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Fireballing Brewers prospect Johnny Hellweg, 25, has been diagnosed with a torn UCL and is headed to visit Dr. James Andrews, reports MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy. Hellweg, the club’s 7th overall prospect in the eyes of MLB.com, has been working at Triple-A after briefly reaching the bigs last year with Milwaukee. He put up a 6.75 ERA in 30 2/3 big league frames in 2013, but had a 3.14 mark in 131 2/3 minor league innings (albeit with 6.4 K/9 against 5.7 BB/9).
Here’s more from the National League:
- Michael Cuddyer and the Rockies are in no rush to consider a new deal, writes Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post. Cuddyer, 35, is set to complete his three-year, $31.5MM deal this season, and says he hopes to play two or three more seasons. But he is planning to finish out his contract and consider his options down the line.
- The Cubs plan to take the best player available with the fourth overall pick in the upcoming amateur draft, reports Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune. Though the team is stocked with well-regarded field prospects, and somewhat less flush with young arms, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein says they will “take the best player, regardless of position,” explaining that he will look to make “the best investment, the best bet on that player’s career.” The team is hopeful of building pitching depth from this year’s amateur pool, even if that does not come through the first choice. “There’s tremendous depth in this class,” said Epstein. “It’s more depth than elite, per se. But we should be coming out with a good pitching haul when it’s said and done.”
- Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa is in the midst of a bounce-back campaign, writes Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post. After struggling mightily last year, and reportedly drawing significant trade interest from teams looking to take a chance on a turnaround for the 26-year-old switch-hitter, Espinosa is off to a .273/.333/.455 start through his first 59 plate appearances. He has taken over as the regular at second, with Anthony Rendon shifting to third while Ryan Zimmerman is on the DL. Espinosa’s rough 2013 was not without its benefits for the Nats, as his demotion allowed the team to pause his service clock: with just 2.113 years entering this season, Espinosa will not be eligible for free agency until 2018.
In his latest Notes column, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports begins by examining the managerial change for the Nationals. As Rosenthal points out, the change from the laid-back Davey Johnson to the intense Matt Williams hasn’t prevented sloppy play. A source tells Rosenthal that Williams called a team meeting to call out how sloppy they’d been and how they needed to hustle down the line. Rosenthal also points out Washington’s poor defense — something that wouldn’t be expected under Williams. Here are some more highlights from Rosenthal’s latest piece…
- The Mets‘ bullpen woes under Sandy Alderson can’t be blamed on payroll constraints, writes Rosenthal. He looks at the success the A’s, Royals and Giants have had in building a relief corps on the cheap before looking at Alderson’s misses on Frank Francisco, D.J. Carrasco, Ramon Ramirez and Brandon Lyon. Though they did well in landing Carlos Torres and Scott Rice, the team’s financial state isn’t an excuse for its poor relief work, he concludes.
- Rosenthal also looks at the Tigers‘ puzzling Alex Gonzalez situation. Detroit gave up infielder Steve Lombardozzi (who was part of the return for Doug Fister) and spent $1.1MM for nine games of Gonzalez before cutting him loose. Asked by Rosenthal about the possibility of Stephen Drew, GM Dave Dombrowski replied: “I’m sure people will focus on that, but we’re going to look internally at our situation first and foremost.” The Tigers would likely only want Drew on a one-year deal, as Jose Iglesias will be healthy in 2015.
- Torii Hunter tells Rosenthal that he’s physically capable of playing another two or three years, but it’s going to be a matter of whether or not he wants to do so. Hunter certainly didn’t hint that retirement was on his mind, though: “I’m a man. A man is supposed to work. This is the only thing I know, the only thing I’m supposed to do.”
- One executive told Rosenthal that the increase in extensions for younger players is due to the lack of overall talent in today’s game. With so few impact performers, teams are more compelled than ever to lock them up through their prime. As an example, that executive pointed to this year’s draft class, noting that NC State shortstop Trea Turner might be the only college shortstop selected in the Top 250.
Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post examines the coming payroll crunch that will soon face the Nationals. While the division-rival Braves have locked up their young core on multi-year extensions that have delayed their free agency, only Ryan Zimmerman is in that situation in Washington. As Kilgore notes, Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond, Doug Fister and Ross Detwiler are all free agents after the 2015 season, and extending any of those players becomes more difficult in light of the fact that they approach free agency at the same time that Bryce Harper, Wilson Ramos and Stephen Strasburg become more expensive via arbitration. Kilgore wonders if recent talk of a Mike Trout extension could lead to optimism about a Harper extension as well, but also notes the difference between agents; Craig Landis is likely more open to a long-term deal for Trout than Scott Boras would be for Harper. Here's more regarding the Nats and the NL East…
- In a piece for the Washington Times, Mark Zuckerman looks at the Nationals' options for their No. 5 starter in Spring Training. While Ross Detwiler, Taylor Jordan and Tanner Roark all have their merits, Zuckerman notes the strengths of each at adapting to different roles. He writes that the easiest decision is Detwiler in the rotation, Roark in the bullpen and Jordan at Triple-A, but stresses that GM Mike Rizzo and manager Matt Williams need to make the decision with the team's long-term interests in mind.
- MLBPA executive director Tony Clark wouldn't bite when asked if the Mets' payroll was drawing attention from the union, writes Andy Martino of the New York Daily News. Clark said that the MLBPA pays attention to payrolls "in general" and called the Mets a "marquee franchise" but wouldn't elaborate. Clark said he isn't aware of any payroll constraints on the Mets, who will have a roughly $87MM payroll that represents a slight decline from last year's mark.
- Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia News writes that while Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez's Spring Training debut didn't go particularly well this weekend, Phillies coaches and executives took away some positives from the outing. Gonzalez allowed a run on two hits and four walks with two strikeouts in 1 2/3 innings and is fighting with Roberto Hernandez for the fifth rotation spot. Pitching coach Bob McClure and GM Ruben Amaro Jr. offered some praise, especially since Gonzalez has scarcely pitched over the past two years due to injury and suspension. Lawrence writes that Roberto Hernandez is still the favorite for the fifth starter role.
1:33pm: Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com tweets that Gonzalez will earn $1.5MM if he makes the roster and has $750K worth of incentives in his deal as well.
7:31am: The Nationals announced that they have signed lefty Mike Gonzalez to a minor league deal with an invitation to Major League Spring Training (Twitter link). Gonzalez is represented by the MVP Sports Group.
Usually one to hold lefties in check, the 35-year-old Gonzalez struggled in that regard last season, surrendering a .274/.336/.443 batting line to opposing lefties en route to a 4.68 ERA in 50 innings with the Brewers. However, his career mark of .219/.287/.346 is a significant improvement from last year's split, and he's just one season removed from posting a 3.03 ERA with 9.8 K/9 and 4.0 BB/9 in 2012 — a season he spent with the Nationals.
Baseball prospect rankings are always fascinating, but often unsatisfying. Once all of the exciting projecting and future lineup construction has been completed, you are left to wait for the player to develop and reach the bigs. But youthful players more generally — as distinguished from prospects — can and often are a thing of the present. So, which teams have the best assemblage of young talent, prospects or otherwise? According to Jason Parks and the Baseball Prospectus staff, the Cardinals lead the way in a top five that belongs to the National League. The Pirates (#4) also land in that grouping, but the rest is occupied by National League East clubs: the Nationals (#2), Braves (#3), and Marlins (#5).
Here's more from the N.L. East:
- The Mets land at 12th on that list, led of course by a trio of young pitchers. One of those – 21-year-old Mets hurler Noah Syndergaard — has always wowed scouts with his stuff, but Andy Martino of the New York Daily News writes that he has increasingly revealed a competitive personality as he's come out of his shell in New York. Mets brass is reportedly excited not only about Syndergaard's MLB-ready fastball, but also his attitude toward the role of being a starter. Of course, he does not figure to be much of a factor on the big league level this year, though scouts tell Martino that he could retire MLB batters at his current stage of development.
- Speaking of prospects, J.J. Cooper of Baseball America compiled a list of the players who received some consideration for inclusion in the outlet's Top 100. The two most notable names, perhaps, were A.J. Cole and Brian Goodwin of the Nationals, who appeared somewhere on every writer's list of the top 150 prospects and peaked at 49th and 51st, respectively. It is worth checking through the names for "just-missed" prospects from other teams.
- Freddy Garcia of the Braves is at quite the opposite side of his career at age 37. As MLB.com's Mark Bowman reports, Garcia has started the spring with a strong case for a rotation or pen slot, having now kept opponents off the basepaths entirely in his first five innings. If he ends up not receiving a big league spot, however, Garcia says that he will retire rather than spending time in the minors waiting for another shot.
A number of notable clubs entered Spring Training looking for clear answers at second base, and other teams could face looming questions at the position. Here's a roundup of items about the keystone…
- Multiple talent evaluators tell ESPN's Jim Bowden that Alexander Guerrero needs a lot of time at Triple-A in order to both learn second base and simply to regain his form after not playing last season. In the Insider-only piece, Bowden looks at internal and external second base answers the Dodgers could explore to solidify themselves at the position.
- Early word on Guerrero hasn't been too positive, as one evaluator tells ESPN's Buster Olney (another Insider-only piece) that the Dodgers "could get him through outright waivers right now if they need a roster spot." Olney speculates that the Nationals could generate some interest in Danny Espinosa given the number of teams (including the Dodgers and Yankees) looking for second base help, though Washington wouldn't want to accept a sell-low offer for Espinosa given his poor 2013 season.
- The Royals are lacking in middle infield depth behind Omar Infante and Alcides Escobar, as Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star notes may not have the 25-man roster space for a backup infielder. Since Ned Yost plans to carry 12 pitchers, that leaves only four bench spots for Justin Maxwell, Jarrod Dyson, Danny Valencia and the backup catcher. Christian Colon, Pedro Ciriaco and Johnny Giavotella are currently fighting for a roster spot in camp and the team will have Valencia and Mike Moustakas work out at second in case they need to be emergency options. “It’s not ideal not to have a backup middle infielder on the team,” GM Dayton Moore said. “However, I do anticipate Infante and Escobar in the lineup most days.”
- Marco Scutaro is only beginning to take grounders and has yet to swing a bat, CSNBayArea.com's Andrew Baggarly reports. The veteran infielder is purposely taking a slow start to Spring Training in order to keep himself healthy and free of hip problems, and Giants GM Brian Sabean admits that the team probably should've shut Scutaro down last year when he was battling multiple nagging injuries. Despite Scutaro's issues, Sabean is confident he'll be ready for Opening Day though he only said "we'll see" when asked if he was comfortable with the team's second base depth.
Mets fans had a scare yesterday when projected Opening Day starter Jon Niese had to travel to New York to undergo an MRI after experiencing a dead arm. However, Mike Puma of the New York Post tweeted earlier today that the results of Niese's MRI were positive; doctors said his shoulder looked "perfect," and he will be able to resume throwing as soon as he returns to camp. Elsewhere in the NL East…
- CSNPhilly.com's Jim Salisbury writes that 2014 could finally be the year that the Phillies trade Cliff Lee if they fall out of contention. Lee says that the concept of trade rumors don't matter to him: "I really don't care. There’s no sense really thinking about it. Honestly, it usually means a good thing. It means you’ve had success and other teams really want you." Lee's contract is guaranteed through the 2015 season and contains a vesting option for 2016.
- Rehabbing Phillies setup man Mike Adams threw his first bullpen of the spring today and said he felt great afterward, writes MLB.com's Todd Zolecki. Adams felt some discomfort when throwing from flat ground on monday, but the Phillies' head trainer assured him it was ok. Adams, set to earn $7MM in 2014 after missing most of 2013, said he threw at about 85 percent intensity today and could be in the Phillies' bullpen sometime in April.
- Christina De Nicola of FOX Sports Florida spoke to Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill about his wealth of pitching prospects. Beyond Jose Fernandez, Nathan Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez, and Jacob Turner, the Marlins also have minor leaguers Andrew Heaney, Justin Nicolino, Anthony DeSclafani, Adam Conley, Brad Hand and Brian Flynn. "Those guys are all starting pitchers, which is an envious position to be in," Hill said. "We're proud of our depth, happy to have it and just hopeful that they all develop into what we think they can be."
- Nationals GM Mike Rizzo calls recent trade acquisition Felipe Rivero a "huge-upside left-handed starter," writes James Wagner of the Washington Post. Wagner spoke with Rivero about his transition from the Rays organization to the Nationals.
Spoiler alert! Marlins president David Samson took on a very different role as a cast member in the current season of Survivor, but in tonight's premiere episode, Samson was the very first person voted out of the game by his tribemates. Another notable baseball personality, Jeff Kent, fared much better when he appeared on the long-running reality show in 2012, finishing 10th out of 18 contestants.
Here's the latest from around the division….
- Michael Hill, former Marlins GM and the club's newly-promoted president of baseball operations, speaks to MLB.com's Joe Frisaro about his philosophy in building a franchise, some of Miami's offseason moves and the development of creating a "Marlins Way" of aggressiveness throughout the organization.
- As of a week ago, the Nationals still had interest in free agent reliever Oliver Perez, a source tells MLB.com's Bill Ladson. Perez was reportedly choosing between four offers, and while Washington was linked to Perez earlier this month, it's unknown if the Nats were one of the clubs who offered the veteran southpaw a contract. Another source tells Ladson that the Nationals could pursue Perez as left-handed bullpen depth if Ross Detwiler keeps his spot in the starting rotation.
- Brock Peterson's 11-year odyssey in the minor leagues finally ended when he appeared in 23 games with the Cardinals last season. Peterson talks to MLB.com's Andrew Simon about his long career and his latest opportunity, as he chose to sign a minor league deal with the Nationals in the offseason.
- Mike Minor seems likely to be the next Braves player to receive a multiyear extension, David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution predicts. O'Brien also thinks that while Kris Medlen is a bit older (28) than the other youngsters being locked up by the club, Medlen's performance is deserving of a long-term commitment from the team. Minor, 26, has three arbitration years remaining as a Super Two player and is eligible for free agency after the 2017 season. A Medlen extension would be more expensive for Atlanta, as Medlen is only under team control through the 2015 campaign.
Jonah Keri of Grantland lists out the National League non-roster invitees who could have the greatest impact. In addition to a series of highly-touted prospects with a chance to break out this year, Keri says to keep an eye on Roger Bernadina (Reds), Mark Reynolds (Brewers), Bobby Abreu (Phillies), and Jamey Carroll (Nationals). Here's more from the National League:
- Jaime Garcia of the Cardinals is set to receive a second opinion on his ailing left shoulder after undergoing an MRI on Monday, reports Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com. Though declining further comment, GM John Mozeliak said that the preliminary review by the Cards' team doctor showed that "early indications have been encouraging." Nevertheless, any visit to Dr. James Andrews causes alarm bells to go off, and that is particularly so in the case of the 27-year-old Garcia, who missed most of last year due to a labrum tear.
- Reliever Clay Hensley, 34, is looking to make an improbable comeback with the Nationals after a series of injuries derailed his career, reports MASNsports.com's Dan Kolko. Though he could barely crack 80 mph just half a year ago, a weighted ball program commended to him by former big leaguer Tom House has allowed Hensley to regain the low-90s heat that he carried earlier in his career. Of course, Hensley faces quite another uphill battle in gaining a place in a Nats bullpen that has several arms competing for few openings.
- Much has been written about the Phillies' controversial involvement with the collegiate career of former draft choice Ben Wetzler, but Tony Blengino of Fangraphs provides an excellent new perspective on the issue. The former scout explains that the role of the scout is to eliminate as many variable as possible, making things as black and white as possible. But uncertainty will never be removed from the equation entirely, and Blengino opines that players should be permitted to utilize an agent/advisor without fear of repercussions.
- Justin Turner, who was designated for assignment by the Mets this offseason before landing with the Dodgers, talked about the shock of the DFA with Andy Martino of the New York Daily News. Turner says he has nothing but fond memories of New York, though he was particularly stunned to hear that the team had concerns with his level of hustle.