Bud’s Top Ten Players for 2010 (Part 1)

Aroldis Chapman is set to become a household name in 2010.

As a dual member of baseball’s brain trust and the sportswriting community, I am often approached by strangers on sidewalks or in stores who ask questions like: Why do you use so many commas in your writing? What are your thoughts on Cliff Floyd’s Hall-of-Fame candidacy? Did you ever take any courses on grammar or the English language? Why do people think Dane Cook is funny? And of course, which ten players are you most looking forward to watching in 2010? Well, I can provide little insight on most of their queries (Floyd did hit 34 HR’s 2005 for what it’s worth), so here is a look at Bud’s Top Ten Players for 2010 in some particular order:  

10.) Aroldis Chapman: Genetically engineered by Cuban scientists (think Ivan Drago or Yao Ming) to become the greatest left-handed pitcher of the 21st century and beyond, the 21-year-old Chapman might not throw a pitch in the majors next season, but the hype surrounding him is reaching New Moon levels. As a lefty who consistently throws in the high-90’s, Chapman could be a long-term impact arm for whatever team (Blue Jays, A’s, Angels, Red Sox or Yankees) ponies up the cash for him. How Chapman fairs in the minors in 2010 will go a long way in determining whether he’s worth the $20-25 million he’s likely to get (which he will of course mail back to Castro to support the resistance) or if he’s just another overpriced bust.  

9.) Alex Rodriguez: With Kate Hudson by his side in 2009, A-Rod captured his first World Series title and performed like a king in the postseason despite a nagging hip injury–but now she’s gone. While his body might be fully healthy in time for 2010 his heart will likely still be on the mend, and many baseball pundits wonder if he will be able to perform at last year’s high level without the flaxen-haired feline by his side. He’s on pace to reach 600 HR’s next season and could make a legitimate push for his fourth MVP with an absolutely stacked Yankees lineup, but can Alex do it with a heavy heart? I just don’t know. 

You've Gotta Love This Guy!

8.) Ken Griffey Jr:  My Seattle Mariners bias aside, Ken Griffey Jr. is one of the greatest all around players in the history of baseball and should receive a fond farewell everywhere the M’s play this year, ala Cal Ripken Jr. in 2001. This is the last time fans will be able to see the sweetest swing in baseball and the smile so big and bright that it brought joy to millions around the world. Is that a bit of an exaggeration? Not if you are from the Pacific Northwest it isn’t, the “Kid” will always have a special place in our hearts. Hopefully the Mariners can send Junior out on a high note…perhaps with a trip to their first World Series ever?  

7.) Joe Mauer: Coming off the greatest offensive season ever by a catcher last year, Joe Mauer is poised for even bigger things in 2010 (like dating Scarlett Johansson, curing polio and signing a billion dollar contract—seriously, pay him whatever he wants Minnesota). Mauer captured the AL MVP award last year despite missing a month of the season and the sky is the limit for Minnesota’s 26-year-old savior as the Twins move into their brand spankin’ new stadium. With Justin Morneau protecting him in the lineup and having all of this offseason to recover from nagging injuries, will Mauer make another run at hitting .400 in 2010? If he can stay healthy and continue to hit home runs in bunches, Mauer needs to be mentioned in the same breath as Albert Pujols and Adam Everett as one of the best hitters in baseball. Yeah, he’s that good.  

Will 2010 be Felix's last season in Seattle?

6.) Felix Hernandez: Though it seems like he’s been around longer than Methuselah, Felix Hernandez won’t turn 24 until April and has already established himself as one of the top right-handed pitchers in baseball. Hernandez narrowly missed out on capturing the Cy Young award last year (19-5, 2.49 ERA, 217 K’s) and will have even more incentive to perform in 2010 with free agency looming. If the Mariners aren’t able to sign King Felix to a long-term contract sometime soon the team may be forced to move him at the trade deadline in order to recoup their losses. Can you imagine the bidding war for Felix between the Yankees and Red Sox? I think New York would throw in the Statue of Liberty if it brought Hernandez to the Big Apple. Please don’t go Felix, please! 

Coming Soon: Players 5 through 1!


Glass Half Full: Baseball’s Midseason Stars

Last year's Cy Young winner has been even better in 2009.

Last year's Cy Young winner has been even better in 2009.

It may be hard to believe, but the the MLB season is already halfway over. As the month of July rolls along most teams have played 80 to 81 games and about two-thirds of those teams are still in the playoff hunt (apologies to the Pirates, Indians, Athletics, Nationals, etc–start looking forward to the new Harry Potter movie next year) The season has been full of highs (Randy Johnson’s 300th win, Gary Sheffield’s 500th HR), lows (Manny Ramirez steroid scandal) and bizzare celebrity deaths (Michael Jackson and Billy Mays) and undoubtedly there are plenty more of each ahead (is anyone in Hollywood safe these days?) The 162-game marathon has reached the midway point and though there is still plenty of baseball left to play, certain players are worthy of recognition for their contributions thus far. Let’s examine the best from both leagues in the first half:

NL MVP (Albert Pujols-St. Louis): Not much of a debate on this one, Pujols leads the league in nearly every offensive category (HR, RBI, R, BB, SLG, OBP, OPS) and might capture the NL’s first Triple Crown since 1937. Phat Albert has almost single-handedly lead a mediocre Cardinals squad to the top of the NL Central and if St. Louis decides to get some protection for him in the lineup (cough Matt Holliday cough), Pujols will have a season for the ages. No doubt about, 2009 will mark the third time Albert takes home the MVP award. How in the world was this guy only a 13th round pick?

NL Cy Young (Tim Lincecum-San Francisco): There are a plethora of quality young pitchers in the NL (Dan Haren, Johnny Cueto, Barry Zito, Matt Cain, Jair Jurrjens) but the best of the bunch so far has been the Giants’ Tim Lincecum. The defending Cy Young award winner has gotten even better this season, posting a record of 9-2 with a 2.23 ERA and 141 Ks in 121 innings. Lincecum has made major strides with his command, dramatically lowering his walk rate while still striking out more than a batter an inning (which helps to explain his current 23-inning scoreless streak). At only 25, “the Freak” is firmly establishing himself as one of the best pitchers in all of baseball.

Rasmus is starting to look like a star for the Redbirds.

Rasmus is starting to look like a star for the Redbirds.

NL Rookie of the Year (Colby Rasmus-St. Louis): After a slow start to the year, Rasmus has rewarded the Cardinals’ faith in him by hitting for average and power in the #2 hole of St. Louis’ lineup. Rasmus is only 22 and came into the year with zero big league experience so a bit of a learning curve was expected. He only hit .254 in April and .212 in May, but has rebounded to .333 in June and .462 so far in July. It’s a good sign that he didn’t lose his confidence during the early season struggles and it looks like he could team up with Pujols to keep the Cardinals contending for years to come.

AL MVP (Justin Morneau-Minnesota): The AL MVP race isn’t nearly the runaway that it is in the NL, but if the season ended today the junior circuit’s MVP would be Twins 1B Justin Morneau. Although he already captured the award in 2006 (suck on that Derek Jeter), Morneau has continued to fly under the radar as one of the game’s best sluggers. Halfway through the season, Morneau is hitting .323 with 21 HRs and 69 RBIs, putting him on pace for career highs in each. The Canadian Crusher is 4th in the league in batting and 2nd in HRs, RBIs, OPS and SLG. If Morneau can lead the Twins to the division crown, the award should be his.

The Royals stink, but don't blame Grienke.

The Royals stink, but don't blame Grienke.

AL Cy Young (Zack Grienke-Kansas City): Although the Royals’ hurler has come back to earth after an unbelievable start, Grienke stills leads the AL in most major pitching categories. After 17 starts, he is 10-4 with a 2.00 ERA and 120 Ks against only 19 walks, putting him on pace for the pitching triple crown. Even though Kansas City has fallen out of contention (who would have ever thought?), if Grienke can keep pitching like it’s the dead-ball era, the young star could become the Royals’ first Cy Young winner since David Cone in 1994. His only major hurdle will be getting enough wins; Grienke may have been able to overcome social anxiety disorder, but the woeful Kansas City lineup and defense are another story. Look for Roy Halladay to snatch the award if Zach Attack can’t close the deal in the second half.

AL Rookie of the Year (Andrew Bailey-Oakland): There aren’t too many rookies that are difference makers in the AL currently as many hot shot prospects (Elvis Andrus, Matt Weiters, Matt LaPorta) struggle to adjust to the major leagues; the best thus far has been a reliever–Oakland A’s pitcher Andrew Bailey. Bailey came into the season with little hype, but has put a stranglehold on the A’s closer position after Brad Ziegler missed time early on. The rookie reliever has gone 4-1 with a 2.03 ERA and 57 Ks in 48 innings and has also saved 9 games. For his stellar first half work, Bailey was selected to represent Oakland (narrowly beating out Jack Hannahan) in the All-Star game on July 14th.

R.I.P. Dontrelle Willis: You Will Be Missed, But Not Forgotten

The brightest stars always burn out the fastest. Goodbye Dontrelle, you will always live on in our hearts.

The brightest stars always burn out the fastest. Goodbye Dontrelle, you will always live on in our hearts.

Just to clear things up, Dontrelle Willis is not actually dead (although some fantasy owners from last year may wish that upon him), but his career as a starting pitcher in the major leagues did pass away last night at the tender age of seven (2003-2009). Willis’ starting pitching career is survived by his teammates, coaches and those who invested a fortune in his rookie cards. Services will be held at the rest of Willis’ starts in the major leagues, minor leagues and old-men’s softball games. The family has requested that there be no flowers, but instead simply ask that fans don’t boo Dontrelle and further damage his fragile psyche; he may no longer be a starting pitcher, but he’s still a human being afterall.

Dontrelle the starting pitcher was born on May 9, 2003 to the Florida Marlins. His first year was a season that no one would ever forget as the phenom jumped from Double-A to the majors and never looked back (until of course now, that is). The young southpaw burst onto the scene and electrified the baseball world with his big smile, herky-jerky motion and passion for the game. His meteoric rise was added by the fact that every announcer and radio personality (Don Imus was credited as the first to coin the phrase) could finally say “whatcu talkin’ bout Willis” without getting a call from Gary Coleman’s lawyer. Dontrelle would go on to win the NL Rookie of the Year award after posting a 14-6 record and 3.31 ERA. The dream season culminated with a World Series title, as the Florida Marlins defeated the New York Yankees in six games. The burgeoning star was truly the crown prince of baseball and the world had become his oyster (which should have raised some red flags at the time because of Willis’ shellfish allergy).

Although he struggled the next season (10-11, 4.42 ERA), Dontrelle bounced back in a big way in 2005, finishing 2nd in the Cy Young voting to Chris Carpenter and going 22-10 with a 2.63 ERA and 170 Ks. He was selected to the All-Star game for the second time that year and even hit .261-1-11 at the plate. The boy had officially become a man, and Willis looked poised to become the black Fernando Valenzuela next poor-man’s Sandy Koufax. But even the best laid plans of mice and men go awry.

Things began to unravel in 2006 as Dontrelle struggled with control (of the ball and his emotions) leading to an underwhelming 12-12 record and 3.87 ERA. The league had finally figured out Willis, and the suddenly old starting pitcher knew that his best was already behind him. But there was no quit in Dontrelle and although he realized his days were numbered, he fought on valiantly. Unfortunately, Willis managed just 10 wins in 2006, and his ERA skyrocketed to 5.17. Dontrelle was aging faster than that guy in Indiana Jones who drank out of the wrong grail, and there was nothing anyone could do to stop it.

Dontrelle the starting pitcher, seen here throwing one of his last pitches, was only seven.

Dontrelle the starting pitcher, seen here throwing one of his last pitches, was only seven-years-old.

The Florida Marlins, desperate to see their golden child succeed, shipped him off to Detroit along with Miguel Cabrera in hopes that a change of scenery might reignite his career. But things went from bad to worse in the Motor City for the fading star; Willis struggled with injuries, walked twice as many batters as he struck out, and posted a 9.38 ERA in 2008. Dontrelle started this year on the DL due to what was being called an “anxiety disorder“, but everyone knew it was merely a cover up. Willis was dying, and quickly.

Dontrelle made his final start last night against the Minnesota Twins, and scouts say he passed away peacefully after allowing a 2-R HR to Justin Morneau. He went 4 2/3 innings, giving up 8 hits, 4 Rs and 0 Ks. Although Dontrelle seemed upbeat after the game, the final nails had been hammered into the coffin of his career as a starting pitcher. Willis was seven-years-old.

But let’s not remember Willis as the decrepit pitcher of the past few years, a man who had a more trouble time finding the strike-zone than Angelina Jolie does finding a baby she won’t adopt. Instead, let’s think back to young Dontrelle’s days on the mound in sunny Florida, kicking that leg up to the sky and mowing hitters down like very few ever could. Willis was a once in a lifetime talent personality and we should be thankful for every moment he graced us with; baseball could sure use more players like Dontrelle (not that fans don’t love the Paul O’Neills and Gary Sheffields of the world)  His time on this earth was far too short, but he did more with it than most could ever dream of.

Dontrelle Wayne Willis may be gone, but he will live on forever in our hearts and minds. Goodbye sweet Dontrelle, we hardly knew thee…