Thursday, January 19, 2017

2017 Topps is Coming, but I'm Still Cracking 2016 Bowman Draft

The checklist for 2017 Topps is out. Well, I take that back. The checklist is not out, but the list of cards in Series 1 is. There are two pretty strange inclusions in the Brewers list of players. First off, we have Chris Capuano. Capuano pitched okay last season for the team in 16 appearances -- a 1-1 record, a 4.12 ERA in 24 innings -- but that should not have merited inclusion in the 2017 Topps set as a Brewer. That's especially true because Capuano did not pitch after May 25.

The other strange inclusion is Will Middlebrooks. The now 28-year-old Middlebrooks is no longer a prospect and is now four years removed from looking like a competent major-league hitter (his 2012 rookie year in Boston is looking like a fluke). Middlebrooks appeared in 10 games and got 31 plate appearances for the Brewers last year and has already signed with the Rangers for 2017 -- yet he got a card. Just 24 Brewers had more plate appearances last year, including six starting pitchers.

Why do these two get cards? Is it because they appeared in the major leagues before with more "important" teams (Middlebrooks with the Red Sox, Capuano with the Mets, Dodgers, Red Sox, and Yankees)? Is it because Will Middlebrooks is married to Jenny Dell and she demanded he get a card?

I'd rather see Brent Suter -- the 27-year-old Harvard grad whom the Brewers selected in the 31st round of the 2012 draft -- get a card than either of these two. Suter appeared in 14 games and threw 21.2 innings, including 2 wins and a 3.0 K/BB ratio. The fact that he's a genuinely nice guy does not hurt either -- at least he has been in my interaction on Twitter with him. 

Anyway, all that is just to prove that Topps can't win with me. Include fringe players, and I complain as to which fringe players are included. Overlook my guys, and feel my wrath. Right? 

Topps/Bowman did not overlook the Brewers, though, in the recent 2016 Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects release. The Brewers were well-represented -- though, once again, there were some head-scratching inclusions. I signed up for the charity case break for this product through Crackin' Wax (I feel like I should call him "my old friend" by this point). I got all the Brewers, of course, and plenty of first-round pick Corey Ray out of Louisville. 

Let's see the chrome cards of these guys. 

Mario Feliciano was the Brewers second-round pick out of the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy in Puerto Rico. He's a decent-sized catcher (6'1", 195 pounds) and just turned 18 years old on November 20. MLB Pipeline ranked him the 28th best prospect in the Brewers system as of the end of the season. 

Braden Webb was the Brewers third-round draft choice. He was an oddity -- a college freshman (at South Carolina) who was eligible to be drafted because he took two years off after high school and Tommy John Surgery. He was the Gamecocks Saturday pitcher, and he was named the National Pitcher of the Year by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. He did not make the Brewers top 30 prospects on MLB Pipeline. 

I guess perhaps because of his injury history and the fact that he pitched 102 innings at USCe, the Brewers did not have him pitch in games last year. So yes, we know that photo above is 100% a Photoshop job.

Ryan Cordell was the player to be named later in the Jonathan Lucroy deal with Texas. Cordell will be 25 on Opening Day this year, and he has spent the past two years at Double-A. He was the Rangers 6th best prospect; he's the Brewers 18th best prospect. He has a little pop and a little speed, but he'll need to get to Colorado Springs and show something quick. The Brewers have enough OF to stock a trout pond with them.

Corbin Burnes was the Brewers 4th round pick in 2016 out of St. Mary's College of California. He made it to the Low-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers last year. He's got good stuff -- scouts say he has a low- to mid-90s fastball with an elite breaking ball and a good changeup. He struggled a little bit in Low-A with his control -- 5.0 BB/9 -- but he could move up reasonably quickly. He's rated as the Brewers 20th overall prospect.

Say hello to the guy that MLB Pipeline on Wednesday called the best LHP prospect in baseball, Josh Hader. The dude has crazy hair and a consistent 93-97 fastball, and in the past has been compared to Chris Sale. The Brewers got him in the Carlos Gomez trade to Houston. Thanks, Houston!

As of the end of last season, Hader was the Brewers third-best prospect. 

Trent Clark was the Brewers first round pick in the 2015 Draft, and received a $2.7 million bonus for it. He's made a couple of trips to the DL last year due to hamstring troubles, which limited his at-bats last year at the age of 19. He's a true center fielder, but he's projected to be able to hit enough to play a corner.  

MLB Pipeline rated him the Brewers sixth-best prospect at the end of 2016.

Marcos Diplan is a pitcher the Brewers got as part of the Yovani Gallardo trade with the Rangers. He's a Dominican who pushed all the way through full-season baseball at the age of 19 last year. He dominated the Midwest League in 70 innings -- 1.80 ERA and just 6.3 hits allowed per nine while walking 4.1/9 innings and striking out 11.4 per nine innings. He got hit a bit in the Florida State league after that, but he was 4 years younger than his competition there.

MLB Pipeline slots him in as the 12th best Brewers prospect.

Luis Ortiz is another Rangers refugee, having come over from Texas in the Lucroy trade. He's had some injuries -- a groin muscle pull last year, for instance. That injury question is the big question over his potential.

MLB Pipeline's write-up for Ortiz says that he has the stuff to profile as a possible number 2 starter if he can stay healthy. On that potential, he finished the year as the Brewers 4th best prospect.

Oh, Silly Billy Philly. Phil Bickford was listed as the 5th best prospect in the Brewers system at the end of last year. However, he will be cooling his jets on the sidelines for the first 50 games of the 2017 season for testing positive for a "drug of abuse" -- probably marijuana, which he tested positive for in June of 2015 as well, apparently. He was the focal point of the Will Smith trade with the Giants last year.

A little bit of the luster is off Brett Phillips's prospect sheen after last year. He only slashed .229/.332/.397 at Double-A Biloxi and struck out 154 times. Still, he will not turn 23 until May 30 this year, so I would anticipate that he makes the move to Triple-A Colorado Springs. He dropped from being the 2nd best prospect in the Brewers system to being number 7 at the end of the year. He fell behind Trent Clark and Josh Hader, and Corey Ray slotted in ahead of him.

Speaking of Corey Ray: the Brewers first-round draft pick in 2016 and the 5th pick overall out of the University of Louisville, MLB Pipeline rated him the Brewers 2nd best prospect. He had surgery for a torn meniscus in his knee after the season ended. 

He has a gun in the outfield, and he runs well enough to play center. He may not, though, have the instincts on balls in center (according to "some scouts").

All in all and as you can see, the Brewers were rightfully well-represented in the 2016 Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects set. If I had to nitpick a bit, I would wonder where the number 1 Brewers prospect -- Lewis Brinson -- is. I might also wonder where 46th overall pick Lucas Erceg is -- he could move up quickly in the system since he's practically the only third-base prospect in the system at 17th overall. 

Still, that is nitpicking. It was fun to get a huge stack of cards of multiple players from a case break from a new product for a change. Many thanks go out to "Topher" and his wife "Literal Quirk" for all the hard work they put in to make these breaks a success.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Too Many Verlanders Had Too Many Cards

I'm still trying to get caught up on cards I got before Christmas. Heck, I got in a HUGE order from COMC that I picked up on Black Friday -- I didn't even scan most of it because I got sick of scanning -- and I haven't even touched that one. Maybe I'll get to it sometime in February or something.

Just before Christmas, Dennis from Too Many Verlanders offered up a variety of cards and, well, stuff that he had accumulated and wanted to clear out. Dennis has sent me cards on a number of occasions (though I'm quite sure I owe him cards) so I was a bit hesitant to put in a claim. But then, I saw this:

And that was the end of my shyness. I quickly snapped it up. As you can see on the box, it is a bobble head that commemorates the 1913 Milwaukee Brewers. The reason for celebration and commemoration was the fact that the Brewers won their first ever title: Champions of the American Association with a 100-67 record. 

It was a pretty good team -- 15 of the 19 players who played for that Milwaukee team saw time in the major leagues either before or after their stint in Milwaukee. The two names that jump out at me? 

First there is Cy Slapnicka, who spent over 50 years in baseball as a player, a GM, and a scout and is known for signing some pretty notable players to contracts -- guys like a 16-year-old Bob Feller, Tommy Henrich (whose contract was voided for some shenanigans the Indians engaged in), Lou Boudreau, Herb Score, Bobby Avila, and Hal Trosky...though he whiffed on signing Hal Newhouser by showing up too late.

Second, there is noted World Series fixer and Milwaukee native Oscar Emil "Happy" Felsch. The Brewers sold Felsch to the White Sox in 1914 for $12,000 plus an infielder and an outfielder. Felsch moved south to Chicago and left his Milwaukee-based family behind on Teutonia Avenue. After being banned from organized baseball, Felsch played on into his early 40s in "outlaw" leagues in Canada and the Mountain West. He returned to Milwaukee and first owned a tavern before becoming a crane operator, and the interviews with Felsch helped Eliot Asimov write his chronicle, Eight Men Out.

But I digress. Greatly. Because here's Corey Hart in his 1913 uniform!

Dennis also -- unnecessarily, I'll add -- threw in some great baseball cards too. For example, I got this pack in the box:

No good pack goes unopened in my house. I ripped it open immediately, and found that the contents were as advertised:

It is, indeed, a 9-card set sponsored by General Motors based on Ken Burns's film Baseball. I have to admit that I do have a favorite card in this group of 9: I love that Satchel Paige card. It's probably because of the relative paucity of cards for Negro League stars, I suppose -- or, at least, the relative paucity of those cards in my collection. Ol' Satch went right into my "Random Cards I Like" binder right next to Hines Ward from the JBF package.

But wait: there's more.

2010 Elite Extra Edition! I'm starting to be more and more drawn to all the minor league cards -- probably due to my frustration generally with major league cards, I'd suppose. 

Our first guy up is Austin Ross, an 8th round selection in 2010 out of LSU. He's slowly, slowly worked his way up the ladder in the Brewers organization. He's hit literally every stop -- from the Pioneer League, to the Arizona Rookie League, to the Midwest League to the Florida State League to the Southern League and Double-A in 2014 and 2015 to Triple-A Colorado Springs the past two years. He actually pitched pretty well out of the bullpen there last year to the point where he might actually crack the big-league roster this year at the age of 28.

Brian Garman, on the other hand, is no longer in the minors. He was a 17th round pick from the University of Cincinnati. He made it to Huntsville in 2013, but that was the end for him. He's still in baseball as the pitching coach for the University of Northwestern Ohio in Lima, according to his Twitter bio.

What? More? Yes. More:

These Sweet Spot Signatures are notoriously finicky. Upper Deck put a lot of them on really cheap, crappy plastic imitation balls, and those have faded into the ether like chemtrails from airplanes that some conspiracy theorists believe are used to control weather (spoiler alert: they are not). 

Of course, this Chris Demaria looks like it was made from the finest cowhide and will survive a nuclear explosion, global warming (probably caused by chemtrails), and a Trump presidency. Too bad the Robin Yount one I have isn't doing as well.

Speaking of Robin Yount:

How sweet is this Ultimate Star Materials of Yount? A big pinstripe down the middle of the fabric is a nice touch too. Yount is still recovering a year later from an injury he suffered at home in Phoenix last year when a compressor fell on his hand and crushed it. For some months, he had to wear what was described to me recently as being like those halos that people who have broken necks have to wear except that Robin's was on his arm from his elbow down. Apparently it was pretty bad.

And finally:

Is it weird that I kind of like these manu-relics a bit better than getting a swatch of fabric in a card? I have to tell you that I have strong doubts that Braun will get to the 500-HR club. He's 33 years old now, and he currently has 283 career home runs. Plugging that into the "Bill James Favorite Toy" equation:

Braun needs 217 homers to get to 500. The number of seasons he has remaining (estimated) are 4.2. His established level of productivity (this is a weighted equation) is 26 homers a year. By this estimate, Braun is likely to hit about 110 homers. Thus, his chance to get to 500 is about 1% -- rounding up from the 0.69% that the equation gives us, which is nice.

Nice, however, does not begin to describe how great this package was from Dennis. These were just the highest of the highlights.

Many thanks go out to Too Many Verlanders!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Wrestling with a Trade Box from Jaybarkerfan

In late November and early December, Josh Willingham Supercollector Jaybarkerfan 
opened up his sizeable trade vault for a tradeathon. People could claim up to five cards from the dozens that JBF posted. I saw one Warren Spahn card that struck my fancy and put a claim in on it.

JBF never leaves a trade package at just one card, though. Of course the envelope I got was packed to the top with incredible cards. Since JBF is a big wrestling fan, he'll agree when I say that these cards need their own entrance music.

I always loved the Macho Man's use of "Pomp and Circumstance" for his entry music. It made it much more enjoyable for me to play that song over and over and over again when we had to play it for graduation ceremonies at my high school. 

Speaking of a time long, long ago, let's start with a card that made the smile on my face grow larger and larger. My first year of law school in Athens was in 1995. It was Ray Goff's last year. That was Hines's sophomore year -- he stayed all four years at UGA.

Thanks to some injuries (Mike Bobo tore up his ACL, and Brian Smith got hurt for some games too) Hines ended up being our starting QB for several games. In a couple of other games, he was our starting RB. He was the slot receiver normally, though -- with WRs Juan Daniels and Brice Hunter getting most of the catches. Hines finished his career 82 passing yards shy of 1000 passing yards -- which would have been pretty cool to get since he gained 1,066 yards rushing and 1,965 yards receiving. 

I still don't know how that 1997 Georgia team did not do better than it did. That was Hines's senior year. Mike Bobo had a very good year. Robert Edwards did not do badly either (though he was hurt for the Tennessee game). And Champ Bailey was doing everything that Charles Woodson had done the year prior at Michigan, only better. Of course, the team leader in interceptions that season was none other than current Georgia head coach Kirby Smart -- who had 6. Those were, however, great days.

Okay, I have to move along more quickly than this if I am going to get this post done before midnight.

I've have a post in the past composed entirely of Ric Flair, so it should be no surprise to anyone that the 14-year-old Tony loved Ric Flair's ego, arrogance, and results. 

Going from a guy who might be the G.O.A.T. to a bunch of guys who may never even get a chance -- or who did get a chance and never did anything with it. The first six guys -- Carlos Corporan, Jose Mieses, Mike Kinkade, Dennis Sarfate, Ken Holmberg, and Nick Neugebauer -- never became stars of any kind. 

Corporan just signed on as a free agent with the Cubs after spending last year bounding from the Yankees to the Rays to the Marlins -- all in the minors or spring training. Holmberg and Mieses never made it to the majors. Neugebauer played for Milwaukee at the ages of 20 and 21 (14 total appearances) before his shoulder basically fell apart. Kinkade played 222 games in the majors -- none for Milwaukee -- and got 491 plate appearances as a utility guy (though he did bring Bill Pulsipher to Milwaukee in a trade). Finally, Sarfate appeared in 92 games for the Brewers, Astros, and mostly, for the 2008 Orioles.

The last four cards -- and yes, there were two Josh Hader autographs -- are all guys for whom there is still hope. Nathan Kirby was a first round compensation pick in 2015 out of UVA. He got into 5 games in the Midwest League in 2015, then did not pick in 2016 after Tommy John surgery. 

Hader, of course, is one of the Brewers top prospects who struggled some in his first exposure to the thin air in Colorado Springs. He may make his Brewers debut this coming year so long as things go okay for him. 

Trent Clark just turned 20 years old. He was the 15th pick overall in the first round of the 2015 draft for Milwaukee. He struggled last year with some injuries and the step up to the Midwest league. He'll repeat there this year in all likelihood.

The Ultimate Warrior was one of those guys in the 1980s who was a huge fan favorite. I tended to like the bad guys more than the fan favorites -- I was always something of a contrarian. He died in 2014 just after his induction into the WWE Hall of Fame. 

Again, being something of a contrarian, I rather like Ryan Braun. Would I have preferred that he do what he did in baseball without taking steroids? Absolutely. But has he put his mark on the Brewers organization and franchise history? Again, absolutely. It's tough to say what he would have done without steroids, but if this past season is any indication, he still would have been great.

So, for all y'all that hate Braun for being a steroid guy, feel free to get rid of your Braun cards by sending them to me. I'll take them.

Speaking of steroids, don't we have to think that Vince McMahon took steroids during his life? I mean looking at photos on Google, I think he had a bigger physique in the 1980s than I recalled, but dude got huge.

That said, his entrance music is pretty good. I never liked him generally -- whether being the good-guy announcer in the 1980s as the foil to Bobby Heenan or being the heel commissioner from the 1990s onward.

Going a bit old school here -- or as old school as reprinted chrome cards and Paul Molitor Blue Jay cards might allow. Speaking of guys getting bigger, I recall a story about Robin Yount after the 1979 season buying a Nautilus machine and putting on 20 pounds of muscle -- thereby turning himself from the stringbean kid we saw from 1974 to about 1979 into the man that he became when the clock struck 1980. 

That, or perhaps it was because when the 1980 season started, he was 24 years old and finally had become a man bodywise. I mean, his MVP season in 1982 was his age 26 season (he deserved it too...10.5 WAR that year, 1.8 WAR defensively putting him 7th overall, 9.8 WAR on offense was #1 as well). Think about that. It's too bad that half his career was wasted with teams that flailed around trying to figure out how to compete.

I had to put Bill Goldberg in here. He played defensive tackle for the University of Georgia (and he also shares my birthday). According to his appearance on Jim Ross's podcast back in 2014, Goldberg chose UGA because he was standing on a bar on his recruiting trip and someone handled him a big bottle of Wild Turkey. He had such an incredible time that he was sold on Athens.

I have also stood on a bar in Athens while drunk. Nobody handed me a bottle of Wild Turkey, but I did get a t-shirt for my troubles that, except for being white, looked like this one:

I wore it until it fell apart. I loved that shirt.

Let me be clear -- there were many more cards than this. But these player collection additions -- all of which were serial numbered -- were a great capper to yet another fantastic package from JBF. 

Thanks go out to Wes for a fantastic giveaway. Now, I need to find some Willinghams to send to you!