Tag Archives: World Baseball Classic

Tampa Bay Rays successfully transition Alex Colome to the closer role

Colome (L) leads the American League in Saves
Way back on July 28, 2000 the then Tampa Bay Devil Rays completed a trade with the Oakland Athletics. The D-Rays sent away a pair of arms in Jim Mecir and Todd Belitz, and in return received a Double A right-hander named Jesus Colome.
Colome had a big arm, with pitches clocked at over 100 miles per hour. He made his big league debut with Tampa in June of 2011 as a reliever, beginning what would be a 10-year career in Major League Baseball.
Colome left via free agency, signing with the New York Yankees. He would end up pitching again in the big leagues with the Washington Nationals, Milwaukee Brewers, and Seattle Mariners. Jesus retired following the 2010 season at age 32, but would show up for a 2012 stint in the Mexican League.
A year later, the Rays would debut another Colome at the big league level. This one was Alex Colome, the nephew of Jesus. The younger Colome had signed out of the Dominican Republic as an 18-year old in March of 2007.

DEVELOPMENT AS A STARTING PITCHER

Alex would be developed as a starter by the Tampa organization. He put himself on the prospect map by going 7-4 over 15 starts with Low A Hudson Valley in 2009. Colome registered a 1.66 ERA, allowing just 46 hits over 76 innings while striking out 94 batters.
By 2013, a year after Jesus wrapped his pro career in Mexico, a 24-year old Alex was making his big league debut, still as a starting pitcher.
At that point, the Rays rotation was loaded. It featured 27-year old lefty David Price, winner of the AL Cy Young Award the previous season, and 26-year old righty Jeremy Hellickson, the 2011 AL Rookie of the Year.
Youngsters Matt MooreAlex CobbChris ArcherDrew SmylyNate Karns and Jake Odorizzi were all aged 25 or younger. All had either debuted in Major League Baseball or were knocking on the door.
Colome would receive three starts in the 2014 season, but the Rays brain trust was already contemplating a switch to the bullpen. His two relief outings that year, however, yielded poor results. Colome surrendered six earned runs on seven hits over five innings.
On May 1, 2015, Colome was promoted again to Tampa, and immediately inserted into the Rays rotation. He received 13 starts over the next two months, putting together a 3-4 record with a 4.70 ERA. He allowed 73 hits over 69 innings with just a 44/24 K:BB ratio.

SWITCH TO THE BULLPEN CLICKS

With Archer, Odorizzi, Karns, Moore, and Smyly, as well as 25-year old Erasmo Ramirez around to handle the starting load, it was again decided to switch Colome to the bullpen. Again he struggled over his first couple of outings.
But then something clicked. From July 17 through the end of the 2015 season, Colome made 28 relief appearances, allowing just 30 hits over 37.1 innings with a 2.17 ERA. He struck out 42 batters and walked just seven in that time, allowing just a .229 Batting Average Against.
Colome had found the role that would prove to be his meal ticket. The following year of 2016 saw Colome become a member of the American League All-Star Team for the first time.
Taking over as the Rays closer in mid-April, he would register 37 Saves with a 1.91 ERA over 57 games that year. He also had an overpowering 71/15 K:BB ratio over 56.2 innings in which he allowed just 43 hits.
In the spring, Colome was part of the Dominican bullpen during the World Baseball Classic. He made five appearances, allowing two runs on two hits over 4.1 innings while striking out five.
This year has been another successful one out of the Rays pen for the now 28-year old. His 43 Saves lead the AL by a wide margin. His ERA is up at 3.02, and his K/9 has dropped from last year’s 11.3 to the 8.0 mark this season. But much of that comes from a poor late-June, early July stretch.
Since July 6, Colome has saved 21 games over 25 appearances. He has surrendered just four earned runs in 25.1 innings pitched, for a 1.42 ERA. His Batting Average Against is a miniscule .187 in that time, and he has 22/6 K:BB mark.

FUTURE BRIGHT FOR RAYS AND THEIR CLOSER

Colome is likely about to realize the fruits of his successful transition to the closer role. After making just over a half-million dollars in each of the last three seasons, he will be arbitration-eligible for the first time this coming off-season.
Rays manager Kevin Cash is happy to have Colome to turn to at the end of games when Tampa has a lead.
“He’s a special player,” Cash said recently per Marc Topkin for the Tampa Bay Times
“What he does to close out ballgames, whether it’s 7-8-9 (hitters) or the teeth of the lineup, the way he buys into whatever we ask him to do makes it really easy to manage guys like that. That team-first concept, he really sets a tone. The way we used him early in the year (over multiple innings), there aren’t many closers that are too keen on that idea. Alex was, what do I need to do. I’m glad he’s having the season he’s having.”

The Rays were in playoff contention for much of this season. Despite playing poorly since early August, they remained in the AL Wildcard race until recently. Tampa Bay hasn’t been to the postseason since 2013. Colome’s development as a reliable closer is one more piece to their future contending puzzle.

It’s a great time to be Pat Neshek

On November 4, 2016 the Houston Astros shipped veteran relief pitcher Pat Neshek to the Philadelphia Phillies.
The trade was a simple salary dump for Houston. Neshek had a $6.55 million option due on his contract for the 2017 season. The Astros didn’t want to pay that kind of money for a middle reliever. 
They found a willing trade partner in the Phillies, who were desperately searching for short-term bullpen help, and who had plenty of money available to spend.
On the surface, it appeared a step back competitively for Neshek. The Astros were an up-and-coming contender in the American League. The Phillies were a rebuilding doormat in the National League. It looked as if it could be a long summer for the 36-year old veteran.
But you never know what the future will hold. The year 2017 has turned out to be one of the best of Neshek’s baseball life. And here in the month of July, it may only be getting better.
The great year began all the way back in March. While his new Phillies teammates were preparing for the season ahead at spring training in Clearwater, Neshek was representing the USA in the World Baseball Classic.
He would be a key shutdown reliever, a key to the Americans finally capturing the WBC championship. Neshek allowed no runs and four hits, striking out four and allowing just a single walk in five innings over five games.

When the WBC ended, Neshek joined those new Phillies teammates. The reality of his current Major League Baseball situation would quickly reveal itself.

ALL-STAR SEASON IN PHILLY

The Phils would prove even worse than most predicted. Headed into Sunday’s final game before the MLB All-Star break, the Phillies are the worst team in baseball. The team has dropped five straight games, and they are 17-49 since April 27.
The bullpen has been generally awful during this campaign. The Phillies are 11-23 in one-run games, and most of those were blown late by the relief corps.
But Neshek has been the one member of that bullpen to consistently do his job. He has been so good, in fact, that last week he was selected as the lone Phillies all-star representative.
Entering Sunday, Neshek is 2-2 with one Save. He has allowed just 26 hits over 34.1 innings with a 34/5 K:BB ratio. He has outstanding 1.31 ERA and 0.903 WHIP marks as well.
It will be the second All-Star Game appearance for Neshek. He was also selected to the 2014 NL squad while with the Saint Louis Cardinals.
“You don’t think of yourself as one of the best players, or at least I don’t look at myself that way,” said Neshek per Philly.com’s Matt Breen. “But if you get the opportunity, you never know if you’re on that stage. So I took that into the season. I said, ‘Hey, I got some big guys out in the World Baseball Classic. I’ve done it before. I’m going to go at this hard again.’ You never know what’s going to happen.”
Neshek and his family will make their way to Miami for the All-Star Game festivities following Sunday afternoon’s game. They will enjoy a wonderful three-day experience in south Florida before returning to the reality of the Phillies lost season at the end of the week.

TRADE RUMORS TO HEAT UP

Even then, Neshek could be getting ready to see his outstanding personal 2017 season continue. He is one of the Phillies prime pieces of trade bait as the MLB trade deadline approaches at the end of July.
As we get deeper and deeper into the month of July, especially should he continue to stay healthy and perform at a high level, Neshek’s name will be involved in constant trade rumors.
It will be a mild upset if Neshek is still with the Phillies come August. The more likely scenario is that he will have been traded away to some contending team. Maybe back to Houston, or off to Boston or Texas in the American League. Maybe to Washington in the NL, where the Nationals bullpen has been a constant source of frustration to a genuine World Series contender.
It’s a great time to be Pat Neshek. He is on quite a roll here in 2017 thus far. If his luck continues, he should find himself pitching with a contender before it’s all over. Hopefully for the Phillies, he can return a bit of longer term value as well.

WBC 2017: Who Are The Netherlands?

When the 2017 World Baseball Classic began, the team representing The Netherlands was certainly not considered to be among the tournament favorites.
After all, we’re talking about The Netherlands. You know, the Dutch?
Isn’t that Holland? When you think of them, wouldn’t you tend to think of windmills, dikes, tulips, and chocolates more than hardball?
On the grander world stage, The Netherlands that most people think about refers to the main constituent nation in Western Europe.
They may be one of the smallest nations in Europe, but The Netherlands are tremendously influential. For instance, it is home to Europe’s largest seaport at Rotterdam.
At The Hague, the nation is a host city to the United Nations, and home of the World Court. The official capitol city of Amsterdam is one of the most populous regions in Europe, and gave us the likes of Rembrandt and Vincent van Gogh.
But the nation of The Netherlands is also a “kingdom”, a constitutional monarchy which also encompasses countries of the Caribbean region, including Aruba, Curacao, and St. Maarten. They are part of an area often referred to as The Netherlands Antilles.

DUTCH CARIBBEAN BASEBALL INFLUENCE

Many of the top players with The Netherlands national team in the 2017 WBC hail from these islands. They include MLB all-stars in shortstop Xander Bogaerts from Aruba and closer Kenley Jansen of Curacao.
Second baseman Jonathan Schoop, shortstops Andrelton Simmons and Didi Gregorius, and IF/OF Jurickson Profar are all from Curacao as well.
A member of the coaching staff is very familiar to American baseball fans. Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Bert Blyleven is from Utrecht, the fourth largest city in The Netherlands that lies about 32 miles south of Amsterdam.
Former Atlanta Braves star Andruw Jones is from Curacao. He played with The Netherlands teams in both the 2006 and 2013 World Baseball Classic. Jones is another coach with the 2017 version of the squad.
The manager for The Netherlands is Hensley Meulens. He was the 1990 AAA International League Most Valuable Player while with the Columbus Clippers in the New York Yankees farm system. Meulens enjoyed a seven-year big league career. He has spent the last seven seasons as the San Francisco Giants hitting coach, helping the club win three World Series championships.

NETHERLANDS INTERNATIONAL PERFORMANCES

Starting play in Pool A of this year’s WBC, the Dutch went 2-1 against South Korea, Israel, and Chinese Taipei. Advancing to the second round, the club again went 2-1 against Japan, Israel, and Cuba.
That overall 4-2 performance in Pool play allowed The Netherlands to advance into the semi-finals of the WBC for the second consecutive time. The Dutch were eliminated in the first round in 2006, and the second round in 2009.
In 2013, the team simply couldn’t overcome Japan. They were mercy-ruled by the Japanese by a 16-4 score in the second round. Reaching the semis, Team Japan again dumped The Netherlands, though this time by a more competitive 10-6 final.
Despite last night’s extra-innings defeat at the hands of Puerto Rico, The Netherlands can still medal in this competition. If Japan (6-0) defeats the US (4-2) in tonight’s other semi-final, both the Americans and the Dutch would finish 4-3. The two would finish tied for 3rd place. If the US wins, The Netherlands finish in fourth place.
In other international competitions over the years, The Netherlands have fought hard. The Dutch won the 2011 World Cup. They finished fifth at both the 1996 and 2000 Olympics. They have captured 22 Gold Medals at the European Championships, and are the defending champs.
So as you can see, while The Netherlands might not have been the first nation that you thought of when figuring on WBC favorites, they are certainly capable of putting a talented baseball team on the field.

Do-or-Die for Team USA in World Baseball Classic

To borrow a phrase from Yogi Berra, for Team USA it’s a case of “deja vu all over again” in the 2017 WBC.
The disappointing performance of American teams over the history of the World Baseball Classic is well established. Team USA did not take home a medal from any of the previous incarnations of what has become baseball’s top international competition.
After a tough 5-4 loss to Puerto Rico on Friday night, the American team is once again facing disappointment. They now take on the defending champions from the Dominican Republic on Saturday night in San Diego in a win-or-go-home game.
US skipper Jim Leyland will send Danny Duffy to the mound in this pivotal matchup. The talented lefty from the Kansas City Royals was dominating in his previous start. Duffy struck out seven, walked none, and allowed just two hits in four shutout frames against Team Canada in the opening round last Sunday.
Duffy was a teammate of the late Yordano Ventura with the Royals. The young pitcher was killed in a tragic auto accident this off-season, and he and Duffy were close. Ventura was Dominican, and his jersey will hang in the DR dugout during tonight’s game.

Duffy was quoted by Bob Nightengale for USA Today in relation to Ventura:
“It’s going to be tough…I’m doing everything I can to honor him and just play like him. So, seeing that jersey is obviously going to be difficult…I loved that kid. He was my little brother. We came up together, and obviously he had that kind of fire that you can’t teach.”

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC PROVIDES SERIOUS CHALLENGE

Getting the start on the mound for the Dominican Republic will be Ervin Santana of the Minnesota Twins. This will be Santana’s first appearance in this World Baseball Classic.
The Dominicans feature a veritable all-star lineup. The club features the big bats of Manny MachadoAdrian BeltreNelson CruzJose BautistaCarlos SantanaRobinson Cano, and Gregory Polanco. There is speed on the bases with Jose ReyesStarling Marte, and Jean Segura.
The American attack has been led to this point by Christian YelichEric HosmerAndruw Jones, and middle infielders Ian Kinsler and Brandon Crawford.
This WBC was expected to be a sort-of coming-out party for mega-talented third baseman Nolan Arenado. But the Colorado Rockies star has just one hit, a home run, in his 15 at-bats to this point.
For the US to win, Arenado has to step up. So does someone from among the combination of Giancarlo StantonAndrew McCutchen, and Buster Posey. Those three stars are a combined 4-23 with four RBI and two runs scored in the WBC.
For the United States to avoid another disappointing finish, they are going to need a big performance tonight from Duffy. They are also going to need their offensive stars to wake up and produce.
The winner of tonight’s game will advance into the 2017 World Baseball Classic semi-finals. There they will join the teams from Puerto Rico, Japan, and the Netherlands.
Win tonight, and the United States will meet Japan on Tuesday for a chance at playing for the WBC championship on Wednesday. Lose, and Team USA will go home, once again disappointing the nation that gave birth to the game of baseball.

Indians Shortstop Francisco Lindor Taps Superstar Potential

The box score for Game 7 of the 2016 World Series reveals that Francisco Lindor produced nothing in five plate appearances for the Cleveland Indians.
The collar that was hung around the Tribe’s three-hole hitter in that decisive game of the Fall Classic by the Chicago Cubs pitching staff certainly stings.
Lindor did reach on an error with two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the first inning. That would prove his personal offensive highlight of the night.
In the bottom of the third inning, Lindor came to bat with two runners on base and one out. He flew out to left field against Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks with Cleveland trailing 3-1.
In the bottom of the fifth, Lindor was at the plate against Jon Lester when the Cubs lefty uncorked a wild pitch that allowed two runners to score.
That play cut the Indians deficit at that time to a 5-3 margin. But Lindor then struck out on a full count pitch to end the inning.
Trailing by 6-3 in the bottom of the eight inning, the Indians would rally to dramatically tie the game on Rajai Davis‘ two-out, two-run homer off Aroldis Chapman. But Lindor wasn’t involved in the rally. He had accounted for one of the outs, grounding weakly to short to lead things off.
With two out and nobody on in the bottom of the ninth, the game still knotted at 6-6, Lindor flew out to right against Chapman.
That would be Lindor’s final chance to affect the outcome. The Cubs would score twice in the top of the 10th. The Tribe would respond with one in the bottom, and put the tying run on base, but their rally and title hopes would fall just short.

EMERGING DYNAMIC SUPERSTAR

Despite his failure to produce in that ultimate game, the fact remains that without Lindor the Indians wouldn’t even have reached the postseason, let alone the World Series.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon was quoted on Lindor by the Associated Press:
“Absolutely dynamic player. I mean he’s really good now, but he’s still scratching the surface. As he continues to gain confidence and understanding of the league and what people are trying to do versus him, woof, it’s going to keep getting better.” ~ Maddon
At just age 22, Lindor won the Gold Glove Award for American League shortstops. He was an AL All-Star for the first time, and finished 9th in the voting for AL Most Valuable Player.
Now preparing to enter his second full big league season, Lindor is one of the emerging young superstars in baseball’s new generation.

WELCOME TO CLEVELAND

Lindor was Cleveland’s first round choice at eighth overall in the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft out of Montverde High School in Florida.
Over the next few years, Lindor shined at each step of his development. Prior to the 2015 season he was a consensus top 10 prospect in all of baseball.
Lindor made his big league debut on June 14, 2015 at Comerica Park in a game against the host Detroit Tigers. He has been the starting shortstop for the Indians since that day. Given health, he figures to continue in that role for at least the next decade.
Lindor hit for a .313/.353/.482 slash line that first season. He smacked a dozen home runs and stole a dozen bases, knocked in 51 runs, and scored 50 times. He also played a stellar shortstop.
For that freshman performance, Lindor finished as a narrow runner-up in 2015 AL Rookie of the Year voting to fellow shortstop phenom Carlos Correa of the Houston Astros.
There would be no sophomore slump for Lindor. Last season he put together a .301/.358/.435 campaign. He slammed 15 home runs among 48 total extra-base hits. Lindor knocked in 78 runs, scored 99 times, and stole 19 bases. And his fielding reached another level altogether.
In the Tribe’s run to that World Series appearance, his Game 7 failure was an anomaly. Lindor hit .310 in the postseason, and homered in both the ALDS and ALCS.

LINDOR LEADS PUERTO RICO IN 2017 WBC

Lindor has not had much time yet to play with his Indians teammates this spring as they prepare defend their American League championship.
The now 23-year old is the starting shortstop for his native Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic. The team is undefeated, and Lindor has played a big role. He was quoted on the WBC experience by Matt Kelly and Austin Laymance of MLB.com:
“Whatever we need in order to win a championship, the chemistry is there, the batting is there, the pitching is there. It’s a matter of playing ball correctly.” ~ Lindor
Over four games in the 2017 WBC, Lindor is hitting .429 with a .500 on-base percentage. His six hits are tied for the team lead, and his five runs scored lead the squad. He homered twice in a big 9-4 victory over Mexico last Saturday.
In his first two MLB seasons combined, Lindor has been worth 10.3 WAR to the Indians. But in reality, he is even more valuable than the statistics. He is an irreplaceable piece in the middle of their infield and their batting order.
At his young age, Lindor has already experienced and achieved a great deal. The reality is that he may be just scratching the surface. There will be many more All-Star Games, awards, and postseason moments for this budding superstar in The Forest City.