World Baseball Classic Bracketology: Predicting the Semi-Finals

After an exhilarating first round in the World Baseball Classic, eight teams move on to the second round. With a few favorites and a few underdogs moving on, there is something for everyone. But as the competition grows more fierce, the cream of the crop will rise to the top. Who will make it out of the second round and make the coveted trip to Los Angeles? Pool E and Pool F have  plenty of talent, but only two teams from each pool will be able to say they are one of the four best national teams in the world. All records and standings are accurate as of March 14th.

Pool E

World Baseball Classic

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

Japan (5-0 WBC Record)

After mashing their way through Pool B, Japan emerged with a decisive 3-0 record. After scoring 22 runs while giving up only eight in three games, Japan seems to be firing on all cylinders. And they have carried over that momentum into Pool E, running up their winning streak to five games. Supported by Astros outfielder Nori Aoki, NPB slugger Tetsuto Yamata and a 2-0 record in Pool E, Japan should already have their flight booked for Los Angeles.

The Netherlands (3-2 WBC Record)

As one of the four teams in Pool E, the Netherlands earned their spot with a solid 2-1 record in Pool A. Powered by the Ranger’s Jurickson Profar and Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorious, the Netherlands was able to produce just enough offense to squeak by Chinese Taipei and score five runs against Korea. But with an offensive explosion that has brought them a 1-1 record in Pool E, their offensive woes seem to be long gone.

Israel (4-1 WBC Record)

With one of the deepest grouping of teams in WBC history, Israel stands out among Japan, the Netherlands and Cuba. But they have certainly earned their place in Pool E. They torched their way through Pool A, putting up an impressive 3-0 record. And they have held their own in Pool E, going 1-1. Jason Marquis and Nate Freiman hope to continue their strong play, as they have bolstered Israel up to this point. But with so much deep competition, Israel will need to play above their talent level to move on. And up to this point, they have.

Cuba (2-3 WBC Record)

Cuba has long been a national powerhouse in the baseball world. And after putting up a 2-1 record in Pool B, they earned their spot in the second round. But their performance in Pool B had many questioning Cuba, and it has only gotten worse since second round play has begun. With Cuba barely able to overcome upstart Australia 4-3 in Pool B, the doubt began to creep in. Cuba’s pitching has been their downfall, with Bladimir Banos and Yoennis Yera letting them down. And that has carried over to the second round with Cuba putting up a 0-2 record.

Pool E Representatives in Semis: Japan and Israel

Japan is just stacked across the board, with MLB players and NPB stars carrying the national team. Their 5-0 overall record in WBC play proves their depth, as they have beaten teams with relative ease. Surprise contender Israel is not far behind, with a 4-1 record in WBC play. They have advanced farther and done better than many thought they would. But don’t think their run is over, as Israel has the potential to be this WBC’s Cinderella.

Pool F

Dominican Republic (3-0 WBC Record)

World Baseball Classic

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

As one of the most stacked squads in the WBC, the Dominican Republic certainly did not disappoint in Pool C. Their undefeated record (3-0) was the best of the Pool C competitors, and landed them a spot in the second round. With MLB stars like Jose Bautista, Adrian Beltre and Robinson Cano, to just name a few, dotting the roster, the Dominican Republic scored 26 runs in round one of the tournament. If they can keep their offense clicking, don’t expect the Dominican Republic to experience a loss anytime soon.

Puerto Rico (3-0 WBC Record)

Another undefeated team, another talent-rich roster. They rode their impressive MLB talent to a perfect 3-0 record in Pool D, besting each team they faced. With the likes of Carlos Beltran. Francisco Lindor, and Carlos Correa, their talent level is off the charts. They dominated offensively in Pool D, scoring 29 runs. That kind of offensive production is some of the best in the WBC. But don’t think Puerto Rico will run out of gas soon. Their offensive depth drives this club, and they are one of the heavy favorites to move on to the semis.

United States (2-1 WBC Record)

With the top professional baseball league in the world, you would expect the United States to dominate the WBC every year. But with MLB getting so much of it’s talent from all over the world, the United States has to recruit other MLB players to don their nation’s colors. Even so, the talent on the United States roster rivals any other team in the WBC. With Andrew McCutchen, Nolan Arenado and Buster Posey headlining the roster, the United States pummeled north of the border rival Canada 8-0 and eked out a close 3-2 win over Colombia in the first round. Their offense and pitching staff are deep, and they will need every bit of that depth to move on to the next round.

Venezuela (2-2 WBC Record)

After beating Italy 4-3 in the Pool D tiebreaker, Venezuela moved on to the second round. While they have been playing .500 ball in the tournament, they will look to their stars to turn it on in Pool F. With players like Miguel Cabrera, Jose Altuve and Rougned Odor, Venezuela certainly has the talent to compete in the second round. But they will need to tie it all together, as they were outscored 23-24 in Pool F. If Venezuela’s pitching staff can perform well, the offense will be able to power them all the way to the Championship Round.

Pool F Representatives in Semis: Dominican Republic and United States

The talent for the Dominican Republic is undeniable, and it’s that talent that will drive them to the Championship Round. They boast legitimate MLB stars both on the mound and at the plate. This balance in talent gives the Dominican Republic a massive advantage over some of the other teams in the WBC. But one of those teams is not the United States. Their only loss so far was to, you guessed it, the Dominican Republic. Even so, the offensive firepower of the United States lineup is deafening. And with all of the quality arms skipper Jim Leyland has to call on, a Championship Round appearance seems likely for the United States.

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Fantasy Baseball Tips and Tricks

Fantasy Baseball Tips and Tricks: Veterans to Keep Your Eye On in 2017

I present you with my fantasy baseball tips and tricks: veterans to keep your eye on in 2017.

Veterans commonly go overlooked in fantasy baseball. They are assumed to have undergone regression from the previous year. Multiple veterans disproved this theory last year, including David Ortiz, Justin Verlander and Adrian Beltre.

Ortiz astounded baseball fans around the world with arguably his best season since 2005. His 38 home runs and 127 RBIs helped crown the Boston Red Sox as the best offensive team in baseball. The 40-year-old finished sixth in AL MVP voting and received his seventh Silver Slugger award to validate him as an elite player.

Verlander underwent some struggles in 2014, sporting a 4.54 ERA and a career low strikeout rate of 6.9. He hoped for a bounce-back season in 2015, but only made 20 starts after being sidelined by a tricep injury.

Many people lost faith in the former Cy Young winner and MVP. However, the 33-year-old proved everyone wrong. He finished with 16 wins, a 3.04 ERA and a league high 254 strikeouts. Verlander finished second in the AL Cy Young voting and 17th in AL MVP voting.

The first ballot Hall-of-Famer, Adrian Beltre, also entered 2016 with some question marks. He was a 37-year-old who had failed to play 150 games and hit 20 home runs since 2013. The four-time Silver Slugger went to work and batted .300 with 32 home runs and 104 RBIs. Beltre subsequently finishing seventh in AL MVP voting.

Many veterans slide down the board on draft day, but the following old-timers should stay on your radar come 2017.

 

The following players are all 34 years of age or above and are being selected out of the top 100 players according to fantasypros.com average draft positions (ADP’s). Players are listed in order of ADP, with their age, position, team and composite 2017 projections following.

 

Position Players

 

Albert Pujols, 37, First Base, Los Angeles Angels (128)

  • 536 AB, 72 R, 29 HR, 91 RBI, .265 AVG, .792 OPS

Pujols has dealt with nagging foot injuries over the course of his last four seasons. However, he has still managed to play 150 or more games in his last three. The 37-year-old remains a staple of power and production. He will continue to bat behind Mike Trout, making him a 100-plus RBI threat until he retires. Injuries will remain threat to his success, but his ADP makes him well worth the risk.

 

Fantasy Baseball Tips and Tricks

Adrian Gonzalez has quietly been one of the leagues most consistent players. (Courtesy of USA TODAY Sports)

Adrian Gonzalez, 34, First Base, Los Angeles Dodgers (146)

  • 539 AB, 69 R, 22 HR, 84 RBI, .273, .790 OPS

Gonzalez has remained one of the most consistent big leaguers of the last decade. He has amassed 90 or more RBIs in 10 consecutive seasons. The 34-year-old will continue to be a cornerstone of the Los Angeles Dodgers lineup that is bound to improve. Young stars Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig will continue to grow.

The first overall pick in 2000 has a career .290 batting average, which makes him a very safe selection as your first basemen in 2017.

 

Carlos Beltran, 39, Outfield, Houston Astros, (190)

  • 499 AB, 62 R, 21 HR, 72 RBI, .271 AVG, .783 OPS

Beltran will jump from one AL West team to another, leaving the Texas Rangers to join the Houston Astros. The 39-year-old had begun to fall off in 2014, although his 2016 campaign began a resurgence. Beltran smashed 29 home runs, which is something he hadn’t done since 2012.

If Beltran can find consistent at bats as an Astro, then there is no reason that he cannot be a top-20 outfielder once again in 2017.

 

Fantasy Baseball Tips and Tricks

Victor Martinez is still a cornerstone of the Detroit Tigers offense at 38 years old. (Courtesy of USA TODAY Sports)

Victor Martinez, 38, Designated Hitter, Detroit Tigers (192)

  • 514 AB, 61 R, 21 HR, 76 RBI, .278 AVG, .785 OPS

The former catcher has found a home at designated hitter. He has been able to manage at least 150 games in three of his last four seasons.  Martinez’s career batting average of .301 makes him a great late-round pick who can boost your average.

If the Detroit Tigers are successful this season, it will be in part because of this 38-year-old’s production. He has amounted 100 RBIs five times in his career, which is not out of the realm of possibility if he can stay healthy once again.

 

 

Yadier Molina, 34, Catcher, St. Louis Cardinals (195)

  • 434 AB, 43 R, 7 HR, 48 RBI, .286 AVG, .733 OPS

Molina is a future Hall-of-Famer because of his glove. However, he batted .307 last season while finishing 23rd in NL MVP voting. Molina may be a 34-year-old catcher who hasn’t surpassed 150 games played ever in his career, but he remains one of the safest choices you can make late in the draft. The Cardinals will only go as far as Molina, Carpenter and Piscotty will take them.

 

Starting and Relief Pitchers

 

Rich Hill, 37, Starting Pitcher, Los Angeles Dodgers (122)

  • 132 IP, 10 W, 3.07 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 143 K

Hill inked a three-year, $48 million deal after finishing 2016 with 110.1 innings pitched, 12 wins, a 2.12 ERA and 129 K’s. The 37-year-old will remain a staple in the Los Angeles Dodgers rotation for years to come. If he were to come close to 200 innings, he is a sure-fire top-25 starting pitcher. Hill is a late bloomer in the MLB and commonly sliding in drafts. However, should not be overlooked due to his incredible strikeout upside.

 

Fantasy Baseball Tips and Tricks

John Lackey has remained an innings eater for which ever team he suiting up for. (Courtesy of The Chicago Tribune)

John Lackey, 38, Starting Pitcher, Chicago Cubs (142)

  • 182 IP, 11 W, 3.66 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 162 K

The Chicago Cubs veteran remains a consistent innings eater, reaching the 180-innings mark in four straight seasons. The 38-year-old will continue to pitch every five days for the Cubbies come 2017, which makes him extremely valuable in all formats. He is sure to win games, strike batters out and have respectable ratios.

 

J.A. Happ, 34, Starting Pitcher, Toronto Blue Jays (169)

  • 183 IP, 12 W, 3.93 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 156 K

Happ came out of nowhere in 2016 to win 20 games and finish sixth in AL Cy Young voting. Regression may be in store for the veteran. However, if he can match his 195-inning total last season, he is sure to be a solid fantasy pitcher in 2017. The 34-year-old will be pitching for an intriguing Blue Jays team that is sure to compete in the AL East as they have for the last few seasons.

 

Fantasy Baseball Tips and Tricks

Francisco Rodriguez will remain the closer to start 2017. (Courtesy of Blessyouboys.com)

Francisco Rodriguez, 35, Relief Pitcher, Detroit Tigers (143)

  • 58 IP, 35 SV, 3.57 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 55 K

Once arguably the greatest closer in the game, Rodriguez has since fallen off that pedestal. His strikeouts per nine innings has dropped in consecutive seasons since 2013, which is a bit disconcerting. However, the Detroit closer will continue to have the opportunity to be a premier closer in this league, as the Tigers will be a contender in 2017.

 

 

 

Fernando Rodney, 39, Relief Pitcher, Arizona Diamondbacks (241)

  • 57 IP, 23 SV, 3.95 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 60 K

Rodney will make the move to the desert in 2017 and become the Arizona Diamondbacks’ closer to start the season. Rodney still has plenty of strikeout potential, and will be saving games for a Diamondbacks team that is sure to be better than they were in 2016. Rodney will make for a great late round pick for teams that need some cheap saves.

 

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Tools of the Trade: Top Five in Hitting

Major League Baseball is one of the most heavily scouted games in sports. Whether it be at the high school, college or the major league level, players are always under a microscope. But what do scouts use to grade these players? They are evaluated based on the five basic tools of baseball; hitting, power, speed and base running, fielding and arm strength. In this first installment of our Tools of the Trade series, we will be analyzing the top five players at each tool.

Using the last five seasons for analysis, players will be evaluated and ranked. Sticking with the traditional 20-80 scales, players have been assigned a grade and then ranked accordingly. When a tie grade is encountered, number of games played, total hits within the five year span, and batting average will be used as a tie breaker.

Hitting Tool

Joey Votto has done nothing but rake since his first day in Cincinnati (David Kohl/USA TODAY Sports).

5. 1B Joey Votto- Cincinnati Reds

Hit Tool: 75

Joey Votto has been a mainstay in Cincinnati since his call up in 2007. He wasn’t considered the top player in his draft, going in the second round to Cincinnati, but he hasn’t let that slow him down. Votto has long been known for his ability to get on base, evident by his astounding career .425 OBP. But it’s his ability to put the ball on the bat that earns him the fifth spot in these rankings.

From 2012-2016, Votto put up a .312 batting average. He also amassed 711 hits across those five seasons. Votto’s ability to put the ball in play is bolstered by is impeccable batting eye. By being able to pick and choose the perfect pitch to hit, Votto has become a premium hitter for Cincinnati. But his recent injury history hurts him in these rankings, as he has been limited to 130 games per season in the last five years. Even so, Votto is one of the top hitters in all of baseball.

4. 3B Adrian Beltre- Texas Rangers

Hit Tool: 75

Entering his age 38 season, many believed Adrian Beltre would have been on the decline long ago. But he seems to just get better with age. He was signed as an international free agent by the Dodgers and made his MLB debut way back in 1998. And ever since he has done nothing but hit. But even with a solid career .286 batting average, Beltre has somehow stepped up his game in the past five seasons.

With a .310 batting average from 2012-2016, Beltre has bested his career average by almost 30 points. And to make it even more impressive, Beltre has done all of that at 33 years old and over. He has also been a mainstay in the Rangers lineup, playing an average of 152 games per season over the previous five campaigns. In that time he has accumulated 909 hits, averaging almost 200 hits per season. Even at age 38, Beltre still possesses an elite hit tool, good enough to place him among the games best.

3. CF Mike Trout- Los Angeles Angels

Hitting Tool

Mike Trout has been locked in for years (David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

Hit Tool: 75

Mike Trout is one of the few true “five tool” players in the game, so don’t be surprised to see his name in our other installments of the Tools of the Trade series. Even as a first round pick in the 2009 MLB Draft, Trout is considered one of the greatest steals in draft history. After being selected 25th overall, Trout tore through the Angels minor league system to make his MLB debut at 19 years old. And ever since, all Trout has done is rake.

When looking at Trout’s stats from the past five seasons, they put him among some of the best pure hitters in the game. He boasts a .310 batting average from 2012-2016. Trout also has 890 hits to his credit, far surpassing Votto in that regard. And while Votto does boast a better batting average, Trout has been more reliable. Trout has averaged 154 games per season in the past five years. While Votto does have Trout beat in average, it’s not enough to make up for his lack of playing time. Trout is a mainstay in the Angels lineup that will be a top hitter in the game for years to come.

2. 2B Jose Altuve- Houston Astros

Hit Tool: 75

Jose Altuve is one of the most diminutive players in the majors. Listed at a generous five feet six inches tall, one would believe that Altuve would have no place in major league baseball. But just like some scouts, Altuve has proven them wrong as well. After debuting for the Astros in 2011, he quickly became the team’s building block. And Altuve has done some building of his own, elevating himself to elite status.

With a .314 batting average from 2012-2016 and two AL Batting Titles thrown in for good measure, Altuve has been an elite hitter for an up and coming Astros organization. During that time he has clubbed 985 hits, by far the most for players in contention for this list. He has also played in about 154 games a season since 2012, providing a reliable spark to the Astros lineup. And at only 26 years old, look for Altuve to add to his already impressive trophy case.

Hit Tool

Expect to see a ton of this from Miguel Cabrera this season (Duane Burleson/Getty Images North America).

1. 1B Miguel Cabrera- Detroit Tigers

Hit Tool: 80

Miguel Cabrera is one of the best pure hitters of his generation. After being acquired by the Tigers in a steal of a trade from the Florida Marlins, Cabrera has been terrorizing opposing pitchers. The two time AL MVP has won seven Silver Slugger awards in his career, and put up a .321 career batting average. His career average would be good enough for tops on this list, but of course, Cabrera has done even better than that in his past five seasons.

From 2012-2016, Cabrera has punished pitchers to a .328 batting average. That is insane production, and easily paces the majors in average over the past five seasons. He has also amassed 922 hits, driving the ball to all fields. While he has average 149 games per season over the past five years, that’s the second lowest amount of games on this list. Even so, that type of insane production can not go unrewarded, making Miguel Cabrera the best pure hitter in all of baseball.

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Spring Training Spotlight

Spring Training Spotlight: Hot and Cold Starts

With Spring Training in full swing, players and fans are starting to get into the groove of things. Players are hitting their strides at the plate and on the mound. But there are some who are struggling in the early going. Even though Spring Training is just that, training in the spring, players still strive to succeed. Which players are reaching that goal and which need to put in a little more work?

Hot

1B/DH Chris Colabello- Cleveland Indians

Spring Training Spotlight

Chris Colabello is hoping a strong Spring Training will mean a return to his 2015 form (Michael Dwyer/AP Photo).

After a 2016 season that saw Colabello only play 10 major league games for the Blue Jays, he needs a strong showing in Spring Training to shake loose of his PED suspension. But luckily for him, he has made the most of Spring Training so far with the Cleveland Indians, flashing his 2015 form. Colabello slashed .321/.367/.520 good for a 138 OPS+ over 101 games in 2015. And he’s showing signs of resurgence in Spring Training, slashing .333/.474/.667. But even with a hot start, it may be all for naught.

The Cleveland Indians have two top performers at Colabello’s primary positions: first base and DH. And no matter how hot Colabello gets, there is no way he is unseating Carlos Santana at first base or Edwin Encarnacion at DH. The best he can hope for is a spot on the bench, and at worst starting in the minors if he wants to stay with the Indians. But if Colabello continues his torrid pace, don’t be surprised to see him latch onto a new club.

OF Keon Broxton- Milwaukee Brewers

Keon Broxton was somewhat of a surprise last year after coming over from division rival Pittsburgh. While batting .242/.354/.430, he was able to hit nine homers, drive in 19 RBIs and steal 23 bases in 75 games. And at only 26 years old, Broxton is trying to build off his solid 2016 to cement himself in Milwaukee’s rebuild. He’s off to a good start so far, showing off at the plate in Spring Training.

So far, Broxton is batting .412/.444/.941 in Spring Training action. Those are some absurd numbers, even in limited time. At this point in Spring Training, batters usually start catching up to pitchers in terms of preparation and performance, but Broxton is putting others to shame. Broxton certainly came to camp ready to hit the ground running, and he hasn’t stopped yet. He’s in line to start in center, and at this rate his Opening Day job is securely in the bag.

Cold

OF Giancarlo Stanton-Miami Marlins

Spring Training Spotlight

Giancarlo Stanton hopes a poor Spring Training start is just a fluke (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images).

With as much power as Giancarlo Stanton has, you would think he would never run out. But Stanton is currently experiencing a power outage. The slugging outfielder is currently batting .176/.300/.412 in Spring Training, having a difficult time getting into rhythm. But skipper Don Mattingly is hoping that the mammoth Stanton can get back on track.

Stanton has proven to be an offensive force for the Marlins in his seen years in Miami, sending 208 homers into orbit. But he has also been limited by injuries, only playing 145 games or more twice in his career. In those two seasons, he hit a combined 71 homers and drove in 192 RBIs. But at 27 years old when the season starts, Stanton needs to become a more dependable player. Hopefully he’s just scuffling at the plate, and not feeling the impact of years of multiple injuries on his body.

LF/3B Joey Gallo- Texas Rangers

Joey Gallo is a player in the same vein as Giancarlo Stanton; a massive slugger with tremendous power. Unfortunately for Gallo, he is also struggling at the plate. Gallo is batting .111/.304/.278 in Spring Training. But as bad as that sounds, it’s an improvement over his 2016 season when he slashed a horrendous .040/.200/.160 in 17 games for the Rangers. After spending years as the Rangers top prospect, Gallo finally exhausted his rookie status in 2016. It’s now or never for him to show his minor league production wasn’t his high water point.

Gallo entered the Rangers farm system with massive power, grading out on the 20-80 scale with 80 raw power. He has always been a pure slugger, never hitting over .272 in a minor league season, but also posting two seasons with at least 40 homers. It was thought with Adrian Beltre at third base that Gallo would take over left field, but he is not even listen in left field in the Rangers’ depth chart. If Gallo can turn his Spring Training performance around, he may be able to get his career back it’s former trajectory.

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2017 Fantasy Baseball Third Base Rankings

Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball Third Base Rankings

From Eddie Mathews to Ron Santo, from Mike Schmidt to Wade Boggs, from Chipper Jones to Adrian Beltre; the hot corner has remained a staple of power and production for centuries. Third basemen made up ten of the top 50 fantasy hitters in 2016, including the 2015 AL and 2016 NL MVP’s. With so many options to choose from, third base is one of, if not, the deepest position in fantasy baseball.

 

The top 30 third basemen have been grouped into six tiers, with the top and bottom player of each tier profiled below.

Honorable mentions include: Brandon Drury (ARI), Yulieski Gurriel (HOU), Jose Reyes (NYM), Jedd Gyorko (STL), Ryan Schimpf (SD), Hernan Perez (MIL), Matt Duffy (TB), and Johnny Peralta (STL).

 

Tier 1

2017 Fantasy Baseball Third Base Rankings

Can Kris Bryant be the first to win back to back MVP’s since Miguel Cabrera? (Courtesy of Chicagostylesports.com)

1. Kris Bryant CHC

2. Nolan Arenado COL

3. Josh Donaldson TOR

4. Manny Machado BAL

 

The reigning NL MVP, Kris Bryant, should be the first third basemen taken in 2017. Bryant was called up in 2015 after mashing 43 home runs at the AA and AAA levels. The minor-league player of the year impressed immediately in the majors, as he hit 26 home runs and drove in 99 RBI’s, resulting in him winning the Rookie of the Year.

The 24-year-old crushed 39 bombs with over 100 runs and RBI’s, which is easily repeatable for many years to come.

Two main reasons why Bryant lands atop this list is because of his steal upside and the lineup in which he plays in. Bryant is athletic for his 6-foot-5 230-pound stature. He stole 13 bases in 2015, and eight in 2016, which gives him a good floor of steals compared to Arenado, Donaldson, and Machado, who combined for nine.

Also, batting ahead of Anthony Rizzo and other elite hitters in the Chicago Cubs offense will give Bryant a great chance to, once again, lead the league in runs. These two factors will help propel him ahead of the other elite third base options.

 

Manny Machado has all of the potential in the world. After having back to back 35 plus home run and 100 run seasons, he remains in the elite category of third basemen.

Machado has batted primarily third in 2016, and still failed to reach the 100 RBI plateau, which is unnerving, as he is set to primarily bat second in 2017. Don’t get me wrong, Machado still has elite value in the two hole, as he will bat around .300, while being a great source of runs, but if you’re looking for 100 RBI’s, Machado may fall short once again.

Machado also failed to steal a base in 2016, after stealing 20 bags in 2015. This may have been a way to limit the stress on his surgically repaired knee, or may have been due to the fact that the Baltimore Orioles were last in stolen base attempts per game, with .2.

The lack of stolen bases and RBI’s compared to Bryant, Donaldson, and Arenado forces me place Machado at the bottom of tier 1.

 

Tier 2

2017 Fantasy Baseball Third Base Rankings

Will 2017 be a breakout season for veteran Kyle Seager? (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

5. Kyle Seager SEA

6. Jonathon Villar MIL

7. Adrian Beltre TEX

8. Matt Carpenter STL

9. Todd Frazier CWS

10. Evan Longoria TB

11. Anthony Rendon WAS

12. Justin Turner LAD

 

Kyle Seager has been a consistent source of 160 hits, .270 average, and 24 home runs per season, but 2017 will be the year he breaks out.

Seager will bat behind Jean Segura, Robinson Cano, and Nelson Cruz, which will give him a great chance to finally surpass the 100 RBI mark.

The 29-year-old’s isolated power numbers have jumped from .185 to .221, showing that he has the potential to increase his power numbers as he continues through his prime years.

According to fantasypros.com, he is being selected as the 59th player off the board, and the 6th third basemen. Although Seager’s value does warrant a pick at this position, there are many other third basemen that offer similar value at a much lesser cost.

 

Justin Turner exploded onto the scene in 2016, having a career year, batting .275 with 27 home runs, 79 runs, and 90 RBI’s. The 32-year-old inked a 4-year, $64 million deal, that will lock him in as the everyday third basemen and three-hitter of the Los Angeles Dodgers for the near and distant and future.

Turner provides a great floor of value, as he has a career batting average of .282, while managing to have respectable strikeout and walk rates. I believe Turner is more than likely to repeat his power numbers, and could be a sneaky source of 100 RBI’s come 2017.

 

Tier 3

2017 Fantasy Baseball Third Base Rankings

Can Jake Lamb recover from his atrocious second half n 2016? (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

13. Jake Lamb ARI

14. Maikel Franco PHI

15. Alex Bregman HOU

16. Jose Ramirez CLE

 

Jake Lamb is currently being severally overlooked, as he is being selected as the 19th third basemen, and 165th overall player in drafts.

Lamb finished 2016 with a .249 batting average, 29 home runs, and 91 RBI’s. This stat line may seem underwhelming, but Lambs first half of .291, 20 home runs, and 61 RBI’s suggests that there is elite potential here.

The 26-year-old will join a healthy Arizona Diamondbacks lineup that includes A.J. Pollock, Paul Goldschmidt, and David Peralta, which will give him the opportunity to repeat or surpass his career high RBI total. Lamb will end up on the majority of my teams in 2017, as his ADP is much too low for his potential.

 

The sneaky top 20 MVP candidate in 2016, Jose Ramirez, will be another cheap source of production at third base in 2017. Ramirez is being selected as the 14th third basemen, which I believe is fairly high, although his ADP of 124 gives him significant value.

The 24-year-old will bat in the middle of the Cleveland Indians lineup, and depending on Michael Brantley’s health, may be behind Edwin Encarnacion, Francisco Lindor, and Jason Kipnis, which will give him an incredible opportunity to drive in runs.

Ramirez, a career .275 hitter, is continuously improving, as he batted .312 with 11 home runs, 76 RBI’s, and 22 stolen bases in 2016. Investing in the young Indian will be highly beneficial come 2017.

 

Tier 4

2017 Fantasy Baseball Third Base Rankings

Miguel Sano’s strikeout rate is a red flag heading into 2017. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

17. Miguel Sano MIN

18. Jung-Ho Kang PIT

19. Eduardo Nunez SFG

20. Ryon Healy OAK

21. Yangervis Solarte SD

 

Miguel Sano is currently being selected as the 128th player, and 15th third basemen in 2017. After hitting 18 home runs in 80 games in 2015, Sano increased his totals to 25 in 116 games in 2016. Miguel Sano’s power potential is juicy, although his 2016 strike out rate of 36% is a huge red flag.

Sano’s strikeout rates have continuously increased, which suggests that Sano may strikeout at an obnoxious rate again in 2017. Sano, who has already had a problem finding a position, may experience serious issues if his bat continues to struggle. I believe Sano is being drafted to high, as you can draft safer options in Maikel Franco or Jake Lamb later in drafts.

 

Yangervis Solarte is my sleeper of the year. The 29-year-old is primed for a breakout season, as he will have an everyday role for the first time in his career. He totaled 15 home runs and 71 RBI’s in just 109 games, which would have put him on pace for 22 home runs and 105 RBI’s.

Solarte will be the starting third basemen and cleanup hitter for the San Diego Padres in 2017. This will give him plenty of opportunity for RBI’s and runs, as this young Padres lineup could surprise people.

The ascension of young studs Wil Myers, Hunter Renfroe, and Manny Margot, can immensely improve the Friars underwhelming offense, which will positively impact Solarte’s stats.

His ADP of 319 makes him the 32nd third basemen taken off the board, which means he is currently going undrafted in majority of leagues. Solarte will make an incredible late round pick if you miss early on a third basemen.

 

Tier 5

2017 Fantasy Baseball Third Base Rankings

Nick Castellanos’ fractured hand held him back in 2016, so will he improve in 2017? (Courtesy MLive.com)

22. Nick Castellanos DET

23. Mike Moustakas KAN

24. Adonis Garcia ATL

25. Eugenio Suarez CIN

26. Pablo Sandoval BOS

27. Travis Shaw MIL

28. Martin Prado MIA

29. Danny Valencia SEA

30. Yunel Escobar LAA

 

Nick Castellanos had his 2016 cut short due to a fractured left hand, although in 110 games, he managed to hit 18 home runs, while scoring 54 runs, and driving in 58 RBI’s. The Tigers six-hitter remains a solid source of runs and RBI’s while sporting a respectable career average of .265.

Castellanos is very safe option for later in the draft, and if he continues to progress, could be a top 15 third basemen. His current ADP of 239 makes his the 25th third basemen selected, which would be a price well worth paying.

 

Yunel Escobar has quietly been a solid fantasy producer his entire career, as he has a career batting average of .283, and has batted .314 and .304 in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Escobar hasn’t managed to play over 140 games since 2013, but if he can make that happen in 2017, he will be a great fantasy asset.

The 34-year-old will bat leadoff for the Mike Trout lead Los Angeles Angels. The talent behind him along with his great batting average gives him a chance to be an above average run scorer in 2017.

His ADP of 366 makes him the 37th third basemen being selected, which in my mind is astronomical. He will go undrafted in almost all leagues, although he offers great value in deeper leagues with large rosters.

 

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2017 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Rankings

Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Rankings

The catcher position is arguably the toughest and most important position on the diamond. Not only is catcher the most demanding position physically, but mentally as well. Catchers must know everything about everyone at all times.

The most important responsibilities of a catcher are on the defensive side of the ball. They need to block, pick, receive, call pitches and throw out runners, among other things. The importance of defense commonly results in catchers being worse offensively than other positions.

In fantasy terms, the catcher can be compared to the tight end in football. The tight end position is focused on blocking as much as it is receiving, resulting in them having a lower average fantasy value than other skill positions.

The top 25 catchers have been grouped into five tiers. The top and bottom catcher in each tier have been profiled below.

Exceptions include Matt Wieters, who is still an unsigned free agent and Wilson Ramos, who is recovering from a torn ACL, and should return to the Tampa Bay Rays as a designated hitter at some point in May.

Honorable mentions include: Jorge Alfaro (PHI), Nick Hundley (SF), Miguel Montero (CHC), Roberto Perez (CLE), Jeff Bandy (MIL), Tucker Barnhart (CIN), Carlos Ruiz (SEA), Tom Murphy (COL), and Tyler Flowers (ATL).

Tier 1

2017 fantasy baseball catcher rankings

Buster Posey could retire right now and be inducted into the Hall of Fame. (Courtesy of MLBtraderumors.com)

Catchers in this tier are elite fantasy options. They will play every day, whether it is behind the plate or at first base, and have offered consistently great offensive value in the past.

1. Buster Posey SF

2. Jonathan Lucroy TEX

Buster Posey has been the standard of excellence at catcher for the past five seasons. The former MVP is coming off of his worst career season (disregarding his 2011 campaign). An off year for Posey included batting .288 with 14 home runs and 80 RBIs. He managed to be top-15 MVP finalist, win his first Gold Glove and was named an All-Star for the fourth time.

The 29-year-old will remain the three-hole hitter for the always competitive San Francisco Giants, and should be selected as the first catcher off the board in 2017.

A two time All-Star, Jonathan Lucroy, will play his first full season for the Texas Rangers in 2017. He projects to bat sixth in a deep Rangers lineup that features young stud stars Rougned Odor and Nomar Mazara, as well as veterans Carlos Gomez, Adrain Beltre, Shin-Soo Choo and recently acquired Mike Napoli.

Lucroy led the league in doubles while finishing fourth in MVP voting in 2014. His 2015 season was cut short to a broken toe and concussion. In 2016, Lucroy rebounded, reaching career high in home runs, walks and slugging percentage. After being traded by the Milwaukee Brewers to the Rangers in 2016, He managed to mash 11 home runs in 47 games. Lucroy is guaranteed to be a top catcher in 2017.

Tier 2

2017 fantasy baseball catcher rankings.

Gary Sanchez is no longer the future of the New York Yankees, but rather the present. (Courtesy of NJ.com)

This tier consists of catchers who will play nearly every day, hit in the heart of the order, and offer great offensive value.

3. Gary Sanchez NYY

4. Willson Contreras CHC

5. Yasmani Grandal LAD

Everybody remembers Gary Sanchez for hitting 20 home runs in 53 games in 2016, but they forget that he batted .225 in September and October. Sanchez has huge upside as he will bat third for a sneaky talented Yankees lineup featuring veteran speedsters Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner.

With the 24-year-old batting third, Sanchez is in a prime spot to rack up RBIs if he can continue to put the bat on the ball. The Sanchise should not be overlooked because of his great opportunity in 2017.

Yasmani Grandal had his best career year in 2016, finishing 22nd in MVP voting. He hit 27 bombs while slashing .228/.339/.477 in 126 games. The Dodger’s everyday catcher will bat fifth behind Adrian Gonzalez, Justin Turner and Corey Seager, which will give him ample RBI opportunities.

Grandal will be a great fantasy asset in 2017.

Tier 3

2017 Fantasy Baseball Rankings

Russell Martin’s continued success is remarkable at 34-years-old. (Courtesy of www.whatproswear.com)

Catchers in this tier offer above average fantasy value as they will play nearly every day, hit in productive spots in the order, and have proven their worth in the past.

6. Russell Martin

7. Brian McCann

8. Salvador Perez

9. Yadier Molina

10. Wellington Castillo

11. Stephen Vogt

Russell Martin, the MLB’s journey man, has found success everywhere he goes. He has reached the 20 home run, 60 run, 70 RBI plateau in his last two consecutive seasons. The 34-year-old will be entering his 12th season as the everyday catcher and six hitter of the Toronto Blue Jays.

He will have the same opportunity he has had in the past two seasons to be a key contributor in the Blue Jays offense.

Stephen Vogt has finished his second consecutive season of 500 plate appearances and over a .250 average. He has hit a total of 32 home runs in his last two seasons, suggesting that he has above average power for a catcher. The 32-year-old will be the Oakland Athletics primary catcher and two-hitter in 2017, which will give him plenty of opportunities to produce runs.

The two-time All-Star will continue to have the chance to shine as a key part of the Athletics roster.

Tier 4

2017 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Rankings

Where does Evan Gattis fit into the Houston Astros puzzle? (Courtesy of The Houston Chronicle)

Players in this tier will come at a cheap price, but will provide above average value.

12. Evan Gattis

13. J.T. Realmuto

14. Mike Zunino

15. Austin Hedges

16. Francisco Cervelli

17. Derek Norris

Evan Gattis, the former janitor, has managed to amass 20 or more home runs in all four of his MLB seasons while averaging only 122 games per season. Gattis will play a utility role for the Houston Astros in 2017, who have signed Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann this offseason.

Gattis will find time behind home plate when veteran McCann’s legs need a rest, at designated hitter when Beltran starts in the outfield or is out of the lineup, and at first base when Yulieski Gurriel sits or struggles.

The 30-year-old has too much talent to not be in the lineup, and will be a cheap source of power in the middle or late rounds of your draft.

Derek Norris, who batted .186 in 2016, was traded to the Washington Nationals in December of 2016 for a minor-league pitcher. He will hold the primary catchers position relinquishing the occasional at bat to Jose Lobaton. The 28-year-old will bat at the bottom of a loaded Nationals lineup, giving him more RBI opportunities than the average eight hitter. A lot of people forget that Derek Norris batted .250 in 2015, and .270 in 2014, showing that he has the potential to be a valuable fantasy asset for a cheap price.

Tier 5

2017 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Rankings

Travis d’Arnaud looks forward to a healthy 2017. (Courtesy of Getty Images)

These catchers all offer average levels of production but will be playing in platoon roles, so playing time may be staggered until injuries or performance dictate otherwise.

18. Travis d’Arnaud

19. Sandy Leon

20. Devin Mesoraco

21. Yan Gomes

22. Cameron Rupp

23. Tony Wolters

24. James McCann

25. Jason Castro

Travis d’Arnaud will be the primary catcher for the New York Mets, occasionally relinquishing at-bats to backups Rene Rivera and Kevin Plawecki. Although he has only totaled 100 games played once in his career (108 games played in 2014), he is healthy and confident heading into 2017.

The Mets have also hired Glenn Sherlock as their new third base coach and catching instructor which will help d’Arnaud maintain his confidence behind the plate and at the dish. He offers average value for low cost, as he is commonly going undrafted.

Jason Castro, also going undrafted, will be the starting catcher for the Minnesota Twins after signing a three year, $24.5 million contract. He will bat at the bottom of a young Twins lineup that is sure to produce its fair share of runs in 2017. Castro batted .210 with 11 home runs in 2016, although it was only four seasons ago when the 29-year-old was an All-Star who batted .270 with 18 home runs. Castro is a good sleeper for deep or two catcher leagues.

 

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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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2017 MLB Season

Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Third Basemen

The sixth installment of our position rankings lands us at the 2017 third basemen rankings. Third base is one of the most top-heavy positions in all of baseball. With steady veterans and young studs all around the league, let’s start our list with number five.

5. Adrian Beltre- Texas Rangers

Like a fine wine, Beltre just seems to get better with age. By the way Beltre has been playing, you wouldn’t know he’s entering his 20th season in the majors. He bested his career averages in 2016 batting (.300/.358/.521.) And while he didn’t earn an All-Star selection in 2016, Beltre was still able to finish seventh in the AL MVP voting by hitting 32 home runs with 104 RBIs. But it wasn’t just his offense that vaulted him into the MVP conversation.

Beltre’s defense has been spectacular throughout his time in Texas, and it continued in 2016. He posted 15 defensive runs saved and was a wizard with the glove down at third base. That fancy glove work and powerful offensive production makes Beltre a solid pick to make the top five. Although he will be entering 2017 in his late 30’s, don’t expect Father Time to catch up with him anytime soon.

4. Manny Machado- Baltimore Orioles

2017 Third Basemen Rankings

Many Machado will try to carry the Orioles to the playoffs in 2017. (Rob Carr, Getty Images).

At 24 years old and entering his fifth season in the majors, Manny Machado will be a mainstay on this list for years to come. Machado really came into his own in 2016, putting up career highs in batting average (.294), slugging (.533) and posting a OBP of .343. Machado was also able to continue to utilize his power in 2016, mashing 37 homers and driving in 96 RBIs.

Like Beltre, Machado was also in the 2016 AL MVP conversation, finishing fifth. Machado also proved to be pretty steady with the glove as well.

Coming up as a shortstop with the Baltimore Orioles, Machado has always been a great fielder. He has been able to utilize his defensive skills at the hot corner, posting 13 defensive runs saved in 2016.

Machado has found his power, and coupled that with an excellent ability to make contact, good batting eye, and stellar defense to up his game even more in 2016. The 2017 season should prove no different for Machado.

3. Josh Donaldson- Toronto Blue Jays

While Josh Donaldson was a great player in 2013 and 2014 with Oakland, he blossomed into a legit MVP player when he was shipped north of the border in 2015. He continued his offensive onslaught in the 2016 season, slashing .284, .404, .549 and launched 37 homers to go along with 99 RBIs.

While Donaldson did have a drop off from his 2015 MVP season to his 2016 season, it is extremely hard to improve on an MVP season. Donaldson also experienced a sight drop off in his defense as well in 2016.

Donaldson had 2 defensive runs saved in 2016, not spectacular, but solid nonetheless. As Donaldson enters the 2017 season, he will look to continue what he accomplished in 2015 and 2016. His glove and his bat are one of the best in all of the majors, and Donaldson has a chance to prove it in 2017.

2017 Third Basemen Rankings

Nolan Arenado has launched 80 plus homers in the past two seasons. (Ben Margot, AP Photo).

2. Nolan Arenado- Colorado Rockies

After two seasons of 40 plus homers, Nolan Arenado has officially cemented himself as one of the best players in the league. He put up a slash line of .294, .362, .570, career bests in average and OBP in 2016. He also earned an NL All-Star appearance, Gold Glove award and Silver Slugger award for the second year in a row.

Arenado has produced at a ridiculous rate in the past two seasons, hitting 83 homers to go along with 263 RBIs. He has certainly found his swing at the plate, but he has always had a stellar glove.

Arenado has been a Gold Glover for his entire major league career, earning the award each season he has been in the majors. And 2016 was no different. He had 20 defensive runs saved in 2016, an amazing number for a third baseman. He is without a doubt one of the best overall defenders in all of baseball, and 2017 will be no different. If Arenado can continue his torrid offensive pace and spectacular defense, he will be a perennial MVP candidate.

1. Kris Bryant- Chicago Cubs

With just two seasons in the majors under his belt, Kris Bryant has done things that many thought would never be done. He helped bring the Cubs a World Series title in 2016 and won the NL MVP in 2016 after winning the NL ROY award in 2015.

Bryant has put up monster numbers since being called up in 2015, batting .284, .377, .522 as well as blasting 65 bombs to go along with 201 RBIs in his career. He has also stole 21 bases in his time in Chicago, exceptional for a slugger like Bryant.

Bryant has also made his name with the glove. Coming up as a third baseman with the Cubs, Bryant was always a solid fielder. But his defensive prowess has grown since being called up to Chicago. He posted 4 defensive runs saved at third base in 2016, providing a solid glove at the hot corner.

But Bryant has also proven to be a solid defender all over the field. Logging time at third, the outfield and first base in 2016, Bryant has become one of the game’s most versatile player. Bryant is a once in a generation talent, and is just beginning his young career.

It is a golden age for third basemen, with multiple young players performing at a high level. From Gold Glovers to Silver Sluggers, the major league landscape is dotted with players who are set to put up monster numbers in 2017.

 

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Everything You Need to Know About the AL Playoffs

As the one game wild card playoffs are finishing up, now is a good time to look at each American League team and determine what will push them to win it all, or what could end up being each team’s downfall. The Boston Red Sox start their series against the Cleveland Indians and the Texas Rangers will faceoff against the Toronto Blue Jays, who won the wildcard one game playoff against the Baltimore Orioles this past Tuesday. Both series commence on Thursday, October 6th, with the Jays vs. Rangers series at 4:30pm and the Red Sox vs. Indians series at 8pm on TBS.

 

The Boston Red Sox (93-69)

big-papi

David Ortiz has had a phenomenal last season. Will he be able to finish his career with another World Series champions celebration? Photo courtesy of John Tlu Macki of the Boston Globe

The Red Sox come into the playoffs as the AL team with the third best record. Do not let that fool you, however, as the Sox may be the most complete team in the AL. The lineup, top to bottom, may not have as much true power as the Blue Jays, but still contains three hitters with over 30 hr’s during the season (Mookie Betts, Hanley Ramirez, and David Ortiz). Betts is a potential regular season MVP (As outlined in one of my articles from last week) and David Ortiz has been Mr. Clutch during the Red Sox last three World Series runs. The true question mark around the lineup is whether the youth that powered the team, aka the Killer B’s (Betts, Bogaerts, Bradley Jr., and Benintendi) will be able to handle the added pressure surrounding the MLB Postseason.

The Red Sox’s biggest question mark entering the season surrounded the pitching rotation. As the season progressed, however, the rotation became one of the Sox’s biggest strengths. Rick Porcello, often considered nothing more than a middle of the rotation starter, has pitched a potential Cy Young season, finishing with 22 wins on the year. David Price is the big money man, brought in to be the ace, may not have lived up to the expectations of years past, but is still a strong number two. The bullpen was a bit of a question mark during much of the season, but the Sox brought in Brad Ziegler from the Diamondbacks. Since about mid-August, the bullpen has stepped up and dominated competition, turning a concern into a strength as well.

The Red Sox have the pleasure of matching up against the Cleveland Indians in the NLDS, who will provide a difficult matchup for the Sox as the series progresses.

 

Cleveland Indians (94-68)

corey-kluber

Corey Kluber has put together a Cy Young worthy season. Can he rally the injury riddled rotation and carry the Tribe past the Red Sox? Photo courtesy of Chuck Crow of the Plain Dealer.

The Indians came into a season as a favorite only if you were an Ohioan. The Kansas City Royals were coming off a World Series and the Detroit Tigers had seemingly upgraded their lineup by signing Justin Upton in the offseason. It was the Indians, however who ended up with the division crown on the back of one of the best young pitching rotations in the majors (maybe even better than the New York Mets’ young staff).

Yet, as the final months rolled around, half of the young core hit the disabled list, and leaves question marks as to how the Indians’ three man rotation will matchup with the Red Sox. Corey Kluber put together a ridiculous season pitching, putting himself in line for a potential Cy Young by finishing near the top of every pitching category in the American League. Inconsistency is Trevor Bauer’s, the Indians Game 1 starter, middle name. Josh Tomlin has not given up more than 2 runs in any of his last five starts, but was rather inconsistent leading up to September. The bullpen, much like the rotation, has been pretty strong through the season. Cody Allen is one of the more underrated closers in baseball, as he has just accumulated saves consistently while maintaining an ERA around 2.5. Andrew Miller was brought over at the deadline to give the Indians the best setup man in baseball.

The rotation may be questionable, but the lineup is not. A healthy mix of youngsters and seasoned veterans fill the squad as postseason looms. Mike Napoli, a postseason regular with the Red Sox previously, fills the veteran role for the team and will power the Indians through the series. Tyler Naquin has put together a surprising rookie campaign for the Tribe and just gets on base regularly for a team that is less about hitting homeruns and more about small ball baseball. One of the most underrated trades of the deadline saw Brandon Guyer go to the Indians who just rakes as well, scraping together an OBP of .438 since the deadline for the Tribe. All this talk surrounding the lineup does not even include the stud middle infielders the Tribe have built around of Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis who have Indians fans excited for the team’s postseason potential.

The Indians will put up a good fight against the Red Sox, but despite owning home field advantage, will fall to the Red Sox in 6 games, as Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin do not inspire much hope for the Tribe. If the Tribe had Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar healthy, this would be an entirely different conversation.

 

Texas Rangers (95-67)

The Rangers came into the regular season as the favorites in a weak AL West division. The Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners put up a fight for awhile, but the Rangers kept winning and slowly gained ground on both teams as the season progressed. By the time the Rangers were officially crowned division champs, it was a mere formality, as the chance was slim since the beginning of September for either team to challenge the Rangers for the crown. Having the best record in the American League will give the Rangers home field advantage throughout both the ALDS and ALCS rounds, but that is not the only thing the Rangers have going for them.

The Texas Rangers lineup have five players with at least 20 hr’s and most the team have been in the playoffs together multiple times. Adrian Beltre, the ageless wonder at third base, leads the lineup as he has 32 hr’s and a.300 batting average this season. Rougned Odor, the young stud second basemen, has chipped in 33 hr’s of his own (a rare sign for a middle infielder) and has double digit stolen bases as well. He does not walk much, but if Odor puts wood on the ball, he is going for extra bases. Jonathan Lucroy was picked up at the deadline (after Lucroy spurned the Indians) and has provided consistency at the single position the Rangers had issues with throughout the season. The Rangers lineup is in their peak right now, so they will be exciting to watch as the series progresses.

The Rangers also have the pitching to provide support to the lineup. The two headed monster of Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish provide two aces at the top of the rotation. Darvish has been pitching better of late, so he will probably get the ball Game 1. The third spot in the playoff rotation leaves the rotation a little shaky, but if Hamels and Darvish can pitch on shortened rest, they may only need Martin Perez to pitch a single game for them in the NLDS. The bullpen is solid, with Sam Dyson closing down games with great success lately, only giving up one earned run in the last ten innings. Dyson was inconsistent midseason, but has come around and looked the part of a closer, despite a lower than usual K rate for a closer. Matt Bush may be one of the best free agency pickups as the former top pick has redeemed his life and career in Texas, performing well in the setup role for the Rangers.

rougned-odor

The animosity is strong between the Texas Rangers and the Toronto Blue Jays. Will the hate carry over into the ALCS and hurt the Rangers’ chance at a World Series run? Photo courtesy of Richard Rodriguez of the AP.

The Texas Rangers have the best record in the AL because of just how complete the team is. The lineup and rotation have playoff experience and stability throughout. The bullpen, though inexperienced, has looked good of late. If there is one thing holding the Rangers back, it will be the animosity (The link leads to the brawl from earlier in the season between these two teams) between them and the Blue Jays from previous series hurting the team during the series.

 

Toronto Blue Jays (89-73)

The Blue Jays were a playoff favorite going into the season. It was unexpected that three AL East teams would be battling for the two wild card spots, along with the Detroit Tigers and Houston Astros, but the Blue Jays came out on top of the pile. The Blue Jays knocked off the Baltimore Orioles in a one game playoff on the back of Edwin Encarnacion’s three run walkoff homerun in the bottom of the 11th.

Homeruns are what you are going to see when watching this lineup. The Blue Jays have four players in their lineups who could hit 30 homeruns a season if healthy, three of which who could reach forty homers. Jose Bautista, the batflip champion, has provided playoff homerun heroics in the past, but does not have to shoulder the power alone. Bautista, Josh Donaldson (another potential 2016 MVP), and Edwin Encarnacion give the Jays the best 3-4-5 hitter trio in all of baseball. Troy Tulowitzki, though often in the background behind the big three, is still one of the best hitting shortstops in baseball when healthy, along with very strong defense up the middle. Michael Saunders was an underrated pickup from the Mariners as he has hit 24 hr’s from the outfield and as many doubles as Josh Donaldson (32).

The Toronto Blue Jays defeat the Atlanta Braves 9-3.

Encarnacion has already hit more than 40 homeruns this season. Does he have enough power in the tank to hit a few more for the Jays this postseason? Photo courtesy of Carlos Osorio of the Toronto Star.

The downside of the Jays revolves around the pitching. Aaron Sanchez has pitched phenomenal all season for the Jays and Liriano has been pitching well since coming over from the deadline. The Blue Jays have  actually gotten a couple of strong seasons from journeymen J.A. Happ and Marco Estrada, but there is a reason they are journeymen. Marcus Stroman was supposed to be the ace of the rotation by the end of the season, but remained inconsistent through most of it. If the rotation can make it to the bullpen, though, then the Jays have a good shot. Joaquin Benoit came over at the deadline as well, and has only given up one run since the beginning of August (that is a 24 inning span).

The Blue Jays lineup is definitely the strongest in the AL, as the power potential is truly real. The pitching will be the X-factor for the Jays as the Rangers are the more complete team on paper. In the end, the Rangers are the favorite for a reason, and  will prevail over the Blue Jays.

 

2016 American League West Preview

Courtesy of, brokenbatsingleblog.wordpress.com

Courtesy of: brokenbatsingleblog.wordpress.com

The Texas Rangers were the best team in the AL West last year. The Rangers had a solid offense with good enough pitching to back it up. They had some vets like Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre who really helped them push their way to a division title. However, they were not the team everyone talked about. That team, was the Houston Astros. They came out of nowhere and almost won the division and were good enough to make it to the Wild Card round.

The Astros finished second last year but, were a major surprise to baseball as they had been picked by many to not contend at all. Their young players stepped up and shinned. Carlos Correa has the talent and the ability to be a perennial All-Star and MVP candidate.

The Angels finished third last year and played well throughout the season, just barely missing the playoffs. They had the offense coming from their superstar Mike Trout and future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols. Their problem was, and still is, pitching.

The Seattle Mariners finished fourth last year in a disappointing 2015 campaign. They struggled in hitting as they finished in the bottom three for both runs scored, strikeouts, and batting average. Their pitching was also nothing to write home about as they finished the year with a 4.16 ERA.

Last were the Athletics who were expected to have a down year. They traded away many of the pieces they had brought in for the 2014 playoff run. Billy Beane decided it was time to rebuild. They brought in some interesting players through trades and Sonny Gray was spectacular.

That was last year though, lets move on to what should be an exciting 2016 for the AL West. I will start by giving which place I believe the team will finish in, then I will go through almost every position and tell you all what I see and lastly I will name my player or players to watch.

1st Place: Houston Astros

Courtesy of: www.sports-logos-screensavers.com

Courtesy of: www.sports-logos-screensavers.com

Last year the American League West had a surprise team, the Astros. While they did not win the division they had everyone talking. This was because they were well ahead of schedule. The Astros were a young team that many thought wouldn’t be contending this soon after they had blown everything up years before. Everything is finally coming together for a team that was the worst in the majors for almost 3 years. Their loyal fanbase will have to opportunity to watch a team that has unbelievable talent.

The outfield rotation of Rasmus, Gomez, Marisnick, Tucker and especially Springer are all solid. They can play defense well and carry some impressive bats. Springer and Gomez should have excellent seasons this year. Gomez will finally be able to play a full season with a winning team. Springer will look to continue to improve on what was a spectacular 2015 season. As long as the injury bug does not get to him he should have a monster year.

The infield, particularly the middle of it, will be amazing as well. Jose Altuve was one of the only good players on the team during their rebuilding process. His patience has paid off. With him and Carlos Correa manning the middle of the field the Astros may have the best middle infield in baseball. Correa has shown that he can be a major force. He can hit for average, power, bat with runners in scoring position, steal bases and play defense. The kid was a number one overall pick for the Astros and he has not disappointed. Look for him to have an amazing year and look for his name on the MVP ballot at the end of the year.

The starting rotation added Doug Fister to the mix which is a solid pickup. Keuchel, the reigning Cy Young Winner, McHugh, Fiers, and Feldman make up the rest of what should be a solid rotation. They have their ace and a great number 2 in McHugh. Those two should make the top of this rotation deadly. The back of their rotation is also made up of solid overall pitchers. Many of them are innings eaters who will keep you in a ballgame and give you a good chance of winning once you get to the bullpen.

The bullpen has the potential to be great. Ken Giles who was the Phillies closer was traded to Houston this offseason. He did not win the closing job, it was announced that Luke Gregerson would have that job, but, I can see Giles eventually winning it back. Pat Nesheck and Tony Sipps will also round out what will be an older but, effective bullpen.

The Astros should win this division barring any terrible injuries. Look for them to make some trade deadline deals to improve their corner infield positions and maybe add one more starter if they have the money to. They are one of my picks to make it to the World Series this year.

Player to Watch: Carlos Correa

2nd Place: Texas Rangers

Courtesy of: www.sportslogos.net

Courtesy of: www.sportslogos.net

This Rangers team came out and won the division last year, yet they were not the talk of the division. Many people outside of Texas had forgotten that they were the Division Champions, not the Astros. They will be looking to improve on their performance last year as they will have Yu Darvish back this year and an interesting piece in Ian Desmond patrolling left field. Ultimately they will finish 2nd behind an up and coming Astros team because their age will start to show and I do not think they will end the season with a healthy enough team to win the division.

The outfield will have Ian Desmond who to an extent is an experiment out in left field. He has been an infielder for his entire career but, he looked serviceable during Spring Training. They brought him in for his bat and they got him cheap. They are hoping this move will pay off. The rest of their outfield is much less exciting. Delino Deshields Jr. will be playing center field and while he is solid on defense he has a lackluster bat. Shin-Soo Choo will be playing right field and is a solid, but not all that exciting, player. He had a great season last year but, has been known to be injury prone throughout his career. Lastly is Josh Hamilton who should be back sometime in May. He has always had the potential to be a star but, his past and his age are starting to catch up to him. Sadly I do not see him playing all that well this year.

The Rangers infield will be solid. Adrian Beltre will playing solid defense and swing a mean bat. People are wondering if he is a Hall of Famer, I think he is and I think he will continue to prove that this season. Elvis Andrus will continue to bat for a decent average, steal bases, and playing great defense. Rougned Odor won the starting job at Second for now. Jurickson Profar will be called up if Odor starts to struggle at all. Mitch Moreland will be manning first base and will continue to hit. The big man has finally come into his own and deserves to be their starter. Prince Fielder will also play some first but, will mostly be their big bopper at DH. He will continue to do what he always has done, hit.

The most exciting part about this team is their starting rotation. Lets get the 3, 4, and 5 pitchers out of the way to start. Martin Perez is young and has good stuff but, he will need to prove that he deserves to stay in this rotation. Colby Lewis has been the Opening Day starter in the past and he has also dealt with health issues. If he can stay healthy he will be a solid back of the rotation guy. Derek Holland is in the exact same situation as Lewis. Now we get to the fun part, Yu Darvish who will be back in May and Cole Hamels. These two are both Aces and have been top 3 in Cy Young Voting. They are one of the best 1-2 punches in the game. Their only problem is staying healthy. If either of these two are down for too long a time the entire rotation gets significantly worse. If they are healthy for the entire year they will be fun to watch.

Here is most likely the biggest weakness for the Rangers, their bullpen. Look at these names and tell me what average fan will know them? Not one. Shawn Tolleson will be their closer and he has been solid the last two years with ERA’s of 2.76 and 2.99 respectively. He is not flashy but, he should get the job done. After him is a mix of many no name players. This will be an area they will need to improve drastically if they want a chance at winning the division.

Overall this Rangers team will be solid if they improve the bullpen and if they stay healthy. That is two too many ifs for me. I doubt they will stay healthy and I don’t think they will be able to improve the bullpen enough. I do think they will have a good year and have a chance at the wild card.

Player(s) to Watch: Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels

3rd Place: Seattle Mariners

Courtesy of: www.sportslogos.net

Courtesy of: www.sportslogos.net

This team has consistently under-performed.  Robinson Cano, King Felix, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager are their best players. These four are great but, they have never been enough to push them over the top. There are just too many holes. They will play some good baseball but, they will not be anything spectacular this year. This team outside of a few players is boring.

The outfield will consist of Nori Aoki, Leonys Martin, Seth Smith, and Franklin Gutierrez. All of these players are good, but none are great. Aoki will hit for a good average, Martin has not hit well, Smith was once a solid player but, age has caught up to him, and Gutierrez is the definition of OK. This outfield will be boring, not much more to say than that.

The infield is similar. Kyle Seager is fun but, will most likely be forgotten as his brother Corey takes over in Los Angeles. Ketel Marte is 22 and could be a fine major league player. The only problem is that he wont be a star. He, like most of this team will be good but, not great. Robinson Cano has been solid but not the Superstar Seattle wanted. His power numbers have dropped off a cliff seemingly and age is not on his side. He will be good like every year but, unless he regains that power stroke he will not be the Superstar Seattle desperately needs. Adding Adam Lind to play first adds  power and stability to the position. He is again like the rest of this team, solid, but nothing amazing. He will play well and hit 20+ homeruns this year. Nelson Cruz was a great addition to the team. He was the only really exciting hitter last year for this squad. For a time it seemed like he alone could carry this team on his back along with his 44 homeruns. Sadly that was not the case. Cruz is 35 this year and he should start slowing down, right? Chris Iannetta will be the catcher this year. He is a good defender with no bat. They are all solid but, will any of them bring the necessary boost that the Mariners need? I do not believe so.

The starting rotation is a little more interesting. Wade Miley, Taijuan Walker and Nate Karns are like the rest of this team, solid but nothing great. King Felix is well the King of Seattle. He is always in the talk for Cy Young and has been the backbone for this lackluster pitching staff. I am sure he will be in talks for the Cy Young again this year. Iwakuma won 15 games last year and proved he could be the number 2 behind the King. This was something Seattle has needed for a long time. The only problem is that he is heading into his age 35 season and will most likely not be able to put up the numbers as he has been for much longer.

The bullpen has some intriguing players but again none of them are great. Steve Cishek will be trying to get back into form as he once was in Miami. Joaquin Benoit has always been a good option in the pen and will most likely continue to be just that. Lastly the addition of Nick Vincent from the Padres is a move that will go under the radar but, should prove to be a great one for the Mariners.

The Mariners are a good team, do not get me wrong. The problem is they are boring. They do not have what it takes to push for the division or a playoff spot. Some people are picking them as a dark horse team but, until there is a spark from one of their players I do not foresee them being anything more than a .500 team.

Player to Watch: King Felix

4th Place: Oakland Athletics

Courtesy of: en.wikipedia.org

Courtesy of: en.wikipedia.org

Billy Beane has been doing Billy Beane things. He has brought together a cheap but, intriguing roster. I do have them finishing 4th just to be safe but, I think this team could make a charge at the wild card if certain things can go their way.

Their outfield consists of Khris Davis, Billy Burns, Josh Reddick, Coco Crisp, and Chris Coghlan. These 5 could be a great rotation. Davis and Reddick bring power. They could each hit 25+ homeruns this year. Burns and Crisp bring the speed and Coghlan is just solid all around. They could do great things as a group. If Davis can reach his full potential watch out, he could be a monster hitter. Billy Burns is probably the most exciting player you have never heard about. He is the typical Billy Beane player.

The infield should be interesting as well. Marcus Semien could be very good if he can bring down the strikeout numbers. The A’s received him in a trade with the White Sox last year and he has been pegged as their Shortstop of the Future. Jed Lowrie is always a solid veteran to have on your team. He is manning second because age is starting to catch up with him but, his bat should still provide solid at-bats. Yonder Alonso, Mark Cahna, and Billy Butler will all be splitting time at DH and first base. Alonso was picked up from the Padres last year and has been a solid everyday player. He can hit for contact and has gap power. If he can hit with runner is scoring position and add some more power, Alonso could finally reach the potential many thought he had. Steven Vogt was a suprise player last year. He hit 18 homeruns and drove in 71. He is a solid bat and even better behind the plate.

The rotation will be where this team will need to improve. They have a lot of injuries to deal with and not much talent to speak of. They will be the reason this team does not make the playoffs and they are why I have them fourth. Of course their is one Superstar, Sonny Gray. Everything I said before only talks about the rest of the rotation. I think Gray could win the Cy Young away this year. He has amazing stuff and is very collected for how young he is. People need to start paying attention to him. The only problem is that knowing Billy Beane he could get traded if the season completely implodes.

The bullpen will be a major strength for this team. They have the potential to be one of the best ones in the game. Sean Doolittle will be closing this year and doing his normal thing of getting outs as long as he is healthy. They brought in Ryan Madson and John Axford who were both previously All-Star type closers. If they can get back into form, watch out. These three could be what they Pirates had a few years ago with Grilli, Melancon, and Watson. Liam Hendricks and Mark Rzepczynski also have a track record of getting the job done. This bullpen could be amazing and if the starters can keep the game close and give it over to the pen the A’s could win many more games than people are predicting, including myself.

This team has potential if the moves they have made pay off. They could make the playoffs as a wild card. Sadly it is more likely that they will finish right around .500 because not every move can always pay off.

Player(s) to Watch: Sonny Gray and Billy Burns

5th Place: Los Angeles Angels

Courtesy of: en.wikipedia.org

Courtesy of: en.wikipedia.org

I know many of you have been wondering where this team would be. I can tell you right now that this team is vastly overrated because of two players, Mike Trout (he is not overrated, just the team) and Albert Pujols (he is overrated). They will have a bad year for many reasons, one being money and two being the lack of any prospects. This is normally any team’s nightmare. When you have all your money sunk into just a few players and no prospects that means rough years are heading your way and I think that starts this year.

The outfield of Daniel Nava, Craig Gentry, Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun is just not good. Left Field will be platooned by Nava and Gentry and neither of them are all that great. Trout is obviously one of the best players in baseball so no matter what else I say, much of it does not apply to him. Calhoun is solid but, it seems as though he has already reached his best. I think that last year will be the best year he ever has which again is not bad but, left much to be desired.

The infield is a train wreck outside of Andrelton Simmons. Yunel Escobar is decent but, nothing great. Johnny Giavotella is serviceable at best. CJ Cron is a similar player to Calhoun except he plays first base. Albert Pujols is one of the best players ever and he hit 40 bombs last year but, he is still a huge chunk of their payroll and he can’t carry teams like he used to. Simmons is a wizard on the field and is improving at the plate. The problem is that the Angels gave up so much to get him and for what reason? They will not be good this year. These kinds of moves are made by GM’s and Front Offices who are afraid to lose their jobs. Lastly Carlos Perez and Giovanni Soto are behind the plate and are decent at best. Perez is young and has some potential but, I would not count on him for much.

The rotation is not terrible but, there are many questions left unanswered. CJ Wilson is having shoulder problems which means it is just swollen and he isn’t out for very long or, it means surgery and he is out for quite awhile. Garret Richards has the potential to be solid but, I just do not know if he has what it takes to be the Ace for a team. 2014 was a great year for him but, 2015 was average. Alex Heaney was a top prospect for the Marlins and has been traded around a bit. If, and I really do mean if, he can pull it all together he could be a nice young player. I just have not seen enough of him to be convinced that he will be able to. Santiago and Shoemaker are not bad but, they are not playoff caliber players and Jared Weaver is in the twilight of his career.

The bullpen has even more questions than the rotation. How much longer can Street be this good? He and Joe Smith are the only good players in a very average bullpen. Will anyone step up? Does their depleted farm system have a diamond in the rough? They do not have the money to go out and get anyone and their farm system is atrocious.

The Angels are heading into what could be a long string of bad years. They will need to try and dump contracts near the trade deadline to try and revamp this team. They have no money and a bad farm system. All of this spells impending doom for a once great franchise. They may be in the hunt near the beginning of the year but, eventually I think it will all fall apart. The worst part about this is that they cannot blame it on injuries. As of now Wilson is their only injury problem. This could be the year the Angels start to fall apart.

Player to Watch: Mike Trout (Who else?)

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