Monday, June 21, 2010

Wizards 2000's Draft Recap

The 2000’s were a rollercoaster-like decade for the Washington Wizards. They started in January 2000 with the stunning announcement that Michael Jordan would become general manager of the team, and ended with longtime owner Abe Pollin passing away Thanksgiving eve 2009. In between these two massive events, the Wizards saw the team go from mediocre to electrifying to heartbreaking to a doormat resulting in a number one overall pick in 2010. Like they did 10 years before, the Wizards will have a new man in charge with this pick in new majority owner and owner of Monumental Sports and Entertainment Ted Leonsis. The Wizards can only hope this new beginning will signal a steady rise to prominence in the 2010’s.

Here is a recap of the last drafts the Wizards have had since they last had the number one overall pick in 2001. It was Jordan’s first draft with the team, and one where the team and fans believed would begin turning the team around.

2001: Kwame Brown, Glynn Academy, Brunswick, Georgia (1, 1)

Brown was the first high school player selected number one overall in the history of the NBA Draft. He spent four disappointing seasons in the District and only averaged more than eight points per game once in 2003-2004 when he averaged 10.9 PPG. Brown’s tenure ended tumultuously in 2005 after he got into disagreement with then head coach Eddie Jordan. Although he has had a decent NBA career, Brown never lived up to the hype of the number one overall selection, and some believe his selection set the team back a few years. He was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers for Caron Butler in 2005. Brown has averaged 6.7 PPG in his career.

2002: Jared Jeffries, Indiana University, (1, 11)

Jeffries was coming off of leading the underdog Indiana Hoosiers to the NCAA Tournament final when he was selected as a lottery pick by the Wizards. Jeffries was to be the power forward the Wizards could pair with Brown for years to come. He never lived up to the 11th overall selection as he averaged 5.73 PPG over four seasons in Washington. Jeffries left the Wizards after the 2005-2006 season for the New York Knicks, where he continued to underachieve. Jeffries is still in the league with the Houston Rockets. He has averaged 5.3 PPG in his career.

Juan Dixon, University of Maryland, (1, 17)

After leading the Terrapins to their only NCAA Championship, Dixon became the Wizards second first round pick of 2002. Dixon, who holds the career points record at Maryland, was seen by many as a hometown selection for a Wizards team in need of a spark. He spent three seasons in Washington before bolting for Portland. He averaged 7.93 PPG, but had his best years with the Trailblazers. Dixon came back to the Wizards for the 2008-2009 season, but his best days were left back in Portland. Dixon signed with a European team in 2009, but tested positive for steroids in 2010 and has been suspended by FIBA indefinitely. Dixon averaged 8.4 PPG in his NBA career.

2003: Jarvis Hayes, University of Georgia, (1, 10)

Jarvis Hayes came out of Georgia with the reputation as a sweet-shooting perimeter guard. He rarely displayed that range with the Wizards, however, spending four disappointing seasons with the club where he mostly served as a backup. His best season was in 2004-2005 when he averaged 10.2 PPG. Hayes was not tendered a contract after the 2007 season, and went to the Detroit Pistons where he was a valuable member off the bench. He spent the last two seasons with the New Jersey Nets, and has averaged 8.3 PPG for his career.

2004: Devin Harris, University of Wisconsin (1, 5)

Harris was drafted with the intention of dealing him immediately to the Dallas Mavericks for Antawn Jamison. Harris’ statistics increased each year in Dallas before he was traded to the Nets for Jason Kidd in 2008. The Nets are building their team around him, and he has averaged 16.67 PPG. Jamison went on to become one of the Wizards top players of the 2000’s. He became their captain and led them to the playoffs for four straight seasons. He averaged 20.7 PPG as a member of the Wizards before being traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010 as part of the Wizards rebuilding effort.

2005: Andray Blatche, South Kent Prep, (2, 49)

Blatche was the Wizards only selection in this draft, and has had an up and down career in DC. Picked out of high school, many knew Blatche would be a project, but he has upset many fans with his play and attitude. In 2010, Blatche seemed to get it right when he averaged 14.1 PPG. His scoring average has increased in each of his five seasons in the league, and he is a part of the Wizards rebuilding effort heading into the 2010’s.

2006: Oleksiy Pecherov, Ukraine, (1, 18)

Pecherov spent two seasons in DC, where he averaged 3.6 PPG before being traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2009. He did not play his first season in DC, and he never seemed to get on track. He only averaged 8.9 minutes per game here, and has averaged only 3.9 PPG in his career. He was one of their biggest disappointments as a first round selection.

2007: Nick Young, University of Southern California, (1, 16)

Young was an elite scorer during his time in college, and he has flashed his offensive talents during his three seasons in the NBA. His defense, however, has left little to be desired for. He has averaged 9.1 PPG in three seasons, but has come off the bench in 30 of his 231 career games. The Wizards will continue to hope he develops into an all-around player, but with the emergence of other guards, it’s put up or shut-up time for Young.

2008: Javale McGee, University of Nevada, (1, 18)

McGee was a very surprising pick to many when he was selected 18th overall by the Wizards in 2008. He’s tall, lanky, and extremely athletic. He still lacks post moves and gets overpowered by other centers in the league, but the Wizards are hoping he can develop into a center-type for them in the future. He has averaged 6.5 PPG in his two seasons in Washington, but he will need to step up in that department next season.

2009: Traded Selection

The Wizards decided to trade the 5th overall selection in this draft to the Minnesota Timberwolves for veterans Randy Foye and Mike Miller. Foye and Miller were looked at as solid contributors to a team that already had Gilbert Arenas, Jamison, and Butler. Things declined soon into the 2009-2010 season for the Wizards, however, and there’s no guarantee either player will be around next season. The Wizards passed on drafting the rights to Stephen Curry in this draft.

2010: John Wall, University of Kentucky, (1,1)

Freshman phenomenon John Wall will bring his dance, swagger, and most importantly his immensely talented game to the Wizards in 2010. He will be the point guard the Wizards can build around, and he can be the marketing dream the Wizards have been waiting for since Arenas’ star faded after his issues last season. Wall is seen by many as one of the top point guard prospects of the last ten years, and he brings a pass first mentality to the position. He is also regarded as one of the top defensive guards coming out of college. This is a no brainer selection, and one that has had DC in a frenzy ever since the Wizards won the lottery in May.

The Wizards will head into the 2010’s with two certainties:

Ted Leonsis is the new owner, and John Wall is whom they’re building their team around. Leonsis emphasizes scouting and development, so the draft will be where his scouts and general manager Ernie Grunfeld will make their living for the foreseeable future. Leonsis has preached patience from the fans, but would like more than anything to see a winning basketball team in the District.

"[We want to] build for a new relevant, and bright future,” Leonsis said at his introductory presser. “[I want to] know what Washington, DC will be like when we win a championship, and that’s my hope and dream and aspiration to bring this city closer together and create those lifelong memories for families.”

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Young Guns Shine By The Bay

In what has to be considered the Orioles best overall pitching performance of the season, starter Jake Arrieta (2-0) held the San Francisco Giants to one run on three hits in seven plus innings, and David Hernandez notched his second save in two chances as the Orioles beat the Giants 4-1.

Arrieta, making his 2nd career start, was dominating from the start. He flashed his mid-90’s fastball with ease, and mixed in a terrific slider to go along with it. He simply overpowered the Giants hitters and hit his spots very well. He looks like he belongs in the big league rotation, and with a sub-3.00 ERA, it looks like the Orioles have found a guy who throws hard, commands his stuff, and can go deep into games. That’s a combination the Orioles haven’t had in quite a while.

Hernandez looked impressive, too. Since his move to the bullpen, he has flashed an upper-90’s fastball to go along with a slider that he rarely goes to. The difference between starter and reliever has made a tremendous difference for him. Instead of pacing himself to go six innings, Hernandez just lets the ball go and he goes from a mid-90’s fastball to an upper-90’s heater. The difference in speed is major. If Hernandez continues to command his fastball and pick his spots, he can be a successful closer at this level. Closing is all about command and speed. Hernandez looks to be able to have that for a one or two inning stretch. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Adam Jones also seems to have gotten back on track after his latest hot streak, which culminated with a long home run yesterday. After hitting .223 in the month of April, Jones is now hitting .260 with 8 home runs and 24 RBI’s. He seems much more relaxed at the plate having been moved down in the order, and he has been able to lay off the slider down and away for the most part. Jones still needs to work on plate discipline as he only has eight walks all season, but he should steadily improve on that as he gets more experience.

People forget that this is only his third full season in the major leagues, and he doesn’t turn 25 until August. Jones is continuing to improve in the outfield, too, although I’d like to see him be a little more accurate with his throws. He has the arm; the accuracy needs to come next. He can still go get ‘em with the best of them.

The Orioles are still the worst team in the league, but they certainly have shown fire under new manager Juan Samuel and nobody has given up. There is a difference between showing no life and simply not being too good. The Orioles steal more, hit and run more, and run absolutely everything out of the box hard. Think the manager doesn’t make a difference? It does. The players are clearly responding to what Samuel preaches, and that’s a no-nonsense attitude. Play the game hard and force the issue. You can’t sit back and wait for a home run that will not come. Big power lineups can do that---not the Orioles.

There is still much work to be done, but the Orioles are on the right track with their young players. They just need to be given time to develop and some veterans around them. You can’t put the weight of the world on 21-26 year olds in the major leagues. It just doesn’t work like that, and guys begin to crack. Hopefully the Orioles will get some veteran help for 2011 or they could be in serious trouble again.

Monday, June 14, 2010

A New Era in Washington

On his first day as majority owner of the Washington Wizards, Ted Leonsis laid out his hopes for the future pretty soundly.

"I want to know what Washington, DC, will be like when we win a championship, and that's my hope, and dream, and aspiration to bring this city closer together, and to create those life-long memories for families."

Leonsis has been majority owner of the NHL's Washington Capitals and WNBA's Washington Mystics, and now he has created "Monumental Sports and Entertainment" which encompasses the Capitals, Mystics, and now the Wizards.

Comcast SportsNet's Chris Miller interviewed Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld after the press conference, and Grunfeld emphasized that Leonsis is fully committed to his new team.

"[Leonsis] has a real passion for [basketball]. He's a big fan, and he's a real intelligent guy," Grunfeld said.

Leonsis has been known as one of the most fan-friendly owners in sports ever since he bought the Capitals in the late 1990's. He knows the importance of reaching out to everyone to come together for the common cause of great sports in the city of DC, and he appears to be completely committed to making this community come together through professional athletics.

"We need to be much more family oritented and female-centric in the way we approach our presentation," Leonsis said at his press conference Thursday. "...reaching out to the (local) colleges...I want bloggers, people on facebook."

Leonsis then told the crowd how he still glady accepts anybody as friends on facebook, and encouraged people to add him. He would also like to reach out to the communities of Virginia, Maryland, and DC even more.

Leonsis has emphasized scouting and developing his own talent since he overhauled the Capitals roster in 2004. His rebuilding efforts with the Capitals bore fruit the past three seasons as they have steadily improved their record and made the playoffs each year. In 2010, the Capitals won the President's Trophy as the best NHL team over the regular season. Would Leonsis continue to build a team from scratch in the NBA, too?

Leonsis spoke with Miller of Comcast SportsNet and reiterated that his way of building a team will not change.

"Focus on the signals and not the noise...drafting, scouting, and team development," Leonsis said. "When you have good people a lot of confidence in them, things turn out the right way."

Leonsis' goal is to "Build for a new, relevant and bright future" in Washington, DC sports and entertainment. The next step?

Leonsis' first duty as owner of the Washington Wizards will be to draft number one overall in the NBA draft two weeks from now. He will not have to make a difficult decision because as he said, "I won't make the pick, our General Manager Ernie Grunfeld, will make the pick." When asked if Kentucky point guard and freshman sensation John Wall will be the pick, Leonsis can only smile and say, ""It's good theater for the NBA to have people wondering what we're going to do,"

When Chris Miller asked about what Wizard's fans have to look forward to next season, Grunfeld said, "I think it's going to be exciting next year with the number one pick coming...there's a buzz about that."

Grunfeld would not reveal who the pick will be, but the Washington Post is reporting that the Wizards will not even work out any of the drafts other top players at Verizon Center before the draft.

All signs point to Wall being the number one overall pick. And all signs point to Ted Leonsis knowing what to do when he has a slam dunk pick with the first overall selection. In 2004, the Capitals selected NHL All-Star Alexander Ovechkin, built their team around him, and have never looked back. Leonsis is hoping he can do the same with the Wizards, and build this community into one tremendous, exciting sports town.

Monumental Sports and Entertainment's tenure in office has begun.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

2010 MLB Mock Draft

The NFL Draft is the most watched professional draft in the United States. Why? Because everyone is interested in seeing where their favorite college players are going or who their favorite teams will select with their picks. The same can be said about the NBA draft because college basketball has such a high profile that most people know the players and what they can contribute to their squads.

Another reason these two drafts are so popular are because of the mock drafts that are made months before the night of the draft. Everybody loves to speculate and analyze who will go where and at what pick they will be taken. You must admit you read several mock drafts weekly, if not daily before the NFL draft.

So in going with the mock draft theme, I have built a short version mock draft the day before the Major League baseball draft. This draft is not nearly as popular as the other drafts for a few reasons:

1) The players selected may not make an impact with their professional teams for several years---and sometimes never at all.
2) The players come from high school or college, neither is very high profile on the baseball level
3) The draft, until 2007, was held as a league-wide press conference, and never could get hyped because of that

Those are just some of the reasons the draft has not built as much hype, but around here in DC the past two seasons, the draft has been the main baseball event (until Stephen Strasburg debuts for the Nationals on Tuesday night)

Here is my mock draft of the top five selections for 2010

1) Washington Nationals: Bryce Harper, C, College of Southern Nevada

This is the most obvious pick since, well, 2009 when the Nats selected Strasburg. Harper has been hyped as the number one pick in 2010 or 2011 since he was a freshman in high school. He has unbelievable power and a cannon for an arm (registered at 96 mph in one showcase). I can only describe his swing as max-effort with beautiful fluidity. It’s kind of like Tiger Woods’ swing but with a baseball bat. Harper will take a few years to develop, but when he comes to DC he should put on a power display.

2) Pittsburgh Pirates: Jameson Tallion, P, Woodlands, Texas (HS)

The Pirates could go three ways here with Tallion, shortstop Manny Machado (HS) or college southpaw pitcher Drew Pomeranz. It could go down to the wire, but I believe the Pirates will take Tallion because of his huge upside and superb mental make up. Scouts love Tallion’s upper-90’s heater and plus breaking pitch, although he will certainly take two or three years to develop. This selection will serve as the domino effect in the draft.

3) Baltimore Orioles: Manny Machado, SS, Miami Brito (HS)

The Orioles will most likely take Machado if the Pirates take Tallion or Tallion if the Pirates take Machado. Machado is a scouts dream. He’s 6’3” with a lanky 180- pound frame and beautiful athleticism. Being from Miami and carrying a power bat, Machado has received comparisons to a young Alex Rodriguez. That comparison can be hard for anybody to live up to. Machado projects to stay at shortstop in the big leagues because of his above-average arm and slick fielding ability. His bat will be able to translate at the next level, too. If he is there, this is a no-brainer selection for Baltimore.

4) Kansas City Royals: Chris Sale, P, Florida Gulf Coast University

Sale has been linked to the Royals because of his ability throw a hard sinker with a plus breaking pitch. According to MLB Draft Reports, his fastball sits in the 90-92 range an occasionally hits 94. Some wonder if Sale will be most effective in the bullpen, but I think he will stay as a starter because of his ability to get the groundball. The Royals are in desperate need of finding quality starting pitching, especially from the left side, and Sale would be a good start for them.

5) Cleveland Indians: Drew Pomeranz, P, Ole Miss

Pomeranz is a big, strong left-handed pitcher who dominated the SEC in 2010. The Indians are in need of starting pitching and this stud from Mississippi should give them an anchor for years to come. Scouts love his poise and demeanor on the mound, and Pomeranz should make it to the show within two years. If he’s available at five, Pomeranz is the easy selection.

So there you have it. A short, five player mock draft for major league baseball. The number one selection is fairly obvious, but it will get interesting 2-5. What do you think? Do you think the draft will play out differently on Monday?

Friday, June 4, 2010

A Dream to Come True on Monday

Before the arrival of Stephen Strasburg to Nats Park on Tuesday night, the Washington Nationals will most likely select super-prospect Bryce Harper, 17, from Las Vegas, Nevada. Harper received his G.E.D last year so he could enter Junior College and be eligible for the 2010 draft. Harper hit 29 home runs in JUCO this season, and if the production matches the hype, Harper and Strasburg will make DC baseball crazy for years to come. It all starts next week.

Harper will most likely command a record signing bonus given to a high school player, but the Nationals must sign him. He plays one of the most important positions (catcher), and his power is described as "light-tower power." There are some scouts who believe Harper will have to move off catcher because they don't feel his footwork behind the plate is anywhere near ready for professional baseball, but the Nats should try him there for a few years before moving him to third base or right field. Harper has a cannon for an arm (registering on some radar guns at 96 MPH) and his power bat can play anywhere on the diamond.

Harper's quick rise to the top of the prospect world came when he went to a high school showcase in St. Petersburg, Florida, and put on a show during batting practice. He hit balls more than 500 feet at Tropicana Field (home of the Tampa Bay Rays) and was then put on the cover of Sports Illustrated touted as "Baseball's Chosen One: Bryce Harper is the Most Exciting Prodigy Since Lebron James"

Harper's star has elevated considerably since that cover came out on June 8, 2009, and he will most likely start his dream on Monday when the Nationals are on the clock. Many say he will take three or four years to get to the big leagues because he will have to adjust to the professional lifestyle, pitching, and overall nuances of the game, and I wouldn't expect to see him for awhile either. The pressure on him will be enormous, and the last thing the Nationals need are two young stars who feel the weight of the world on their shoulders. The Mets had that situation in the 1980's with slugging outfielder Darryl Strawberry and teenage pitching prodigy Dwight Gooden. Even though the Mets would win a World Series title in 1986, they quickly fizzled.

It's important for fans and media-alike to give Harper time to develop. After all---The Chosen One is only 17 years old.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The End of an Era: Here's to the "kid"

There are millions of old men who grew up in New York in the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s who will tell you that a part of them died in 1995 when New York Yankees icon Mickey Mantle passed away from cancer. They will tell you that the “Mick” was the greatest natural baseball player they had ever seen, and that their childhood was now officially complete---even 40 years after they were out of high school.

That day has now arrived for me with the announcement that Ken Griffey, Jr. has decided to retire after 22 years in the Major Leagues.

Griffey was not only the most gifted baseball player I’ve ever seen in my lifetime; he was the guy every kid growing up wanted to be. He was fast, strong, and as exciting a person as he was a player. Go outside right now and see guys wearing their hats backwards. You were seen as trying to be too cool before Griffey made it the norm in the 1990’s.

I was born in 1988, just a year before Griffey made his debut with the Seattle Mariners. Griffey, the son of ex-major league all-star Ken Griffey, Sr. was a heralded prospect who reached the big leagues at age 19. He would never disappoint. Although he was already a rising star in the game, Griffey came into his prime during the 1994 strike season when many felt he would challenge Roger Maris’ single-season home run record of 61. The next season, Griffey would pick up right where he left off.

1995 was a transition year in my life. I was seven years old when my parents decided to move to another neighborhood in part because there were no other young people my age that I could hang out with. In September of that year, 1995, I started a new school. Almost immediately, on September 6, 1995, Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken, Jr. broke the record for consecutive games played with 2,131. Although I really had no bearing for what Ripken was accomplishing, it was still a highlight that I remember watching on television to this day.

However, there was another guy I would see on Sportscenter almost daily during this time. Griffey, Jr. was shown almost daily hitting a home run, making an otherworldly catch, or making running from first to home look like a fox running the bases. He also had a persona that would light up the television. I knew I wanted to be exactly like him.

Around this time of 1995, basketball was my primary sport. I shot around everyday in our backyard, and though I had played baseball in the yard it was not a major focus for me. In early October of 1995, I began to have a change of heart. Griffey had just led the Mariners to the division series against the New York Yankees. They went down in the best of five series 2-0, but rallied to force a game five. Trailing by one in the bottom of the ninth, Griffey singled up the middle to tie the game. In a moment that I can still clearly picture and hear, I’m still awed by how it came to change my life. Edgar Martinez ropes a liner into the left field corner, broadcaster Brent Musberger: “Griffey, is coming around, in the corners Bernie [Williams], he's gonna try to score, here's the division championship, Mariners win it! Mariners win it!" It’s said that Griffey’s feet didn’t even touch the ground as he ran, although that’s just a rumor. Everybody who saw that moment will never forget it. It was Griffey at his most elegant, and graceful self just flowing around the bases without a hitch. I still have the Sports Illustrated cover of him scoring the winning run in my room.

My sports life would never be the same.

When we moved on November 6, 1995, two things happened: the Cleveland Browns announced they were moving to Baltimore and Ken Griffey, Jr. was the biggest sports star---other than Michael Jordan---in America. When I was younger, I was a tad big and was not all that fast. The new kids my age in the neighborhood, though, all liked to play baseball so I played with them everyday. I would try to be Junior, either making running catches, stealing bases, or hitting left-handed. I would run sprints everyday so I could get faster to play centerfield. It was my main goal to someday play centerfield on whatever team I played on, bat third, and wear number 24. I saw Griffey play numerous times in Baltimore in the late-90’s, and every time I saw him I gushed over his persona and ability on the field.

Five years later in 2000, Griffey would leave the Mariners to join his hometown Cincinnati Reds. He was never really the same player as age and injuries would catch up with him, but I still continued to try and emulate him. I was able to play centerfield on my team and would bat third. I became just as fast as anybody else I played against. In high school, I was able to be the centerfielder for three years, and although I never hit third, I still tried to emulate Griffey out in center just like usual.

Griffey was a megastar when I was growing up. He had a Nike shoe just like Jordan, his hat was worn backwards, and he was simply the coolest guy playing baseball. I played his video game in the summers of '97 and '98 with my neighbor that lasted well into the night. No baseball player had his own game like that before, and really no other has since quite like Junior.

His star faded as the generation grew up, as injuries and age would really wear him down before his final tour back in Seattle, where he is charged with saving the Mariner franchise and getting the city to build Safeco Field, but he is still revered by my peers and me. Griffey will finish with over 600 home runs, which is an amazing feat. He is also one of the only big sluggers of the era who is not seen as a performance enhancer, which makes his star shine brighter in some eyes. He was still one of the greatest athletes I’ve ever seen. If he decided he wanted to be a football player, he could have played in the NFL.

For me, Griffey came along at the right time. His star shined the brightest in the mid to late 90’s when I was trying to find somebody to emulate in baseball. I often watch Griffey highlights to this day and continue to marvel at what he accomplished and how he was able to do everything so gracefully on the field.

Watching him at the end of his career was not pretty, but in years to come nobody will remember 2007-2010; they’ll remember the guy who was the modern-day Willie Mays. The guy who shattered his arm making an incredible catch against the wall, and the guy who wowed us all at the home run derby’s. Griffey will go into the hall of fame in five years, and there isn’t anyone who deserves to be enshrined there from this era more.