National League Central

2017 National League Preview: National League Central

The National League Central is one of the most top-heavy divisions in the majors. With the World Series champion Chicago Cubs, perennial playoff contenders St. Louis Cardinals, and the ever competitive Pittsburgh Pirates, this division is one of the toughest in the National League. The top team in the National League Central is a no-brainer, but 2-5 are another story all together.

5th: Cincinnati Reds

Projected 2017 Record: 70-92

National League Central

Joey Votto headlines a rebuilding Cincinnati club . (Credit: Al Behrman/ AP Photo).

The Cincinnati Reds seem to be on the tail end of a long rebuild with three straight losing seasons. Reds stalwart Brandon Phillips was traded in the offseason. Accordingly, infielder Jose Peraza will be the Opening Day starter at second base. He will join Scott Schebler, Tucker Barnhart and Billy Hamilton to form a solid young core for the Reds.

Veterans Joey Votto and Adam Duvall will support the offense while the younger players come along. Those two won’t be enough to carry a weak offense and a developing pitching staff.

The Reds will use 2017 as a tryout year and will be putting out lineups that will not be competitive. They say it’s always darkest before the dawn, but the sun should come up soon in Cincinnati.

4th: Milwaukee Brewers

Projected 2017 Record: 75-87

Its been half a decade since the Brewers tasted postseason baseball. Three of the team’s top 12 players by WAR in 2016 are gone, and their roles will need to be filled. Gone are solid relievers Tyler Thornburg and Jeremy Jeffress, as well as catcher Jonathan Lucroy. The Brewers will rely on a mix of veterans and prospects to lead them.

Up the middle, shortstop Orlando Arcia will pair with second baseman Jonathan Villar to form a young infield tandem that should provide a spark at the top of the order. They will rely on Ryan Braun and former KBO star Eric Thames to drive them in.

Veterans Junior Guerra and Matt Garza bookend a young rotation. Zach Davies, Wily Peralta and Jimmy Nelson all need to improve. The offense should be around league average, but the pitching staff will need to make solid improvements to make 2017 anything more than a rebuilding year.

3rd: Pittsburgh Pirates

Projected 2017 Record: 84-78

National League Central

Andrew McCutchen should return to form in 2017 (Credit: Jim Mcisaac, Getty Images).

The Pirates are coming off a dramatic offseason in which they almost traded away their franchise player Andrew McCutchen. He will enter the 2017 season in a new frame of mind and at a new position. He will move from center to right field, accompanying a reshuffle of the outfield.

Even with a realignment in the outfield, it remains the team’s strength. McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco form a robust top of the lineup. Jung Ho Kang and Francisco Cervelli also add to Pittsburgh’s solid offense.

The rotation is filled with former top prospects. Ivan Nova is the only non-home grown starter. Gerrit Cole is the ace, and it remains to be seen if the rest of the rotation can turn its promise into prosperity.

With a solid club all around, the Pirates could finish anywhere in the top two of the National League Central.

2nd: St. Louis Cardinals

Projected 2017 Record: 87-75

After two World Series appearances in the previous five seasons, the Cardinals failed to qualify for the postseason in 2016. This year’s team is full of talent and NL All-Stars all over the diamond.

On the mound, 25-year-old Carlos Martinez will lead the rotation. He will be backed by Mike Leake, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha and veteran Adam Wainwright. All five have at least one NL-All Star appearance.

Nevertheless, the talent isn’t limited to just the mound. Matt Carpenter headlines the lineup. The addition of Dexter Fowler provides speed St. Louis has been lacking. He will be joined by outfielders Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty to give the Cardinals an excellent outfield trio. Stalwart catcher Yadier Molina will be behind the plate for his 14th season in St. Louis.

A deep pitching staff is the strength of the Cardinals, but their offense is not far behind. They will compete for one of the two National League Wild Cards in 2017.

1st: Chicago Cubs

Projected 2017 Record: 105-57

National League Central

Kris Bryant and the Cubs should easily win the National League Central (Credit: Michael Zagaris/Getty Images).

Coming off a dramatic World Series victory, the Cubs are the de facto favorite in the National League Central, if not a favorite to repeat as World Series Champions. It’s easy to see why.

Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester sit atop of a solid rotation. Young starters Kyle Hendricks and Mike Montgomery will be joined by grizzled veteran John Lackey to round it out. The talent on the mound is good, but it’s what’s off the mound that has Cubs fans drooling.

Former top prospects Addison Russell and Javier Baez form one of the elite shortstop-second base tandems in the National League. In the corners of the infield, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and third baseman Kris Bryant are some of the top producers at their respective positions.

Supported by super utility man Ben Zobrist and right fielder Jason Heyward, the Cubs are stacked in the field. That doesn’t even include uber-prospect catcher Willson Contreras, who will play his first full season in the majors in 2017.

Chicago Cubs fans have plenty to be excited about in 2017, as a repeat title is well within reach.

 

 

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National League East

Predicting Each MLB Division: National League East

Opening Day is 44 days away, and Spring Training is already here. We are going to take a division by division look at each team and try to predict their 2017 season. Let’s take a look at the National League East.

Philadelphia Phillies – Fifth

National League East

Odubel Herrera was a Rule 5 Draft steal for the Phillies (Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports).

The 2017 season will be another long one for the Phillies. However, contention is not that far away.

Starting pitcher Aaron Nola will look to make the jump from top prospect to top pitcher. He will be joined by young pitchers Vincent Velasquez and Jerad Eickhoff to form a solid pitching core. They will be supplemented by veterans Jeremy Hellickson and Clay Buchholz.

The bullpen will rely on closer Jeanmar Gomez and reliever Pat Neshek to provide solid seasons. Starters will need to pitch late into games to cover their bullpen.

In the field, sluggers Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph will be joined by speedster Odubel Herrera to form a core of young players the Phillies are counting on. Outfielders Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders add experience to the lineup.

The Phillies are one of the youngest teams in the majors and will rely heavily on their farm system in the coming years. For now their talent level is just not there, and it will be difficult for them to finish better than fifth place in a tough division.

Atlanta Braves – Fourth

National League East

R.A. Dickey will move from the AL East to the NL East in 2017 (Credit: AP Photo/Winslow Townson).

General Manager John Coppolella has been aggressive this past offseason, hoping to draw more fans to their new park. The team has improved all over the diamond, especially on the mound.

Staff Ace Julio Teheran will have some good mentors for the 2017 season with the additions of R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon. Mike Foltynewicz and Jaime Garcia will round out the rotation with something to prove in 2017.

Jim Johnson enters 2017 as the closer for the Braves and headlines a no-name pen. Watch out for youngsters Mauricio Cabrera and Paco Rodriguez. Both players put up a sub 3.00 ERA and should only improve after having gained MLB experience in 2016.

The infield will be bolstered by newcomer Brandon Phillips. He will mentor top prospect Dansby Swanson and mix well with Matt Kemp and Freddie Freeman to form a potent lineup.

While there is talent in Atlanta, their prospects in 2017 of winning the division are slim. A fourth-place finish will be an achievement for the Braves, as they have the building blocks for a bright future.

Miami Marlins – Third

National League East

Realmuto is the present and future for the Marlins behind the plate (Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports).

After the Jose Fernandez tragedy at the end of the 2016 season, this year will prove to be a tough one in Miami. While the Marlins can’t replace a personality like Fernandez, they will have to replace him in the rotation. That is a tall task.

The additions of pitchers Edinson Volquez and Dan Straily are a step in the right direction, but they need more. Wei-Yin Chen will be the staff ace, and needs to improve on his 2016 ERA of 4.96. Solid years from Adam Conley and Tom Koehler will stabilize the back of the rotation.

In the pen, closer A.J. Ramos will be joined by a deep supporting cast. Brad Ziegler, Kyle Barraclough, David Phelps and Junichi Tazawa provide plenty of talent and experience to form a solid bullpen.

Dee Gordon will return for a full season, and catcher J.T. Realmuto will look to improve his offense. Led by Giancarlo Stanton, the outfield of Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna will power the Marlins’ offense.

If the Marlins can get solid starts out of their rotation, their bullpen will be able to close out games. With an explosive offense headed by Stanton, the Marlins are a dark horse contender in the NL East. A third place finish seems more likely.

New York Mets – Second

National League East

Walker had a good first season in New York, blasting 23 bombs (Credit: Frank Franklin II/AP).

As the 2017 season approaches, the Mets look to build upon their NLWC loss from last season. With the majority of the roster returning, the Mets are a solid team heading into 2017.

Pitcher Matt Harvey comes into the season trying to rebound from shoulder surgery last season and will be a big boost for their staff. Starters Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz will also try to stick in the rotation. Anchored by Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom, the rotation is what drives the Mets success.

The bullpen will be centered around NL All-Star closer Jeurys Familia. Bolstered by Hansel Robles and Addison Reed, the Mets have a pen that should work well in tandem with their star-studded rotation.

Off the mound, the Mets will be led by left fielder Yoenis Cespedes. Cespedes provides plenty of power in the middle of the lineup. Coupled with veteran Curtis Granderson, Neil Walker, Lucas Duda and Jay Bruce, the Mets have a potent lineup. Things could be even better for the Mets if franchise cornerstone David Wright can return from injury.

The story for the Mets this season will be how their star players return from injury. With Harvey and Wright both trying to return to stardom, the Mets can’t count on them for the 2017 season. If they do return, the Mets could go much farther than many think. At this point, the Mets are a good bet to finish second in the division.

National League East

Zimmerman will hope to bounce back after a dreadful 2016 (Credit: Alex Brandon/AP Photo).

Washington Nationals – First

With a stacked rotation and lineup, the Nationals have underperformed in the past few seasons. With new additions in the offseason, they should make the playoffs.

The pitching staff remains intact from 2016, headlined by the one-two punch of Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. Both pitchers have Cy Young capabilities and are set to have terrific seasons. The rotation will be filled out by Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark and Joe Ross to form one of the best in the majors.

The bullpen is lacking, with journeyman Shawn Kelley taking over the closer role in D.C. If relievers Blake Treinen and Sammy Solis can repeat their 2016 performances, this weakness may turn into a strength.

The Washington lineup is one of the deepest in the bigs, headlined by Bryce Harper. He will be joined by Trea Turner, Daniel Murphy and Adam Eaton to form a potent offense. Veterans Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman are also solid players that Washington will be counting on.

The Nationals are one of the deepest teams in the league, and their talent level rivals any other team. The 2017 season should be a good one in D.C., as the Nationals have the talent to finish first in the division.

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World Baseball Classic Preview: Pool D

In this final review of the WBC teams, Pool D will take center stage. Playing in Jalisco, Mexico, these teams will be battling for the final spot to move on to round two. If you missed any of our previous pool reviews, you can find them below.

1.World Baseball Classic Preview: Pool A

2.World Baseball Classic Preview: Pool B

3.World Baseball Classic Preview: Pool C

Italy

World Baseball Classic

Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli will represent his home country in the WBC (Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports).

Italy is not known for its baseball history, but they’re set to start making some in this year’s WBC. After making a surprising run to the second round in 2013, Italy will look to build on their success.

 

Most of the lineup from 2013’s squad will make a return in 2017, as Italy has a host of major league talent. On the mound, one of the game’s most interesting pitchers will suit up for his mother country.

Pat Venditte, the switch-pitching reliever, gives Italy a whole new dimension in the bullpen. Venditte can pitch left and right handed in the same inning. He will also be joined by journeyman reliever Tommy Layne.

In the field, Italy has as much talent as any other team in Pool D. The pitching staff will be handled by veteran catcher Francisco Cervelli. After seven seasons as a part-time starter in the Bronx, Cervelli has performed well after earning the starting job in Pittsburgh.

Another position player of note is Chris Colabello. After having a break out year in 2015, Colabello was suspended for PEDs in 2016 and had a -36 OPS+. It remains to be seen what Colabello will contribute. Brandon Nimmo and Daniel Descalso will also play the field for Italy.

With a good amount of talent both on the mound and the field, team Italia is set to compete in the WBC. Italy will have a tough road to the second round in a competitive pool.

Mexico

World Baseball Classic

Dodgers slugger Adrian Gonzalez returns for team Mexico (Christian Petersen/Getty Images).

As the host country, Mexico will have home field advantage. With a dominant pitching staff to rely on, Mexico won’t need much offense to stay competitive. That’s good news for team Mexico.

With a rotation of five major league starters, Mexico has plenty of starters to choose from. Pitchers Julio Urias, Marco Estrada and Jaime Garcia will lead the staff. They will be joined by Jorge De La Rosa and Yovani Gallardo to round out the starters for Mexico.

With that strong rotation also comes a strong bullpen. The bullpen is as deep as the rotation, with Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna headlining the pen. Osuna will be joined by Oliver Perez, Joakim Soria and Sergio Romo to form a dominant bullpen.

Off the mound, Mexico is sorely lacking. Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez will lead the position players. After hitting 18 homers and driving in 90 RBIs in 2016, Gonzalez is poised to perform well in the WBC.

He will be joined in the lineup by A’s slugger Khris Davis. The 29-year-old outfielder hit 42 homers in 2016, finding his power as he put up a 126 OPS+. While Mexico is lacking on position player talent, Gonzalez and Davis are some of the best at their respective positions.

As Mexico will rely on it’s dominant pitching, it will be hard to muster much runs. Gonzalez and Davis will have to be on top of their games to help propel team Mexico out of the first round.

Puerto Rico

World Baseball Classic

After winning the Caribbean Series, Puerto Rico will rely on Carlos Beltran to lead them (J. Meric/Getty Images North America).

With an ample amount of talent in the majors, Puerto Rico is still overlooked. The island is small compared to other nations in the tournament, but their amount of talent certainly is not.

 

Puerto Rico is coming off an inspiring championship victory in the Caribbean Series and will use that momentum to drive their WBC run.

Top pitching prospects Jose De Leon of the Rays and Jose Berrios of the Twins will be led by veteran starter Hector Santiago. Santiago is their most accomplished starter, with a 3.84 ERA in five major league seasons. Their position players far exceed their pitchers.

As their pitchers try to limit runs, these players will try to score them. They will be lead by all-star outfielder Carlos Beltran. The Puerto Rico native is a legend both in his native land and the states, as he has hit 421 career homers and stolen 312 bases.

He will be joined in the outfield by veterans Angel Pagan and Eddie Rosario. The infield will be manned by young stars Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa and Javier Baez. Lindor and Correa are some of baseball’s greatest shortstops, and Baez has crazy power potential.

Behind the dish will be none other than Yadier Molina. One of the best defensive catchers in history, Molina is a vital asset for Puerto Rico.

Just because Puerto Rico may be lacking in terms of major league talent doesn’t mean they won’t be able to compete. A limited pitching staff does hinder Puerto Rico, who will have to rely heavily on its big bats.

Venezuela

World Baseball Classic

Felix Hernandez returns to the WBC for Venezuela (Doug Benc/Getty Images North America).

As Venezuela keeps churning out major league talent, you would think they would have at least one WBC championship to their name. After being knocked out in the first round in 2013’s WBC, Venezuela will be more determined than ever to bring home the title.

On the mound is one of the game’s greats. Felix Hernandez has been nothing short of dominant since he set foot into the majors. With a career 3.16 ERA and 8.4 K/9, Hernandez will be a force in Pool D.

He will be joined by major league veterans Jhoulys Chacin and Martin Perez for a solid rotation. The bullpen will be a bit lacking, with only Bruce Rondon and Hector Rondon as the notable relievers.

There will be plenty of firepower in the lineup. All-around great catcher Salvador Perez will handle the pitching staff. As Hernandez and company know, having a great catcher is critical. With multiple gold gloves, Perez is one of the best in the tournament.

He will be joined by all-star sluggers Jose Altuve and Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera is arguably the best pure hitter in the WBC, able to hit for both power and average. Altuve is no slouch either, winning the AL batting title in 2016. Rockies right fielder Carlos Gonzalez will lead the outfield, as well as slotting in the lineup behind Cabrera. With massive raw power from the right side of the plate, Gonzalez is poised to feast on opponent’s pitching.

Venezuela is a dark horse in the WBC, being overshadowed by behemoths like the Dominican Republic and the USA. As a strong club overall, Venezuela will be a tough competitor in Pool D.

Verdict

Pool D has one of the best collections of overall talent in the WBC. With parity throughout, it is hard to pick a favorite. Italy will have the toughest time advancing from Pool D, but don’t be surprised if they pull off an upset or two. Mexico is limited offensively, and will have to rely on its dominant pitching staff.

The top two teams in Pool D have a good mix of both batting and pitching. Puerto Rico will rely on young arms and a mix of veteran and up-and-coming position players to carry them. They will be a tough out, but not too tough for the favorite: Venezuela. Any team with Miguel Cabrera, Jose Altuve and Felix Hernandez has to be a favorite. With multiple other big league names on their roster, Venezuela should advance out of Pool D and make a run for the championship.

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World Baseball Classic Preview: Pool C

After examining eight of the 16 teams in the World Baseball Classic, we move on to the most talented pool in the tournament: Pool C. The teams included in this pool are full of major league talent, and are some of the deepest in the WBC. If you missed Pool A or Pool B, you can find them below.

World Baseball Classic Preview: Pool A

World Baseball Classic Preview: Pool B

World Baseball Classic

Ryan Dempster will provide leadership as well as pitching for team Canada (Elise Amendola/AP).

Canada

For the boys north of the border, they will rely on some big name players who have made their hay in the USA. Longtime team Canada manager Erin Whitt has a bevy of major league talent to draw upon.

On the mound team Canada will be lead by 16 year major league veteran Ryan Dempster. While Dempster hasn’t played in the majors since 2013, the 39 year old should still be a top contributor for skipper Erin Whitt. He will also be joined on the mound by current major leaguers John Axford and Jim Henderson. Axford and Henderson are quality relievers, and will be great weapons for team Canada.

While there is plenty of pitching to rely on, the true stars are found off the mound. At first base NL All-Star Freddie Freeman will provide the thump for team Canada. The 27 year old Brave hit 34 bombs in 2016, and put up an impressive 157 OPS+. Former AL MVP and current free agent Justin Morneau will also suit up, giving Whitt plenty of options at first base. Many will also recognize current Blue Jay Dalton Pompey, who will patrol the outfield.

In any other pool, Canada would be one of the top teams, if not the favorite. But playing in Pool C does not bode well for them, as it will be a struggle to get to the second round of tournament play.

Colombia

World Baseball Classic

Jose Quintana will bring a strong presence to team Colombia (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images North America).

Making their World Baseball Classic debut, Colombia has a good level of talent to rely on. Colombia advanced from the Qualifier 3 round in 2016 to become eligible for the WBC. Pitching will be their strong suit, as they have multiple major league players to toe the rubber.

Chicago White Sox pitcher Jose Quintana became the staff ace after the trade of Chris Sale, but to many he was already a top pitcher in the game. His career 3.41 ERA has been supported by his 7.4 SO/9 innings. The lefty will be the ace for Colombia, and will be joined by NL All-Star Julio Teheran. Teheran has bee the ace of the Atlanta Braves for years, and will be a nice compliment to Quintana.

Catching for team Colombia will be Phillies prospect Jorge Alfaro. After being traded from Texas to Philly, Alfaro made his major league debut in 2016. While his numbers weren’t impressive in limited at-bats, he is seen as the catcher of the future in Philadelphia. He will be joined in the infield by former top prospect Dilson Herrera. In parts of two major league seasons in Flushing, Herrera was less than impressive. But he still has plenty of tools to be a difference maker for Colombia.

Colombia has a good mix of pitching and position player talent. They will need to utilize it to the fullest if they hope to cause an upset and make it out of Pool C.

World Baseball Classic

Robinson Cano led the Dominican Republic to the championship in 2013 (Al Bello/Getty Images).

Dominican Republic

After going undefeated on their way to winning the 2013 WBC, the Dominican Republic is one of the favorites to take home the championship again in 2017. And its easy to see why. The Dominican Republic has one of the most stacked rosters in this years tournament.

With a roster that would rival even the World Series Champion Chicago Cubs in talent, manager Moises Alou will have plenty of players to rely on. On the mound, established veteran starters like Johnny Cueto, Bartolo Colon and Edinson Volquez will be joined by young studs Carlos Martinez and Luis Severino. The bullpen will be anchored by all-stars Dellin Betances, Jeurys Familia and Fernando Rodney.

With all of that talent on the mound, you might over look the position players for the Dominican Republic. Just kidding. With players like Adrian Beltre, Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Jose Bautista, Manny Machado, Starlin Marte and many others, that is almost impossible. With an ample supply of power, speed and defense, skipper Moises Alou has a manager’s dream on his hands: too much talent.

The Dominican Republic boasts one of the most stacked squads in WBC history. With stars all over the field, the Dominican Republic is set to make another deep run in the WBC.

United States

World Baseball Classic

Andrew Miller is set to continue his post season dominance in the WBC (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images).

One of the few teams in all of the WBC that can rival the DR in talent is team USA. But in the WBC’s history, the US has yet to win the championship. Will that change in 2017? Manager Jim Leyland sure hopes so.

Leyland will have a treasure trove of talent to utilize, both on the mound and in the field. He will be handing the ball to starting pitchers like Chris Archer, Sonny Gray and Michael Fulmer. The bullpen will be bolstered by some of the game’s best. Cleveland Indians’ playoff hero Andrew Miller will be joined by Sam Dyson and Luke Gregerson to form a shut-down pen. But the cup runneth over in terms of talent, from the mound to the field.

The outfield will be manned by sluggers Giancarlo Stanton, Adam Jones and Andrew McCutchen. The will also be joined by Stanton’s teammate Christian Yelich to form a star studded outfield. The infield will be led by Jonathan Lucroy and Buster Posey behind the dish, as well as all-around talent Paul Goldschmidt. Spectacular veterans Ian Kinsler, Brandon Crawford and Daniel Murphy will be joined by the young stud Alex Bregman.

Even with not every team USA player listed, this roster is one of the best in the WBC. With depth at every position, manager Jim Leyland will be able to put multiple solid lineups out on the field.

Verdict

One of the deepest pools in all of the WBC, each team has multiple major league players on their respective rosters. In any other pool, Colombia and Canada would be competitive if not the favorites to advance. But in Pool C, there is really only two teams with a chance to move on to the second round.

The Dominican Republic and the USA are some of the most stacked rosters in the WBC’s history. Both are composed of all-star level talent, making choosing a favorite difficult. But after reviewing both team’s entire rosters, team USA has a slight advantage. With a deeper roster than the Dominican Republic, team USA should be able to get out of Pool C victorious.

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World Baseball Classic

World Baseball Classic Preview: Pool B

With the World Baseball Classic rosters being released last night, we are now able to review the remaining teams with their full rosters. After analyzing Pool A, we can now move on to Pool B.

Australia

After making their WBC debut in 2013, manager Jon Deeble will lead a much more talented squad in this year’s tournament. They went winless in 2013, but with a more talented roster to draw upon, Australia is poised to make some noise.

Australia boasts a deep pitching staff with two current major league pitchers on their roster. Oakland reliever Liam Hendriks and Detroit reliever Warwick Saupold. They will be joined by Travis Blackley and Ryan Rowland-Smith, both of whom have had experience pitching in the majors. Pitching may be the only advantage Australia has.

Only one notable position player will represent the land down under: outfielder Trent Oeltjen. Across parts of three major league seasons, the native Aussie hit five homers and batted .220. While these may not be eye-popping stats, Oeltjen certainly has some talent.

Australia will have to rely on their deep pitching staff to carry them in the tournament. The lack of talent off the mound is concerning, but nothing that can’t overcome.

China

Chen will return to the mound after retiring from MLB in 2015 (Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America).

With two victories in the past two WBC’s, China will be looking to get out of the first round in 2017. There is just one player with major league experience on the roster. Manager and current Phillies bullpen coach John McLaren has been tasked with a difficult job.

Don’t tell that to pitcher Bruce Chen. He has 17 years of major league experience to draw on, and will certainly be a boon for a young Chinese team. China has never been known for its baseball heritage, but that could change soon.

Catcher Wei Wang and infielder Guiyuan Xu both spent the 2016 season in the minor leagues. They represent the future of Chinese baseball, and will join Chen in international play. Another player to watch for is career minor leaguer Joey Wong. He spent eight years in the minors and batted .241, proving to have some ability.

While China is certainly at a disadvantage, don’t sleep on them. McLauren will be sure to have his team ready to play when the tournament starts, and just might be able to catch some teams off guard. They certainly have some good players on the roster, but the talent isn’t there for them to be competitive.

Cuba

Cuba is one of the most storied nations in baseball history. The island nation has produced multiple big league players, like Jose Abreu and Yasiel Puig. That legacy in the majors may come back to haunt Cuba.

After a player defects from the communist country to the United States, they become ineligible to represent Cuba in the WBC. Even with no major league players on their roster, Cuba will still have plenty of talent to draw upon. The Serie Nacional de Beisbol, Cuba’s professional baseball league, will provide a number of talented players.

One of those will be Yoelkis Cespedes, the half brother of Mets’ star Yoenis Cespedes. At 19 years old, the younger Cespedes is considered a five-tool talent. He will need all of those tools and then some if he wants to bring Cuba out of the first round. He won’t have to do it alone.

The star of Cuba’s 2013 team, outfielder Alfredo Despaigne, is returning to team Cuba. He hit an astounding .389/.522/.944 with three home runs and eight RBIs in six games for Cuba in the 2013 WBC. He also won Pool A’s MVP award.

With their own professional league and vast baseball history to draw upon, team Cuba is a good bet to make it back into round two of tournament play.

Japan

World Baseball Classic

Aoki brings a WBC championship pedigree to team Japan, winning the WBC championship in 2009 (Brad Mangin).

Just like Cuba, Japan will be reliant on its professional league to guide them back to the WBC championship. Unlike Cuba, Japan has a major league star up its sleeve.

Astros outfielder Nori Aoki is easily the most accomplished position player in Pool B, batting .286/.353/.387 in five major league seasons. He also provides plenty of speed with 88 career stolen bases. Aoki is an excellent addition, but don’t underestimate the rest of Japan’s roster.

There will be plenty of representation from the Nippon Professional Baseball League, Japan’s professional league. Pitcher Tomoyuki Sugano has dominated Nipponese hitting in his time there, posting a career 2.34 ERA. He will be the ace of a deep staff, accompanied by young stud pitcher Shintaro Fujinami.

After missing out on major leaguers like Kenta Maeda and Masahiro Tanaka, Japan is still in position to make a run in this year’s WBC. With Aoki and plenty of NPBL stars, Japan is one of the most dangerous teams in the whole tournament.

Verdict

With a two-time WBC champion in Pool B, it is not hard to pick a favorite.

Japan won the inaugural WBC championship in 2006 and again in 2009. Even though they will not have nearly as many major league players on this year’s roster, they are still a legitimate threat. As the stars of the NPBL compete in this year’s WBC, they will be put up against some of the best baseball players outside of the United States.

Pool B is sorely lacking in major league talent, with Australia having the most players with major league experience. Even that doesn’t make them a favorite, given the strength of Japan’s NPBL and Cuba’s Serie Nacional De Beisbol. Japan and Cuba will slug it out for the top spot in Pool B, with Australia having dark horse potential and China looking to grow in international play.

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World Baseball Classic

World Baseball Classic Preview: Pool A

As a baseball fanatic, this time of year can be a little tough. Spring Training is just around the corner, but real competitive baseball is still more than two months away. If this sounds like you, don’t worry my friend.

The World Baseball Classic, a competition held every four years between the top national teams around the world, begins on March 6. Let’s dive in head first and take a good look at the teams in Pool A and predict who will emerge victorious.

 

Israel

After advancing from Qualifier A in 2016, the Israeli team will be participating in it’s first World Baseball Classic. Manager Pete Kurz will have plenty of good players to rely on. Many of them have major league experience.

Slugging first baseman Ike Davis is one of the more notable position players on the team, having hit 81 bombs in his major league career. He will be joined by fellow position players Ty Kelly and defensive specialist Sam Fuld, who also have major league experience.

On the mound, team Israel will be led by journeyman pitcher Jason Marquis. While pitching 15 years in the majors, Marquis garnered a 4.61 ERA. He will lead a pitching staff devoid of major league talent, with the only other pitcher with major league experience being Josh Zeid.

Other names being reported as potential additions include Joc Pederson, Jason Kipnis and Danny Valencia. If skipper Pete Kurz can confirm their additions, he will have a deep roster that could make a surprise run.

Korea

World Baseball Classic

Choi leads a deep Korean team dotted with KBO stars (Yonhap News).

With a pronounced influence in the majors, it is surprising to see Korea so sorely lacking in terms of major league talent. The only current major league player that manager Kim In-Sik will be able to call on is Cardinals reliever Seung-Hwan Oh. The 33-year-old broke out in 2016, posting a 1.92 ERA. Oh won’t be the only player with major league experience on the roster.

First baseman Dae-Ho Lee will join Oh to play for Korea. Lee played 104 games with the Mariners in 2016 and hit 14 home runs. He is currently a free agent. Major leaguers like Jung-Ho Kang, Hyun-Soo Kim and Shin-Soo Choo are all expected to miss the WBC. Don’t let the lack of major league talent fool you.

Korea will have plenty of quality players to call upon, most of them from the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO). All-Star pitchers Won-Jun Jang and Hyun-Jong Yang will be joined by position player Hyung-Woo Choi. Choi is a star in the KBO, and proved it in 2016 batting .376/.470/.651 with 31 homers and 144 RBIs.

While lacking in terms of major league experience, this team is certainly full of talent. Some of the best KBO has to offer will suit up and join Seung-Whan Oh to try and continue their WBC success.

Chinese Taipei

This team will be one of the most difficult to analyze. The Chinese Taipei Baseball Association (CTBA) has been quiet on potential players it will include on its roster. It is easier at this point to discuss what players will not be on the roster, proving to be more helpful in analyzing this team’s chances.

The Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) decided to boycott the WBC, leaving many of Chinese Taipei’s best players out. Chun-Hsiu Chen, Hung-Yu Lin and Po-Jung Wang, who are three of the best pitchers in the CPBL, will all miss the tournament. There is still hope for Chinese Taipei’s pitching staff.

Major leaguers Wei-Yin Chen and Chien-Ming Wang are both potential additions to the roster. Chen is coming off a less than stellar year in Miami, posting a 4.96 ERA in 123.1 innings pitched. Chen has stated that he will allow the Marlins to decide on his participation in the tournament, leaving his status up in the air. Wang is also a questionable addition after pitching in relief for the Royals in 2016. The 36-year-old is currently a free agent.

Chinese Taipei is sorely lacking in major league talent, and the questionable state of their roster leaves them in flux. If they are able to land Chen and Wang, they will have a solid one-two punch at the top of their rotation. That may be all they will have, with little other major league options.

Kingdom of the Netherlands

World Baseball CLassic

Simmons lead the Dutch National Team in the 2013 WBC (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images).

The Dutch National Team is the most storied European team in the WBC, and arguably one of the most talented. Manager and San Francisco Giants hitting coach Hensley Meulens will be able to call upon multiple current major leaguers, all of whom have had success at the major league level.

The Netherlands will have a loaded infield, highlighted by Oriole Jonathan Schoop and Angel Andrelton Simmons. Schoop provides plenty of power in the heart of the lineup, hitting a career high 25 homers in 2016. Simmons brings the defense. Simmons is arguably the best defender in the majors, and will certainly shine in the WBC.

The best overall player in all of Pool A has to be Red Sox star Xander Bogaerts. He provides a strong overall offensive game, hitting 21 homers and stealing 13 bases in 2016. His 109 OPS+ was the best of his young career, and is something skipper Meulens will be counting on.

What the Dutch National Team does lack is pitching. Former major leaguer Rick van den Hurk is the only confirmed pitcher currently on the roster. He had a career 6.08 ERA across six seasons in the majors. What they lack in pitching they make up for in hitting. The Netherlands has a deep infield to rely on, and should make good use of it.

Verdict

While Israel has a good amount of major league experience on it’s roster, they will be hard pressed to compete. Chinese Taipei is seen to be the least talented team in the pool, even with questions surrounding its roster. That leaves The Netherlands and Korea.

With a deep infield, the Netherlands has a good chance to emerge from Pool A. However, Korea has the edge. With only two players with major league experience set to play for Korea, they will rely on their KBO stars to carry them. Korea is one of the most successful teams in WBC history, and that will continue in 2017.

 

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Comeback Candidates for the 2017 MLB Season

Every year across the majors there are players that fail to meet expectations. Whether it be from injury or poor performance, it is usually unexpected. With a new season comes new opportunities. These players are MLB comeback candidates for the 2017 season.

Bryce Harper- Washington Nationals

Much has been written about Nationals star phenom Bryce Harper. Comparisons to the games late greats have set expectations sky high. Harper seemed to finally meet them in 2015 with an astounding 198 OPS+. All was right, until the start of the 2016 season.

Only a player like Bryce Harper could have a season with a 116 OPS+ and have it labeled a “down year.” His .243 batting average was the lowest of his career. Much of his struggles were blamed on an injury he suffered during the season. Harper played through it, proving he is able to deal with pain.

Even though Harper was hampered by injury in 2016, he was still able to garner his fourth NL All-Star appearance of his career. With a full offseason to rest and recuperate, Harper is poised to be closer to MVP form. Look for Harper to drive the ball and improve his average in 2017.

MLB Comeback Candidates

Matt Harvey looks to return to Flushing refreshed in 2017 (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images).

Matt Harvey- New York Mets

Coming off a World Series appearance in 2015, Matt Harvey was the linchpin of a young, talented New York Mets rotation. They were picked by many to make a return to the World Series in 2016, but fate would prove otherwise.

Matt Harvey started off slow in 2016 and never recovered. Like his NL East rival Bryce Harper, it was discovered that Harvey was suffering from a shoulder injury. This was not something that could be played with, and the Mets shut Harvey down after 17 starts in 2016. A 4-10 record with a 4.86 ERA tell the story. Those are not numbers you would expect from a staff ace like Harvey.

After being shut down in July and having surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, Harvey should return in 2017. Harvey has been a fixture in Flushing since his debut in 2012, and is just entering his prime. At 28 years old, don’t bet against Harvey making a full recovery in 2017.

A.J. Pollock- Arizona Diamondbacks

A.J. Pollock seemed to be a star in the making after a stellar 2015 season. Pollock hit 20 bombs, stole 39 bases and put up an impressive 130 OPS+. After the Diamondbacks signed Zack Greinke and traded for Shelby Miller, 2016 looked bright in the desert.

That is, until Pollock was limited to 12 games in 2016. Pollock suffered a fractured elbow in an April spring training game against the Royals, effectively ending his season. While he was able to come back towards the end of the season, he struggled with a .244 batting average and .390 slugging percentage.

Pollock has proven throughout his time in Arizona to be a tough out, and 2017 is looking to be no different. His recovery has gone well and he is set to start Opening Day in center field. The 2016 season may have been dark for Pollock and the Diamondbacks, but 2017 provides a new opportunity to shine.

Dallas Keuchel- Houston Astros

MLB Comeback Candidates

While Dallas Keuchel’s beard was on point, his game was off in 2016 (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images).

Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel was on top of the world in 2015. Keuchel struck out 216 batters over 232 innings pitched on his way to the 2015 AL Cy Young award. After a strong 2014 season and a stellar 2015, it was thought Keuchel had finally proved he was legit, until the 2016 season began.

Keuchel struggled from the beginning of the season, mirroring his team’s mediocre start. He finished with a 4.55 ERA and a 9-12 record in 2016, far from the marks he set in 2015. While he did make 26 starts, he was ineffective and left many wondering: what is wrong with Keuchel? He did struggle with some injuries, but avoided any major ones and pitched 168 innings.

There is really no clear answer to why Keuchel struggled. Keuchel just seemed to never get it together in 2016, but 2017 provides a new opportunity. With a loaded roster and high expectations in Houston, the Astros and Keuchel are expected to make some noise in 2017.

Baseball is one of the most difficult sports to predict. With so many variables and a grueling 162 game season, maintaining a high level of play is the biggest challenge the sport presents. Sometimes it’s injury, others it’s just the grind of the season.

These aforementioned players have proven at one point or another to be some of the best in the game. With a fresh start in 2017, they will be determined to make the most of it.

 

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Spring Training Storylines

February has finally come, which means Spring Training is on the horizon. Pitchers and catchers report in less than two weeks. With roster spots up for grabs and offseason moves and contracts still being discussed, this spring training offers plenty to look forward to.

Will the Pirates and Andrew McCutchen be able to reconcile?

2017 MLB Spring Training

Andrew McCutchen will be reunited with the Pirates in Spring Training after they almost dumped him in the off-season (Jim Mcisaac, Getty Images).

Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen was the subject of trade rumors all offseason after having a down year in 2016. With the drop in his offensive production and prospects knocking on the door to the majors, moving the former all-star made perfect sense. That is, until it didn’t happen.

The Pirates decided to stand pat, and in the process alienated their franchise cornerstone. He will return in 2017, but his role with the team is still in question. Will he be the everyday center fielder? Or will young speedster Starling Marte make the move to center? What about Austin Meadows, who according to MLB.com is the ninth highest ranked prospect in baseball?

All of these questions pale in comparison to only one question: will Andrew McCutchen return to normal form? He will have the opportunity to prove it in 2017, with the team many thought had already given up on him.

How will Ian Desmond look at first base?

2017 MLB Spring Training

Ian Desmond will be making his second position change in the past three seasons (Ronald Martinez, Getty Images North America).

The Colorado Rockies made a surprising sign in the offseason, inking outfielder Ian Desmond to a five-year, $70 million deal. With a glut of outfield talent, you would think that money would’ve been better spent on the bullpen or the starting rotation. After signing Desmond, they made an even more surprising announcement.

Desmond is being penciled in as the Rockies starting first baseman for the 2017 season. Changing positions is something Desmond has experienced before. As a shortstop, he made the move to the outfield for the Texas Rangers in the 2016 season. First base is still a whole new world for Desmond.

First base, besides catcher, handles the ball on more plays than any other position. While Desmond is a terrific athlete, asking him to learn a position such as first base in one offseason may be asking too much of him. It will be interesting to watch Desmond in Spring Training, as he will certainly see the field often.

Where will Jose Reyes play?

When the Mets signed Jose Reyes during the 2016 season after his release from the Colorado Rockies, he was expected to take over third base for David Wright. That he did, albeit with poor defensive metrics. What Reyes did provide was solid offense, posting a 104 OPS+ for the Mets. With the return of David Wright in 2017, that leaves Reyes without a position.

2017 MLB Spring Training

The Mets hope Jose Reyes can fly in the outfield just as he has in the infield (Ronald Martinez, Getty Images North America).

It seems the Mets have the answer. Jose Reyes has been practicing in the outfield this offseason, leading many to believe that he will become a super utility player. His experience at shortstop, third and second base give him the ability to play all over the infield. His athletic ability should transfer to the outfield, giving him the ability to play the corner outfield spots or maybe even center field.

With a bat like Reyes’ on the bench, manager Terry Collins will look to utilize him as much as he can. Reyes will see plenty of time in the field during Spring Training. Just don’t expect him to stay in one place too long.

Will any of the remaining sluggers be signed?

Spring Training offers many players the opportunity to prove themselves and earn a starting gig. It also catches many players off guard. Some players wind up getting injured or under performing. That is where these players come in.

2017 MLB Spring Training

Plenty of power hitters remain on the free agent market, but will any of them make a team in Spring Training (Ken Blaze, USA Today Sports).

Names like Mike Napoli, Chris Carter, Pedro Alvarez and Ryan Howard are still on the market, drawing little interest. So much so that Chris Carter, who tied for the most homers in the National League last year with 41, is looking to Japan for employment. With the start of Spring Training, that could change.

These players are likely to be the first to sign during Spring Training due to injury or under performance. The question is which one(s) will it be? Will playoff hero Mike Napoli be the first off the board, or will Pedro Alvarez be able to leverage his massive power into a major league job? What about aged slugger Ryan Howard? Or will Chris Carter be able to avoid the cross-Pacific trip?

With so many questions to be answered before the season starts, Spring Training provides the perfect opportunity to answer them. These and many others will be asked and answered before the season even begins. Just like spring, baseball will burst forth anew in just a few weeks. I for one can’t wait for it to begin.

 

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World Baseball Classic

Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Relief Pitchers

In this 10th and final installment of our Position Rankings for the 2017 MLB Season, we will cover the bullpen. Just a year or two ago, the distinction between relief pitcher and closer was an easy one to identify. But now not so much. With the construction of super bullpens and the line between relief pitcher and closer blurring, let’s take a look at the top five overall relief pitchers in the game.

2017 MLB Season

Mark Melancon was brought over to San Francisco to solidify their bullpen (Keith Srakocic, Associated Press).

5. Mark Melancon- San Francisco Giants

Mark Melancon was a late bloomer, being called up by the New York Yankees at 24 years old and not pitching a full amount of innings until he was 26 with Houston. But he has certainly turned it on in the past few years.

Between Pittsburgh and Washington, Melancon posted one of his best years statistically. He put up a 1.64 ERA as well as a 0.897 WHIP in 2016. He also struck out 64 batters over 71.1 innings pitched, and waled only 12 batters all season.

Melancon has also been a solid fielder when given the chance, with only three errors in eight major league seasons. Melancon will solidify the back end of the bullpen in San Francisco, and just entering his prime, is set to continue is string of dominant late inning performances.

4. Kenley Jansen- Los Angeles Dodgers

Kenley Jansen was often overlooked when discussing the top relief pitchers in the game, but not anymore. The Dodgers paid a hefty price to keep the 29 year old in their pen, and for good reason.

Jansen struck out 104 batters while only walking 11 over 68.2 innings. His ability to strike out guys at an impressive rate gives Jansen the ability to lower his WHIP. For the 2016 season, Jansen had a 0.670 WHIP. That is far lower than his career 0.893 WHIP, and helped to ensure Jansen would be paid handsomely in the off-season. With a return to the Dodgers, Jansen is poised to have another great season.

3. Aroldis Chapman- New York Yankees

2017 MLB Sports

After being shipped to the Cubs to get a World Series ring, Chapman will look to bring one to the Bronx (Anthony Gruppuso, USA TODAY Sports).

For Aroldis Chapman, 2016 was a roller coaster season. After being suspended by the Commissioner’s Office for his domestic violence case in last year’s off-season, Chapman was celebrating the Chicago Cubs first World Series Championship in over 100 years.

In between he was able to put up a 1.55 ERA as well as striking out 90 batters over 58 innings pitched. His 0.862 WHIP was one of the best of his career, and he was a shutdown reliever all season long. Chapman returned to the Yankees after being traded at the deadline to the Cubs, and it seems like that trade was a win-win all around. Chapman will be a dominate pitcher in the Bronx for years to come.

2. Andrew Miller- Cleveland Indians

Another Yankee arm that was traded at the deadline to an eventual World Series team, Andrew Miller turned in a remarkable 2016 season. Miller really helped transform the way we see relievers, both closing and pitching like a traditional relief pitcher.

He had a 1.45 ERA between New York and Cleveland. Miller also punched out 123 batters over 74.1 innings. That tied his career high of 14.9 strikeouts per nine innings. Miller also walked only 9 batters on his way to a 0.686 WHIP. With another World Series appearance in reach for the Cleveland Indians, Miller will be as clutch as ever in 2017.

1. Zach Britton- Baltimore Orioles

2017 MLB Season

Zach Britton had a historic season for the Orioles in 2016 (Greg Fiume, Getty Images North America).

When you are in the discussion for the AL Cy Young award as a reliever, you know you’ve had a special season. Britton started his career as a starter. But after three years of poor outings as a starter, he was shifted to the bullpen and flourished.

In 2016 Britton had a 0.54 ERA, an astounding number for a pitcher, even a reliever. He also struck out 74 batters over 67 innings pitched and walked 18 men. With a 0.836 WHIP Britton was able to limit the number of men on base, thus lowering his ERA to a minuscule amount.

After a fourth place finish in the AL Cy Young voting, Britton will be hard pressed to repeat his historic 2016. But if anyone can do it, Britton is the man.

Relief pitchers are usually the last ones to enter the game. And it’s fitting they will wrap up our Position Rankings for the 2017 MLB Season. With a new movement coming over baseball, relief pitchers are starting to be viewed differently. As contracts grow and ERA’s shrink, relief pitchers are becoming some of the most valued players in the game.

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Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Right Field

In this ninth installment of our Position Rankings for the 2017 MLB season, we will cover right field. Right field is akin to left in the fact that defense and speed is becoming much more prominent. Let’s take a look at our list starting at number five.

2017 MLB Season

CarGo will look for plenty of balls to carry out of the park in 2017 (Chris Humphreys, USA TODAY Sports).

5. Carlos Gonzalez- Colorado Rockies

Ever since Carlos Gonzalez became a full-time starter for the Colorado Rockies in 2010, he has been a force to be reckoned with.

He hit .298/.350/.505 on his way to his third NL All-Star game appearance in 2016. Gonzalez also provided run support, mashing 25 homers and driving in 100 RBIs. Those are the type of numbers you expect from a middle-of-the-order bat, and CarGo delivers.

He also plays well in the field, as evident last season. Gonzalez had four defensive runs saved in right field this past season, proving him to be a great fielder. He has actually been a much better right fielder than a left fielder, with 18 defensive runs saved in right and -4 in left over his nine year career.

His ability to drive the ball out of the park and hit for average make Gonzalez one of the premier hitters in the game, but it’s a combination of his glove and bat that land him the number five spot on our rankings.

4. Giancarlo Stanton- Miami Marlins

With a career 142 OPS+, you would think Giancarlo Stanton would be hands down number one on this list. However, there’s more to the story. Stanton has been a beast at the plate, when he plays. He has only played two full seasons over his seven-year career.

In a limited number of games, Stanton has still earned his spot on these rankings. In 2016, Stanton hit .240/.326/.489 to go along with 27 homers and 74 RBIs. While his offense is like a dream come true, don’t sleep on his defense.

Stanton has been a solid fielder in right, posting four defensive runs saved in 2016 and 39 over his career. It is even more impressive when considering Stanton’s size at 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds. He is able to use his massive frame to drive balls out of the park at a prodigious rate.

At age 27, Stanton is entering his prime and already has 208 career home runs. If he can stay healthy, Stanton has a legitimate chance to join the 500 or even 600 home run club.

3. George Springer- Houston Astros

2017 MLB Season

George Springer provides a little bit of everything for the Houston Astros (Otto Greule Jr, Getty Images North America).

The Astros have returned to relevancy, evident by their surprising playoff run in 2015. One player responsible for that is George Springer.

Springer was drafted by the Astros in the middle of their rebuild, and has been a building block since his inception into the franchise. In 2016, Springer played 162 games while batting .261/.359/.457 as well as slugging 29 homers and driving in 82 RBIs. Springer has been solid offensively since being called up in 2014 with a 126 OPS+.

Springer has also been solid in the outfield, specifically in right field. He had five defensive runs saved in 2016 in right field, showcasing his defensive abilities.

While Springer played his first full season in the majors in 2016, he was still able to show the Astros why he has been called a five-tool player. He will have every chance to showcase his five tools in 2017.

2. Bryce Harper- Washington Nationals

With five years in the majors at age 24, Bryce Harper has been one of the youngest players in the game since his debut in 2012 at 19 years old. He had been one of the most hyped prospects in recent history, and lived up to expectations. He brought home the NL MVP Award in 2015.

He followed up in 2016 with a solid season. He batted .243/.373/.441 while hitting 24 homers and driving in 86 RBIs. He also set a career high in stolen bases with 21. His overall offensive game helps make up for his sometimes subpar defense.

Harper had -3 defensive runs saved in 2016, nothing to write home about but acceptable with his offensive output. Harper has had 7 defensive runs saved in right field throughout his career, so 2016 could be an anomaly. With a staggering 198 OPS+ in 2015, Harper brought home the NL MVP award and set himself up for massive expectations for 2016. While he didn’t quite live up to them, he was solid nonetheless. Not even close to his prime, Harper will look to continue to improve in 2017.

1. Mookie Betts- Boston Red Sox

2017 MLB Season

Mookie Betts will lead the Red Sox in 2017 after David Ortiz’s retirement (Jim Davis , Globe Staff).

While Mookie Betts wasn’t able to stick in the majors in his first call up with the Red Sox, he was able to turn it around in his second call up.

His 2016 season was easily the best of his young career as he hit .318/.363/.534 while blasting 31 homers. He also became a premier run producer, driving in 113 RBIs to go along with 26 stolen bases. That elite level of offensive production gave him a 131 OPS+, easily the best of his career.

Betts was able to blow away expectations both in the batter’s box as well as the outfield. In 157 games in right field, Betts had 32 defensive runs saved. That is a staggering amount for any player in Major League Baseball, let alone one who was only 23 years old in 2016.

If Betts can produce even half of those defensive numbers and continue his offensive pace in 2017, he will loft himself into the elite tier of players in today’s game.

Right field seems to be in good, young hands. With Carlos Gonzalez being the elder statesman of the list at 31 years old, this position is primed to dominate the bigs for years to come.

 

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