MLB Prospects Making the Most of Spring Training

As we move closer to Opening Day, many teams are in the process of deciding on the 25 man rosters. But there are some who are on the fringes of the rosters. MLB prospects all over the league are looking to make an impact this spring. Whether they are trying to earn a roster spot or showcase their skills, these prospects have performed above expectations so far. These four prospects are giving their teams something to think about entering the final phases of Spring Training.

MLB Prospects

Ian Happ will start in the minors, but has been impressive in major league camp (Wade Payne/Chicago Tribune).

2B Ian Happ – Chicago Cubs

After being selected ninth overall in the 2015 MLB Draft, the 22 year old is beginning to make due on the promise he showed at the University of Cincinnati. He has been laboring in the Cubs’ minor league system for the past two seasons, ending 2016 at the AA level. With a strong showing in Spring Training, Happ has given the Cubs front office plenty to think about.  But just how well has the Cubs second overall prospect done this Spring Training?

In 34 at-bats, Happ has hit a scorching .441 to give him the third best batting average in all of MLB so far this spring. Couple that with his three homers and nine RBIs, Happ has certainly produced. With a strong performance in Spring Training and his minor league pedigree, Happ could increase the timetable the Cubs have on his MLB debut. But with a loaded major league roster, Happ isn’t expected to make the 25 man roster anytime soon.

OF Bradley Zimmer – Cleveland Indians

As the 21st overall selection in the 2014 MLB Draft, Bradley Zimmer is showing that his skills are maturing. He provided the University of San Francisco plenty of power and speed. That combination of talent made Zimmer a top player in the draft, and he’s continuing to impress in Spring Training. With a hot start to Spring Training, Zimmer could make the jump from AAA to the majors this season.

Zimmer has torn the cover off the ball this Spring Training, putting up a .359/.405/.641 slash line. He has also hit two homers and driven in 11 RBIs in 39 at-bats. He has seen regular playing time this Spring Training, showing that the Indians are evaluating him heavily. While he isn’t listed on the Indian’s depth chart, he could push Lonnie Chisenhall for playing time in right field if Zimmer continues to stay hot. Zimmer will make his MLB debut this season, give his minor league track record and terrific Spring Training.

OF Mitch Haniger – Seattle Mariners

MLB Prospects

Mitch Haniger has opened some eyes in Mariners’ camp this Spring Training (Getty Images).

Mitch Haniger is on his third team since being drafted by the Brewers 38th overall in 2012. After a strong college career at Cal Poly, Haniger was able to turn his college production into major league promise. But injuries derailed his career, and at 26 years old, it’s now or never for Haniger. As the fourth best prospect in the Mariner’s farm system, he certainly has the talent to succeed. And he’s finally showing it on the field, performing well in Spring Training.

With the fourth best batting average (.425) in Spring Training, Haniger is beginning to show why he was one of the top selections in the 2012 MLB Draft. He has also hit two homers to accompany seven RBIs. In his 40 at-bats, Haniger has only struck out five times. Listed as the starter in right field for the Seattle Mariners, Mitch Haniger will finally be given a shot as a full-time major league starter in 2017.

SS Dixon Machado – Detroit Tigers

After spending the past eight seasons in the Tigers’ minor league system, the 25 year old Dixon Machado is on the doorstep to the majors. He signed with the Tigers in 2008, and has grown in both his offensive and defensive game. And in 2016, Machado made his MLB debut with the Tigers. But he wasn’t able to stick in the majors, and is now fighting to prove himself in major league camp. And so far, Machado is excelling.

With a .324/.366/.378 slash line in 37 at-bats, Machado is hitting at an impressive clip. While he may not offer much in terms of power, what Machado can do is hit. He’s proven to have an innate ability to make contact and put the ball in play. But with the major league club full of talented starters, Machado will have to wait to gain a starting role. He should break camp with the major league club, given the team’s lack of depth. But if he can continue his impressive hitting into the major league season, Machado may work his way into the regular lineup.

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Twilight Zone Season 1 Episode 35 The Mighty Casey

Baseballs Twilight Zone: If Spring Training Mattered

No matter the sport, the importance of preseason win/loss outcomes is debated year after year. While spring games are undoubtedly managed differently, the same question remains. Is it reasonable to draw any conclusions from the wins and losses in these matchups?

The answer is no, at least not in the short-term. A number of interesting studies such as this one by Michael R. Summers look more deeply into the topic. Unsurprisingly, a team’s year over year regular season performance matters far more than their spring record. There is something to be said for this spring correlation over time, but any single season provides little predictive evidence.

However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to look at the standing in this pseudo baseball universe where starters pitch three innings and minor league players log more time then starters. Today we’ll take a look at the 2017 playoff picture if it was determined based on spring training performance. What are the match-ups? Who has clearest path to the World Series? Who will win the fall classic?

*Standings locked in Saturday night 3/12*

American League National League
Team W L PCT GB Team W L PCT GB
NY Yankees 13 3 81% Pittsburgh 11 4 73%
Oakland 9 4 69% 2.5 St. Louis 10 4 71% 0.5
Seattle 10 5 67% 2.5 Colorado 8 6 57% 2.5
Minnesota 8 4 67% 3 Milwaukee 9 7 56% 2.5
LA Angels 9 5 64% 3 Arizona 8 7 53% 3
Baltimore 8 6 57% 4 LA Dodgers 8 7 53% 3
Chi White Sox 8 6 57% 4 NY Mets 8 8 50% 3.5
Cleveland 7 7 50% 5 Philadelphia 7 7 50% 3.5
Kansas City 7 7 50% 5 Washington 6 7 46% 4
Boston 7 8 47% 5.5 San Diego 6 8 43% 4.5
Tampa Bay 6 7 46% 5.5 Chi Cubs 5 7 42% 4.5
Houston 5 7 42% 6 San Francisco 6 10 38% 5.5
Toronto 4 9 31% 7.5 Miami 4 8 33% 5.5
Texas 3 11 21% 9 Cincinnati 5 11 31% 6.5
Detroit 3 12 20% 9.5 Atlanta 4 10 29% 6.5

The American League Playoff Picture

American League Divisional Series

  • New York Yankees vs. (Wild Card Winner)
  • Oakland Athletics vs. Minnesota Twins
  • Wild Card Matchup: Seattle Mariners vs. LA Angels

 

How’d we get here?

In one of the most stunning regular season sagas in baseball history, all preseason predictions have been shattered. The New York Yankees sit firmly atop the AL East with the best record in baseball (also somehow playing more games than anyone else).

The Oakland Athletics and the Minnesota Twins have defied every prediction by winning their divisions instead of landing in last.

Finally, it’s the year of Mike Trout and the Angels as they take on the veteran Seattle Mariners in a winner take all bid for glory.

American League Championship Series

  • Seattle Mariners vs. Minnesota Twins

 

What Happened Next?

Baseballs Twilight Zone: If Spring Training Mattered

King Felix throws a perfect game to secure the wild card over the hapless Angels. Angels management realize the futility of their efforts and trade Trout in the offseason for an entire farm system. The Twins ignite an unforeseen hitting spree carried by Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano to secure victory over the A’s.

The Yankees have dominated all year with their young rookie class, which appears to be the second coming of the 90s dynasty. They are promptly dispatched by Seattle, which experts can only chalk up to “a lack of playoff experience.”

Finally, the stage is set for the Mariners to take on the Twins. James Paxton realizes his full potential, and along with Hernandez and Iwakuma, finds a way to silence one of the hottest hitting teams in baseball. The Seattle Mariners become American League Champions.

 

The National League Playoff Picture

National League Divisional Series

  • Pittsburgh Pirates vs. (Wild Card Winner)
  • Colorado Rockies vs. New York Mets
  • Wild Card Matchup: St. Louis Cardinals vs. Milwaukee Brewers

How’d we get here?

In a pitiful display, the NL East somehow scrounges up the Mets as division champs with the seventh best record in the NL.

The Pirates and Cardinals have a late season war for first place in the central. This turn of events clearly stuns the heavily favored Cubs, who are imploding under the weight of last seasons success.

Out West, the dark horse Rockies establish themselves over what appeared to be tough divisional competition prior to the season. Similar to the AL, we are witnessing an incredibly unusual turn of events. That’s baseball for you.

National League Championship Series

  • Colorado Rockies vs. Pittsburgh Pirates

 

What Happened Next?

Baseballs Twilight Zone: If Spring Training MatteredThe long-established Cardinals make short work of a Brewers team that stunned the MLB with their uncharacteristic finish. The Rockies prolific offense puts the lumber to a Mets team whose rotation is clearly plagued by the injury bug.

All of this to create a classic showdown between the divisional rivals who battled for the top seed heading into the playoffs. The Pirates and Cardinals engage in a brutal five game series that sees multiple extra-inning games and depleted bullpens.

In the end, players and fans are exhausted by a tight, 20-inning game, with the Pirates winning 3-2. This is the result of a suicide squeeze play by Andrew McCutchen to score the go ahead run. With no closers remaining, McCutchen also takes the mound to close the 20th inning with a 1-2-3 inning on 9 strikes. How’s that for a comeback season?

Unfortunately for the Pirates, this success is short lived. After the brutal engagement with the Cardinals, the depleted forces of Pittsburgh simply cannot hang with a well-rested Rockies team. The Colorado Rockies become the National League Champions.

 

The World Series Matchup

Seattle Mariners vs. Colorado Rockies

A matchup simply no one predicted at the beginning of the 2017 season, but not an entirely unrealistic one. On one side there is an absolutely stacked Rockies offense with a young pitching staff beginning to establish themselves. On the other is a strong three-man rotation with a lineup sporting solid veterans like Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz.

The smart move is to go with the veteran team with superior pitching. In baseballs twilight zone, clearly the Rockies take it all. Jon Gray establishes himself as team ace by carrying multiple, deep-inning games that allow Greg Holland to close out. The Rockies offense is unstoppable with Nolan Arenado leading the way and slashing .399/.499/.599 for the series. Arenado is named the undisputed MVP and king of Colorado as he leads the Rockies to their first World Series victory in franchise history. The Colorado Rockies are the 2017 World Series Champions.

What did I just read?

So in fairness, this is an absurd way of giving an update on the current spring training records. That said, if there was ever a sport where a ridiculous scenario could play out, it would be baseball. Spring training records really don’t matter. It’s an opportunity for players to get into shape, work on technique and for managers to get lineups dialed in. We all can’t wait for the regular season to begin. In the meantime, we can sit back and wonder what the 2017 season has in store for us.

 

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Making the Cut: Non-Roster Invitees Who Could Make an Impact in 2017

Teams are always trying to gain an edge over their opponents. Whether its installing nutrition plans or the Red Sox building a nap room at Fenway, teams are always looking for an advantage. That is what non-roster invitees present to a club: an edge. Many non-roster invitees are players who are past their prime or prospects whose time hasn’t come yet.

Some are able to stick after a strong spring training, and this season is no different. Who could emerge from spring training with a major league roster spot?

OF Michael Bourn- Baltimore Orioles

Michael Bourn enters spring training with 11 years of major league experience. After spending the tail end of the 2016 season in Baltimore, he has a good feel for the organization. He performed well for the Orioles, slashing .283/.358/.435 in 24 games after coming over from Arizona. Bourn also brings speed as he swiped 15 bases in 113 games. Bourn still has ability, but it may be opportunity that allows him to break camp with the Orioles.

Joey Rickard is listed as the back up at all three outfield positions. The 25-year-old played in 85 games for Baltimore in 2016, slashing .268/.319/.377. Rickard has age, while Bourn has experience.

If Bourn is able to outplay Rickard in spring training, don’t be surprised to see Baltimore keep Bourn for the regular season. With a team looking to compete in a deep AL East, manager Buck Showalter may go with the veteran Bourn as the fourth outfielder.

OF Anthony Gose- Detroit Tigers

Non-roster Invitees

Anthony Gose will need to flash with the bat and glove to make the Tigers roster (Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America).

Anthony Gose was once the second overall prospect in the Blue Jays system but failed to live up to the billing north of the border. He was shipped south to Detroit for the 2015 season and played 140 games for the Tigers. That was the best offensive season of his career, albeit with a paltry 90 OPS+.

After only playing 30 games in 2016, Gose enters Tigers’ camp as a non-roster invitee this spring. He has an excellent chance to make the 25-man roster.

Center field is already a question mark, and the corner outfield spots are backed up by 6-foot-7 behemoth Steven Moya. With his immense size at 260 pounds, Moya is better served as a DH than an outfielder. That gives Gose an opportunity to swipe the backup job from Moya, and maybe even compete to start in center field.

If Gose can turn it on this spring training, he will be a key reserve in an outfield devoid of depth.

IF Omar Infante- Detroit Tigers

Omar Infante broke into the league with the Detroit Tigers in 2002. After three seasons in Kansas City, Infante is back home in the Tigers’ spring training camp. Even though he has transformed from young prospect to grizzled veteran, the goal is still the same: make the major league roster. Infante will have plenty of chances to prove he still has it in spring training.

Infante played 39 games for the Royals in 2016 and put up poor numbers. His slash line of .239/.279/.321 earned him a 60 OPS+. At age 35, Infante’s days of starting may well be behind him. However, that doesn’t mean he can’t contribute. Detroit has almost no depth at any position, slotting Andrew Romine as the backup at second base, third base and shortstop.

If Infante can put together a good spring training, he should be able to wrestle the utility infield position from Romine.

C Jarrod Saltalamacchia- Toronto Blue Jays

Non-roster Invitees MLB

Jarrod Saltalamacchia is almost a given to make the Blue Jays roster (Caylor Arnold/USA TODAY Sports).

Jarrod Saltalamacchia will be on his fourth team in the past three years entering spring training. He has largely been a starter for the majority of his career, but will be vying for the back up catcher role in Toronto this season.

Saltalamacchia has the inside track to the job, with almost no competition to speak of. The Blue Jays have so much confidence in him that he has already been listed as the backup catcher to Russel Martin.

Over the past four seasons, Saltalamacchia has averaged 12 homers and 43 RBIs in 104 games played per season. He has a career slash line of .234/.309/.413. While those numbers certainly aren’t eye popping, they are solid for a back up catcher. He will be able to provide a solid option in Toronto whenever Martin needs a day off. Saltalamacchia can also fill in at DH when needed, given his solid power.

Saltalamacchia is a solid, if not spectacular, catcher who benefits greatly from the lack of catcher depth in Toronto. He will make the 25-man roster for the Blue Jays.

 

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The Prickly Grapefruit: Spring Training Watch 2017

The long wait is over baseball fans. Spring training action kicked off in full force this past weekend and not a moment too soon.

Fans from all over the country flocked to the warmth of Arizona and Florida to catch the start of camp. The rest of us stayed glued to the television and began speculating about the meaning behind these exhibition games. Whatever your reason for watching, hardcore baseball junkies and casual fans can agree that the crack of the bat sounds so good after a long winter.

The Game Haus is committed to ensuring fans don’t miss any of the key storylines taking place this camp. The Prickly Grapefruit series will provide a weekly recap of the action surrounding the Cactus and Grapefruit leagues this preseason.

An Apple a Day

The Prickly Grapefruit: Spring Training Watch 2017

Kevin Plawecki during Mets vs. Nationals Saturday (Image Courtesy of Anthony J. Causi)

Take a multivitamin, do some stretching, rub a lucky rabbits foot, whatever it takes to stay off that disabled list. It never fails that players find new ways to injure themselves prior to the regular season and this season is no different.

Award for most innovative goes to Royals pitcher Brian Flynn, who is nursing broken ribs after falling through the roof of his barn. Fortunately, he is only projected to be out eight weeks. Michael Bourn suffered a broken finger playing catch with a football, further demonstrating the difficulty of being a multi-sport athlete.

On the less dramatic side, Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis is dealing with rotator cuff soreness and is sidelined for approximately five days. The Mets’ injury woes continue as first baseman Lucas Duda appears unready with continued hip soreness. Finally, Mets’ catcher Kevin Plawecki is undergoing X-Rays after a collision at the plate in Saturday’s game against the Nationals.

Bryce is Back

Bryce Harper wasted no time silencing critics of 2016 campaign by smashing a home run in his first at-bat Saturday. The 2012 NL Rookie of the Year and 2015 NL MVP had difficulty in 2016, batting an uncharacteristic .243 for the season. A mix of rumors stemming from a mental block caused by Joe Maddon’s Walk-A-Thon last May to playing hurt have all been attributed to the poor performance.

Whatever the reason, it clearly hasn’t diminished his ability to hit the long ball. One year it’s Trout vs. Harper as the best young player in the MLB. The next it’s wondering if Harper will ever be the same. Both sides of the spectrum are undoubtedly overreactions, but regardless Harper has all the tools to reestablish himself as one of the top players in baseball.

Tebow Mania

The Prickly Grapefruit: Spring Training Watch 2017

Tim Tebow (Image Courtesy of Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images)

Alright so perhaps an invite to minor league camp doesn’t exactly qualify as “mania” in the world of baseball. That said, it doesn’t take away from the intrigue surrounding a former Heisman winner attempting to crack the big leagues. Never mind the fact he’s trying to do it at 29 years of age after essentially a decade away from the game.

Regardless of opinions of the topic, Tebow will receive highly coveted spring plate appearances for the Mets organization. So far those Minor’s attempts have equated to a .194 average in 70 plate appearances.

These early numbers haven’t dissuaded New York as they maintain plans to utilize Tebow in Grapefruit league action. From an overall impact standpoint, this is likely a non-story, but Tebow’s progress will be fun to keep an eye on this preseason.

 

 

 

 

 

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Credit Mike McGinnis

Spring Training Preview: Battle for the Bullpen

Spring training has always provided an opportunity for teams to sort out their top performers at every position. Without fail, the most compelling of these competition is the volatile race to secure the role of team closer.

The bullpen has seen a role of increasing importance in recent years. Its use in high leverage playoff situations has been a major factor and the hallmark of successful World Series managers. This trend continues to develop with the advent of the long reliever and setup-man roles. Managers will inevitably continue to experiment with their late inning strategy, but the decision on who holds the ball with the game on the line, remains one of the most critical.

This topic was approached briefly in the Spring Training Fever article addressing the compelling Rockies closer situation. Today, The Game Haus takes a deeper look at the battle for the bullpen taking place around the MLB.

Los Angeles Angels

Spring Training Preview: Battle for the Bullpen

(Huston Street #16 – Getty Images)

Up until last year, the Angels received respectable production out of veteran closer Huston Street. Arriving in 2014, Street managed to post 40 saves a season until 2016 saw a 6.45 ERA and nine saves. Looking to bounce back Street will compete with Cam Bedrosian and Andrew Bailey for the closer role this spring.

Cam Bedrosian will be coming off his own injury but appears next in line to challenge for the position. At only 25, Bedrosian appears to have both the skillset and the supporting statistics to be a serious contender.

Sporting a 1.12 ERA, 1.091 WHIP with 40.1 innings pitched provides the Angels with an excellent second option. It would be no surprise if manager Mike Scioscia opts for the veteran, but whomever ends up will the role will be challenged to earn it this Spring.

Milwaukee Brewers

There has been no short list of successful closers that have spent some time with the Brewers. Unfortunately for Milwaukee, none of those closers remain.

The one bright spot has been the recent free agent acquisition of Neftali Feliz. Feliz had two outstanding seasons starting back in 2010 but after undergoing Tommy John surgery hasn’t shown the same dominance. Feliz will look to reclaim some of that excellence in 2017, but will contend with Corey Knebel during camp.

Knebel is a wild card after sustaining an injury early last season and missing on a few save opportunities. That said, given his youth and the opportunity at a healthy off-season Knebel should begin spring training ready to compete. Brewers manager Craig Counsell has left the door open for all contenders at this time, but safe money will be for the veteran Feliz to come out on top.

Cincinnati Reds

Spring Training Preview: Battle for the Bullpen

(Drew Storen while with the Seattle Mariners – Getty Images)

The Reds seem to have a knack for collecting bullpen arms. Since the departure of Aroldis Chapman, there haven’t been many save opportunities in Cincinnati, and the Reds’ bullpen has struggled.

However, with the development of a few young arms, Cincinnati may be poised for a bullpen renaissance. The three names in the mix in 2017 are Raisel Iglesias, Drew Storen and Michael Lorenzen.

Raisel Iglesias finished the 2016 getting most of the save opportunities after Tony Cingrani struggled down the stretch. Iglesias posted a very respectable 2.53 ERA with six saves and appears to be the main contender against Drew Storen.

Storen had a busy 2016 bouncing between Washington, Toronto and Seattle ending that campaign with a woeful 5.23 ERA. Consensus is that Storen is the favorite heading into camp, but will need a strong Spring to secure the position.

Finally, Michael Lorenzen also appears to be a very promising long-term option. Lorenzen has pitched sparingly up to this point but appears to be the Reds developmental hope and will also contend. Overall the Reds have a few solid options heading into 2017, the question for Cincinnati is how many saves situations will their bullpen actually have a chance at?

 

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Spring Training Fever: Baseball is Back in Business

Pitchers and catchers report. The words fans long to hear as they anxiously await the start of spring training. Unfortunately, this day always feels like much ado about nothing. The whole team has yet to assemble and the real action doesn’t really begin for another two weeks. However, baseball is back nonetheless and that is reason enough to be excited for the start of 2017 season.

While the actual importance of game results is lacking, there are certainly other areas worth analyzing this time of year. The following is a list of common spring training themes and some of the teams who may be attached to these storylines throughout camp.

“I’m in the Best Shape of My Life”

This is always a fan-favorite line players love to feed to reporters early in the season. Whether it’s shedding a few pounds (I’m looking at you Pablo), packing on muscle, or recovering from an injury, all eyes are on the general health of the team this time of year.

Team to Watch: Cleveland Indians

Spring Training Fever: Baseball is Back in Business

Danny Salazar #31 of the Cleveland Indians (Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Last year’s World Series runner-up battled through a bevy of injuries at year’s end and look to recuperate in 2017. Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar and Michael Brantley are all key pieces recovering for the Tribe. Their contribution to the upcoming campaign will be absolutely critical if Cleveland is to attempt a follow-up appearance in October.

Honorable Mentions: Mets, Tigers and Nationals

Rookie Roster Spots

This is the chance for the young guns to shine. With plenty of invites to go around, fans will see first-hand some of their organization’s rising stars. Leaving camp with only 25 roster spots means competition is fierce, and many won’t make the cut.

However, the opportunity for these minor leaguers to taste some big league action must be an experience like no other. There’s an impressive influx of young talent throughout the MLB, and spring training is the perfect chance to see it in action.

Team to Watch: Chicago White Sox

Chicago was certainly one of the more active teams this offseason. Committing fully to a rebuild, the White Sox offloaded Chris Sale and Adam Eaton for an impressive group of prospects.

There are few positions locked in for Chicago, and young stars Yoan Moncada and Lucas Giolito will undoubtedly get an opportunity. Those names added to a strong farm system should set the Sox up for an exciting spring and promising future.

Honorable Mentions: Braves, Rays and Brewers

Battle for the Bullpen

The aptly named “Closer Carousel” is always a hot topic come spring training. The pen is a perpetual source of spring intrigue for two major reasons.

First, it’s a way for managers to trial promising young arms and allow them to compete for a potential spot. Second, it provides the battle ground for the ever revolving door that is an MLB closer’s job. It’s a high stakes game with some of the hardest throwing individuals in Major League Baseball. What’s not to like?

Team to Watch: Colorado Rockies

Adam Ottavino #0 of the Colorado Rockies (Photo by Dustin Bradford via Getty Images)

This matchup represents one of the more intriguing closer battles going into spring training. Colorado improved this offseason with the addition of Ian Desmond to an already talented offense. The question hanging over Coors field is who will be the brave soul tasked with securing a home lead?

Adam Ottavino is coming off a respectable 2016 season and posted a 2.67 ERA with seven saves. The challenger will be the recently signed Greg Holland, who is coming off a season-ending Tommy John surgery in 2016. Holland holds a career 2.42 ERA and has amassed 145 career saves, including 47 in his best season.

At 31 years of age, both veterans will battle it out to earn a spot as the ninth inning man in one of baseball’s most hitter friendly parks.

Honorable Mentions: Reds, Angels, A’s, Twins, Phillies and Nationals

 

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Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

Pick up the Pace: MLB Revisits Pace of Play

Rob Manfred still isn’t satisfied with the length of major league games. In 2016, ESPN reported that MLB pace of play length had extended to three hours and 26 seconds. This occurred despite rule changes made during the 2015 season, which did result in an average below three hours.

Rule changes up to this point have targeted manager challenges, pitching change timing, inning change timing and even batter’s box foot placement. Furthermore, the MLB continues to experiment with a visible clock that appears to keep the pace, but additional changes appear to be imminent.

A list of previous experimental rules can be found here, but today The Game Haus takes a look potential changes coming for the 2017 season.

Possible Changes to MLB Pace of Play

Free Intentional Walks

MLB Pace of Play

Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

First and least impactful will be removing the age old tradition of intentionally tossing four balls to the catcher before the batter can claim his base. Changing this rule is useless on a few levels.

First off is the obvious lack of impact given that an intentional walk occurs approximately once every three games. Additionally, intentional walks rarely last more than 60 seconds. If each team gets its equal share, that rounds out to about 31 IBB’s in a 162 game season. Thank you Rob Manfred for saving the youth and their short attention spans.

Furthermore there are the occasional fun and wacky things that happens when you least expect them…

Like these:

 

If this is baseball’s way of saving time or attempting to show progressive change, there may be a better way.

Raising the Strike Zone

MLB Pace of Play

(Courtesy Sportsvision)

The second rule proposal is slightly more interesting. The resulting change would raise the lower border of the strike zone from “the hollow beneath the knee cap” to the top of the hitter’s knees.

The rationale behind this change is the result of rising walk and strikeout rates among players. The general idea here is to bring additional pitches into the batters normal swing path. Clearly this is designed to create more contact, put additional balls in play, and decrease hitters time spent at the plate.

Never mind the fact that this flies in the face of a ruling that dates back to 1887 (thanks to the internet we have a chronological evolution of the strike zone, credit Baseball-Almanac). This particular ruling “strikes” me as wishful thinking. This assumes player and umpire adjustment derived from simply stating the zone has moved the rough equivalent of two inches.

Changing human perception of a strike zone that has been ingrained into these individuals since they were 10 years old could be a challenge. That said, there is certainly no harm in testing this theory. Other than true baseball purists and pitching duel enthusiasts, most fans would enjoy seeing the ball in play more often. If this change somehow generates increased offense and forces pitchers to get more creative, it looks like a win-win.

Honorable Mentions

These are rules that have been casually rumored but don’t appear to have any short term impact for the time being.

  • Managers requested to complete faster pitching changes
  • 20 additional seconds off the between-innings clock
  • Player starting at second during extra innings
  • Additional enforcement of “one foot in the batter’s box at all times” rule

Currently any changes will have to be approved by the players union and will likely be piloted during Spring Training. That said, with only a few short days until pitchers and catchers report, it would appear the 2017 rules will likely remain the same. Baseball has traditionally been a sport where change has been frowned upon, and it certainly doesn’t appear that mentality will change any time soon.

 

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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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