If it's Opening Day, it must be time for predictions. Last year, I forecast the Red Sox beating the Cubs in the World Series, so take these for what they're worth:
AL East: Yankees, Red Sox (wild card), Rays, Orioles, Blue Jays.
AL Central: Twins, White Sox, Indians, Tigers, Royals.
AL West: Mariners, Angels, Rangers, Athletics.
NL East: Braves, Phillies (wild card), Marlins, Mets, Nationals.
NL Central: Cardinals, Reds, Brewers, Cubs, Pirates, Astros.
NL West: Rockies, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Giants, Padres.
World Series: Yankees over Braves.
I'll also take a shot at picking the award winners. I won't go with any of last year's winners, because that's no fun:
MVPs: Alex Rodriguez, Troy Tulowitzki.
Cy Youngs: Felix Hernandez, Roy Halladay.
Rookies of the Year: Brian Matusz, Jason Heyward.
With a new season starting (and the draft just two months away), I finally joined Twitter. You can find me at jimcallisBA.
Investing heavily in the draft is the only way smaller-revenue clubs can consistently compete with the big boys. The Pirates and Royals don't have the money or the appeal to go toe to toe with the Yankees for free agents like C.C. Sabathia and Mark Teixeira. The Athletics (Michael Ynoa) and Reds (Aroldis Chapman) can hand out record bonuses on the international market, but that's an inefficient talent market and those clubs can't afford to be that extravagant year after year.
But with costs artificially restricted by the draft, smaller-revenue teams willing to buck MLB's bonus guidelines easily can get much more than their share of talent. The slotting system drives players with high asking prices to the teams that are willing to meet them. And give the Pirates and Royals credit—they're doing their best to take advantage. In the last two years, Pittsburgh ($18.7 million) and Kansas City ($17.8 million) rank 1-2 in draft bonus expenditures.
There's no reason not to do this, especially for have-nots trying to return to contention. The slotting system is a guideline rather than a rule, and MLB can't really punish teams that spend more than the commissioner's office wants.
MLB will try to harangue teams into adhering to the slots. It can threaten to withhold discretionary-fund payouts, other subsidies or loans. It can decide to assign an All-Star Game to a team more willing to toe the line. But unless a team is in deep financial trouble—like the Rangers were last year, when they couldn't reach a deal with first-round pick Matt Purke—there's no reason to buy into slotting.
The lobbying does work to some extent. With the New York market, not to mention a new ballpark and cable network, the Mets have more money than any club this side of the Yankees. Yet the Mets spent less in draft bonuses ($3.1 million) than any team in baseball a year ago. Mets owner Fred Wilpon is a staunch ally of comissioner Bud Selig, as is Astros owner Drayton McLane and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, and thus those clubs rarely get aggressive in the draft.
Co-editor in chief Will Lingo put together the GM prospect rankings for us, so I ran this question by him. Other prospects who came up, with varying degrees of fame, included (in alphabetical order): John Coppolella, Braves director of baseball administration; Adam Fisher, Mets manager of baseball operations; Matt Klentak, Orioles director of baseball operations; Brian Minnitti, Nationals assistant GM; Mike Ondo, Phillies pro scouting coordinator; Billy Owens, Athletics director of player personnel; and Craig Shipley, Red Sox senior vice president of scouting.
Will also mentioned three recently or soon-to-be retired players who could take an accelerated path from the diamond to front-office prominence, a la Diamondbacks vice president of player personnel Jerry Dipoto (No. 2 on the GM prospect list). Those three are Dodgers catcher Brad Ausmus, Brewers infielder Craig Counsell and Padres special assistant to baseball operations Mark Loretta.
Santeliz flashes the pure stuff to become a closer, but his command still has a long ways to go. He also doesn't have the most resilient arm, and the White Sox only used him on consecutive days twice last year at Double-A Birmingham. He did put up nice numbers, including a 0.96 ERA, 52 strikeouts in 56 innings and 10 saves in 11 chances after becoming the Barons' closer in August.
Santeliz usually sits in the low 90s with his fastball and tops out at 96. At his best, he backs up his fastball with a plus slider. But his slider isn't a consistent weapon, and he sometimes struggles to throw strikes. In 56 innings last year, he issued 35 walks. I suspect his more realistic ceiling is as a set-up man rather than as a closer, but he's only 23 and still has time to improve.