Twelve Thoughts: Car-Go Clicking, Kemp Benching, Phils' Challenging Deadline
FanHouse's pick to click in March, Gonzalez is maturing into something special. He moved to center field and played fairly well for a month after the Rockies demoted Dexter Fowler. He's also adept in both corners and has a right fielder's arm. He's a left-hander who hits left-handed pitching, and he's a pretty good baserunner. "Five-tool player" gets tossed around too often, but it's starting to fit Gonzalez, a 24-year-old who eight years ago signed with the Diamondbacks out of Venezuela.
"My favorite player growing up was Ken Griffey Jr.," Gonzalez said. "One of the highlights of my career was meeting him when he was with the White Sox."
Youngsters might emulate Gonzalez, who, aside from being an exciting player, is bright and bilingual.
"He hits the ball as hard as anybody in this league," said Rockies hitting coach Don Baylor. "It's constant. For me, he's an All-Star."
• Yankees fan LeBron James should listen to his friend C.C. Sabathia.
"His main focus should be to win a championship," Sabathia, who knows a few things about choosing the right suitor, told FanHouse in anticipation of James' free agency that begins Thursday.
If it's all about winning an NBA championship ring, James should sign with the Lakers. "I'm a Lakers fan," Sabathia said. "That would be fun to watch. But I don't think that's happening."
West Coast Bias isn't easily surprised, but Sabathia pulled it off when he then touted Southern California's other team. "The Clippers have the pieces," he said. "LeBron would be a good fit with the Clippers."
LeBron on the Clippers? Not much chance of that happening, but the idea also excites Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp, a former baller who played against Chris Bosh as a teen and is a friend of Clippers forward Blake Griffin. "The Clippers definitely have the players," Kemp said. "It'd be great for the city of L.A. I'd have to go see both the Lakers and Clippers games. I would like to see LeBron here. That would be tight. Kobe and he would be fighting for the key to the city. Maybe not -- Kobe has five rings."
Sabathia played in Cleveland, went to Milwaukee in a trade, signed as a free agent with the Yankees and won his first ring last October. Here's his New York spin: "I think if the Knicks had LeBron and [Amar'e] Stoudemire, and then you have David Lee, that team would be better than what LeBron had in Cleveland, honestly."
From here, Cleveland still looks like the leader for James, and with LeBron, might have the juice to pull a sign-and-trade for Bosh.
• Dodgers manager Joe Torre did the right thing by sitting Kemp (below right).
Kemp is one of baseball's most entertaining players when he's playing well, but he looked distracted for most of June. Torre sat him for three consecutive games. The time off should help Kemp, who came back Wednesday to hit a home run.
People forget that Kemp, 25, was a right fielder for most of his career. After Andruw Jones flopped in Los Angeles, Kemp rescued the Dodgers by plugging the hole in center. He's more suited to right, scouts say, yet still won a Gold Glove last year. In 2011, when left fielder Manny Ramirez likely will have joined an American League club, the Dodgers might want to carry a defensive center fielder flanked by Kemp and Andre Ethier.
A late comer to baseball, Kemp, who is 6-foot-3 and 227 pounds, told me he still loves basketball. "I wish I could play both -- basketball and here," he said, laughing.
He no longer plays basketball because it's too dangerous: "About all I do is shoot."
• The Rockies' outfield defense is on the rise.
With Fowler's return on Tuesday, the Rockies regained a center fielder who rates an 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale, said one veteran scout. Gonzalez moved to right field and another former center fielder, Ryan Spilborghs, was in left. "We have three center fielders out there," said manager Jim Tracy. In the National League West, where the outfields are big, Colorado's perimeter defense is a strength.
• Watching Kemp and Fowler fail so often recently reminded me that baseball can be especially hard on its best athletes.
Tony Gwynn was a great athlete who excelled as a point guard for San Diego State before the Clippers drafted him. As good as Gwynn was at baseball, he said it took him time to appreciate how relentlessly demanding the sport is. The grunt work never stops and can be boring. "You have to always grind at it," Gwynn said. "You can't stop working at it. You have to work at it every day and you have to work on the right things."
Gwynn would finish his 20-year journey with a career .338 batting average, yet when he reported to spring training every year, he had doubts that he could still hit well. He said self-knowledge was a big part of his success. "I knew I was a 'Judy' hitter,' he said, "and if I was going to make it, I had to be a very good 'Judy' hitter."
Like Kemp, Fowler, 24, is a highly athletic player who loves basketball and might be starting to realize how tediously demanding baseball is.
"Last year when Dexter was frustrated, he said, 'I'll just go play basketball,' " Baylor said.
Baylor smiled at the memory. "I said, 'Fine, leave me some tickets,'" he said. "You see where he is now."
Fowler said the month in Triple-A was good for him. "I needed the at-bats. It helped me get my timing back." Said Baylor: "He needed at-bats where there was no pressure. It was good for him. He didn't pout. He went down with a purpose to get back here."
• Among Yankees outfielders, communication is extra important.
Each Yankees starting outfielder was trained as a center fielder, and all center fielders believe every fly ball is theirs. "You're taught to go after everything," said Curtis Granderson, the team's center fielder at the moment. The net effect is good but not without risk. Take what happened when longtime center fielder Mike Cameron moved to right for the Mets. He and Carlos Beltran went all-out for a ball in right-center and butted heads, resulting in horrific facial injuries to Cameron.
"It is something we have to be aware of," Granderson said. "We've done a good job of talking."
Granderson, who is in his first year with the Yankees, said the club does a superb job of defensive positioning. Which is more important than outsiders realize. "People think I'm really fast," he said. "I'm not quite as fast as people think I am."
• Clubs need to determine if pitcher Jarrod Washburn still has the fire in his belly.
Washburn hasn't pitched since last season but, according to his agent, Scott Boras, has drawn interest from several clubs. Does Washburn still want to pitch? "That's up in the air," Boras told FanHouse. Boras said a "pennant race might be enticing" to the left-hander.
• Mark Prior didn't dazzle scouts on Thursday.
"He was just all right," said a veteran scout.
• The Padres still have fences to mend in San Diego.
Before Tuesday's game, West Coast Bias saw a woman who wore a shirt with the message "I Only Kiss Padres Fans." She was far from unattractive, but I doubt she found many takers because she was at Petco Park. Padres fans, if they exist, aren't flocking to see their first-place team. Club CEO Jeff Moorad professes not to be worried.
"Our attendance is likely not to be higher than 2 million or so," he said, "but I'd be pleased with that result in this economy, given the fact that this is a year that I think the organization continues to re-prove itself to the fan base."
The Padres returned to San Diego on Monday with a 45-30 record. Moorad seems to think they're legit. "We finished last season at 37-25, and we began this season at 37-25, so when you look at those two facts alone, there's an argument where we continue to build on that success from last season," he said.
• MadBum inspires a mad variety of opinions.
Madison Bumgarner, recently promoted by the Giants, is a left-handed pitcher whose immediate dominance of the lower levels created quite a stir two years ago. In May, I wrote that Bumgarner should evolve into a No. 3 or No. 4 starter. Several Giants fans let me know I was underestimating their guy, but it's no small thing to become a No. 4 starter in the majors. For now, that's how some good scouts view the 20-year-old. Clubs have gleaned that the Giants regard Bumgarner as a front-line starter. He's in an great place to be a pitcher -- the NL and San Francisco's big ballpark.
• Heard this from a major league exec: The Phillies are evaluating the trade market for outfielder Jayson Werth.
Was told he's the best bat that could be dealt by July 31st. Surprised me to hear it. Werth's right-handed bat seems crucial to the left-leaning Phils. But Werth has said he will explore free agency this offseason, and the Phillies could replace him now with prospect Domonic Brown, a left-handed hitter. Recent injuries to hitters Placido Polanco and Chase Utley would argue against the Phils dealing Werth, who certainly would attract interest.
• Of all the GMs, Philadelphia's Ruben Amaro Jr. might have the most interesting July.
The Cheatin' Phils have struggled since spying on a Rockies catcher through binoculars. Even West Coast Bias, though, figured their karmic payback would be over by now, but a prolonged offensive slump has given way to a spate of injuries. The Phils are in win-now mode. Problem is, trades have thinned their farm system. They need to hold onto Brown, making it tougher for Amaro to make a good trade this month. The Phillies are still the team to beat in the NL East, but the Braves are showing they might be able to stick around. And another rival, the Mets, might make a run for Mariners pitcher Cliff Lee -- the ace dealt by Amaro last offseason. The sight of Lee in a Mets uniform would make Phillies fans extra grumpy. It's questionable that the Mets have the prospects to get it done. Seattle needs prospects that exceed the value of two high-end picks in the 2011 draft that it would get for losing Lee as a free agent. Assuming the Yankees sign Lee, those picks would likely fall between 25-30 and 30-35.