Baseball's Hottest - NFL Draft: TE's

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By Jim Hurley:

Let's not have any jokes here about any blind squirrels finding an acorn ... the Cleveland Indians (originally forecast to win a grand total of 71 games this year by the guys and gals in downtown Las Vegas) have more than simply stumbled upon their Major-League Baseball-best seven-game winning streak.

The born-again Tribe - long an afterthought in the American League Central - followed up that epic three-game sweep of the Boston Red Sox last week with a three-game weekend sweep at the Seattle Mariners and so when manager Manny Acta and Company invade Anaheim beginning Monday night for this three-game set don't look surprised when/if Cleveland wins this series too!

These Indians are hot-hot-hot!

The mostly no-name Indians - go ahead and tell us three different position players right now, we double-dare you! - nailed down their latest win on Sunday when they scored six runs in the first four innings en route to a 6-4 win over LHP Erik Bedard and the slumping Seattle M's and have you noticed that Cleveland (7-2) ranks third in the AL in batting average (.283) and fourth in the league in runs scored (46 or better than 5 runs a game)?

Better yet, Cleveland fans, your team might just be sticking around for awhile at or near the top of the AL Central when you stop to consider that two of the divisional favorites (that's the Minnesota Twins and the Detroit Tigers) exited Sunday's diamond action with identical -- and ugly -- 3-6 records.

If you're looking for a couple of names to attach to Cleveland's early-season success than try out closer RHP Chris Perez (four saves and a sparkling 0.00 ERA) and SS Asdrubal Cabrera whose already whacked three home runs and is batting .316 with 9 RBI while hitting out of the #2 hole in the order. One-half of the Cabrera middle infield (note that much-traveled Orlando Cabrera is plying his wares at second base these days and currently is hitting a robust .375), Asdrubal Cabrera tweaked his swing in spring training this year after missing a chunk of 2010 with a broken forearm and he's riding a neat wave right now - as are the entire Indians team.

Surprise, surprise!

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The Colorado Rockies - like the aforementioned Indians - are off to a super-fast start (they're 6-2 while heading into their four-game series at Citi Field against the New York Mets) and much of that is attributed to getting off to fast starts in the games themselves.

The Rockies have outscored their opponents 14-1 in the first inning of games this year and Sunday's four-run top-of-the-first (three coming in on a Jose Lopez home run) was a necessary evil when you consider the Pittsburgh Pirates took a 5-4 lead after four innings before Colorado charged back with a pair of runs in the top of the seventh en route to a 6-5 win. Think it felt strange for Pirates new manager Clint Hurdle to face his old Rockies team for that four-game set? ...

Shhh, don't tell anyone but the Los Angeles Angels RHP Jered Weaver is 3-and-oh with a miniscule 0.87 ERA - what, it's too early to discuss who'll be the AL's starting pitcher in the July 12th All-Star Game in Arizona?

Weaver was absolutely magical in Sunday's 3-1 rubber-game match against the visiting Toronto Blue Jays: The blond-haired hurler fanned a career-best 15 batters and allowed just a single run and four hits in 7 2/3 innings but afterwards the Halos ace was kicking himself for walking four batters before giving way to bullpen guys Hisanori Takahashi and closer Fernando Rodney.

P.S., Weaver - who now has allowed three earned runs or less in his last 10 overall starts and who sports a tidy 1.90 ERA during this span - is responsible for three of the Angels' five wins this season and he's scheduled to make his next start Friday night at the Chicago White Sox.

Editor's Note: We will have complete and daily Position-by-Position coverage of the upcoming NFL Draft that takes place Thursday, April 28th thru Saturday April 30th. Note that it's all capped off by our annual Jim Sez NFL Mock Draft to be posted right here on this web site on Wednesday, April 27th.

Now, let's get to the top Tight Ends (TEs) on the rookie market this season:

KYLE RUDOLPH, TE, Notre Dame - The clear-cut top first-year player at this position has great size at 6-foot-6, 265 pounds but a torn hamstring injury suffered last season kept him from working out at the recent NFL Combine and thus he's now considered a second-round pick but don't be entirely shocked if he's nabbed very late in Round I. Rudolph missed the Fighting Irish's final six regular-season games last year and thus he registered only 28 receptions for 328 yards and three TDs in the entire 2010 season but note he was named a semifinalist for the prestigious John Mackey Award in his sophomore campaign back in 2009 (the only soph ever to be named as a semifinalist for the award that shines the spotlight on the country's top tight end). Good, soft hands and a solid runner once he gets the motor cranked up, Rudolph could be a major middle-of-the-field hit on a team that sports star wide receivers.

LUKE STOCKER, TE, Tennessee - Another size/speed guy at this position as the Volunteers veteran (he played four years for the SEC school) improved his recent 40-yard times to 4.71 and 4.74 and there's some talk that he could slide into the second round of this month's NFL Draft although most forecasts call for him to be early-to-middle of Round III. Stocker - who stands 6-foot-5, 258 pounds - sports soft hands too but is not considered a top-flight blocker at this stage and many scouting reports claim he does not possess great upper-body strength. Last year Stocker nabbed 39 passes for 417 yards (a solid 10.6 yards-per-catch average) and he was Tennessee's only player to record at least one catch in every game and that included a strong 5-catch, 58-yard showing in the Music City Bowl.

VIRGIL GREEN, TE, Nevada - The pre-NFL Combine measurements on this former Wolf Pack star read 6-foot-4, 248 pounds but the folks in Indianapolis claim he's more like 6-foot-3 ½ and 253 pounds and so that might cost him a few draft spots here. Stay tuned. Green did not drop any of the 15-or-so passes thrown his way at the recent pro workouts and last year he averaged a hefty 15 yards a grab while hailing down 35 passes while scoring 5 touchdowns. Odds are he'll slip into the top 90-or-so picks here and could be a major sleeper providing he convinces teams that his blocking will be improved.

LANCE KENDRICKS, TE, Wisconsin - This 6-foot-3, 243-pounder from Milwaukee will be the fourth tight end from this Big 10 school to be drafted since 2006 (see Owen Daniels, Travis Beckum and Garrett Graham) but most insider reports say he took a step or two back during recent NFL workouts when it came to his agility drills although he looked smooth in running routes and flagging down the football. Kendricks nabbed 43 passes worth 661 yards with 5 TDs in his senior season and he should be among the top 100 players drafted on this final weekend in April.

NOTE: Catch our NBA coverage - remember that Wednesday is the final night of NBA Regular-Season action-- plus more NFL Draft Position Previews all week long in Jim Sez.


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