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The new ‘Killer Bs.’ And I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords

e8ec8ab8a39705da6c6bcb54c7e664ccIf you are a baseball fan and were born before, say, 1990, the nickname “Killer Bs” should create a distinct image in your mind.

Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell and a revolving door of players made up Houston Astros’ trio of “Killer Bs” from the late-90s and early 2000s. I’m not sure why everyone felt the need to always group Biggio and Bagwell with a third alliterative surname, but that’s how it was done. I guess three bees are so much more intimidating than a measly duo of bees. I can’t say since one actual bee is enough to send this phobic man into a catatonic state.

In the ’90s, Derek Bell or Sean Berry played the role of the third man. (I think Bill Spires even snuck in there for a bit too). At the turn of the millennium, Lance Berkman fit right in. Carlos Beltran was part of the band for a few incredible weeks in 2004. But Chris Burke was never included. I don’t know what the makers of that poster were thinking. Also, the nickname shouldn’t have an apostrophe. But I digress.

Together, Biggio, Bagwell and the other guy were the “Killer Bs.”

That time has passed, and the nickname’s legacy remains pretty much in tact, at least in baseball. The Pittsburgh Steelers are using it to describe Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and, when he’s not suspended, Martavis Bryant. Honestly, the usage there makes more sense on the surface considering the Steelers’ uniform color scheme.

But it’s time for baseball to dust it off and get it to catch on across the country en masse with Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. 

Too soon? Yeah. Collectively, they have fewer than 4,000 MLB at-bats between them. Bradley looked like an overrated prospect prior to 2016, and Betts has just one full season under his belt. Biggio is a Hall of Famer, Bagwell should be one, and both were established studs by the time they were tagged with the moniker 20 years ago.

But baseball should be doing whatever it can to market its young stars — Bradley Jr. is the elder at 26; Betts and Bogaerts are 23 — and three all-around quality ballplayers in a big, diehard baseball market seems like a perfect opportunity. I know baseball is strongest at the local level; its low national ratings are commonly overrated when discussing the sport’s well-being. That doesn’t mean baseball should just ignore attempts to get fans everywhere interested in particular players. Why not make Betts, Bogaerts and Bradley Jr. poster children?

Bradley Jr. was already a spotlight player in May as his hitting streak was the top story around the league — whenever Clayton Kershaw wasn’t pitching. And when Bradley’s streak stopped at 29 games, Betts took over the lead by hitting basically every ball he saw out of the park. In the span of seven at-bats on Tuesday and Wednesday, Betts hit five home runs. Meanwhile, Bogaerts entered tonight leading Major League Baseball in hits and batting average. That’s all.

Sell that burgeoning talent, that youth, and the excitement those three create on the diamond, package it with a gimmick that ties eras together and see what happens. And yes, the fact that all three are not white should make this an even more important matter to the powers that be.

At the very least, wait a year, let David Ortiz have the going-away party he deserves and then plaster these guys all over any media outlet you have. I trust that none of them fall into a horrendous slump that sees them benched or flown back to the minors. In the near future, they may even be batting back-t0-back-to-back in the Red Sox’s order. Plus, Boston is their baseball home, so the “Killer Bs” will be playing in the “B-hive?” OK, that’s a little ridiculous. Or a lot ridiculous.

I think a committed, multi-player nationwide campaign would be fun. I’m a Yankees fan, and I have loved watching Betts, Bogaerts and Bradley Jr. this year. I think everyone outside of Boston and who doesn’t pay for the MLB Extra Innings package would love them as well. Baseball should expose them to the hilt and keep alive the charm of the “Killer Bs” nickname.

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The latest shortstop “renaissance” is just beginning

April 25, 2016 2 comments

640x450_jeter_si_p1kyp2kaLast night, ESPN Red Sox writer Scott Lauber posted a stellar article on shortstops Xander Bogaerts and Carlos Correa. It sort of reads like two short features in one as you get background about each player. But before that, Lauber points out how Bogaerts and Correa are part of a group including Corey Seager, Francisco Lindor, Addison Russell and Trevor Story that hearkens back to a time when the likes of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra and Miguel Tejada were all young and ruling during the late-90s and early 2000s.

Lauber does say that this current class of burgeoning shortstop stars is “absurdly deep.” However, it may be deeper than he and many casual baseball fans realize.

MLB.com and Baseball America each included 13 shortstops among their preseason top 50 prospects lists. Baseball Prospectus had 12. MLB.com placed 11 shortstops inside its top 30 alone. One of those players, Seager, the No. 1 player on all of those lists, is already a major force in the Dodgers’ lineup and showing why so many picked him to take home Rookie of the Year. I made that same call and still feel very comfortable about it, no matter how much Story doth protest early on.

However, for 2016 purposes and beyond, we’re waiting on Trea Turner, J.P. Crawford, Dansby Swanson, Orlando Arcia, Brendan Rodgers, Raul Mondesi, Franklin Barreto, Alex Bregman, Tim Anderson, Gleyber Torres, Jorge Mateo and Ozhaino Albies. And those are the most common names in only the top 50. That’s the tip of the iceberg of minor league talent. For instance, Story was nowhere to be found on either Baseball America’s or Baseball Prospectus’ preseason top 100. He was ranked 8th and 10th by each organization, respectively, just among Rockies prospects. And look what he’s done so far.

Obviously, not all of those players will pan out as expected. The picture at the top is a good example. In 1997, those five shirtless guys — from left: Alex Gonzalez, Alex Rodriguez, Edgar Renteria, Rey Ordonez and Derek Jeter — were seen, according to Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci, as members of “The best crop of young shortstops to come along in 56 years.” They were “the most multi-talented group ever … redefining the position and putting a fresh face on the game.”

Two were clearly great. Renteria had an accomplished, long career. And the remaining 40 percent of that quintet played baseball too.

Secondly, not all of these current prospects will remain at shortstop if they reach the majors. Bregman is a shortstop on the Astros. I mean, he is for now. If he remains in Houston, he sure as hell won’t be remaining at short.

But while Bogaerts, Correa and others are on the scene and making their presence known at the 6, they are the first wave in a sense. The pipeline of difference-making shortstops didn’t empty with the promotions of Seager and Story. The pipeline appears to be absolutely stocked and this “renaissance,” as the editor of Lauber’s story put in the title, will probably last a long time.