Rookie

The Rookies under the Judge-Bellinger shadow

Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger have been in the limelight this season. On its face, one might think that Judge and Bellinger are the only ones doing anything this year in the world of the rookie. In reality, that is not the case. Names like Paul DeJong, Andrew Benintendi and Josh Bell have been lost in the shadow of the young studs out of New York and Los Angeles. Here is a closer look into those names that might be getting lost.

Andrew Benintendi

Rookie

Photo courtesy of masslive.com

Benintendi has been one of the focal points of a Boston team that has been surging as of late. He has managed to rack up 18 home runs along with a .279/.358/.450 slash line. He also has a 2.0 WAR which ranks 6th among rookies in the MLB.

The Red Sox are not a power hitting club by any means. However, it is still impressive that Benintendi has been able to get himself tied in home runs with his teammates Mookie Betts and Hanley Ramirez. His slugging ability bodes well for the future of Boston. He also rounds out a club that has had a lot of solid young talent come up recently, including Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts.

Benintendi especially falls victim to being overshadowed by the other sensations in the league, due to the fact he is in the same division as Aaron Judge. Now that Judge is on a cold stretch since the All-Star break, names like Benintendi’s have been coming out of the woodwork more often. Another AL East rookie has been having a heck of a year, but you rarely hear his name.

Trey Mancini

Rookie

Photo courtesy of mlb.com

Mancini has also been having a great year and has been hitting at a similar level as Benintendi, however you hear his name even less than the rookie from Boston. Mancini has racked up 22 home runs along with a slash line of .282/.333/.503. His name would also be in the mix for Rookie of the Year if this was any other year than 2017.

One aspect of Mancini’s game that is somewhat alarming is his strikeout to walk ratio. Mancini has struck out 103 times and only walked on 26 plate appearances. This demonstrates how Mancini needs to work on his plate discipline as well as his batters eye. If he does not cut down on the strikeouts then major league pitchers will figure him out quickly. This is apparent because he is only hitting .223 since the All-Star break, although he has been able to keep up his home run pace with seven in the past month.

Josh Bell

Rookie

Photo courtesy of ESPN

The power numbers for the Pittsburgh first baseman have been there all year. Josh Bell has 21 home runs along with 72 RBIs. His slash line is a respectable .261/.340/.493 along with a WAR of 2.0.

Bell has been progressively better for the Pirates as time has moved on though. Before the All-Star break his batting average was a lowly .239. Since the break, he has been hitting a more impressive .316. His bat has been complimenting the return of Starling Marte in a great manner, as he is a big reason that Pittsburgh has been able to stay in the race for the NL Central, despite the fact that some teams are starting to make their move to separate themselves.

Among qualified rookies, Bell ranks second behind Benintendi in BB/K rate at a .59. He has not fallen as victim to the typical strikeout problem that happens to many rookies. He has definitely started to figure things out at the big league level though, and really adds a big bat to an already solid Pirates lineup.

Paul DeJong

Paul DeJong has been one of the biggest surprises for an otherwise mediocre Cardinals season. DeJong has 20 home runs and 48 RBIs along with a .299/.330/.580 slash line. He also sports a 2.0 WAR despite only playing in 71 games this season.

DeJong has been cemented at the shortstop position for St. Louis despite the fact he was primarily a third baseman when he was coming up through the system. Not only that, but he has been batting in the three-hole for the Cardinals due to their lack of a big bat. DeJong is the first Cardinals rookie to bat in the three-spot since Albert Pujols.

DeJong would be slightly behind the home run pace of Cody Bellinger if he had as much time in the big leagues. However, he is also a victim to the strikeout. He has been struck out 87 times and has only been walked on 11 occasions, which does not give much hope for the future. It would lead one to believe that major league pitchers will catch up with him, and thus he may not be as dominant down the road. In the meantime though, he has been a huge bright spot for his team.

Rookie of the Year

At this point, it is pretty clear-cut that Cody Bellinger in the National League. Bellinger has been able to keep up his spectacular year since the break, however Judge has been sluggish in the past month.

Judge set the record for most consecutive games with a strikeout. He is also hitting .169 since the All-Star break. The Yankees and Judge are hoping that he will be able to break out of this slump because the Red Sox are starting to pull away with the East. At the moment, Judge has the Rookie of the Year most likely. There is more baseball to be played though. If he does not turn things around then he will get people talking about players like Benintendi and Mancini for Rookie of the Year.

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Cooperstown

Five active MLB players destined for Cooperstown

There has been a lot of Hall of Fame talk as of late after Ivan Rodriguez, Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines all were inducted into Cooperstown last weekend. On top of that, Adrian Beltre had his 3,000th hit in Texas. All this talk has had me thinking about what major league ballplayers are a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame when they are eligible.

The criteria for this list is that to be on it, a player has to have a current resume that would be worthy of a Hall of Fame induction. Here are the players in the MLB that have proven they belong in the hall.

Ichiro Suzuki

Seasons: 17 | Career WAR: 59.5 | Hits: 3060 | Accolades: 10x All-Star, 10x Gold Glove Award, 2x Batting Titles, 1x AL MVP, 2001 ROY

Cooperstown

Ichiro has had one of the more storied MLB careers (MLB.com)

It is hard to believe that Ichiro actually played eight seasons for Orix Blue Wave before coming to America to play baseball. He had a very respectable career in Japan and has totaled over 4,000 hits in his career if you combine his Japanese career with the MLB.

Ichiro came bursting onto the scene in 2001 where he broke the single-season hit record with 262 hits. He also set the record for most consecutive 200-hit seasons with 10 in a row. He helped lead the Mariners to an MLB-record 116 wins that season as well. That is not all however, as he has the most hits by a foreign-born player in MLB history.

Ichiro has superstar status in Japan and the United States. He should be considered one of the greatest ballplayers to ever play and it would be hard to argue why he shouldn’t be enshrined in Cooperstown. Although he does not have a World Series championship under his belt, it should not bring down his illustrious career.

It will is hard to imagine him not getting in on his first ballot.

Albert Pujols

Seasons: 17 | Career WAR: 100.2 | Home Runs: 608 | Accolades: 10x All-Star, 3x NL MVP, 2x World Series Champion, 2001 NL ROY

Cooperstown

Albert Pujols’ Hall of Fame career was highlighted in St. Louis (USA Today)

Albert Pujols came onto the scene in 2001, the same year as Ichiro. He was not expected to be as good as he has been or even close to it. He was drafted in the 13th round of the 1999 MLB Draft. You could say that the Cardinals got a pretty good return on him.

Pujols may have had the best 10-year start to a career with 30 home runs, 100 RBIs and a .300 average in every one of his first 10 seasons in the majors. He also won three National League MVP awards and won a World Series championship with the Cardinals in 2006 and 2011.

He also was the keystone piece in the Cardinals’ “MV3” which featured Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds from 2002-2007. They were the core of the Cardinals who won made it to the NLCS four times during that seven year span.

Albert Pujols also has been able to flash some leather at first base. He has won the Gold Glove in two seasons. Pujols also has an excellent baseball IQ. His knowledge of the game is a big asset to his team around him. The Pujols Family Foundation also highlights his work off the field with children with autism and improving living conditions for families in the Dominican Republic.

Pujols signed a monstrous contract with the Angels after the 2011 championship season with the Cardinals, leaving at the same time as his manager for his whole career, Tony La Russa. Pujols has not even been the best player on his team since joining the Angels thanks to Mike Trout. However, the first 10 years of his career is enough to warrant a first ballot Hall of Fame induction.

Miguel Cabrera

Seasons: 15 | Career WAR: 69.8 | Home Runs: 459 | Accolades: 11x All-Star, 2x AL MVP, 2012 AL Triple Crown, 2003 WS Champion

Cooperstown

Cabrera is one of the best all-around hitters in recent memory (Getty Images)

In 2012, Miguel Cabrera became the first player in 45 years to win the AL triple crown. This achievement is a testament to Cabrera’s all-around ability at the plate. He is currently sitting at 2,602 hits, so he will most likely reach 3,000 at his current rate. Seeing that he is 34 years old now, he may not be around long enough to reach the elusive 600 home runs.

Miguel Cabrera is a career .318 hitter, so much like Pujols he is not just a masher. This guy knows how to hit. He has also been to the World Series on three occasions, but has only won one.

Cabrera has been rather quiet this year. He is not hitting at the same rate that he usually does with his average sitting around .250. However, his resume is already at the point where he is worthy for getting the nod into Cooperstown. He might not be able to have sustained success in the twilight of his career, but that should not affect his status.

Miggy may not get in on his first ballot but it should not be long before he is enshrined in Cooperstown.

Adrian Beltre

Seasons: 20 | Career WAR: 92.4 | Hits: 3,001 | Accolades: 4x All-Star, 5x Gold Glove Award, 2x Platinum Glove Award

Cooperstown

Beltre tips his helmet to the fans after hit #3000 (New York Times)

Beltre does not have the same sort of resume that Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols or Ichiro Suzuki have. He was a bit of a late bloomer. Beltre is one of those rare cases where he actually got better with age.

Beltre’s 3,000th hit came over last weekend and it was a good one. Now there have been talks about how he is a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame. He is the first Dominican-born player to get 3,000 hits (Pujols will reach the mark soon as well), and has been one of the best to man the hot corner.

The only players to not be in the Hall of Fame that have reached 3,000 hits are Pete Rose, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Ichiro Suzuki and Rafael Palmeiro. As you can see the only reason that they are not in the hall is because there are scandals surrounding them or they are not eligible to be voted on yet. Because of this, it will be hard to imagine Beltre not getting voted in since his character matches his excellence on the field.

Clayton Kershaw

Seasons: 10 | Career WAR: 57.2 | Career ERA: 2.34 | Accolades: 7x All-Star, 3x NL Cy Young, 1x NL MVP, 2011 Pitching Triple Crown

Cooperstown

Kershaw is making a case to be one of the greatest pitchers of all-time (Baseball Essential)

Clayton Kershaw has by far the least amount of service in the MLB on this list. That speaks to how good he is though. He has been the most dominant pitcher in the majors since coming to the big leagues in 2008. Kershaw also is one of only 10 pitchers to claim the MVP and Cy Young in a single season.

The one downfall of Kershaw’s is his postseason performance. The Dodgers have not been to the World Series since 1988, so he does not have a ton of postseason experience deep in October.

When he does pitch though he has not been his sharpest. His career postseason ERA is 4.55 which is over two whole runs above his career ERA in the regular season. The Dodgers are expected to make a run this year though, and if Kershaw is able to make an impact despite his back injury, it will be a milestone in his career.

Besides his injury this year, Kershaw has shown no real signs of slowing down. With the way he pitches as well, he may a long time away from retirement. It would be hard to argue why he shouldn’t be in the hall even if he retired today.

Honorable Mentions

These honorable mentions are players that will make it on the ballot. The issue is their resume may not be complete, or not have enough time in the MLB.

Yadier Molina

Molina is one of the greatest defensive catchers of all time. He also is one of the greatest to call a game behind the plate. The only issue is that he may not reach 2,000 hits in his career. No hitter has ever been enshrined in Cooperstown with under 2,000 hits.

Mike Trout

Mike Trout may be the most well-rounded baseball player we have seen since Willie Mays. If he keeps up his current pace, he should be a sure thing for the hall. He just can’t be a guarantee for Cooperstown yet because he has not played long enough.

Joey Votto

Votto has won an MVP and may be one of the best disciplined hitters in recent memory. He may need five more productive years in order to get a spot in Cooperstown though.

Bryce Harper

Much like Trout, Harper is a once in a generation type player. He also just needs more time to prove himself.

Jon Lester

Lester has been a stellar postseason pitcher in his career. He has won three World Series championships and his playoff performance is a big reason for that. He is still a bit of a stretch to get into the Hall of Fame though.

Buster Posey

Buster Posey is the most productive hitting catcher in the league today. He also has brought three championships to the San Francisco Bay. If he keeps up his current pace then he may have a shot for Cooperstown.

Robinson Cano

If Cano is able to reach the 3,000-hit mark, he will have a good shot at making the hall. The only problem is that he is 34 and has 700 hits to go. If he doesn’t reach the mark, he will be right on the border line.

 

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Century

Best MLB Franchises of the 21st century

Methodology

In order to figure out who truly deserves to be one of the best MLB teams of the century, I factored in several aspects to evaluate each team. I am including every game during the regular and postseason from the beginning of the 2000 season up until the 2017 All-Star break. I created a point system that is calculated as follows:

Win-Loss Differential- 1 point per game

Playoff Appearances- 10 points

Division Title- 10 points

League Champions- 30 points

World Series Champions- 50 points

Consistency- 20 points for every three consecutive playoff appearances + 10 bonus points for each consecutive year after that

Teams should get credit for being able to sustain success for an extended period of time, rather than having one year where they played exceptional followed by several bad years. It’s also important to distinguish playoff appearances from division titles.

For example, the Phillies should get more credit for winning their division with 102 wins in 2011 than the Cardinals winning the wild card with 90 wins. It’s also important to reward playoff success, therefore teams received a lot of credit for being able to win their league and/or winning the World Series.

It’s also pivotal to give teams credit for being successful during the regular season even if they have struggled in postseason play.

With the point system out of the way, here are the 10 best MLB teams of the 21st century thus far.

10. Texas Rangers

best mlb teams 21st century

Beltre, Hamilton and Young were at the heart of the Rangers lineup when they made their runs to the World Series (Zimbio)

Win-Loss: 1,439-1,404 (.506) = 35 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 5= 50 points

Division Titles: 4= 40 points

League Champions: 2= 60 points

World Series Champions: 0= 0 points

Consistency: 2010-2012 = 20 points

Total= 205 points

The Rangers did not start to show up until about a decade into the century. They might have had a World Series championship under their belt if they did not run into hot playoff teams like the Giants and Cardinals. If Nelson Cruz would have been a few steps back and didn’t let a ball go over his head then they would definitely have a championship.

It is somewhat surprising to find the Rangers this high on the list. They did not crack 90 wins or make the playoffs in the 21st century until 2010. They did have playoff success starting that year and that is what gets them to No. 10.

9. Philadelphia Phillies

Win-Loss: 1,439-1,401 (.506) = 38 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 5= 50 points

Division Titles: 5= 50 points

League Champions: 2= 60 points

World Series Champions: 1= 50 points

Consistency: 2007-2011= 40 points

Total= 288 points

best mlb teams 21st century

The Phillies rotation was advertised to be unstoppable in 2011 (USA Today)

The Phillies seemed to be a juggernaut around the same time the Rangers were taking off. They have had some of the most talented players in the past 20 years like Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins. On top of that, they had what was thought to be the best pitching rotation in a generation.

When Philadelphia signed Cliff Lee in 2011, they were described as the best rotation in baseball hands down. This was after they had been to two consecutive World Series in 2008 and 2009.

The Lee signing made the top four in their rotation Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt. Especially with their core hitters still intact, it was hard to imagine anyone stopping them given they had an ace pitching almost every game.

Even with 102 wins in 2011, the Phillies were expecting to win more games in that season.

They ended up getting knocked out by St. Louis in the divisional round of the playoffs in 2011. They have yet to reach the playoffs again since that year largely because of their aging core. Philadelphia appeared to be close to having an uptick with some of their young prospects recently, but they have backslid as they are the worst team in baseball in 2017.

8. Oakland Athletics

Win-Loss: 1,499-1,342 (.542) = 157 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 8= 80 points

Division Titles: 6= 60 points

League Champions= 0= 0 points

World Series Champions: 0= 0 points

Consistency: 2000-2003, 2012-2014= 50 points

Total= 347 points

Thanks to Billy Beane, the Athletics were dominating baseball for the first few years of the 21st century. He found a way to revolutionize the game using “moneyball”. Through his sabermetrics and smaller salary cap, he built a rotation that rivals the Phillies one I mentioned earlier.

Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito made up a powerful rotation that led the team to 392 wins in the four-year stretch that they made the playoffs from 2000-03. They have been a great regular season team most seasons since 2000, but they have yet to translate that to playoff success. They have not made it to the World Series since 1990.

While they showed promise of possibly making a run a few years ago, they have regressed once again. It looks like it may be a while before the Athletics return to the postseason especially considering the juggernaut that is rising in Houston.

7. Atlanta Braves

Win-Loss: 1,518-1,320 (.534) = 198 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 9= 90 points

Division Titles: 7= 70 points

League Champions: 0= 0 points

World Series Champions: 0= 0 points

Consistency: 2000-2005= 50 points

Total= 408 points

best mlb teams 21st century

Freeman has taken the reigns from Jones in Atlanta (MLB)

If we included the 1990s, the Braves would shoot up this list in a hurry. Atlanta went to the playoffs 10 consecutive years that included three National League championships and one World Series championship. However, half of those seasons are not going to count towards this list. Despite that, many of their successful players carried over into the 21st century and still dominated.

While the Braves have yet to make a World Series since 2000, they still have had a good run of making the postseason and doing well in the East. Their nine playoff appearances are second most in the National League behind the Cardinals.

Bobby Cox led the club until 2010 with the likes of Chipper Jones, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Andruw Jones and John Smoltz. These players made up a Braves core that rivaled the best.

Their lack of postseason success is what keeps them from moving up the rankings. However, they are showing signs of improving as they have proven to be a team that will fight with the best of them.

6. Los Angeles Dodgers

Win-Loss: 1,540-1,303 (.541)= 237 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 8= 80 points

Division Titles: 8= 80 points

League Champions: 0= 0 points

World Series Champions: 0= 0 points

Consistency: 2013-2016= 30 points

Total= 427 points

best mlb teams 21st century

Kershaw is making a case to be one of the greatest pitchers of all-time (Baseball Essential)

The Dodgers have had a similar story to the Braves. They have managed to have regular season success and have been reaching the playoffs, however they have trouble getting past the league championship. It is still surprising to see them this high on the list, but that goes to show just how good they have been in the regular season as opposed to the postseason.

Clayton Kershaw already seems to be able to get into the Hall-of-Fame before reaching the age of 30. However, he has been part of the problem in the postseason. Kershaw is 4-7 with a 4.55 ERA in 14 starts in postseason play.

Especially with how much the Dodgers rely on him to be the ace that he is known to be, it is difficult for them to be able to make it very far in the playoffs.

This year may rewrite the script in terms of the Dodgers postseason woes. Their young lineup mixed with a spectacular pitching staff makes the Dodgers a force to be feared. If the article was to be written a year or two from now, the Dodgers may be moved up a couple spots on this list.

5. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Win-Loss: 1,535-1,311 (.539)= 224 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 7= 70 points

Division Titles: 6= 60 points

League Champions: 1= 30 points

World Series Champions: 1= 50 points

Consistency: 2007-2009= 20 points

Total= 454 points

Since 2009 the Angels have only made the playoffs once. They were successful in the regular season leading up to that, but have not been able to reach the World Series since winning it in 2002.

Anaheim currently may have the best baseball player since Willie Mays in Mike Trout. However, they have not been able to do much with him on the team despite also signing Albert Pujols. The Pujols contract may be what is keeping them back though. The amount of money they have invested in him may prevent them from being able to resign Mike Trout when that time comes. These big contracts are showing why they don’t work since it is difficult to build a good team around these mega deals.

Even with some of the legendary players on the Angels it seems that their future is at an interesting juncture. I expect them to move down this list in a few years while others rise.

4. San Francisco Giants

Win-Loss: 1,496-1,345 (.526)= 151 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 7= 70 points

Division Titles: 4= 40 points

League Champions: 4= 120 points

World Series Champions: 3= 150 points

Consistency: No consecutive playoff appearances three years in a row= 0 points

Total= 531 points

The Giants managed to gain the reputation of winning the World Series only in even years, as they won in 2010, 2012 and 2014. They have not been as good of regualr season teams as others on this list. San Francisco has only one four division titles since 2000 which is low compared to others on this list. However, there may not be much debate in saying they have had the most playoff success out of all these teams.

One of the biggest names for San Francisco since the turn of the century is Barry Bonds, who even though is tainted by the steroid era could still be one of the best hitters of all time. Much of their success has come from their pitching staff though. Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, and at one time Tim Lincecum have all been big contributes to the Giants success in the playoffs. Overall though, during their stretch of winning championships they were able to work well as a team. There were not a whole lot of big names outside of Bumgarner or Posey, but they had a supporting cast that did what they had to do and took them all the way.

Things are different this year. The Giants are currently in the midst of one of their worst years in the history of their franchise. Which is really saying a lot seeing as they are one of the oldest organizations in baseball. It is hard to see what is in store in the future for the Giants, but knowing them they will find away to make it back to the playoffs soon.

3. Boston Red Sox

Win-Loss: 1,557-1,285 (.547)= 272 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 8= 80 points

Division Titles: 3= 30 points

League Champions: 3= 90 points

World Series Champions: 3= 150 points

Consistency: 2003-2005, 2007-2009= 40 points

best mlb teams 21st century

Boston broke their World Series drought by sweeping St. Louis in 2004 (Boston Globe)

Total: 662 points

In 2004 the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years. Since then, they have won another two championships. They also had perhaps the greatest comeback in playoff history, coming back from 3-0 against the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS.

The Red Sox have also been playing in the toughest division in baseball since 2000. If you look at their division titles they only have three, which is as many World Series wins they have. This is largely because of who they have been competing with, rather than their lack of ability to perform in the regular season. It is odd to see the third place team on this list only with three AL East titles but it is the way the game goes.

Boston has had some stellar hitters including David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. They also have had some of the greatest pitchers of all-time in Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling. Their success can also be largely attributed to the supporting cast of their team. Players like Kevin Youkilis and Jacoby Ellsbury are the less well known players on these teams that are able to have a significant impact.

2. St. Louis Cardinals

Win-Loss: 1,593-1,248 (.560)= 345 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 12= 120 points

Division Titles: 9= 90 points

League Champions: 4= 40 points

World Series Champions: 2= 100 points

Consistency: 2000-2002, 2004-2006, 2011-2015= 80 points

Total= 775 points

The Cardinals have been called the Yankees of the National League. Since 2000, they have been one of the most consistently great organizations in baseball. This is because they have had a great mix of star performers and supporting players.

best mlb teams 21st century

Known as “MV3”, this legendary trio led the Cardinals to be one of the best teams of the 21st century (InsideSTL)

Albert Pujols came from the Cardinals system and had the best 10 year start to career in the history of the game. After he left the Cardinals in 2011, they have yet to figure out a way to fill the void that Pujols left in 2013. Despite the fact that they made it to the World Series in 2013, they have still been missing that spark in the lineup. Yadier Molina has been the best catcher since Ivan Rodriguez and is also a product of the Cardinals’ farm system, however he was never entrenched at the three spot in the lineup quite like Pujols was. Pujols provided the intimidation factor that has been missing and may contribute to why the Cardinals are struggling in 2017.

The 2004 Cardinals won a monstrous 105 games. This is largely thanks to the stellar middle of their lineup in Pujols, Edmonds, and Rolen. There hasn’t quite been a trio as good as them for a long time. Each one of them was the full package with offense as well as defense. They are a big reason why the Cardinals were so successful from 2004-2006.

With the combination of Hall of Fame managing in Tony La Russa as well as great upper management, the Cardinals have some of the best sustained success since the turn of the century.

1. New York Yankees

Win-Loss: 1,637-1,199 (.577)= 438 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 13= 130 points

Division Titles: 10= 100 points

League Champions: 4= 120 points

World Series Champions: 2= 100 points

Consistency: 2000-2007, 2009-2012 = 100 points

Total= 988 points

best mlb teams 21st century

Not many would debate Derek Jeter being the face of the Yankees success (MLB)

The Yankees had a reputation for a long time for spending big money to get the best players in baseball. They did this with Alex Rodriguez, Mark Texiera, and C.C Sabathia. However, that culture has been starting to get phased out and New York has been growing their own players in their farm system. The best example of this is Aaron Judge who is busting onto the scene and may be one of the greatest rookies ever. Other homegrown players such as Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, and Bernie Williams made a big impact this century as well. I haven’t even mentioned that the best closer of all-time, Mariano Rivera, racked up more saves than anyone during this time and came from the Yankees system.

Just by naming all of these players who have played in New York tells the story of how successful they have been. They have won 2 World Series titles since the turn of the century, which is low for them considering they have won 27 all together. Their heated rivals, the Red Sox, have won more championships since 2000. However, the Yankees continued success coupled with their excellent ability to get top-notch players in a variety of ways, makes them the best franchise of the 21st century…so far.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Pujols

Albert Pujols Appreciation Piece

Last Saturday night, Los Angeles Angels first basemen, Albert Pujols, hit his 600th career home run in style, a no doubt Grand Slam. Pujols is no stranger to Grand Slams, as this one, off Twins ace Ervin Santana, was his 14th of his career. Behind in the count 1-2, Pujols became the ninth member of the 600 club, and fourth youngest of those nine. Now, a week later, it is weird that Pujols did not nearly receive the amount of love from the media like he should have. All in all, it is time to acknowledge one thing, Albert Pujols is one of the best MLB players of all time.

THE FACTS

Let’s just start out with the facts. After being drafted in the 13th round of the 1999 MLB June Amateur Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals, Pujols quickly found success and never looked back. In 2001, as a 21-year-old kid, Albert won the NL Rookie of the Year award. His ridiculous .329/37/130 stat line put him in the conversation for MVP. From 2001-2010, Albert Pujols had one of the greatest ten year stretches in the history of the sport. In each of the first ten years of his career, Pujols was able to maintain above a .300 average, hit 30 or more homers, and drive in over 100 RBI.

The only other player to put up those numbers for more than 10 seasons was Babe Ruth, who played in a time where one pitcher threw the whole game and there were only 8 teams in the league, but that is a story for a different day. Only three players in the history of the game maintained a career .300 average or better, hit 600 + home runs, and drove in over 1850 runs: Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, and assuming he keeps his .308 career average up, Jose Alberto Pujols will become the fourth.

Pujols celebrating after Game 7 of the 2011 World Series (NewsOK)

The three time MVP is also an extremely clutch player. In 77 career playoff games, “The Machine” has posted a batting average of .323, launched 19 home runs (4th all time), and driven in 54 runs (6th all time), including an unforgettable three home run game in Game 3 of the 2011 World Series. Because of his elite play, Albert helped his former team, the St. Louis Cardinals, win two World Series Championships (2006, 2011). On top of the clutch factor, Pujols is also a two-time Gold Glove award winner.

The GOAT at 1B?

I could even go as far to say that Albert Pujols is the best first basemen this league has ever seen. The only other players in contention would be Lou Gehrig, who played in Ruth’s era, and Stan Musial, who some would consider primarily an outfielder. Gehrig, as great as he was, only finished in the top 3 MVP voting four times. Pujols, who played in the heart of the steroid era, has eight top 3 finishes. Musial, who is one of the greatest Cardinals to ever play, had six seasons in which he hit 30 or more home runs. “The Machine” has 14 and counting.

 Off the Diamond

Off the field, Pujols has been nothing short of spectacular.  Before meeting Albert, Deidre, now Mrs. Pujols, had  given birth to a daughter named Isabella. At a young age, Isabella was diagnosed with Down Syndrome. In 2005, with the help of Deidre, Albert created the Pujols Family Foundation. While the main focus of the foundation is to raise money in implementing awareness and hope for those families affected by Down Syndrome, the Pujols family has also shifted their focus in assisting in the education, living, and medical fields for the less fortunate citizens of the Dominican Republic. Every year tons of families get their children dressed up and head off to the Pujols Family Foundation’s annual prom for Down Syndrome kids. Surprisingly, Albert is also a great dancer, and someone who will always show off his moves at the prom.

Pujols during the annual Pujols Family Foundation prom. (Stltoday.com)

Where is the Love?

So why do we, as a society, not acknowledge Albert Pujols’ greatness? A class act on and off the field, who has consistently dominated arguably the most difficult professional sport. What is there not to love? Recently, ESPN came out with the “World Fame 100”, which is a list of the world’s 100 most famous athletes. The order was based off endorsements with social media following and amount of searches on the internet. Shockingly, not one professional baseball player made the list. Why?

There is a list of reasons as to why baseball players are not as popular as they should be. The obvious one being the fact that the game is not intense enough, compared to other major sports. The game is too boring for kids, and can often be expensive for parents. It is not a sport where it is acceptable to show some flash, like you see with Odell Beckham Jr, or Stephen Curry. The season is so long that people often lose interest in April and will start watching again in October. Not only are there less viewers, but of the people who do watch, half of them are over the age of 50.

Whether you like baseball or not, one thing to realize is this, what Albert Pujols has done over his career is absolutely astonishing. A sure first ballot Hall of Famer, Pujols has defined what it means to be consistent, while acting like a true professional, on and off the diamond. When asked about chasing Barry Bonds’ home run record, Pujols said “I hope I get the opportunity. It would be so special.” (USA TODAY Sports) As a fan of the game, I would love to see him play for a couple more years and chase 762. No one would deserve it more than Albert Pujols.

Featured image by SI.com

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Milestones Records 2017

Milestones and Records to Watch for in 2017

Opening Day is just around the corner, which means fans will be flocking to ballparks all over the country. Fans will be in store for more than what they bargained for in a season sure to be full of fun and feats.

Records and milestones are reached around the league every year, and this year will be no different. Here’s what you should be on the look out for in the 2017 MLB season.

Albert Pujols Reaches 600 Homers

Milestones Records 2017

Albert Pujols has done this plenty of times, 591 to be exact (Jae C. Hong/ Associated Press).

There is a reason Albert Pujols earned the nickname “The Machine” in St. Louis. The slugger smashed 445 homers while averaging 155 games played per season over 11 years. That massive amount of production earned him a huge free agent contract from the Los Angeles Angels. Many correctly predicted his decline while in an Angels uniform. However, the 36-year-old can still mash.

Pujols enters the 2017 season sitting at 591 home runs, just nine short of entering the illustrious 600 home run club. This isn’t just a milestone, but a historic moment for the game of baseball. Only eight players have reached 600 or more home runs in MLB history. It’s one of the most exclusive clubs in all of sports.

Pujols will certainly have earned it when he makes it. He has averaged 29 homers per season in five years with the Angels. That is a far cry from his 40-homer average in St. Louis, but respectable nonetheless.

When Pujols launches homer number 600 over the outfield fence, he will enter the pantheon of baseball legends. All we have to do is sit back and watch.

Jose Reyes Reaches 500 Stolen Bases

The skill of stealing bases is becoming a lost art in an age of power. Stolen bases have been on the decline for years. Only two players in the past five seasons,(Dee Gordon and Jonathan Villar) have stolen 60 or more bases in a season. Jose Reyes has been on the decline in recent seasons, but has been a speedster throughout his career. Reyes is sitting at 488 career stolen bases and on the verge of a historic milestone.

Reyes burned his way through the league after coming in at 20 years old. The speedy Mets shortstop amassed 290 stolen bases by age 25. He had seasons of 56, 60, 64 and 78 stolen bases.

Reyes did experience some legal troubles last season after playing for Toronto and Colorado in 2015, but was able to return home to Flushing in 2016. What better place to reach 500 stolen bases than in a Mets uniform?

Clayton Kershaw Reaches 2000 Strikeouts

Milestones Records 2017

Clayton Kershaw is on the cusp of 2000 strikeouts (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images).

This one may not be as big of a career milestone as the previous two, but it’ll be historic in its own right. Clayton Kershaw has been almost immaculate since he entered the league in 2008. After putting up a 4.26 ERA in his rookie season at 20 years old, Kershaw hasn’t had a single season ERA higher than 2.91. He’s been able to limit runs and rack up huge strikeout numbers.

He put up his best statistical season in 2015 with 301 strikeouts in 232.2 innings pitched to support his sparkling 2.13 ERA. He was on his way to an even better year in 2016 before injuries knocked him out for the season. Even with an injury-shortened 2016 season, Kershaw enters 2017 at 29 years old with 1918 career punch outs.

When he records his 2000th strikeout this season, he will be among the fastest pitchers to reach the milestone. He will join some of the games greats like Walter Johnson and Nolan Ryan as some of the fastest to reach 2000 strikeouts in MLB History.

Mike Trout Reaches 200 Home Runs

Mike Trout is widely considered the best player in baseball. He is set to solidify that reputation at the seasoned age of 25.

Trout entered the league at 19 years old in 2011 and struggled mightily. After posting a .220 batting average in 40 games, many doubted Trout entering the 2012 season. However, he quickly put those doubts to rest by smashing 30 homers in 139 games played that season. Trout has been on a Hall of Fame trajectory ever since.

Trout will need 32 homers to break the 200 mark for his career, but it isn’t far-fetched to expect that type of production from the slugging center fielder. He has one 40-homer season already under his belt (2015) and has the ability to go far beyond the 32 homer mark this season.

What’s most impressive is just how fast he could accomplish the feat. Trout will be among some of the youngest players in the history of the game to reach 200 career homers, joining the likes of Mel Ott, youngest to 200 career homers at 25 years, 266 days old. Just when it seems we are becoming used to Trout’s greatness, we can’t overlook how historic his career is becoming.

 

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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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Greatest Rookie Fantasy Baseball Seasons

Greatest Rookie Fantasy Baseball Seasons Since 2000

Rookies are an anomaly in fantasy baseball, as it is difficult to predict their value due to a lack of minor and major league experience. In order to qualify as a rookie, a player must not have conceded 130 at bats or fifty innings pitched in the majors, and also must have fewer than 45 days on the active roster. Rookies tend to be undervalued in redraft leagues and over valued in keeper and dynasty formats, although in either format, they can make or break your fantasy season.

One rookie, Michael Conforto, who looked to contribute as a starting outfielder for the New York Mets in 2016, and after battling through injuries and demotions, finished the year as the 121st outfielder in fantasy. Conforto’s average draft position of 211, was much too high compared to his performance, as you could have waited and selected top 50 outfielders Odubel Herrera, Nick Markakis or Carlos Beltran.

There is always risk involved when drafting rookies, but the rewards can be plentiful.

In 2016, rookie short stops Corey Seager, Trevor Story and Aledmys Diaz exploded onto the scene, all finishing as top 10 short stops, while commonly being drafted 60th or later, occasionally going undrafted, depending on the date and number of teams in the draft.

AL Rookie of the year Michael Fulmer was another undrafted contributor, as he finished as a top 28th starting pitcher in 2016, after winning 11 games in 26 starts.

After being called up in June, Trea Turner of the Washington Nationals played in only 73 games, but managed to finish as the 10th second basemen, after batting .342 with 13 home runs and 33 stolen bases.

Many owners believe rookies are too risky to take chances on, especially in re-draft leagues, Even though the 2016 rookie class shined, many owners will continue to shy away from drafting rookies over established talent. In order to persuade owners to take a few more chances on rookies in 2017, they must understand what rookies are truly capable of.

Below are the greatest fantasy baseball seasons by a rookie at each position since the year 2000.

Notable rookies to keep your eye out for in 2017 include: Andrew Benintendi (BOS), Yoan Moncada (CWS), Dansby Swanson (ATL), Hunter Renfroe (SD), Tyler Glasnow (PIT), Aaron Judge (NYY), Yulieski Gurriel (HOU), Willson Contreras (CHC), Lucas Giolito (CWS), Bradley Zimmer (CLE), and Ozzie Albies (ATL).

 

Catcher: Geovany Soto, Chicago Cubs, 2008

Greatest Rookie Fantasy Baseball Seasons

2008 National League ROY, Geovany Soto, looks to break camp with the Los Angeles Angels in 2017. (Courtesy of Getty Images)

Honorable mentions include: Bengie Molina 2000 (ANA), Buster Posey 2010 (SFG), Wilson Ramos 2011 (WAS), Wilin Rosario 2012 (COL), and Gary Sanchez 2016 (NYY).

Geovany Soto, was selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 11th round of the 2001 MLB draft. After totaling 25 home runs in six years of minor league baseball, Soto broke out, batting .353 with 26 home runs and 109 RBI’s for the Iowa Cubs of the Pacific Coast League in 2007.

The Chicago Cubs finished first in the National League Central in 2007, unfortunately getting swept by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL Division Series. The Cubs backstop remained a question mark heading into 2008, as veterans Michael Barrett and Jason Kendall departed. This was Soto’s chance.

His transition from the minors to the majors went smoothly, as he batted .285 with 23 home runs, 66 runs, and 86 RBI’s. Soto was named the NL’s starting catcher in the All-Star game, and was also awarded the 2008 NL Rookie of the Year while finishing 13th in NL MVP voting.

Unfortunately for Soto, injuries derailed his career. He has failed to surpass his career high of 141 games, which occurred in 2008.

The 12-year veteran has gone on to bounce around the American League, having brief stints with the Texas Rangers, Oakland Athletics, Chicago White Sox, and currently the Los Angeles Angels.

We could see a rookie season similar to Soto’s soon, as young catchers Gary Sanchez and Willson Contreras begin to emerge.

 

First Base: Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox, 2014

Greatest Rookie Fantasy Baseball Seasons

Jose Abreu continues to torment pitchers in the AL Central. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Honorable mentions include: Mark Teixeira 2003 (TEX), Ryan Howard 2005 (PHI), Prince Fielder 2006 (MIL), Joey Votto 2008 (CIN), Gaby Sanchez 2010 (FLA), Eric Hosmer 2011 (KC), and Freddie Freeman 2011 (ATL).

The Cuban first basemen signed a six-year deal with the Chicago White Sox worth $68 million, in 2013, which was the largest deal in club history.

In a Cuban professional league, Abreu batted .316 with 19 home runs and 60 RBI’s over an 83-game span. The White Sox took a risk, believing that his numbers in Cuba would translate to production in the American League.

The 27-year-old took over at first base for Chicago legend Paul Konerko in 2014, becoming a new corner stone of the White Sox lineup. Abreu didn’t disappoint, batting .317 with 36 home runs and 107 RBI’s. The 2014 All-Star managed to also win the AL Rookie of the Year and Silver Slugger awards, while finishing fourth in the AL MVP voting.

Abreu has remained an elite first basemen throughout his three-year career, having a 162-game average of .299, 32 home runs, and 109 RBI’s. His rookie season remains nearly unrepeatable.

 

Second Base: Dan Uggla, Florida Marlins, 2006

Greatest Rookie Fantasy Baseball Seasons

Dan Uggla looks to make an MLB comeback in 2017. (Courtesy of Onlineathens.com)

Honorable mentions include: Robinson Cano 2005 (NYY), Dustin Pedroia 2007 (BOS), Danny Espinosa 2011 (WAS), and Trea Turner 2016 (WAS).

Dan Uggla remains one my favorite players to this day. He mashed 21 home runs in 2005 at the AA level for the Arizona Diamondbacks affiliate, the Tennessee Smokies. Fortunately for Uggla, he failed to make the Diamondbacks 40-man roster in 2005, and was drafted by the Florida Marlins in the rule-5 draft, forcing the Marlins to keep him on the 40-man roster.

The 5-foot-11, 210-pound second basemen took this opportunity and ran with it, hitting 27 home runs with 90 RBI’s while batting a very respectable .287. The 26-year-old made his first of three All-Star appearances in 2006, while finishing third in NL Rookie of the Year.

Uggla’s career remained explosive, as he managed to hit 30 or more home runs in his following five seasons, finishing 17th in NL MVP voting in 2010.

After two and half inconsistent seasons with the Atlanta Braves from 2011-2013, he has bounced around the minor leagues. The 35-year old is coming off of stints with the San Francisco Giants and Washington Nationals, as he continues to try to make an impact for a big-league club in 2017.

 

Third Base: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers, 2007

Greatest Rookie Fantasy Baseball Seasons

Ryan Braun’s rookie season remains unmatched. (Courtesy of Youtube.com)

Honorable mentions include: Eric Hinske 2002 (TOR), Garrett Atkins 2005 (COL), Ryan Zimmerman 2006 (WAS), Evan Longoria 2008 (TB), Kris Bryant 2015 (CHC), and Matt Duffy 2015 (SFG).

Ryan Braun was the 5th overall pick by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2005. From 2005-2007, he batted .313, while hitting 32 home runs in 165 minor league games. The highly touted prospect had matching expectations when he was called up to take over for veteran Jeff Cirillo in May of 2007.

The 23-yaer-old impressed, batted an astounding .324, with 34 home runs, and 97 RBI’s. Braun went on to win NL Rookie of the Year, while finishing top 25 in NL MVP voting. The fact that Braun only played in 113 games goes completely overlooked, as he was on pace to hit 41 home runs and 118 RBI’s over a 600-plate appearance season. Although there have been some stellar rookie seasons by third basemen in the last two decades, Braun’s stands alone.

 

Short Stop: Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins, 2006

Greatest Rookie Fantasy Baseball Seasons

Hanley Ramirez may be back in Boston, but no one forgets his MVP caliber days in Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

Honorable mentions include: Jimmy Rollins 2001 (PHI), Angel Berroa 2003 (KAN), Troy Tulowitzki 2007 (COL), Alexie Ramirez 2008 (CWS), Carlos Correa 2015 (HOU), Francisco Lindor 2015 (CLE), Corey Seager 2016 (LAD), Trevor Story 2016 (COL), and Aledmys Diaz 2016 (STL).

The former and current Boston Red Sox, Hanley Ramirez, signed with the team in 2000 as an amateur free agent. He began to soar up the ranks, making his way from low-A minor league ball to the majors in only three years. Ramirez was traded to the Florida Marlins in November of 2005, in a deal involving World Series champs Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell.

As a 22-year old, Ramirez won the 2006 NL Rookie of the Year, batting .292 with 17 home runs, 119 runs, 59 RBI’s, and 51 stolen bases. Hanley’s production goes unmatched, as the only other rookie to score over 115 runs in the modern era is Ichiro Suzuki.

Hanley’s career has been an interesting ride so far, as he has battled through some serious injuries that has caused him to lose his MVP form. He has transformed from a perennial .300 hitter with 20 plus steals to a .270 hitter with single-digit steals, which, along with his improved power stroke, is still a very productive player.

 

Left Field: Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals, 2001

Greatest Rookie Fantasy Baseball Seasons

Albert Pujols is the greatest player of his generation. (Courtesy of Lehighvalleylive.com)

Honorable mentions include: Hideki Matsui 2003 (NYY), Jason Bay 2004 (PIT), Chris Coghlan 2009 (FLA), Yoenis Cespedes 2012 (OAK).

Arguably the greatest player of his generation, Albert Pujols was drafted in the 13th round of the 1999 MLB draft by the St. Louis Cardinals. He accelerated up the minor-league ladder, batting .314 with 19 home runs and 96 RBI’s in 133 games at three different levels in 2000.

The Machine exploded onto the scene in 2001, batting .329 with 37 home runs, 112 runs, and 130 RBI’s. Pujols went on to become an All-Star, win Rookie of the Year and Silver Slugger awards, and finish top five in NL MVP voting. Prince Albert’s 2001 campaign sparked a hall of fame career which included three MVP’s and two World Series rings.

 

Center Field: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels, 2012

Greatest Rookie Fantasy Baseball Seasons

Mike Trout or Micky Mantle? (Courtesy of the Huffington Post)

Honorable mentions include: Terrance Long 2000 (OAK), Rocco Baldelli 2003 (TB), Scott Podsednik 2003 (MIL), Willy Tavares 2005 (HOU), Jacoby Ellsbury 2008 (BOS), Austin Jackson 2010 (DET), and Billy Hamilton 2014 (CIN).

This generations Mikey Mantle began as a first-round selection by the Los Angles Angels in 2009. In three minor league season Trout batted well over .300, but lacked the power that we are all used to seeing today, as he hit only 23 home runs in 291 games.

Trout started his rookie season after being called up in April of 2012. He went on to play 139 games, batting .326, while mashing 30 home runs, scoring 129 runs, driving in 83 RBI’s, and stealing 49 bases in 56 attempts.

The two-time MVP had the highest WAR ever by a rookie, with 10.0. It may be a long time until we see another 30/40 season by a rookie.

 

Right Field: Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners, 2001

Greatest Rookie Fantasy Baseball Seasons

Ichiro refuses to quit as he enters his 17th Major League season. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Honorable mentions include: Hunter Pence 2007 (HOU), Jason Heyward 2010 (ATL), Bryce Harper 2012 (WAS), Yasiel Puig 2013 (LAD), and Nomar Mazara 2016 (TEX).

The 27-year old rookie was purchased from the Orix BlueWave for $13 million in 2000. In nine seasons in Japan, Ichiro batted .313, with 658 runs, 118 home runs, and 508 stolen bases. After winning seven batting titles and three MVP awards in Japan, Ichiro decided to make the transition to the MLB.

In 2001, he set the record for the most hits ever by a rookie with 242. The Rookie of the Year finished the season batting .350, while scoring 127 runs, driving in 69 RBI’s, and stealing 56 bases. He was subsequently rewarded the AL MVP.

Suzuki’s career is well known as he has surpassed the 3000-hit plateau and has a career average of .313. Ichiro will remain with the Miami Marlins in 2017, where he will continue to add to his historical career.

 

Starting Pitcher: Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins, 2013

Greatest Rookie Fantasy Baseball Seasons

Jose Fernandez, what could have been?(Findagrave.com)

Honorable mentions include: Rick Ankiel 2000 (STL), Roy Oswalt 2001 (HOU), Dontrelle Willis 2003 (FLA), Francisco Liriano 2006 (MIN), Daisuke Matsuzaka 2007 (BOS), Edinson Volquez 2008 (CIN), J.A. Happ 2009 (PHI), Jaime Garcia 2010 (STL), Jeremy Hellickson 2011 (TB), Yu Darvish 2012 (TEX), Wade Miley 2012 (ARI), Shelby Miller 2013 (ATL), Hyun-Jin Ryo 2013 (LAD), Julio Teheran 2013 (ATL), Matt Shoemaker 2014 (LAA), Jacob deGrom 2014 (NYM), Noah Syndergaard 2015 (NYM), Michael Fulmer 2016 (DET), Kenta Maeda 2016 (LAD), and Jon Gray 2016 (COL).

In 2013, the late, great, Jose Fernandez, managed to out-perform all other rookie starters since the year 2000. After being selected as the 14th pick of the 2011 MLB draft, Fernandez pitched one full season in the minors, going 14-1 with a 1.75 ERA, while striking out 158 batters in 134 innings pitched.

The young hurler started 28 games in his rookie season, going 12-6 with a 2.19, while striking out 187 batters in 172.2 innings. The 20-year old lead the league in hits per nine in 2013, which helped him earn the NL Rookie of the Year award, his first All-Star appearance, and a 3rd place finish in NL Cy Young.

In 2016, Fernandez lead the league in K/9, with 12.5, as he had 253 strikeouts in only 182.1 innings. Unfortunately, Fernandez’ life was cut short in boating accident, so we can only speculate to what could have been. Rest in peace.

 

Releif Pitcher: Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves, 2011

Greatest Rookie Fantasy Baseball Seasons

Craig Kimbrel may be in a new uniform, but his antics remain as they did in Atlanta. (Courtesy of Jeffschultz.blog.myajc.com)

Honorable mentions include: Kazuhiro Sasaki 2000 (SEA), Huston Street 2005 (OAK), Jonathan Papelbon 2006 (BOS), Andrew Bailey 2009 (OAK), and Neftali Feliz 2010 (TEX), Jordan Walden 2010 (LAA), Dellin Betances 2014 (NYY), Roberto Osuna 2015 (TOR), Edwin Diaz 2016 (SEA), and Seung-hwan Oh 2016 (STL).

After being drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 33rd round of the 2007 MLB draft, Craig Kimbrel decided to forgo the MLB, and attend Wallace State Community College in Hanceville, Alabama. He finished the 2007-2008 collegiate season with a 2.89 ERA, while striking out 123 batters in 81 innings.

Kimbrel went on the be re-drafted by the Braves in the third round of the 2008 MLB draft. He had some slight struggles in the minors, sporting a 3.97 ERA in 70.1 innings pitched at four different levels in 2009, but recovered in 2010, where he had a 1.62 ERA at the AAA level.

Kimbrel received the official call up in 2010, where he recorded 46 saves, struck out 127 batters, and lead the league in games finished with 64. The 23-year old went on to win NL Rookie of the Year, make his first All-Star appearance, all while receiving votes for the Cy Young and MVP.

The flamethrower has managed to improve on his rookie season, as he has had an illustrious seven-year career with a career ERA of 1.86 and over 250 career saves.

 

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2017 Fantasy Baseball First Base Rankings

Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball First Base Rankings

The Game Haus presents our 2017 fantasy baseball first base rankings.

The first base position is among the deepest in fantasy baseball. Nine first basemen had at least 25 home runs and 100 RBIs last season. 23 had at least 20 home runs, and 19 had at least 80 RBIs. First base continues to offer plenty of power and production for your fantasy team.

With the start of spring training games upon us, it is time to rank the top 25 first basemen for 2017. Players have been grouped into three tiers, with the top and bottom player of each profiled below.

Honorable mentions: Joe Mauer (MIN), Lucas Duda (NYM), Chris Carter (NYY), Yulieski Gurriel (HOU), Ryan Zimmerman (WAS), and Dan Vogelbach (SEA).

Tier 1

2017 Fantasy Baseball First Base Rankings

Paul Goldschmidt is the golden standard at first base. (Courtesy of MLB.com)

  1. Paul Goldschmidt ARI
  2. Miguel Cabrera DET
  3. Joey Votto CIN
  4. Anthony Rizzo CHC
  5. Freddie Freeman ATL
  6. Edwin Encarnacion CLE

Paul Goldschmidt is the golden standard at first base in 2017. He has completed four consecutive All-Star seasons, finishing as runner up for MVP in 2013 and 2015. He offers five-category production and will bat third for the Arizona Diamondbacks, hit for average and power, and will steal plenty of bases.

The addition of A.J. Pollock and David Peralta to the lineup should increase his value as well. Goldy was without both of them for the majority of 2016. Also, he has 99 career stolen bases with a success rate of 81 percent, which is outstanding. His floor of about 15 steals gives him an edge over other superstar first basemen.

Edwin Encarnacion will make the move from the hitter friendly Rogers Centre to one of the toughest for right handed hitters. However, he remains in the top tier of elite first basemen. He will bat clean-up for a hungry Cleveland Indians team featuring Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana.

Encarnacion remains an elite fantasy option. He has hit at least 30 home runs with 98 or more RBIs. He also has batted at least .260 in his last five seasons. Expect more of the same out of the 34-year-old.

Tier 2

2017 Fantasy Baseball First Base Rankings

Wil Myers expects a 40/40 season from himself in 2017. (Courtesy of gaslampbell.com)

  1. Wil Myers SD
  2. Jose Abreu CWS
  3. Daniel Murphy WAS
  4. Ian Desmond COL
  5. Chris Davis BAL
  6. Hanley Ramirez BOS
  7. Matt Carpenter STL
  8. Carlos Santana CLE
  9. Eric Hosmer KC
  10. Adrian Gonzalez LAD

Wil Myers’ 2016 season resembled the likes of a poor man’s Paul Goldschmidt. He finished with 28 home runs and 28 stolen bases. His atrocious second half led to his batting average dipping to an underwhelming .259, causing his value in 2017 to be fairly low. His 20/20 upside should not be overlooked, as he was among only nine players to accomplish this feat last season.

The former rookie of the year completed his first full campaign in 2016, amounting 155 hits in 676 plate appearances. Myers will continue to be a horse in the middle of the San Diego Padres lineup for many years to come.

Adrian Gonzalez has been a consistent fantasy contributor his entire career. He has amassed 600 plus plate appearances in his last 11 seasons, while sporting a career .290 average. His power numbers have dwindled, as he tied a career low of 18 home runs in 2016. However, his production has not faltered, as he has had at least 90 RBIs in 10 consecutive seasons.

The 34-year-old will bat clean-up for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2017, giving him ample RBI opportunities once again. Gonzalez looks to be a safe fantasy pick once again for the twelfth consecutive season.

Tier 3

2017 Fantasy Baseball First Base Rankings

Brandon Belt, under or over rated? (Courtesy of USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Brandon Belt SF
  2. Mike Napoli TEX
  3. Tommy Joseph PHI
  4. C.J. Cron LAA
  5. Justin Bour MIA
  6. Greg Bird NYY
  7. Josh Bell PIT
  8. Mitch Moreland BOS
  9. Eric Thames MIL

Brandon Belt is another consistent fantasy performer. However, he has limited value as he has yet to surpass the 20-home run mark in his six-year career. The career .272 hitter did have a career high 82 RBIs in 2016, which was due to him batting primarily fifth.

The 28-year-old stole zero bases last season but has managed to steal 32 bases from 2011 to 2015. There is a chance that he adds some steals back to his stat line. Belt has a higher floor than most first basemen, although his ceiling is limited.

This Eric Thames is not the same guy we saw in 2011 or 2012. He returns to the U.S. after mashing 124 home runs in three seasons in the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO). Thames will have to re-adjust to life in the MLB, but was rewarded a three-year $15 million contract with a player option for a fourth. This shows that the Brewers are fully invested in Thames being their current and future first basemen.

The 30-year-old will bat clean-up in an aggressive and youthful Milwaukee Brewers lineup that looks to do damage in 2017. Thames will be a great value pick as his current average draft position according to fantasypros.com is 231.

 

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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?)

A Look at the AL West: Can the Astros take it all?

Last year was the Astros’ third year in the American League, and the first year in seemingly forever where they showed the ability to be a real playoff team in the MLB. After being the consistent bottom-feeder of the NL Central and not showing greater success in their first couple of years with the AL West, Houston had a breakout 2015 season, finishing just 2 games back of the Rangers in the division and locking up a wildcard spot. They took out the New York Yankees in the play-in game, but lost the Divisional Round series 3-2 to the eventual World Series champion, Kansas City Royals.

Dallas Keuchel brings not only a strong beard game, but is pretty good at the whole MLB pitching thing too. Photo courtesy of MLB.com.

So the question remains, can the Astros repeat last season’s success in 2016? I think the team is primed and ready to do so for a couple of reasons: The maturation of young talent on the mound and the explosiveness of their hitters, both at the plate and on the base path. The Astros had the best team ERA in the American League in 2015, just 3.57. Dallas Keuchel has really come into his own over the past couple of seasons, and should continue to improve as number one in the rotation. Lance McCullers record from last season may not be the most impressive, just 6-7, but he should be pitching a lot more comfortably this season, with his first professional season behind him.

The remaining three pitchers for the staff have all seen some success throughout their careers, and it’s just a matter of returning to form. Collin McHugh has been remarkably better with Houston the past two seasons than his previous two, he should continue to trend in the right direction on the mound.

Doug Fister probably had the roughest season of these five starters in 2015. He started the year with a starting rotation spot with Washington, but some consistency issues ended up getting him demoted to a bullpen spot by the end of the year. If he’s able to regain his composure with a new team and pitch like he did in 2014 with Washington (16-6 2.41 ERA in 25 starts), this Astros rotation looks suitable to defend its position as one of the best in the AL.

Carlos Correa and his middle infield partner Jose Altuve will continue to set the tone for the Astros bats in 2016. Photo courtesy of MLB.com.

The offense is spotted with stars like Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa. Correa became the first number 1 draft pick overall to win Rookie of the Year in the American League last season. However Correa has already made it very clear that he does not intend to stop there, and there’s no reason to believe otherwise. Correa could begin making his case as an elite talent in the MLB over these next few years, in the same league as guys like Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, if he continues to improve on his impressive opening season.

Altuve has hit over .300 in his past two seasons, and has begun to find more power in his bat, recording his first double-digit home run season. He also solidified his glove work, posting a .993 fielding percent in 2015.

Correa and Altuve could be a middle infield duo that terrifies the division for years down the road.

The rest of the Astros bats are supplemented with some solid veteran talent combined with rookies looking to mature and make their first big splash at the plate. As of right now, the team’s starting 9 are all returning from 2015, so they have the element of chemistry on their side as well.

The Mariners and A’s are continuing to find themselves and presently should not provide too much of a threat to the Astros within the division. The Rangers are coming off a year where their pitching ranked 3rd worst in the AL in terms of ERA, over a point higher than Houston’s. Although the Rangers are hoping Yu Darvish’s return from injury and Cole Hamels will help fix this problem, I don’t think it will be enough. While this team has great hitting, I think that, outside of Darvish and Hamels, it lacks the pitching depth required to make a serious postseason run. The Angels continue to see great production out of Mike Trout, but long-time slugger Albert Pujols numbers seem to be trending downwards, and their admittedly solid rotation currently lacks a true ace on the level of Keuchel and Hamels.

I think the Astros will continue to see themselves in the top half of the AL West standings for a long time with the young talent they have accrued over their time at the bottom of the MLB. Carlos Correa will only get better (a scary proposition) and young batters will only continue to improve with just the right amount of veterans around them.