World Baseball Classic Bracketology: Predicting the Semi-Finals

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

Pool E

World Baseball Classic

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

Japan (5-0 WBC Record)

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

The Netherlands (3-2 WBC Record)

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

Israel (4-1 WBC Record)

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

Cuba (2-3 WBC Record)

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

Pool E Representatives in Semis: Japan and Israel

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

Pool F

Dominican Republic (3-0 WBC Record)

World Baseball Classic

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

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

Puerto Rico (3-0 WBC Record)

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

United States (2-1 WBC Record)

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

Venezuela (2-2 WBC Record)

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

Pool F Representatives in Semis: Dominican Republic and United States

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

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2017 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Rankings

Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Rankings

Shortstop are commonly known for their glove, but after the explosion of home runs in 2016, shortstops have emerged as a power position heading into 2017. 15 shortstops hit 20 or more homeruns last season, where only two did in 2015. The shortstop position has transitioned from one of the weakest to one of the deepest.

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

Honorable mentions include: Orlando Arcia (MIL), Ketel Marte (ARI), Jose Iglesias (DET), Andrelton Simmons (LAA), and Jose Reyes (NYM).

 

Tier 1

2017 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Rankings

Manny Machado’s consistency warrants a first round pick. (Courtesy of USA TODAY Sports)

  • Manny Machado (BAL)
  • Carlos Correa (HOU)
  • Corey Seager (LAD)
  • Trea Turner (WSH)
  • Francisco Lindor (CLE)
  • Xander Bogaerts (BOS)

 

Manny Machado, primarily a third basemen, played 44 games at shortstop in 2016, after an injury sidelined Baltimore Orioles starter, J.J. Hardy. Machado, a career .285 hitter, has tallied at least 35 home runs and 100 runs in his last two seasons.

The 24-year-old has yet to reach the 100 RBI plateau, although if continues to progress, he could easily see a .300/100/40/100 season in his near future.

Machado’s consistency and potential make him the first shortstop that should be taken in 2017.

Xander Bogaerts is one of the safest picks an owner can make in 2017. The 24-year-old will be entering his fourth season in the majors, where he is a career .286 hitter.

His .320 batting average in 2015, and .330 batting average in the first half of 2016, suggest that he can sustain a well above .300 average for a full season in 2017.

The 6-foot-3 180-pounder raised his home run total from seven in 2015, to 21 in 2016. Bogaerts power is sure to improve one day, although I believe he will focus solely on sustaining contact rates next season.

Whether the power numbers show or not in 2017, Bogaerts is well worth a top 25 pick.

 

Tier 2

2017 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Rankings

Trevor Story is healthy and ready to go for 2017. (Courtesy of Sporting News)

  • Trevor Story (COL)
  • Jonathan Villar (MIL)
  • Jean Segura (SEA)
  • Troy Tulowitzki (TOR)
  • Aledmys Diaz (STL)
  • Addison Russell (CHC)
  • Dansby Swanson (ATL)

 

Trevor Story had one of the greatest rookie seasons of all-time, and only played in 97 games due to a hand injury in 2016. After mashing 27 home runs with 76 RBI’s, Story managed to be one of the most productive players in the league during that stretch.

He will bat in the middle of an electric Colorado Rockies lineup, which may put up historically great numbers this season.

The only drawback on the 24-year-old is his atrocious 31.3% strike out rate, which may suggest that he sees a decline in batting average.

Regression of average or not, Story is well worth a top 35 pick, as his power upside is tremendous.

Dansby Swanson is currently being drafted as the 170th overall player, and 17th shortstop off the board, although I have him ranked as the 13th. The upside with Swanson is incredible, as he has the potential to bat .300 while batting second for the Atlanta Braves. This gives him the potential to score 100 runs in his rookie campaign.

The big power numbers have not shown yet, although he had sneaky power in college, hitting 15 home runs in 71 games. He also hit eight home runs in 84 games at the AA-level, which shows that he has the potential to hit 15 or so this season, giving him a chance to be a top 10 shortstop.

I’m reaching on Swanson’s potential in all drafts in 2017.

 

Tier 3

2017 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Rankings

Can Didi Gregorius continue to improve upon his breakout 2016 campaign?(Courtesy of Getty Images)

  • Didi Gregorius (NYY)
  • Brandon Crawford (SF)
  • Brad Miller (TB)
  • Javier Baez (CHC)
  • Eduardo Nunez (SF)

 

Didi Gregorius, most notably the player that replaced Derek Jeter, quietly had a breakout seasons in 2016. Gregorius has continuously improved his batting average, going from .257 in 2014, to .276 in 2016. He has also seen a huge jump in power numbers, as he hit 20 home runs, which is 11 better than his former career high of 9.

The 27-year-old still has room for improvement, although his power numbers may fall, as the majority of his homers limp out of the Yankees short porch in right field.

Gregorius is a safe late round selection, but may have limited upside.

Eduardo Nunez spent his 2016 split between the Minnesota Twins and San Francisco Giants. The All-Star batted .321 with 12 home runs and 22 stolen bases in the first half of 2016. This shows how good Nunez can be when he is playing every day at his best.

The reason for Nunez’s low ranking is because of his lack of consistency and poor production with the Giants. Hitting home runs as a righty in San Francisco can be quite challenging, which makes me think his home run totals will drop severally.

Nunez has a solid average and will continue to steal some bases, which makes him a good mid to late round pick in all formats.

 

Tier 4

2017 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Rankings

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

  • Jose Peraza (CIN)
  • Elvis Andrus (TEX)
  • Danny Espinosa (LAA)
  • Asdrubal Cabrera (NYM)
  • Marcus Semien (OAK)
  • Matt Duffy (TB)
  • Tim Anderson (CWS)

 

Jose Peraza has been compared to Jose Altuve, in not only their size, but also their skill set. Both have elite speed and get on base at a well above average clip. Peraza will finally have an everyday role with the Cincinnati Reds as they have parted ways with their franchise second basemen, Brandon Phillips, in a trade with the Atlanta Braves.

Peraza has stolen 281 bases in 611 professional games, which is about a half a steal per game. This alone gives Peraza elite stolen base value, as he has the chance to steal over 60 bases. This paired with the fact that he is a career .312 hitter gives him great potential to be a breakout star in 2017.

Tim Anderson commonly flies under the radar, as he will bat at the bottom of an inconsistent Chicago White Sox lineup. 2017 will be Anderson’s first full MLB season, which could mean a breakout is in the making for the 23-year-old.

We cannot forget that he stole 49 bases in 125 games in 2015. While he bats at the end of the order, which limits his run and RBI potential, he should be given plenty of opportunities to swipe bags.

The former first-round pick in 2013 is a career .283 hitter, which is a solid floor for a starting fantasy short stop. Anderson’s ADP of 191 makes him well worth a late pick as a middle infielder or starter in deeper leagues.

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World Baseball Classic Preview: Pool D

In this final review of the WBC teams, Pool D will take center stage. Playing in Jalisco, Mexico, these teams will be battling for the final spot to move on to round two. If you missed any of our previous pool reviews, you can find them below.

1.World Baseball Classic Preview: Pool A

2.World Baseball Classic Preview: Pool B

3.World Baseball Classic Preview: Pool C

Italy

World Baseball Classic

Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli will represent his home country in the WBC (Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports).

Italy is not known for its baseball history, but they’re set to start making some in this year’s WBC. After making a surprising run to the second round in 2013, Italy will look to build on their success.

 

Most of the lineup from 2013’s squad will make a return in 2017, as Italy has a host of major league talent. On the mound, one of the game’s most interesting pitchers will suit up for his mother country.

Pat Venditte, the switch-pitching reliever, gives Italy a whole new dimension in the bullpen. Venditte can pitch left and right handed in the same inning. He will also be joined by journeyman reliever Tommy Layne.

In the field, Italy has as much talent as any other team in Pool D. The pitching staff will be handled by veteran catcher Francisco Cervelli. After seven seasons as a part-time starter in the Bronx, Cervelli has performed well after earning the starting job in Pittsburgh.

Another position player of note is Chris Colabello. After having a break out year in 2015, Colabello was suspended for PEDs in 2016 and had a -36 OPS+. It remains to be seen what Colabello will contribute. Brandon Nimmo and Daniel Descalso will also play the field for Italy.

With a good amount of talent both on the mound and the field, team Italia is set to compete in the WBC. Italy will have a tough road to the second round in a competitive pool.

Mexico

World Baseball Classic

Dodgers slugger Adrian Gonzalez returns for team Mexico (Christian Petersen/Getty Images).

As the host country, Mexico will have home field advantage. With a dominant pitching staff to rely on, Mexico won’t need much offense to stay competitive. That’s good news for team Mexico.

With a rotation of five major league starters, Mexico has plenty of starters to choose from. Pitchers Julio Urias, Marco Estrada and Jaime Garcia will lead the staff. They will be joined by Jorge De La Rosa and Yovani Gallardo to round out the starters for Mexico.

With that strong rotation also comes a strong bullpen. The bullpen is as deep as the rotation, with Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna headlining the pen. Osuna will be joined by Oliver Perez, Joakim Soria and Sergio Romo to form a dominant bullpen.

Off the mound, Mexico is sorely lacking. Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez will lead the position players. After hitting 18 homers and driving in 90 RBIs in 2016, Gonzalez is poised to perform well in the WBC.

He will be joined in the lineup by A’s slugger Khris Davis. The 29-year-old outfielder hit 42 homers in 2016, finding his power as he put up a 126 OPS+. While Mexico is lacking on position player talent, Gonzalez and Davis are some of the best at their respective positions.

As Mexico will rely on it’s dominant pitching, it will be hard to muster much runs. Gonzalez and Davis will have to be on top of their games to help propel team Mexico out of the first round.

Puerto Rico

World Baseball Classic

After winning the Caribbean Series, Puerto Rico will rely on Carlos Beltran to lead them (J. Meric/Getty Images North America).

With an ample amount of talent in the majors, Puerto Rico is still overlooked. The island is small compared to other nations in the tournament, but their amount of talent certainly is not.

 

Puerto Rico is coming off an inspiring championship victory in the Caribbean Series and will use that momentum to drive their WBC run.

Top pitching prospects Jose De Leon of the Rays and Jose Berrios of the Twins will be led by veteran starter Hector Santiago. Santiago is their most accomplished starter, with a 3.84 ERA in five major league seasons. Their position players far exceed their pitchers.

As their pitchers try to limit runs, these players will try to score them. They will be lead by all-star outfielder Carlos Beltran. The Puerto Rico native is a legend both in his native land and the states, as he has hit 421 career homers and stolen 312 bases.

He will be joined in the outfield by veterans Angel Pagan and Eddie Rosario. The infield will be manned by young stars Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa and Javier Baez. Lindor and Correa are some of baseball’s greatest shortstops, and Baez has crazy power potential.

Behind the dish will be none other than Yadier Molina. One of the best defensive catchers in history, Molina is a vital asset for Puerto Rico.

Just because Puerto Rico may be lacking in terms of major league talent doesn’t mean they won’t be able to compete. A limited pitching staff does hinder Puerto Rico, who will have to rely heavily on its big bats.

Venezuela

World Baseball Classic

Felix Hernandez returns to the WBC for Venezuela (Doug Benc/Getty Images North America).

As Venezuela keeps churning out major league talent, you would think they would have at least one WBC championship to their name. After being knocked out in the first round in 2013’s WBC, Venezuela will be more determined than ever to bring home the title.

On the mound is one of the game’s greats. Felix Hernandez has been nothing short of dominant since he set foot into the majors. With a career 3.16 ERA and 8.4 K/9, Hernandez will be a force in Pool D.

He will be joined by major league veterans Jhoulys Chacin and Martin Perez for a solid rotation. The bullpen will be a bit lacking, with only Bruce Rondon and Hector Rondon as the notable relievers.

There will be plenty of firepower in the lineup. All-around great catcher Salvador Perez will handle the pitching staff. As Hernandez and company know, having a great catcher is critical. With multiple gold gloves, Perez is one of the best in the tournament.

He will be joined by all-star sluggers Jose Altuve and Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera is arguably the best pure hitter in the WBC, able to hit for both power and average. Altuve is no slouch either, winning the AL batting title in 2016. Rockies right fielder Carlos Gonzalez will lead the outfield, as well as slotting in the lineup behind Cabrera. With massive raw power from the right side of the plate, Gonzalez is poised to feast on opponent’s pitching.

Venezuela is a dark horse in the WBC, being overshadowed by behemoths like the Dominican Republic and the USA. As a strong club overall, Venezuela will be a tough competitor in Pool D.

Verdict

Pool D has one of the best collections of overall talent in the WBC. With parity throughout, it is hard to pick a favorite. Italy will have the toughest time advancing from Pool D, but don’t be surprised if they pull off an upset or two. Mexico is limited offensively, and will have to rely on its dominant pitching staff.

The top two teams in Pool D have a good mix of both batting and pitching. Puerto Rico will rely on young arms and a mix of veteran and up-and-coming position players to carry them. They will be a tough out, but not too tough for the favorite: Venezuela. Any team with Miguel Cabrera, Jose Altuve and Felix Hernandez has to be a favorite. With multiple other big league names on their roster, Venezuela should advance out of Pool D and make a run for the championship.

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Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Shortstop

In this fifth installment of our Position Rankings for the 2017 MLB Season, we will make our way around the horn, landing us at shortstop. Shortstop has seen an influx of young talent in recent seasons.

With the position fluxing with talent, let’s start out our list at number five.

5. Jean Segura- Seattle Mariners

2017 MLB Season

Jean Segura will bring his newfound power to the Pacific Northwest in 2017. (AP Photo, Ross D. Franklin)

Jean Segura will be on his fourth team in six years in the majors when he debuts for the Seattle Mariners this season. Part of a deal that sent Taijuan Walker to the desert, Segura will be paired alongside standout second baseman Robinson Cano. Segura’s 2013 season showed glimpses of what he could be.

This season he slashed .319, .368, and .499, which are all career highs. He also had 20 homers to go along with 64 RBI’s and 33 stolen bases. Segura developed into the total package offensively in 2016, but his defense still leaves something to be desired.

Segura had zero defensive runs saved in 2016, equating to league average on defense. With the offensive numbers he put up in 2016, league average defense is totally acceptable. Segura played second base with the Diamondbacks in 2016, but that was his first season at second base in his six-year career. He should be able to slide back over to his old position seamlessly in 2017.

4. Brandon Crawford- San Francisco Giants

Brandon Crawford has quietly put together a solid career for the San Francisco Giants. After hitting 26 home runs over parts of his first four seasons, he has clubbed 33 in the past two seasons. His growth in power has also been accompanied by an improvement in his batting skill. Last season, Crawford posted a slash line of .275, .342, and .430 with his batting average and OBP being career highs. While Crawford’s bat has continually improved, his glove has always been his calling card.

Crawford had one of his best defensive seasons of his career in 2016. He had 19 defensive runs saved in 2016, which is the second most in his career. With growing prowess in the batters box and a stellar glove, Crawford has quietly ascended into the ranks of the top shortstops in the game.

3. Francisco Lindor- Cleveland Indians

2017 MLB Season

Lindor will bring the total package to Cleveland in 2017. (Jason Miller, Getty Images North America)

After making his major league debut in 2015, Francisco Lindor has made the leap from top prospect to top position player for the Cleveland Indians. Lindor built on his debut 2015 season in which he finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting to put up a slash line of .301, .358, .435 in 2016. He also hit 15 homers to go along with 78 RBI’s and 19 stolen bases to help lead the Indians to the World Series. Lindor’s bat has certainly created problems for his opponents, but it’s his glove that has carried him this far in the rankings.

Lindor had 17 defensive runs saved in 155 games played in 2016. His slick fielding was on display all season. He also continued his high level of defense well into the World Series. Lindor was the total package for the Cleveland Indians in 2016. He is primed to lead the Indians back to the playoffs in 2017.

2. Corey Seager- Los Angeles Dodgers

Seager had been tabbed as the NL Rookie of the Year in 2016 long before the season began. All that hype can sometimes go to a player’s head, but not Corey Seager’s. He performed far beyond even the most lofty expectations in 2016, batting .308, .365, and .512. He also blasted 26 bombs to accompany 72 RBI’s. Those numbers were not only good enough for NL ROY, but also a third place finish for NL MVP voting.

While his bat was at an MVP type level, his glove work was anything but. While he wasn’t spectacular with the glove, he was league average with zero defensive runs saved in 2016. He proved to be a driving force for the Dodgers in 2016, helping lead them to the NLCS where they were ousted by the eventual World Series Champion Chicago Cubs. Seager will look to build on his impressive rookie season in 2017.

1. Carlos Correa- Houston Astros

2017 MLB Season

Carlos Correa will lead a stacked Astros team in 2017. (Troy Taormina, USA Today)

When Carlos Correa made his major league debut at the ripe old age of 20 in 2015, many wondered if he would be able to hack it in the majors. Well, hack it he did. Correa has knocked 42 balls into orbit since being called up by the Astros. In his first full season of play he hit .274, .361, and .451 to go along with 20 homers, 96 RBI’s and 13 steals. Correa has shown maturity beyond his years in the batters box. With a good eye and powerful stroke, Correa is already one of the elite offensive players in the game. The jump from elite prospect to elite player doesn’t just include hitting.

Correa has proved to be less than stellar in the field in parts of two major league season. While he has made some spectacular throws, he posted a defensive runs saved of -3 in 2016. While it was a regression from his 0 defensive runs saved in 2015, it was Correa’s first full season. The 2017 season will be a big one for both Carlos Correa and his Houston Astros.

Shortstop is in good hands for 2017 and far beyond. With so much youth at the position, shortstop will prove to be one of the more difficult positions to rank for years to come. Watch for these players to move up and down the list in the coming years.

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2016 American League West Preview

Courtesy of, brokenbatsingleblog.wordpress.com

Courtesy of: brokenbatsingleblog.wordpress.com

The Texas Rangers were the best team in the AL West last year. The Rangers had a solid offense with good enough pitching to back it up. They had some vets like Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre who really helped them push their way to a division title. However, they were not the team everyone talked about. That team, was the Houston Astros. They came out of nowhere and almost won the division and were good enough to make it to the Wild Card round.

The Astros finished second last year but, were a major surprise to baseball as they had been picked by many to not contend at all. Their young players stepped up and shinned. Carlos Correa has the talent and the ability to be a perennial All-Star and MVP candidate.

The Angels finished third last year and played well throughout the season, just barely missing the playoffs. They had the offense coming from their superstar Mike Trout and future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols. Their problem was, and still is, pitching.

The Seattle Mariners finished fourth last year in a disappointing 2015 campaign. They struggled in hitting as they finished in the bottom three for both runs scored, strikeouts, and batting average. Their pitching was also nothing to write home about as they finished the year with a 4.16 ERA.

Last were the Athletics who were expected to have a down year. They traded away many of the pieces they had brought in for the 2014 playoff run. Billy Beane decided it was time to rebuild. They brought in some interesting players through trades and Sonny Gray was spectacular.

That was last year though, lets move on to what should be an exciting 2016 for the AL West. I will start by giving which place I believe the team will finish in, then I will go through almost every position and tell you all what I see and lastly I will name my player or players to watch.

1st Place: Houston Astros

Courtesy of: www.sports-logos-screensavers.com

Courtesy of: www.sports-logos-screensavers.com

Last year the American League West had a surprise team, the Astros. While they did not win the division they had everyone talking. This was because they were well ahead of schedule. The Astros were a young team that many thought wouldn’t be contending this soon after they had blown everything up years before. Everything is finally coming together for a team that was the worst in the majors for almost 3 years. Their loyal fanbase will have to opportunity to watch a team that has unbelievable talent.

The outfield rotation of Rasmus, Gomez, Marisnick, Tucker and especially Springer are all solid. They can play defense well and carry some impressive bats. Springer and Gomez should have excellent seasons this year. Gomez will finally be able to play a full season with a winning team. Springer will look to continue to improve on what was a spectacular 2015 season. As long as the injury bug does not get to him he should have a monster year.

The infield, particularly the middle of it, will be amazing as well. Jose Altuve was one of the only good players on the team during their rebuilding process. His patience has paid off. With him and Carlos Correa manning the middle of the field the Astros may have the best middle infield in baseball. Correa has shown that he can be a major force. He can hit for average, power, bat with runners in scoring position, steal bases and play defense. The kid was a number one overall pick for the Astros and he has not disappointed. Look for him to have an amazing year and look for his name on the MVP ballot at the end of the year.

The starting rotation added Doug Fister to the mix which is a solid pickup. Keuchel, the reigning Cy Young Winner, McHugh, Fiers, and Feldman make up the rest of what should be a solid rotation. They have their ace and a great number 2 in McHugh. Those two should make the top of this rotation deadly. The back of their rotation is also made up of solid overall pitchers. Many of them are innings eaters who will keep you in a ballgame and give you a good chance of winning once you get to the bullpen.

The bullpen has the potential to be great. Ken Giles who was the Phillies closer was traded to Houston this offseason. He did not win the closing job, it was announced that Luke Gregerson would have that job, but, I can see Giles eventually winning it back. Pat Nesheck and Tony Sipps will also round out what will be an older but, effective bullpen.

The Astros should win this division barring any terrible injuries. Look for them to make some trade deadline deals to improve their corner infield positions and maybe add one more starter if they have the money to. They are one of my picks to make it to the World Series this year.

Player to Watch: Carlos Correa

2nd Place: Texas Rangers

Courtesy of: www.sportslogos.net

Courtesy of: www.sportslogos.net

This Rangers team came out and won the division last year, yet they were not the talk of the division. Many people outside of Texas had forgotten that they were the Division Champions, not the Astros. They will be looking to improve on their performance last year as they will have Yu Darvish back this year and an interesting piece in Ian Desmond patrolling left field. Ultimately they will finish 2nd behind an up and coming Astros team because their age will start to show and I do not think they will end the season with a healthy enough team to win the division.

The outfield will have Ian Desmond who to an extent is an experiment out in left field. He has been an infielder for his entire career but, he looked serviceable during Spring Training. They brought him in for his bat and they got him cheap. They are hoping this move will pay off. The rest of their outfield is much less exciting. Delino Deshields Jr. will be playing center field and while he is solid on defense he has a lackluster bat. Shin-Soo Choo will be playing right field and is a solid, but not all that exciting, player. He had a great season last year but, has been known to be injury prone throughout his career. Lastly is Josh Hamilton who should be back sometime in May. He has always had the potential to be a star but, his past and his age are starting to catch up to him. Sadly I do not see him playing all that well this year.

The Rangers infield will be solid. Adrian Beltre will playing solid defense and swing a mean bat. People are wondering if he is a Hall of Famer, I think he is and I think he will continue to prove that this season. Elvis Andrus will continue to bat for a decent average, steal bases, and playing great defense. Rougned Odor won the starting job at Second for now. Jurickson Profar will be called up if Odor starts to struggle at all. Mitch Moreland will be manning first base and will continue to hit. The big man has finally come into his own and deserves to be their starter. Prince Fielder will also play some first but, will mostly be their big bopper at DH. He will continue to do what he always has done, hit.

The most exciting part about this team is their starting rotation. Lets get the 3, 4, and 5 pitchers out of the way to start. Martin Perez is young and has good stuff but, he will need to prove that he deserves to stay in this rotation. Colby Lewis has been the Opening Day starter in the past and he has also dealt with health issues. If he can stay healthy he will be a solid back of the rotation guy. Derek Holland is in the exact same situation as Lewis. Now we get to the fun part, Yu Darvish who will be back in May and Cole Hamels. These two are both Aces and have been top 3 in Cy Young Voting. They are one of the best 1-2 punches in the game. Their only problem is staying healthy. If either of these two are down for too long a time the entire rotation gets significantly worse. If they are healthy for the entire year they will be fun to watch.

Here is most likely the biggest weakness for the Rangers, their bullpen. Look at these names and tell me what average fan will know them? Not one. Shawn Tolleson will be their closer and he has been solid the last two years with ERA’s of 2.76 and 2.99 respectively. He is not flashy but, he should get the job done. After him is a mix of many no name players. This will be an area they will need to improve drastically if they want a chance at winning the division.

Overall this Rangers team will be solid if they improve the bullpen and if they stay healthy. That is two too many ifs for me. I doubt they will stay healthy and I don’t think they will be able to improve the bullpen enough. I do think they will have a good year and have a chance at the wild card.

Player(s) to Watch: Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels

3rd Place: Seattle Mariners

Courtesy of: www.sportslogos.net

Courtesy of: www.sportslogos.net

This team has consistently under-performed.  Robinson Cano, King Felix, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager are their best players. These four are great but, they have never been enough to push them over the top. There are just too many holes. They will play some good baseball but, they will not be anything spectacular this year. This team outside of a few players is boring.

The outfield will consist of Nori Aoki, Leonys Martin, Seth Smith, and Franklin Gutierrez. All of these players are good, but none are great. Aoki will hit for a good average, Martin has not hit well, Smith was once a solid player but, age has caught up to him, and Gutierrez is the definition of OK. This outfield will be boring, not much more to say than that.

The infield is similar. Kyle Seager is fun but, will most likely be forgotten as his brother Corey takes over in Los Angeles. Ketel Marte is 22 and could be a fine major league player. The only problem is that he wont be a star. He, like most of this team will be good but, not great. Robinson Cano has been solid but not the Superstar Seattle wanted. His power numbers have dropped off a cliff seemingly and age is not on his side. He will be good like every year but, unless he regains that power stroke he will not be the Superstar Seattle desperately needs. Adding Adam Lind to play first adds  power and stability to the position. He is again like the rest of this team, solid, but nothing amazing. He will play well and hit 20+ homeruns this year. Nelson Cruz was a great addition to the team. He was the only really exciting hitter last year for this squad. For a time it seemed like he alone could carry this team on his back along with his 44 homeruns. Sadly that was not the case. Cruz is 35 this year and he should start slowing down, right? Chris Iannetta will be the catcher this year. He is a good defender with no bat. They are all solid but, will any of them bring the necessary boost that the Mariners need? I do not believe so.

The starting rotation is a little more interesting. Wade Miley, Taijuan Walker and Nate Karns are like the rest of this team, solid but nothing great. King Felix is well the King of Seattle. He is always in the talk for Cy Young and has been the backbone for this lackluster pitching staff. I am sure he will be in talks for the Cy Young again this year. Iwakuma won 15 games last year and proved he could be the number 2 behind the King. This was something Seattle has needed for a long time. The only problem is that he is heading into his age 35 season and will most likely not be able to put up the numbers as he has been for much longer.

The bullpen has some intriguing players but again none of them are great. Steve Cishek will be trying to get back into form as he once was in Miami. Joaquin Benoit has always been a good option in the pen and will most likely continue to be just that. Lastly the addition of Nick Vincent from the Padres is a move that will go under the radar but, should prove to be a great one for the Mariners.

The Mariners are a good team, do not get me wrong. The problem is they are boring. They do not have what it takes to push for the division or a playoff spot. Some people are picking them as a dark horse team but, until there is a spark from one of their players I do not foresee them being anything more than a .500 team.

Player to Watch: King Felix

4th Place: Oakland Athletics

Courtesy of: en.wikipedia.org

Courtesy of: en.wikipedia.org

Billy Beane has been doing Billy Beane things. He has brought together a cheap but, intriguing roster. I do have them finishing 4th just to be safe but, I think this team could make a charge at the wild card if certain things can go their way.

Their outfield consists of Khris Davis, Billy Burns, Josh Reddick, Coco Crisp, and Chris Coghlan. These 5 could be a great rotation. Davis and Reddick bring power. They could each hit 25+ homeruns this year. Burns and Crisp bring the speed and Coghlan is just solid all around. They could do great things as a group. If Davis can reach his full potential watch out, he could be a monster hitter. Billy Burns is probably the most exciting player you have never heard about. He is the typical Billy Beane player.

The infield should be interesting as well. Marcus Semien could be very good if he can bring down the strikeout numbers. The A’s received him in a trade with the White Sox last year and he has been pegged as their Shortstop of the Future. Jed Lowrie is always a solid veteran to have on your team. He is manning second because age is starting to catch up with him but, his bat should still provide solid at-bats. Yonder Alonso, Mark Cahna, and Billy Butler will all be splitting time at DH and first base. Alonso was picked up from the Padres last year and has been a solid everyday player. He can hit for contact and has gap power. If he can hit with runner is scoring position and add some more power, Alonso could finally reach the potential many thought he had. Steven Vogt was a suprise player last year. He hit 18 homeruns and drove in 71. He is a solid bat and even better behind the plate.

The rotation will be where this team will need to improve. They have a lot of injuries to deal with and not much talent to speak of. They will be the reason this team does not make the playoffs and they are why I have them fourth. Of course their is one Superstar, Sonny Gray. Everything I said before only talks about the rest of the rotation. I think Gray could win the Cy Young away this year. He has amazing stuff and is very collected for how young he is. People need to start paying attention to him. The only problem is that knowing Billy Beane he could get traded if the season completely implodes.

The bullpen will be a major strength for this team. They have the potential to be one of the best ones in the game. Sean Doolittle will be closing this year and doing his normal thing of getting outs as long as he is healthy. They brought in Ryan Madson and John Axford who were both previously All-Star type closers. If they can get back into form, watch out. These three could be what they Pirates had a few years ago with Grilli, Melancon, and Watson. Liam Hendricks and Mark Rzepczynski also have a track record of getting the job done. This bullpen could be amazing and if the starters can keep the game close and give it over to the pen the A’s could win many more games than people are predicting, including myself.

This team has potential if the moves they have made pay off. They could make the playoffs as a wild card. Sadly it is more likely that they will finish right around .500 because not every move can always pay off.

Player(s) to Watch: Sonny Gray and Billy Burns

5th Place: Los Angeles Angels

Courtesy of: en.wikipedia.org

Courtesy of: en.wikipedia.org

I know many of you have been wondering where this team would be. I can tell you right now that this team is vastly overrated because of two players, Mike Trout (he is not overrated, just the team) and Albert Pujols (he is overrated). They will have a bad year for many reasons, one being money and two being the lack of any prospects. This is normally any team’s nightmare. When you have all your money sunk into just a few players and no prospects that means rough years are heading your way and I think that starts this year.

The outfield of Daniel Nava, Craig Gentry, Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun is just not good. Left Field will be platooned by Nava and Gentry and neither of them are all that great. Trout is obviously one of the best players in baseball so no matter what else I say, much of it does not apply to him. Calhoun is solid but, it seems as though he has already reached his best. I think that last year will be the best year he ever has which again is not bad but, left much to be desired.

The infield is a train wreck outside of Andrelton Simmons. Yunel Escobar is decent but, nothing great. Johnny Giavotella is serviceable at best. CJ Cron is a similar player to Calhoun except he plays first base. Albert Pujols is one of the best players ever and he hit 40 bombs last year but, he is still a huge chunk of their payroll and he can’t carry teams like he used to. Simmons is a wizard on the field and is improving at the plate. The problem is that the Angels gave up so much to get him and for what reason? They will not be good this year. These kinds of moves are made by GM’s and Front Offices who are afraid to lose their jobs. Lastly Carlos Perez and Giovanni Soto are behind the plate and are decent at best. Perez is young and has some potential but, I would not count on him for much.

The rotation is not terrible but, there are many questions left unanswered. CJ Wilson is having shoulder problems which means it is just swollen and he isn’t out for very long or, it means surgery and he is out for quite awhile. Garret Richards has the potential to be solid but, I just do not know if he has what it takes to be the Ace for a team. 2014 was a great year for him but, 2015 was average. Alex Heaney was a top prospect for the Marlins and has been traded around a bit. If, and I really do mean if, he can pull it all together he could be a nice young player. I just have not seen enough of him to be convinced that he will be able to. Santiago and Shoemaker are not bad but, they are not playoff caliber players and Jared Weaver is in the twilight of his career.

The bullpen has even more questions than the rotation. How much longer can Street be this good? He and Joe Smith are the only good players in a very average bullpen. Will anyone step up? Does their depleted farm system have a diamond in the rough? They do not have the money to go out and get anyone and their farm system is atrocious.

The Angels are heading into what could be a long string of bad years. They will need to try and dump contracts near the trade deadline to try and revamp this team. They have no money and a bad farm system. All of this spells impending doom for a once great franchise. They may be in the hunt near the beginning of the year but, eventually I think it will all fall apart. The worst part about this is that they cannot blame it on injuries. As of now Wilson is their only injury problem. This could be the year the Angels start to fall apart.

Player to Watch: Mike Trout (Who else?)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carlos Correa: The Chance at an Unsullied A-Rod

Correa

Photo courtesy of the Houston Chronicle

After bursting onto the Major League scene in 2015, Carlos Correa is set to give the baseball world something it deserved all along; an untainted Alex Rodriguez.

Correa exceeded even the loftiest of expectations for the young Houston Astros shortstop in his first cameo in the Major Leagues in 2015. He is already poised to be the first-class shortstop in all of baseball entering only his age 21 season in 2016.

Enter the Alex Rodriguez comps. The comparison is made with the same ease in which Correa covers his position.

Both Correa and A-Rod were 1st overall picks. At the start of their big league careers, both were tall, lengthy, yet sneakily powerful shortstops early on in their Major League careers. Both had the type of athleticism and intangibles that left you with little doubt that they would be future superstars.

As any baseball fan knows A-Rod’s legacy has been polluted by confirmed performance enhancing drug allegations. The type of allegations that, even when only suspected, have kept all-time greats like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens out of the Hall of Fame.

This is where Correa comes in, with the steroid era in MLB’s rear view mirror it is time for new, unblemished, Hall of Fame legacies to be built. Correa has a chance to have an A-Rod type of career without a colossal asterisk next to his statistics.

In only 432 plate appearances, spanning 99 regular season games in 2015, Correa mashed 22 tatters, drove in 68 runs, stole 14 bases, and won the American League Rookie of the Year award.

Correa averaged a HR once per 17.6 at bats in his age 20 season. In Alex Rodriguez’ age 20 season, 1996, he averaged a HR per 16.7 at bats, only a slightly more impressive number. A-Rod also finished second in the MVP voting in his age 20 season.

alex-rodriguez-mariners

Photo Courtesy of Sportress of Blogitude

In 1996 A-Rod also posted a stunning .358/.414/.631 slash line compared to Correa’s .279/.345/.512, which is still substantial, just not close to what A-Rod did in 1996.

This comparison alone seems slanted toward A-Rod. It is important to remember that A-Rod already had big league exposure entering that season though, with 208 career regular season plate appearances. He also played a full seasons worth of games, while Correa only played 99 games, which makes up some of the difference in the MVP voting (Correa finished 24th in the AL MVP balloting in 2015).

A-Rod obviously earned that big league exposure in the two seasons prior to 1996, but there was also more incentive for the Mariners to push A-Rod through the farm, especially in 1995 when the Seattle Mariners were serious contenders.

Meanwhile Correa’s Astros lost 111 games in 2013 and 92 games in 2014, making it easier for them to be a little bit more patient with Correa. Correa’s ascension to the Majors was also slowed when he broke his fibula in June of 2014 and missed the rest of the season.

Had it not been for that injury, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that Correa would have made it to the Majors even sooner than he did.

Even as it stands, it seems trivial to discount Correa for reaching the Majors at the comically old-age of 20. To take it a step further, let’s consider the 208 plate appearances A-Rod had before age 20, to be easily made up by not missing an entire season for testing positive for PED’s.

Had it not been for an epic collapse in the 8th inning of game 4 of the 2015 ALDS the budding narrative of Correa may be even more impressive. Correa misplayed a key grounder off the bat of Kendrys Morales that should have resulted in a double play in a 5-run top of the 8th inning that completely changed the course of the game.

Before that crucial top of the 8th inning Correa looked destined to start his playoff career off with an exclamation point. In what would have been a series clinching game for the Astros, Correa went 4 for 4 with 2 HR’s and 4 RBI’s, it truly was on the verge of being a game that people would look back after his career as one of the climactic points of his career.

Even accounting for the costly error, it’s still a performance worthy of acclaim. Although the error came at a bad time, Correa should not be looked at as the goat of the situation. The Astros bullpen had a 4 run lead entering the inning, a lead due in large part to Correa’s performance, and the ‘Pen simply blew it. Plain and simple.

Instead of looking at this game as a failure, it should be looked at as a sign of things to come for Correa. With his explosive offensive performance during game 4, Correa showcased the kind of poise and capability that leaves you salivating for what is to come.

Throughout his big league career A-Rod has amassed 687 HR’s, or one every roughly 15 at bats. Correa may never develop quite that type of power, or hit 50 HR’s in a big league season like A-Rod did in 2001, 2002, and 2007, but, Correa has the makings of a regular member of the 30 HR club, with a chance to break the 40 mark more than once.

He also has the speed on the basepaths and baseball aptitude to join Rodriguez as a member of the 40 HR-40 SB club (1998). Correa should match A-Rod’s accomplishment of joining the 3,000 hit club, provided he stay healthy

The most important distinction between Correa and Rodriguez, is simply the ability to have a clean legacy. With regular PED testing across MLB, it is almost guaranteed that Correa will stay clean.

At only 21 Correa is poised to give the baseball world something that it needs and deserves: A look at what A-Rod’s career could have been without a black cloud over his plaque in Cooperstown.