A yearly tradition on the MLB Network is the revealing of the top 100 players in MLB today. This is unveiled on the network right at the beginning of spring training. MLB revealed its newest installment this week, and three players from the Commonwealth of Virginia made the list.
Coming in at #84 on the list was Braves OF Justin Upton (Chesapeake). Upton signed with Motown after 9 years in the National League with Arizona, Atlanta, and San Diego, and was a big boost to the Tigers lineup, tying his career high with 31 HR for a Tigers team that fell just short of a Wild Card birth.
Coming in at #73 on the list was a player who broke through in a big way last year, Red Sox OF Jackie Bradley, Jr. (Prince George). After a very rocky first 3 years in the big leagues, constantly shuttling back and forth between Boston and Triple-A Pawtucket, and with his future in the major leagues very much in jeopardy, Bradley spent the off-season after 2015 working on his game with coaches in Florida. It showed in 2016. JBJ hit 26 HRs, drove in 87 runs, batted .267, and posted his first career 100-hit season (149). All were career highs, and for good measure, he played in his first All-Star game. The dynamo defensive player broke through with his hitting big time, and will be counted on by a Red Sox team that many expect to be a playoff contender in 2017.
After an extremely rocky 2015 season, the #43 player on this list, Tigers P Justin Verlander (Goochland/ODU) got back on track nicely in ’16. Verlander won 16 games and posted a 3.04 ERA. His .640 winning percentage was his highest since 2012, and his 254 strikeouts, which led the AL, were his highest since 2009. Besides his LL SO total, he finished in the Top 10 in the AL in just about every pitching category. It would appear that the Justin Verlander of old is back to his old ways. A Tigers team that expects to contend in 2017 is certainly hoping so.
In recent years, the Commonwealth of Virginia has truly emerged as a goldmine of baseball talent, and certainly the 2016 Major League Baseball season is adding credence to that. A number of the state’s MLB heroes are keying surging teams.
In Detroit, the Tigers had high expectations going into the season. They added free agent SP Jordan Zimmermann and slugging OF Justin Upton (Chesapeake). But the Motor City faithful will certainly tell you that the key to any hopes of a pennant in ’16 rest on the work of incumbent ace SP Justin Verlander (Goochland Co./ODU). When Verlander allowed 7 earned runs on May 3, raising his ERA to a very bloated 6.49, it appeared to be a lost season for the Tigers already.
Boy, has Verlander rebounded!
In 4 starts since, he has a 1.20 ERA, and his mark for the season has gone down in each of his last 4 starts, from 6.49 down to a much better 4.02. In addition, on May 18th, a Wednesday afternoon game against the Twins, Verlander added to his legend, with a 4th inning strikeout of Twins OF Eddie Rosario, the 2000th strikeout of his career. He joins Mickey Lolich as the only Tigers hurlers to ever accomplish that mark, and is less than 700 Ks from matching Lolich.
In Colorado, the Rockies sit at 23-24, 5 1/2 games out of first place in the NL West. While no team is truly out of the playoff picture on Memorial Day weekend, the Rockies have the offense to carry them. The emergence of rookie SS Trevor Story may be the talk of baseball, but one of the keys to any playoff games coming to Denver this year is slugging 1B Mark Reynolds (Va Beach/UVA). Reynolds, who is the only batter in history to post 3 200+ strikeout seasons, has found his discipline at the plate in recent years, and so far in 2016, he is 2nd in the NL among 1B with a .317 BA.
Perhaps the biggest shocker in baseball, certainly in Boston so far, has been the emergence of CF Jackie Bradley, Jr. (Prince George). Bradley, at one time a top prospect in the Red Sox organization, was struggling to hold down an OF job at Fenway due to hitting, lackluster at best. His glovework was the only thing keeping him with the Red Sox. But JBJ, has he is affectionately known as by Red Sox Nation, persevered, working with a hitting coach in Florida during the winter months.
In 2016, that has paid off, and big time!
As of May 27, Bradley is 2nd in the AL with a .341 Batting Average, tied for 4th with 35 RBIs, and tied for the league lead with 4 triples, and has garnered a Player of the Week honor during the month of May. And from April 24th to May 25th, he was unstoppable, literally!
JBJ put together a 29-game hitting streak, during which time his batting average skyrocketed 117 points! His streak included 11 multi-hit games, including, at one point, six straight!
Justin Verlander. Mark Reynolds. Jackie Bradley Jr. Proving that the Virginia-MLB pipeline is alive. And strong!
Continuing this series, unveiling my collection of baseball memorabilia of ball players from Virginia, here is #2.
Detroit Tigers P Justin Verlander (Goochland Co.) is one of 30+ ML pitchers all time to throw 2 no-hitters, and one of 6 active pitchers to do so. Verlander threw his first no-hitter on June 12, 2007, a home game against the Milwaukee Brewers.
The following season, in mid April, Tigers fans got to take home a souvenir of that memorable night, as Tigers brass gave away a DVD of that game.
Having won four consecutive AL-Central division titles, expectations were high in the Motor City entering 2015. The Detroit Tigers had the pieces in place to contend, as their ace Justin Verlander (Manakin-Sabot) would lead the Tigers staff. Hopes for a repeat were dealt a setback, however, when Verlander suffered a triceps strain during Spring Training and opened the season on the DL. He was initially expected to be out a week, but that turned into two months, as the Tigers did not want to rush his rehab, despite the criticism of Tigers fans, who felt he was not serious about wanting to get back ASAP.
Verlander finally made his season debut on June 13 and pitched 5 innings of 2-run ball in a no decision. His subsequent starts were not as kind. On 2 occasions, he would allow 7 earned runs, and his ERA soared to a high of 6.62 at one point, clearly not endearing himself to the Tigers faithful. He allowed 5 earned runs on Aug 4, putting his ERA at 5.05, but then he finally put together some solid outings. He was carrying a 1-6 record, but with a respectable 3.86 ERA, into his start on the night of August 26, a home start against the Los Angeles Angels.
It would be the night that showed the Tigers den, and the rest of the baseball world, that Justin Verlander was back.
Verlander threw 8 innings of no-hit ball, before finally allowing a leadoff double in the ninth, a ball that just barely stayed fair. (Where the ball landed on the foul line, had it landed 2 inched to the left, it would have been a foul ball!) Verlander was just inches away from his 3rd career no-hitter, but shook it off to finish off a complete game shutout, a 5-0 win for Detroit. Verlander finished that night allowing 2 walks, that one hit, and 9 strikeouts.
Verlander would go on to post some solid outings afterwards, and finished the season with a 5-8 record, a 3.38 ERA, and 113 strikeouts.
With the retirements of Tim Hudson, Barry Zito, and A.J. Burnett, Verlander is now 4th among active pitchers with 157 career wins.
All hail, Tigers nation. Your ace pitcher is back!!
Detroit Tigers ace RHP Justin Verlander (Goochland/ODU) will make his 2015 season debut Saturday against the Cleveland Indians. Verlander has been out all season, having suffered a strained triceps muscle during the tail end of Spring Training. His return could not come at a better time for the Tigers, who have a lot of question marks in their rotation after de facto ace David Price. Price has been an ace, but fellow starters Anibal Sanchez and Alfredo Simon have been up and down. Trade acquisition Shayne Greene started out 3-0, but has faltered big time.
Verlander’s return also marks sort of a crossroads for the 2015 Detroit Tigers. If it goes well, it could be the boost the Tigers need to make a run at a fifth consecutive AL Central division title. If it does not go well, the Tigers probably lose out to the Royals for that title.
When Tigers P Justin Verlander (Goochland/ODU) suffered a triceps injury in Spring Training, just days before Opening Day, it was believed to be a minor one, possibly not forcing him to even miss a start in ST.
It turned out to be more serious than that, and Verlander has so far missed all of 2015 because of it.
But, good news, Tigers fans, he is on the mend.
Verlander has been cleared to begin throwing again, and Tigers brass has put him on a schedule, first having him throw 50 pitches off flat ground this past Wednesday, then stretching him out to throwing from a distance of 90 feet. According to MLB.com, doctors performed an MRI and discovered that the inflammation had gone down enough that he could really begin rehabbing.
Tigers management obviously does not want to rush their ace back to work, but all indications are that there is some light at the end of the tunnel for seeing Verlander back on the mound at Comerica Park.
In his 10-yr major league career, Tigers P Justin Verlander (Goochland/ODU) has had quite a resume. He has won 152 games, been named Rookie of the Year, Cy Young Award, and MVP, led all of baseball in wins twice, won the 2011 Triple Crown, thrown 2 no-hitters, and has been on 2 AL-pennant winning Tigers teams.
One of the key reasons to his great success has been the fact that he has never been on the DL.
Verlander will open the 2015 season the DL, the first such action of his career, due to a strain in his triceps. Tigers manager Brad Ausmus is optimistic, however, that Verlander can make his first start not long after Opening Day this weekend-April 12th versus Cleveland.
Tigers P Justin Verlander (Goochland/ODU) is tied for 5th among active pitchers with 152 career wins.
With the winter months settling in, baseball teams are in the middle of their off-season plans. One of those is the annual Rule 5 draft, which allows teams to select players from other big league organization’s minor league systems and give them a full season on their major league roster, for a dirt cheap price of $50,000.
Teams just passed the deadline to set their 40-man rosters and determine which players they wanted to protect from the Rule 5 draft, and the Seattle Mariners have chosen to protect their Top Catcher prospect, John Hicks (Goochland/UVA). In 2014, Hicks started the year with an invite to big league spring training. He would open the season at Double-A, and finish the year at Triple-A. For the season he hit .290 with a .351 On base Percentage and a slugging percentage of .403. He will more than likely return to Triple-A Tacoma, but appears set to make his major league debut in ’15, should one of the Mariners catchers get hurt.
In Baltimore, the Orioles are competitive and relevant again. After no playoff baseball in Charm City since 1997, Orioles fans have seen postseason ball in 2 of the last 3 years. In 2012, they beat Texas in the Wild Card Gams before losing to the Yankees in 5 games in the ALDS. In 2014, they went a step further, winning their first division title since ’97, sweeping 3 Cy Young Award Winning Detroit Tigers pitchers in the ALDS, before getting swept by the upstart Royals in the ALCS. The Orioles are very competitive and should remain so for a while, but any crack in the Orioles rotation should pave the way for RHP Tyler Wilson (Midlothian/UVA), whom the Orioles have added to their 40-man roster. Wilson started 2014 at Double-A Bowie, and finished the season at Norfolk. He went a combined 14-8 with a 3.67 ERA and 157 Strikeouts in 166 innings pitched, nearly a strikeout per inning. Wilson is likely to return to Norfolk to open 2015, but could get a look in Baltimore sometime during the season.
John Hicks. Tyler Wilson. Promising futures in the big leagues.
Roberto Clemente was a great ballplayer but also was well known for his charity work off the field. As a result, every year MLB awards the “Roberto Clemente” award to the one player who gives back to the community through whatever charitable endeavors they are the most passionate about. One player is nominated from each team and then fans vote on the winner.
The 2014 slate of candidates is out, and this year’s choices have a certain Virginia feel to them. It includes three Virginia-natives and one players who played in Virginia on their way to the majors.
From the Detroit Tigers, P Justin Verlander (Goochland/ODU) does various endeavors that help veterans in the Detroit area, including helping with renovations at a rehab facility, providing funding for mental health for veterans, and hosting veterans in his suite at Comerica Park on his game nights.
From the Colorado Rockies, OF Michael Cuddyer (Chesapeake) may have had a lost 2014 season, with numerous injuries and multiple stints on the DL, but he did not let that get him down and still gave back to the Denver community. He has been a huge part of the Rockies startup program to help eradicate violence in schools by encouraging high school students to perform random acts of kindness in the community. He also makes appearances in the schools on behalf of the Rockies and this program. He also provides a suite at Coors field to allow disadvantaged youth to see a MLB game live.
From the New York Mets, 3B David Wright (Chesapeake) may be playing the hot corner in the big city of New York, but he has never forgotten his Virginia roots. He started an initiative to help the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters, based in Norfolk and the only free-standing children’s hospital in Virginia, provide for the development of needy children, and in 4 years, this initiative has raised $560,000. He also gives back to the New York Community, visiting a NYC firehouse every September 11 to recognize firefighters, and has also donated lots of cash and resources to help with the clean up from Hurricane Sandy.
From the Washington Nationals, SS Ian Desmond (Potomac Nationals) sits on the Board of Directors for the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy, a facility and organization that uses the game of baseball to promote healthy lifestyles and character development for at-risk youth. In 2012, thanks to the power of social media, Desmond met through twitter a 20-year old man with neurofibramitosis, the two formed a special bond, and Desmond went back to twitter to start a campaign to raise money to fight this disease. The goal was to raise $10,000-they raised $32,000, all of which goes to NF awareness.
So some good candidates this year. All are worthy causes, and all are exactly what Roberto Clemente would have wanted.