SweetSpot: Carlos Gonzalez

Most of the $15.3 million qualifying offers extended to free agents made sense and weren't surprising -- Max Scherzer, James Shields, Nelson Cruz, Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, Francisco Liriano, Russell Martin, David Robertson, Ervin Santana, Melky Cabrera, Victor Martinez. That's the list I projected a few weeks ago with the exception of Hiroki Kuroda, who wasn't extended an offer by the Yankees.

I missed one guy, however, and he's the surprise: Michael Cuddyer, who would seem like a lock to take the $15.3 million and return to the Rockies. Cuddyer won the National League batting title in 2013, when he hit .331 with 20 home runs. He hit .332 in 2014 -- but played just 49 games after missing two months with a hamstring problem.

Cuddyer will be 36 when the 2015 season begins, is a below-average defensive right fielder, never hit .300 until coming to the Rockies and has averaged 93 games per season during his three years in Colorado. In other words, he wasn't likely to receive a big, multiyear contract given his age and injury history.

[+] EnlargeCarlos Gonzalez
Rich Schultz/Getty ImagesCarlos Gonzalez played just 70 games in 2014 due to an assortment of injuries.
So by giving him that offer, the Rockies seem to be betting on his return. Given that Justin Morneau is still under contract, that slots Cuddyer in right field the majority of the time. The Rockies also have Corey Dickerson, Charlie Blackmon, Drew Stubbs and Brandon Barnes for the outfield -- and Carlos Gonzalez.

Seems like they have basically put a "For Sale" sign up on CarGo, even if that means selling low after his injury-riddled campaign in which he hit .238 and played just 70 games. Still, he is a career .294/.351/.520 hitter. Even with the Coors inflation he would be an intriguing risk for a team to take on. He will be 29 for the 2015 season and signed for three more years at $16.4 million, $17.4 million and $20.4 million. I can't imagine the Rockies paying nearly $32 million for two outfielders who have issues staying on the field. Thus the likelihood they shop Gonzalez for some pitching help.

Which teams would be candidates? A quick look:

Cincinnati Reds: Their outfielders were last in the majors in wOBA. Even expecting a Jay Bruce bounce back, they could use a left fielder. Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos and Mike Leake are all free agents after 2015, so the Reds could try to shop Cueto or Latos, but I'm not sure one of those guys on a one-year deal would interest the Rockies. The Reds do have Tony Cingrani and pitching prospect Robert Stephenson.

Seattle Mariners: The Mariners ranked next-to-last in outfield wOBA. Right now, they would slot in Dustin Ackley, Austin Jackson and Michael Saunders from left to right. They really need right-handed power, but Gonzalez would be an enticing gamble. A few years ago, general manager Jack Zduriencik was willing to include Taijuan Walker in a deal for Justin Upton, but with Walker now in the majors and CarGo coming off a bad year, that seems unlikely. The Mariners have a deep slate of relievers to deal from, and maybe Brad Miller or Chris Taylor would interest the Rockies as a potential replacement for Troy Tulowitzki or an upgrade at second base over DJ LeMahieu.

Chicago Cubs: While you can likely pencil in Kris Bryant at third base, Javier Baez at second base and Jorge Soler in right field for 2015, left field and center field are still up for grabs. Chris Coghlan had a nice season in 2014 (.283/.352/.452), but with room to play with in the payroll and Joe Maddon's assertion that the Cubs will be a playoff contender in 2015, maybe Gonzalez is worth considering to slot in front of or behind Anthony Rizzo in the lineup.

St. Louis Cardinals: The death of Oscar Taveras means the Cardinals need a right fielder, as Randal Grichuk probably isn't ready for full-time duty. The offense also needs more power. The Cardinals don't seem sold on Carlos Martinez as a starter, and if Michael Wacha is healthy, there may not be room for him in the rotation anyway.

New York Mets: They have the starting pitching depth to go after Gonzalez and Mets left fielders hit .219 with six home runs (fewest in the majors) in 2014, so he's a good fit. But is he worth Zack Wheeler or Noah Syndergaard? And would the Mets want to take on CarGo's salary?

Tampa Bay Rays: Kevin Kiermaier led their outfielders with 10 home runs, and they still have pitching depth even after trading David Price. But Gonzalez's salary is likely prohibitive for the Rays.

San Diego Padres/Arizona Diamondbacks: Both teams had terrible production from their outfields, but the Rockies may be reluctant to trade Gonzalez to a division rival.


Eric Karabell and myself break down the BBTN 100's top left fielders. Left field was once the domain of sluggers like Greg Luzinski and Jim Rice and Manny Ramirez and it didn't matter if you played any defense as long as you hit 30 home runs and knocked in 100. The only regular left fielder to achieve those numbers in 2013 was ... Alfonso Soriano (who hit 32 homers and drove in 93 while playing left, with an additional two and eight coming as a DH). Maybe Carlos Gonzalez and Bryce Harper stay healthy enough to reach those figures this year. Maybe Yoenis Cespedes has a big season for the A's. Maybe Justin Upton improves in his second season in Atlanta. Maybe Josh Hamilton plays better for the Angels.

Key position switches for 2014

February, 10, 2014
2/10/14
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A year ago, the St. Louis Cardinals tried the unorthodox move of switching third baseman Matt Carpenter to second base, a position he had played just 18 innings previously in the majors and never in the minors. Players rarely move up the defensive spectrum, but the risk paid off for the Cardinals as Carpenter played a solid second base -- he rated as league average via defensive runs saved (DSR) -- and had a big year at the plate, hitting .318 and leading the National League in runs, hits and doubles.

Carpenter will move back to third base in 2014, clearing room for rookie second baseman Kolten Wong. That will allow the Cardinals to upgrade defensively at two spots: Carpenter over David Freese at third base and Wong, considered a plus defender, over Carpenter.

With teams opening up camps later this week, here are some other key position changes to watch in spring training:

[+] EnlargeJoe Mauer
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesJoe Mauer played eight games at first base last season.
Joe Mauer, Twins: Catcher to first base
Mauer has started 54 games at first base in his career, but it appears his catching days are over as he takes over for the departed Justin Morneau. It's the right move by the Twins. It appears that rookie catcher Josmil Pinto will be a solid major league regular, and the move will help keep Mauer healthy and his bat in the lineup more often. Plus, he hasn't really been a regular catcher in recent seasons anyway: The past two seasons, he started 73 and 72 games behind the plate. Mauer may not provide the prototypical power you'd like from a first baseman, but his .400 on-base percentage plays anywhere. He's a good enough athlete to be decent with the glove (he's plus-1 DRS at first base in his limited time there).

Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies: Left field to center field
Like the Carpenter move, this one involves a player shifting to a more demanding position. Gonzalez hasn't played any center field the past two seasons, but did play there earlier in his career (187 games started). This one is interesting because Gonzalez's defensive metrics in left field have been all over the place: plus-8 in 2011, minus-13 in 2012, plus-10 in 2013. Gonzalez, who missed time with a finger injury in 2013, underwent emergency appendectomy surgery in January but is expected to be fully ready for spring training. The Rockies did acquire Drew Stubbs and Brandon Barnes in the offseason, two guys who can play center if Gonzalez is deemed lacking in range.

Ryan Braun, Brewers: Left field to right field
All 817 of Braun's games in the outfield have come in left, but he'll move to right as the weaker-armed Khris Davis takes over in left. DRS has rated Braun as a plus fielder over the years in left -- plus-28 runs -- but his arm has rated slightly below average at minus-10 runs. Still, he should be to handle right field, although opposing baserunners will surely test his arm early on.

Carlos Santana, Indians: Catcher to third base
By far the most intriguing position change, this one isn't written in stone, but Santana has played some third base this winter. With Yan Gomes emerging as a plus defensive catcher, the Indians want to keep Santana's bat in the lineup and Lonnie Chisenhall may be out of chances at third base. Santana was originally an infielder in the low minors before switching to catcher, so moving to third base won't be completely foreign to him. Still, the catcher-to-third move is a rare one midcareer, most notably done by Joe Torre, Todd Zeile and Brandon Inge (who had been a shortstop in college). Most likely, Santana settles in as a super-utility guy, filling in at third and first if he's not the full-time DH.

Alex Guerrero, Dodgers: Shortstop to second base
This is the most common position change as shortstops without quite enough arm are shifted to second. In Guerrero's case, he played shortstop in Cuba and will move because Hanley Ramirez is entrenched at short. The Dodgers sent Guerrero to the Dominican Winter League, but early reports on his defense were not good, with stiff hands being the big issue. He played only a few games there, however, so spring training will be a crash course at second base. The Dodgers are banking heavily on Guerrero since the backup appears to be Dee Gordon, who has struggled at the plate the past two years.

Shin-Soo Choo, Rangers: Center field to left field
Choo had been a right fielder with the Indians and then played center for the Reds. He had a huge year offensively but showed a lack of range in center. The Rangers will wisely move him back to a corner slot, with Leonys Martin in center. Even then, Choo may prove to be a below-average defender as his metrics in right field in 2012 were not good (minus-12 DRS).

Miguel Cabrera, Tigers: Third base to first base
The Tigers will have new infielders at all four positions, certainly an interesting twist for a likely playoff team. But they have arguably upgraded defensively at all four spots: Cabrera over Prince Fielder at first, Nick Castellanos over Cabrera at third, Ian Kinsler over Omar Infante at second, and Jose Iglesias over Jhonny Peralta at shortstop. Cabrera isn't a great first baseman, no matter what people try to tell you; he has good hands, but he still moves about as well as a redwood tree.

Rafael Furcal, Marlins: Shortstop to second base
After missing all of 2013, Furcal is hoping to hang on with the Marlins. He hit .264 AVG/.325 OBP/.346 SLG with the Cardinals in 2012, which would be only a minor improvement over the .235/.292/.349 mark the Marlins got from their second basemen in 2013.

NL's defensive winter moves

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
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Today, Buster Olney rated the top defensive teams in the majors. We thought we would take the time to look at the offseasons for each team from a defensive perspective. Here’s our National League look:

NL East
Braves: The big change for Atlanta will be dealing with the departure of Brian McCann, whose strike-stealing skills will be hard to replace. Evan Gattis and Gerald Laird will try. Gattis may be better than you think (3 Defensive Runs Saved in 2013). By our tally (and that of StatCorner’s publicly available data), he ranked among the best in the majors at getting pitches in the strike zone to be called strikes.

Marlins: The Miami infield rated as average last season, but it has a new -- and potentially worse -- look in 2014, with shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria as the lone holdover. The Marlins will try Garrett Jones (and his negative-22 career Runs Saved) at first base, Rafael Furcal at second base (last played there for two innings in 2004) and Casey McGehee at third (bad numbers there in 2009 and 2010, but average in 2011). They’ll also have Jarrod Saltalamacchia catching; he typically rates bottom of the pack when it comes to defensive metrics.

Mets: The big story for the Mets will likely be how three center fielders coalesce in the outfield. If it works, the Mets could have the best ground-covering combo in the league. The likely alignment will be Curtis Granderson in left, Juan Lagares in center and Chris Young in right, though Young could shift to center (with Granderson moving to right and Eric Young to left) if Lagares’ offense isn’t to the Mets liking.

Nationals: Washington hasn't done anything to tinker with its primary starting unit. Arguably the biggest worry will be making sure Bryce Harper doesn’t overhustle his way into any walls as he did last season. The other thing that will be intriguing will be how new acquisition Doug Fister fares with a better infield defense behind him than he had in Detroit the past couple of seasons. Some think that could bode really well.

Phillies: Many scoffed at the Marlon Byrd contract, but he represents a huge defensive upgrade for the Phillies in right field. The transition from John Mayberry Jr., Delmon Young, Darin Ruf and Laynce Nix to Byrd represents a swing of 31 Runs Saved (the four combined for negative-19 Runs Saved; Byrd rated among the best with 12).

The Phillies still have a lot of defensive issues, though. First baseman Ryan Howard has minimal range. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins may still pass the eye test but has rated poorly three years running (negative-30 Runs Saved in that span). Their third-base combo rated almost as badly as right field. And primary center fielder Ben Revere had all sorts of issues with balls hit over his head last season. There is a lot of potential trouble brewing for 2014.

NL Central
Brewers: Ryan Braun will not just be returning from a performance-enhancing drug suspension. He’ll also be playing a new position, right field, as the Brewers announced their intention to shift him from left field. Braun has 23 Runs Saved over the past four seasons, but the deterrent value of his throwing arm, which is minimal to below average, will now be a bigger factor. He’ll have to be pretty good all-around to match what the team got from Norichika Aoki & Co. (combined 13 Defensive Runs Saved).

Cardinals: St. Louis ranked second to last in the NL in Defensive Runs Saved last season and had only one position that rated above the major league average. That shouldn’t happen again.

The Cardinals have moved Matt Carpenter from second to his natural spot at third, where he should be an upgrade over David Freese. Freese was traded to the Angels for Peter Bourjos, who, if his hamstrings are healthy, could be a 20-plus run improvement over Jon Jay in center field. Another great glove in Mark Ellis signed to share second base with Kolten Wong, which will be an improvement over Carpenter. And Jhonny Peralta probably is no worse than on par defensively with the man he’ll replace at short, Pete Kozma. In sum, the Cardinals could be the most-improved defensive team from last season to this season.

Cubs: The Cubs aren’t vastly different from what they were at the end of last season, at least not yet. Their outfield defense needed an upgrade, and the one thing they’ve done to that end is obtain Justin Ruggiano. He has fared both well and poorly in center field in the past. Ruggiano may get a full-time shot to see what he can do in 2014.

Pirates: Pittsburgh liked Russell Martin so much it brought in a defensive standout to back him up in Chris Stewart. Stewart excels in all areas and could invert what the team got in 2013 from its backup catchers (negative-6 Runs Saved). The Pirates were also smart about keeping Clint Barmes around on a low-salary deal. He’s no Andrelton Simmons, but he rates among the best defensive shortstops in the league.

Reds: Cincinnati will give Billy Hamilton every chance to be the every-day center fielder in 2014. He rates as “fine,” which will be a major upgrade from the struggles of Shin-Soo Choo, who was forced to play out of position last season. The Reds will also fully take the training wheels off Devin Mesoraco with outstanding defender Ryan Hanigan having been traded to the Rays. Keep an eye on that one. The security of having Hanigan could be a big loss on the defensive side.

NL West
Diamondbacks: Mark Trumbo shifted back and forth between first base and the outfield with the Angels, but he should be the full-time left fielder in 2014 for a team that had four players with 25 or more starts at the position last season. Trumbo showed he could handle left in a stint there with the Halos two seasons ago (a better fit there than in right). My guess is the Diamondbacks will play him deep and concede some singles to limit the number of times he’ll have to retreat to chase a potential extra-base hit.

Dodgers: Yasiel Puig posted a terrific defensive rating in his initial stint in the big leagues (10 Runs Saved), but one concern the Dodgers will have was visible in the NL Championship Series -- how Puig does at limiting his mistakes.

Puig ranked 20th in innings played in right field last season but had the seventh-most Defensive Misplays & Errors (22) based on Baseball Info Solutions’ video review. Over 162 games, that might not affect his overall rating, but that sort of thing could play a large role in swinging a couple of important games one way or the other.

The loss of Mark Ellis could also be big, though the jury is out until we see how Alexander Guerrero handles second base.

Giants: San Francisco cast its lot with a pair of outfielders who will look a bit awkward in the corners, with Mike Morse in left and Hunter Pence in right. This could be a problem if the pitching staff is fly ball inclined. Pence is at negative-16 Runs Saved over the past two seasons. Morse fits best as a DH, and his value will be in whether he can drive in more runs than he lets in. Whoever the Giants' center fielder is this season will have his work cut out for him.

Padres: San Diego will look to run Seth Smith, whom it got from the Athletics for Luke Gregerson, in right field. This could be a little dicey. Smith has negative-13 Runs Saved in the equivalent of about a season’s worth of games there. Expect Chris Denorfia (21 career Runs Saved in right) to remain as a valuable fourth outfielder, late-game replacement.

Rockies: The big defensive-themed news for the Rockies this offseason was their decision to commit to Gold Glove left fielder Carlos Gonzalez as a full-timer in center after trading Dexter Fowler. So long as he’s not the Gonzalez of 2012, who looked a little heavy and finished with negative-13 Runs Saved, that should work out all right.

Colorado does have a lot of flexibility in its outfield with Brandon Barnes and Drew Stubbs coming off the bench for now. Either could come in as a late-game replacement for Michael Cuddyer if needed, and we wouldn’t be surprised if either got some significant playing time in left field too.

SweetSpot's 2013 NL All-Star team

September, 29, 2013
9/29/13
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I did my American League All-Star team yesterday. Here's my National League squad. A few more tougher calls in the NL.

Catcher: Yadier Molina, Cardinals (.319/.359/.477, 12 HR, 80 RBI, 5.8 WAR)
Two questions: Is Molina a legitimate MVP candidate and how will he fare in the voting? Sure, he's a strong candidate, although I have Andrew McCutchen as my clear No. 1 guy. Due to his relatively low runs plus RBIs total (he has 68 runs scored), Molina would certainly be an unconventional MVP candidate. Wins Above Replacement accounts for some of Molina's defense -- such as throwing out runners -- but can't measure some of the intangibles, such as the confidence he gave to the young St. Louis starters. Molina's offense numbers are similar to last year, when he finished fourth in voting, so I wouldn't be surprised if he jumps up to second this season.

First base: Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks (.302/.401/.553, 36 HR, 124 RBI, 7.1 WAR)
Goldschmidt or Joey Votto? It's not quite as simple as Goldschmidt's 51-RBI advantage as both put up similar numbers otherwise, with Votto having the edge in on-base percentage (.436) and Goldschmidt in power (36 home runs to 24). Both were extremely durable -- Goldschmidt has missed two games, Votto zero -- and solid defenders. The one big difference is an advanced metric called Win Probability Added, a category Goldschmidt led all NL position players in, thanks in part to his .350 average in high-leverage situations and nine home runs in late and close situations (second-most in the majors to Chris Davis). I'm confident Goldschmidt is the right choice here.

Second base: Matt Carpenter, Cardinals (.320/.394/.484, 11 HR, 78 RBI, 6.7 WAR)
An easy choice as Carpenter leads the NL in runs, hits and doubles while ranking in the top 10 in numerous other categories. I'm guessing Molina garners more MVP support, but Carpenter is just as worthy to finish in the top five.

Third base: David Wright, Mets (.308/.393/.516, 18 HR, 57 RBI, 5.8 WAR)
Pedro Alvarez leads the NL with 36 home runs and has knocked in 100 but a .233 average and sub-.300 OBP means he created a ton of outs to generate those runs. Ryan Zimmerman waited too long to start hitting. Chris Johnson hit .321 for the Braves. None were above-average defenders. So almost by default I'll go with Wright, who easily has the highest WAR even though he missed 50 games.

Shortstop: Andrelton Simmons, Braves (.244/.292/.390, 17 HR, 58 RBI, 6.5 WAR)
I've been raving about Simmons all season so I can't change now. Troy Tulowitzki was great once again and relatively healthy (125 games), although he hit 61 points higher at home. Hanley Ramirez was the best on a per at-bat basis but played just 86 games. Ian Desmond flew under the radar year for the Nationals. But Simmons is my guy, even with that sub-.300 OBP. His defense was that good.

Left field: Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies (.302/.367/.591, 26 HR, 70 RBI, 5.1 WAR)
Starling Marte had an excellent all-around season (41 steals, great defense) for the Pirates and Matt Holliday was solid for the Cardinals. Gonzalez's season was similar to Wright's -- if he'd remained healthy, he'd be the obvious choice, but he missed 50 games. Unlike Tulo, he actually hit better on the road, so it's not a Coors-inflated season. I'll go with CarGo just barely over Marte.

Center field: Andrew McCutchen, Pirates (.317/.404/.508, 21 HR, 84 RBI, 8.2 WAR)
Carlos Gomez would be an MVP candidate if he had better teammates. Shin-Soo Choo gave the Reds exactly what they needed, a leadoff hitter who got on base. But this was McCutchen's season as he often carried a mediocre Pittburgh offense and hit .339/.441/.561 in the second half, helping keep the Pirates in the division title race. He's the likely MVP winner and not a "weak" MVP, as some have speculated. His WAR is higher than the past three NL MVPs, Buster Posey, Ryan Braun and Votto. He may not drive in 100 runs or score 100 (he's at 97), but it was the best all-around season in the league.

Right field: Jayson Werth, Nationals (.318/.398/.532, 25 HR, 82 RBI, 4.8 WAR)
A loaded position, and that's with Jason Heyward and Giancarlo Stanton missing significant time. Jay Bruce, Yasiel Puig, Hunter Pence and Marlon Byrd all have their supporters (and Gerardo Parra leads in WAR). The knock against Werth, like Wright and Gonzalez, is that he missed significant time (129 games). But Bruce has a .329 OBP. Puig didn't get called up until June and Pence's monster September (11 HR, 29 RBI) came after the Giants had long been eliminated and arguably against dubious September pitching.

Starting pitchers: Clayton Kersaw, Dodgers (16-9, 1.83 ERA, 8.0 WAR); Cliff Lee, Phillies (14-8, 2.87 ERA, 7.2 WAR); Jose Fernandez, Marlins (12-6, 2.19 ERA, 6.3 WAR); Adam Wainwright, Cardinals (19-9, 2.94 ERA, 6.2 WAR); Matt Harvey, Mets (9-5, 2.27 ERA, 5.4 WAR)
Oh, Cliff Lee is still good. There were no shortage of top starters in the NL as 18 qualified starters have posted an ERA of 3.25 or under, the most since 17 did it in 1992 and 10 more than last year.

Left-handed setup guy: Luis Avilan, Braves (5-0, 1.55 ERA)
Part of Atlanta's dominant bullpen, Avilan fanned just 38 in 64 innings but allowed a .173 average and just one home run. He gets great movement on his two-seam sinking fastball, resulting in fewer K's but a lot of groundballs. Honorable mention to Pittsburgh's Justin Wilson.

Right-handed setup guy: Mark Melancon, Pirates (3-2, 1.39 ERA)
He had a couple rough outings in September, but was dominant throughout the season, first setting up Jason Grilli and then earning 16 saves when Grilli was injured.

Closer: Craig Kimbrel, Braves (4-3, 50 saves, 1.23 ERA)
He did blow four save chances and wasn't quite as statistically dominant as last season -- and still finished with 1.23 ERA and 50 saves.








I have a 15-year-old nephew who loves the Home Run Derby but doesn't care all that much about the actual All-Star Game. That seems a little blasphemous to those of us of a certain age who grew up hating Pete Rose and Steve Garvey and all of those National League punks.

It's easy to be a little cynical about the Home Run Derby, but remember that the kids like it and in the end it's not all that different from the All-Star Game -- it's a vehicle to publicize the sport. (Except the Home Run Derby won't potentially be decided by Brett Cecil pitching to Marco Scutaro.)

This year's combatants -- Robinson Cano, defending champ Prince Fielder, Chris Davis and a to-be-determined slugger in the American League; David Wright, Carlos Gonzalez, Bryce Harper and Michael Cuddyer in the National League -- is a pretty entertaining group.

I'm glad Davis and his MLB-leading 33 home runs and Harper are in it. They are the two guys on the All-Star rosters I'd most want to see in this event. You can argue that Harper doesn't even deserve to be in the game because he was out for several weeks on the disabled list with a knee injury, but don't tell me you're not more likely to watch it now -- especially if you're 15. (And with the right-field overhang at Citi Field, you can expect these two left-handed hitters to put a lot of balls in the upper deck out there.)

As for the final AL participant, team captain Cano says he is still working on it. I think Miguel Cabrera is the guy we all want to see, although Jose Bautista would be a solid alternative. Unfortunately, my dream of seeing Ichiro Suzuki in a Home Run Derby isn't going to happen.

The one odd choice is Cuddyer, who isn't a big name and not among the NL home run leaders. Plus, with Gonzalez, that's two Rockies, and you would think you'd want more teams represented. But as Wright, the NL captain, said on "SportsCenter," he grew up near Cuddyer in Chesapeake, Va., and admitted that this was a bit of a buddy pick.

MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt would have been a better choice, or Phillies breakout outfielder Domonic Brown, but I would have gone with Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez, who has 22 home runs and as much raw power as anyone around. He would have been a fun guy to watch.

But the New York crowd will get to cheer on Wright and boo Cano, and the rest of us can enjoy Davis and Harper.


The big questions for this season’s All-Star selections as we headed into Saturday’s selection show: Would Yasiel Puig make it? Who backs up Miguel Cabrera at third base in the American League from a strong field of candidates? Who represents the Astros?

But I’m left with this one: Could the American League have chosen a worse, more boring squad?

Remember, the All-Star squads are chosen by a four-tiered system: The fans vote in the starters, the players vote for the reserves at each position, plus the top five starting pitchers and top three relievers, the managers choose the rest of the squad (with their choices limited due to having to name a representative for each team) and then the fans vote again for the final man.

Got all that?

The player vote is the one that usually causes the biggest mistakes. Last season, for example, the players voted in Cubs first baseman Bryan LaHair as the backup first baseman even though he was a platoon player with 28 RBIs at the time of selection. Similarly, Lance Lynn, who had a big April, was voted in as one of the top five starters even though he ranked 28th in the National League in ERA. The ripple effect for selections like those end up causing more worthy All-Stars to not make it. This season, a similar thing happened, most notably with Torii Hunter named as an outfield reserve in the AL.

My quick reaction to this season's American League and National League squads:

Best fan selection: Chris Davis, Orioles. Hardly a household name before the season, his offensive numbers are just too good to ignore, and he’s a deserving starter over Prince Fielder.

Worst fan selection: Bryce Harper, Nationals. The fans generally do a good job -- better than the players -- and while I don’t see Harper as a glaring mistake (I’d put him on my NL roster as a reserve), he did miss significant time with the knee injury. Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates or Carlos Gomez of the Brewers would be a more deserving starter (both should be starting over Carlos Beltran as well).

Most controversial AL selection: Justin Verlander, Tigers. He’s not having a terrific season, with a 9-5 record and lukewarm 3.54 ERA, but I don’t have a huge problem with American League manager Jim Leyland selecting the guy who’s been the best pitcher in baseball the previous two seasons.

Most controversial NL selection: Marco Scutaro, Giants. The NL roster is actually pretty solid, but you can nitpick Scutaro and Allen Craig. With Matt Carpenter being voted in by the players, manager Bruce Bochy didn't have to add a third second baseman, but he did select his guy and take a slot away from a deep pool of outfield candidates -- Puig and Hunter Pence were added to the final-vote group, but Starling Marte, Jay Bruce and Shin-Soo Choo all had All-Star first halves. But, hey, even All-Star teams need professional hitters.

How the Astros screwed the AL: Salvador Perez being voted in by the players as the backup catcher meant Jason Castro was named as a third catcher to represent the Astros. Actually, this is a little unfair, since Castro is having a season equal to or better than Perez’s. But having three catchers on the squad takes a slot away from one of the much more deserving third basemen -- Evan Longoria, Josh Donaldson or Adrian Beltre.

[+] EnlargeMax Scherzer
Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY SportsWith the American League's weak pitching staff, Max Scherzer could see a couple innings.
How the players screwed the AL: Hunter rode a .370 April to an All-Star berth, but he’s down to .307 with just five home runs. It’s not a great season for AL outfielders, but Hunter is kind of a joke selection: He ranks 24th among AL outfielders in FanGraphs WAR (0.9). Brett Gardner or Jacoby Ellsbury are better options.

Weirdest selection: Brett Cecil, Blue Jays. The Jays already had Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, so there was no need to add Cecil. Don't get me wrong, he is having a nice season -- 1.43 ERA, 50 strikeouts in 44 innings -- but this is also a guy with a 4.79 career ERA entering the season. (Granted, mostly as a starter.) Rangers starter Derek Holland was the better choice here.

Team with a gripe: The A’s have a better record than the Tigers yet ended up with one All-Star to Detroit’s six.

Most-deserving guy who didn't make it, AL: Longoria. Seventy All-Stars were named today, but somehow one of the top 10 players in the game didn't make it.

Most-deserving guy who didn't make it, NL: Not including the players eligible in the final-player vote, I'd go with Pirates outfielder Marte or Braves defensive whiz Andrelton Simmons.

Worst final-player vote ever: American League. Choose from Joaquin Benoit, Steve Delabar, David Robertson, Tanner Scheppers and Koji Uehara. Can I go to a dentist appointment instead? Unless you have a fetish for right-handed relief pitchers, this isn’t exactly the best way to get fans enthused about the All-Star final vote. Why not at least have a final-man vote with Longoria, Beltre and Donaldson?

Most predictable final-player vote ever: National League. Is there any way Puig doesn’t beat out Ian Desmond, Freddie Freeman, Adrian Gonzalez and Pence for the final vote?

In a perfect world, Jim Leyland does this: The AL pitching staff is a little shaky, so he should try to ride his top starting pitchers. Assuming Max Scherzer starts, I’d pitch him two innings and then bring in White Sox lefty Chris Sale for two more innings so he can face the top of the NL lineup that would probably feature Carlos Gonzalez and Joey Votto. Yu Darvish and Felix Hernandez take over from there and hand the ball to Mariano Rivera, with Glen Perkins and Cecil used as situational lefties if needed.

Offensively, Cabrera and Davis should play the entire game, as they’ve clearly been the dominant offensive forces in the AL. Frankly, I’m not too thrilled with the AL bench, especially the outfield. Mike Trout and Bautista should also play the entire game. Use Fielder and Encarnacion to pinch hit as needed for J.J. Hardy or Adam Jones. Manny Machado can replace Cabrera in the late innings if the AL is ahead.

In a perfect world, Bruce Bochy does this: The NL squad looks much better on paper. Assuming Matt Harvey starts, he should be followed up with Clayton Kershaw and Cliff Lee (Adam Wainwright is scheduled to pitch on Sunday and will be unavailable). From there, I’d match up -- Madison Bumgarner or Jordan Zimmermann -- and then turn the game over to three dominant relievers: Jason Grilli, Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel. (Kudos to Bochy for going with all starting pitchers after the mandatory three relievers.)

Offensively, David Wright should play the whole game in front of the home fans, and assuming Paul Goldschmidt gets the nod as the designated hitter, I’d let him and Votto play the entire nine as well. Without a regular center fielder in the starting lineup (although Beltran, Gonzalez and Harper have all played there in the past), I’d get McCutchen in the game as soon as possible, with apologies to Gomez. I’d hit for Brandon Phillips in a key situation with a better bat like Buster Posey or Craig or maybe for Gonzalez against a left-hander (although he’s hit very well against lefties this season).

And Puig? Yes, once he makes the team, I’d like to see him play as well.

 
Let's get the negative stuff of the way: 1. I've never been the biggest Carlos Gonzalez fan, always skeptical because of his severe home/road-batting splits throughout his career with the Rockies; 2. He hit three home runs in Wednesday's 12-4 victory over the Reds, an awesome feat, although two came off a guy with a 5.03 ERA in Triple-A making his first major league start, and the third came off Manny Parra.

OK, now the good stuff: He's better. I can't pick him apart this year. The relevant numbers:

  • He's hitting .313/.395/.625, a better triple-slash line than he had in 2010 (.336/.376/.598), when he finished third in the National League MVP vote. Most impressively, though, Gonzalez is killing it on the road, where he's hitting .348/.414/.696 with 11 of his 17 home runs.
  • He's raking against left-handers, hitting .354 and slugging .620, after hitting .288 and slugging .488 against them since 2010.

OK, let's see how he got here by first comparing his approach and results from 2012 -- when he hit .303/.371/.510 with 22 home runs in 579 plate appearances:

2012 percentages
BB: 9.7
SO: 19.9
Chase: 30.6
Miss: 28.5
Swing: 48.6
HR/FB: 17.7
BABIP: .352
Well-hit avg.: .230

2013 percentages
BB: 12.1
SO: 24.9
Chase: 29.1
Miss: 28.2
Swing: 44.8
HR/FB: 26.6
BABIP: .366
Well-hit avg.: .239

The first thing I notice is that Gonzalez's walk and strikeout rates are both up, although his overall chase percentage and miss percentages are about the same. His overall swing percentage, however, is down a little bit. To me, this indicates Gonzalez is showing a little more patience at the plate, which is leading to more walks (and more strikeouts), but presumably leading to more good counts to hit in. His BABIP isn't out of line from last year, although his home run rate on fly balls is pretty high, so maybe he's been a little lucky there. There was nothing cheap about his fourth-inning home run off Pedro Villarreal -- it went 458 feet, the longest of Gonzalez's career.

Let's also compare his 2012 hit chart to 2013:

Carlos GonzalezESPN Stats & InformationA much greater percentage of Carlos Gonzalez's hits are going to the right side this season.


It looks like he's pulling the ball a little more, which could explain the increased home run rate -- you'll hit more home runs if you pull the ball more often. Gonzalez has especially been more effective on inside pitches, hitting .302 with five home runs versus .258 with three home runs for all of 2012. Back in his best season in 2010, Gonzalez hit .338 with 10 home runs on inside pitches, but pitchers had been more successful busting him inside the past two years.

While Gonzalez has appeared to alter his approach a bit, he's also healthy. Remember, last year he was hitting .335/.394/.629 through June 16. He had been playing through a nagging hamstring injury but sat out June 17. He hit just .275 with five home runs the rest of the season. In 2011, Gonzalez started off slowly, perhaps residue from a wrist injury suffered late in 2010. He then re-injured the wrist in July crashing into a wall.

So injuries certainly might have affected his production the past two years. Still: He's hitting on the road, hitting left-handers and hitting inside pitches.

This looks like an improved Carlos Gonzalez to me. Now he just needs to stay healthy.
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The Franchise Player Draft has been completed, so it's time for Eric Karabell and myself to continue our tradition of doing the second round. All picks were made by Eric and myself, not the franchise "owners," so yell at us, not them. Eric made all the odd-numbered picks and I made the even-numbered picks.

And, no, I did not draft Eric Hosmer.

31. Keith Law (David Price): Oscar Taveras. KLaw knows a few things about prospects, and Taveras was his No. 2 guy entering the season, after the already chosen Jurickson Profar.

32. Manny Acta (Jose Bautista): Matt Moore. Bautista is a win-now type of building block, but so is Moore, a 24-year-old with terrific stuff, hasn't been overworked and has as good a chance as anybody to be the best pitcher in baseball over the next five years.

33. Eric Karabell (Andrelton Simmons). Carlos Gonzalez. Defense in Round 1, offense in Round 2. And even if this mythical team doesn't play its home games at Coors Field, note that CarGo is hitting better on the road this season.

34. Jonah Keri (Joe Mauer): Madison Bumgarner. Hard to believe that he doesn't turn 24 until August, but he already has two World Series rings and two 200-inning seasons. He's so efficient that he should be a 200-inning guy for years to come.

35. Scott Spratt (Felix Hernandez): Jean Segura. I'll admit I considered Segura late in Round 1, but instead opted for the elite defense of Simmons. Segura won't hit .350 all year, but he's not a bad pick at this spot.

36. Jim Bowden (Stephen Strasburg): Jordan Zimmermann. Hey, don't blame Strasburg and Zimmermann for the Nationals' problems this year! Jim was the Nationals' GM when the club selected him in the second round of the 2007, so he's happy to snag him again.

37. Paul Swydan (Jurickson Profar): Matt Wieters. Build teams up the middle! Wieters remains a building-block player, despite a slow start to 2013.

SportsNation

Who should be the first pick of the second round?

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    27%
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    28%
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    17%
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    17%
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    11%

Discuss (Total votes: 1,661)

38. Curt Schilling (Shelby Miller): Paul Goldschmidt. Too early for a first baseman? Maybe, but Goldschmidt is more than just a slugger. He's an elite defender at first, swipes some bases, and at 25 is entering his prime years.

39. Mark Simon (David Wright): Zack Wheeler. Well, Mark is, after all, a Mets fan. And pretty soon Wheeler will have many fans.

40. Justin Havens (Ryan Braun): Prince Fielder. A relatively safe pick considering Fielder's durability and on-base skills. Plus, Justin can now watch that 2011 Brewers highlight DVD that has been collecting dust.

41. Orel Hershiser (Justin Upton): Adam Wainwright. OK, so maybe the Cardinals right-hander has never tossed 59 consecutive scoreless innings, but he's pretty good.

42. David Schoenfield (Troy Tulowitzki): Miguel Sano. Prospects are overrated! Plus, Sano is only in Class A ball, you say? Sure, but he'll be in Double-A soon, putting him on track for a midseason promotion to the Twins in 2014. And then my future third baseman will start winning home run titles.

43. Mike Greenberg (Matt Kemp): Chris Davis. Well, at least one of these sluggers is healthy and producing. And Davis does look legit.

44. Mike Golic (Dustin Pedroia): Elvis Andrus. With that double-play duo behind them, the pitchers on Golic's team will be very happy pitchers. Well, assuming the outfield doesn't consist of Raul Ibanez, Lucas Duda and Mike Morse.

45. Richard Durrett (Justin Verlander): Adam Jones. This elite center fielder looks even better than his breakout 2012.

46. Christina Kahrl (Jason Heyward): Xander Bogaerts. He probably doesn't stick at shortstop, but he's going to hit at whatever position he plays. Plus, his name starts with an X, and he'll be better than Xavier Nady.

47. Buster Olney (Robinson Cano): Clay Buchholz. Olney got a close-up look at Buchholz on Sunday night at Yankee Stadium, and had to be impressed. Perhaps he can build an entire fake team with all Yankees and Red Sox.

48. Dan Szymborski (Yu Darvish): Carlos Santana. We're not privy to the super secret ZiPS projection system that Dan keeps stored in a bank vault somewhere in Maryland, but we have to think it likes a catcher with power and on-base skills.

49. Jon Sciambi (Giancarlo Stanton): Yasiel Puig. Could be 80 home runs from this duo in 2014. Or, we suppose, fewer.

50. Mike Petriello (Andrew McCutchen): Yadier Molina. Talk about building up the middle. Molina turns 31 in July and caught a lot of games before turning 30, so there's risk that he won't hold up. But he's the kind of guy you take a risk on.

51. C.J. Nitkowski (Joey Votto): Austin Jackson. Terrific center fielder and leadoff hitter could have gone in the first round. It's tougher to find an all-around center fielder than a first baseman.

52. Alex Cora (Miguel Cabrera): Chris Sale. Some believe he's an arm injury waiting to happen, but there's no denying he's one of the best starters in the game.

53. Tim Kurkjian (Matt Harvey): Wil Myers. One future Cy Young winner is set, and here comes the prototypical slugging right fielder to join him. If the Rays would just cooperate and promote him.

54. Jim Caple (Yoenis Cespedes): Matt Cain. We know Caple loves those West Coast guys, so let's give him Cain, who is still just 28. Don't overreact to his current 5+ ERA. He'll be fine.

55. Dave Cameron (Evan Longoria): Mike Zunino. Mariners fan gets the next great Mariner. Thought about giving him Dustin Ackley or Jesus Montero, picks from last season, but that seemed a bit unfair.

56. Molly Knight (Clayton Kershaw): Cole Hamels. What's wrong with Hamels? As with Cain, let's not overreact to two subpar months. A rotation with these two lefties would look pretty sweet.

57. Jayson Stark (Buster Posey): Jose Fernandez. Future ace has certainly impressed as a rushed rookie this season.

58. Aaron Boone (Manny Machado): Starling Marte. He's playing left field for the Pirates, but could easily move to center, giving Aaron two elite young defenders who have some ability at the plate as well.

59. Doug Glanville (Bryce Harper): Starlin Castro. What a fall from grace! A year ago the Chicago Cubs shortstop was the ninth overall selection in Round 1. Now he barely gets chosen at all. I have to admit, he doesn't seem to be growing at the plate or in the field, but Glanville probably has more patience.

60. Jerry Crasnick (Mike Trout): Mark Appel. Jerry loves Dylan Bundy, but he was just recently cleared to start throwing for the first time since late March. So let's go off the board and give him a guy who hasn't even started his professional career yet. Thanks us later, Jerry.

OK, let's stir up some arguing and yelling again. Yesterday, I ranked the top five pitching duos. Today, let's do the majors' best hitting duos.

Ranking the pitchers was difficult because there were so many excellent pairs to choose. Ranking the hitters is difficult because of a lack of obvious candidates. But here goes. Angry comments can be posted below!

1. Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, Tigers
They seem like the pretty clear choice for No. 1 to me. You have the best hitter in baseball in Cabrera and a power-hitting, on-base machine in Fielder. One bats right-handed, the other hits lefty. They never miss a game and the fact that they can't run is but a minor inconvenience. Right, Cabrera ranks first in wOBA and Fielder 21st. Last year they ranked first and sixth.

2. Joey Votto and Shin-Soo Choo, Reds
They've been the best pair so, ranking third and fourth in wOBA (Baltimore's Chris Davis is second). They've also combined to create the most runs of any pair -- Votto is second in the majors and Choo third in runs created, behind only Cabrera. As good as they've been, I can't put them No. 1 for a couple of reasons. First, Choo is unlikely to sustain this level of play (after hitting .337 in April, he's hitting .250 in May, albeit with power and walks). But it's hard to rate this duo as the best when Choo is also completely helpless against left-handers -- .146/.317/.188. He hit .199 against them last year, so you can pretty easily argue that he should be platooned.

3. Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval, Giants
The Giants are no longer fueled by their starting rotation but by this pair. Their raw stats may not blow you away, but some of their effectiveness is masked by playing half their games in AT&T Park. Last year, for example, Posey hit 17 of his 24 home runs on the road (although this year he's hitting .367 at home and .227 on the road). Sandoval has been inconsistent throughout his career -- his year-by-year OPS totals since 2009 are .943, .732, .909, .789 and .832 so far in 2013 -- but after breaking a bone in each hand the past two seasons, looks poised for a big season. And we mean big. He's the ultimate bad-ball, bad-body hitter, and while I wished he walked more, he and Posey have developed into a lethal combo. Put them in a different park and their numbers would be even better.

4. Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays
Both started a little slow but have still combined for 21 home runs. Each has the ability to hit 40 home runs (Encarnacion hit 42 last year, Bautista passed the 40 mark in 2010 and 2011). Both are hitting under .260 right now, but they draw walks so they will post solid-to-excellent on-base percentages. If Bautista ends up hitting closer to the .302 mark he posted in 2011 and Encarnacion hits .280 as he did last year instead of his current .256, they could end up challenging Cabrera and Fielder for the top spot.

5. Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, Angels
Oh, yeah, Trout is now hitting .293/.373/.558, including .343/.434/.757 in May, and provides added offensive value with his speed. The question: What does Pujols bring to the table? He has scuffled so far with a .247/.318/.420 line, including a league-leading 10 double plays. The foot is clearly bothering him and maybe it doesn't get better. Maybe Pujols doesn't get better even if the foot does. But I'm not quite ready to write him off just yet.

SportsNation

OK, after Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, who is the best hitting duo in the majors?

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Discuss (Total votes: 3,803)

OK, I know I'm going to hear it from Rockies fans about not including Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez -- but I'm going to include them in the poll instead of Trout and Pujols. For the first time in his career, CarGo is actually hitting on the road, a robust .325/.407/.625. His walk rate is up as well, so we could be seeing an improved Gonzalez this year. If CarGo does keep hitting on the road, then I'll move them into the top five.

Worth mentioning:

Ryan Braun and Carlos Gomez/Jean Segura, Brewers. Gomez and Segura are off to great starts, but let's wait a bit to see if they're this good.

Carlos Santana and Mark Reynolds, Indians. Two reasons the Indians have scored a lot of runs.

David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox. Ortiz has 29 RBIs in 27 games since returning from the DL and Pedroia has a .420 OBP.

Adrian Gonzalez and Matt Kemp, Dodgers. If Kemp gets going.

• Chris Davis and Manny Machado/Adam Jones, Orioles. Machado falls into the Gomez/Segura camp: Let's see him do it for bit longer period of time.

Arenado stocks Rockies' hot-corner needs

May, 18, 2013
5/18/13
10:00
PM ET
CHICAGO -- As Anna McDonald noted, there are plenty of reasons to question why anyone would move Troy Tulowitzki from shortstop anytime soon. Despite his checkered injury history, only one of Tulo’s injuries came while fielding. The Yankees have done pretty well for themselves with Derek Jeter at short despite the Captain’s repeatedly low ranking via just about every fielding metric available -- but Tulo’s a fine shortstop.

But, perhaps most fundamentally, any logical impetus to shift Tulo over to third base would trip over a true blue-chip stumbling block: top Rockies prospect Nolan Arenado. After years of anticipation for Colorado fans looking forward to his arrival, Arenado is showing that the future of third base in Denver might already be his.

“Everything’s going good so far. I’m enjoying my time. It’s nice being up. It’s a blessing from God, and I’m very fortunate to be here,” Arenado said earlier this week in Wrigley Field.

Arenado’s arrival was big and splashy. At a time when pitchers have made most of the early headlines, Arenado ripped three home runs in his first seven games. Inevitably, though, the league started adjusting, and he’s hit .170/.200/.508 in the two weeks since.

“They’re throwing different pitches in different counts,” Arenado said. “It’s an adjustment, but I believe when I’m feeling alright, I’ll be alright,” he said with a smile.

[+] EnlargeNolan Arenado
Richard Mackson/USA TODAY SportsColorado rookie third baseman Nolan Arenado is taking advantage both of big-league scouting reports and advice from neighbor Troy Tulowitzki.
If Arenado comes across as confident, that’s because he’s earned the right. A top prospect from the moment he was selected out of a California high school in 2009, Arenado’s just 22 and in his fifth season as a pro. He was the Arizona Fall League MVP in 2011 without having first advanced beyond Class-A ball. And in terms of his gifts, there’s no doubt he’ll stick at the hot corner. He was involved in 36 double plays at Double-A Tulsa last season with an eye-popping range factor of 3.40 plays per game; Mike Moustakas led the majors last season with a 2.95 RF/G and 41 double plays. Not that Range Factor’s the final word; like more recent defensive metrics, it’s suggestive, not definitive, and the data simply echoes what observers have been saying about Arenado’s glove work.

Rockies infield coach Stu Cole reflected, “I’ve had both of those guys. I had Tulo earlier in his career just after he got drafted. I had Nolan in the Arizona Fall League couple of years ago. I’ll tell you what: This guy made some exciting plays. You just knew once this guy was ready to go to the big leagues and be consistent with what he’s able to do, he was going to make some plays. To have those two guys on the left side, it’s nothing but a plus. You’ve good gloves over there, good arms, and both those guys are going to save a lot of hits for us.”

Cole is one of several familiar faces helping make sure that Arenado settles in. “Stu helps me out big time,” Arenado said. “He always tells me where to go and where to play. It also helps being on major league fields -- they’re really nice, so you’re really fortunate on hops. Starting double plays, Josh Rutledge, I trust him, I’ve been playing with him for a while. I’ve been playing a while with a lot of these guys. As far as positioning, we’re always going hitter by hitter and making adjustments.”

One of the concerns about Arenado as he came up was that he was trying to do too much in the field, something that will have to change as he settles in alongside Tulo on the left side. As Cole noted, “Both of those guys are in that mode of trying to get every ball that’s hit their way. I think Nolan just has that instinct of breaking to the ball whenever it’s hit in his direction.”

“A lot of balls that are going to be hit short, where Tulo might have had to come up and make a one-handed grab, now Nolan’s going to be there to get to some of those balls. In the past, we might have had a few third basemen who wouldn’t have been able to get to some of those balls. I think that’s going to take some pressure off Tulo,” Cole said.

Arenado takes it as a challenge to be part of an effective team with Tulo. “We always communicate about where we need to play,” Arenado said. “I know if he’s playing left, I can still move over a little to the right, because we know we can still cover the hole. We’re definitely good and have a lot of range, so we’re able to split it out in different ways. It’s been fun.”

To have those two guys on the left side, it's nothing but a plus. You've good gloves over there, good arms, and both those guys are going to save a lot of hits for us.

-- Rockies infield coach Stu Cole,
on Nolan Arenado and Troy Tulowitzki
“Communication between those two guys, that’s something that’s going to get better down the road: Nolan’s going to know where Tulo’s playing, and Tulo’s going to know that there are balls Nolan’s going to get to when he’s coming in," Cole predicted. "Those things will only get better, because two guys will be able to complement each other.”

One of the other advantages is that at the big league level, Arenado plays with the advantage of better data and scouting info, as well as the benefit of playing alongside one of the best players in baseball at short.

Of the Rockies’ deployment of advanced metrics on defense, Cole said, “That’s something we’ve been using pretty much all season. We use the scouting reports to position these guys, and that’s something Nolan’s still getting used to, but he’s adjusted to it well. He’s not only asking questions, he’s also paying attention, looking into the dugout to see if there’s a place he needs to be moved to and making sure he’s in the right spot. He’s a great student of the game.”

Which is where Arenado has plenty of additional homework to look forward to as he adjusts to pitchers who are already developing a big league book on him.

“There’s a lot more stuff going on up here,” Arenado said. “It’s a lot better in terms of scouting reports. In the minors, it’s still word of mouth: This is what this guy has. But here, we get to see a lot of film of all the different pitchers. We had no video projection screen in the minors and no video of anybody, but here you get everything.”

And here again, he’s getting the benefit of his new teammates. “Tulo and CarGo [left fielder Carlos Gonzalez] add a lot of insight about hitting,” Arenado said. “They’ve seen a lot of these pitchers, but it’s the first time I’m facing them -- they give me a lot of insight from their experience.”

With that sort of assistance on top of his talent, Arenado’s a big part of the Rockies’ future. And now that the future is now, that should leave them well covered for years to come -- at third base and at shortstop.

Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.
Quick reactions off Tuesday's games ...
  • Andrew McCutchen did this in the 12th inning to give the Pirates a big win over the Brewers. The Pirates are 22-17 -- the same record as the Braves, a team that has received much more attention than Pittsburgh. How have they done it? The offense is middle of the pack (although better than that when you adjust for park effects) but they're tied for fourth in runs allowed per game -- 3.77 per game, the same as the vaunted Nationals. They've prevented runs despite leading the NL in walks (and giving four starts to Jonathan Sanchez!) and the Mark Melancon/Jason Grilli duo at the end has locked down leads as the Pirates haven't lost a game they've led in the seventh or later. (For more on Melancon's turnaround from 2012, read Jason Collette's report here.) Another key has been the play of catchers Russell Martin and Michael McKenry, who have combined to give the third-best OPS from the catcher position in the majors, behind Cleveland and Atlanta. We know the Pirates have done this the past two seasons, but one of these years ...
  • Jim Johnson and the Orioles finally blew a ninth-inning lead; he had converted 35 save opportunities in a row in the regular season. The bigger news was the Orioles placed Wei-Yen Chen on the DL with an oblique strain and suddenly the rotation includes Freddy Garcia and Jair Jurrjens, who will start Saturday. It's not a good time to have rotation issues as their next five series are against the Rays, Yankees, Blue Jays, Nationals and Tigers.
  • I wrote about the Mariners last night and how it's time for them to make some decisions on Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero. I'd like to throw in that they should make a decision on manager Eric Wedge (but won't). The Mariners had two on and nobody out in the eighth against Yankees reliever David Robertson, down by a run. Robertson had walked Dustin Ackley on four straight pitches, and then Brendan Ryan reached on a bunt (after Robertson had thrown two balls) when catcher Austin Romine tried to get Ackley at second. That brought up leadoff hitter Saunders, who has been the team's best hitter along with Kyle Seager. So you have a pitcher struggling to throw strikes and maybe your best hitter up. It's not the worst bunt call there but I'd let Saunders hit away. The on-deck was pinch-hitter Justin Smoak, meaning I'd like to give Saunders the chance to deliver a big hit. Anyway, Saunders messed things up by squaring around on the first pitch and taking a strike, putting himself in a hole. It looked like the bunt sign was then removed and he took strike two and then swung over a curveball. But maybe he has a better at-bat if he's swinging on the first pitch. There was some bad luck: Smoak hit a hard liner but right to shortstop Jayson Nix, who doubled Ackley off second. Ahh, the little things.
  • Mark DeRosa batted cleanup for the Blue Jays. They won.
  • Mitch Moreland is quietly putting up some nice numbers for the Rangers. He hit two home runs in an extra-inning win over the A's, giving him nine for the season and a .296/.347/.578 batting line. He followed Adrian Beltre's home run in the 10th with his own off Chris Resop, which proved key when Joe Nathan gave up a run in the bottom of the frame. (Nathan escaped a bases-loaded jam by striking out Daric Barton and getting Eric Sogard to ground out.) For the talk in the offseason that the Rangers should maybe dump Moreland and move Ian Kinsler to first base to clear space for Jurickson Profar, it appears the Rangers made the right decision. Like they usually do.
  • Neat stat from ESPN Stats & Info: Clayton Kershaw is the fifth pitcher in the past 40 years to have an ERA under 2.75 through his first 1,000 career innings, joining Dwight Gooden, Frank Tanana, Vida Blue and Ron Guidry. The bad news: Gooden, Tanana and Blue all peaked before age 25.
  • Josh Hamilton is still strong.
  • Have a day, Carlos Gonzalez.
Some reaction to Tuesday's excellent slate of games ...
  • Wanted to check out those gritty Diamondbacks so was watching their game against the Yankees. The 4-2 Yankees win ended up coming down to one pitch, Robinson Cano's three-run homer off Brandon McCarthy in the fourth. The D-backs led 2-0, there were runners at first and second with one out and McCarthy couldn't exactly intentionally walk Cano like he had in the third inning. But he didn't exactly want to give him anything to hit either. It was a great at-bat: Cut fastball inside, another cutter/sinker in the dirt, a changeup way outside, a 3-0 change for a called strike, a curveball that Cano foul tipped and then a 3-2 changeup that Cano didn't miss, sending it high into the Bronx air. "It's still such a hit-or-miss pitch," McCarthy said. "Sometimes it's there, sometimes it's not. It's very hard for me to get to a place where it can be relied on in a situation. It was coming along; I felt like it was doing what we needed it to do. It just maybe, in that count, it might have been too good a pitch."
  • The Reds-Phillies game was suspended in the bottom of the ninth inning tied 0-0, but Homer Bailey had about as dominant a performance as any pitcher this season, going eight scoreless innings and allowing just two hits with 10 strikeouts and no walks. Impressively, he threw just 89 pitches -- and that was after throwing 17 in the first inning. Aroldis Chapman pitched the top of the ninth and is due up sixth in the bottom of the inning. Hey, maybe Dusty Baker lets him throw two innings if the Reds don't score.
  • Great ending in the Rangers' 4-2 win over the Cubs. The Cubs had scored twice off Michael Kirkman and Joe Nathan and had the bases loaded with two outs. Darwin Barney fouled off three two-strike pitches and then hit a liner to center field, where Craig Gentry did this.
  • After sweeping the Mets in a doubleheader -- maybe with a little help from the freezing cold weather -- it may be time to start paying attention to the 10-4 Rockies. In the second game, the Rockies tied it with two runs in the eighth after errors by pitcher Brandon Lyon and shortstop Ruben Tejada. A hard-hit ball off David Wright's glove in the 10th helped set up Jordan Pacheco's winning hit. Carlos Gonzalez, who had had five hits and scored five runs in the doubleheader, summed it up: "Worst, best day ever."
  • Good game in Toronto, where the White Sox pulled out a 4-3 victory. Paul Konerko had tied the game at 2 in the seventh when he hit a 3-0 Josh Johnson fastball out to left. The Sox then scored twice in the ninth and held off a Blue Jays rally in the bottom of the inning.
  • Dan Haren: Not good again for the Nationals. The Marlins had scored seven runs in the previous five games but lit up Haren for seven runs in 4.1 innings. Four runs were unearned but that's three shaky/bad starts for Haren. Giancarlo Stanton missed his fifth straight game with his bruised shoulder.
  • The Angels: Not good again. Joe Mauer had four hits for the second straight day in the Twins' 8-6 victory. The Angels are 4-10 and you have to start wondering if Mike Scioscia's job is in jeopardy. Not that it's his fault, but if the Angels don't go on a winning streak, somebody will pay the price for the team's slow start.
Baseball teams don't have the same home-field advantage as, say, NBA teams, but it's still an important element of the game. Last season, 26 of the 30 teams had a better record at home, although a big home-field advantage isn't necessarily a path to the playoffs. The Astros, Cubs and Brewers each won 15 more games at home than on the road but finished a combined 199-287. The Tigers and Cardinals had the biggest home-field advantages among playoff teams, both going 50-31 at home and 38-43 on the road.

With the season under way, here's a look at some players for whom home-field advantage is an important thing to consider when evaluating how they may fare.

Tom Milone, P, A's. The soft-tossing lefty made his first start on Wednesday and showed again that he loves pitching at home. He allowed two home runs to Seattle in the first inning but settled down after that, throwing six scoreless frames and allowing just four total hits over his seven innings. Milone is a fly ball pitcher, which plays well with Oakland's big dimensions, but his splits were so extreme last year (2.74 ERA, 6 HR at home, 4.83 ERA, 18 HR on the road), that manager Bob Melvin should consider skipping him on the road whenever possible.

Jason Vargas, P, Angels. Staying in the AL West, Vargas moves over from Seattle, where he loved Safeco Field. He gave up 35 home runs last year despite pitching in a park that kills fly balls, especially to left-center. In his four years with Seattle, he allowed 34 home runs at Safeco but 57 on the road. Last year, his ERA was two runs higher on the road, where he allowed 26 of those 35 homers. Anaheim is still a pretty good park for fly ball pitchers (see Jered Weaver), but it will be interesting to see whether Vargas keep his home-field dominance intact.

[+] EnlargeJustin Upton
AP Photo/David J. PhillipWill Justin Upton hit with Atlanta like he did with Arizona?
Justin Upton, LF, Braves. Upton moves from one of the best hitting parks in baseball in Arizona to a more neutral environment. In general terms, every player performs a little better at home, but Upton's splits were pretty extreme with the D-backs. He hit .307/.389/.548 at Chase Field -- superstar numbers -- but a pedestrian .250/.325/406 on the road. So far so good: He's homered in his first two games at home, including smashing a low Roy Halladay fastball to right-center on Wednesday night.

Mike Napoli and Jonny Gomes, Red Sox. One reason the Red Sox signed the two right-handed sluggers is their potential ability to take advantage of the Green Monster. Both have big raw power but can also pull the ball to left field. Over the past three years, 49 of Napoli's 80 home runs have gone to left or left-center. But what makes him even more intriguing is that he’s hit 18 to the “far right” -- meaning in the direction of the Pesky Pole. Fenway is a tough home run park to right-center, but very short down that right-field line. Napoli is that rare hitter who may take advantage of the Monster and the Pesky Pole. Gomes, meanwhile, is a dead-pull hitter. Over the past three years, 48 of his 50 homers went left or left-center.

Carlos Gonzalez, LF, Rockies. Is Gonzalez a star hitter or just a guy who takes advantage of Coors Field? Over the past three years he's at .361/.421/.651 at home (55 HRs) and .263/.315/.440 on the road (29 HRs). I'd like to see better production on the road before I declare him the great player many believe he is.

James Shields, P, Royals. Shields has pitched 200-plus innings the past six seasons and the Royals hope their new ace makes it seven. But he leaves Tampa, a pitcher's park, for Kansas City, a neutral hitting environment. During his tenure with the Rays, Shields had a 3.34 ERA at lovely Tropicana Field, 4.51 on the road. Last year, it wasn't quite as extreme, 3.25 and 3.83, but I think Shields will be hard-pressed putting up the same numbers he did with Tampa (although moving to the AL Central could help in that regard since he won't have to face the Yankees and Red Sox eight times a year or so).

Nick Swisher, OF-1B, Indians. Swisher averaged 26 home runs per season during his four years with the Yankees, but it was not because the switch-hitter took advantage of the short porch in right at Yankee Stadium. Fifty-nine of his 104 home runs in pinstripes came on the road, so I see no reason Swisher shouldn't hit around 25 home runs for Cleveland.

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Which player will be most hurt by his new park?

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Discuss (Total votes: 2,185)

Josh Hamilton, RF, Angels. Hamilton, of course, moves from one of the best hitter's parks in baseball in Arlington -- probably second only to Coors Field -- to Angel Stadium. Despite the initial inclination that the move may hurt Hamilton, Michael Veneziano of ESPN Stats & Info argued in December that he may not be affected. Michael looked at all of Hamilton's home runs from last season and figured that only one would not have gone out at Angel Stadium. In other words, when Hamilton hits them, he hits them a long way.

Zack Greinke, P, Dodgers. The other big free-agent signing of the offseason should enjoy his new home park. Dodger Stadium remains an excellent park for pitchers and Greinke has spent most of the past two seasons in Milwaukee, where the balls fly. Despite that, he pitched very well at home (2.98 ERA last season, which includes his time with the Angels, versus 3.98 on the road). If that home-field advantage carries over to Dodger Stadium, Greinke could be poised for the big season his contract suggests.

All Mariners hitters! The Mariners are moving in the fences -- primarily in left-center -- so after years of cool Pacific Northwest air swatting down fly balls and line drives, will Seattle hit better at home? This was a team that actually scored more runs on the road a year ago than the Rangers. We don't know the effect this will have on the Mariners' hitters (or how it will hurt Felix Hernandez and friends on the mound), but I suspect we'll see a few more runs scored this year at Safeco and the hitters will enjoy a little home cooking for a change.
ESPN headline: "Rockies bolster rotation with Garland signing" ... well, I'm not sure I would have used "bolster" there.

OK, let's assume Jon Garland is healthy after making just nine starts in 2011 and missing all of last season with shoulder issues. He was in camp with the Mariners and it appeared like he was going to make the rotation until he didn't. So he exercised an out clause in his contract and signed with the Rockies.

By the way, Garland's spring statistics that apparently made the Rockies decided they needed him in their rotation: 12 innings, 10 hits, five walks, four strikeouts.

Which is who Garland is: Not a strikeout pitcher. In other words, he's the worst kind of a pitcher for Coors Field (not that there's really a good kind). What makes Coors such a good hitter's park isn't so much the home runs, but all the gaps in the outfield: It's a batting average park as much as it is a home run park. Last year, the Rockies hit .306 at home, .241 on the road; their opponents hit .306 at Coors, .273 at home.

Instead of focusing on groundball pitchers, I've always thought the Rockies should focus on strikeout pitchers -- even if that means strikeout pitchers who walk guys. What you don't want at Coors is balls in play, because at Coors, balls in play tend to fall for hits. Garland allows a lot of balls in play, which means he gives up a lot of hits. And while he has a reputation as a groundball guy, he still serves up his share of home runs. In his last full season in the majors, 2010 with the Padres, he allowed 20 home runs in 200 innings. Not a bad total, but that was in San Diego. And it was three years ago. He posted a fine 3.47 ERA that year, but it was 4.01 on the road. So even if things work out perfectly here there is little upside.

It's a low-risk signing by the Rockies; if Garland doesn't pan out, they'll just get rid of him, similar to what they did last year with Jamie Moyer after 10 starts. The larger issue is that the Rockies still feel the need to take these stabs in the dark at veterans like Moyer and Garland, both of whom were coming off seasons missed with injuries. You don't win pennants by hoping you get lucky.

The rotation will now include Jhoulys Chacin, Jeff Francis, Jorge De La Rosa, Juan Nicasio and Garland, with young lefty Drew Pomeranz likely headed to Triple-A (even though he was probably the team's best starter a year ago, not that that's an award to put in your trophy room).

Some people believe the Rockies have sleeper potential in 2013 with the likes of Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler and Wilin Rosario leading the offense. With that rotation, I have serious doubts.

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