2017 Fantasy Baseball Right Field Rankings

Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball Right Field Rankings

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

The top 30 right fielders have been grouped into four tiers, with the top and bottom player of each tier profiled below. The average draft position of each player, according to FantasyDraftPros.com, are listed adjacent to the player.

Honorable Mentions: Michael Saunders (PHI), Brandon Drury (ARI), Aaron Judge (NYY), Shin-Soo Choo (TEX), Josh Reddick (HOU), Avisail Garcia (CWS), Danny Valencia (OAK), Lonnie Chisenhall (CLE), Steven Souza Jr (TB), and Travis Jankowski (SD)

Tier 1

2017 Fantasy Baseball Right Field Rankings

Besides Mike Trout, Mookie Betts is the only other player you should consider for the first overall pick in 2017. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

  • Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox, (4)
  • Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals, (10)

 

Mookie Betts is the only player other than Mike Trout you should consider for the first overall pick this season. Betts had a breakout campaign in 2016, batting .318 with 31 home runs, 122 runs scored, 113 RBIs, and 26 stolen bases.

The runner-up in MVP batted .338 in the second half, suggesting we could see further improvement from Betts in the near future. The five-category contributor will remain in the MVP conversation for years to come.

Bryce Harper had a rough 2016 and battled injuries all season. The 2015 MVP had a career low batting average of .243, while only hitting 24 home runs. That is quite low by his standards.

Harper decided to forgo the World Baseball Classic in order to be fully healthy come opening day. Be confident in a bounce back season for the 24-year-old because he has all of the potential in the world.

Tier 2

2017 Fantasy Baseball Right Field Rankings

George Springer will finally prove himself as a contender for 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases. (Courtesy of The Unbiased MLB Fan)

  • George Springer, Houston Astros, (28)
  • Gregory Polanco, Pittsburgh Pirates, (54)
  • Nelson Cruz, Seattle Mariners, (42)
  • Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies, (34)
  • Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins, (39)
  • Matt Kemp, Atlanta Braves, (96)
  • J.D. Martinez, Detroit Tigers, (40)
  • Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays, (67)
  • Mark Trumbo, Baltimore Orioles, (77)
  • Lorenzo Cain, Kansas City Royals, (118)
  • Adam Eaton, Washington Nationals (103)

 

George Springer is a highly sought after commodity in all fantasy leagues, and for good reason. The 26-year-old played in all 162 games last season and finished with a .261 average, 29 home runs, 116 runs scored, 82 RBIs and nine stolen bases.

Springer lead the league in times caught stealing in 2016, although he stole 37 and 45 bases in 2012 and 2013 respectively. Be confident in drafting Springer in 2017, as his 30/30 potential is very real.

Adam Eaton will join Bryce Harper and company in Washington D.C. in 2017. The 28-year-old will bat in the leadoff or two-hole for the Nationals, which will give him a great chance to eclipse the 100-run mark for the first time in his career.

The move from Chicago to Washington will also help Eaton increase his steal totals, as the Nationals are a much more aggressive base stealing team than the White Sox. Eaton will be a great source of runs and speed with solid floors in all other categories, which makes him well worth a top 100 pick.

Tier 3

2017 Fantasy Baseball Right Field Rankings

Stephen Piscotty went overlooked in 2016 fantasy drafts, but this will not be the case this season. (Courtesy of MLB.com)

  • Stephen Piscotty, St. Louis Cardinals, (98)
  • Kole Calhoun, Los Angeles Angels, (144)
  • Hunter Pence, San Francisco Giants, (122)
  • Carlos Beltran, Houston Astros, (174)
  • Jay Bruce, New York Mets, (153)
  • Miguel Sano, Minnesota Twins, (122)

 

Stephen Piscotty flew under the radar in 2016 after playing in 63 games in 2015 when he finished with a .305 batting average, seven home runs and 39 RBIs.

If you invested in Piscotty last season, you reaped the benefits, as he ended the year with a .273 batting average, 22 home runs, 86 runs scored and 85 RBIs. The St. Louis Cardinals clean-up hitter is a safe top 100 selection in all formats, as he is a career .282 hitter entering only his third major league season.

Miguel Sano’s upside has been duely noted for years. He has hit 107 home runs in only 453 minor league games. The knock on Sano has been his atrocious strike out rate of 36 percent. It severally limits his upside, especially in leagues that consider OBP.

I don’t see myself drafting Sano this season as his ADP is fairly high at 122. However, the 23-year-old has all the time in the world to prove me wrong.

Tier 4

2017 Fantasy Baseball Right Field Rankings

Hunter Renfroe should be on everyone’s radar come 2017. (Courtesy of the San Diego Union Tribune)

  • Hunter Renfroe, San Diego Padres, (262)
  • Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers, (205)
  • Ben Zobrist, Chicago Cubs, (123)
  • Max Kepler, Minnesota Twins, (230)
  • Yasmany Tomas, Arizona Diamondbacks, (191)
  • David Peralta, Arizona Diamondbacks, (279)
  • Domingo Santana, Milwaukee Brewers, (297)
  • Nomar Mazara, Texas Rangers, (258)
  • Jason Heyward, Chicago Cubs, (232)
  • Curtis Granderson, New York Mets, (181)
  • Jarrod Dyson, Seattle Mariners, (219)

 

Hunter Renfroe was called up by the San Diego Padres in September of 2016. He batted an astounding .371, with four home runs and 14 RBIs in his short stint of 11 games.

I understand this sample size is too small to consider relevant, but his minor-league statistics also suggest that he will be successful. In four minor-league seasons, he has batted .281 and hit 77 home runs in 438 games. The upside is real, and the ADP is very low. Renfroe will be a game changer in deeper leagues come 2017.

Jarrod Dyson will be an everyday player for the first time in his career. The 32-year-old will bat lead-off for the Seattle Mariners to begin the season. This alone makes him a candidate to score 100 runs.

The career .260 hitter is most known for his prowess as an elite base stealer, who has stolen 176 bases in 550 MLB games. Dyson could be everything fantasy owners are looking for in Billy Hamilton, except Dyson is going 150 picks later. If you need cheap speed, Dyson is your man.

 

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Why Lavar Ball Doesn’t Matter

Lavar Ball has been making far more headlines than his son lately. In the past week he has been hyping up the playing ability of his three sons, bragging about the Ball brand and claiming that he could have beaten Michael Jordan in a game of one on one. The media can’t get enough of him.

Unfortunately for his oldest son Lonzo, his father’s press seems to be having a negative impact on the perception towards him. It has now gotten to the point where some people are questioning whether Lonzo’s draft stock may be hurt by his father.

Quite simply, that is crazy. Lavar Ball has been overzealous, arrogant and flat out wrong over the past few weeks. But, there is no reason that the comments he made should impact how Lonzo is viewed as an NBA prospect.

Lavar Ball (Photo courtesy: youtube.com)

Suns head coach and former UCLA point guard Earl Watson made some interesting comments about the Balls. Watson claimed that Lonzo is the exact opposite of his father, and that he just wants to play basketball. Lonzo himself made a similar comment when he stated, “My dad is who he is, I just got play basketball, I can’t worry about who he is.”

Ball’s teammate Bryce Alford had high praise about Lonzo’s mindset and off court presence earlier in the season. Alford said, “For someone who has that kind of hype around him, he does an unbelievable job of handling it and keeping himself humble.” Lonzo also started the season by stating his mindset when he said, “Just basically play like you haven’t made it yet . . . I haven’t made a name for myself yet, so I have to go out there and prove myself.”

Despite his father’s comments, Lonzo Ball has done nothing but prove that he is a humble guy, and that his focus is foremost on basketball. He has helped execute a swift turnaround of the UCLA basketball program and has been leading am outstanding team into the tournament. Regardless of the buzz surrounding his father, teams should not hesitate to add Ball come draft day.

However, players are already saying that they want to face Lonzo, and there is always a risk of his teammates not getting along with him. If he truly is as humble as his UCLA teammates say he is, that should not be a problem. Also, there’s nothing that can’t be proven with hard work and talent. Those are two things that Lonzo seems to possess.

Of course, there is always the problem of the hype surrounding Lavar Ball to create unnecessary attention for an NBA team. Guys in other sports like Tim Tebow and Johnny Manziel have created attention that has caused trouble for their teams.

If Lonzo truly possesses NBA level talent, that problem won’t persist. Proof of that lies in somebody like Bryce Harper. Harper came into the league with a lot of hype surrounding him, and his attitude and arrogance drew even more attention to him and his team. After two outstanding seasons and an MVP award, all criticisms of Harper’s attitude seem to have faded.

In the case of Lonzo Ball, teams will be quick to forget about his father if he can prove his talent. No matter how much Lavar Ball runs his mouth, Lonzo can leave it on the court.

 

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The Prickly Grapefruit: Spring Training Watch 2017

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

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

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

An Apple a Day

The Prickly Grapefruit: Spring Training Watch 2017

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

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

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

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

Bryce is Back

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

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

Tebow Mania

The Prickly Grapefruit: Spring Training Watch 2017

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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National League East

Predicting Each MLB Division: National League East

Opening Day is 44 days away, and Spring Training is already here. We are going to take a division by division look at each team and try to predict their 2017 season. Let’s take a look at the National League East.

Philadelphia Phillies – Fifth

National League East

Odubel Herrera was a Rule 5 Draft steal for the Phillies (Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports).

The 2017 season will be another long one for the Phillies. However, contention is not that far away.

Starting pitcher Aaron Nola will look to make the jump from top prospect to top pitcher. He will be joined by young pitchers Vincent Velasquez and Jerad Eickhoff to form a solid pitching core. They will be supplemented by veterans Jeremy Hellickson and Clay Buchholz.

The bullpen will rely on closer Jeanmar Gomez and reliever Pat Neshek to provide solid seasons. Starters will need to pitch late into games to cover their bullpen.

In the field, sluggers Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph will be joined by speedster Odubel Herrera to form a core of young players the Phillies are counting on. Outfielders Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders add experience to the lineup.

The Phillies are one of the youngest teams in the majors and will rely heavily on their farm system in the coming years. For now their talent level is just not there, and it will be difficult for them to finish better than fifth place in a tough division.

Atlanta Braves – Fourth

National League East

R.A. Dickey will move from the AL East to the NL East in 2017 (Credit: AP Photo/Winslow Townson).

General Manager John Coppolella has been aggressive this past offseason, hoping to draw more fans to their new park. The team has improved all over the diamond, especially on the mound.

Staff Ace Julio Teheran will have some good mentors for the 2017 season with the additions of R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon. Mike Foltynewicz and Jaime Garcia will round out the rotation with something to prove in 2017.

Jim Johnson enters 2017 as the closer for the Braves and headlines a no-name pen. Watch out for youngsters Mauricio Cabrera and Paco Rodriguez. Both players put up a sub 3.00 ERA and should only improve after having gained MLB experience in 2016.

The infield will be bolstered by newcomer Brandon Phillips. He will mentor top prospect Dansby Swanson and mix well with Matt Kemp and Freddie Freeman to form a potent lineup.

While there is talent in Atlanta, their prospects in 2017 of winning the division are slim. A fourth-place finish will be an achievement for the Braves, as they have the building blocks for a bright future.

Miami Marlins – Third

National League East

Realmuto is the present and future for the Marlins behind the plate (Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports).

After the Jose Fernandez tragedy at the end of the 2016 season, this year will prove to be a tough one in Miami. While the Marlins can’t replace a personality like Fernandez, they will have to replace him in the rotation. That is a tall task.

The additions of pitchers Edinson Volquez and Dan Straily are a step in the right direction, but they need more. Wei-Yin Chen will be the staff ace, and needs to improve on his 2016 ERA of 4.96. Solid years from Adam Conley and Tom Koehler will stabilize the back of the rotation.

In the pen, closer A.J. Ramos will be joined by a deep supporting cast. Brad Ziegler, Kyle Barraclough, David Phelps and Junichi Tazawa provide plenty of talent and experience to form a solid bullpen.

Dee Gordon will return for a full season, and catcher J.T. Realmuto will look to improve his offense. Led by Giancarlo Stanton, the outfield of Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna will power the Marlins’ offense.

If the Marlins can get solid starts out of their rotation, their bullpen will be able to close out games. With an explosive offense headed by Stanton, the Marlins are a dark horse contender in the NL East. A third place finish seems more likely.

New York Mets – Second

National League East

Walker had a good first season in New York, blasting 23 bombs (Credit: Frank Franklin II/AP).

As the 2017 season approaches, the Mets look to build upon their NLWC loss from last season. With the majority of the roster returning, the Mets are a solid team heading into 2017.

Pitcher Matt Harvey comes into the season trying to rebound from shoulder surgery last season and will be a big boost for their staff. Starters Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz will also try to stick in the rotation. Anchored by Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom, the rotation is what drives the Mets success.

The bullpen will be centered around NL All-Star closer Jeurys Familia. Bolstered by Hansel Robles and Addison Reed, the Mets have a pen that should work well in tandem with their star-studded rotation.

Off the mound, the Mets will be led by left fielder Yoenis Cespedes. Cespedes provides plenty of power in the middle of the lineup. Coupled with veteran Curtis Granderson, Neil Walker, Lucas Duda and Jay Bruce, the Mets have a potent lineup. Things could be even better for the Mets if franchise cornerstone David Wright can return from injury.

The story for the Mets this season will be how their star players return from injury. With Harvey and Wright both trying to return to stardom, the Mets can’t count on them for the 2017 season. If they do return, the Mets could go much farther than many think. At this point, the Mets are a good bet to finish second in the division.

National League East

Zimmerman will hope to bounce back after a dreadful 2016 (Credit: Alex Brandon/AP Photo).

Washington Nationals – First

With a stacked rotation and lineup, the Nationals have underperformed in the past few seasons. With new additions in the offseason, they should make the playoffs.

The pitching staff remains intact from 2016, headlined by the one-two punch of Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. Both pitchers have Cy Young capabilities and are set to have terrific seasons. The rotation will be filled out by Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark and Joe Ross to form one of the best in the majors.

The bullpen is lacking, with journeyman Shawn Kelley taking over the closer role in D.C. If relievers Blake Treinen and Sammy Solis can repeat their 2016 performances, this weakness may turn into a strength.

The Washington lineup is one of the deepest in the bigs, headlined by Bryce Harper. He will be joined by Trea Turner, Daniel Murphy and Adam Eaton to form a potent offense. Veterans Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman are also solid players that Washington will be counting on.

The Nationals are one of the deepest teams in the league, and their talent level rivals any other team. The 2017 season should be a good one in D.C., as the Nationals have the talent to finish first in the division.

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Comeback Candidates for the 2017 MLB Season

Every year across the majors there are players that fail to meet expectations. Whether it be from injury or poor performance, it is usually unexpected. With a new season comes new opportunities. These players are MLB comeback candidates for the 2017 season.

Bryce Harper- Washington Nationals

Much has been written about Nationals star phenom Bryce Harper. Comparisons to the games late greats have set expectations sky high. Harper seemed to finally meet them in 2015 with an astounding 198 OPS+. All was right, until the start of the 2016 season.

Only a player like Bryce Harper could have a season with a 116 OPS+ and have it labeled a “down year.” His .243 batting average was the lowest of his career. Much of his struggles were blamed on an injury he suffered during the season. Harper played through it, proving he is able to deal with pain.

Even though Harper was hampered by injury in 2016, he was still able to garner his fourth NL All-Star appearance of his career. With a full offseason to rest and recuperate, Harper is poised to be closer to MVP form. Look for Harper to drive the ball and improve his average in 2017.

MLB Comeback Candidates

Matt Harvey looks to return to Flushing refreshed in 2017 (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images).

Matt Harvey- New York Mets

Coming off a World Series appearance in 2015, Matt Harvey was the linchpin of a young, talented New York Mets rotation. They were picked by many to make a return to the World Series in 2016, but fate would prove otherwise.

Matt Harvey started off slow in 2016 and never recovered. Like his NL East rival Bryce Harper, it was discovered that Harvey was suffering from a shoulder injury. This was not something that could be played with, and the Mets shut Harvey down after 17 starts in 2016. A 4-10 record with a 4.86 ERA tell the story. Those are not numbers you would expect from a staff ace like Harvey.

After being shut down in July and having surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, Harvey should return in 2017. Harvey has been a fixture in Flushing since his debut in 2012, and is just entering his prime. At 28 years old, don’t bet against Harvey making a full recovery in 2017.

A.J. Pollock- Arizona Diamondbacks

A.J. Pollock seemed to be a star in the making after a stellar 2015 season. Pollock hit 20 bombs, stole 39 bases and put up an impressive 130 OPS+. After the Diamondbacks signed Zack Greinke and traded for Shelby Miller, 2016 looked bright in the desert.

That is, until Pollock was limited to 12 games in 2016. Pollock suffered a fractured elbow in an April spring training game against the Royals, effectively ending his season. While he was able to come back towards the end of the season, he struggled with a .244 batting average and .390 slugging percentage.

Pollock has proven throughout his time in Arizona to be a tough out, and 2017 is looking to be no different. His recovery has gone well and he is set to start Opening Day in center field. The 2016 season may have been dark for Pollock and the Diamondbacks, but 2017 provides a new opportunity to shine.

Dallas Keuchel- Houston Astros

MLB Comeback Candidates

While Dallas Keuchel’s beard was on point, his game was off in 2016 (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images).

Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel was on top of the world in 2015. Keuchel struck out 216 batters over 232 innings pitched on his way to the 2015 AL Cy Young award. After a strong 2014 season and a stellar 2015, it was thought Keuchel had finally proved he was legit, until the 2016 season began.

Keuchel struggled from the beginning of the season, mirroring his team’s mediocre start. He finished with a 4.55 ERA and a 9-12 record in 2016, far from the marks he set in 2015. While he did make 26 starts, he was ineffective and left many wondering: what is wrong with Keuchel? He did struggle with some injuries, but avoided any major ones and pitched 168 innings.

There is really no clear answer to why Keuchel struggled. Keuchel just seemed to never get it together in 2016, but 2017 provides a new opportunity. With a loaded roster and high expectations in Houston, the Astros and Keuchel are expected to make some noise in 2017.

Baseball is one of the most difficult sports to predict. With so many variables and a grueling 162 game season, maintaining a high level of play is the biggest challenge the sport presents. Sometimes it’s injury, others it’s just the grind of the season.

These aforementioned players have proven at one point or another to be some of the best in the game. With a fresh start in 2017, they will be determined to make the most of it.

 

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Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Right Field

In this ninth installment of our Position Rankings for the 2017 MLB season, we will cover right field. Right field is akin to left in the fact that defense and speed is becoming much more prominent. Let’s take a look at our list starting at number five.

2017 MLB Season

CarGo will look for plenty of balls to carry out of the park in 2017 (Chris Humphreys, USA TODAY Sports).

5. Carlos Gonzalez- Colorado Rockies

Ever since Carlos Gonzalez became a full-time starter for the Colorado Rockies in 2010, he has been a force to be reckoned with.

He hit .298/.350/.505 on his way to his third NL All-Star game appearance in 2016. Gonzalez also provided run support, mashing 25 homers and driving in 100 RBIs. Those are the type of numbers you expect from a middle-of-the-order bat, and CarGo delivers.

He also plays well in the field, as evident last season. Gonzalez had four defensive runs saved in right field this past season, proving him to be a great fielder. He has actually been a much better right fielder than a left fielder, with 18 defensive runs saved in right and -4 in left over his nine year career.

His ability to drive the ball out of the park and hit for average make Gonzalez one of the premier hitters in the game, but it’s a combination of his glove and bat that land him the number five spot on our rankings.

4. Giancarlo Stanton- Miami Marlins

With a career 142 OPS+, you would think Giancarlo Stanton would be hands down number one on this list. However, there’s more to the story. Stanton has been a beast at the plate, when he plays. He has only played two full seasons over his seven-year career.

In a limited number of games, Stanton has still earned his spot on these rankings. In 2016, Stanton hit .240/.326/.489 to go along with 27 homers and 74 RBIs. While his offense is like a dream come true, don’t sleep on his defense.

Stanton has been a solid fielder in right, posting four defensive runs saved in 2016 and 39 over his career. It is even more impressive when considering Stanton’s size at 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds. He is able to use his massive frame to drive balls out of the park at a prodigious rate.

At age 27, Stanton is entering his prime and already has 208 career home runs. If he can stay healthy, Stanton has a legitimate chance to join the 500 or even 600 home run club.

3. George Springer- Houston Astros

2017 MLB Season

George Springer provides a little bit of everything for the Houston Astros (Otto Greule Jr, Getty Images North America).

The Astros have returned to relevancy, evident by their surprising playoff run in 2015. One player responsible for that is George Springer.

Springer was drafted by the Astros in the middle of their rebuild, and has been a building block since his inception into the franchise. In 2016, Springer played 162 games while batting .261/.359/.457 as well as slugging 29 homers and driving in 82 RBIs. Springer has been solid offensively since being called up in 2014 with a 126 OPS+.

Springer has also been solid in the outfield, specifically in right field. He had five defensive runs saved in 2016 in right field, showcasing his defensive abilities.

While Springer played his first full season in the majors in 2016, he was still able to show the Astros why he has been called a five-tool player. He will have every chance to showcase his five tools in 2017.

2. Bryce Harper- Washington Nationals

With five years in the majors at age 24, Bryce Harper has been one of the youngest players in the game since his debut in 2012 at 19 years old. He had been one of the most hyped prospects in recent history, and lived up to expectations. He brought home the NL MVP Award in 2015.

He followed up in 2016 with a solid season. He batted .243/.373/.441 while hitting 24 homers and driving in 86 RBIs. He also set a career high in stolen bases with 21. His overall offensive game helps make up for his sometimes subpar defense.

Harper had -3 defensive runs saved in 2016, nothing to write home about but acceptable with his offensive output. Harper has had 7 defensive runs saved in right field throughout his career, so 2016 could be an anomaly. With a staggering 198 OPS+ in 2015, Harper brought home the NL MVP award and set himself up for massive expectations for 2016. While he didn’t quite live up to them, he was solid nonetheless. Not even close to his prime, Harper will look to continue to improve in 2017.

1. Mookie Betts- Boston Red Sox

2017 MLB Season

Mookie Betts will lead the Red Sox in 2017 after David Ortiz’s retirement (Jim Davis , Globe Staff).

While Mookie Betts wasn’t able to stick in the majors in his first call up with the Red Sox, he was able to turn it around in his second call up.

His 2016 season was easily the best of his young career as he hit .318/.363/.534 while blasting 31 homers. He also became a premier run producer, driving in 113 RBIs to go along with 26 stolen bases. That elite level of offensive production gave him a 131 OPS+, easily the best of his career.

Betts was able to blow away expectations both in the batter’s box as well as the outfield. In 157 games in right field, Betts had 32 defensive runs saved. That is a staggering amount for any player in Major League Baseball, let alone one who was only 23 years old in 2016.

If Betts can produce even half of those defensive numbers and continue his offensive pace in 2017, he will loft himself into the elite tier of players in today’s game.

Right field seems to be in good, young hands. With Carlos Gonzalez being the elder statesman of the list at 31 years old, this position is primed to dominate the bigs for years to come.

 

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How Rob Manfred Can Build on the Game 7 Hype

Game 7 of the World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians was the most viewed game in the past twenty-five years. The storyline was too good to be true for Rob Manfred, the commissioner of the MLB. The big market Cubs and the beloved Indians were facing the longest World Series droughts in the MLB. Either way, one team was going to break their curse. It was the series that everybody was talking about as the series was unorthodox, but still emotionally gripping. In the end, it was the Cubs that survived victorious.

The hype surrounding the game had even the most casual of sports fans watching. Baseball is a sport often seen as stagnating with the young audience. One of Rob Manfred’s biggest issues is how to help grow a sport often seen as stale and slow. Often referred to as America’s pastime, the game truly does not feel like it has done everything it can to keep up with modern times to help reach an audience that will need to be captivated in order for baseball to flourish over the next couple of decades. This article will provide just a couple things that could be done to help modernize the game.

First off, it is hard for millennials to watch their favorite team play without having to go to a bar. The MLB has been making strides to make the games more accessible for cord-cutters, but truthfully, their efforts have not been enough. MLB.TV was a good first step to providing the entertainment, as $85 to have the ability to watch all or your team’s 162 games is a bargain. Local blackouts, however, hinder the fans who are in their team’s regional TV coverage. For example, if a fan of Cincinnati, Cleveland, or Pittsburgh lives in Columbus, Ohio, they would not be able to watch their team play on MLB.TV due to these blackout rules unless they had a cable subscription (defeating the purpose of buying MLB.TV).

 

 

mlb_blackout_areas

Above is the blackout map for each state. Poor Iowans have up to six teams in their blackout zone, hurting cord cutters in the state. Photo courtesy of wikimedia.

Now, the reason why these blackout rules exist is because cable companies know the only chance to survive the cord cutting trend is to save their sports channels. Of course, their are ways to circumvent the blackout rules through shady means, but truthfully, the casual viewer does not want to go to that length just to watch their local team.  Team owners, Manfred, and cable companies need to come to some agreement to avoid these blackouts. Sadly, this may never be the case, as baseball owners make a ton of money off all these regional sports channel agreements . Oftentimes, these agreements make up a significant portion of the money used to fund the roster of many small market teams. If Manfred is serious about making baseball more appealing to the millennials, he needs to find a way to make baseball more accessible to the fans. He also needs to find a way for an individual to stream their local team.

The second step revolves around a debate that has been surrounding baseball for years now. On one side of the aisle is the viewpoint of baseball as a gentleman’s game, where celebrations are mild and respect is shown by a player to the opposing team. More recently, however, has been a slowly growing movement of players that are not afraid to step out of that zone and celebrate a big hit. Jose Bautista may have received the most venom for his 2015 ALCS Game 6 bat flip, but it is moments like that that resonate with the young fans. Obviously there should be limits to the celebration. I’m not talking about letting a man break dance on home plate after hitting a monster home run, but let the hitter slowly walk out of the box as he hits his moonshot. Maybe, just maybe, let the hitter flip his bat back to his dugout in excitement without being afraid of getting belted by a fastball his next time up to bat.

MLB: Spring Training-Oakland Athletics at Los Angeles Dodgers

Jose Bautista is not the only player with a legitimate bat flip. Yasiel Puig, often mired in controversy, has been flipping bats after home runs ever since he started in the majors. Photo courtesy of cbssports.com

It does not stop with the hitters. Pitchers have their fair share of celebrating already. Fist bumps are very common among relievers and closers who pitch out of a jam. The issue is that pitchers normally go unpunished for celebrating, unlike the hitters who may have to go up later in the game and get hit on purpose for celebrating a little too much. Baseball should be promoting these moments of personality, not letting hitters get crushed by both opposing pitchers and media pundits that are stuck in the “old ways” of baseball. Baseball needs personality out on the field, not robots.

Last, but not least, surrounds the World Baseball Classic. The hype machine needs to start today on getting America prepared for it. A rather new tradition, the WBC is the World Cup of Baseball, which is played every four years. Players should be honored to represent their teams, especially as the sport is strong in not just America, but Asia and the Caribbean as well. Most importantly, however, is that baseball needs the best Americans representing the United States. Manfred then needs to get the WBC accessible to all kinds of fans and not try to make people watch the games on FS1 or other weird channels very few people actually utilize.

The last WBC Team USA squad in 2013 definitely had some recognizable names, featuring a young Giancarlo Stanton, prime Ryan Braun and Adam Jones, and Captain America himself, David Wright. Frankly, the rest of the roster was full of players adored in their personal market and team fandom, but often unrecognized on the bigger stages. Think of an infield of Buster Posey, Paul Goldschmidt, Jose Altuve, Manny Machado, and Kris Bryant. Now couple that infield with an outfield of Giancarlo Stanton, Mike Trout, and Bryce Harper. Not only does that give you one of the best teams truly ever assembled in baseball (better than most fan voted all-star teams even), but also gives plenty of young personalities from many different markets all across the US that can get each area to rally around the team.

The downside of the WBC has always been the fear of overuse on the players before the season starts. An understandable fear, and one faced by many sports who have the same international competition. Injuries are avoided as much as possible, but they are also natural and going to occur regardless of players participating in this tournament, or in just regular spring training. Have MLB promote this as truly a world tournament and get people interested, even if it is 1/10th as popular as the FIFA World Cup, and that momentum could carry over into the regular season.

In the end, baseball is such a different sport for viewers than many of the other popular sports. Football, Hockey, and Basketball are all fast paced and timed. Baseball is both untimed and slower moving, with each pitch taking as long as a football play. Josh Burris outlined here why baseball is a fun sport to watch, as many casual fans experienced this World Series. Making local teams more accessible for cord-cutters in the team’s region would be a valuable first step to let younger fans enjoy the sport. Letting the players exhibit more flair and style into their play can make the game more fun and exciting for a group of fans that spend their time watching vines and memes on the internet daily. Finally, sell the crap out of the World Baseball Classic to not only expose the brand on an international market, but also help casual and new American fans meet the biggest American players on a competitive squad. Rob Manfred has a lot on his plate for the future. Only time will tell how baseball’s popularity will transition from here.

 

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And then there were Four: NLDS Preview

With the Giants defeating the Mets 3-0 on Wednesday night, the National League playoff picture is set to begin on Friday night. Each of the four teams comes into the playoffs with very different stories: the Giants are looking to solidify themselves as the even-year juggernaut, the Cubs are looking to end a 100 year drought, and we’ll finally get to see either the Dodgers or the Nationals get into the NLCS.

Cubs vs. Giants

The Giants come into the NLDS riding yet another stellar postseason performance by Madison Bumgarner, who might be one of the most clutch starters in MLB playoff history. He’s the first pitcher to record multiple shutouts in sudden-death postseason games, his third postseason shutout gives him the second most in MLB history (Christy Matthewson had four). But, Bumgarner won’t be the only guy pitching this series, and this Giants staff will be going against arguably the best team in baseball. The Cubs ranked third in total offense in the entire MLB, and ranked first in team ERA. While the Giants pitching staff should be able to match up, it’s their offense that looks very outmatched on paper. The Cubs have one of the most talented, young offensive units in the MLB, led by MVP candidate Kris Bryant.

Image result for johnny cueto vs. jon lester

Cueto and Lester have both been great in 2016, and look to start off this series on the right foot. Image courtesy of ESPN.com

Even in their game against the Mets, the Giants offense was dormant until a clutch three-run homer from Conor Gillaspie broke the stalemate in the top of the ninth inning. This series could very well open with a similar pitching duel, with Johnny Cueto squaring off against Cy Young Candidate, Jon Lester. It will be up to Cueto, who posted a 5.40 ERA last year with the Royals on their postseason run, to set the tone for this series if the Giants want to have a shot. If San Fran wants to continue their even-year magic in the postseason, they’ll either have to step up their offensive game, or have their pitching bring the Cubs down a few pegs at the plate.

Realistically, the pitching scenario seems to be their best bet, so we’ll have to see if the rest of their rotation is up to the task. The Giants bullpen also offers some areas of concern, it didn’t see any action on Wednesday, so everybody should be fresh heading into the series; but they don’t have the same dominant staff that the Cubs have. The Giants blew 29 saves in the regular season, and they’ll have to avoid that level of inconsistency if they want to have a shot in this series.

I’ve picked against the Giants twice already this postseason, and been proven wrong both times. Maybe the third time, and a much stronger team, is the charm I need. I think the Cubs will take the series 3-1 because the Giants won’t be able to muster the same level of offense that the Cubs will when Cueto/Bumgarner aren’t on the mound.

Nationals vs. Dodgers

This matchup features two teams plagued by playoff failures in the past. The Dodgers haven’t made it past the NLDS since 2013, where they lost to the Cardinals in the NLCS. The Nationals have only been to the playoffs twice since moving to the nation’s capitol, losing in the Divisional Round both times. The franchise itself hasn’t made it to the NLCS since 1981, when they were still in Montreal, where they lost to (guess who?) the Dodgers 3-2. The Dodgers handled the Nationals in the regular season, winning five of the six games between the two teams.

Image result for max scherzer vs. clayton kershaw

Kershaw and Scherzer have both had stellar seasons, all that matters now is how they perform in October. Image courtesy of newsreportcenter.com

This series starts off with a titanic pitching clash between Cy Young candidate, Max Scherzer, and Dodgers’ ace, Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw could have very easily been apart of the Cy Young talk in the National League if he hadn’t missed two months on the DL. This series appears much more even on paper than the SF vs. Chicago Cubs series. Both teams had top-five pitching staffs during the regular season, and both teams were in the top half of the NL in terms of offense. I think the Dodgers actually come in as the series favorite, despite being the lower seed (57% chance that the Dodgers make the NLCS according to fivethirtyeight.com).

I think the one X-factor for the Nationals coming into the playoffs has to be Daniel Murphy. He led the MLB in batting average for a significant portion of 2016, and put together one of the most clutch hitting performances throughout the 2015 playoffs with New York. Murphy has been the catalyst for the Nationals offense all season, with Bryce Harper slumping throughout the middle of the year. Both Murphy and Harper missed playing time late in September with injuries. Since Washington had secured its place in the playoffs, it wasn’t too surprising to see them get extra time off. While they are on the roster and appear to be fine, we’ll see if these injuries affects their performance at the plate.

I also think that the Dodgers have the edge in this series. While Scherzer is great on the mound, and can definitely go toe-to-toe with Kershaw, the rest of the Nationals rotation has been inconsistent throughout the year. Gio Gonzalez looked underwhelming throughout 2016, and while Tanner Roark isn’t facing the Marlins, he was just 2-3 in six starts from September to October 1. I think that it will be a very tight series, but in the end I think the Dodgers have looked stronger and more consistent in the second half, and that will carry over into their postseason play. LA wins, 3-2.

 

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Why The Nationals Are A Special Team

Currently first in their division, the Washington Nationals have demonstrated just how special a team they are during the first half of the MLB season.  Nationals manager Dusty Baker has showcased his philosophy of rotating his players and starting lineup every few games or so to keep guys fresh.  Personnel depth is desirable for any team and the Nats have it.

The Nats are indeed special in 2016 because of their batting. This article will focus solely on the Nats batters.  T Nationals have players ranked first and second in the National League in batting average among players who have played in at least 69 games. These players are second baseman Daniel Murphy (.348) and catcher Wilson Ramos (.343) respectively.  Murphy was brought in because of his ability to make contact with the ball and generate any kind of directional hit. Whether it be a home run or a line drive single to advance the runners while Ramos, whose average is usually in the .200s, has simply had a breakout season.  Murphy is also first in the National League in hits (108) and eighth in runs batted in (56).

Daniel Murphy is congratulated by Jayson Werth after batting a hit.

Young stud and possible back to back MVP right fielder Bryce Harper holds an impressive on base percentage at .404, good for fourth in the NL.  Harper brings another strong dynamic to this team.  A batter who can be intentionally walked or hit a grand slam, the pitcher must roll the dice. Harper keeps his fans guessing when he’ll make a play or be a hero.  He’s got a keen eye at the plate and smart, quick base running instincts, leading the team in stolen bases with 11.

Bryce Harper runs towards first base after hitting a double.

Then there’s the durable third baseman Anthony Rendon, who leads the team in runs with 52.  His batting average ranks fourth on the squad at .256.

Another big time hitter for Washington is part werewolf, part nut. I am talking about the beginning of this squad, left fielder Jayson Werth.  A clutch performer, and a bit of a lumbering base runner. Werth is as steady as they come, registering solid numbers across all aspects of batting.  And how can we forget his recent post-game interview in which he addressed his doubters with, “Those people can kiss my ass!”

Jason Werth during one of his most hilarious post-game interviews in which he exclaims, “Those people can kiss my ass!”

Next up to bat is shortstop Danny Espinosa, the team’s leader in home runs (18).  Though Espinosa has shown flashes of brilliance, he remains an inconsistent puzzle piece.  He may hit two home runs in one game and then fail to have a good eye at reading balls and strikes at his next few at bats.  Still, this shortstop can electrify the stadium when his good luck is happening.

Let’s not forget center fielder Ben Revere. His role on the team is a bit like a secret weapon or x factor.  Revere can make contact with the ball in a lot of ways.  He can hit a well-placed grounder, or a solid base hit in a clutch moment.  Though Revere has struggled to hit the ball out of the park (he has just one home run), his speed has compensated.  Revere’s 10 stolen bases are second only to Harper and his three triples are second only to Murphy.    In summary, Revere is a valuable signing with a penchant for flying around the bases.

Ben Revere attempts to bunt the ball.

Other honorable mentions include second baseman Stephen Drew, who hit an inside the park homer earlier in the year. Also Ryan Zimmerman, the longtime first baseman and backbone of the team.

Any one of these players can shine in any game.  And when everyone is on fire, the results are blowout wins for the Nationals.

Marcell Ozuna’s All-Star Case

The Marlins don’t have a single player even close to contention for this year’s All-Star game, with the deadline for voting just two days away. As we get closer and closer to seeing the rosters, opinions over players who were “snubbed” from well-earned opportunities become more prevalent.

Marcell Ozuna is a guys that I have very high on my snub list for the National League team this year. He sits in the top ten among NL outfielders in a majority of categories, but doesn’t even sit in the top 15 in the NL All-Star Vote (ASV). The current voting standings are based off of MLB.com’s latest report on them, published on June 23rd.

Marcell Ozuna (.321 BA, 16 HR, 44 RBI)

Ozuna currently leads the team in most major batting statistics, aside from OBP, so his case is certainly the strongest of anybody on Miami (aside from Jose Fernandez). Just looking statistically, Ozuna is putting up some solid numbers thus far in 2016. His .321 batting average currently ranks 4th among all outfielders in the National League, only behind Carlos Gonzalez (currently 7th in ASV), Starling Marte (9th), and Ryan Braun (5th).

He’s got a better batting average than the top four players currently in the All-Star Vote, but isn’t even within ten places of them. And it’s not like they all make up for it with a much higher walk count to beat Ozuna in OBP, either.

Ozuna ranks 7th in the NL in OBP, and only Bryce Harper (2nd in voting), and Dexter Fowler (1st) have higher OBPs than him despite having lower batting averages (in Harper’s case, .063 points lower). So even if Ozuna’s case was to be made entirely based off of batting average and on-base percentage, he should at the very least be in the top six.

But, Ozuna’s case doesn’t end with just batting average, he’s also sitting high in the RBI and homer categories as well. Ozuna sits at 44 RBIs on the year, which places him 8th in the NL among outfielders. The only two guys ahead of him in the top five in outfield voting currently are Yoenis Cespedes (3rd in ASV, 7th in RBIs) and Bryce Harper (2nd in ASV, 6th in RBIs). Ozuna sits just two RBIs behind Harper, and three behind Matt Holliday, who currently sits at #12 in the vote and is fifth in RBIs.

Honestly, a lot of outfielders in the NL aren’t being given the chances they deserve in the Vote this year, as the top three in the NL in RBIs all sit outside the top 15. Cincinnati’s Adam Duvall (playing his first full MLB season and is currently tied for the NL lead with 21 homers and tied for second in RBIs with 53) is another guy who doesn’t even make the list, much to my dismay.

As far as homers go, Ozuna is currently tied for fifth in the NL among outfielders. Of those tied with or above him Bryce Harper, Yoenis Cespedes, and Carlos Gonzalez are the only guys on the All-Star radar.  Matt Kemp, Jay Bruce, and the aforementioned Adam Duvall all sit well outside the top 15 when it comes to outfielders. Much like Ozuna, despite having seasons statistically comparable to guys at the top of the outfield vote.

There is one category where Ozuna isn’t showing up, and that’s the stolen base category, but even there, only two guys in the NL top 15 for outfielders have double-digit steals so far this year: Bryce Harper (10 steals) and Starling Marte (20).

So, no, I’m not saying that Marcell Ozuna should have been the a shoo-in for starting in the outfield for the NL in San Diego this year. What I am saying is that he (and a few other outfielders) deserves a lot more respect for his performance this year than the vote gives him.

He ranks top ten in batting average, RBIs, and home runs among outfielders in the NL this year. That’s not just a fluke in one category, or spurred on by a single hot streak at some point. Ozuna has been a consistent hitter throughout 2016, and arguably one of the best outfielders at the plate in the NL.

But he doesn’t even make the top 15 in All-Star votes, where you instead find guys like Jorge Soler (.223 BA, 5 HR, 13 RBIs) in 6th? Ozuna certainly isn’t the only snub of 2016’s All-Star Vote, but he’s definitely one of the bigger ones in my mind.

In my opinion, Marcell Ozuna is one of the biggest snubs of the 2016 All-Star vote. Photo courtesy of ESPN.com

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