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The 2014 Detroit Tigers organization All-Name team, led by MVP Raph Rhymes

The legendary Raph Rhymes

The legendary Raph Rhymes

This summer some people have earned Stanley Cup rings and All-Star nominations but there’s no honor quite as special (and quite as meaningless) as being named to the Detroit Tigers organization’s All-Name team.

Last year 25 men had their hard work rewarded by making the inaugural team. From Al Alburquerque to Jesus Ustariz they’ll all be remembered for their role in that first team. But time moves on. It’s time to name another squad.

Here is the 2014 Tigers organization 25-man, All-Name roster:

Starters

C Duncan McAlpine, Low A  (First appearance) - McAlpine hasn’t played at all this year. It’s unclear why but the only two explanations are either injury or steroid suspensions and I’m going on the latter. He’s still on the Connecticut Tigers’ roster, though, so he’s eligible for this team and he earns a starting spot because he sounds like an excellent Canadian Mountie.

1B Giancarlo Brugnoni, Rookie Gulf Coast League (First appearance) – As an undrafted free agent out of Grand Valley State, Brugnoni’s got an uphill climb in the baseball world. But with a name like Giancarlo Brugnoni he’ll be able to glide through the general world.

2B Gregoris Hidalgo, Dominican Summer League (Second appearance) - Hidalgo deserves a better fate. If he played in a system that didn’t have as much depth he’d probably have earned an MVP in one of the past two years. Instead, he gets to be one of the few to earn back-to-back starting nods on the All-Name team. As long as he’s in the Tigers’ system, he’s going to be this team’s starting second basemen. Unfortunately he might not be here for much longer. He’s hitting just .181 in the Dominican league.

SS Eugenio Suarez, MLB (First appearance) – The last man cut from last year’s team, Suarez’s play this year earned him a spot on the All-Name team. Last year, I assumed his first name was pronounced like it was spelled: Eugene with an ‘io’ at the end. Then he got called up and the world learned that the letters and the sounds they produce have no correlation: ay-oo-HEY-nee-oo. Even Baseball Reference gave up, offering only the pronunciation of his last name.

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Nate Fury is making it in the Tigers system, but how long can he stay?

Nate Fury

One month ago, Nate Fury became the biggest underdog in the Detroit Tigers’ system.

I don’t know what usually happens to 36th-round picks, so I had no idea whether the Tigers would actually sign him. When I was in high school I remember the Tigers taking a bunch of local kids that weren’t close to being good enough to play at the next level just to show them some love. Maybe the selection was just Detroit’s tip of the cap for Fury’s hard work in the past.

The Tigers do indeed sign 36th round picks. They even give them a chance to compete.

Fury signed with the Tigers shortly after the draft and was sent to Advanced-A affiliate Lakeland, bypassing two levels.

He made his professional debut on June 20. In total, Fury has pitched 6.1 innings in five appearances. His ERA is 1.69.

Before anybody starts trying to set up meetings with Disney movie executives, Fury hasn’t been as good as his ERA looks. He’s allowing more than a hit per inning and has four walks to go with his seven strikeouts.

A little while ago I talked with Ben Rowen, a submarine pitcher in the Ranger system. Rowen couldn’t even walk-on at USC but through a winding road found a scholarship at Virginia Tech. In 2010, The Rangers made Rowen their 22nd-round pick, hoping that his offbeat delivery might fool hitters. He was a low-risk flyer, and he knew it.

“I knew I was going to have to prove myself at every level,” Rowen said.

Starting in Low-A, Rowen rose all the way to the major league club before being sent down last week. Here are his yearly minor league ERAs: 1.09, 1.98, 1.57, 0.69, 0.84, 2.61. He allowed 153 hits in 235.2 innings.

Rowen didn’t just prove himself. He dominated.

Pitching in Advanced-A, Fury is ahead of the game but he’ll likely stay in Lakeland in 2015. That puts him on track to reach Double-A in 2016, Triple-A in 2017 and the Tigers in 2018, at the age of 27.

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After a week of free agency, the Red Wings’ extension of Jonas Gustavsson looks even worse

Gustavsson

Two weeks before the NHL free agency began, the Red Wings signed backup Jonas Gustavsson to a one-year extension. The move immediately looked bad. As I pointed out at the time, Gustavsson was below-average last year. Six backup goalies were slated to hit free agency that performed better.

When the team disclosed the money, the signing looked worse: $1.85 million. Gustavsson got a $305,000 raise.

Now, a week into free agency, the signing looks terrible. Four of the six goalies slated for free agency actually hit the market. All have already signed elsewhere. Looking at those contracts, it’s clear the Red Wings paid a premium for consistent mediocrity.

Thomas Greiss signed a one-year, $1 million deal with the Penguins. Chad Johnson got two years at $1.3 million per season from the Islanders. Al Montoya went to Florida on two-year contract worth $1.05 million per season. Justin Peters will make $950,000 per season in the next two years with the Capitals.

The Red Wings couldn’t have been concerned about being priced out of the backup goalie market. Heading into free agency none of those mentioned above made more than $750,000 and they all signed for at least $550,000 less than Gustavsson.

Maybe they were concerned about striking out and being left with nothing. Detroit isn’t an attractive spot for backup goalies. Jimmy Howard is the clear No. 1 now and Petr Mrazek is the No. 1 of the future. There’s no chance to earn a starting spot and no hope that there will be in the future. This might’ve bee a problem for the Red Wings —  except they had $1.85 million budgeted to give to a backup goalie. Thomas Greiss would’ve come to Detroit had the Red Wings offered 50 percent more money than the Penguins.

Maybe the Red Wings were concerned about giving a backup more than a one-year deal. Set aside the Greiss signing and the we’ll-offer-you-more-money-for-one-year angle. What’s wrong with giving a goalie a two-year deal? Mrazek is under contract until 2016 and then he becomes a restricted free agent. If the Red Wings have to let him marinate in Grand Rapids an extra year, they can, and they still could sign him out of restricted free agency with the promise of a roster spot.

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Your update on the baseball winners of the JMMA could be looking at the beginning of the end

Chris Bootcheck

A throwback to happier times

Blaine Hardy’s ascension has had me neglecting the former winners of the James Mungro Memorial Award presented by (sponsor pending). I won’t apologize.

Hardy is the most successful JMMA winner of all time. He’s pitched in nine MLB games, the most of any player after taking the title and — after an inconsistent few games — he’s got a 2.61 ERA in 10.1 innings pitched with 11 strikeouts and five walks.

It is good, however, to remember those who came before us. Since I’ve written more about Blaine Hardy than any person alive, I’ll use this update to honor Bootcheck and Alvarez, whether they deserve it or not — which they definitely don’t.

Jose Alvarez, last year’s winner, remains on the seven-day disabled list for the Salt Lake Bees. Friday marks his 49th consecutive days on the disabled list for what Salt Lake said was an elbow strain.

He hasn’t pitched since he allowed seven earned runs  in 4.2 innings on May 8. In that game the Las Vegas 51s hit five home runs. It was the worst outing of Alvarez’s career as a JMMA champion, and as the days mount up I’m convinced it might be his last — at least of this season.

The Triple-A season ends at the end of August. The Bees are terrible and won’t make the playoffs. At most, Alvarez is looking at six possible starts. With an elbow injury that appears to be quite serious based on the amount of time he’s missed, why not just shut him down and make sure he’s healthy a year from now?

This whole thing could be worse than we thought. There’s not a lot of info out there about minor league pitchers who are the No. 14 prospects in team’s systems. We have to be ready for anything.

What if the Bees are wear poker faces? What if Alvarez secretly had Tommy John’s surgery or something?

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The Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest Preview: It’s not as fun as it used to be

Joey Chestnut

Yesterday, a friend asked me if I was coming to his 4th of July party on Friday. I told him it would have to wait until after the hot dog eating contest.

There’s no single event that gives me more delight than the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest. I jumped on the bandwagon in 2002. That year, SportsCenter showed a replay of Takeru Kobayashi winning the contest and then showing “visible signs of regurgitation” afterwards, prompting controversy. In 2003 they televised it for the first time. Since, then I haven’t missed the event. Ive seen Kobayashi’s dominance, his fall, and Joey Cestnut’s rise.

Chestnut will go for his eighth straight title on Friday. I’ll watch, but unless his only competition, Matt “Megatoad” Stonie pulls of the impossible upset, it won’t be as fun as it used to be.

The peak was 2008. That year, Chestnut was just still a phenom and Kobayashi was still a legend. Together they created the greatest moment in competitive eating history.

Chestnut had won his first title the year before, breaking Kobayashi’s six-year hold on the mustard yellow belt. But Kobayashi had complained of jaw arthitis that year. When they met in the rematch, both were assumed to be at full strength.

The two went dog-for-dog for the first eight minutes before Kobayashi took a two dog lead with a minute to go. Chestnut rallied back to earn the tie just as the clock hit zero. For the first time ever, there would be a five-dog eat off.

Chesnut came back from a 4-3 deficit for the title.

That was the height of the International Federation of Competitive Eating’s (IFOCE) relevance. It had a storyline with staying power. It was Magic vs. Bird plus national pride. Joey Chestnut, American hero, vs. foreigner Takeru Kobayashi in the most American competition ever invented.

In 2009, it set up perfectly. Each surpassed the then-world record but Chestnut edged Kobayashi 68 dogs to 64.5 for a third-straight victory.

Then a contract dispute ended Kobayashi’s Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest career. Kobayashi didn’t want to sign an exclusive deal with Major League Eating (MLE), so MLE banned him from the event and took him off the illustrious Hot Dog Wall of Fame.

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A YouTube video scouting report: Red Wings first-round pick Dylan Larkin

Dylan Larkin

 

About a dozen times every season Darren Helm makes a play that seems to confuse time. He’ll poke the puck off a stick and then glide past three guys. He’ll take a pass in his own zone and seemingly teleport past the defense. He’ll make up 20 feet of ice in a race to a loose puck. Most of the time these plays lead to breakaways. On nine out of 10 of them, Helm won’t convert.

I often get a text or email from my dad when this happens. The message is always the same: Helm would be an All-Star if he could just learn how to finish.

On Friday the Red Wings drafted Dylan Larkin out of the U.S. NTDP with its first-round pick.

“Think of Darren Helm but with better scoring ability,” one of the draft commentators said on television immediately after Larkin was drafted. “He’s got that type of speed.”

Holy crap. Darren Helm with scoring ability? Imagine the plays he’s making against lesser competition. Imagine the goals he’s scoring.  This guy had to have one hell of a YouTube presence.

He doesn’t. It actually might be the worst of the draft.

In fairness, I probably set the bar a little too high. Last year the Red Wings drafted the greatest YouTube prospect of all time. Anthony Mantha had a 24-minute highlight video with French announcers and small-time sponsors.  (“Old Dutch. Quality Lives Here.” I’ll never forget that.) We’ll never each those heights again.

Still, Larkin isn’t even climbing the same mountain. This is his first highlight:

He forces the neutral zone turnover, glides in front of the net as the Czechs watch the puck, receives a behind the back pass from a teammate* and taps it in. It’s a smart play, a good hockey play, and it isn’t so bad on its own, except it’s one of just two highlights featuring Larkin as the star.

This is his other one:

Pure entertainment: High backhand, team rushes off the bench, goalie hangs head for a second and then realizes he can’t bear the shame, forcing him to briskly skates down the ice towards a locker room he can hide in.

It’s 14 seconds.

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A meetup with Blaine Hardy deep in the heart of Texas

Section 219 love

Section 219 love

ARLINGTON, Texas — When four guys walked through the centerfield gate of Globe Life Park sometime around 6:00 on Wednesday, three were there to get a glimpse of their hometown team in person. I just wanted see Blaine Hardy.

For the three hours beforehand it didn’t look good. A storm poured rain on the area, but just as we arrived it lightened, leaving gray clouds to blot the sky and provide a cover of cool air.

Weather wasn’t getting in the way of destiny.

Tigers vs. Rangers. 7:05, June 25. Globe Life Park in Arlington.

This season, the Rangers suffered long-term injuries to their starting first baseman, backup first baseman/designated hitter, third-string first baseman, starting second baseman, backup third baseman, starting catcher, No.2 starter, No. 3 starter, No. 4 starter, 7th-inning reliever, 8th-inning reliever and a couple other minor pieces.

As a result, they’re awful. As a result of them being awful, “Lexus Club” seats were going for 25 percent of face value. As a result of “Lexus Club” seats going for 25 percent of face value, half of section 219 was Tigers fans.

There was a family of four in the row in front of us who came along with another family of Rangers fans;  the white kid with the giant afro in the generic Tigers jersey; that kid’s dad and the crew of drunk dudes in the front row.

All of them thoroughly enjoyed Rangers pitcher Joe Saunders’ immediate and continuous meltdown. They cheered hard when Ian Kinsler’s name was first announced and had a nice laugh as he doubled and scored in the third inning.

Then Anibal Sanchez struggled and the fans became disinterested, silent, or both. In the 6th, Sanchez gave up a home run to Carlos Pena. The Tigers’ lead was cut to 7-4. Two batters later, Sanchez hit Robinson Chirinos. Brad Ausmus came out of the dugout and pointed to the bullpen.

Everyone else tuned out as Hit the road Jack! played over the stadium speakers and Blaine Hardy made the jog from left field to the mound. The first thing you notice is how big he is. TV and pictures don’t showcase his 6-2, 230 pound frame. Throw him in a donnybrook and he’ll knock heads.

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