I was on vacation last week, so I didn't get a chance to post my 2011 major league predictions before the season began. Armed with four days worth of regular-season results, here's how I see the year playing out:
|AL East: Red Sox, Yankees, Rays, Blue Jays, Orioles.
AL Central: Twins, Tigers, White Sox, Indians, Royals.
AL West: Rangers, Angels, Athletics, Mariners.
AL Wild Card: Yankees.
NL East: Braves, Phillies, Marlins, Mets, Nationals.
NL Central: Reds, Brewers, Cubs, Cardinals, Pirates, Astros.
NL West: Rockies, Giants, Padres, Dodgers, Diamondbacks.
NL Wild Card: Phillies.
World Series: Red Sox over Reds.
MVPs: Robinson Cano, Troy Tulowitzki.
Cy Young Awards: Jon Lester, Roy Halladay.
Rookies of the Year: Jeremy Hellickson, Freddie Freeman.
For what it's worth, I identified four of the eight playoff teams and both Cy Young Award winners a year ago, though I whiffed on my World Series prediction that the Yankees would defeat the Braves.
The Royals, who placed a record nine players on our Top 100 Prospects list, put much of their talent on display Saturday. Triple-A Omaha and Double-A Northwest Arkansas played a 12-inning exhibition at Kaufmann Stadium following a Royals 5-4 win over the Angels, with eight of those Top 100 Prospects taking part.
The Royals system is so deep and balanced that a Kansas City team would be competitive against a club formed from the best prospects the other 29 organizations, but that latter squad would be more talented. Here's what those teams would look like, based on our Top 100 list and who will open the season in the minors:
|C||Salvador Perez (NR)||Jesus Montero, NYY (No. 3)|
|1B||Eric Hosmer (No. 8)||Jonathan Singleton, Phi (No. 39)|
|2B||Johnny Giavotella (NR)||Dustin Ackley, Sea (No. 12)|
|SS||Christian Colon (No. 51)||Manny Machado, Bal (No. 14)|
|3B||Mike Moustakas (No. 9)||Lonnie Chisenhall, Cle (No. 25)|
|LF||David Lough (NR)||Desmond Jennings, TB (No. 22)|
|CF||Brett Eibner (NR)||Mike Trout, LAA (No. 2)|
|RF||Wil Myers (No. 10)||Bryce Harper, Was (No. 1)|
|DH||Cheslor Cuthbert (NR)||Domonic Brown, Phi (No. 4)|
|P||John Lamb (No. 18)||Julio Teheran, Atl (No. 5)|
|P||Mike Montgomery (No. 19)||Jameson Taillon, Pit (No. 11)|
|P||Danny Duffy (No. 68)||Shelby Miller, StL (No. 13)|
|P||Jake Odorizzi (No. 69)||Matt Moore, TB (No. 15)|
|P||Chris Dwyer (No. 83)||Jacob Turner, Det (No. 21)|
Based on the Top 100 rankings, the Royals would have the advantage only at first base and third base. Kansas City would be a favorite in a matchup with any other organization, but not against the combined efforts of the other 29 farm systems.
Armstrong began the season sidelined by back problems and didn't make his first 2011 appearance until March 15, Vanderbilt's 18th game. He has pitched just twice since, because the No. 1-ranked Commodores are loaded on the mound and they can afford to bring him back slowly.
Vanderbilt's weekend rotation of Sonny Gray, Grayson Garvin and Taylor Hill are a combined 13-2, 2.28. Gray will be one of the first picks in the 2011 draft, and Garvin will be an early-round selection. Midweek starters Kevin Ziomek and T.J. Pecoraro, both freshmen, have gone 5-0, 2.28 between them. Closer Navery Moore projects as a top-three-rounds pick, while Mark Lamm will be a quality senior sign. They own a 7-1, 0.53 record with seven saves in 30 appearances.
Armstrong was a potential first-rounder coming into the year, because he has tremendous size (6-foot-7, 230 pounds), a strong arm and big league bloodlines (his father started the 1990 All-Star Game). At the same time, his velocity was down (to 91-93 mph) and the effort in his delivery was up last summer in the Cape Cod League, and he still lacks a quality breaking pitch. He posted a 5.44 ERA in his first two seasons at Vanderbilt, and in terms of effectiveness, he's not one of the Commodores' top options, especially if he's not at full health. He probably won't last past the top five rounds in the draft, but he may find innings hard to come by at Vanderbilt.
Szczur originally signed for $100,000 as a fifth-round pick last July, with the promise of an additional $500,000 if he agreed to give up football before the NFL combine in February. He enhanced his status as a baseball prospect by hitting .347/.414/.465 in his pro debut and establishing himself as the best all-around athlete in the Cubs system. He parlayed that, as well as his leverage as a mid-round NFL draft prospect as wide receiver, into a $1.5 million bonus (less the original $100,000) in mid-January.
The Cubs could have just signed Szczur to a new contract that superseded his original deal. Releasing and re-signing him to a new deal benefits both sides. Because he was released from his first deal, he has to be added to Chicago's 40-man roster after this season if the team wants to protect him from the major league Rule 5 draft. Unless Szczur falls on his face, he'll reap the benefits that come with being on the 40-man roster, such as membership in the Major League Baseball Players Association and a share of the MLBPA's licensing money. The Cubs get a year to decide whether he's worth a 40-man roster spot rather than having to give it to him immediately.
The difference between Samardzija and Szczur is that Chicago evaluated Samardzija, also a wide receiver, as a better baseball and football prospect. The Cubs thought Samardzija had the potential to become a frontline starting pitcher and an NFL first-round pick, and thus tore up his original $250,000 bonus deal and gave him a $10 million big league contract.