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Posts from May 2015

2015 MLB Draft: Milwaukee Brewers

In eight days the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft will commence.  The MLB Draft doesn’t elicit the same fanfare generated by the other two major sports, but it is an extremely important event that has the potential to change the future of an organization for decades.
The Milwaukee Brewers have had great success in the draft previously, as it was responsible for their playoff appearance in 2008 - their first trip to the postseason in 26 years.  
But after that season they lost scouting director Jack Zduriencik to the Seattle Mariners, who became their new general manager. 
Bruce Seid was hired to fill the void left by Zduriencik, and unfortunately didn’t live up to the expectations that were set.   Year-after-year the Brewers continued to strike out on many of their draft choices. 
Since Seid’s first draft as the scouting director in 2009, they have not had a single one of their first round picks reach the big leagues. While some of that has to do with luck, they passed on numerous players who have had success in the big leagues already or are highly regarded prospects. 
Now with Ray Montgomery in charge of the draft, after the surprising and tragic death of Seid last year, it will be interesting to see what path the Brewers take in regards to their first round pick this year. 
In Montgomery’s four years as the scouting director of the Arizona Diamondbacks, he hit the mark selecting the best player available, all who possessed a great deal of potential. 
The Brewers have been linked to college arms since the spring, and if Missouri State right-hander Jon Harris is on the board, don’t be surprised if they selected the 6-foot-4, 190-pound hurler. 
Harris has an outstanding four-pitch mix featuring an above average fastball that consistently sits at 92-94 mph with sink. His fastball velocity has the potential to increase, especially once he adds more muscle to his frame. 
Since mid-spring, Harris has been regarded as one of the top pitchers in the draft class. If he is able to slide all the way down to the Brewers at pick No. 15, don’t be surprised if they snatch him up because he has a high ceiling and is a safer pick than other college arms.   
Talented prep left-hander Kolby Allard, prep outfielder Garrett Whitley and University of Louisville’s Kyle Funkhouser, who the Brewers have scouted heavily and Montgomery has witnessed first-hand, are other players to keep your eyes on when it comes to the Brewers and their 15th overall selection.    
Also, don’t rule out last year’s No. 1 overall pick Brady Aiken. The left-hander didn’t sign with the Astros after the contract fell apart due to concerns about his elbow.  He then underwent Tommy John surgery in early spring this year. 
If it wasn’t for the concerns about his elbow, he would be a top 10 pick due to the fact that he possesses the most potential out of any player in this draft.  However, those concerns could cause him to slide into the mid to late first round. 
It is hard to know what organizations think about Aiken, but don’t rule him out completely for the Brewers.  In the end, a team who selects Aiken will have to be comfortable with his elbow and feel like he is worth the risk to select him.
With the Brewers selecting in the middle of the first round, it is hard to give a definitive answer on who they will pick since the draft could play out in numerous ways on draft night. It will be interesting to see how Montgomery handles his first draft with the Brewers and they have been linked to collegiate hurlers.  Don’t be surprised if they travel down that path again.  

Find more of Dan Zielinski's MLB Draft coverage at The3rdManIn.com. Also follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski.  
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Brewers should target Funkhouser in the draft

With only two weeks until Major League Baseball Draft day, general managers and scouting directors are making their final trips around the country to scout potential picks.
This year’s draft is extremely important for the Milwaukee Brewers with a potential rebuild on the horizon.  Drafting has not been a strong area for the Brewers in recent memory, so they need to play it safe in this year’s MLB First-Year Player Draft. 
Usually in the first round teams select the best player available, and while the Brewers should do that, selecting a solid college pitcher would be wise. 
There are numerous pitchers who will be on the board when the Brewers are on the clock, and if they were smart they would take a pitcher who has proven success and will be a starter at the big league level.  Louisville right-hander Kyle Funkhouser fits that bill. 
Funkhouser’s 6-foot-3, 225-pound frame is built for durability, and he possesses a four-pitch arsenal, that is headlined by his excellent 92-96 mph fastball. There is also some sink to his fastball, which causes him to get many of ground balls. 
He also throws a slider, changeup and curveball, with his best off-speed pitch being his slider. However, his command and consistency came into question last season after he struggled to throw his secondary pitches for strikes, while also walking 65 batters in 120.1 innings.
During a one-on-one sit-down session with Funkhouser earlier in the year he mentioned that he spent this past offseason devoting a lot of time to working on improving his command and consistency.
However, despite putting up solid numbers overall this season, he once again has struggled with his command, surrendering 42 walks in 98.1 innings of work. 
Funkhouser, an All-American his sophomore season, posted solid numbers this year, but scouts were underwhelmed as they were hoping to see more improvement.
His lack of consistency and command have caused him to go from being a consensus top 10 pick, or even a possible top five selection, to now likely falling into the middle of the first round. 
Obviously, teams should be slightly concerned with the lack of command Funkhouser has demonstrated, but he has excellent stuff, a great work ethic and an outstanding drive to win – three great qualities for a potential top of the rotation pitcher.
It will be interesting to see how Funkhouser finishes his season in the NCAA Tournament, and that could play a significant part in where he is selected in less than three weeks. 
However, if he is still sitting on the board when the Brewers pick they should select him in a heartbeat. He has the ability to be a solid big league starting pitcher in the future and should move quickly through the minor leagues. Sure there are question marks about his command and consistency, but those challenges can be conquered with more coaching and hard work. 
Funkhouser has the potential to be a top of the line starter if he demonstrates the ability to command his off-speed pitches. 

For more MLB Draft coverage check out The3rdManIn.com 
Follow Dan Zielinski on Twitter @DanZielinski3

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The Empty Net Hockey Podcast - Ep.5 Eddie Garcia

Two Games into both the Western and Eastern Conferene Finals in the NHL Playoffs, I am happy to be joined by Eddie Garcia, NHL Reporter for Fox Sports Radio, to discuss the opening storylines of the NHL Playoffs 'Final Four.' Also, Detroit Red Wings Head Coach Mike Babcock has been made a few offers, where will he coach next? 

The Empty Net Hockey Podcast - Ep. 5 - Eddie Garcia

Contact for Mario Tirabassi, WSSP Producer/Hockey Writer:
Twitter: @Mario_Tirabassi
Email: mario.tirabassi@yahoo.com
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NHL Playoff Primer: Round 3 - The NHL Final Four is set

The NHL Playoffs are down to their own version of the "Final Four" as the Conference Final round begins this weekend. Teams like the Chicago Blackhawks and New York Rangers make returns to the Conference Finals as Chicago is in its fifth Conference Finals appearance in seven years, 21st in franchise history and New York makes its 15th appearance in history and its third in four years. Tampa Bay makes it's third appearance in franchise history, first since 2011 and the Anaheim Ducks make their first appearance in the Conference Final round since winning the Stanley Cup in 2007, their fourth overall appearance.

Second Round Predictions - How Did I Do? (Bold = Correct / Strike through = Wrong)

Eastern Conference -
Washington over New York  4-3
Tampa Bay over Montreal

Western Conference -
Anaheim over Calgary 4-3 (4-1)
Chicago over Minnesota 4-2 (4-0)

Eastern Conference Final - Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New York Rangers

How many one-goal games would you say the average team would face on their way to the Stanley Cup? Let's say if a team plays four rounds of six games each, that's 24 games and maybe half are decided by one goal. For the New York Rangers, they have played 12 games to get to the Eastern Conference Finals, and EVERY GAME has been decided by one goal. That is absolutely amazing. Being 8-4 in those 12 one-goal games is incredible as well, because when it comes to the NHL Playoffs, one-goal games usually come down to a lucky bounce one way or the other and for the Rangers to be on the better side of those breaks and bounces eight times already in these playoffs is nothing short of incredible. Obviously, it's not all luck. The Rangers have plenty of talent that is led by arguably the best goaltender in the world in Henrik Lundqvist and a defensive core of Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal, and Dan Girardi. Those four players are key to the Rangers grind it out, wear you down style of hockey that, as we see again in these playoffs, usually leads to tight-checking one-goal games where New York thrives. A statement I heard recently said that the Rangers have no offensive stars, and that Martin St. Louis and Rick Nash are longer big-time players. Nash, I disagree with because the guy led the NHL in goals for a while this season and ended up with 42 tallies in 79 games. But to the point of having no offensive stars, it makes sense because the Rangers have a bunch of offensive threats. Who do you cover - Nash? St. Louis? Brassard? Not to mention the emergence of rookie Kevin Hayes. Good luck with stretching your defense along the Rangers four-line attack.

Now they face the Tampa Bay Lightning, who have been able to light up the lamp offensively and take down Cup favorite Montreal on their way to the Eastern Conference Finals. The matchup will be, pardon the pun, the electric offense of the Lightning led by Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, and a revived Steven Stamkos against the defensive wall that is the Rangers blue-line. Defensively, Tampa Bay has been streaky against teams with balanced offensive attacks. They are prone to giving up the big games (6-2 loss to Montreal in Game 4, 4-0 loss to Detroit in Game 5), so it will be a big key in the series that guys like Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman (facing his old club) step up the pressure and force the Rangers to out-score them. If the Lightning can continue to give goal support to Ben Bishop, who has been a 6'7" wall of his own in these playoffs (1.81 GAA / .931 SV%), the Lightning may be able to skate past the grinding Rangers. But, most of the time it's proved foolish to bet against "King" Henrik.

Eastern Conference Final Schedule -

Game 1 Saturday, May 16 New York
Game 2 Monday, May 18 New York
Game 3 Wednesday, May 20 Tampa Bay
Game 4 Friday, May 22 Tampa Bay
Game 5 (if necessary) Sunday, May 24 New York
Game 6 (if necessary) Tuesday, May 26 Tampa Bay
Game 7 (if necessary) Friday, May 29 New York

Western Conference Final - Anaheim Ducks vs. Chicago Blackhawks

What's a Western Conference Final without the Blackhawks playing a team from California? In the last seven seasons, Chicago will have played in five Western Conference Finals and four will be against teams from the "Golden State." (2010 - San Jose, 2013 - Los Angeles, 2014 - Los Angeles, 2015 - Anaheim) It goes to show what the standard is in the NHL when you want to measure success, the Stanley Cup will go through Chicago and will have to go through somewhere in California. These teams are on another level when it comes to NHL Playoffs time with proven winners on both sides of this series. The Ducks have played just nine games to get to this point, the least amount of the four teams remaining. They swept the Winnipeg Jets in Round one and made quick work of the young Calgary Flames in just five games in their Semi-Final matchup. Impressive? Yes, very. But look at what they had to face in those matchups against the Jets and Flames a little closer and you might think, "We'll duh, of course the Ducks are in the Conference Finals." Against Winnipeg, the Ducks faced a team who were back in the post-season for the first time 19 years and had a devastating grind to get into the playoff picture. The Jets seemed to get ahead of themselves in the series and made mistakes that a team in it's first post season with their core of players would be making, and not to mention it would be difficult not to get caught up in the hype that surrounded the city of Winnipeg. With Calgary, again the Ducks faced an inexperienced playoff team. This time around, the Ducks had to deal with a fast team rather than a physical team, but the Ducks are fast, too. They were able to match the Flames speed and out-muscle them to a 4-1 series win. Plus, facing Ondrej Pavalec and Jonas Hiller/Karri Ramo is nice.

For Chicago, what more can you say? Everything the Ducks do, Chicago can do. In some facets, they do better. Corey Perry can be countered with Patrick Kane. Ryan Getzlaf countered by Jonathan Toews. The Blackhawks are battle tested and have played A LOT of playoff hockey in the past seven seasons with their core group of guys. This matchup comes down to depth, and experience. Chicago's blue-line will be tested hard as guys like Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Niklas Hjalmarsson have played big minutes and that doesn't look to change as Michal Rosival is out for the remainder of the playoffs with an ankle fracture and will be replaced with David Rundblad. Between the pipes, Corey Crawford looked every bit the player who was robbed of a Conn Smythe in 2013, if that continues, so will the Blackhawks. Frederick Andersen has been solid for the Ducks so far. He now faces his toughest test of his young NHL Playoff career with the waves of attack from the Chicago offense.

Western Conference Final Schedule -
Game 1 Sunday, May 17 Anaheim
Game 2 Tuesday, May 19 Anaheim
Game 3 Thursday, May 21 Chicago
Game 4 Saturday, May 23 Chicago
Game 5 (if necessary) Monday, May 25 Anaheim
Game 6 (if necessary) Wednesday, May 27 Chicago
Game 7 (if necessary) Saturday, May 30 Anaheim

Predictions -

Eastern Conference:
Tampa Bay over New York 4-2
Western Conference: Chicago over Anaheim 4-2

 Contact for Mario Tirabassi, WSSP Producer/Hockey Writer:
Twitter: @Mario_Tirabassi
Email: mario.tirabassi@yahoo.com
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The Empty Net Hockey Podcast - Ep. 4 Mike Halford

I was able to talk with Mike Halford, Senior Editor of Pro Hockey Talk on NBCSports.com, as the NHL Conference Semi-Final round of the playoffs is in full swing. Which teams will advance and what has surprised so far?

Link - The Empty Net Hockey Podcast Ep. 4 - Mike Halford

You can follow Mike on Twitter: @HalfordPHT

Contact for Mario Tirabassi, WSSP Producer/Hockey Writer:
Twitter: @Mario_Tirabassi
Email: mario.tirabassi@yahoo.com
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