Starling Marte 2018

Starling Marte’s outlook for the 2018 MLB season

After quite a controversial 2017 season, let’s assess Starling Marte’s outlook heading into the 2018 MLB season.

Background

Starling Marte 2018

In his 2013 rookie campaign, Marte was impressive, batting .280 with 12 home runs and 41 stolen bases in 135 games. (Photo by USA Today)

In 2007, the Pittsburgh Pirates signed a then 18-year-old Starling Marte for $85,000. He spent two seasons playing in the Dominican Summer League, improving his batting average from .220 to .290 during that timespan. Marte played the majority of his next two seasons in the South Atlantic and Florida State Leagues, batting .312 and .315 respectively with a total of 50 stolen bases in 114 games.

In 2011, Marte received the call-up to double-A Altoona, where he batted .332 with 12 home runs and 24 stolen bases in 129 games. He then went on to play 30 games in the Dominican Winter League, where he would continue to rake, batting .328.

Marte was first called to the majors in 2012 after a 99 game stint with triple-A Indianapolis, where he batted .286 with 12 home runs and 21 stolen bases. In his first major league action, Marte was fairly mediocre, batting just .257 in his first 47 games. He returned to the Dominican Winter League in 2012-13, where he once again found his stroke, batting .304 in 29 games.

In his 2013 rookie campaign, Marte was impressive, batting .280 with 12 home runs and 41 stolen bases in 135 games. His 2014 season was very similar, as he played an identical 135 games and batted .291 with 13 home runs and stole 30 bases. He continued to find success at the major league level in 2015 when he hit .287 with 19 home runs and stole 30 bases. Marte exemplified his .300 average, 20 home run and 40 stolen base potential.

In 2016, Marte batted .311, hit nine home runs and stole 47 bases in only 129 games. He won his second consecutive Gold Glove while also being voted an All-Star for the first time, showing that if healthy, he is capable of being an MVP candidate.

2017 Season

Starling Marte 2018

Marte’s 2017 campaign got off to a rocky start, as he was suspended 80 games in mid-April after testing positive for Nandrolone. (Photo by USA Today)

Marte’s 2017 campaign got off to a rocky start, as he was suspended 80 games in mid-April after testing positive for Nandrolone, a performance enhancing drug on Major League Baseball’s banned substance list.

Marte then released the following statement:

“I have been informed that I have tested positive in one of the tests that are regularly done in my job. In this very difficult moment I apologize to my family, the Pittsburgh Pirates, my teammates, my fans, and baseball in general. Neglect and lack of knowledge have led me to this mistake with the high price to pay of being away from the field that I enjoy and love so much. With much embarrassment and helplessness, I ask for forgiveness for unintentionally disrespecting so many people who have trusted in my work and have supported me so much. I promise to learn the lesson that this ordeal has left me. God bless you.”  

Marte returned to action after the All-Star break on July 18. He would go on to bat .282 with five home runs and 19 stolen bases the rest of the way, putting him on a 162-game pace to hit 13 home runs and steal 50 bases.

2018 Outlook

Starling Marte 2018

In fantasy terms, Marte could be a top-10 player in the majority of formats. (Photo by USA TODAY Sports)

The Pirates may be well out of contention this season, but with their core of Marte, Andrew McCutchen, Josh Bell, Gregory Polanco and Josh Harrison, they promise to be a productive offense heading into 2018. Marte will bat at the top half of the lineup next season, either leading off or batting second, which bodes well for fantasy value. He will be 29 years old at the start of next season, placing him within his prime. Marte will be a threat to bat .300 with double-digit home runs, triple-digit runs and fifty stolen bases.

In fantasy terms, Marte could be a top-10 player in the majority of formats, specifically ESPN standard formats, as they tend to value steals heavier than most. Keep your eye on Marte heading into next season, as his price could be discounted on draft day due to his suspension and the Pirates 2017 struggles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Featured Image by USA Today

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Pirates

Pittsburgh Pirates playoffs 2017: Can the Pirates be contenders?

The Pittsburgh Pirates have been on a run as of late. They have won 12 of their last 14 games and stand three games back of the Brewers. There has been talk as to whether or not the Pirates will be sellers at the trade deadline. With how they have been playing lately though, they have to look at why they may be able to make a push for the postseason.

Here are some reasons why the Pirates may find their way to October.

Starling Marte is back

Pittsburgh Pirates playoffs 2017

Marte’s return has ignited a spark in Pittsburgh (Yahoo Sports)

The Pirates found out at the beginning of the season that their best player from a year ago would be serving an 80-game suspension. This was a major blow to the team, and it seemed there would be little hope for them to compete with the world champion Cubs. What was needed was for the team to battle through adversity and try to stay afloat until Marte returned.

Pittsburgh has done a pretty good job of staying in the hunt. They have been lucky with how mediocre the division has been, but they are in the thick of things. With Marte back, they should expect to get a lot production from their outfield.

Last season, Marte led the team with a 4.0 WAR and a .311 batting average. He also has plus speed and was able to swipe 47 bases which was third in all of baseball. His presence complimented by McCutchen’s is one of the most dangerous duos in the National League.

Andrew McCutchen has been on fire

Pittsburgh Pirates playoffs 2017

Cutch may be the best hitter in baseball since June 1st (Sports Illustrated)

Over the past couple years, it appeared that Andrew McCutchen had lost his edge. Last year, he had a career-worst slash line of .256/.336/.430.

The Pirates might have been thinking that they missed their opportunity to get a good return on the center fielder. His first couple months of the season were not evident of the All-Star of the past either. In the months of April and May, he posted a batting average that floated around the Mendoza line and was only had a OBP floating around .300.

In June, McCutchen caught fire. He caught enough fire to make him perhaps the best all-around hitter in the league. He finished with a slash line of .411/.505/.689 in the month. He has not slowed down much in July either, with his batting average still around .400 since the start of June.

Cutch has been almost unstoppable, so right now would be the perfect time to trade him, right? Neal Huntington, the Pirates GM, has to consider the future before trading away the best player the Pirates have seen in a long time. When we talk about the near future, we have to talk about how good the Cubs will be in the coming years.

There is a chance that the Cubs may not be as good as we thought. More than likely though, this is a fluke year and the Cubs may return to their 2016 prestige. With that being the case, Pittsburgh may have to take advantage of the year at hand. They have a chance to take a weak division, so it may be in their best interest to hold on to what they have and see if they can make a run for it with their stellar outfield.

The NL Central is wide open

As I mentioned before, the Cubs are struggling in 2017. They have been showing life since the All-Star break though, recording six consecutive wins. However, the Pirates have been able to keep pace with them during this time. With how weak the division has been, it has been very competitive, and there are four teams that are vying for the division crown.

The Brewers are starting to slide as many people expected. Pittsburgh is the one beating up on them, sweeping Milwaukee in a four-game series. This will probably convince Neal Huntington that this roster has enough to take over first place in the division.

Especially with their recent success against NL Central opponents, the Pirates should be feeling good about where they are right now. Look for Pittsburgh to possibly makes some moves to bolster their rotation at the deadline.

Will Pittsburgh win the division?

Pittsburgh Pirates playoffs 2017

Marte came back at the right time, as the Pirates swept the Brewers in four games (Rum Bunter)

Pittsburgh has been able to deal with a lot of adversity this season. Starling Marte was suspended for 80 games, Andrew McCutchen struggled mightily the first two months of the season and James Tallion had to fight cancer.

The Tallion story is rather inspiring, seeing he had to go under the knife to treat his cancer and then still make it back out on the field not long after.

This is perhaps representative of what the Pirates season may be.

Their ace, Gerrit Cole, also seems to be back on track this season. Since June 8, each start has been a quality one besides one blemish on June 30 in which he gave up seven runs.

With their ace back on track and their stellar outfield back to what the Pirates hoped it would be, there is a good chance that they will be competing for first place in the Central until the last day of the regular season.

Pittsburgh has a real chance to ruffle some feathers in the National League. Even the Dodgers, who seem unstoppable right now, should not take a game for granted against the Pirates. Expect Pittsburgh to be a tough competitor for the rest of the season.

Will what they have be enough to win the Central? Well, that largely depends on whether or not the Cubs have found their stride as many expected. It will be tough to keep pace with Chicago if they are back to their 2016 status. The Pirates may just have a shot if they keep doing what their doing though.

 

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The Lackluster National League Central

Just a short two years ago the National League Central was the cream of the crop in baseball.  The Cardinals, Pirates and Cubs all finished with 97 or more wins.  This gave them the top three records in baseball, which had never been done before.  The only other division to have three teams with more than 95 wins was the 1977 AL East.  So it would be easy to say the 2015 National League Central may be the best division in baseball history.

Two years can make a big difference in sports, which is evident in this division alone.  As of June 26th the Brewers sit in first place at an underwhelming 41-37.  Even the defending World Champion Cubs are a mediocre one game above .500.  On top of that, the Cardinals who always seem to be at the top of the league are struggling with a 34-40 record.

What could have possibly led to this steep decline?  Well when it comes down to it, the key players in the Central just aren’t performing up to expectations.  Other than Joey Votto and Zach Cozart, not a single qualifying hitter has above a .300 batting average in the division.  This is surprising considering the talent in the Central such as Kris Bryant, Andrew McCutchen and Matt Carpenter.

(Photo Courtesy of USA Today)

Chicago Cubs

Kyle Schwarber, one of the heroes for the Cubs last October, got sent down to Triple-A Iowa on Thursday.  He is supposed to be part of the core for the Cubs but he was not pulling his weight with his splits showing .171/.295/.378.  He is in a sense the poster boy for the failure of many players in the division this year.  If things don’t start to turn around soon, jobs will be on the line.

The Cubs are 14th in the National League in hitting at the moment, but that will turn around.  Jason Heyward is currently on the DL, but he showed signs of improvement from last year at the plate and is doing a decent job of filling the hole in outfield production left by Fowler.

Once the trade deadline comes, Theo and company could be going after Sonny Gray or Ervin Santana to bolster their struggling rotation.  At that point they could go steam-rolling like they were just one year ago.

St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals are at a critical spot for their organization.  The next four weeks will determine what will happen in the coming years for them.  Whether that be sell some of their key players, or maybe even decide to push Mike Matheny out the door.  The bottom line is that John Mozeliak may have over-valued some of his pieces and put stock in the wrong players for the future.

(Photo Courtesy of USA Today)

 

Over the course of the year the Cardinals have been streaky. It is a common struggle for a lot of teams when they can’t get their pitching and hitting to go on hot streaks at the same time, but it has been a glaring issue for them this year.  At this point, Carlos Martinez is the only starter that can be relied on and the middle of their lineup has been missing that spark to get them going.

The National League West has already pretty much determined the wild card race.  So the only thing giving the Cardinals hope is how lackluster the division has been.  If they don’t string together some wins in the coming weeks then we will possibly start to see some pieces moving elsewhere and the Cardinals will be planning for the coming years.

Milwaukee Brewers

There have been several instances where it appeared that the Cubs would take over the Brewers.  However, that day has yet to come.  Eric Thames has been a great surprise for Milwaukee thus far–powering the club with 20 home runs. Travis Shaw is also proving himself to be a legitimate threat in the lineup.  They don’t seem to be going away anytime soon, however, the question for Milwaukee is whether or not their pitching is going to hold up.

So far the Milwaukee has been serviceable but nothing special.  They do not have a bonafide ace but have been relying on Chase Anderson who has been pulling the rotation so far this season.  If he is able to keep this pace along with Jimmy Nelson then the Brewers may have a chance to hang in there come the race for October.

Cincinnati Reds

The Reds have the best hitter in the division in Joey Votto.  On top of that, Scott Schebler and Zach Cozart have been pushing the offense to be perhaps the best in the division.  The problem has been their lack of pitching.  They are just now getting some of their top pitchers back in Homer Bailey and Brandon Finnegan.  However, their 30th ranked pitching also doesn’t bode well despite their return.  So look to see the Reds possibly moving some pieces at the deadline.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Pittsburgh has been getting back into the mix of things thanks to the improvement of Andrew McCutchen.  Despite the rough start, he has comeback with a line of .380/.462/.671 in the month of June.  The suspension of Starling Marte has not helped however, as they have sorely missed his bat in the lineup.  The Pirates have showed some signs of life but they will also need some help from their pitching staff.  Their -33 run differential will not translate to any improvements.

Taking two of three games in St. Louis this past weekend could possibly give the Pirates a spark they needed.  Marte is also nearing the end of his suspension.  His bat being back in the lineup could also give them a boost in morale and keep them tight with the Brewers and Cubs.

What to look for in the coming months?

It is hard to see the Cubs not making any big moves at the deadline as they still have a lot of their pieces from their championship team.  So look for them to be aggressive.  Schwarber’s demotion should also serve as a notice to the rest of the team that they are under-performing.  It is doubtful to see the Cubs trailing the Brewers for much longer with all the talent they have.  If the Cubs do not start pulling away soon though, then the division is up for grabs for any of these teams.

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The best position group in the MLB

The sport of baseball is unlike any other in that you can compare all position players’ offensive stats equally. Each position group in football does a different task. You can’t compare a guard to a center in basketball because their jobs are different.

Using the same stats for any sport other than baseball doesn’t paint an accurate picture when comparing two players.

That in mind, we can interpret baseball players’ performance better than any other sport. You can compare a short stop’s average to a second baseman’s equally, and you can compare a third baseman’s home run tally to a first baseman’s without fault as well.

So, I took the liberty of tallying up all qualifying players’ averages, home runs and RBIs at each position in order to find which position produces the most at the plate. Believe it or not, one position dominated, leading in all three categories.

The best position group in the MLB

Led by league-leading hitter Ryan Zimmerman (.368), the first baseman position leads the MLB in not only the power numbers, but also average. Among qualified players, the position group leads the MLB in average, hitting at a clip of .268.

Best position group MLB

Joey Votto’s precise eye at the plate helps the position thrive. (Photo: Sports Illustrated)

Five players are hitting above .300 for the position, but what’s special is that there’s only one player hitting below .200 (Mike Napoli at .197). Everyone else at the position hits .220 or better. No other position does that.

In terms of power, everyone knows that first basemen generally smack more dingers than any other position, but the margin is what’s insane. With 248 home runs, first basemen crush the competition. The next best position is right field, as 209 home runs have been clubbed by right fielders this season.

First basemen have driven in 749 runs, which again is first among all positions. Yet again, right fielders knock in the second-most runs, while still being well behind first basemen with 665 RBIs.

What’s more, according to The Game Haus columnist Avery Seltzer, 12 of the top 50 players in the MLB are first basemen. According to TOVAR (total offensive value above replacement) which takes into account nine offensive stats (R, XBH, SB, HR, RBI, BA, BB, TB and OPS), four of the top ten players in the MLB are first basemen (Goldschmidt, Zimmerman, Freeman and Votto).

With names like the aforementioned Zimmerman, Paul Goldschmidt, Joey Votto and a resurgent year from Mark Reynolds, the first baseman position is in as good of shape as ever.

Right Field Sweeps Second PLace

Best position group MLB

Aaron Judge’s incredible rookie campaign helps surge the right field position to second. (Photo: Kathy Willens/Associated Press)

With players like Aaron Judge and Bryce Harper, many wonder how the right field position isn’t in first. Because the position is top-heavy, many of the bottom-performing players drag the position down.

Of the players with the top 11 most at bats among the position, only one is hitting above .300, while seven are hitting below .270. This causes the entire potion’s composite average to be brought down enough points to trail first base.

Even if you were to break this down to home runs per qualifying player, right field trails first base by 2.02 home runs. First basemen average 10.72 home runs per player, while right fielders average 8.70.

In terms of blunt star power, right field isn’t getting the production it usually gets. Carlos Gonzalez is hitting just .237 this season and has just four home runs. Yasiel Puig is still yet to find a stroke from his rookie campaign, hitting .229. Andrew McCutchen’s fall from the grace of the baseball gods has been well documented, and he’s the third-worst right fielder in terms of average this season.

Barring Anthony Rizzo, the first baseman position is seeing all of its stars produce in the top ten of qualifying players which helps carry the position.

So, who’s the worst?

After documenting the top two positions, it just feels right to tell which position is the worst in offensive production. It would be obvious to point out the catcher position, but only eight players qualify right now, so we’ll spare them.

In terms of average, third basemen are by far the worst hitters, batting at a clip of .251. However, the position known traditionally for producing power has done that, as it has produced 195 home runs, and could overtake right field for the No. 2 spot as the season grinds on.

Second basemen and short stops are never known for power, and rightfully so. They are neck-and-neck at the celler of the home run standings, as second basemen have produced 116 home runs compared to short stop’s 117 long balls.

In terms of total star power, short stop should definitely be thrown into the conversation with how well the top players have played this season, especially in the A.L. However, the lack of consistency within the position really hurts it.

Although many people may believe first basemen are around the top of offensive production every season, the position is dominating every other position this season.

 

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Andrew McCutchen

The fall of Andrew McCutchen

Four top-five N.L. MVP seasons, one N.L. MVP award, five-time N.L. All-Star, four Silver Slugger awards and one Gold Glove. The accomplishments read as almost a prerequisite for greatness in the majors. But even though it was as little as two years ago that he garnered an All-Star appearance and a Silver Slugger, Andrew McCutchen is far removed from his glory days.

Gone are the All-Star appearances, the Silver Sluggers, the MVP discussions. In their place are trade rumors and position changes, as a former star tries to adjust to his diminished skillset.

But how did the man who resurrected baseball in Pittsburgh become expendable?

An up and down 2016

Andrew McCutchen

The 2016 season was a roller coaster ride for Andrew McCutchen (Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports).

Many look at Andrew McCutchen’s 2016 season, compare it to his career, and call it a “down season”. And while that may be true, when you look closer, the numbers tell a different story.

Andrew McCutchen is a notoriously slow starter, and 2016 was no different. But even with a .226 batting average at the end of April, his 115 OPS+ was still respectable.

He seemed to be finally turning it on in May, when he hit .284 and posted a 119 OPS+. All signs pointed to McCutchen getting hot, that is until the calendar turned to June.

McCutchen hit a miserable .202 in June with a paltry 52 OPS+. The month of June is really what brought McCutchen’s numbers down.

Whether it was fatigue or an undisclosed injury or just the randomness of baseball, June 2016 was the worst we had ever seen Andrew McCutchen play.

Even so, he picked it up after June, hitting .247 in July and posting a 91 OPS+. While still a low number, it was a stark improvement from June.

And once July ended, the Andrew McCutchen of old seemed to return. A .280 batting average in August helped him earn a 119 OPS+, and set him up for a monster end of the season.

In September and October, McCutchen hit .287 with six home runs, 22 RBIs and a 141 OPS+. Gong by the last few months of the season, it seemed McCutchen had returned to form, and gave some glimmer of hope for the 2017 season.

But an offseason of trade rumors and a position change left McCutchen in flux, and the doubts of his performance again began to crop up. Any tempered optimism that fans had in regards to McCutchen’s 2017 season were dashed once the games began to rack up.

Rock bottom: The 2017 season

While the calendar has just turned to June, the performance of Andrew McCutchen so far has left much to be desired. Those who called his 2016 season a downfall have only had their points enforced by his play this season.

In 52 games, McCutchen has hit .223 and posted an 86 OPS+. Some thought that a return to center field would provide a spark for McCutchen. But in his 38 games played in center field for the suspended Starling Marte, McCutchen has done little to show a return to form.

Many have speculated the cause for McCutchen’s decline, and I will add to that speculation. When looking at the advanced metrics, one thing stood out to me more than any other: a sign of declining speed. McCutchen had always been known for his blend of power and speed, and even though he hit .256 last season, he still hit 24 home runs.

That is right in line with his 162 game average of 24 per year. But his legs seem to be giving out on him, causing his overall performance to decline.

Explaining McCutchen’s decline

Andrew McCutchen

A decline in speed may be the culprit behind McCutchen’s decline (Dylan Buell/Getty Images).

One statistic I saw a major drop in was his BABIP. With a career .328 BABIP, the .247 mark posted this season by McCutchen is well below his usual performance.

BABIP can be impacted by a number of factors, one being the speed of a player. It can be reasoned that the faster a player, the better chance he has at beating out a throw to first for a base hit. And that was something that McCutchen excelled at.

With a 9.2 percent infield hit rate, McCutchen was able to beat out ground balls for base hits. But this season, McCutchen’s 3.1 percent infield hit rate is vastly lower than his career mark.

With a lower infield hit percentage this season compared to his career, it seems that his speed has sorely diminished. And when you take into account his stolen base numbers, it becomes even more evident.

From 2009-2015, McCutchen averaged 22 stolen bases per season. In 2016, that number dropped to six stolen bases. He was also caught stealing seven times last season. The decline in stolen bases was a precipitous one, but only part of the decline of Andrew McCutchen’s game.

But at only 30 years old, it remains to be seen if the former MVP can adjust to playing the game with a diminished skill set.

 

Feature image by Jim Mcisaac, Getty Images.

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Where does Marte’s Suspension Leave the Pirates?

Starling Marte will be out 80 games for the Pirates this season after failing a PED test. This is a crushing blow for a franchise that has been struggling in the NL Central since the rise of the Chicago Cubs.

Losing Marte has a much bigger impact than just this season. A full season from Marte may have been just what the Pirates needed. Instead, they must fill the hole left by their star center fielder.

Who will Take his Place?

Pittsburgh Pirates

Andrew McCutchen will have the first shot at the center field job (Jim Mcisaac/Getty Images).

The two-time Gold Glover was making the transition to starting full-time in center field after playing the corner outfield spots for the majority of his career. That move was brought on in part by the decline of Andrew McCutchen last season.

The veteran may make a return to center field, given the lack of major league talent. Gregory Polanco is assumed to be the incumbent in center field, but he’s been out with a groin pull.

Even when Polanco comes back, it will leave an empty outfield spot. Former top prospect Josh Bell has been the presumed incumbent at first base for a while, but could return to his natural position. He played the corner outfield spots well in the minors and has flashed good pop.

Adam Frazier could also be in line for some playing time. The 25-year-old has 185 major league at bats and a .303 career average. Even with Bell and Frazier, the Pirates may be tempted to call on their farm system to fill the hole.

Austin Meadows is ranked as baseball’s sixth best prospect according to Baseball America. He is a natural center fielder with good range and solid power, but still raw at 21 years old. If Bell and Frazier can’t carry the load, he will surely see the major leagues.

Are the Pirates sellers?

Gerrit Cole could net the Pirates a treasure trove of talent in a trade (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images).

The Pirates had a down 2016 season after making the playoffs three straight years from 2013-2015. The team went 78-83 last year and many wondered in the offseason if they would start rebuilding. This question will be brought to the forefront now with the loss of Marte for 80 games.

Marte is arguably the best player on the Pirates roster, and his loss may be too much for the Buccos to overcome. If the Pirates do enter sell mode, who do they move, and at what price?

The first choice would be McCutchen. The outfielder struggled in 2016 and was the talk of trade rumors in the offseason, so expect those to start ramping up again. He’s still a solid player and would be a valuable addition to a playoff contender.

Another trade chip in the Pirates’ possession is Gerrit Cole. The 26-year-old pitcher is one of the best young arms in the majors and would net a major haul for the Pirates if they moved him.

The Pirates very well could move both McCutchen and Cole, or neither one. The roster in Pittsburgh is talented, but the competition in the NL Central is fierce. With a roster devoid of Starling Marte for 80 games, it may be in the Pirates best interest to start moving towards a rebuild.

 

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2017 Fantasy Baseball Center Field Rankings

Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball Center Field Rankings

I present to you my 2017 fantasy baseball center field rankings.

The top 25 center fielders have been grouped into four tiers, with the top and bottom player of each tier profiled below.

Honorable Mentions: Jacoby Ellsbury (NYY), Curtis Granderson (NYM), Jason Heyward (CHC), Kevin Pillar (TOR), Kevin Kiermaier (TB), Leonys Martin (SEA), Travis Janikowski (SD), Mallex Smith (TB), and Eddie Rosario (MIN).

Exceptions include: Ian Desmond (COL), who is out six to eight weeks after undergoing hand surgery this spring training.  

 

Tier 1

2017 Fantasy Baseball Center Field Rankings

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

 

  • Mike Trout LAA

 

By this point, everyone should recognize that Mike Trout stands alone as the top player in fantasy baseball.  The two-time MVP is a perennial threat to bat .300, score 100 runs, produce 100 RBIs, and steal 30 bases. In leagues that take OBP or OPS into consideration, Trout’s value is increased even more so, as he has a monster career OBP of .405 and OPS of .963. The 25-year-old will be the first player taken in all 2017 fantasy drafts.

 

 

Tier 2

2017 Fantasy Baseball Center Field Rankings

Will Charlie Blackmon finish the season as a Colorado Rocky? (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

 

  • Charlie Blackmon COL
  • Trea Turner WSN
  • A.J. Pollock ARI
  • Yoenis Cespedes NYM
  • Christian Yelich MIA
  • Andrew McCutchen PIT
  • Lorenzo Cain KC

 

Charlie Blackmon surpassed career highs in nearly every category last season, while only appearing in 143 games. Blackmon had 29 home runs, 111 runs scored, 82 runs driven in, and stole 17 bases, while batting an astounding .324. The 30-year-old will continue to bat atop an incredibly strong Colorado Rockies lineup that is guaranteed to produce in 2017.

There has been talk about the Rockies potentially moving Blackmon out of Coors field if they are struggling at the trade deadline, although Blackmon’s talent is sure to translate to another park, team, and position in the lineup. He is well worth a pick in the top 20 as he has 30/30 potential with a career batting average of .298.

Lorenzo Cain is being severally overlooked and undervalued in 2017. The Kansas City Royals’ three-hitter is batting .300 over his last three seasons, while averaging 30 steals per 162 games. Cain managed to hit 16 home runs in 140 games in 2015, which I believe show that he has the potential for a 20/30 season.

The 30-year-old’s major issue is staying on the field, as he is yet to surpass the 140-game mark, although if he can stay healthy, he is a sure-fire top 20 outfielder in 2017.

 

 

Tier 3

2017 Fantasy Baseball Center Field Rankings

Dexter Fowler is headed to the division rival. (Gene J. Puskar, AP Photo)

 

  • Dexter Fowler STL
  • Adam Jones BAL
  • Adam Eaton WSN
  • Odubel Herrera PHI
  • Carlos Gomez TEX
  • Byron Buxton MIN
  • Keon Broxton MIL

 

Dexter Fowler will move from Chicago to the division rival St. Louis Cardinals in 2017. Fowler will bat leadoff for the always productive Cardinals, who are looking to back bounce from missing the playoffs in 2016.

The 31-year-old has a career .270 average, and will be a threat to score 100 runs and steal 10 to 20 bases. Fowler is a safe a selection within the top 150 players, as he is a lock for above average production in three out of the five major categories, while also offering average production in home runs and RBIs. The only caveat with Fowler is his inability to stay on the field, as he has only reached the 150-game mark once in his nine-year career.

Keon Broxton has yet to play a full season at the major-league level, although 2017 will be his year to break out. As a career .255 hitter at the minor-league level, Broxton clearly has room to improve, although he is averaging 15 home runs and 31 steals per 162 games.

The 27-year-old will receive his first opportunity to play an everyday role, as he will be the starting center fielder and six-hitter for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Broxton’s ADP of 225, according to fantasypros.com, makes him well worth a late round selection if you miss on a more proven commodity.

 

 

Tier 4

2017 Fantasy Baseball Center Field Rankings

Brandon Phillips, Jose Peraza will finally have an open spot in the Cincinnati Reds lineup. (Courtesy of MLBdailydish.com)

 

  • Jose Peraza CIN
  • Billy Hamilton CIN
  • Joc Pederson LAD
  • Randal Grichuck STL
  • Rajai Davis OAK
  • Jarrod Dyson SEA
  • Ender Inciarte ATL
  • Denard Span SFG
  • Tyler Naquin CLE
  • Cameron Maybin LAA

 

Jose Peraza is a top 100 prospect according to MLB.com, Baseballprospectus.com, and Baseball America. He will primarily play second base, and will presumably start the season batting at the bottom of the order, but a promotion to the leadoff spot could occur if he continues to find success at the plate. He has a career batting average of .312 at all levels and has stolen 244 bases in 611 career games. The 22-year-old offers tremendous value through his speed, contact, and versatility in 2017.

Cameron Maybin will move out west to join the Los Angeles Angels in 2017. Maybin is a career .259 hitter, although he managed to bat .315 last season in 94 games for the Detroit Tigers. He is a threat to steal 20 or more bases as well as provide runs with a solid average.

If Maybin can remain healthy, career highs in RBI’s and home runs could be in order as well, as the 29-year-old will bat primarily sixth to start the season.

 

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World Baseball Classic Bracketology: Predicting the Semi-Finals

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

Pool E

World Baseball Classic

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

Japan (5-0 WBC Record)

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

The Netherlands (3-2 WBC Record)

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

Israel (4-1 WBC Record)

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

Cuba (2-3 WBC Record)

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

Pool E Representatives in Semis: Japan and Israel

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

Pool F

Dominican Republic (3-0 WBC Record)

World Baseball Classic

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

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

Puerto Rico (3-0 WBC Record)

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

United States (2-1 WBC Record)

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

Venezuela (2-2 WBC Record)

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

Pool F Representatives in Semis: Dominican Republic and United States

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

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National League Central

2017 National League Preview: National League Central

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

5th: Cincinnati Reds

Projected 2017 Record: 70-92

National League Central

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

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

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

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

4th: Milwaukee Brewers

Projected 2017 Record: 75-87

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

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

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

3rd: Pittsburgh Pirates

Projected 2017 Record: 84-78

National League Central

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

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

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

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

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

2nd: St. Louis Cardinals

Projected 2017 Record: 87-75

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

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

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

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

1st: Chicago Cubs

Projected 2017 Record: 105-57

National League Central

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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World Baseball Classic Preview: Pool C

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

World Baseball Classic Preview: Pool A

World Baseball Classic Preview: Pool B

World Baseball Classic

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

Canada

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

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

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

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

Colombia

World Baseball Classic

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

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

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

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

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

World Baseball Classic

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

Dominican Republic

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

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

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

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

United States

World Baseball Classic

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

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

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

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

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

Verdict

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

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

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