The most underrated hitter in MLB

There have been many later round draft picks that have performed well beyond their expectations in the majors. Dallas Keuchel was a seventh round draft pick, and an eventual Cy Young winner. Albert Pujols was a 13th round selection, and recently joined the 600 home run club. Daniel Murphy was also a 13th round selection, and turned into a Silver Slugger. The list could go on and on. But one thing sticks out about these late round success stories; they have gained ample amounts of national notoriety.

How does one of the most successful hitters in the game not get as much fanfare as the three previously listed players? Is it because he was an eighth round selection out of San Marcos State University? Or is it because he has spent his seven year career in the desert? Either way, Paul Goldschmidt is arguably the best hitter in the game, and has been for years. It’s okay if you didn’t know that. I’ll fill you in.

Underrated hitter in MLB

Luis Gonzalez has been overcome by Paul Goldschmidt as the best hitter in franchise history (venomstrikes.com).

Best Hitter in Franchise History

When comparing Goldschmidt with the best players in Diamondbacks history, one can begin to comprehend his greatness. Using WAR, Goldschmidt edges out one of the most revered players in franchise history, Luis Gonzalez. Gonzalez spent eight seasons in Arizona and amassed 30.0 wins above replacement in that time. He also garnered five All-Star appearances, and helped put the franchise on the map.

In Goldschmidt’s seven seasons in the desert, he has already surpassed the great Gonzalez. Compiling 31.8 wins above replacement and posting a career 147 OPS+ compared to Gonzalez’s 130 OPS+ in Arizona, Goldschmidt has quickly become the best hitter in franchise history. But given Arizona’s short history (founded in 1998), some may discredit Goldschmidt’s accomplishments, citing the franchise’s limited history and success. To counter that argument, let us examine where Goldschmidt ranks among the best hitters in the game today.

Best Hitter in the Game?

Underrated MLB hitter

Bryce Harper may have a MVP award, but Goldschmidt has the lead in all major statistics (sportingnews.com).

Okay, that may be a little bit of a stretch. Even so, in an era with Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera and Joey Votto, Goldschmidt does more than hold his own. Goldschmidt came into the league in 2011, but didn’t cement his status as a full-time starter until the 2012 season. If we use 2012 as a starting point, his career aligns favorably with one of the most hyped prospects ever to play the game; Bryce Harper.

Harper busted onto the MLB scene in 2012 and has been a dominant force ever since. With a 40 home run season, one MVP award and a ROY award already on his mantle, there’s no way a player like Goldschmidt could compare to that right? Think again. Over the same time period, 2012-2017, Goldschmidt has a slash line of .302/.404/.531. Compared to Harpers’ .282/.386/.511, Goldschmidt is clearly the better hitter. But if a few percentage points are not enough to sway you, let us delve a little deeper.

Harper has hit 136 home runs, driven in 378 RBIs and posted a 141 OPS+ since 2012. Goldschmidt has hit 145 home runs, driven in 526 RBIs and has a 149 OPS+ in the same time period. In all measurable statistics, Goldschmidt is better than Harper. Even in stolen bases, with Goldschmidt swiping 107 bases compared to Harper’s 59. So if Goldschmidt is an overall better player, including defensively (three Gold Gloves for Goldschmidt, zero for Harper), why isn’t he getting as much coverage?

Underrated MLB hitter

Paul Goldschmidt is looking to get the notoriety he deserves as the Diamondbacks improve (Jim McIsaac/Getty).

Hidden in the Desert Sun

Goldschmidt has finished second twice in the NL MVP voting in his career. Even so, the Diamondbacks slugger has deserved much more consideration in his career. Ironically enough, Goldschmidt finished second in 2015 to none other than Bryce Harper, and to Andrew McCutchen in 2013. It can be argued that playing in Arizona has hampered Goldschmidt’s exposure, and caused him to be highly overlooked.

The Diamondbacks haven’t exactly been as successful as Goldlschmidt has, without a winning season since his rookie year in 2011. With an inept franchise in a small market like Arizona, it is easy to see why Goldschmidt has been overlooked by fans and media alike. But with the team sitting at 34-25 and Goldschmidt performing like he always has, maybe he’ll finally get the recognition he deserves.

He certainly has from me, and now hopefully from you now as well.

Feature image by Rick Scuteri/USA TODAY Sports.

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The best position group in the MLB

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

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

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

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

The best position group in the MLB

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

Best position group MLB

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right Field Sweeps Second PLace

Best position group MLB

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, who’s the worst?

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

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

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

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

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

 

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MLB Rookies

The Rookie’s Rise to Stardom

In a game with one of the biggest learning curves in sports, rookies have surprisingly been doing well. Baseball has had a number of young players develop into stars in recent seasons.

To fully comprehend this shift in the game, we must first examine how players make it from being a prospect in the minor leagues to making it to the show.

From Prospect to Pro

MLB Rookies

Even top picks like Colorado’s Brendan Rodgers must pay their dues in the minors (GJ Sentinel).

Major League Baseball is vastly different from the NFL and NBA when it comes to rookies. While there is no limit to how long a player must wait to be signed professionally, baseball still averages the oldest rookies of all three of the major sports.

That is due to the way the game is played. To be successful in the majors, most players need to be at their peak of maturation, normally around 24 to 25 years old. Being fully developed allows baseball players to utilize their bodies to the fullest.

Unlike the NFL or NBA where players can rely on physical talent alone, baseball requires a honed set of skills. It doesn’t matter if you can hit a fastball 450 feet. If you can’t handle a breaking ball, you will fail in the majors.

That is why baseball has such an advanced minor league system. The combination of developing a player’s physical and mental capabilities to be successful in the majors takes time. The average rookie last year was 24 years old, giving credence to the time it takes to develop. However, what happens when players start breaking the mold, and advance beyond our wildest dreams?

2012: just the beginning

MLB Rookies

Mike Trout and Bryce Harper transformed the way rookies played in 2012 (nbcsports.com).

The Rookie of the Year award has always been the bar that rookies strive for. However, not all ROY winners are made the same.

From 2007-2011, ROY winners averaged 3.1 wins above replacement (WAR). Baseball Reference rates that as better than an average starter in the majors, proving that the ROY winners were truly something special.

Many have noted the increase of rookie production in the past few years, and the numbers certainly support that. From 2012-2016, ROY winners have averaged 5.4 WAR. That is a staggering jump in production, and evidence of a new age dawning in baseball.

This trend really began in 2012 with a pair of ROY winners: Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. Both players had been premium draft picks for their respective teams, but it was Harper that was seen as the next big thing in baseball.

Some players fold under such lofty expectations, but Harper flourished. He put up 5.2 WAR in his rookie year, topping all NL ROY winners since 2007 by at least 1.3 WAR. If Harper signaled a shift in the way rookies played, Trout was the zenith of their potential.

No one saw what Trout had in store. At 20 years old in his rookie season, he blew away the competition with a staggering 10.8 WAR. That is MVP type production, and earned him a second place finish in the 2012 AL MVP voting. While it may be unfair to compare Trout to other rookies due to his Hall of Fame trajectory, his fast start should not be diminished. Even so, Trout and Harper were only the beginning, setting the stage for other acts to follow.

continued success

MLB Rookies

Even Nolan Arenado, one of the games best young players, couldn’t take home the ROY award. (The Denver Post).

Since that fateful 2012 season, the way we view rookies has never been the same. That’s not just Trout and Harper’s doing either.

The rookies that have followed have helped carry their success into new seasons. Seemingly gone are the days when players like Dustin Pedroia could put up 3.9 WAR in 2007 and bring home the ROY award. Pedroia’s 2007 season would have been good enough for the third most WAR by a rookie in 2016. A new type of player is taking over the majors, and they are raising the bar of rookie performance.

Never before have we seen such young players perform so well so quickly. The NL has had two ROY winners in a row post seasons of 6.0 WAR or higher: Kris Bryant in 2015 (6.1 WAR) and Corey Seager in 2016 (6.0 WAR).

From 2007-2011, five of the 10 ROY winners posted WAR over 3.5 in their rookie years. From 2012-2016, eight of the 10 ROY winners have posted WAR over 3.5 in their rookie years. ROY of course is not the be all end all of the story of growing rookie dominance.

We saw 11 rookies post seasons of 2.5 WAR or higher last year, compared to the 2007 season in which only six rookies reached the 2.5 WAR milestone. Players like Nolan Arenado, Trea Turner, Francisco Lindor and Gary Sanchez all had rookie seasons of at least 3.0 WAR, and still weren’t able to bring home the ROY award. It will only become more difficult to bring home the ROY award with the rise in production of rookies.

The way the game is being played is changing. Younger, less-experienced players are taking over the game. Don’t let their lack of experience fool you. These young studs will dominate the game for years to come. The youth movement in baseball is upon us, and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down soon.

 

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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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