or walks from Mateo, but you also won't get many excellent performances.

Activated: Dian Toscano...Oh, Lord, he's alive! After not playing a single game in 2015 because of visa issues, Toscano finally played his first professional game here in the states last week. His numbers are pretty rusty (7 K in 16 PA), though he did rocket a pair of triples. The Cuban is 27 years-old so if he's ever going to play much of a role for the Braves, the time is now.

Promoted: Trevor Belicek...Some are really high on Belicek, who spent a day with Mississippi last week before Mateo was activated. He pitched three innings in the one game he saw with three K's before being returned back to Rome. He's got some pitches, but I see him more fringey than others. I want to see the success be sustained especially in the K department before getting too excited.

DL'd: Sean Godfrey...As I wrote about last week, Godfrey had just arrived in Mississippi following Connor Lien's injury. He went 0-for-5 with 4 K before going on the DL himself. He's still trying to find success at Double-A and sitting on the DL won't aid in that.

DL'd: Kyle Kinman...After attracting some attention this spring and impressing many who saw him in 2015, the expectations were on the rise for Kinman, but much like another DL'd Mississippi Brave in Lien, Kinman's season has been railroaded by injury. He was struggling before the trip to the DL (5 ING, 4 ER, HR, 5 BB, 7 K, 3 wild pitches). Hopefully, the injury isn't serious and he can get back on the mound soon.

Carolina
No moves.

Rome
Promoted: Jon Kennedy...It's one of the more interesting stories. Kennedy, who has one pretty impressive name (even if it's not spelled John), joined the Braves after four years with Melbourne in the Australia Baseball League. The southpaw, just 20, is the nephew of former minor league pitcher and coach, Phil Dale, who also served as pitching coach with Melbourne and helped to get Kennedy signed with the Braves. He doesn't have blow-you-away velocity, but the ball seems to jump off his hand and understands that his path to the majors is as a LOOGY, so he plays up deception in his delivery.

Demoted: Trevor Belicek

Danville
Demoted and re-Promoted: Dalton Geekie...A 22nd rounder out of a Georgia Highlands College, Geekie was able to start this year in the city he finished his college education. For a few days last week, he was demoted to Danville (which, of course, isn't even playing) but was brought back Monday night. He was used frequently early by Rome, but a numbers crunch sent him packing. In 8 innings with Rome, Geekie allowed four runs, walked nobody, and struck out four. He pitched just six innings with Danville last year.

Demoted: Oriel Caicedo...He made this section last week as a promotion. The Panama lefty was roughed up twice surrounding a save in a 12-inning affair against Asheville. He's basically on Rome's reserve roster for right now in that he's probably not very far away should they need his arm again.

GCL
No moves.

DSL
No moves.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Random Prospect Sunday - Lucas Sims

(A little note on this series. On Sundays throughout the season, a player will be chosen at random using the helpful website, random.org. The goal of this series is to talk about both big prospects and organizational filler rather than focus completely on the Top 20 prospects in the system. I alternate pitchers and hitters and this week, I focus on a pitcher with a high ceiling. Here's the rest of this series.)

Rob Carr/Getty Images
How altered is the Braves system in just over 12 months? When I did my first Top 30 Prospects last March, I ranked today's spotlight player Lucas Sims second, sandwiched between Jose Peraza and Max Fried. A year later, he was ranked seventh and the amazing thing was that 2015 wasn't even considered a bad season because of how it ended. I still graded him as a B+ player, but the talent got so much better and dropped him back. He still has a great chance, however, of being an excellent starter in the majors.

Born in Lawrenceville, Georgia on May 10, 1994, Sims' parents were probably a little too busy to notice that the Braves had outslugged the Phillies 9-8 on the back of a seven-run ninth to tie the score. The big knocks of the inning came from a three-run shot by Mike Mordecai and an RBI single by Javy Lopez to tie the game. In the 15th - and this is true - Deion Sanders doubled and stole third. He would score on a suicide squeeze off the bat of Mike Stanton. What a fun day in Braves' history to be born.

A fixture at Turner Field during the Streak, Sims grew to fame with Brookwood High School out of Snellville, Georgia, even besting Parkview High School at times. You might remember Parkview because it produced Jeff Francoeur. He came into the draft with four pitches and mid-90's velocity. A commit to Clemson, Sims was selected by the Braves as the 21st pick of the 2012 draft. Shortly thereafter, they signed him with a bonus of $1.65M - which was actually less than the suggested bonus for that slot. Sims was one of the prime jewels of the Frank Wren era. Like Jason Heyward before him, the Braves had put aside their tendency to select high floor rather than high ceiling. The fact that both Heyward and Sims were Georgia prep stars may have played a role in that.

Sims started briefly in the Gulf Coast League, but the Braves felt the kid was mature enough for a promotion after just three starts so they sent him to Danville. He was not quite as successful over eight starts like he was with the GCL Braves, but Sims remained difficult to hit (9.7 K/9) and his biggest issues were self-inflicted (4 BB/9). In 2013, the Braves kept the training wheels on for another season - even moving Sims to the bullpen to limit his innings thrown. Yet, even with their efforts to suppress his performance, he showed the potential that made him such a high pick. In 116.2 innings, he struck out 134 and allowed just three homeruns despite dealing with hitters who were typically more physically mature and more experienced. With the Braves' farm system drying up due to trades and a host of graduations to the majors (including Alex Wood, selected a round after Sims), the young righty became one of the premier prospects left on the farm.

Ranked as a Top 60 prospect by Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America, and MLB.com entering 2014, Sims was a marked man with a host of expectations. Those hopes for Sims led to him pressing as a member of the Lynchburg Hillcats. "Some of my weaknesses got exposed," Sims said. The few negative grades related to his 2013 season (15 HBP, 14 WP) followed him in '14, but he surrendered a slightly higher rate of homeruns and saw his strikeout rate plummet from 10.3 K/9 to 6.2. The only thing positive stat from the tough go-of-it was that he pitched 156.1 innings. And let's not forget that he was, at 20, the youngest player in the Carolina League.

The Braves brought him to camp the next spring - after all, he was their best pitching prospect at the time - and Sims even got into a couple of games. In the eighth inning of a game against the Astros, Sims pitched a hitless frame. Atlanta would go on to no-hit the Astros, but as was their M.O. in 2015, Atlanta found a way to not win (they ultimately tied the game 2-2 in ten innings). Sims returned to the Carolina League after spring camp - this time with Carolina - and struggled out the gate. Over a three-game stretch, which included a visit to Lynchburg, Sims surrendered 14 runs (12 ER) over just 8.2 innings. He would regroup when the calendar switched to May and over his next two starts, he went 13 innings with just two earned runs allowed. On the day that he would have made his seventh start of the year, the Carolina Mudcats' bus crashed in route to Myrtle Beach. Sims was one of several players injured in the crash and would not play in a game again until June 25. He was roughed up in a two-start rehab stint in the Gulf Coast League before returning to start Carolina's game against, ironically enough, Myrtle Beach the day after Independence Day. The Pelicans put up a six spot against him. Five days later, he took the mound in Myrtle Beach and tossed three scoreless inning, but a high-pitch count ended his day prematurely. Finally, on July 16th, he threw six great innings against Winston-Salem in which he struck out eight. It would be his final Single-A start.

He would finish the season with nine starts with Mississippi. His control was shaky, but he pitched at least 5.1 innings in 7 of his starts and only surrendered more than two runs twice. His final three starts were especially dominating as he went 19.1 innings with 22 strikeouts, five walks, and 11 hits allowed. His season would have ended on a high note if that's how it closed, but it continued with a six-game showing with Peoria in the Arizona Fall League. On a much stricter pitch count, Sims was impressive in a hitter's league, allowing just five runs (four earned) in 17 innings with a K/BB rate of 17/3. Below is some footage from his AFL run courtesy of Fangraphs.


So far in 2016, Sims has made a pair of starts and leads the system with 16 K's over 9 innings. His control has been quite suspect so far this year with 7 walks, but that should fall back in line.

The book on Sims is that he throws a fastball with great velocity in the mid 90's and while it has been hittable when not controlled, it can also be difficult to square up when it's down in the zone. He sprinkles in a changeup, which Sims continues to improve, and a plus curveball that is right at home in a Braves' system that is stocked with elite curveballs. Outside of the bus crash, Sims has been quite durable with a pitcher's body built to be a workhorse. Sims is still working on the finer things like consistent arm slot, especially when working deep into games, but he's a hard worker who is very easy to like. He has projections that are a tick below Matt Wisler in that Wisler's realistic projection was a middle-of-the-rotation fixture who could start playoff games for a team. Sims high-end potential could take him in that territory. The lower end could see Sims fill out the bottom of the staff or move to the bullpen, where his fastball/curve combination could make him a dynamite reliever. He has been clocked with velocity in the 98-99 mph range, though that's unsustainable as a starter.

Despite the many prospects that the Braves have acquired since 2014, it's important to not forget about guys like Sims. He has the capability to be an excellent major league pitcher if he cleans up some of his issues and with his work ethic, I expect that if he can find a way, he'll do it.

Want more Random Prospect Sunday profiles?
Steve Rodriguez

Braxton Davidson
Kyle Kinman
...or see ALL of them.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Minor League Saturday Stats Pack (4/16/16)

In this week's Saturday Stats Pack, I take a look at the continued improvement from a third baseman prospect who languished last year, a starter making his return from double knee surgery, and a converted shortstop on who is on fire. Remember to check out this week's major league Saturday Stats Pack where I looked at Nick Markakis's tear last week, Jhoulys Chacin's debut, and some team stats related to the early struggles this year.

Gwinnett - 7 Games, 11 Hits

Rio Ruiz's season got off to an 0-for-4 start, but since then, he's had at least a hit in each of the next eight games. Over the last four, he's had exactly two-a-game, giving him a stellar .355 average. The power has also came with a homerun Thursday night, his first at the AAA level. Few Braves prospects had a more disappointing 2015 than Ruiz, when he slashed .229/.331/.318. But he made adjustments and impressed fans and players alike this spring in his brief run with the major league team. While Adonis Garcia is holding down the third base job in the bigs, the Braves may opt to get a look at Ruiz this summer in a platoon role - especially considering Garcia's defensive limitations.

Mississippi - Whalen Goes Six, Gets First Double-A Win

As surprising as John Gant may have been this spring, he was the "other guy" acquired form the Mets last summer in the Kelly Johnson / Juan Uribe trade. Robert Whalen was the real pick-up and the righty only made three starts before missing the rest of the year and undergoing surgery on both of his knees. After making his debut last week, he ended the week on a strong note with six quality innings Friday night against Montgomery. He allowed four hits, a pair of runs, and induced 8 grounders to just two flyouts. He also struck out five to just one walk. Whalen is easy to forget about in this system, but he could be a fun trade piece or help fill out a rotation if he continues to develop.

Carolina - To the Max with 13 ING, 0 runs, and 14 K's

Another pitcher who flies a bit under the radar is Max Povse, which is surprising considering his 6'8" height. The third rounder in 2014 stalled in a five-start performance last summer with Carolina after looking great in Rome before the promotion. His struggles and the fact that injury ended his year early meant that Povse would make a return trip with the Mudcats. The rest of the Carolina League might be hoping the return trip ends with a promotion soon. After six scoreless against Salem last Sunday in which he walked just one and struck out seven, Povse's follow-up was just as excellent with seven one-hit innings, a walk, and seven K's.

Rome - RPD Rides Hot Streak to 1000+ OPS

When Ray-Patrick Didder signed out of Aruba, the Braves were high on his collection of tools and they wanted him to play shortstop where he could maximize his value, but they abandoned that hope last year. Still, his bat had some upside even though he hadn't stood out yet. So far this year, the 21 year-old is standing out in a big way. He's hitting over .350 with 4 doubles and 2 triples while playing mostly right field. He has yet to homer in 162 professional games and with his slight frame, power will never be his game, but he has a quick swing that slashes the ball to the gaps. To this point, he's been more of an adventure than a plus in the running game, but he could be an interesting super utility-type to keep an eye on.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Thursday Throwback - David Ross

Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
(For my take on Hector Olivera, click here.)

Backup catchers are sort of like backup quarterbacks. You might think spending money on one is a waste of resources until you need him to be there and produce. When that happens, you are happy that you had the foresight to get the best possible backup. For four years, David Ross fulfilled that role for the Atlanta Braves and they are still trying to replace him.

Born in March of 1977 in Bainbridge, Georgia, David Wade Ross later attended the aptly named Florida High School in Tallahassee. The Dodgers tried their luck with Ross in the 19th round of the '95 draft, but he passed and went to college - first at Auburn and then at Florida. It was at Auburn that he teamed up with center fielder and sometimes pitcher, Tim Hudson. Several years later, Hudson and Ross would again be teammates, but we'll get to that.

Ross had transferred to Florida for playing time and it led to him getting picked again by the Dodgers in '98, this time in the 7th round. Expected to be a power hitter behind the plate with advanced defensive skills, Ross began his minor league career in style with a .309/.412/.487 slash with Yakima in Short-Season A-ball after he was drafted. Two years later, a return trip to Florida with the Jacksonville Suns gave Ross his second .800 OPS season. He continued the good run with a .297/.384/.519 triple slash the following season with Las Vegas. His solid game got him to the majors in mid-summer of '02 and again in September. He would notably replace Paul Lo Duca in a 19-1 blistering the Dodgers gave the Diamondbacks. Long-time Cub Mark Grace took the ball to pitch the ninth and Ross put the cherry on the top with a first-pitch homerun. It was his first of what is currently 96 homeruns.

Ross missed much of 2003 before settling in as a backup in '04, though the results were terrible (.170/.253/.291). After failing to beat out Paul Bako for the backup job the next spring, Ross was sent to the Pirates. You might have forgotten he played for the Pirates - I know I did. He struggled with Pittsburgh. A late move to San Diego helped his season stats, but he still finished the year with a .671 OPS. Ross was nearing 30 and looked like a journeyman and not a particularly good one at that.

For the second consecutive spring, Ross was squeezed out of the opening day roster - this time by Rob Bowen - and the Padres dealt Ross to the Reds. It was in Cincinnati that Ross found a little stability. In his first year, he took advantage of the Great American Ball Park's generous dimensions to hit a career-best 21 homeruns with a .932 OPS. His follow-up campaign would see the power sustained (17 homeruns), but he simply could not get on base enough (.271 OBP). He would get a third year with the Reds and the results were a mixed bag. He improved his on-base ability, but his power nearly disappeared. The Reds moved on, releasing Ross that August. He briefly caught on with the Red Sox and would even play a game in the postseason.

That offseason, Atlanta was looking for stability behind Brian McCann. They had gone through Corky Miller, Clint Sammons, and Brayan Pena for two seasons. Pena was the only one to provide any element of offense, but the Braves didn't seem convinced he was a capable enough receiver. McCann had played 145 games, which is still his career-high, and by the end of the year, he continued to produce though he lacked the power he had showed so impressively earlier in the season. Ross would help the Braves in a number of ways. The Braves had gifted Todd Pratt to McCann in the latter's first full season of '06, but the still young-McCann could benefit from a guy who had seen much the game had to offer in Ross. Plus, Ross was seen as a leader for a staff that began the year with 23 year-old Jair Jurrjens and later added 22 year-old Tommy Hanson. While little was expected from his bat, the prevailing assumption was that Ross would be able to contribute a few taters and not be a complete zero at the plate like Miller and Sammons.

Year 1 went about as good as the Braves could have hoped. Ross triple slashed .273/.380/.508 with 7 HR. His pairing with McCann was brilliant and the drop-off was nearly non-existent. His leadership was also present for both McCann and the pitchers he worked with. In the second year of a two-year contract, he continued to excel for the Braves, slashing .289/.392/.479 with 13 doubles, the second-best total for any season of his career. He would go on to appear twice that postseason as a defensive replacement. One of his biggest knocks of his first two seasons came in the fifth inning of the August 31, 2010 game against the visiting Mets. The Braves had began the inning down 2-1, but a two-run double by Jason Heyward and a run-scoring single by Alex Gonzalez had put the Braves on top. A batter after Gonzalez, Ross chased Jon Niese with a Grand Slam to deep left.

After bringing back Ross on a second two-year deal, the Braves catching situation remained the best in baseball in 2011. Ross never matched his production from the first two seasons, but he slashed .263/.333/.428 in 171 PA - a stellar effort from a backup. He picked up his second two-homer game as a Brave on April 26 and on July 2, he smacked his second Grand Slam as a Brave, providing the edge against Jake Arrieta and the Orioles 5-4. On July 27, he tied a 1-0 game with an RBI single against Paul Maholm and the Pirates in the sixth and four innings later, hit a walk-off single to win the game. A year later, he remained sturdy with a .256/.321/.449 slash. While the season would go down as the year Ross started over a hurting and struggling McCann in the ill-fated Wild Card Game, I think 2012 should be all about August 8 in Philadelphia. It was on that night, as the Braves cruised to a ho-hum 12-6 win, that Ross reached first base with two outs on an error. On the second pitch to next hitter, Paul Janish, Ross stole second. In his eleventh year in the majors, Ross has finally stole his first base.

But sure, let's focus on that Wild Card Game. McCann's shoulder was shot and he needed offseason surgery to rectify the situation. The two catchers shared a good deal of time in September rather than there being a clear distinction between the two. It was McCann's worst season - well, until he became a Yankee. Over his final 19 games, McCann had hit just .209 with a .260 OBP and .328 slugging. So, it was not too surprising that Ross played ahead of McCann - yet it still seemed like it was. Ross stepped in and gave the Braves a boost, though. He singled twice and homered over four at-bats. And Fredi Gonzalez's decision probably would have been lauded had the umpires not changed what the meaning of the infield fly rule was. I'm half-kidding, of course.

The Braves had gotten away with paying Ross just $1.625M for the final two years of his Braves' run. Over his four years with Atlanta, he had slashed .269/.353/.463. He deserved a pay raise and the Braves couldn't match what he was worth on the open market. That was not a problem for the Boston Red Sox, who inked Ross to a $3.1M average salary. His season got off to a miserable as he hit the DL in mid-June with concussion issues. When he returned, he was able to regain his place as Jon Lester's personal catcher, which became important in keeping him in the mix for the playoffs. He began to steal time beyond Lester's starts from Jarrod Saltalamacchia and in Game 5 of the World Series, he picked up a go-ahead RBI double off Adam Wainwright that helped the Red Sox win and inch closer to a World Series title. Two days later, with Ross behind the plate, the Red Sox beat the Cards 6-1, giving Ross his first World Series ring.

After another year with Boston that included some miserable results, Ross again hit free agency and joined the Cubs. His first year there was miserable at the plate, though his value in the clubhouse and behind the plate still impressed many. He even pitched two games - and did really well (2 ING, 6 batters up, 6 batters down). He returns for a farewell tour this year that has attracted a great deal of attention, which is a testament to Ross the person moreso than Ross the player.

For four years, the Braves had the best catching situation in baseball with an All-Star and a capable backup. The years since have shown how rare that is to put together. With his career nearly up, one has to wonder what's next after 2016. With how well-liked he is and how his leadership is lauded, hard not to see a coaching future for Ross. Maybe that could be a pathway back to Atlanta. Just spitballing.
Rossy gets some air as Chipper Jones sends a ball through the air against the Phillies on 9/2/12.
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
Recent Thursday Throwbacks...
Ryan Langerhans (2002-2003, 2005-07)
Special - Rafael Furcal's Near-Signing (2008)
Marquis Grissom (1995-96)
...or view ALL of them.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Transaction Tuesday: Gant, Lien, Sobotka

I'm going to try something new this season and that's keeping up with minor league transactions. Every Tuesday, I'll take a look at each level to go over some of the moves and provide analysis. If this is the kind of thing that interest you, let me know. For this week, I am going to ignore the moves to set the opening day roster and simply focus on releases and moves because of injuries/promotions.

Gwinnett
Signed: Emilio Bonifacio...Cut at the end of spring training, Bonifacio looked around, but ultimately returned to Atlanta to try to get back to the majors. The signing of Bonifacio was strange during the offseason as Atlanta gave the utility player $1.25M despite being cut last year because of a .390 OPS with the White Sox. With the promotion of Mallex Smith, you have to imagine Bonifacio will jump right into the lineup near the top. He's a decent 25th man option for NL teams who can utilize his speed and versatility, but if you need at-bats from him, you've already lost.

Demoted: John Gant...The crazy delivery ultimately did little to confuse major league hitters, who battered Gant for six hits, including two homers, in three innings. He was likely to head to the minors anyway so his early demotion was more of a sign of how badly the Braves bullpen needed a fresh arm. Gant has never played at Triple-A and presumably will head back to a starting role, replacing Jhoulys Chacin, who moved up to the majors to start tonight's game.

Mississippi
DL'd: Connor Lien...Things were going to be difficult enough for Lien handling Double-A pitching without a hand injury sidelining him. Lien's bat has improved in increments each year after beginning his career in the Gulf Coast League in 2012. Defensively, he's a tremendous fielder whose range is a gift to the corner outfielders. Hopefully, he is able to get back into the lineup soon.

Promoted: Sean Godfrey...It took Godfrey 62 games last year to get to Mississippi from the Carolina. This year, just one. After pretty much hitting since he was drafted in the 2014 22nd rounder, Godfrey met his match in Southern League pitching last season (.194/.232/.272 over 194 PA). At his best, he hits for a high average and sprinkles in some extra base hits with a few steals. At his worst, he's the Godfrey from last summer.

Carolina
Promoted: Stephen Gaylor...It's fitting that he was promoted to place Godfrey because it's difficult to differentiate between the pair for yours truly. Like Godfrey, Gaylor's value is that he's a high-effort guy with guile. The problem is that's not too much of a compliment, but a nice way of saying "he tries real hard."

Rome
DL'd: Chad Sobotka...after one game in which he gave up a hit, a walk, and uncorked a wild pitch, Sobotka's career is back on pause. Drafted with the knowledge that he'd miss 2014 because of injury, Sobotka was a sneaky sleeper in 2015, but struggled badly. Already 22, the hope was that he would pitch well enough to progress up to Carolina this year, though a DL trip was not in the cards.

Promoted: Bradley Keller...An outfielder out of Shelby, NC, the former Crest High School standout was promoted to fill Gaylor's spot. He slashed .245/.321/.350 last year with 9 EBH, 7 steals, and an ugly 50 K's in 162 PA.

Promoted: Oriel Caicedo...Replacing Sobotka on the roster is a player with a good amount of experience in the South Atlantic League already. Caicedo has actually been around since 2011, when he made his debut in the DSL. He flashes great control, but that's about it to this point. He's already made an appearance for Rome and has extensive time as a starter, though the Rome staff is considerably more stacked than it was in 2015 when he made 15 starts.

Danville
Nothing to report.

GCL Braves
Released: Franklin Azuaje...there was some minor hope that Azuaje would develop into a decent third base prospect when the Braves signed him out of Venezuela, but after a decent debut in the DSL during 2013, he rarely saw the field over the last two seasons. Part of that was due to a suspension that ended his 2014 season.

Released: Kevin Reiher...A 24th rounder in 2014 who missed last season, Reiher barely played during his career with the Braves.

DSL Braves
Nothing to report.

Need more Braves material to read? Check out my column from yesterday at my other blog. I looked at the first week of the season and more.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Random Prospect Sunday - Steve Rodriguez

(A little note on this series. On Sundays throughout the season, a player will be chosen at random using the helpful website, random.org. The goal of this series is to talk about both big prospects and organizational filler rather than focus completely on the Top 20 prospects in the system. I alternate pitchers and hitters and this week, we get both a hitter and the bread-and-butter of this series, a catcher. Here's the rest of this series.)

Does it pay to be able to play catcher with good defense? Just ask Steve Rodriguez.

Born in Ford Hood, Texas on January 8, 1990, Rodriguez's family would later relocate to California. It was there that Rodriguez attended St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower. The Catholic school, located just outside of Los Angeles, has a number of notable alumnae, including Nomar Garciaparra, Evan Longoria, and Bud Smith - whose name might have been brought up lately as he's one of only 18 pitchers to throw a no-hitter in his rookie season.

After being undrafted out of high school, Rodriguez accepted a scholarship to attend UCLA and ended up winning the job as primary catcher. Lauded for his defense, Rodriguez hit just .179/.271/.263 over 95 plate appearances in his freshman year. He became the everyday starter the following year and improved his numbers noticeably as UCLA finished two games short of their first national title in baseball. At the plate in 2010, Rodriguez would hit .249/.345/.436 with 8 homeruns - half of which came in a pair of two-homerun games. Behind the plate, Rodriguez was considered a real star, helping to lead a pitching staff that finished second nationally with a 3.00 ERA and set a Pac-10 single-season mark with 700 strikeouts. That staff was led by Matt Grace, Gerrit Cole, and Trevor Bauer.

Rodriguez would return to UCLA for his junior year, though Tyler Heineman would cut into his playing time (the latter would be picked in the 8th round a year after Rodriguez). It didn't help that Rodriguez's offensive numbers completely disappeared (.196/.294/.230) or that UCLA struggled through a disappointing season despite the returns of Cole and Bauer. That June, Rodriguez would be picked in the 15th round by Arizona.

After spending two seasons in short-season A-ball with Yakima, Rodriguez moved up to South Bend to begin 2013, but his stay there was short as he would be needed in Visalia, which is where he spent most of the season. He hit three of his career four homeruns with the Rawhide, but also ISO'd just .114 to go with a .318 OBP. Considering the California League gives hitters a false sense of accomplishment via ridiculous offensive numbers, Rodriguez's season was still a letdown.

The following season, 2014, would be limited to just 48 games at the plate, but to his credit, Rodriguez showed improvement at the plate for really the first time. He played a few weeks in Visalia to begin the year, but spent the remaining 39 games in Double-A Mobile. With the BayBears, Rodriguez slashed .267/.358/.352. With his defense, a slash like that could be quite useful. Unfortunately his season ended because of injury and Rodriguez's top season finished with a .748 OPS. You could argue that with his numbers in 2014 plus the Diamondbacks' trade of Miguel Montero, Rodriguez had a fighting chance to head into camp and compete for playing time with the major league club with Tuffy Gosewisch (ha) and Jordan Pacheco. However, just a few days after Montero was traded, Rodriguez was selected by the Braves in the Triple-A portion of the Rule 5 draft.

Rodriguez remained in the Southern League and played in 60 games with Mississippi last year, slashing just .210/.303/.247 along the way. If you aren't anxious to do the math, that's an ISO of .036. Last year, Shelby Miller (who hit .054 mind you) had an ISO of .036. All jokes aside, Rodriguez fit in well with the duo of Matt Kennelly and Braeden Schlehuber, who served as the other primary catchers last year with Mississippi. The trio's OPS looks like this: .556 (Kennelly), .550 (Rodriguez), .468 (Schlehuber).

For 2016, Rodriguez received a return assignment to Mississippi, though his playing time has been severely cut into by this winter's signing of Willians Astudillo - and that's for the best. Like his cohorts, Kennelly and Schlehuber, Rodriguez's best chance of sticking around is to do all the little things that make light-hitting catchers long-term fixtures of an organization (play defense, be a leader, help develop pitchers).

Twenty-six years-old now, Rodriguez has only played one other position in his career (he took a loss while throwing an inning for Mobile in 2014). He still hasn't logged an at-bat at AAA and carries a .224/.320/.301 slash over 219 professional games. He hasn't homered since 2013, has never eclipsed 100 total bases in a season, and has only been successful once in four stolen base attempts (and it was his first). But especially in the minor leagues, baseball is about much more than all that. Players like Rodriguez become coaches in the end, not major league performers.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Minor League Saturday Stats Pack

Each Saturday, I try to focus on a collection of interesting minor league stats that caught my eye to serve as a companion to the major league version of this series at my other site, atlantabraves.about.com. This week is difficult because I only have two games to post about for each team, but I will not let that stop me from bringing the knowledge.

Gwinnett - 5 walks

It didn't take long for Mike Foltynewicz to drive a manager crazy this season. Folty, who pitched 86.2 innings for Atlanta last year, walked five in just four innings during his first start of the 2016 season. After looking like a possible favorite to break camp this spring with the Braves, Folty remains plagued by his inability to throw enough effective strikes. Only 24, that certainly can change, but walking a handful of the 18 batters faced won't inspire much in terms of confidence.

Mississippi - Two Starts, 17 strikeouts

You can't blame the Pensacola Blue Wahoos if they feel a little shell-shocked to start the season. On Thursday, right-hander Lucas Sims took the mound for his tenth overall start at the AA level and the almost-22 year-old struck out 9 over five dominant innings. The next night, it was new Brave Chris Ellis's turn and the former Angels' third rounder struck out eight over six scoreless innings. Ellis, who started 15 games in the Double-A Texas League last year, was more dominant than Sims as he didn't walk a batter. Mississippi lost the opener 3-1, but won the game for Ellis 2-0.

Carolina - 5 errors

Keith Curcio has had a dynamite beginning of the year with an organizational-best five hits in 9 PA, but he also has an error this year and four other Mudcats, including the other two starting outfielders, join him in giving Carolina League hitters free bases. The 'Cats have pitched terribly over the first two games, but the defense certainly hasn't helped them.

Rome - 10 innings, 15 strikeouts

Much like Mississippi, it's been quite the start for the Rome staff - which is as ballyhooed as any staff in minor league baseball. First, it was 18 year-old Mike Soroka, who despite being one of league's youngest players, shut down the opposition on opening day over four innings for 7 K's next to just one walk. The next night, it was Patrick Weigel, who picked up six strikeouts in six innings. Rome would go on to win both games by outscoring the opposition 16-2. The South Atlantic League might be ready to throw up the white flag when they remember that the top two pitching prospects with Rome, Max Fried and Touki Toussaint, still haven't taken the mound.

Thanks for reading this week's Saturday Stats Pack. I'm sure next week will give me much more to blog about. Remember that you can check out the major league portion of this series by clicking this link. Some of the topics include losing streaks to begin the year, Drew Stubbs on the base-paths, Daniel Winkler's historic beginning, Fredi Gonzalez's win-loss record, and the strange lack of doubles to begin the season.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Everything That is Right With Baseball

Ah, the opening week of the season. No matter how pessimistic one can be, you have to take a little vacation from the feelings of dread and disappointment to entertain the possibilities of what a new season means. I've loved baseball since I was a little tot. My father was an usher at the local minor league stadium and even though I wasn't good at it, I absolutely adored the sport. As I grew older, my love never waned. My wife was the first woman I've ever thought about spending my life with, but she wasn't my first love. That mistress was baseball and in the immortal words of Sammy Sosa, she been berry, berry good to me.

So, instead of an article of analysis on who was released or what free agent the Braves should sign or whatever, here's my moment to appreciate baseball. I must admit that this style isn't new. I was influenced by Grant Brisbee's article from last year to give this a shot. There may be overlap, but I don't really care. This isn't about reinventing the wheel - this is about showing how much I love baseball.

Deep breath.

And here we go.
  1. Seventh inning stretch
  2. Going out of your mind when the little speedster hits a walk-off homerun.
  3. Being part of a crowd of fans going out of their mind when a little speedster hits a walk-off homerun.
  4. Jason Heyward going first-to-home on a double (miss ya, Heyward).
  5. A catcher about to throw the ball back to the pitcher, but pauses in mid-throw because the umpire called an obvious strike a ball.
  6. Stealing a strike on an obvious ball because of pitch framing.
  7. Watching announcers so sure the umpire got it wrong be perplexed when their pitch charting software proves the umpire right.
  8. Eye black.
  9. Ridiculous amounts of eye black.
  10. Major League.
  11. The fact that Charlie Sheen actually looks like a real pitcher in Major League.
  12. Adults that really don't want to, but ultimately surrender a foul ball to a kid. 
  13. Bats that explode.
  14. Watching infielders field a ball on instinct as the remains of a bat comes flying at them.
  15. Pitchers reaching out with their bare hand at a comebacker, potentially costing them millions of dollars if they get hurt doing so.
  16. On-base percentage.
  17. Fielding Independent Pitching.
  18. The fact that WAR is on baseball cards now.
  19. Going through your old baseball card collection.
  20. The Sandlot.
  21. When three fielders converge on the same spot and all three watch the ball fall rather than catch it.
  22. Stealing third base.
  23. Perfect relays on a throw from the warning track to home plate.
  24. People stumbling out of the batting box.
  25. Players giving the stink eye to fans who didn't move away from a foul ball that just reaches the stands.
  26. A switch-pitcher
  27. Seeing your rebuilding team in first place on opening day and for the briefest of seconds, thinking it can last.
  28. Showing bunt and swinging away.
  29. Bunting a double.
  30. Moneyball.
  31. Watching people who have no idea what Moneyball was whine about how stats are killing baseball.
  32. Balls that get stuck in gloves.
  33. Pitchers who have to throw the glove with the ball stuck in it to first base.
  34. Believing that a 16 year-old kid from the Dominican Republic will be your organization's savior.
  35. Watching fans on Twitter go absolutely bonkers when their team loses.
  36. People who get upset about who was snubbed by the All-Star Game selection process.
  37. That helpless feeling an outfielder gets when he loses the ball in the sun.
  38. Outfielders holding up the glove even though they didn't catch the ball after diving or leaping for it.
  39. Players losing track of how many outs are in the inning.
  40. Bull Durham.
  41. Players trying to run away from their team during a walk-off celebration.
  42. Game-saving catches.
  43. Game-saving catches that seem impossible. 
  44. Alumnae/Turn-Back-the-Clock Games.
  45. Standing ovations for players returning to their former team's ballpark for the first time.
  46. Being old enough to see players get their number retired whose entire career you watched.
  47. Explaining what a balk is.
  48. Being unable to speak when a walk-off balk occurs.
  49. Having faith that even if this isn't our season, next year totally is.
  50. Field of Dreams.
  51. Extra-inning games that go on forever.
  52. Fans that stick it out at the park for extra innings games that go on forever.
  53. Knowing that tomorrow, you're really going to regret staying up for this game on the west coast.
  54. Watching your organization's minor league players play a game on half-priced ticket night.
  55. Watching a player making $20 million play a single-A game on a rehab assignment.
  56. The look a player gives the umpire after he's took two steps to first when he thought he earned a walk, but gets told to come back
  57. Hitters being told to bunt, failing, and then getting a hit anyway.
  58. Double steals.
  59. Bringing in an outfielder to be a fifth infielder.
  60. Eight Men Out.
  61. Discussions over who was better, Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron?
  62. Willie Mays or Ted Williams?
  63. Bob Gibson or Nolan Ryan?
  64. Christy Mathewson or Walter Johnson?
  65. Pedro Martinez or Greg Maddux or Randy Johnson?
  66. Jeff Treadway or Mark Lemke?
  67. Bunting against the shift with a slow first baseman.
  68. Step-offs, slide-steps, and throw-overs with an 75+ grade basestealer on first.
  69. 2-1 games where you are amazed that so many runs actually scored.
  70. The Bad News Bears. The Original.
  71. Crossing up the catcher.
  72. Third baseman chargng a grounder, bare-handing it, and throwing a strike to first.
  73. Relievers calmly catching homeruns in the bullpen.
  74. Jumping over the baseline on the way to the dugout after the last out of an inning
  75. Strike 'em out, throw 'em out double plays to end an inning.
  76. Listening to rain delayed baseball on the radio where they beg for questions from listeners.
  77. Position players pitching.
  78. Position players not taking pitching seriously ala Jonny Gomes.
  79. The face of players when they hit a ball hard, but right at someone.
  80. Little Big League
  81. Andrelton Simmons diving.
  82. Andrelton Simmons throwing.
  83. Andrelton Simmons planting and turning in mid-air as if he's an angel to throw a perfect throw to first.
  84. Andrelton Simmons getting to a blooper to left field when the left fielder is still 10 steps away.
  85. Andrelton Simmons jumping over an incoming baserunner to throw out the runner at first.
  86. Just Andrelton Simmons being Andrelton Simmons.
  87. The way Chip Carey gets carried away on a flyball to medium-depth right field. 
  88. Jim Powell's calm excitement.
  89. Vin Scully. 
  90. Ken Burns' Baseball
  91. Discovering a player from the early 1900's you've never heard of.
  92. Learning more about a player you thought you knew everything about.
  93. The sound the donut weight makes when players force it off their bats.
  94. The feeling of apprehension when you're sitting on the third base side and a left-handed batter is at the plate. I got my glove ready - bring it!
  95. The no-doubters Justin Upton hit as a Brave.
  96. When players think they've smacked a homer and aren't running hard only to find out the ball hits the outfield wall...
  97. ...or better yet, it's caught.
  98. Bat flips.
  99. Shortstops waiting until the last possible second to throw out baserunners at first by a step.
  100. 42.
  101. Pitchers covering first and trying desperately to find the bag with their foot.
  102. Sliding away from the tag.
  103. Over-running the bag and having to corkscrew your body around to get back.
  104. Over-sliding the bag and being tagged out.
  105. Smacking the ball so hard that it hit the wall and bounced back to the outfielder, who limits the runner to a single.
  106. Catchers sliding to their knees to retrieve a wild pitch and throwing back to home to get the runner with the pitcher covering the plate
  107. Infielders waiting on a ball to go foul...but it doesn't.
  108. The way a puff of white chalk flies into the air when a liner lands on the foul line.
  109. Diving for a ball feet first right into the foul-territory wall.
  110. Mr. Baseball.
  111. Homeruns
  112. No-doubt homers that the pitcher immediately curses.
  113. No-doubt dingers that the outfielder only turns to admire.
  114. Walk-off Grand Slams hit by Brooks Conrad.
  115. Pitchers hitting homers.
  116. Inside-the-park homeruns.
  117. Hitting a homer that curves around the foul pole.
  118. Hitting the foul pole on a homer.
  119. Hitting a three run homer, down by two, with two outs, in the ninth inning.
  120. 61*
  121. An infielder throwing out a runner at the plate with the infield drawn in.
  122. Watching the dugout scatter when a foul ball comes their way.
  123. Watching fans behind home plate duck when a foul ball comes their way - despite the net.
  124. Breaks for when a beach ball lands in the outfield.
  125. Breaks for when a pitch gets away from a reliever in the bullpen.
  126. Fans booing the other team for throwing over to keep a runner close.
  127. Fans booing an umpire for a call that they can't even get a good look at.
  128. Rosterbating during the offseason.
  129. Rosterbating at the trade deadline.
  130. The Pride of the Yankees.
  131. Trying to pitch around a hitter, but still getting burned when he gulfs a ball into the gap.
  132. Succeeding at pitching around a hitter only to get burned by the next hitter.
  133. Listening to announcers hilariously try to pronounce off-the-wall names.
  134. The fact that baseball gives us Dizzy Dean.
  135. ...and Milton Bradley.
  136. ...and Tim Spooneybarger.
  137. Or for that matter, baseball gives us nicknames like the Crime Dog (Fred McGriff)
  138. ...the Say-Hey Kid 
  139. ...the Chairman of the Board (Whitey Ford)
  140. ...even The Babe.
  141. Ken Griffey Jr.'s swing.
  142. Mike Trout's everything.
  143. Bryce Harper's refusal to conform.
  144. Tom Glavine's stubbornness.
  145. Craig Kimbrel's dominance.
  146. Andres Galarraga's perseverance.
  147. Ichiro's arm.
  148. Billy Hamilton's speed.
  149. Andrew McCutchen. Period. End of sentence.
  150. Fever Pitch.
  151. The way baseball makes us feel like if we move from our seat, something bad will happen.
  152. ...or that by moving, we might create some weird butterfly effect to help our team.
  153. That by just playing catch, you feel like a kid again.
  154. Knowing that when Giancarlo Stanton swings, it could be a special event.
  155. Breaking balls in the dirt that make the most elite hitters in baseball look like uncoordinated teenagers.
  156. Breaking balls in the dirt that make catchers close their eyes and hope for the best.
  157. How an umpire walks around, inspects the ball, slowly tosses it back to the pitcher, and wipes off the plate - all to allow the catcher time to recover after a ball found the jewels.
  158. Excitedly following a prospect until he arrives in the majors.
  159. AAAA guys getting a chance and succeeding.
  160. Trouble With the Curve.
  161. That time each decade where managers have to put a pitcher in the outfield.
  162. Middle infielders covering their faces with their gloves to designate which one goes for the bag.
  163. Middle infielders with so much chemistry that they can predict what the other will do.
  164. Rituals between outfielders after the last out of a game is recorded.
  165. Having the feeling when watching a player like Andruw Jones do his thing, you are seeing something so special, you may never see it again.
  166. The rosen bag.
  167. Guessing along with the hitter on what the next pitch will be - and being right.
  168. Guessing along with the hitter on what the next pitch will be - and being right but the hitter is wrong.
  169. "Excuse-me" swings that lead to hits.
  170. A League of Their Own.
  171. Just about everything about Joe Maddon
  172. David Price's love for baseball - and his dog.
  173. Dollar-beer night (provided the kids are at home).
  174. When pitchers pat their chest after hitting a guy to say, "my fault."
  175. A litany of scouts behind home plate.
  176. Watching a guy rise from the independent leagues to the majors.
  177. Peter Moylan.
  178. Watching a pitcher thank any number of Gods when a fielder bails them out after throwing a terrible pitch.
  179. Quirky, stupid wind-ups.
  180. For Love of the Game.
  181. When players take less money to play for a contender.
  182. Hometown kids playing for the team they grew up loving and doing well.
  183. Parents watching nervously as their kid plays their first game.
  184. Ugly combinations of food product passed off as as actual food.
  185. Middle infielders deeking out baserunners at second base.
  186. Batters swinging and connecting on a pitch in self-defense.
  187. Pitchers wearing their jackets on the base-paths.
  188. Pitchers being used as pinch runners.
  189. Watching baseball anywhere at anytime because we live in 2016.
  190. Soul of the Game.
  191. Opening Day.
  192. A real opening day on the first Monday of April.
  193. Minor league rosters revealed for the first time.
  194. Being able to trace back a team's history to nearly 150 years.
  195. First-round draft picks getting to the majors.
  196. 52nd-round draft picks getting to the majors.
  197. Scouts finding some kid nobody wanted to draft and having that guy get to the majors.
  198. The fact that you can have an economics background and be a great general manager.
  199. Hitting the pitcher eighth.
  200. Rookie of the Year
  201. Rundowns that last forever.
  202. Julio Franco.
  203. Relief pitchers batting.
  204. Umpires looking completely lost and praying another umpire saw the play better than them.
  205. Ridiculous games in-between innings at minor league games.
  206. Baseball trivia questions.
  207. Socks up.
  208. Craig Kimbrel's hat.
  209. The fact that Craig Kimbrel's absolutely ticks people off.
  210. Major League 2.
  211. No batting gloves.
  212. The fact that Evan Gattis's story exists.
  213. Silent celebrations after a homerun/walkoff before everyone cracks up.
  214. Fan clubs in the stands for players coming up with ridiculous traditions. 
  215. Rally caps.
  216. Players wearing rally caps.
  217. Rookies being hazed into wearing absurd outfits. 
  218. Beat writers getting frustrated on twitter.
  219. Fourth of July fireworks while sitting in the outfield.
  220. Knuckleball!
  221. Players that play along with the hecklers.
  222. Being that nerd who sits in the stands with a scorebook, a glove, and being so happy to live in that moment.
I could probably continue, but I think you get the point.