October 22, 2003
REALITY TV THOUGHTS
Beckett: Focus on the Future Star
This magazine, Beckett Focus on Future Stars, premiered in May of 1991. I had already been subscribing to Beckett Baseball Card Monthly since December 1988 (and still have every issue to date), and had always loved prospect cards: Donruss Rated Rookies, Fleer Prospects, Upper Deck Star Rookies, and any rookie cards. So naturally, the concept of a magazine that entirely wrote about minor league baseball and hockey, college basketball and football and rookies was very appealing. So, I subscribed to Beckett Focus on the Future Stars in time to receive the very first issue.
At the time, Todd Van Poppel was the talk of baseball in terms of prospects. He had been the #1 pick of the Oakland A’s in 1990. Before that draft, he was the sure-fire #1 overall pick in the draft. Why? He was a high school pitcher who was from a town in Texas, and who threw hard! Obviously, the comparisons to Nolan Ryan, another resident of Texas, were immediate (hence the appropriateness of the first cover). However, Van Poppel was adamant in telling the Atlanta Braves (who held the #1 pick) that he would not sign with them. So, the Braves “settled” for a high school shortstop from Florida. Some guy named Larry Jones. You may have heard of him. I think they call him “Chipper” now? I guess he’s been a .309/.404/.541 hitter over his 10 year career, with 280 home runs and 943 RBI. He’s played in 5 All-Star Games, and was the 1999 National League MVP, so I guess the Braves came out OK by not chosing Todd Van Poppel.
Back to Van Poppel though, he slid to the Oakland A’s, with the 14th overall pick in the draft. His career never really had a chance. His contract guaranteed that he would be called up to the big leagues in 1991, and he was, making one start. In that start, he lasted just 4 2/3 innings and gave up 5 runs. Since that time, he has generally been considered a colossal flop. He has managed to have a 10 year career of his own. I mean, when you throw as hard as he does, teams do continue to give him chances. In 1996, Van Popple went from the A’s to the Tigers where he spent the remainder of the year. After not playing in the majors in 1997, Van Poppel split 1998 between the Texas Rangers and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Again, he didn’t sniff the big leagues in 1999. However, he actually had a couple of very good years as a reliever in the Chicago Cubs bullpen in 2000 and 2001. That led to the Texas Rangers resigning him as a reliever, where he struggled again. This season, he pitched 16 games between the Rangers and the Cincinnati Reds. In other words, Van Poppel would have to be considered a journeyman, probably looking at his last chances.
Why do I bring up Todd Van Poppel? Why do I have a picture of him and Nolan Ryan on the cover of the first issue of Beckett Focus on the Future Stars? Well, in 1999, there was another high school pitcher from Texas taken high (2nd overall) in the first round of the draft. Ironically, his name was Beckett, Josh Beckett. He signed with the Florida Marlins for a $3.65 million bonus and was given a major league contract. We’ve all seen what he is capable of in these playoffs, specifically in the NLCS. Here’s what he’s done:
In the NLDS - 1 Game, 7 innings, 2 hits, 1 run, 9 stikeouts… and he took the loss.
In the NLCS - 3 Games, 2 starts, 1 complete game, 1-0, 3.26 ERA, 19 1/3 innings, 19 strikeouts.
Last night - 7 1/3 innings, 10 K’s, 3 hits, 2 runs… and he took the loss.
Still just 23 years old, he has experienced some injuries. He began his pro career in 2000, and suffered some shoulder soreness, so the Marlins were very careful with him and held his innings down. In 2001, he pitched great in the minors before coming up to he big leagues for four highly anticipated starts at the end of the year. In those four starts, Beckett pitched 24 innings and struck out 24 hitters. He was 2-2, but had just a 1.50 ERA.
2002 wasn’t as good as I’m sure he or the Marlins had hoped. He continued to show he’s got the stuff (113 strikeouts in 107 2/3 innings), but his numbers just didn’t back it up (6-7, 4.10 ERA). He struggled on numerous occasions throughout the season with blisters and spent a lot of time on the Disabled List.
2003, well, things just kind of seemed to come together. His record (9-8) doesn’t necessarily show it, but his ERA was just 3.04. He held opponents to just a .246 batting average and struck out 152 batters in 142 innings.
So what he has done throughout the postseason should not surprise anyone. His name isn’t as well known nationally because he plays for Florida and because he is so young. But people around baseball know Josh Beckett and know what he brings to the table. Just look at his repertoire of pitches. Fastball at 97 mph, Changeup at 87 mph, and a slow curveball at 77 mph. That’s great pitch speed differential, and his breaking ball is very sharp. The Marlins have been pretty careful with him this season, limiting not only his innings, but also his pitches per outing. He averaged 99.5 pitches per start.
Barring injury, I would look for Josh Beckett and Mark Prior to be 1-2 in Cy Young voting in the National League for years to come.
So, what happened in Game 3 of the World Series last night? Well, here was my prediction from yesterday:
Prediction - I think that Beckett will be up to the challenge. I think he’ll throw well and mix it up on the Yankees at least a couple of times through the lineup. The third time through though, the Yankees will get to him. Mike Mussina will have an outing that will remind people just how good of a pitcher he is. Final Score Guess - Yankees 2, Marlins 0.
Well, I wasn’t exactly right on the score, but if only I had added “through 8 innings” at the end of my 2-0 prediction? I think Josh Beckett was great last night, even past his second time through the order. Even after a 39 minute rain delay. He had all three pitches going well, and when he left the game, the score was still 1-1. (and the one run was very arguable, based on a tight strike zone by Gary Darling) Dontrelle Willis gave up an RBI single to left field off the bat of Hideki Matsui to score the Yankees 2nd run, but the run was credited to Beckett. As I did think would happen, Mike Mussina was remarkable. 7 innings, 1 walk, 9 strikeouts. Very impressive. Mariano Rivera came in and pitched a perfect 8th inning. In the 9th inning, Aaron $@^$#*& Boone hit a lead off homer to extend the lead to 3-1. Later, Bernie Williams hit a 3-run homer off Braden Looper for the final 6-1 Yankees win. Mariano Rivera then came in for the 9th inning as well, and shut the door.
Game Notes -
· Derek Jeter is pretty good. He’s not flashy. He doesn’t have the power of Alex Rodriguez. He’s maybe not as gifted as Garciaparra. He’s got very little defensive range, but somehow, it works. He’s a very solid hitter who somehow beats the “small sample size” problems of the playoffs and always hits well. Sure his little fist pump that he uses all the time is getting kind of old, but he is, even through TV, clearly a great leader on the Yankees team.
· Hideki Matsui is far better than a person realizes. Seeing him play every day is what makes me say that. He is just such a professional hitter. Sure, he may not hit 50 home runs in the States, like he did in Japan (I think he’ll develop the power swing as he plays more years here), but he is just solid. Seeing his approach at the plate in every at bat is very impressive. Like Paul Molitor (except from the left side of the plate), Matsui is very still at the plate. He works the count well, and simply takes whatever the pitcher gives to him. If it’s Dontrelle Willis throwing him a fastball on the outside corner, he slaps it through the hole between short and third.
· Bernie Williams is still a pretty good hitter. I commented during the Twins series that he is not much of a defensive outfielder any more, and I’m afraid that remains true. However, the man can hit! He hit his 19th post-season home run, passing Mickey Mantle and Reggie Jackson for career post-season home run record (which is probably the most overly mentioned statistic used).
· Was it just me, or were there a lot of Yankees fans cheering those 9th inning home runs?
· Mariano Rivera is amazing! I’ve always said that the cut-fastball is the toughest pitch in baseball to hit, and watching Rivera throw it just proves it.
· The rain poured throughout the game. Had this been a regular season game, there is no way it would have been completed. The lone rain-delay would have been called for sooner, and they may not have come back from it. That was pretty dangerous, especially with some of the hard-throwers on the mound (Beckett, Fox, Looper). Along the same lines, in the regular season, Mike Mussina and Josh Beckett would have been done as well. However, being the World Series, both teams chose to stick with their starters.
· Miguel Cabrera continues to impress. His first inning single scored Juan Pierre to give the Marlins the 1-0 lead. He later had another 2-out single to right that, had Pierre or Luis Castillo been on 2nd base, and not Pudge Rodriguez, probably would have been another Marlin run.
· GAME 4 - Tonight, in Florida, 7:05 p.m. Central Time.
· Pitching Matchup - Roger Clemens vs. Carl Pavano
· Prediction - Yankees 11, Marlins 3. Look for the Yankees to jump all over the Marlins and starter Carl Pavano early in the game, and for Roger Clemens to pitch well in what will be his final start in a big league uniform. Here’s how lopsided I think this game will be. I think that even Jeff Weaver might make an appearance.
So, what are your thoughts on Beckett and Game 3? What will happen the rest of the series? E-mail me.
REALITY TV THOUGHTS
I shouldn’t admit this, maybe I won’t… OK, I’ll just come out with it. I love MTV’s Newlyweds! I truly enjoy peeking in on the lives of Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey. They’re just so funny, I laugh the whole time it’s on. Sure, Jessica Simpson comes off as an idiot, even if we all know that she’s a very smart, talented person. Nick Lachey is great! He’s like an every-guy. Maybe the real truth is that I just wish I had that lifestyle. I can sing! I can act! I can, really! I want to be rich and famous! I want that lifestyle! I watch the show so that I will know how to react when I get rich and famous!
OK, who am I kidding. I guess I just like seeing how the other side lives. Wishing I could be rich and do whatever I wanted. Wondering how I would react under some of the same circumstances these people live under. That’s the entire appeal of all reality television in my opinion. Wondering what would happen to me if I were stranded on an uninhabited island in the middle of nowhere with strangers. Wonder if I would get cranky living with the same people in a very confined house for months. (Note - that reminds me, for the Real World watchers out there… I really don’t like C.T. at all!) I just watched the new installment of Joe Millionairre last night. That should be really interesting, especially since the women are all from Europe and the language and cultures could definitely factor into the end result of the show.
I have now received a couple of great e-mails from readers regarding television shows that they watch, that they think I watch. If I get enough people suggesting a certain show for me to watch, I just may have to check it out! So, thank you!
What do you think? Am I weird? Do I need counseling? Send me an e-mail and let me know.
Yesterday, I discussed my thoughts on the ‘big’ trade between the Dallas Mavericks and the Boston Celtics. (Click here for the full transcript of what I said) The Mavs acquired Antoine Walker and Tony Delk, with the Celtics getting Raef Lafrentz, Jiri Welsch and Chris Mills in return. To summarize, I see that, talent-wise, the Mavericks probably get the better of the deal with Walker being an All-Star, 20 point per game type player who will be a free agent after the season, along with Delk who can be an instant-offense guard off the bench. The Celtics are thrilled to get rid of Walker, Lafrentz could be ok and Welsch has major potential. The downside for the Celtics is the Lafrentz contract.
Ben Jacobs writes Universal Baseball Blog and I frequently mention him and his writing on this site. He’s a big Red Sox fan, knows his football and is a fan of the Celtics. (He is also in the Fantasy Basketball League I will be participating in this season) He sent me his thoughts on the deal (Green font seems appropriate for a Celtics topic):
I just read your take on the big NBA trade from yesterday and I wanted to give you my thoughts. As you might have guessed since I'm a big Red Sox fan, I'm also a big (although not quite as big) Celtics fan.
I have been hoping all offseason that the Celtics would trade Walker. He's starting to become one of those players who fills the stat sheet but doesn't really help the team. He no longer has much of an interior presence and his field goal percentage is horrendous. Also, he screws up fast breaks more than any player I've ever seen. It's uncanny, and it will certainly hurt Dallas' run-and-gun style of play.
LaFrentz has a terrible contract. However, playing in the East for more than 30 minutes a night, he could put up some impressive numbers. I'm not saying he'll single-handedly replace Walker's production, but he also won't shoot as much (or as poorly) and he'll add more to the team defensively. Welsch, as you said, could be a great pickup if he develops as a lot of people think he will. Also, the Celtics get a draft pick that could end up being decent (Ainge will probably use it on a project high-schooler or foreigner) down the road.
Finally, when Mills' contract expires at the end of the season, the Celtics will be able to use the mid-level exception (around $5 million) to sign a free agent. And Ainge has been assured by ownership that he will be allowed to do so.
I doubt this trade will improve the Celtics for this season, but I don't think it will hurt Boston much, if at all, either. And down the road, it could really help the Celtics get better.
I should have mentioned that the draft pick the Celtics will get will be a first-round pick in future years (not official which year). Since the trade was announced, so much has come out about the trade. Walker taking the trade was made by Ainge for “personal reasons”, which may be true. I think the thing is, is that Walker just rubbed people the wrong way, and if his game matched his ego, he would still be a Celtic. But, P-Squared, Paul Pierce is more of a complete player than Walker and is the guy the Celtics will build around. I can’t say I disagree with Ben at all on his thoughts on LaFrentz doing well in the Eastern Conference. Let’s be honest, take away the New Jersey Nets and probably the Indiana Pacers, there isn’t a lot of talent in the East, so LaFrentz could put up some impressive numbers.
Thanks for writing Ben, and as always, I would encourage readers of this site to be sure to check out Ben’s Universal Baseball Blog daily too!
Final Note - The Timberwolves released PG Keith McLoud and C Brandon Kurtz yesterday. Neither move was surprising. McLoud was impressive in his playing time. I don’t see another NBA team signing him, but maybe he made enough of an impression on someone to sign him. Kurtz is tall, so you never know. The team is now down to 15 players in camp. If they can make up three injuries and carry three on the injured list, they may not have to make any more cuts.
That’s it for today! I hope you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read. Have a great day! As always, please e-mail me any questions or comments you may have.
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