Can Stoutland save Danny Watkins' career?

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Can Stoutland save Danny Watkins' career?

Before you write off Danny Watkins, before you file him in the drawer labeled “Busts” along with Jaiquawn Jarrett and Macho Harris, Jeff Stoutland would like a word with you.

The word is Patience.

Stoutland is the Eagles' new offensive line coach and he thinks Watkins still can be a big-time player. He has read the scouting reports and watched the film and he is convinced there is a lot there. So don’t ship Danny Boy back to the firehouse just yet.

“I know what a good player looks like,” Stoutland said on Monday, “and I like what I see in Danny.”

Stoutland should know what a good player looks like. He spent the 2012 season coaching the Alabama offensive line, the line that crushed Notre Dame in the BCS title game, a line with three stud players -- center Barrett Jones, guard Chance Warmack and tackle D.J. Fluker -- that will go early in April’s draft.

Watkins was a first-round pick two years ago but now he is viewed as a colossal mistake. He lost his starting job to a guy off the street (Jake Scott) last season. He fell so far out of favor with the Eagles' coaches that he didn’t even dress for the final two games.

Most fans see Watkins as a lost cause. Stoutland sees something entirely different.

“I think Danny Watkins is a winner,” Stoutland said. “He’s athletic, he’s explosive. I see a young man with a lot of talent.”

The first question that comes to mind is, “What film was Stoutland watching?” The player he described bore no resemblance to Watkins. It was almost painful to watch Watkins on film last season; he looked lost and ineffective.

Consider this: the Eagles started five different line combinations. They lost three starters to injury: Jason Peters, Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans. By the end of the season, they were starting a seventh-round pick (King Dunlap), a rookie (Dennis Kelly), an undrafted free agent (Dallas Reynolds) and Scott, who was out of the league when the season began. And Watkins couldn’t crack that lineup?

There is a temptation to write him off as a bad pick, an over-aged college player with a limited football background, a reach that didn’t pan out. Those things happen. You cut your losses and move on. But the Eagles are determined to salvage Watkins, and Stoutland is the man entrusted with that responsibility.

Can it work? Like so much else about the Chip Kelly regime, we’ll have to wait and see. But at least Watkins has a clean slate with this staff and, in Stoutland, he has a coach who will do everything possible to rebuild his confidence.

Kelly described Stoutland as “a creative, cutting-edge line coach with old-school toughness.” He said Stoutland’s strength is his ability to make “complex things very simple.” That is exactly what Watkins needs if he hopes to succeed.

Stoutland will simplify things for Watkins. Howard Mudd, the previous line coach, made them more complicated. Mudd’s techniques were unlike anything most of the linemen had played before. It was particularly hard for Watkins, who had played so little football. Also, Stoutland believes in stressing the positive. Mudd was more critical. Maybe a pat on the back is what Watkins needs at this point.

Greg Austin, the assistant offensive line coach, is 28, the same age as Watkins. Like Stoutland, he believes in positive reinforcement.

“We’re going to be the most positive coaches on the field,” Austin said. “Jeff said, ‘I’ll never give up on one of our guys.’ I like that approach. I’m sure it will make guys play better.

“We’re going to put Danny in situations where he can be successful. There is no reason why he can’t be. He is a big, explosive guy. We want our linemen to play fast and physical. Danny can do that.”

Watkins has the size (6-3, 310 pounds) and strength. Watching him on film, it appears his biggest problem is indecision. If the defense runs a blitz or a stunt, Watkins is often left flat-footed with his head spinning. It has happened often enough that it wrecked his confidence. Instead of being the aggressive drive blocker he was in college, Watkins became a guy who was pushed around.

If Stoutland can put Watkins in a system he understands and teach him techniques that he is comfortable with, maybe then he can rebuild his confidence and develop into the lineman the Eagles drafted him to be. There is a lot riding on this. If Stoutland can’t unlock Watkins’ potential and he spends another year in the shadows, that probably will be the end of it and he will officially be a bust.

But Stoutland doesn’t foresee that.

“I can’t wait to get my hands on Danny and start coaching him,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it.”

Vince Velasquez is subject of serious trade talks between Phillies, Rangers

Vince Velasquez is subject of serious trade talks between Phillies, Rangers

ATLANTA — Seven months after he was acquired from the Houston Astros and anointed a key piece in the Phillies’ rebuild, pitcher Vince Velasquez could be on the move again.

The Phillies and Texas Rangers are “pretty deep” in trade discussions involving Velasquez, a major league source told CSNPhilly.com on Friday night (see story).

The Rangers’ interest in Velasquez was reported by Jon Morosi of MLB Network earlier in the week and essentially confirmed when three Rangers scouts, including Scott Littlefield, one of that club’s top talent evaluators, showed up at Turner Field for Velasquez’s start against the Atlanta Braves on Friday night.

Velasquez delivered a solid but unspectacular performance in a 2-1 loss to the Braves, but he still has the qualities that attracted the Phillies to him last winter. He’s just 24 years old and has a power arm that has produced a 3.32 ERA in 18 starts. He has the upside to pitch at or near the top of a rotation if his development goes in the right direction and he stays healthy. That is a legitimate concern because he had Tommy John surgery as a young minor leaguer and spent time on the disabled list earlier this season with a biceps strain.

The question now is: where will Velasquez continue his development? Philadelphia? Texas? Somewhere else?

Clearly, the Phillies’ big wintertime acquisition is in play as Monday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline approaches.

Manager Pete Mackanin said he knows nothing of the front office’s trade plans, but he offered his opinion on trading a young pitcher like Velasquez.

“Our whole goal was to get young pitchers because they’re the most expensive commodity and if you can develop young pitchers like him and have four or five of those guys, then you’re ahead of the game,” Mackanin said. “But at the same time, at least as far as I’m concerned, I’ll listen to any offers. If you get three guys that are really good looking prospects because pitching is such a commodity, I’m sure you have to consider it.”

With the Rangers' scouts looking on, Velasquez pitched six innings and gave up seven hits and two runs. He walked two and struck out five. His fastball reached 96 mph, proving that his stuff is good. Mackanin, however, said he thought Velasquez relied too much on his off-speed stuff instead of his power fastball.

“It was unusual to me the way he pitched,” Mackanin said. “It was almost like a finesse pitcher instead of a power pitcher. I’m not arguing with it because he did a good job, but he made me a little nervous here and there. I like the 16 strikeouts.”

That, of course, was a reference to Velasquez’s 16-strikeout complete game win over the Padres on April 14. Could anyone have imagined that he'd be the subject of trade talks 3½ months later?

Velasquez said he was aware of the trade buzz surrounding him and unbothered by it. He’s been down this road before. He said he would not be disappointed if he were traded because he understands baseball is a business.

“At first when I got traded from the Astros it was kind of tough for me, but you have to move on and make the best of what you've got,” Velasquez said. “If things happen, just let it happen. If I go to another team, then I've got to make the best of what I've got there. There's a lot of things that are in the future. I don't know what to expect is what I'm saying. Again, all I can do is live in the present and live another day tomorrow. If something happens, something happens. I've got to make the best of what you've got today.

“It's just one of those things I can't control. I had to fight, had to battle for a spot here in Philadelphia and I'm very thankful for the opportunity and everything. Again, I've still got to keep working hard and make the best of what I've got.”

Any team looking to acquire Velasquez would have to pay a steep price. In addition to having talent and upside, he won’t be eligible for salary arbitration until after the 2018 season and free agency until after the 2021 season.

The Phillies have a good knowledge of Texas’ deep farm system having scouted it extensively — and plucked from it — in making the deal for Cole Hamels a year ago. Are the Phillies about to fuel their rebuild with more talent from the Texas system? Stay tuned.

Velasquez isn’t the only Phillies starter who could move. Several teams remain interested in Jeremy Hellickson (see story), who is scheduled to pitch against Atlanta on Saturday night. The Rangers, in fact, have some interest in Hellickson as a fallback option if they don’t get a pitcher elsewhere. Velasquez is not the only pitcher the Rangers have on their radar, but from a Phillies’ perspective, he is certainly the most interesting.

Best of MLB: Rougned Odor homers twice for Rangers in 8-3 win over Royals

Best of MLB: Rougned Odor homers twice for Rangers in 8-3 win over Royals

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Rougned Odor homered twice, A.J. Griffin pitched into the sixth inning and the Texas Rangers beat the Kansas City Royals 8-3 on Friday night.

Jurickson Profar also went deep for the Rangers, and scored three runs.

Odor hit a solo homer in the first that put AL West-leading Texas up 3-0 against Edinson Volquez (8-9). That 443-foot drive into the second deck of seats in right field came a night after Odor's 465-footer that is the longest in his career. He had another solo shot in the seventh, his 21st of the season barely clearing the 8-foot wall in right.

Eric Hosmer homered for the defending World Series champion Royals, who dropped to 10 games behind Cleveland in the AL Central.

Griffin (4-1) had his longest outing in seven starts in just over a month since coming off the disabled list because of right shoulder stiffness. The right-hander struck out one and walked two while throwing 66 of 98 pitches for strikes in 5 2-3 innings (see full recap)

Chatwood, Gonzalez lead Rockies over Mets for 4th win in row
NEW YORK -- Tyler Chatwood kept winning on the road, Carlos Gonzalez homered and drove in four runs and the Colorado Rockies defeated the New York Mets 6-1 Friday night for their fourth straight victory.

Mark Reynolds also homered for the surging Rockies, who are 11-4 since the All-Star break and have moved within four games of Miami for the second NL wild-card spot.

Chatwood (10-6) improved to 6-0 with a 1.30 ERA away from Coors Field this season. The 26-year-old is 4-6 with a 5.69 ERA at home.

Gonzalez matched a season-high hitting streak of 11 games with an RBI double in the first. He hit a 448-foot, three-run drive in the ninth for his 21st homer.

Steven Matz (8-7) gave up two runs and 10 hits in six innings (see full recap)

Lester recovers from rut of bad starts, Cubs rout Mariners
CHICAGO -- Jon Lester recovered from a rut of bad starts, pitching six shutout innings that led the Chicago Cubs over the Seattle Mariners 12-1 Friday for their third straight win.

Jason Heyward and David Ross homered as the NL Central leaders improved to 9-5 since the All-Star break following a 1-9 slump. Seattle lost in its first trip to Wrigley Field since 2007.

Lester (11-4) had lasted just 16 innings over his previous four starts, going 1-1 with a 10.13 ERA. That skid came after he had gone 9-3 with a 2.03 ERA in his first 16 starts.

Lester gave up four hits, struck out seven and walked two. He was already done when there was a 74-minute rain delay in the seventh.

Mike Montgomery, traded last week from Seattle to the Cubs, pitched the final two innings. He gave up a single to Shawn O'Malley in the ninth for the Mariners' run.

Hisashi Iwakuma (11-7) had won his last five starts, but gave up five runs and eight hits in three innings (see full recap).

Source: Phillies, Rangers in 'pretty deep' trade talks about Vince Velasquez

Source: Phillies, Rangers in 'pretty deep' trade talks about Vince Velasquez

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — The Phillies lost, 2-1, to the Atlanta Braves on Friday night.

The big news from this game, however, was that Vince Velasquez might have made his last start with the Phillies. A major league source told CSNPhilly.com that the Phillies and Texas Rangers are “pretty deep” in trade discussions involving Velasquez. The Rangers, the source said, also have some interest in Jeremy Hellickson, who pitches for the Phillies on Saturday night, but he appears to be a secondary target (see story).

It would take top talent to get Velasquez, a 24-year-old right-hander with a power arm. The Phillies acquired him over the winter from Houston as the centerpiece in the deal that sent Ken Giles to the Astros.

The Rangers had several scouts at the game, including Scott Littlefield, one of their top talent evaluators.

The Rangers’ interest in Velasquez was reported earlier in the week by Jon Morosi of MLB Network.

Apparently there’s more than just interest (see story). Stay tuned as Monday’s trade deadline approaches.

Starting pitching report
Velasquez scattered seven hits and two runs over six innings. He walked two and struck out five. Velasquez battled some command issues and needed 91 pitches to complete the six innings.

He is 8-3 with a 3.32 ERA in 18 starts. He has a 2.75 ERA in six starts since a brief stint on the disabled list with a right biceps strain.

Braves right-hander Tyrell Jenkins gave up just one unearned run over six innings.

Bullpen report
Both bullpens pitched scoreless ball.

At the plate
Phillies leadoff man Cesar Hernandez reached base in his first three at-bats and scored the Phillies’ only run on an error in the third inning. 

The Braves scored two runs in the third inning on three singles, a sacrifice bunt and a walk against Velasquez. Gordon Beckham and Nick Markakis drove in the runs with base hits.

Up next
Hellickson (7-7, 3.65) makes perhaps his final start with the Phillies on Saturday night. He will face Braves right-hander Julio Teheran (3-8, 2.71).