Light At the End Of the Tunnel

The best way to describe the Seattle Mariners farm system over the last several years has been “top heavy”. Fortunate to have three of baseballs young, top end pitchers, Jack Zduriencik and his staff haven’t had much success outside of that trifecta. That is, up until recently. The Mariners have turned their focus to acquiring offensive firepower, spending their first three draft picks on offense in 2013 and ’14, as well as their first two picks in 2012. Mike Zunino is the only of those picks to reach the Majors so far, though he recently broke the Mariners home run record for catchers. The other prospects are well on their way, including elite prospect Alex Jackson.

 

Recently Graduated: It goes without saying that Zunino, a 2012 first round draft pick out of Florida, has been a huge success both at the plate and behind it. Early returns on recent Minor League grads Taijuan Walker and James Paxton have been extremely promising, especially for the latter. Paxton has allowed just 11 runs over 53 Major League innings for the Wild Card bound Mariners. Had he received more work at the top level this season, Paxton might even be a lead vote getter for American League Rookie of the Year. His rookie counterpart in the rotation, Walker, has been up and down all season between Triple-A Tacoma and Seattle due to injury and inconsistency. Oddly enough, Walker has looked far better at the Major League level than at the Minor League level, and he should be a factor in the M’s plans if they happen to hold on to their Wild Card spot. Through 95 at bats in 2014, shortstop Chris Taylor has earned his spot with the big league team with a .295 average and an impressive .370 on base percentage. His defense has stood out as well. The only real disappointment from a recent promotion has been right fielder Stefen Romero, who has failed to cross the Mendoza Line. Even young infielder Nick Franklin was able to net Austin Jackson, a transaction that makes Franklin’s career with the Mariners a success. Seattle may not have a Rookie of the Year winner in 2014, but they are taking the right steps to putting together a core at the Major League level.

 

On the Way: No discussion of the Mariner’s farm system takes place without some mention of recently drafted catcher/outfielder Alex Jackson. Drafted out of high school, Jackson was the consensus top offensive player in the class. His bat is likely to carry him through the Mariner’s system quickly, though he has already transitioned away from catching duties. DJ Peterson, whom Seattle selected with their first pick in 2013, has a bat similar to Jackson’s, is a very projectable hitter and should let his bat carry him through the minors. The Mariners drew serious f?ire for drafting a first baseman that early, and paying that much for one, though they have to like what they have seen so far. After Jackson and Peterson, the third big bat acquired by Seattle recently was Austin Wilson, an outfielder at Stanford that the Mariners selected 49th overall in 2013. Wilson is a high risk, high reward type, as he has the athleticism and power to be a middle of the order difference maker. What differentiates Wilson from Jackson, though, is that Wilson is very raw, whereas Jackson has a defined set of skills.

 

2015 Breakout: The Mariners have no shortage of top-end young pitchers, and expect Luiz Gohara to join that conversation next season. An 18-year-old lefty from Brazil, Gohara struggled in his first season with the Everett Aqua Sox, though he should be able to adapt during another season at Single-A. Jonathan Mayo describes Gohara’s arsenal as “…fastball that reaches up to 93-94 mph, and he has a good curveball to go along with it. He also throws a slider, which isn’t as good as his other breaking ball, and he shows a really good feel for a changeup”.

Alex Jackson could be a cornerstone at Safeco as soon as 2016.

Alex Jackson could be a cornerstone at Safeco as soon as 2016.

Steroids and Baseball

Anymore, it seems that any success in baseball is directly correlated to steroids. Stories are coming out about former stars being offered performance enhancers; current stars mysteriously owe dealers large sums of cash. No longer is it a question of if a player has a steroid connection, but it is a matter of when. 


Baseball in the 1990s was littered with steroid users. From Sammy Sosa to Mark McGwire; from Rafael Palmeiro to Jose Canseco; from Mike Piazza to Roger Clemons. The players that shaped baseball in that era changed the way that baseball is played. They cheated, though, and will likely never reach the Hall of Fame because of their actions. 

Recently, Curt Schilling told reporters that members of the Boston Red Sox offered him steroids in 2008. Though he claims to have never taken the drugs, his name is now part of the controversy, and for some, a level of uncertainty may arise. Is Schilling trying to clear his conscience of past usage? 


Brewers’ superstar Ryan Braun tested positive for steroids in the 2011 offseason, but the conviction was overturned when it was discovered that the handling of his drug test sample was mishandled. His name came up recently as part of a list of players that owe money to steroid dealer Anthony Bosch. Braun initially gave a solid alibi, stating that he only used Bosch for consulting purposes. As more evidence has come out, though, it is becoming apparent that Braun may owe money for something other than legal advice.

Other high profile players connected to Bosch include Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez, Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz and Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta. Volumes of other players are tied to Bosch, and other big names are likely to be uncovered.

Major League Baseball must change the way that steroid users are handled. Some might suggest that the penalties be harsher, increasing the length of suspensions or even banning them from baseball for a second or third offense. First time offenders currently receive 50 game suspensions. Obviously, these suspensions are not enough, as players are still using the drugs.

Seeing as steroid use is becoming the norm, would it be feasible for Commissioner Bud Selig and the MLB to change the steroid policy, and actually allow for performance enhancing substances?

Current Mets’ outfielder Marlon Byrd said on Twitter Friday, “I think you have to be an idiot to test positive and I was one of those idiots.” Baseball players no longer care about cheating, they care about getting caught. In order to change this rational, Selig must change the policies that surround steroids and their subsequent punishments. 

 

Long Live the Note

The Saint Louis Blues got off to an outstanding start in their shortened 2013 campaign, racking up early points like true President’s Cup contenders are supposed to. A season opening blowout of the Detroit Red Wings, followed by wins against Nashville and Dallas, had people buzzing about the potential of Ken Hitchcock’s club. 

That dominant stretch has subsided, though, and we are starting to see the Blues of old. Since January has ended, the Blues have been humiliated at home by the Predators and Red Wings, and lost another game in Detroit. The January Blues and February Blues are polar opposites. 

One potential difference maker has been the loss of starting goalie Jaroslav Halak, who suffered a groin injury and is hoping to return Monday against the Los Angeles Kings. Halak and Brian Elliot make up arguably the best goaltending duo in hockey, though Elliot has been atrocious in Halak’s absence. So far this season, Elliot has allowed an uncharacteristic 19 goals in five starts, three of which have been since Halak’s injury. 

Elliot has not been the only reason for the Blues struggles, though. The goals that had been coming easily for the Blues have stopped. Rookie sensation Vladimir Tarasenko has slowed his production offensively, and the team is molasses slow defensively. 

So how do the Blues break this awful slump? Losing three games in a row will happen, especially in this strenuous season. Losing consecutive home games by scores of 6-1 and 5-1 is definitely eye opening, though.

The 2013 Blues have very high expectations, and they will surely break out of this slump eventually. It will be fascinating to see what ends the streak, and gets the Blues back on the right track. Maybe the return of Halak will have a bigger impact than is expected. 

State of the Cubs

There are two ways to win in the professional sports world. Some teams prefer to sign free agents, paying top dollar for players that have already proven themselves, whereas other
teams build through the draft. Dynasties are built by teams that can do both, such as the Yankees, while perennial doormats, such as the Cubs, are caused by being incapable of doing either.

In recent years, the Cubs have doled out huge money to free agents, most of which have drastically underperformed. Examples include current outfielder Alfonso Soriano, who has been inconsistent at best. Former Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry, the man responsible for handing out the lucrative contracts, was let go midway through the 2011 baseball season. His successor is in the process of completely changing the Cubs financial culture. 

New Cubs President Theo Epstein, hired in November of 2011, is the polar opposite of Hendry. Epstein has brought draft gurus to Chicago, using the draft to select impact players that will be the future of the organization. In less than two years, Epstein and his staff have moved the Cubs’ farm system from being ranked in the low 20s, to tenth overall. 

The Cubs have put themselves in position for quite the promising future since Epstein’s hiring. The upcoming MLB Draft has huge implications for the Cubs, as it provides a fantastic opportunity to fill their starting pitching need. If the Cubs believe that they can compete in the next 2-3 years, college aces Mark Appel (Stanford) and Ryne Stanek (Arkansas) are likely options. Both top of the rotation potential starters, Appel and Stanek are polished pitchers that could help a team right away. If the Cubs decide that it will take more than two years to become a championship contender, it would make sense for them to look into Sean Manaea (Indiana State), a project that pitcher with booming potential.  Whichever way the Cubs plan to go, Epstein will be making a move for the better for the Cubs. 

Ever since I watched my first baseball game, my dream has been to be a member of the iconic Chicago Cubs organization. This dream, in theory, is the same as every young baseball fan.

Most of my friends played Little League baseball, donning jerseys that had team logos such as that of the Cubs and White Sox. They bragged about being on “the Cubs,” and I was incredibly jealous.

So why didn’t I play Little League baseball?

I was born with an eye condition that severely affected my depth perception. Basically, I had none. Trying to play baseball without depth perception would be suicide; I would get drilled with the ball.

Instead of partaking in organized baseball, I decided to become more well versed in Cubs facts than anyone else. I read articles, watched every game, collected baseball cards, and memorized every baseball statistic known to man. I could answer any question about the Cubs without a moment’s hesitation.

Realizing that I would never be the next Sammy Sosa, I decided to become the next Paul Sullivan. Succeeding Sullivan as the Chicago Tribune Cubs beat reporter has always been my goal, and my reason for being in journalism. In fourth grade, I began blogging about baseball games. I wrote recaps, my thoughts on transactions, and the future of the team. Though my blog was nothing special, it ended up helping me down the road. That experience gave me a leg up on the competition when I worked as the sports editor for my high school newspaper.

Though I have never given up on that goal, my interests have wavered in terms of baseball media careers. Brewers legend Bob Uecker and the late Cub great Ron Santo inspired me to strive for a career in radio commentary.

Regardless of whether I choose to pursue a career in print media or radio broadcasting, I am bound and determined to follow in the footsteps of Sullivan and Santo, and become a staple of Major League Baseball.