Marlins' Christian Yelich Expected to Add Power, Center Field Glove

By The Associated Press

JUPITER, Fla. --- If Giancarlo Stanton wasn't launching moon shots on a regular basis, Christian Yelich might be the talk of the Miami Marlins' outfield.

"I think (Yelich) is a star right now," said manager Don Mattingly.

Christian Yelich

Mattingly expects the left-handed hitting Yelich, a former Gold Glove winner, current member of Team USA for the World Baseball Classic and a career .293 hitter, to take another step forward this season. Yelich is pictured here throwing during a spring training baseball workout in Jupiter.

"I think power is still coming, and I think average, there's more there, and I think there's less strikeouts there," Mattingly said. Yelich, 25, didn't reach double-digit homers in any of his first three seasons before finding his power stroke in 2016, hitting 21. Eleven of those homers came in August or September.

"Obviously it ticked up last year a little bit, but it's not something that I'm forcing," Yelich said. "I'm going to stay within my approach and if they start to come, they start to come. Even last year, it wasn't a conscious effort to hit more home runs, it kind of just happened. That's how you want it to be."

Yelich also will take on more responsibility in the field this season.

A left fielder for most of his major league career, Yelich is switching to center --- a position he played frequently in the minors and 39 times last season.

Yelich was there on Saturday, February 25, when Miami opened its Grapefruit League season with an 8-7 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals, launching a two-run homer to right field in his second at-bat after drawing a walk in his first.

"The thing that's different in center field is that you have priority on fly balls," said Yelich, "and you are responsible for knowing where everyone's at. You have got more ground to cover. You've got to get the ball over the mound when you are throwing home. Those are really the only differences between center field and any of the other positions."

At 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, Yelich effortless tracks down fly balls in what is a big and asymmetric outfield at Marlins Park.

"He's a guy who gets great jumps out there," pitcher Tom Koehler said. "When he gets running, he gets moving. I think of him patrolling center field is going to be pretty good for us."

Yelich's move to center means Marcell Ozuna is sliding over to left field. Include Stanton, 27, and the average age of the Marlins' starting outfield is 26. They have four All-Star appearances among them --- none of which can be attributed to Yelich.

Coming up through the Marlins system allowed the trio to build a rapport, which should aid the position switches.

"We enjoy playing with each other --- that's kind of what helps moving around --- you kind of know each other's range and who can get to what ball," Yelich said.

With three sluggers, all of whom have displayed Gold Glove-caliber defense, the Marlins are poised to field one of the best outfields in baseball.

"I haven't really gone and judged everyone else's outfield," Mattingly said. "I like our outfields, though I'll say that. I think all our guys that we talk about starting out there are all capable of hitting 30 homers and driving in 100 runs."

Photograph by David J. Phillip, The Associated Press




Terry Francona, Dave Roberts Named Managers of the Year

By Ben Walker, The Associated Press

NEW YORK --- Long before they were honored for guiding teams with depleted rosters to first-place finishes, Dave Roberts and Terry Francona were forever linked. Fans in Boston and beyond will always remember that signature stolen base.

Terry Francona and Dave Roberts

It was Roberts' daring swipe as a pinch runner in the bottom of the ninth that helped the Red Sox, managed by Francona, rally from the brink of being swept by the Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series and sped them toward ending their 86-year World Series curse. Francona went on to win two titles with Boston, and on Tuesday, November 15, he earned his second American League Manager of the Year award with Cleveland.

But what if Roberts had been thrown out? Could that have altered a path that might someday land Francona in the Hall of Fame?

"The truth of it is, it probably would've been completely different," Francona said on a conference call.

The 44-year-old Roberts won the National League Manager of the Year honor in his first season as a skipper, having led the Los Angeles Dodgers to the National League West crown.

Roberts got 16 first-place votes to top Joe Maddon, whose Cubs won the World Series. Maddon who earned the award last year, was picked first on eight ballots.

Francona drew 22 first-place votes and was the only manager chosen on all 30 ballots. Texas' Jeff Banister was second and got four firsts. Roberts didn't bat in the 2004 postseason and didn't even play in the World Series sweep over St. Louis. But to just "play a small part" in his only season in Boston was rewarding, and he still retains lessons taught by Francona. Being unselfish and playing "for the right reasons ...the game honors you," said Roberts.

Roberts certainly had to scramble this season. The Dodgers put 28 different players on the disabled list, more than any team in the last 30 years. An injury to ace Clayton Kershaw was among the reasons they employed a franchise record-tying 55 players, including 31 pitchers. Roberts made a record 606 pitching changes while going 91-71. Twice, he pulled pitchers in the late innings when they were throwing no-hitters, trying to protect their arms from overuse.

Francona, 57, guided the Indians to the American League Central title at 94-67 despite losing pitchers Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco, outfielder Michael Brantley and catcher Yan Gomes to injuries and outfielders Marlon Byrd and Abraham Almonte to drug suspensions.

Cleveland nearly won its first World Series title since 1948, but the Cubs rallied from a 3-1 deficit.

Photographs by Harry How, Getty Images; and Gene J. Puskar, The Associated Press




Max Scherzer Voted National League Cy Young Award Winner

By Jorge L. Ortiz, USA TODAY Sports

When Max Scherzer rejected the Detroit Tigers' $144 million extension in 2014, coming off a Cy Young Award-winning season, he not only gambled he could get a bigger offer but also argued he was still improving. It turns out he was right on both fronts.

Max Scherzer

In his second season with the Washington Nationals, who signed him to a seven-year, $210 million deal in January 2015, Scherzer proved to be the most dominant pitcher in the National League, and on November 16 he was rewarded with his second Cy Young in a runaway over the Chicago Cubs' Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks.

Scherzer received 25 of the 30 first-place votes for 192 points, easily out polling Lester (102) and Hendricks (85).

Scherzer, 32, becomes just the sixth pitcher to earn Cy Youngs in both leagues, joining Hall of Famers Gaylord Perry, Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson, as well as Roger Clemens and Roy Halladay.

In going 20-7 with a 2.96 ERA and 284 strikeouts, Scherzer led the league in two of the three Triple Crown categories, lagging only in ERA (eighth). He also displayed a rare combination of overpowering stuff, durability and knack for keeping runners off base by pitching a league-high 228 1/3 innings while registering the NL's lowest WHIP (walks and hits per inning) at 0.97 and holding batters to a .199 average. Scherzer had his signature moment on May 11 when he tied a major league record by striking out 20 batters in a game -- against his former Detroit teammates.

His overall numbers last year were comparable or a shade better than in his Cy Young season of 2013, when Scherzer went 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA but with fewer innings pitched (214 1/3) and strikeouts (240).

And he may not be done improving.

"I want to find a new way to be better, go out there and find new ways to get guys out," Scherzer said. "I've been dreaming up different ways to do it. When I get to spring training, that will be my thing, to find a new way. But right now it's all about celebrating what happened in 2016."

The Cubs boasted by far the majors' best starters' ERA at 2.96, with Hendricks (2.13) and Lester (2.44) ranking 1-2. They also finished 2-3 in WHIP just behind Scherzer, but the Nationals' ace had a sizable lead in innings pitched and strikeouts, and those might have been the decisive factors.

Hendricks had a 16-8 record, led the majors in ERA and finished just behind Scherzer with a WHIP of 0.98. Lester tied his career high in wins with a 19-5 mark. Both had significantly fewer innings pitched and strikeouts than Scherzer, which probably made a difference in the voters' minds.

Scherzer is the first pitcher from a Washington franchise to win a Cy Young. The award was first presented in 1956.

Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw got three first-place votes and finished fifth. Jose Fernandez, the Miami star killed in a boating accident in September, was seventh.

Photograph by Pablo Martinez Monsivais, The Associated Press



Bud Selig, John Schuerholz Elected to Baseball Hall of Fame

By Ben Walker, The Associated Press

OXON HILL, Md. --- Bud Selig oversaw baseball during a time of transformation and turmoil --- wild cards and a ballpark boom, the cancellation of a World Series and the Steroids Era. For much of his reign, there was one constant: those first-place Atlanta Braves, built by John Schuerholz.

The former commissioner and the longtime general manager met up again Sunday, December 4, both elected by an overwhelming margin to the Hall of Fame.

Even so, Selig didn't see it as a sure thing. "It reminded me of many a ninth inning when I used to pace around," the one-time owner of the Milwaukee Brewers said on a conference call.

Schuerholz was picked by all 16 voters on a veterans committee at the winter meetings in suburban Washington. Selig was listed 15 times. It took 12 votes for election.

"The ultimate of honors," Schuerholz said.

Selig, pictured here, became the fifth of 10 commissioners to reach the Hall of Fame. He will be enshrined July 30 in Cooperstown, New York --- on his 83rd birthday.

His election was sure to draw fire from fans who link him to some of the game's darkest moments.

He called off the 1994 World Series during a players' strike. He was in charge when illegal steroids left a cloud of performance-enhancing drugs that still lingers --- and that might prompt some to wonder whether power hitters and power pitchers who benefited from PEDs should now be welcomed to the Hall, too.

"Sometimes in life you have to go through certain things to maybe solve the problem," Selig said.

Under Selig, the playoffs expanded from fur teams to eight to 10 and the leagues were split into three divisions. Video replay was added to review umpire calls, revenue sharing was put in place and 20 new stadiums opened across the majors.

"We were a sport resistant to change," Selig said. "And, yes, I believe in those years as commissioner, that's the most change in baseball history."

There was no variance, however, once Schuerholz took over as GM of the Braves in the winter of 1990.

Atlanta had never won even a single playoff game in its 25-season existence before going from worst-to-first in its first year under Schuerholz, starting an unprecedented run of 14 straight division titles.

The Braves were boosted in that time by their Big Three of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, and manager Bobby Cox, all of them already in the Hall. Star third baseman Chipper Jones is expected to join them soon enough.

Schuerholz, pictured here, was the first GM to run clubs that took World Series crowns in both leagues, winning with Kansas City in 1985 and Atlanta in 1995.

"I loved to build teams," he said.

In 26 years as a GM, his teams won 16 division titles and six pennants. "I always had aspirations to be a successful general manager," Schuerholz said.

The 76-year-old later became president of the Braves and is currently a vice chairman with the team, helping prepare for its move to Sun Trust Park next season. His son was a minor league infielder with the Braves and works in their front office.

Born in Baltimore, and the son of a former Philadelphia Athletics minor league second baseman, Schuerholz played the same position at Towson University in his hometown. He was teaching eighth-grade English and world geography in 1966 when, during a class break, he wrote a letter to the president of the Orioles, saying he really wanted to work in baseball and hoping for a chance.

"It all started with that letter," Schuerholz remembered.

Photographs by Sports Fan Journal; and The Associated Press




What the World Baseball Classic Can Teach Major League Baseball

By Billy Witz, The New York Times

SAN DIEGO --- Carlos Beltran is a statesmanlike figure among Puerto Rican ballplayers. Nearly 40, he has long felt a responsibility to give back --- be it through the baseball academy he founded at home, his advocacy for Spanish-language interpreters in each clubhouse or dispensing advice to young prospects forging a career in baseball.

Javier Baez

But when the Puerto Rican players began dyeing their hair blond during the World Baseball Classic, well, it was a lot to ask of the buttoned-down Beltran.

"They look at me, as the veteran guy, like, 'What are you going to do?'" Beltran said. "I told them, 'I'm not going to dye my hair.'"

Then, the next day, Beltran showed up with his beard dyed blond.

"They were excited," he said with a smile.

Javier Baez is pictured here tagging out Nelson Cruz of the Dominican Republic team a split second after a great throw to second base by the Puerto Rico catcher Yadier Molina.

This year's W.B.C. has proved to be an inspiring tournament, with thrilling passionate players and boisterous fans showing off the best the sport has to offer on stages as diverse as Tokyo; Miami; Guadalajara, Mexico, and Seoul, South Korea. To boot, there have also been plenty of totems --- platinum hair, a golden platano and a Mensch on a Bench.

As Rob Manfred, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, searches for ways to engage younger fans by trying to speed up games --- allowing an intentional walk with a signal rather than four wide pitches, for example --- a more enduring solution seems to be in plain sight. Why not just make the game more like the W.B.C.?

The last night of compelling baseball played out Tuesday, March 14, in Puerto Rico's 3-1 win over the defending champion Dominican Republic, which kicked off the second round at Petco Park in San Diego, where the United States and Venezuela also competed to see which teams advance to the semifinals along with Japan and the Netherlands at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

Though the crown, at 16,637, was modest in number, it filled the ballpark with energy. The spark went from the first inning, which ended in a chest-bumping celebration after Puerto Rico right fielder Eddie Rosario rifled a throw that cut down the Dominican Republic's Jean Segura at the plate, to the final out, when the Puerto Ricans poured out of the dugout after Segura took a called third strike from Edwin Diaz.

World Baseball Classic

Attendance through the first round of the Tournament has risen 34 percent from 2013, the last time it was played. Japan has averaged more than 40,000 for its six home games, and a capacity crowd of 37,446 --- the largest in Marlins Park history --- turned out for the Dominican Republic's 7-5 win over the United States last week.

The ambience on Tuesday, as it has been throughout the tournament, barely resembled a major league game, where beer-drinking plazas, flashing scoreboards, cacophonous sound systems and ritual recordings of "Cotton-Eyed Joe" seemingly have a single purpose: to capture the attention of fans because the game cannot. It is a largely manufactured environment.

But at Petco Park, it was not. The fans were mostly segregated --- Dominicans along the third-base line and Puerto Ricans on the first-base side --- and the vibrant atmosphere was organic. Fans waved flags and broke into chants without being prompted by commands on the scoreboard. There was scant canned music and, from the Puerto Ricans fans, more cowbell.

On the field, there were no bat flips but also no absence of exuberance.

When Yadier Molina swiped the tag on Segura to end the first inning --- which allowed Puerto RIco to escape a bases-loaded, none-out fix --- he animatedly signaled out before the home plate umpire, Will Little. While Molina circled the bases after a sixth-inning solo home run, shortstop Francisco Lindor did jumping jacks near home plate. And when third baseman Carlos Correa, Lindor and second baseman Javier Baez whipped the ball around the horm after a strikeout, it was with the sort of flamboyance that would have clearly flouted some unwritten rule of the American game.

(In a reminder that the game was not being played for giggles, the Dominican manager, Tony Pena --- taking leave from his job as the Yankees' first-base coach --- earned a neck-vein-popping ejection in the eighth inning after having had it with Little's strike zone.)

Yadier Molina

But the most audacious display of assuredness came from Baez, the energetic and versatile Chicago Cubs infielder. Baez, known for his wizardly glove work, pointed to Molina --- congratulating him for throwing out Nelson Cruz trying to steal --- before he had slapped a no-look tag on Cruz to end the eighth inning.

Baez said he did not realize what he had done until afterward.

"As soon as we got back in the locker room, everybody started showing me videos and I was like, 'All right, i can't help it,'" Baez said. Puerto Rico outfielder Kiki Hernandez said it is no secret why Baez, who is on a team, the Cubs, with bigger stars like Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo --- is a crowd favorite at Wrigley Field. Or why Venezuela's Rougned Odor is so popular with Texas, or why Hernandez's teammate with the Los Angeles Dodgers --- the Cuban Yasiel Puig --- energizes crowds at Dodger Stadium.

"In L.A., everybody loves Puig, and he's as loud as they get when it comes to playing the game," said Hernandez, who grew up modeling the more circumspect Derek Jeter, in large part because his godfather is the former Yankee Jorge Posada's father.

Hernandez continued: "A lot of people get bothered --- they call it flair or something --- but we're passionate about the game. We love it so much, that's how we show it. Fans love that, fans embrace that part of the game. I wanted to play the game like Jeter, but I'm not saying pimping a home run is necessarily disrespecting the game. I don't think there's really a wrong way. When you're a little kid, everybody tells you to enjoy the game and have fun and that's what we're trying to do right now."

Fans

Fans supporting Puerto Rico, like those of the Dominican Republic are pictured here waving flags and chanted without prompting.

Puerto Rico is not along in this tournament. Israel, a ragtag outfit of mostly minor leaguers, had won its first four games accompanied by its good luck doll --- known as Mensch on a Bench. The Dominican, with an all-star lineup, have been fueled by platano power. Pitcher Fernando Rodney carried a golden platano, or plantain, an ode to a staple of the Caribbean diet. Meanwhile, the Puerto Ricans have been platinum-tinged.

The movement grew, so to speak, when Baez dyed his hair over the winter and sent a photo to his Puerto Rican teammates. Molina suggested they join him. Some, like Mets catcher Rene Rivera, added tint during spring training. The trend gathered momentum during the first round in Mexico when Beltran showed up with a golden beard.

"When the oldest guy in the clubhouse does it," Correa said, "everybody has to do it."

And so everybody has, a point that Molina, the team leader, seemed to be making as he ran the bases after his home run. As his teammates emptied the dugout to greet him, Molina flipped off his helmet as they crossed home plate. He reached up and tousled his new head of blond hair. It had to feel like fun.

Photographs by Denis Poroy, Getty Images; Ken Nejima; and Gregory Bull, The Associated Press



Nelson Cruz Home Run Caps Dominican Comeback Against U.S.

By Steven Wine, The Associated Press

MIAMI --- With their team playing the United States in a frenzied atmosphere at the World Baseball Classic, Dominican rooters spent much of the game on their feet while honking horns, pounding drums and rattling noisemakers.

Eventually they rattled the Americans.

Nelson Cruz and team

Nelson Cruz hit a go-ahead, three-run homer off Andrew Miller in the eighth inning. Starling Marte added a solo shot off the All-Star reliever and the defending champion Dominicans overcame a five-run deficit to beat the United States 7-5 Saturday night, March 11. Pictured here, Cruz is congratulated by his teammates after hitting the home run.

"If you didn't feel the emotions of this game, either you were dead or need to be checked out," Cruz said.

The comeback delighted a clamorous crowd of 37,446, the largest for baseball in the five-year history of Marlins Park.

"The fans were incredible," Miller said. "It was a different atmosphere from anything we're used to --- different from the playoffs or World Series games. It was a blast to be a part of it. I just would have liked to have gone in there and done my job and made them quiet. I didn't do that."

The United States fell to 1-1 and is in jeopardy of being eliminated in the first round. The Americans, who played Canada on Sunday, failed to reach the finals of the three previous WBCs.

The Dominicans improved to 10-0 in the past two Classics, including 2-0 this year. They can clinch first place in Pool C and advance to the second round by beating Columbia on Sunday.

Team USA was on the verge of clinching a berth in the second round when Miller took the mound with a 5-3 lead in the eighth inning. He hit Jose Bautista on a foot with a breaking ball starting the inning. Carlos Santana followed with an infield single and Cruz pulled an 0-2 slider just inside the foul pole.

Miller yanked off his cap in dismay, while Cruz began gleefully pumping his fists even before he reached first base.

"In Little League, you get emotional when you hit one like that," Cruz said in Spanish. "Only in a movie or dream you can describe what occurred."

One batter later, Marte also homered.

"They did a good job, whether it was me getting a little too much of the plate or them knowing what was coming," Miller said. "They made me pay."

Manny Machado

Manny Machado began the comeback with a solo homer in the sixth inning against Tanner Roark. Pictured here, Machado reacts after hitting the home run. The Dominicans' three homers gave them five in the first two games of the tournament.

But the raucous sellout crowd was the night's biggest star --- and a rare sight at Marlins Park, with even the upper deck packed. U.S. fans far outnumbered in the stands, not a surprise in a city that is a gateway to the Caribbean.

Starter Marcus Stroman threw 4 2/3 scoreless innings for the Americans, but his replacement, Roark, gave up Machado's homer and Santana's two-run single.

Roark said he was at fault for allowing the Dominicans to get going.

"My bullpen was good. You've got to translate that to going out there on the mound and blocking out all the noise," he said, standing in a ballpark tunnel half an hour after the game. "It was very loud all game long. Even in warm-ups. Even right now, you can hear the horns." Brandon Crawford had a pair of two-out, run-scoring hits for the Americans, and the Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich each delivered an RBI hit. A misplay of a routine fly ball by the Dominicans helped the U.S. take a 2-0 lead in the third.

The Dominicans' Edinson Volquez, making his fifth career WBC start, allowed three runs --- one earned --- in 3 2/3 innings.

Photographs by Lynne Sladky, The Associated Press




Rejuvenated Rotation Gives St. Louis Hope in NL Central

By The Associated Press

ST. LOUIS --- Carlos Martinez has two hopes for this season, one for himself and one for the Cardinals. "The Cy Young and World Series," Martinez said through an interpreter. Alex Reyes

How Martinez fares at his first goal is likely to impact the second, as is the progress of the rest of St. Louis' revamped pitching staff --- one that saw its team ERA balloon from a National League-best 2.94 in 2015 to 4.08 last season.

The Cardinals should enter this season with an abundance of starting pitchers, with Lance Lynn and Michael Wacha returning from injuries to join stalwarts like Martinez, Adam Wainwright and Mike Leake. Add talented newcomer Alex Reyes to the mix, and it's easy to understand why manager Mike Matheny hasn't ruled out the idea of a six-man rotation.

"We toy with everything," Matheny said. "Don't rule anything out."

The Cardinals know it's starting rotation must improve this year if they hope to catch the Chicago Cubs. Reyes is pictured here throwing against the Cincinnati Reds in St. Louis on September 29.

Before St. Louis can pencil in a return to its pitching dominance of 2015, however, two starters will have to show during spring training they are indeed recovered from the physical ailments that cost them part or all of last season.

Lynn underwent elbow surgery following a 2015 season in which he went 12-11 with a 3.03 ERA, and the 29-year-old accounted for 60 wins for the Cardinals from 2012-15.

General manager John Mozeliak said the right hander could have returned for the final month last season, but the Cardinals preferred he take the entire season to recover and prepare as usual in the offseason for 2017.

By all accounts, that plan has worked --- with Lynn saying he will be ready to go when St. Louis reported to spring training in Florida. "He's a competitive guy, and he's fiery when he's on the mound and super nice when he's not," said Mozeliak. "I think that's an attractive personality, and I do think having him back being an active member on this team will certainly help."

Then there is Wacha. The 25-year-old right-hander was sent to the disabled list in August with shoulder inflammation, and while he did return late in the season, he finished the year with a 7-7 record and 3.38 ERA.

Wacha spent the offseason strengthening his shoulder to prepare for this season, and Matheny said all reports on his progress have been "positive." That said, he admitted how Wacha bounces back "all comes down to whether that shoulder holds up."

Wainwright has ceded the role of staff ace to Martinez, who was 16-9 with a 3.04 ERA last season. The 25-year-old has now won 30 games over the last two seasons for the Cardinals, and his place is likely secured at the top of the rotation.

The health and performance of the rest of the staff, including Leake in his second season with St. Louis and Reyes in his first full season, is what's likely to determine if the Cardinals can return to the postseason after missing it for the first time since 2010.

"They say there's competition every year and it figures itself out," Lynn said. "They love it we have a lot of guys who are capable of doing a lot of things, and you know you need that as you saw last year."

Photograph by The Associated Press




James Rowson Working to Develop Twins' Young Hitters

By Mark Didtler, The Associated Press

CLEARWATER, Fla. --- A member of the 3,000-hit club and the Hall of Fame , Paul Molitor was impressed by new Minnesota Twins hitting coach James Rowson.

James Rowson

"I had a lot of good input before I had a chance to even sit down and have a nice long conversion," Molitor said before the game against the Philadelphia Phillies on March 3. "I think there's a lot of attributes there that reflected well in his interview and we decided to go that direction."

Rowson's tasks include developing younger hitters Eddie Rosario, Miguel Sano, Max Kepler, Bryon Buxton, and Danny Santana. Pictured here, Rowson laughs as he talks to Santana, the Twins' center fielder.

"It's exciting for me because I've been doing this the last couple years with the same style, the same type of group of players," said Rowson. "These guys are really exciting. Young players with promise. They're hungry. They really want it. So, I'm kind of approaching it the same way, with a light, easy kind of effort --- have some fun but also let's also play with a lot of aggression."

Rowson was the New York Yankees minor league hitting coordinator the previous three years and was involved with the emergence of Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird and Aaron Judge.

In his 16th pro coaching season, Rowson spent 1 1/2 years in the big leagues. He became the interim hitting coach for the Chicago Cubs in June 2012 and had the interim tag removed the following year.

"The first time I did it, everything was new to me," Rowson said. "But this time, you kind of fit in right away. You know what to expect. You know what the daily routine is. You're more comfortable in the way you go about things. So, it's been really good. I want to say calming experience for me this time though."

Molitor has received "a lot of good feedback" about Rowson during spring training.

"There's a certain energy component to that role," said Molitor."There's a certain ability to communicate and build relationships to that role, and obviously, they've got to have a pretty good idea of hitting. I guess the true test will be when a player slides or the team doesn't score for a few days."

Rowson viewed the batting practice on March 3 from multiple angles and also spent time talking with Molitor behind the cage.

"If you want to talk hitting," Rowson said, "I don't think there's anybody better to talk hitting with than Paul Molitor. It's awesome to have him there and bounced things off him."

Photograph by Chris O'Meara, The Associated Press



White Sox Go Young, Rebuild After 4 Straight Losing Seasons

By The Associated Press

CHICAGO --- No more quick fixes for the White Sox. The overhaul is underway.

The White Sox made their intentions clear with two huge moves at the winter meetings, and they came to spring training stocked with new young players and a huge task still in front of them.

Rick Renteria

"We know we're closer to the beginning of this process than we are to the end," said general manager Rick Hahn. "And we know there's going to be some difficult days ahead in the short term. Virtually every Sox fan I've had a conversation with understands that and is eagerly embracing this and looking forward to when we start to see the fruits of this labor. And they know there's going to be hardship in the short term."

While the cross-town Cubs attempt to defend their first World Series championship in 108 years, a rebuild is in full swing on the South Side after four straight losing seasons.

The White Sox traded ace Chris Sale to Boston and outfielder Adam Eaton to Washington at the winter meetings. They acquired two of baseball's top prospects in return, getting second baseman Yoan Moncada from the Red Sox and right-hander Lucas Giolito from the Nationals. The White Sox also have a new manager in Rick Renteria, following a 78-84 season, the 40th manager of the team. Pictured here, he got promoted from bench coach to replace Robin Ventura.

Here are some things to look for. The biggest change for the White Sox is their approach. They tried to compete in recent years by bringing in high-profile players such as Adam Dunn and Jeff Samardzija. But no more. With one playoff appearance since the 2005 championship season, the White Sox are going in a different direction.

Jose Quintana could join Sale and Eaton on the other side of the exit door. He made his first All-Star team while setting career-bests in wins (13) and ERA (3.20) last season. Third baseman Todd Frazier and closer David Robertson might not be around much longer, either.

All eyes this spring were on Moncada and Giolito, not to mention hard-throwing right-hander Reynaldo Lopez. Acquired in the Eaton deal, he pitched in 11 games for Washington last season and made the playoff roster.

One of the few positions for the White Sox last season was the emergence of shortstop Tim Anderson. A top prospect, he hit .283 and showed range in the field. If the plan unfolds the way the White Sox hope, he will form a dynamic tandem with Moncada.

The White Sox also have a powerful presence at first base assuming they keep Jose Abreu. The Cuban slugger hit .293 with 25 homers and 100 RBIs after a slow start last season. While his numbers have declined a bit since his 2014 American League Rookie of the Year season, that's not a bad line. Abreu could also mentor Moncada, his countryman.

While the young players figure to get plenty of attention, keep an eye on the dugout, too. After all, Renteria will be an important component in their development. Known for his positive approach, Renteria drew praise for his work with the Cubs' young core in 2014 and would have been back for a second season as their manager had Joe Maddon not become available. Renteria now gets another opportunity to manage in Chicago, albeit on the South Side.

Photograph by Chicago Sun-Times, The Associated Press




Hazing Rules Get Thumbs Down

Players say the rituals help build team bonding

By Ronald Blum and Janie McCauley, The Associated Press

NEW YORK --- Huston Street believes in some of baseball's oldest, tried-and-true traditions, and the reliever knows team building can be a real benefit, so he considers the elimination of rookie dress up in the new labor deal the loss of a "healthy ritual."

The Los Angeles Angels closer, like many players expressing their views on December 13, disagrees with Major League Baseball's ban on the hazing ritual of dressing up rookies in costumes that could be considered offensive, including women's outfits.

"An effort to show our childlike spirit, or humble ourselves in wearing something funny as a team building moment, is now gone," Street wrote in an email to The Associated Press, "but rest assured some other ritual will rise, will be kept far more secret and hopefully it's as safe and harmless as uncomfortable clothes."

Oakland A's players dressed in costumes

Baseball owners and players have ratified their five-year labor contract, which contains a new Anti-Hazing and Anti-Bullying Policy formulated by management, rules the union agreed not to contest.

New York Mets rookie outfielder Brandon Nimmo was among the last group to participate this past season. In September, he had to wear a wig and dress in the style of the 1992 movie "A League of Their Own" while fetching coffee and doughnuts in Philadelphia.

"I guess I'm sad to see that go. I'm glad that I got to partake in it last year. I wouldn't trade that," Nimmo said at the team's Citi Field holiday party. "I felt like it just kind of brought the team closer together, let's have a little fun together."

Many retired players were outraged, taking to social media to show their disgust.

"What a joke!!" tweeted Mark Mulder, a big league pitcher from 2008-08.

Yet for baseball officials, the decision goes far beyond just good-natured fun.

Billy Bean, a big league infielder and outfielder from 1987-95 who came out as gay in 1999, spoke with MLB's labor lawyers as the policy was developed as part of his role as vice president for social responsibility and inclusion.

"To me it's important to be cognizant of the images that our players project to our fans, and I think where for many where it would seem that it's common sense that it's just all in good fun and being silly, there are many sides to the story and I just think that it's a responsible thing to do," he said during a telephone interview. "Many players didn't like this tradition but were afraid to speak up."

Still, players were stunned.

"Remember, you're doing this not because you look different or because you're from some far corner of the globe. In fact you're doing this for reasons that couldn't be more opposite," said former pitcher Dallas Braden. "You're one of us. You're here now, you've made it, you've earned it."

Photograph by LM Otero, The Associated Press




Royals Pitcher Yordano Ventura Dies in Car Crash

By Gabe Lacques, USA TODAY Sports

Yordano Ventura, the hard-throwing and fearless right-hander who was a crucial part of two pennant-winning teams for the Kansas City Royals, was killed in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic on Sunday, January 22. Ventura was 25.

Yordano Ventura

Ventura was killed on the Juan Adrian highway in San Jose de Ocoa. He was the lone passenger in the vehicle. There were no rains registered at the time of Ventura's accident but that it is often foggy in the early morning. The vehicle's tires were in good condition and experts think the cause of the accident was speeding.

The country, whose roads are among the world's most dangerous, has now lost four current or former major leaguers to traffic accidents in recent years. Reporter Cristian Moreno, who cited the Dominican police, was the first to report the news.

Ventura started 93 games in his career with the Royals, posting a 38-31 record and 3.89 ERA, and going 27-18 in 2014-15, when the Royals won back-to-back American League pennants and the 2015 World Series. Ventura made 10 postseason starts in those seasons.

Ventura's death comes more than two years after another very promising young player, outfielder Oscar Taveras, was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Taveras was 24 when he and his girlfriend were killed in Puerto Plata on October 26, 2014. News of Taveras' death emerged during Game 5 of the 2014 World Series, and Ventura started and won Game 6 to force a decisive Game 7.

Ventura pitched Game 6 with Taveras' initials and uniform number on his cap.

In an odd coincidence, former major league infielder Andy Marte, 33, also died in a car crash in the Dominican over the January 21-22 weekend. Ventura was the starting pitcher in the final game of Marte's career, in August 2014.

Andy Marte

Marte spent the last two seasons playing professionally in South Korea. Once a promising prospect for the Atlanta Braves, he was traded to Boston for Edgar Renteria in 2005, and then he was quickly sent to Cleveland in a multiplayer deal that brought Coco Crisp to the Red Sox. Marte played 278 of his 308 career games with the Indians, and batted .218, with 21 homers and 99 runs batted in, over all.

Perhaps generously listed at 6 feet and 195 pounds, Ventura bedeviled hitters with a fastball that averaged 96 mph and an often devastating slider. Yet he became perhaps best known for not backing down from opponents, a mentality that created on-field confrontations with the Chicago White Sox and Oakland Athletics, a mound-charging battle with Baltimore Orioles All-Star Manny Machado and a staredown at home plate with a much larger Mike Trout.

That attitude was both his salvation and, occasionally, his downfall.

Ventura won 14 games during his rookie season and was part of their playoff rotation. But in 2015, he was getting hit hard by batters and inciting occasional chaos on the field in response to his performance. The Royals optioned him to the minor leagues, recalling him in July when fellow starter Jason Vargas needed elbow surgery.

Yordano Ventura

He returned a better pitcher, going 11-4 and striking out 98 batters in 91 innings as the Royals ran away with the American League Central. He started five postseason games, the Royals winning both of his starts, including the Game 6 clincher, in their conquest of the Toronto Blue Jays in the AL Championship Series.

"I know at times you were tough," infielder Christian Colon wrote in a posting on Twitter, "but I knew you were just misunderstood."

Ventura went 11-12 with a 4.45 ERA in 2016, earning $1 million in the second season of a five-year contract that guaranteed him $23 million. His death will create a significant void in the Royals rotation, although the club's greater concern Sunday, of course, was remembering their fearless starter who developed from a skinny 16-year-old signed for a mere $28,000 to one of their key cogs in a glorious chapter in franchise history.

Tony Clark, the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, said in a statement: "It's never easy to lose a member of our fraternity, and there are no words to describe the feeling of losing two young men in the prime of their lives. Our thoughts and prayers go out to their families, friends, teammates and fans throughout the United States and Latin America."

The deaths of Ventura and Marte follow the death of another major leaguer, the Miami Marlins' All-Star pitcher Jose Fernandez, in a boating accident in September.

Contributing to this story were The Associated Press, and New York Times
Photographs by Kansas City Royals/KY3; Cleveland Indians; and cbssports.com




Longtime MLB Executive Dan O'Brien Sr. Loved Game of Baseball

Career included time as General Manager of Mariners, Angels, Rangers

By Paul Hagen, MLB.com

Dan O'Brien Sr., a baseball lifer who was president and general manager of the Seattle Mariners as well as general manager of the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels, passed away in Dallas on Monday, January 16. He was 87.

Dan O'Brien

O'Brien's big league career was preceded by 18 years in the Minor Leagues, beginning in 1955, and stints with the Arizona Fall League and USA Baseball. O'Brien began his baseball career in 1955 as a minor-league general manager and spent 10 years in the minors before joining the Rangers. He left Texas to become president and later general manager of the Seattle Mariners. O'Brien is pictured here doing some paperwork before a baseball game at the Kingdome in Seattle.

He also worked in the front office with the Cleveland Indians, California Angels, Arizona Fall League and USA Baseball before his retirement in 2000.

"A nice man and a class guy," said former Cincinnati Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky, now a special assistant with the Minnesota Twins, who got his first job in baseball working for O'Brien with the Rangers in 1977. "For me, Dan O'Brien Sr. will always be a special person in my life."

"Dan was a really good person who had a good sense of humor and a dry wit. He always had time to talk to you. He was a mentor. It's very sad to hear about his passing. I always have fond thoughts of him."

Outwardly genial and easy-going, O'Brien occasionally found his equanimity tested while working for hands-on owners like Brad Corbett in Texas and George Argyros in Seattle.

Baseball Glove

"He had the personality to survive," noted MLB.com columnist Tracy Ringolsby, a beat writer when O'Brien was with the Mariners. "Nothing bothered him as long as he could have a dish of ice cream to cap off the night."

O'Brien also could be tough when he needed to be. While he was an assistant general manager with the Indians, he found himself in a bitter contract dispute with up-and-coming slugger Joe Carter. "What Joe has to realize is that he's going to make millions of dollars in this game. He's just not going to make them all this year," the executive said, holding his ground.

Or, as his biography in the 1977 Rangers media guide noted: "O'Brien has impressed observers with his wit, knowledge and sensible approach to sometimes complex problems. A smile is Dan's umbrella and he generally can send his staff, fans and player personnel on their way feeling better following a chat. When he comes to a conclusion after exhaustive study of a subject, however, he can be the steely sort."

While he was with the Rangers, the team traded for two Hall of Fame pitchers: Gaylord Perry in 1975 and Bert Blyleven in '76.

O'Brien attended Seton Hall University and graduated from Florida Southern. After one year of being responsible for the baseball operations of the Burlington-Graham Pirates, he worked as general manager of the Boise Braves (1956-58), Jacksonville Braves ('59), Louisville Colonels (1960-62) and Greenville Braves ('63).

After spending 10 years with the National Association, he joined the Rangers as a vice president in '73 and was soon promoted to general manager. He remained in that position through '78, although he shared power with Eddie Robinson the last two years.

Dan O'Brien

In '79, O'Brien became president of the expansion Mariners, then in their third year of existence. Two years later, he replaced Lou Gorman, adding the GM title to his duties. He left the Mariners in '84 and joined the Indians' front office in '86, spending most of that time as the top assistant to Hank Peters.

"On behalf of the Seattle Mariners organization, I extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Dan O'Brien," Seattle Mariners president and chief operating officer Kevin Mather said in a press release. "He was a true gentleman who loved the game of baseball at all levels and served it well for over 45 years. Dan was the Mariners president in 1979-1980, and added general manager duties in 1981-1983,

leading the organization's efforts in hosting the 1979 All-Star Game and through an ownership transition. He is remembered by many for his dedication to the baseball community and most importantly to his family."

After the '89 season, O'Brien moved to the Angels and became a special assistant to Mike Port. He then succeeded Port from the end of the '91 season through '93. After leaving the Angels, he worked in the baseball operations department of the Arizona Fall League from 1994-96, then served as executive director of USA Baseball form '97 through his retirement in 2000.

O'Brien is survived by his wife, Mary Ann; his son, Dan Jr.; and daughter, Lori.

Dan Jr. was general manager of the Cincinnati Reds during the 2004-05 seasons after working as an assistant GM in Texas from 1996 to 2003. He was also farm and scouting director of the Astros, and special assistant for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Photographs by Barry Sweet, Associated Press Photo; and WHAS, Google.com




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