Sans Smoltz, Braves look vulnerable
Posted: Thursday March 09, 2000 12:56 PM
Throughout spring training Sports Illustrated staff writer Jeff Pearlman will field your baseball questions. Click here to submit a query and check back each Thursday to read more of his answers.
Do you feel the Mets are still the frontrunners for the wild card with
the improvements the N.L. Central teams have made? Or do you feel they will
overtake the Braves this year and win the
Twenty-four hours ago the Mets were the wildcard favorites but a longshot for N.L. East champ. With John Smoltz's season-ending injury, everything has changed. How large does the Mike Hampton pickup look now? New York still doesn't match the Glavine-Maddux-Millwood trio, but the bullpen is ocean deep and the lineup is solid. The N.L. East is a toss-up.
How does Steve Avery look (speed, location, movement) and is his curveball
back? He's back where he is loved and needed.
I was going to laugh at the idea of Atlanta "needing" Steve Avery, but with Smoltz out for the year, I'm not giggling now. I saw Avery throw BP a little more than a week ago, and while several teammates were impressed by the movement of his pitches, his fastball still doesn't clear the mid-80s. That's been the mystery about him for years: An odd decline in heat. My hunch is he starts the season in Triple A Richmond, where he can work on arm strength.
What does the Rickey Henderson situation look like? Are the Mets trying to
trade for someone else or is he staying with the team? How has his attitude been
since he realized the team may want to deal
The market for moody 41-year-old outfielders ain't what it used to be. The Mets have discussed shipping Henderson, but there are two major problems: 1) With Roger Cedeno now in Houston, where does the Mets' speed come from?; and 2) Nobody's interested.
The thing is, Rickey is Rickey. He can be cocky, he can be ornery, he can be spacey, but few teammates take him seriously. As long as he gets on base, plays ordinary defense and shuffles the cards correctly in pre-game poker, he's not a problem.
When can we expect to see Kerry Wood return and how close to the 1998 form
I saw Wood throw about 45 batting practice pitches Wednesday at Cubs camp. His velocity was great -- you should have heard the POP! coming from catcher Jose Molina's glove. And Woods' changeup was decent, too. However, he struggled with control. A lot of his fastballs bounced in front of the plate, sailed left, sailed right. He's scheduled to throw some curveballs off the mound early next week and should pitch his first exhibition game on either March 18 or 19. By the way, has anyone else ever noticed Wood's striking resemblance to former Devils forward Jim Dowd?
How can the Rockies possibly expect to compete this year? They acquired 19
new bodies in the off-season. That leaves just six returning players to their
major league roster. It will take them half a year to a full year to jell and
develop any kind of chemistry. I would not be happy if I were a Rockies
C'mon Corey, stop whining. Your team stunk last year. New Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd made some necessary changes. First, he brought in Jeffrey Hammonds and Tom Goodwin -- two speedy, smooth fielders -- to handle left and center. To win in Coors, you have to be able to cover the huge outfield. Now the Rockies can. O'Dowd also got rid of aging sluggers Vinny Castilla and Dante Bichette , and picked up Jeff Cirillo, a line-drive hitter with some power. The revamped rotation may not be great (Say "Masato Yoshii" five times fast), but it's ... um ... revamped.
With Ken Griffey Jr. facing a new league, new ballparks, new pitchers and new
umpires, how will he fare in his first year in the National
New league, smaller home ballpark. Griffey never looked comfortable in the giant blunder that is Safeco Field. With 81 games at mini Cinergy (where it is 330 feet down the rightfield line), 50 homers is a guarantee.
Do you think we could get some surprises from some small market clubs such as
Pittsburgh, Kansas City and especially Montreal this year? The Expos' rotation
should be great with Dustin Hermanson, Hideki Irabu, Carl Pavano, Javier Vazquez
and Mike Thurman, while the bullpen features two of the best relievers in the
majors in Ugeth Urbina and Graeme Lloyd. Offense will take care of itself with
Vladimir Guerrero leading the way, while defense will remain somewhat
People will not shut up about Montreal's two young outfielders, Peter Bergeron and Milton Bradley. Both are natural centerfielders who can fly and hit the long ball. The Expos could be a .500 team, especially if Irabu, Hermanson and Pavano can each live in the world of 10-15 wins.
A couple of questions regarding the Minnesota Twins: 1) Hypothetically, is
there a worse team in baseball? 2) It's been said that Minnesota's team is a
Triple A team at best. Does this mean that the Twins might actually be the best
Triple A team? 3) And as a longtime Minnesota fan, the only thing I have to look
forward to is Kirby Puckett's Hall of Fame enshrinement. He will get in, won't
1) Hypothetically, no. 2) There are a couple of Triple A clubs -- the Yankees' Columbus outfit comes to mind -- that have enough old-school vets and legit Grade A prospects to give the Twins something of a run. 3) Kirby's a toughie, mainly because the vision problems kept him from a lot of key milestones.
What do you anticipate the Braves doing about the shortstop position? How has
Rafael Furcal looked in spring training? Is there a chance he could appear in
Atlanta sooner than the 2001
Bad news, Charles. Unless Walt Weiss and Ozzie Guillen are too old to remember how to wear a glove (somewhat possible, I suppose), Rafael Furcal will spend most of the year in Richmond. Weiss remains the starter, Guillen the reserve. But from all accounts, Furcal is the real deal. He's 19, a switch-hitter, can run -- the whole package. You'll see him, but -- unless Weiss gets hurt -- probably not until late in the year.
I read that Don Mattingly is tutoring Yankees first base prospect Nick
Johnson in an effort to further develop the kid's great hitting skills. Is there
any chance that Johnson will be anything more than a September call-up in 2000?
After all, the Yankees' DH picture is cloudy after Darryl Strawberry's
The Yankees really don't want to bring Johnson up too soon. He's a work in progress. Joe Torre's first choice at DH right now seems to be some combo of Jim Leyritz, Tim Raines, Shane Spencer and, maybe, Roberto Kelly.
Click here to send a spring training question to Jeff Pearlman.