Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore Orioles team profile

The Baltimore Orioles enter the 2017 offseason with way more questions than answers. A 75-87 season with a last place finish in the AL East will do that to a team. Even so, the Orioles are just one season removed from an 89-73 season and a second place finish in the AL East. How did the Orioles fall off so quickly and where do they go in 2018?

2017 Season

After a second place finish in 2016, the Orioles were primed to make another run at the AL East crown. Through the month of April, it looked like they would do just that. They boasted a 15-8 record and were one of the hottest teams in baseball.

Baltimore Orioles

Manny Machado struggled mightily at the plate in 2017. (Photo by Karen Hill/Houston Chronicle).

However, an absolute collapse of the pitching staff grounded the Orioles’ playoff aspirations. As a staff, Orioles pitching gave up 841 runs on the season, averaging out to a little over five runs per game. That was much too difficult for the eighth ranked offense in the American League to overcome.

It wasn’t just the pitching staff that suffered from inconsistency though. Star third baseman Manny Machado got off to a poor start in 2017, batting .224 in March and April and slumping to a .191 batting average for the month of May. Throughout the whole season, he only slugged over .500 in one full month, slugging .690 in August. Even with Machado’s struggles, the Orioles were able to score 743 runs, only one less than their total last year.

One reason for that was the emergence of Jonathan Schoop. Schoop definitely tapped into his power this year, launching 32 home runs. He also drove in a team high 105 RBIs.

Another factor was the under the radar addition of shortstop Tim Beckham. Beckham is the new poster child for the change of scenery narrative. After posting a paltry 97 OPS+ in Tampa Bay, Beckham hit to the tune of a 131 OPS+ in Baltimore. Both Beckham and Schoop will be relied on next season season.

Team Needs

The Baltimore Orioles are set in the infield, with catching duties likely being split between Caleb Joseph and prospect Chance Sisco. Beckham will take over for the 35-year-old J.J. Hardy, solidifying a strong infield.

Where the questions begin is in the outfield. Nine different players earned time in right field for the Orioles, with 35-year-old Seth Smith playing the most games with 80. Joey Rickard, Craig Gentry and Mark Trumbo all played at least 31 games in right, but none are thought to be long-term options. Rickard, who will turn 27 next season, has a career 77 OPS+. Gentry will be 34 with an 84 OPS+ for his career, and Trumbo was mostly a designated hitter. Either way, right field will be the least of the Orioles’ problems if they can’t find some starting pitching.

When your “staff ace” posts a 4.24 ERA, you know there are bound to be some problems. The Orioles had two starters with ERAs well over 5.00. Wade Miley made 32 starts and posted a 5.61 ERA. Not to be outdone, Ubaldo Jimenez went one step further. The former Rockies ace started 25 games and posted an atrocious 6.81 ERA.

Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman were the only starters to post sub 5.00 ERAs on the season. The Orioles will definitely have to dip into the free agent market to address one of the worst starting staffs in the majors.

Potential Free Agent Signings

One player that the Orioles could target is pitcher Trevor Cahill. While adding a pitcher with a 4.93 ERA this past season may not sound like a good idea, a closer look at the numbers says otherwise.

As a starter with San Diego, Cahill made 11 starts, going 4-3 with a 3.69 ERA. It was when Cahill was shipped to Kansas City that his numbers started to balloon. A change of scenery and a change to the bullpen spelled disaster for the former second-round pick. Cahill will only be 30 years old next year, and should come at a reasonable price.

Baltimore Orioles

Tyler Chatwood has a chance to be an impact arm (Photo from AP Photo/David Zalubowski).

Another option for the Orioles is pitcher Tyler Chatwood. With Chatwood, you have to look even deeper than with Cahill. The former Rockies starter has a chance to be a diamond in the rough. Chatwood is a perfect example of how pitching in Colorado can damage a pitcher’s career.

He has posted a 5.25 ERA in 68 games at Coors Field. But outside of Colorado, Chatwood has posted a 3.31 ERA in 62 games. He has also given up 25 homers on the road compared to 42 at home, and limited batters to a .241 batting average on the road. There is only a 17-inning difference between his 332.1 IP at home compared to his 315.1 IP on the road. While Cahill could be a solid signing, Chatwood has the chance to be an impact arm for the Orioles. And at almost 28 years old, he’s one of the youngest available starters on the market.

The Baltimore Orioles have a chance to turn their organization around in 2018. However, with the Yankees and Red Sox back to powerhouses once again, the best the Orioles can hope for in 2018 is a Wild Card spot.

 

Feature image by cbssports.com 

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Andrew Knizner

How Andrew Knizner’s AFL performance impacts St. Louis

Andrew Knizner has been making waves in the Arizona Fall League. The seventh-round pick in the 2016 MLB draft for the Cardinals had a solid season in the minors. The 22-year-old catcher managed to rack up 12 homers and 51 RBIs in 95 games between Single and Double-A this past year.

Adding to the Cardinals’ catching core

The Cardinals have had the most reliable guy they could ask for behind the plate since 2004. Yadier Molina has put in more innings and excelled more than any other catcher during that time. He has established himself as a premier catcher and has come close to reaching a Pudge Rodriguez level of excellence.

Knizner

Molina has been one of the best catchers of this generation (Photo from SI.com)

Not only does St. Louis have Molina through 2020, but they have the best catching prospect in baseball, who is ready for some major league action. Carson Kelly is a converted third basemen, who has adjusted to the catching position very nicely. He has established himself as a potential Gold Glove winner, and has had his bat catch up to his glove the last couple of years.

The only problem is that Kelly is not getting younger. Molina’s contract extension through the 2020 season leaves some doubt as to how Kelly will get playing time in St. Louis. Kelly would soon be turning 27 by the time he could get consistent playing time with the Cardinals. This is what makes his future with the ball club murky.

Andrew Knizner is another name to bring some intrigue behind the plate. He is a converted third baseman, much like Kelly, and is still learning the tricks of the trade. He has not had a lot of flubs behind the plate, but his bat is what garners some attention. Knizner has shown that he can put the ball in play with solid contact, while also showing good plate discipline. Pitch selectivity is always good to see in young guys because it is an important skill to have when dealing with nasty pitching in the big leagues.

What Knizner’s success means for the offseason

It sure is a good thing that Knizner is breaking out in the AFL. He currently has a .358/.403/.537 slash line along with three home runs and 12 RBIs in 67 at-bats. That should give the Cardinals more comfort that they may have another option behind the plate after Molina hangs up his cleats.

The Cardinals are exploring trades before any free-agent signings according to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports. The Cardinals have a lot of prospects they could potentially trade away. Knizner’s performance puts him as well as Kelly in the mix of the names that could be traded away this offseason.

Knizner

Knizner or Kelly fitting into a Miami trade could make sense, it is whether or not Stanton allows it to happen (Photo by Getty Images)

The team that the Cardinals have been attached to the most is the Miami Marlins. They are looking to lose most of the salary that is guaranteed to Giancarlo Stanton, so it appears evident that they will try to move him by the end of the offseason. If the Cardinals are looking to make that move with the Marlins, either for Stanton or another outfielder, both Kelly and Knizner could be thrown in there as the Cardinals can afford to give one up.

The Marlins already have a young and successful catcher in J.T. Realmuto. Much of Realmuto’s value comes from his performance at the plate though. He has also spent some time at first base.

If the Marlins are really looking to go into rebuild mode, then their current first baseman could be on the move. Justin Bour had a career year and could get a couple solid prospects in return as he has a team-friendly contract.

Kelly’s defensive prowess and young age could play a part in this trade. As the best catching prospect in baseball, it would be hard for the Marlins to turn that away. It would be contingent on Bour being dealt as well as mentioned earlier.

St. Louis is still in very early talks with Miami. Kelly or Knizner could play a role in how things play out as they are showing to be valuable prospects.

Other possibilities

In case a Stanton trade doesn’t work out for the Cardinals, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich may be on the table as well. Not only that, but the Cardinals have showed interest in Josh Donaldson and Manny Machado. Both the Blue Jays and Orioles are in need of younger catching prospects, so Kelly or Knizner would make sense as pieces in a trade like this.

Even if these big name trades don’t happen, the Cardinals are still shopping around to see where they can improve. The front office knows they need to prove they are serious about contending with the Cubs. They have money and lots of prospects. Knizner only helps their bargaining power and gives them more flexibility for the future.

All in all, the reality to take away from his performance and potential is that Carson Kelly may not play a full season in St. Louis. With Yadier Molina blocking him, it would make sense for the Cardinals to move him somewhere else. Then they could look for Knizner to be the successor to Molina.

 

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Honoring baseball's military veterans

Honoring baseball’s military veterans

Veteran’s Day is upon us once more, so it is only fitting to honor baseball’s military veterans today. From the Civil War, our nation’s greatest struggle, to the rice paddies of Vietnam, there have been dozens of baseball men that have fought alongside the “common Joe”.

Some of the names of the men who’ve served our nation in its greatest time of need you will know, others you will not. The list of names is too exhaustive to name them all, but we tip our caps all the same. Here are five men who’ve served with distinction.

Morgan Bulkeley – Civil War

Honoring baseball's military veterans

First president of the NL and Civil War veteran, Morgan Bulkeley. (Photo courtesy of: National Baseball Hall of Fame)

Morgan Bulkeley never played in a game, but the Hartford-based businessman was the first president of the National League. Bulkeley would only hold the National League’s presidency for one season in 1876. Not wanting to make baseball his life’s work, he walked away from the post.

In 1937, Bulkeley was enshrined in the Hall of Fame with Ban Johnson, the first president of the American League.

Bulkeley has the distinction of being the only Baseball Hall of Fame member to serve during the American Civil War. Even though he came from money, Morgan Bulkeley and his brother Charles both enlisted in the Union Army in 1861. An unusual choice given these were the sons of Aetna Insurance co-founder, Eliphalet Bulkeley.

For those that aren’t up to date on their Civil War history, the unusual nature of the Bulkeley boys’ enlistment lies in money. During the Civil War, a person could buy their way out of the draft and pay for another person to serve in their place. The Bulkeley boys choosing to enlist was the exception to the rule, make no doubts about it. For Morgan Bulkeley’s brother Charles, this decision would seal his fate. He would not survive the war.

For Morgan Bulkeley though, he spent his time under the command of Gen. George McClellan in the 13th New York Regiment. It must have been a shock to go from a life of extravagance, to marching around the dirty, dusty countryside in pursuit of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. This is exactly the life Bulkeley lived from the years 1861-1865.

Grover Alexander – WWI

Alexander is a name that rests among the greatest names in the history of pitching. What you might not have known, however, is Alexander also saw live combat in World War I.

Prior to the war, Grover Alexander broke into the big leagues in 1911 with Philadelphia. From that time on, he was one of the most dominant pitchers in the National League. He led the NL in wins five times between the years 1911-1917, posting three consecutive 30+ win seasons from 1915-1917. On top of those 30-win seasons, he also posted sub 2.00 ERA in each of those three years as well. He did all of this while war threatened to consume the entire world.

The United States had managed to keep a “veneer” of neutrality for most of WWI, but in the spring of 1917, peacetime was over. The U.S. was now on a war footing with Germany, and with an army that had been drastically reduced in strength over time, needed fresh recruits.

In 1917, and for the first time since the Civil War, the nation’s men were subject to conscription into the armed forces. This is the avenue by which Grover Alexander found his way into the Army.

Three games into the 1918 season, Alexander, at the rank of Sergeant found himself among the killing fields in France. A member of the 342nd Field Artillery Battalion. It was at his post, while under an enemy artillery barrage, that Alexander suffered severe hearing damage from a nearby shell explosion. This explosion also left Alexander with epilepsy.

It was 99 years ago today, that peace was reached between the belligerents of WWI, and by the spring of 1919 Alexander was back at his old post. On the hill, toeing the rubber as a member of the Chicago Cubs.

Warren Spahn – WWII

Honoring baseball's military veterans

All of Warren Spahn’s 363 career wins came after he won the Purple Heart in WWII. (Photo courtesy of: Dailydsports.com)

Spahn, a fresh-faced rookie in 1942, got his first taste of big league ball with the Boston Braves. He made two starts over four appearances in 1942, and by December he would be finding himself in Army green.

Spahn was one of the “luckier” baseball players of his generation in that his career was interrupted at the beginning, rather than during his prime years. Ted Williams, Bob Feller and Joe DiMaggio are just a few players that lost some of their peak years.

It was in December of 1944 that Warren Spahn would find himself fighting for his life during the Battle of the Bulge. This was the last gasp offensive of by the German war machine. Spahn, a combat engineer, was part of the under-equipped troops that were left to face the onslaught.

Spahn did several interviews after the war, in which he would recall the bitter cold and terrible conditions in which they fought. He has also recounted how fierce the fighting was while his unit tried to break free from the German forces that had surrounded them.

When the 1944 German winter offensive was stopped cold, Spahn’s unit was sent to Remagen. It was here, while working on the Ludendorff Bridge in March 1945, Spahn would get hit in the foot with shrapnel. This would be the end of the line for his time at the front.

It earned him a Purple Heart, but it was an incredible twist of good fortune for Spahn. The following day, the entire bridge collapsed into the river below taking over 30 men to their untimely demise. For his actions at Remagen, Spahn earned a battle-field commission of 2nd Lieutenant.

Ted Williams – Korean War

Ted Williams is all legend. This man was the game’s best hitter when he was called away to service during WWII like so many others.

Williams was drafted into service in 1941, but was exempted due to having a dependent mother, but he would later enlist in the Marines in 1942. After completion of his triple-crown season in ’42, Williams was off to training. It was during the years 1943-1945 that Williams would earn his pilot’s wings. The war would end before he would see any active combat.

However, the 1950’s brought with it a new fight. The Korean War.

Of the 1.8 million soldiers that fought in Korea, Ted Williams was one. Immediately Williams was back at flight school learning the controls of the F9F Grumman jet fighter. His involvement in the conflict would consume the majority of his 1952 and 1953 season’s.

In Korea, Williams was the wing man of future space traveler, John Glenn. In Glenn’s estimation, the pair flew together on about half of Williams’ 39 combat flights. Glenn would later recall that Williams was a very active pilot, and an excellent one at that.

Ted Williams was right in the line of fire taking on enemies in the air, and he almost was a goner on a few occasions. On one of those occasions, Williams’ plane was on fire after being badly hit. The landing gear on his smoking wreck was inoperable. The only option left was to attempt a belly landing. In true Ted Williams fashion, he did what he always did. He stayed calm, and he stuck the landing. Williams escaped the cockpit just moments before his mangled plane was engulfed in flames.

Al Bumbry – Vietnam War

Honoring baseball's military veterans

Al Bumbry never lost a man during his time leading troops in Vietnam. (Photo courtesy of: Getty Images)

Bumbry has the distinction of being one of only 10 major league players to fight in the Vietnam War. He would win the Bronze Star for his actions under fire as a platoon commander.

The most remarkable thing about Bumbry’s time in combat, is that he never lost a man under his command. This takes on even more significance when you realize the amount of responsibility on the young lieutenant’s plate. In an interview with The Washington Times, Bumbry said, “I was a tank platoon leader in Vietnam for a year. It was all very stressful. I had nine vehicles and 45 men in my platoon, and I was responsible for all of our activities.”

Bumbry, like the millions of others like him, returned home a changed man. He also returned a better ballplayer, to which he credits an accelerated maturing process forged in the fires of Vietnam. Though Bumbry floundered in his first 35 minor league games before being called to active duty in the Army, when he finally returned, he went on a tear through the minor leagues.

In 1972, Al Bumbry was called up to the big club in Baltimore where he played in nine games. The following year, 1973, Bumbry would solidify a spot in the Orioles lineup, and win the AL Rookie of the Year award.

Following his RoY campaign in 1973, Bumbry would firmly entrench himself as the everyday center fielder in Baltimore. From the years 1973-1985, Al Bumbry would put together a respectable career in MLB. He was a 1980 All-Star, a (.281) lifetime hitter and a key member of the Orioles’ 1983 World Series championship team.

 

(feature photo courtesy of: fadeawaypodcast.com)

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Trey Mancini fantasy

Trey Mancini fantasy: Tale of the tape

Trey Mancini emerged as one of the league’s premier power threats in 2017. In this piece, I will discuss his past and present performance, as well as my expectations moving forward.

Background

Trey Mancini fantasy

Trey Mancini was an eighth-round selection out of the University of Notre Dame by the Baltimore Orioles in 2013. (Photo by Zimbio.com)

Mancini was an eighth-round selection out of the University of Notre Dame by the Baltimore Orioles in 2013. That year, a then 21-year-old Mancini played 68 games with low-A Aberdeen in the New York-Pennsylvania League. He rose through the minor leagues at a steady pace, playing in high-A in 2014, double-A in 2015 and triple-A in 2016. After 483 games in four minor league seasons, Mancini totaled 189 extra-base hits and 275 RBIs while slashing .306/.357/.472.

In 2016, the then 24-year-old Mancini made his major league debut. In just five games, he managed to hit three home runs and drive in five RBIs. It wouldn’t be long until we saw what he was capable of at the next level.

2017 season

Mancini’s 2017 campaign exceeded most expectations. The 6-foot-4, 215-pounder was an American League All-Star snub after failing to place within the top-15 in outfield voting despite batting .312 with 14 home runs, 15 doubles and 44 RBIs in 74 games in the first half. Carlos Beltran, future Hall of Famer and fan favorite, was the seventh leading vote getter for American League outfielders, even though he batted .227 with just 11 home runs and 35 RBIs in the first half.

Mancini eventually cooled off, batting a respectable .276 with 10 home runs, 11 doubles and 34 RBIs the rest of the way. He concluded 2017 with a .293 batting average, 24 home runs, 54 extra-base hits and 78 RBIs.

He spent the majority of the season batting fifth or sixth, as he had more than 50 at-bats in each lineup spot. Among qualified batters, Mancini registered the 13th highest batting average on balls in play, or BABIP, at .352 and managed to make at least medium contact on 80 percent of his batted balls.

2018 outlook

Trey Mancini fantasy

Trey Mancini’s raw power and contact rates show he is capable of being a catalyst in the heart of an order. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

Mancini looks to be an integral piece to the Orioles’ puzzle moving forward. His raw power and contact rates show he is capable of being a catalyst in the heart of an order.

Despite the Orioles’ struggles (75-87), they ranked fifth in home runs (232) and eighth in batting average (.260) in 2017. In a lineup alongside Chris Davis, Mark Trumbo, Adam Jones, Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop, Trey Mancini is sure to be a run-producing machine.

His first base and leftfield eligibilities further enhance his fantasy value, as versatility is key, especially in leagues that use individual outfield positions.

In my estimation, Mancini will be a border-line .300 hitter with a 30-plus home run upside. I am confident he will be drafted within the top-100, although I would be comfortable drafting him within my top-60 selections in 2018.

 

 

Featured image by Getty Images

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three times pitchers went deep

Three times pitchers went deep in the World Series

Pitchers hitting home runs is something we don’t see a great deal of these days. One of the greatest plays that fans could ever hope to witness during a game is dying out. Being that we rarely talk about pitchers hitting the long ball, here are three times pitchers went deep in the World Series.

Home runs by a pitcher in the World Series is a feat that has been accomplished on 15 occasions in MLB history, by 13 players. Here are three such notable instances.

Where have all the homers gone?

Hitting a home run is the epitome of a pitcher helping his own cause. Before 1973 and the advent of the designated hitter, pitchers of both leagues were expected to hit for themselves. It’s no great coincidence that home runs by a pitcher would be more of a common occurrence in those days.

three times pitchers went deep

Warren Spahn, a veteran of 21 MLB seasons, was no stranger to knocking a few out of the park himself. (Photo Courtesy of: Atlanta Braves)

Take Warren Spahn for example. In his 21 seasons of big league ball, he went deep an astounding 35 times, good enough for third place all-time for a pitcher. Spahn, the Braves’ left-handed ace, sits behind leader Wes Ferrell’s 38 and Bob Lemon’s 37. Remarkably though, Spahn does hold the record for number of seasons (17) with a home run as a pitcher.

Pitchers certainly don’t clear the fence in 2017 at the rate they used to in those bygone eras. Admittedly, this downward trend in homers is relative to the sample size, meaning pitchers just don’t hit as often as they used to.

There is still one pitcher who hits his share of taters, and his name is Madison Bumgarner. In his nine seasons taking the hill for San Francisco, he’s also added 17 career homers to back his excellent pitching efforts. Bumgarner might not have had the 2017 season that many envisioned for him, but he became the first pitcher in MLB history to smash a pair of homers on opening day.

Bumgarner is the exception to the rule these days however. There are few pitchers going right now who even look like they have a clue at the dish. What’s more is that a lot of pitchers aren’t getting the at-bats they once did either.

With many rotations now going to the bullpens earlier and with greater frequency than ever before, the home run by a pitcher is only going to become rarer. This begs the question: is the designated hitter coming to the National League soon?

Three times pitchers went deep

Jack Bentley, 1924 World Series

New York Giants vs. Washington Senators (Game 5) off Walter Johnson

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Bentley’s homer in 1924 isn’t merely the fact he went deep. It’s noteworthy anytime a pitcher does a little yard work. To Bentley’s credit though, he’s the only pitcher to ever homer off Walter Johnson in October. This is a monumental feat no matter which way you slice it.

three times pitchers went deep

Dave McNally (left) is photographed with teammate and baseball Hall of Famer, Jim Palmer. (Photo courtesy of: classickicks.com)

In the fifth inning of Game 5 in 1924’s World Series, the Giants and Senators found themselves knotted at one apiece. Heading to the home half of the inning with both pitchers throwing well, nobody in the Polo Grounds that day could have expected what happened next.

Walter Johnson, the hard-throwing 1924 pitching triple crown winner, awaited Jack Bentley’s presence in the batter’s box. He was most likely thinking Bentley would be an easy out. He was dead wrong.

The Giants lefthander did the unthinkable. Bentley banished Johnson’s offering to the right field seats, breaking the one-run deadlock in Game 5 and powering the Giants to a 6-2 win.

This remarkable homer was not a sign of good things to come though. Washington would ultimately prevail in the series four games to three with Johnson picking up the deciding win.

Though Johnson and his Senators teammates had the last laugh, Bentley walked away with a unique bragging right no other pitcher could ever contend with.

Dave McNally, 1970 World Series

Baltimore Orioles vs. Cincinnati Reds (Game 3) off Wayne Granger

Unlike Jack Bentley before him, Dave McNally had the good fortune to both homer and walk away a champion. In 1970, the Orioles were baseball’s best team, finishing the season with a record of 108-54. Dave McNally, was one of their best pitchers.

McNally finished second in Cy Young voting in 1970, posting a league leading 24 wins.

While putting up an impressive showing in 1970, McNally also has the distinction of being one of two pitchers (Bob Gibson) with multiple World Series homers. He accomplished this in both 1969’s ill-fated matchup with the Miracle Mets and 1970’s dismantling of Cincinnati’s not-yet-completed Red Machine.

McNally’s home run in the 1970 World Series is special because it’s the only grand slam by a pitcher in the postseason. Not just the World Series, but in the entirety of MLB’s postseason.

Baltimore’s McNally started Game 3 matched by the Reds’ Tony Cloninger. In fine fashion and like he did all year, McNally pitched all nine frames, scattering nine hits and three runs. In the sixth inning with the bases jacked, McNally sent a deep drive to left field and unjacked the bases. All it took was one mighty swing of that solid ash bat.

Baltimore won Game 3 after McNally kicked the door wide open in the sixth by a score of 9-3. Ending the year on a high note, Baltimore went on to win the World Series against Cincinnati in five games. Their first ever championship.

Joe Blanton, 2008 World Series

Joe Blanton turns on an inside heater from Edwin Jackson for a solo home run. (Photo courtesy of: Boston.com)

Philadelphia Phillies vs. Tampa Bay Rays (Game 4) off Edwin Jackson

Joe Blanton’s 2008 homer isn’t the flashiest of home runs, nor was it hit by the flashiest of players. It stands out for another reason. It currently stands as the last occurrence of a pitcher going yard on the biggest stage in the sport.

Prior to Blanton, Oakland’s Ken Holtzman was the last player to homer in a World Series. He did so in 1974 and still remains the last American League pitcher to accomplish the feat.

There is nothing that will get the crowd on its feet faster than watching the pitcher go yard. Especially in a World Series game.

The Phillies faithful watched as that day’s starter, Joe Blanton, came to the plate with a 5-2 lead. With nobody on and two out, Edwin Jackson uncorked a fastball over the inner half of the plate. Blanton attacked with authority, launching a deep drive to left-center field for the 6-2 lead.

For the Rays, their fate was all but sealed. Coming in to Game 4, they were already behind the proverbial 8-ball, trailing the series two games to one. After the dust settled and the final outs were recorded in Philadelphia that night, the Rays found themselves 10-2 losers in Game 4.

For any team in the World Series, being down three games to one is like the kiss of death. Amazingly, 35 teams in history have held this lead in the World Series. In only six instances though, did the trailing team come back to win the series. The Rays were not one of those six.

 

(feature photo courtesy of: Deadspin.com)

 

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Arizona Fall League

Arizona Fall League 2017: Youngest Stars

 

The Arizona Fall League is a rite of passage for the very best of the best MLB prospects. Especially for those “kids” down on the farm.

This veritable “proving ground” for major league talent is one of the true gems of the prospect-to-pro pipeline. Every year, each of the 30 teams that make up Major League Baseball send a handful of their brightest up and comers to the desert for closer inspection versus a higher standard of opponent. So without further ado, I would like to introduce you to the youngest stars of the Arizona Fall League. You may not know them now, but you soon will!

 

Glendale Desert Dogs

Feeder Clubs: White Sox, Indians, Dodgers, Phillies, Pirates

 

Youngest Pitcher: RHP Mitch Keller, Age 21

Parent Club: Pittsburgh Pirates

2017 Finishing Level: Altoona Curve (AA)

 

Arizona Fall League

Mitch Keller has moved three levels in two seasons in the Pirates organization. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

The No. 6 RHP prospect in baseball, Mitch Keller, will be turning out for Glendale this fall in Arizona. He boasts above average control as well as three projectable major league pitches in his fastball, curveball and changeup. Keller spent most his time this season (15 games) taking the hill for the Bradenton Marauders of the Florida State League. Over 15 starts he struck out over three batters for every one that he walked. His numbers only improved after getting called up to (AA) Altoona for his final six starts. Keller uses a blistering fastball that sits low-to-mid-90s with nasty sinking action, and above average 11-5 curve to make hitters look foolish.

Promoted to (AA) Altoona to finish out the season, this 21-year-old is mature beyond his years. Judging by the caliber of his well-advanced arsenal of three plus-pitches, this kid should continue rising through the Pirates system at break neck speed. Thus far, Keller has done all that’s been asked of him at every level and he will be looking to impress again in Arizona. For 2018, Keller should be start the season with (AA) Altoona, but he may not be there long. Should this young man continue to miss an epic number of bats at (AA) level, I would expect Keller to end 2018 in (AAA). He’s getting close Pirates fans!

 

 

 

Youngest Position Player: CF Cornelius Randolph, Age 20

Parent Club: Philadelphia Phillies

2017 Finishing Level: Clearwater Thrashers (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

Randolph, age 20, will be looking to develop his fielding skills even further this fall in Arizona. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

Phillies left fielding prospect Cornelius Randolph is not the biggest of players. What Randolph lacks in size however, he makes up with a good eye at the plate working a (.338) OBP in 122 games at (Advanced A) Clearwater. Randolph is a converted infielder who worked tirelessly in 2017 to improve his fielding ability in left field. Because his focus was on improving as a defender, his batting metrics may have taken a hit, yet he still posted a respectable (.250/.338/.402) for the season.

The key to Randolph making the majors is his bat, without question. Many scouts believe his average defensive ability will be overshadowed by a bat that wants to hit, and hit a ton. Touted as the best pure high school hitter in the 2015 MLB Draft, Randolph has done little to disappoint. His 2016 was largely a throwaway season while he battled injuries that kept him from really capitalizing on an inspiring 2015. However, in his latest campaign he mashed his way to a tie for fifth most homers in the Florida State League.

Considering the tender age of the  Phillies’ No. 12 prospect, it is not likely that he will be rushed up the ladder. He could possibly open the season at (AA) Reading depending on how the Phillies see him defensively. He already has a bat good enough for the level.

 

 

Peoria Javelinas

Feeder Clubs: Braves, Red Sox, Padres, Mariners, Blue Jays

 

Youngest Pitcher: RHP Andres Munoz, Age 18

Parent Club: San Diego Padres

2017 Finishing Level: Fort Wayne TinCaps (Low A)

 

Arizona Fall League

Do not be fooled by the baby-faced Andres Munoz, he wants nothing more than to blow you away with the heater. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

Born in 1999, Munoz is easily the youngest player headed to the Arizona Fall League this October. At just 18 years of age, striking out hitters is not the issue for Munoz. No, hitting the strike zone consistently is. Blessed with electric stuff well beyond what is expect from a teenager, he has had a heck of a time reigning in his pitches and throwing consistent strikes. At 18 though, time is smiling on this young hurler.

With a clean easy motion to the plate, Munoz just needs to find his rhythm and learn to repeat his delivery time after time. Munoz has easy gas, with his fastball exploding out of his hand toward the plate with seemingly little effort. If this kid can iron out the kinks in his game, he could become a dominant pitcher in the majors sooner than later. Munoz is the youngest player on any Arizona Fall League roster in 2017 and after watching him throw you can understand why he’s there. Expect Andres to be toeing the rubber for (Low A) Fort Wayne in the Midwest League come spring 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

Youngest Position Player: CF Ronald Acuna, Age 19

Parent Club: Atlanta Braves

2017 Finishing Level: Gwinnett Braves (AAA)

 

Arizona Fall League

If you don’t yet know about Ronald Acuna, you will very soon. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

Oh, hot dog! Do I even need to talk about Acuna? I mean, really? Everyone knows this guy by now, right? Look, just the fact he’s on this list should have pitchers everywhere soiling themselves.

Ok, so considering that many of the top ten prospects have mostly graduated to the big leagues (that were ahead of Acuna), this kid should be at the top of the heap come 2018. The No. 5 prospect in all of baseball did everything in his power to make the jump to the majors in 2017. At 19 years of age and with his parent club struggling to win games, the Braves decided to halt his progression at (AAA) Gwinnett. It was a smart move, especially if you regularly attend Gwinnett Braves games. All he did there in 54 games is put up an insane (.344/.393/.548) line, sending baseballs into orbit at a regular pace.

Acuna is just latest Venezuelan to take MLB by storm, well the minors anyway. Acuna’s measurables are out of sight. This is a true 5-tool player by every sense of the word with his blazing speed, howitzer arm, and big bat. Exciting times are afoot in Hot-lanta folks! I mean, this kid did nothing but perform at each level he was at this year. What’s more is that his numbers improved at every stop along the way. Next stop for Acuna in 2018? The Show.

 

 

Scottsdale Scorpions

Feeder Clubs: Reds, Angels, Yankees, Mets, Giants

 

Youngest Pitcher: LHP Justus Sheffield, Age 21

Parent Club: New York Yankees

2017 Finishing Level: Trenton Thunder (AA)

 

Arizona Fall League

Justus Sheffield is not related to Gary Sheffield. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

The first of two LHP on the list of youngest Arizona Fall League stars, Justus Sheffield is also the No. 6 rated prospect down on the farm. Sheffield is another fireballer on this list that can reach back and grab a 96-mph comet, but will usually sit around the 92-93 mph range. Boasting a curbeball and changeup that are projectable big league pitches, the short in stature Sheffield is certainly long on talent. However, he does have work to do in Arizona. This future Yankee needs to learn to consistently get his above average repertoire over the plate for strikes. If he can master his control, the sky’s the limit for Justus.

Sheffield spent the bulk of 2017 in (AA) with the Trenton Thunder except for two rehab starts in (A) ball. In 17 starts for Trenton, the young hurler went 7-6 with a 3.18 ERA over 93.1 innings of ball. His strike out tally is fantastic at 82, and his walks, while still at 3.1 BB/9, have come down dramatically from seasons past. If Sheffield continues to progress, he should arrive in the majors before the turn of the next decade. For now though, he’ll most likely break camp as a member of the (AAA) rotation in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

 

 

 

Youngest Position Player: CF Estevan Florial, Age 19

Parent Club: New York Yankees

2017 Finishing Level: Tampa Yankees (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

Estevan Florial may strike out a ton, but he’ll happily take you yard in return. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

Florial is an intriguing 19-year-old signed from the island nation of Haiti in 2015. This kid could be the center fielder of the future for New York, and it might not be much longer before he stakes his claim to a position once held by Mantle and DiMaggio. Now, this isn’t to say Estevan Florial is in the same mold as those two legendary players, but his talent is undeniable.

At the plate Florial seemingly has all the tools to be an excellent major leaguer. He’s fast, he’s got pop, and he’s not afraid to take a walk. In his first season of Class A baseball, Florial posted a (.298/.372/.479) line across both high and lower levels. While his sample size from (Advanced A) is small at only 19 games, he sported an (.855) OPS over 91 games for (Low A) Charleston. He has some holes in his swing and does whiff a lot, but he also walks a lot (once every 8.4 AB) suggesting that, as he develops, the K’s will come down. At any rate, this young slugging center fielder is poised to start 2018 at (AA) Trenton. Only time will tell if he can grasp the strike zone better as he gets a little older.

 

 

Mesa Solar Sox

Feeder Clubs: Cubs, Tigers, Astros, Athletics, Nationals

 

Youngest Pitcher: RHP Nolan Blackwood, Age 22

Parent Club: Oakland Athletics

2017 Finishing Level: Stockton Ports (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

Nolan Blackwood shuts the light off when he leaves. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

Nolan Blackwood is a stopper. I mean, this kid can slam a door. Unlike most of the other pitchers on this list, Blackwood is one thing, a harbinger of death to your team’s chances to win. The 2016 14th round draft selection out of Memphis has a scary frame at 6-foot-5 with plenty of room left to fill it out. Oakland always seems to have a top-notch pitcher or two working their way through the farm, and Blackwood is no exception.

Blackwood spent all of 2017 in (Advanced A) ball, shutting down games for the Stockton Ports. Sure, he had a 1-5 record. Sure, he had a 3.00 ERA, but it’s what he did with the game on the line that matters most. In 20 chances to turn out the lights on the opposition, he did so successfully 19 times. As he learns more and puts on more lean muscle, his K/9 should reflect that, although his 7.58 K/9 in 2017 are nothing to sneeze at. Neither is his 1.05 WHIP. Blackwood is slated to begin 2018 at (AA) Midland, in the Texas League.

 

 

 

 

Youngest Position Player: 1B/LF Yordan Alvarez, Age 20

Parent Club: Houston Astros

2017 Finishing Level: Buies Creek Astros (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

Yordan Alvarez, monstrous young left-handed hitter with jaw dropping pop. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

Yordan Alvarez arrived in the Houston farm system via trade with the Dodgers in 2016. Alvarez is a slugger that translates to either left field or first base. While not exceptional with the leather, Alvarez does possess a very good arm in the field. He has been playing in left for much of 2017, but in the Arizona Fall League, he’s penciled in to man first base. At 6-foot-5 225 lbs. the left-handed slugger seems to be destined to play first in the majors.

Alvarez, Houston’s No. 26 ranked prospect has explosive raw power at the plate as shown by his first 32 games at the (Low A) level. Playing for the Quad Cities River Bandits, he mashed (.360/.468/.658) over 111 AB. With nothing left to prove, Houston promoted him to (Advanced A) Buies Creek where his numbers came back to earth with the step up in pitching. Despite only being 20 years old, Alvarez still managed to hack out a (.277/.329/.393) line. Not bad for a player as young as Yordan. Look for Alvarez to be back in the lineup for the Buies Creek Astros at the start of the 2018 campaign.

 

 

Salt River Rafters

Feeder Clubs: Diamondbacks, Orioles, Rockies, Marlins, Brewers

 

Youngest Pitcher: LHP Keegan Akin, Age 22

Parent Club: Baltimore Orioles

2017 Finishing Level: Frederick Keys (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

“If you blink, you will miss it.” Is what the baseball cornfield gods say about Akin’s heater. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

Keegan Akin is one half of Baltimore’s contribution to the youngest players in the Arizona Fall League. Ryan Mountcastle is the other, but more on him in just a minute.

Akin is a LHP blessed with a fastball that looks more like a vapor trail than it does a ball. The 22-year-old was a second-round pick by Baltimore in 2016 and is coming off his first full professional season at (Advanced A) Frederick. While his numbers might not jump off the page at you right away, there is still a lot to look at. First and foremost being his beastly 10 K/9 stuff. His electric fastball lit up opposing batters while his slider and changeup are both major league projectable pitches. Known for his ability to get nasty, he peppers the strike zone with ease leaving little doubts that the Orioles see him as a starting pitcher for the future.

Baltimore’s No. 8 ranked prospect is not far off getting the call to the show if he continues to improve his secondary pitches. His inability to fully harness his secondary stuff led to a 4.1 BB/9 rate, but as he learns how to pitch to better hitters his walk totals should begin to come back to earth. Orioles fans should be anxiously awaiting the arrival of this left-handed cannon. What level Akin might start at in 2018 is anyone’s guess, it could depend on how he does in the Arizona Fall League. Frederick or (AA) Bowie are his likely landing spots after camp breaks in March 2018.

 

Youngest Position Player: 2B Ryan Mountcastle, Age 20

Parent Club: Baltimore Orioles

2017 Finishing Level: Bowie Bay Sox (AA)

 

Arizona Fall League

Baltimore’s 2015 first-round pick, Ryan Mountcastle, has had a meteoric rise through the minors so far. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

Mountcastle is currently the No. 3 prospect in Baltimore’s farm system. At the moment, Baltimore is still holding out hope that this young man can overcome his below average arm strength and stick at short stop. While questions remain about Mountcastle in the field, there are little doubts in the scouting community that he will hit for both power and average at the big-league level. Ryan is a tall prospect with room left on his frame for further growth. And that is scary news for American League pitchers.

In 88 games of (Advanced A) baseball he posted an impressive (.314/.343/.542) line, while smashing 15 round trippers along the way. It was precisely this type of production that ultimately won him promotion to (AA) Bowie, finishing the season against much older competition. Though Mountcastle struggled to come to terms with Double-A pitching in his first 39 games for the Bay Sox (.222/.239/.366), he will almost certainly start 2018 there. This kid is truly one for the future. Get out there to the Arizona Fall League games and take a peek.

 

 

 

Surprise Saguaros

Feeder Clubs: Royals, Twins, Cardinals, Rays, Rangers

 

Youngest Pitcher: RHP Jordan Hicks, Age 21

Parent Club: St. Louis Cardinals

2017 Finishing Level: Springfield Cardinals (AA)

 

Arizona Fall League 2017

Hicks has eye popping velocity, and a heavy sinking action on his fastball. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

At just 21, Jordan Hicks already has a fastball that would likely leave an exit hole the size of Pluto if it hit you.On top of a fastball that sits in the lower 90’s (but can ramp up to 98 mph), this young fireballer also has an above average curveball that has a chance to be a plus pitch for him in the bigs. Jordan started 2017 with the Peoria Chiefs of the Midwest League taking the mound in 14 games and posting a healthy 8-2 record while fanning 63 batters along the way.

He has some control issues to sort out, but upon his promotion to (Advanced A) Palm Beach he saw his BB/9 shrink from (4.5) in Peoria to a respectable (2) in his first 27 innings of Florida State League ball. Though the sample is small, this youngster seems to have found another gear with his step up in competition. The Card’s No. 14 prospect posted 32 strike outs and only 21 hits in eight appearances at the (Advanced A) level. On the back of that performance the Cardinals promoted young Jordan to (AA) Springfield in August, though he didn’t log any innings due to late season injury. Expect Hicks to be a key component to Springfield’s rotation in 2018.

 

Youngest Position Player: 3B Kevin Padlo, Age 21

Parent Club: Tampa Bay Rays

2017 Finishing Level: Charlotte Stone Crabs (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

Kevin Padlo is rated as Tampa Bay’s No. 28 prospect. (photo courtesty of: MiLB.com)

Kevin was originally a fifth-round selection of the Colorado Rockies in 2014, the organization he played for in his first two minor league seasons. By January 2016 however, he found himself part of the deal that sent LF Corey Dickerson to Tampa in exchange for pitchers Jake McGee and German Marquez. Though Padlo struggled some at the plate this year posting (.215/.321/.380) across two levels of minor league ball, there is a lot to like about this young man.

While his batting average might seem low, his (.321) OBP suggests a keen eye, that with more experience should translate to a solid average and 20-homer power. At only 21 years of age, the Rays’ No. 28 prospect already possesses a defensive tool set at the hot corner you would normally expect to find on a player much older. Where he could start 2018 might depend on what he does in Arizona this fall, but as it stands now all signs point to another season in Charlotte.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(feature photo courtesy of: Colorado Rockies)

 

 

 

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J.D. Martinez free agency: Where should he sign?

Arguably the top free agent in the upcoming 2018 class, J.D. Martinez is anticipated to receive a hefty contract next offseason, although which team he will sign for is unknown.

After missing all of April and part of May, Martinez clearly has no shot of winning league MVP, although after his monstrous second half, he has been propelled into the conversation. The 30-year-old has played a total of 107 games, where he has batted .318 with 39 home runs, 25 of which have come in the second half. When healthy, it is clear that Martinez is one of MLB’s premiere power hitters, and thus will continue to be a sought-after fantasy commodity.

Any Chance of returning to an old club?

J.D. Martinez free agency

J.D. Martinez began his career in Houston after being drafted in the 20th round of the 2009 MLB draft. (Photo by Getty Images)

Houston Astros

Martinez began his career in Houston after being drafted in the 20th round of the 2009 MLB Draft. He failed to make an impact in his 252 games as an Astro, batting only .251 with 24 home runs and 126 RBIs. He was consequently released by the club in 2014.

Now a serious World Series contender, the Houston Astros don’t necessarily need Martinez, although adding his bat to a lineup of George Springer, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa would allow the Astros to compete to be the best offense in baseball with the Cleveland Indians.

The Astros will head into 2018 with nine players under contract and over $93 million already on their total payroll. Their total payroll in 2017 was $148 million, which included over $14 million in retained salaries. It is approximated that Martinez will earn a multi-year $25 million offer, so it seems unlikely the Astros would spend nearly half of their remaining salary on an aging outfielder, as they already have Springer, Josh Reddick, Marwin Gonzalez, Derek Fisher and Kyle Tucker under contract.

Detroit Tigers

After being released by the Astros, Martinez was signed two days later by the Detroit Tigers. Martinez was under the tutelage of future Hall of Famers Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander and Torii Hunter. Martinez improved drastically, batting .315 in 2014, his first season in Detroit. He would go on to bat .300 with 99 home runs and 285 RBIs in 458 games.

Detroit had a fire sale this summer, trading away the aforementioned Verlander, along with former All-Stars Justin Upton and Alex Avila. It isn’t likely that Detroit would resign Martinez, although with Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler and Nick Castellanos still in the lineup, they should compete in the consistently competitive American League Central.

J.D. Martinez free agency

Since his arrival in Arizona, J.D. Martinez has batted .285 with 23 home runs and 49 RBIs in 50 games. (Photo by the Detroit Free Press)

Arizona Diamondbacks

Martinez was traded to the Diamondbacks in July for three minor league prospects. Since his arrival, he has been phenomenal, batting .285 with 23 home runs and 49 RBIs in 50 games. At this pace over a full season, Martinez would have 74 home runs and 158 RBIs. Although that is clearly an unsustainable pace, it shows how elite Martinez can be during a stretch, especially in a lineup like Arizona.

According to AZcentral.com’s Nick Piecoro, Martinez said “he would love to return to the Diamondbacks”, although their financial situation makes that possibility seem very unlikely.

Where do we want him to land?

Obviously, we would all love to have Martinez sign with our favorite team. For me that would mean Boston. With the Red Sox outfield filled, Martinez would be forced into the everyday designated hitter role. This move is more realistic than I originally thought, as Mitch Moreland is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year. So, if the Sox let him walk and move Hanley Ramirez back to first base, Martinez would fit perfectly into the designated hitters role.

He would undoubtedly dominate in Boston, as he bats .444 at Fenway on the career. Also, he would assume the same mentor role that Miguel Cabrera once played for him, as he would join a young lineup with blossoming stars Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers.

Fantasy-wise, where would the optimal landing spot be?

J.D. Martinez

(Photo by Latinoathlete.com)

Aside from the Red Sox, the best landing spot for Martinez would be with the Baltimore Orioles. With Baltimore, Martinez would replace Seth Smith in right field. He would be in line for improbable levels of production, as he be surrounded by the likes of Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, Chris Davis, Trey Mancini and Mark Trumbo.

It is clear that Martinez is most comfortable when batting fifth, as his career batting average in that lineup position is .296, compared to .264 when batting third and .266 when batting second. If he were to land in Baltimore, he would likely fit in to the fifth spot in the order due to the depth of their lineup.

Also, Martinez has had incredible amounts of success against American League East foes. He has a batting average at least .300 against the Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles and Blue Jays. Unfortunately, he has had minor struggles against the Tampa Bay Rays in his career, as he bats .250 when in a dome and more specifically .257 at Tropicana Field, although it is public knowledge that the Rays need a new stadium, so if they were to leave the Trop, Martinez could thrive even further in the AL East.

Martinez is good enough to be an impact fantasy player on any team, although some situations are clearly more beneficial than others.

If J.D. Martinez ended up in San Francisco, which is a very possible move as they are desperate for power hitters and outfielders, it would not bode too well for his fantasy outlook. Although Martinez would be given the opportunity to play a good chunk of games in Arizona and Colorado, he would be forced to play over half of his games in San Francisco and San Diego, creating a disadvantage as San Francisco and San Diego are notorious pitchers ball parks. Also, Martinez would be forced to bat clean-up behind Buster Posey, placing an abundance of pressure and lack of protection around the 30-year-old.

If Martinez can stay healthy and find himself in the middle of an elite offense, he will be a top-10 fantasy player next season.

Featured image by AZcentral.com

 

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2017 MLB breakout performers

The following MLB hitters have officially broken out in 2017. This piece intends to inform fantasy baseball owners about whether these breakout performers will continue to achieve, or if their level of success is unsustainable.

Honorable mentions include: Whit Merrifield (KAN), Domingo Santana (MIL), Yonder Alonso (OAK), Alex Bregman (HOU), Paul DeJong (STL) and Andrelton Simmons (LAA).

Aaron Judge, Outfielder, New York Yankees

BA/OBP/SLGBABIPHRRBIRK%
2017 Season.300/.426/.627.38934758330.7 %
July.230/.364/.483.3107131336.4 %
2017 MLB breakout performers

Judge has become the best power hitter in baseball in 2017. (Photo by The New York Daily News)

The Yankee slugger has officially broken out in 2017. Judge is the heavy front runner to win American League Rookie of the Year, as he has mashed 34 home runs and 75 RBIs while batting .300 so far this season.

According to the New York Daily News, Major League Baseball’s commissioner Rob Manfred described Judge’s performance as “phenomenal”, and added that Judge is “the kind of player that can become the face of the game.”

While this comment may be justified, Judge’s performance has significantly cooled off since it was made in mid-June.

In July, Judge batted merely .230 while striking out at an atrocious 36.4 percent clip. Also, his 39 strikeouts were the most by any player in July.

On June 17, his BABIP was .433, although inevitably it has dropped .44 points to .389 in less than two months. I documented my opinion in mid-June, exclaiming that it was time to sell Judge, as his value was clearly at its peak.

Selling Judge now may not be the best decision, as his value has declined in the last month. His fantasy value should be similar to that of fellow sluggers Giancarlo Stanton and Marcel Ozuna. His value would be closer to that of Bryce Harper and Mike Trout if it wasn’t for his lack of experience and elevated BABIP and strikeout rates, which all raise questions about his consistency.

Cody Bellinger, Outfielder/ First Baseman, Los Angeles Dodgers

BA/OBP/SLGBABIPHRRBIRK%
2017 Season.264/.344/.599.28430715826.9 %
July.263/.372/.463.298413920.2 %

Bellinger has been quite the producer since being called up in late April. In only 89 games, he has recorded 30 home runs and 71 RBIs, which puts him on pace to hit over 50 home runs and 129 RBIs over the course of a 162-game season.

The 22-year-old has noticeably changed his approach at the plate since the All-Star break, as his strikeout rate has dropped from 29.1 percent in the first half to 18.8 percent in the second. Bellinger slots into to the clean-up spot in the lineup behind the National League leader in batting average, Justin Turner, and 2016 NL Rookie of the Year, Corey Seager.

Bellinger has joined the ranks of elite young sluggers and should be valued similarly to Aaron Judge moving forward.

Justin Smoak, First Baseman, Toronto Blue Jays

BA/OBP/SLGBABIPHRRBIRK%
2017 Season.301/.380/.597.31331746419.7 %
July.310/.410/.610.3548191723.1 %

Despite the Blue Jays’ struggles this season, Justin Smoak has emerged as a silver lining. He was voted an All-Star for the first time and is currently batting .301 with 31 home runs and 74 RBIs.

The 30-year-old has set career highs in all major hitting categories, while also dropping his strikeout rate from 32.8 last season to 19.7 percent in 2017.

In July, Smoak’s success continued, although it seems majorly due to his BABIP as he sported a .354 BABIP. Also, his strikeout rate has risen up to 23.1 percent which is a bit concerning.

Smoak should finish the year batting under .300, although chances that he hits 40 bombs and drives in 100 are very likely. He is firmly entrenched within the top 10 first baseman right now, although his value in keeper and dynasty formats is weaker than in standard re-draft due to lack of sample size and consistency.

Travis Shaw, First Baseman/ Third Baseman, Milwaukee Brewers

BA/OBP/SLGBABIPHRRBIRK%
2017 Season.288/.361/.555.32924746123.1 %
July.305/.400/.622.3677171927.4 %
2017 MLB breakout performers

Travis Shaw was a first time All-Star in 2017. (Photo by Pintrest)

Shaw came over to the Brewers this offseason in a deal that sent reliever Tyler Thornburg to the Boston Red Sox. Thornburg has yet to pitch an inning for the Red Sox, whereas Shaw has become an All-Star.

The 27-year-old has found a home batting clean-up for Milwaukee, as he has hit a career-high 24 home runs while driving in a career-high 74 RBIs.

Shaw’s BABIP of .329 is significantly higher than last season’s .299 mark, although this may be due to an increase in hard contact, as he has raised his hard contact rate from 29 percent in 2015, to 33 percent in 2016 and now 37 percent this season.

His improved approach has allowed him to become an elite fantasy producer in 2017. His value moving forward is similar to the likes of Jake Lamb and Mike Moustakas, as his batting average is still extremely BABIP driven and his strikeout rates are high and continuously rising.

Chris Taylor, Outfielder/ Second Baseman, Los Angeles Dodgers

BA/OBP/SLGBABIPHRRBIRK%
2017 Season.316/.383/.545.41914526027.7 %
July.394/.412/.660.5233151526.8 %

Taylor was a fifth-round pick by the Seattle Mariners in 2012. He was acquired by the Dodgers in a trade that sent prospect pitcher Zach Lee to Seattle in 2016.

Since arriving in Los Angeles, Taylor has stumbled upon some newfound success, as he has hit more home runs in 91 games this season than he did in 249 games at the AAA-level.

The 26-year-old has become the everyday lead-off hitter for the Dodgers, which bodes well for his fantasy value, although his rising strikeout rate and inflated BABIP are cause for concern.

Taylor, whose BABIP in July measured .523, has an unsustainable BABIP of .419 on the year. Also, his home run to fly ball rate of 18.7 percent is unsustainable, as that would put him the same conversation as Paul Goldschmidt and Logan Morrison in terms of HR/FB rates.

Taylor’s fantasy value seems to be at its peak, which makes this a prime time to sell high. He will continue to be a valuable asset as he bats lead-off for arguably the best team in baseball, although his BABIP and home run to fly ball rate are sure to plummet.

Michael Conforto, Outfielder, New York Mets

BA/OBP/SLGBABIPHRRBIRK%
2017 Season.296/.399/.566.35521566225.0 %
July.301/.363/.658.3137141222.5 %

Conforto has been the lone bright spot for the Mets during thier abysmal 2017 season. He has batted primarily in the lead-off spot for New York, although due to a lack of talent around him, he has only scored 62 runs in his 91 games. His BABIP of .355 is very high, although his BABIP in July of .313 and batting average of .301 suggest that his .300 batting average may be sustainable over the course of a full season.

The 24-year-old is not in the upper echelon of outfielders just yet. It is fair to value him similarly to Corey Dickerson or Domingo Santana moving forward due to his lineup potential, production, upside and age.

Jonathan Schoop, Second Baseman, Baltimore Orioles

BA/OBP/SLGBABIPHRRBIRK%
2017 Season.302/.352/.550.33724796821.5 %
July.343/.377/.638.3559282119.3 %
2017 MLB breakout performers

Jonathan Schoop has emerged as a center piece of the Orioles future. (Photo by Alchetron)

Schoop had a successful 2016 campaign, although he has taken his talents to the next level this season. He is a lock to set career bests in all major hitting categories, as he is on pace to hit 36 home runs and drive in 119 RBIs.

He has found a fantasy friendly spot in the three-hole of a dangerous Baltimore lineup and promises to be a big part of their future moving forward.

His BABIP of .337 suggests that his batting average is in line for a small amount of regression, although his improved strikeout rate and incredible July totals insinuate that he is trending upward.

He ranks just below Jose Ramirez in terms of value due to a lack of steals and batting average, although his production puts him firmly in the top tier of second basemen, well behind Jose Altuve of course.

 

Marwin Gonzalez, First Baseman/ Third Baseman/ Shortstop/ Outfielder, Houston Astros

BA/OBP/SLGBABIPHRRBIRK%
2017 Season.311/.388/.578.34620655020.5 %
July.307/.378/.591.3447181721.4 %

Marwin Gonzalez, once known as a backup utility player, has officially broken out. Many didn’t expect Gonzalez to receive everyday at-bats due to the Astros having such a deep roster, although due to injuries and his hot bat he has found himself in an everyday role.

The 28-year-old has set career highs in home runs and RBIs, while being on pace to set a career-high in batting average. Gonzalez is a great fantasy asset, as he has a multitude of position eligibilities and bats in the heart of the Astros’ dangerous lineup.

His BABIP is high, which does cause concern regarding his .300-plus average, although his production and power seem to be sustainable. His playing time shouldn’t falter even when stars Carlos Correa and George Springer return from the disabled list, as his production has been arguably the team’s best of late.

 

Featured image by SBNation

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Postseason

National League playoff predictions

The National League has been interesting so far this year. In the Central, there’s a jam-packed division with teams floating around the .500 mark. In the West, the Dodgers have a strong grip on first place but the Rockies and Diamondbacks are also having great years. The East however is pretty much a lock with the Nationals having little competition getting in their way.

Here is a look at who will most likely be making an appearance in October.

Los Angeles Dodgers, National League West

National League playoff predictions

The Dodgers hope Kershaw’s injury will not keep him out for long (nydailynews)

The Dodgers currently have the best record in baseball and they have been tough to stop. They had a stretch of winning 30 of 34 games and are playing like they will be able to break their championship drought.

Los Angeles just took a major hit to their rotation. Clayton Kershaw left in the second inning of Sunday’s game with lower back issues. He landed on the 10-day DL and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks.

Kershaw has kept up his typical excellence thus far, so the Dodgers will have a lot to overcome with this injury. They are sitting pretty with a 10.5-game lead on the Rockies, but with how the division is playing this is no time to coast.

It will be interesting to see if the Dodgers will be looking for starting pitching help within the next week with this new injury. If Kershaw misses significant time, they may look for some rotation help to shore things up.

The Dodgers’ pitching staff has the best ERA in the majors, however the Diamondbacks are right behind them in that category. Los Angeles should not take the injury lightly as it is important for them to maintain their strong lead in the West. Otherwise, the Rockies or Diamondbacks could make a run for them.

All around, the Dodgers are still the best team in the National League even without Clayton Kershaw. The young duo of Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger have been fantastic this year on top of the stellar season from Justin Turner. The Dodgers have also been in the mix for Orioles closer Zach Britton. If the Dodgers make a move for Britton, it will be nearly impossible to beat them if they have a lead in the seventh inning or later.

Chicago Cubs, National League Central

National League playoff predictions

Jose Quintana has won his first two starts for the Cubs (CBS Sports)

The Cubs have finally started to hit their stride. They are 8-1 since the All-Star break and have caught the Brewers in the Central.

The Brewers however are starting to regress like a lot of people predicted. They are 3-7 since the break with six of those games against the Philadelphia Phillies. Things aren’t getting easier as their next two series are against the Nationals and the Cubs.

Chicago has gotten a spark since the Jose Quintana trade. They gave up their best prospect in Eloy Jimenez, but may have received one of the key pieces they were looking for to fill out their roster.

One more thing they may look for at the deadline though is bullpen help. Wade Davis has been an excellent add this season for the Cubs, but they may need more help to fill out their relief pitching. The Cubs have been linked to Pat Neshak of the Phillies who is having a stellar year. He would make for a great combo of Neshak-Davis in the eighth and ninth.

The offense is also starting to play to its potential as of late. The combo of Bryant-Rizzo-Schwarber was supposed to be one of the most feared cores in the majors. Bryant and Rizzo are playing to expectations while Schwarber is slowly improving from his abysmal first half of the season.

The Cubs are starting to return to their 2016 form though, and if it keeps up then there will be no team in the Central that will be able to keep up with them.

Washington Nationals, National League East

National League playoff predictions

Harper has had an MVP caliber year (Sports Illustrated)

The Nationals may be the surest bet for the postseason at this point. They are not the best team in the league by any means, but they do not have any competition in their division that will come close to threatening them for the title in the East.

As with most teams in the league, the bullpen has the biggest question mark on the team. The Nationals do have some prospects they can deal in order to shore things up, because it will be vital for them to have a more reliable bullpen in the postseason.

Their bullpen currently ranks as the worst in all of baseball, and that simply will not suffice if the Nationals want to compete in the playoffs.

Although they have the worst ranked bullpen, they have the top ranked offense in the National League. Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy have been a deadly combo this year that will throw any pitcher fits. Each one of them could be in the conversation for MVP, but the Dodgers have some serious contenders themselves.

Either way, the offense has been a big reason for their success along with their ace, Max Scherzer. It has been discussed that Scherzer may actually be the best starting pitcher in the league today.

Arizona Diamondacks, National League Wild Card #1

National League playoff predictions

J.D Martinez makes the Diamondbacks lineup much stronger (arizonasports)

The Diamondbacks showed the league that they are serious this year with their acquisition of J.D. Martinez. Martinez makes the Diamondbacks’ lineup strong enough to perhaps be able to compete with the best offenses in the league. The Goldscmidt-Martinez combo along with the other Arizona hitters who are having great years would be tough to stop in a playoff series.

Robbie Ray is having a career year and Zack Greinke has returned to his Cy Young form. It seemed that Greinke may have lost his edge when he went to Arizona. However, he is proving that 2016 was a fluke and he is still an elite pitcher.

The pitching staff has overall been a real plus this year as only the Dodgers have been more successful. With the injury to Kershaw, the Diamondbacks may have a better opportunity to catch up to them.

The Diamondbacks have only won three of their past 10 games. This most likely will not last though. Every team has ups and downs during a season, and Arizona is just in the middle of it right now. Although they probably won’t be able to catch the Dodgers, they have a good enough team to take a wild card spot. In any other division in the NL they would have a much better shot at a title, they just happen to be in the best one in the majors right now.

Colorado Rockies, National League Wild Card #2

National League playoff predictions

Blackmon is having a career year in Colorado (The Denver Post)

The third team that has a good shot of making the playoffs from the National League West is the Rockies are having a breakout year. Colorado has some good young pitching but much of their success comes from their offense. Nolan Arrenado is proving to be an elite third baseman and Charlie Blackmon is having a career year.

Colorado is tied with Washington for the second best offense in the majors. What is interesting about this stat is that one would think that this is because they are hitting a lot of home runs since they are in Colorado. However, the Rockies actually rank 16th in home runs in the majors. They are getting guys in all sorts of different ways.

The Rockies will have a tough time holding their lead in the wild card over the Diamondbacks. Since Arizona has such a stronger pitching staff, it is most likely that they will overrun them.

They are looking for players to bolster their rotation, the only problem is that they are in Colorado. Yu Darvish has already stated that he does not want to be traded to the Rockies. The reason why the Rockies have a such hard time getting good pitching is because of their ballpark. However, Colorado needs a stronger rotation in order to compete in the postseason and stay ahead in the National League.

 

 

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Fantasy Baseball Buy Low Targets

Fantasy baseball 2017: Buy low targets

In fantasy baseball, the best time to trade for a player is when their value is at its lowest point. The buy low theory is clearly the best way to acquire top-tier talent for fairly cheap prices. Below are four players that could be considered buy low targets, as they offer immense upside despite their current levels of performance.

Manny Machado, Third Base/Shortstop, Baltimore Orioles

Fantasy Baseball 2017 Buy Low Targets

Manny Machado is on pace for 35 home runs, but his low batting average makes him a perfect buy low target. (Credit: Rob Carr/Getty Images).

Machado’s 2017 campaign has not gone as planned. After batting over .285 with at least 35 home runs in his two previous seasons, he was considered one of the top 10 fantasy hitters in the game. So far in 2017, he is batting only .224 with a raised strikeout rate by over four percent.

His career BABIP, or batting average on balls in play, is .303, although his current BABIP sits at a mere .234. BABIP tends to represent whether a hitter is getting lucky or unlucky. According to fangraphs.com, a BABIP “in the .230 range is very atypical for a major league hitter”, so for Machado, it is clear he is getting extremely unlucky.

His home run totals have sustained as he has an ISO, or isolated power, of .224 and is on pace for 35 home runs. If you have an opportunity to pick up Machado, as his value seems to be at its deepest point, now is the time.

Francisco Lindor, Shortstop, Cleveland Indians

Lindor had gotten off to a slow start in 2017. His current BABIP of .251 is quite far off from his career BABIP of .315. This is negatively affecting his batting average as he is currently batting .255, whereas he is a career .295 hitter.

The 23-year-old’s strikeout rate has continued to drop in every consecutive season which shows how he is progressing as a hitter. Also, his ISO is an amazing .227 and his HR/FB rate is a fairly sustainable 13.3 percent, showing that his power seems sustainable.

Lindor will surely set a career high in home runs this season as he is currently on pace for 32. If you can get your hands on Lindor while his value is still low, it will be an incredible steal as his performance is sure to improve.

Rougned Odor, Second Base, Texas Rangers

Fantasy Baseball 2017 Buy Low Targets

Rougned Odor had an extremely slow start in 2017. (Photo by MLB Trade Rumors)

Odor’s struggles were very real in 2017, as he had been batting under the Mendoza line for about three months. So far in June, he is batting .228, although his BABIP remains under .240, suggesting he is in line for major progression as his career BABIP sits around .281.

In 2016, Odor exploded onto the scene, hitting 33 home runs and stealing 14 bases while batting .271. Odor’s current .212 batting average is due to be on the rise because of his extremely low BABIP.

If you can pick up Odor now before his performance improves, you will have found yourself a top-tier fantasy asset, as he has the potential to be a great producer of home runs, RBIs, runs and steals.

Kyle Schwarber, Outfield, Chicago Cubs

Schwarber was recently sent down to Triple-A Iowa to clear his head and improve his approach. According to reports, the minor league stint shouldn’t be long, although it is well deserved. The 24-year-old is slashing a poor .171/.295/.378 with 12 home runs and 28 RBI.

His production has been solid even while batting well under the Mendoza line. His .193 BABIP suggests that he is getting absurdly unlucky, as he currently has the lowest BABIP in the MLB out of qualified batters.

His value has declined due to his current struggles and demotion, so now is the time to make a move for the former fourth overall pick.

 

Featured image by David Klutho

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