MLB Prospects Making the Most of Spring Training

As we move closer to Opening Day, many teams are in the process of deciding on the 25 man rosters. But there are some who are on the fringes of the rosters. MLB prospects all over the league are looking to make an impact this spring. Whether they are trying to earn a roster spot or showcase their skills, these prospects have performed above expectations so far. These four prospects are giving their teams something to think about entering the final phases of Spring Training.

MLB Prospects

Ian Happ will start in the minors, but has been impressive in major league camp (Wade Payne/Chicago Tribune).

2B Ian Happ – Chicago Cubs

After being selected ninth overall in the 2015 MLB Draft, the 22 year old is beginning to make due on the promise he showed at the University of Cincinnati. He has been laboring in the Cubs’ minor league system for the past two seasons, ending 2016 at the AA level. With a strong showing in Spring Training, Happ has given the Cubs front office plenty to think about.  But just how well has the Cubs second overall prospect done this Spring Training?

In 34 at-bats, Happ has hit a scorching .441 to give him the third best batting average in all of MLB so far this spring. Couple that with his three homers and nine RBIs, Happ has certainly produced. With a strong performance in Spring Training and his minor league pedigree, Happ could increase the timetable the Cubs have on his MLB debut. But with a loaded major league roster, Happ isn’t expected to make the 25 man roster anytime soon.

OF Bradley Zimmer – Cleveland Indians

As the 21st overall selection in the 2014 MLB Draft, Bradley Zimmer is showing that his skills are maturing. He provided the University of San Francisco plenty of power and speed. That combination of talent made Zimmer a top player in the draft, and he’s continuing to impress in Spring Training. With a hot start to Spring Training, Zimmer could make the jump from AAA to the majors this season.

Zimmer has torn the cover off the ball this Spring Training, putting up a .359/.405/.641 slash line. He has also hit two homers and driven in 11 RBIs in 39 at-bats. He has seen regular playing time this Spring Training, showing that the Indians are evaluating him heavily. While he isn’t listed on the Indian’s depth chart, he could push Lonnie Chisenhall for playing time in right field if Zimmer continues to stay hot. Zimmer will make his MLB debut this season, give his minor league track record and terrific Spring Training.

OF Mitch Haniger – Seattle Mariners

MLB Prospects

Mitch Haniger has opened some eyes in Mariners’ camp this Spring Training (Getty Images).

Mitch Haniger is on his third team since being drafted by the Brewers 38th overall in 2012. After a strong college career at Cal Poly, Haniger was able to turn his college production into major league promise. But injuries derailed his career, and at 26 years old, it’s now or never for Haniger. As the fourth best prospect in the Mariner’s farm system, he certainly has the talent to succeed. And he’s finally showing it on the field, performing well in Spring Training.

With the fourth best batting average (.425) in Spring Training, Haniger is beginning to show why he was one of the top selections in the 2012 MLB Draft. He has also hit two homers to accompany seven RBIs. In his 40 at-bats, Haniger has only struck out five times. Listed as the starter in right field for the Seattle Mariners, Mitch Haniger will finally be given a shot as a full-time major league starter in 2017.

SS Dixon Machado – Detroit Tigers

After spending the past eight seasons in the Tigers’ minor league system, the 25 year old Dixon Machado is on the doorstep to the majors. He signed with the Tigers in 2008, and has grown in both his offensive and defensive game. And in 2016, Machado made his MLB debut with the Tigers. But he wasn’t able to stick in the majors, and is now fighting to prove himself in major league camp. And so far, Machado is excelling.

With a .324/.366/.378 slash line in 37 at-bats, Machado is hitting at an impressive clip. While he may not offer much in terms of power, what Machado can do is hit. He’s proven to have an innate ability to make contact and put the ball in play. But with the major league club full of talented starters, Machado will have to wait to gain a starting role. He should break camp with the major league club, given the team’s lack of depth. But if he can continue his impressive hitting into the major league season, Machado may work his way into the regular lineup.

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2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

I will begin my outfield rankings with one of the more intriguing positions in 2017: left field. This position hasn’t been this deep since the early and mid 2000s when we witnessed Manny Ramirez, Carl Crawford, Matt Holliday and Ryan Braun dominate fantasy as perennial top ten picks.

Many left fielders, young and old, have begun to emerge and make the position much deeper than many people originally anticipated.

The top 30 left fielders have been grouped into five tiers, with the top and bottom player of each tier profiled below.

Honorable mentions include: Alex Gordon (KC), Brandon Drury (ARI), Roman Quinn (PHI), and Matt Holliday (NYY).

Exceptions include: Ian Desmond (COL), who will miss six to eight weeks, approximately 50 games, after undergoing hand surgery, and Yasmany Tomas (ARI), who may start on DL with an oblique injury, and currently no time table for return.  

Tier 1

2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

Kris Bryant headlined a World Series roster for the Cubs (Credit: Michael Zagaris/Getty Images).

  • Kris Bryant (CHC)  

Kris Bryant is the lone man in tier 1 of left fielders in 2017. He exploded onto the scene in 2015 to smash 26 home runs and drive in 99 RBIs. That was good enough to win the NL Rookie of the Year award.

Bryant continued to improve in 2016 with 39 home runs, 121 runs scored and 102 RBIs. That resulted in him winning the NL MVP award.

The 25-year-old is a career .284 hitter and has stolen 21 bases in two years. Bryant will be the first left fielder selected in 2017.

Tier 2

2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

Ryan Braun will look to continue his strong play in 2017. (Jeff Curry, US Presswire).

  • Yoenis Cespedes (NYM)
  • Ryan Braun (MIL)
  • Starling Marte (PIT)
  • Christian Yelich (MIA)

Yoenis Cespedes is once again an elite fantasy option in all formats heading into 2017. The three-time MVP candidate has been on pace for 100 RBIs per 162 games in four of his five MLB seasons.

The 31-year-old, who is batting .277 since 2014, remains an integral producer in the New York Mets lineup and is sure to be a top 25 overall hitter if healthy.

Christian Yelich had his first breakout year in 2016 with career highs of 21 home runs and 98 RBIs. The 25-year-old has a career .293 batting average and is averaging about 19 steals per 162 games.

Yelich is a perennial 20 home run and 20 steal candidate. He could be a menacing 30/30 threat for years to come should he continue to improve. The Marlins three hitter will be selected within the top 50 picks in 2017.

Tier 3

2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

Michael Brantley is poised for a bounce back in 2017. (Courtesy of TLA Worldwide)

  • Gregory Polanco (PIT)
  • Kyle Schwarber (CHC)
  • Justin Upton (DET)
  • Matt Kemp (ATL)
  • Khris Davis (OAK)
  • Michael Brantley (CLE)

Like Yelich, Gregory Polanco was another left fielder who broke out in 2016. The 24-year-old managed to reach career highs in home runs with 22 and RBIs with 86 in only 144 games.

Polanco has averaged 25 steals per 162 games, which shows his five-category potential. The 6-foot-5 230-pounder is also bound to increase his power numbers as he continues to grow into his frame. A 30/30 season isn’t out of the realm for Polanco, which warrants him as a top 60 pick in all formats.

Michael Brantley is arguably the most overlooked player in 2017. He is healthy and ready to bounce back. The 29-year-old has been battling a chronic shoulder injury since the end of 2015. He is now officially ready to go for opening day.

The third-place finisher in the AL MVP in 2014 will rejoin the most talented Cleveland Indians lineup since the late 1990s. With the emergence of Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, and the addition of Edwin Encarnacion, Michael Brantley should have no problem producing. He is currently being selected as the 140th player on ESPN according to fantasypros.com. I believe he is well worth a top 120 pick.

Tier 4

2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

Andrew Benintendi intends to take home the AL Rookie of the Year in 2017. (Photos via Getty Images)

  • Andrew Benintendi (BOS)
  • Jose Ramirez (CLE)
  • Willson Contreras (CHC)
  • Marcel Ozuna (MIA)
  • Carlos Gomez (TEX)
  • Adam Duval (CIN)
  • Ben Zobrist (CHC)
  • David Dahl (COL)
  • Nomar Mazara (TEX)

My selection for AL Rookie of the Year, Andrew Benintendi, has an uncertain potential. His MLB sample size is a mere 118 plate appearances. The former Golden Spikes award winner is a five-tool player who has batted .313, .312, and .295 in three seasons at five different levels, including the MLB.

The 22-year-old may begin the year at the bottom half of the order. However, he will find his way to the top in no time. Batting ahead or directly behind of Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Hanley Ramirez will allow him to be an extremely productive player.

He is currently being selected as the 111th player on ESPN, and certainly warrants a pick this early.

Nomar Mazara has seen his draft stock fall as of late. Word of a possible platoon against lefties has concerned owners about his at bat totals in 2017. I’m a full believer in Mazara’s ability to be an everyday player in this league, He has continuously improved his batting average throughout his minor-league career.

The 21-year-old has shown he has the potential to be a .280 hitter with 20 or more home runs over a full season. If an injury or poor performance were to occur to his platoon partner, Mazara could take the everyday spot and run with it.

He is being selected as the 260th player on ESPN, which makes him a sleeper in the majority of leagues. I wouldn’t hesitate selecting him top 200, especially in keeper leagues and dynasty leagues.

Tier 5

2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

Corey Dickerson sheds 25 pounds in the offseason, is this a sign of good things to come? (Courtesy of Wikipedia.com)

  • Corey Dickerson (TB)
  • Jayson Werth (WSH)
  • Eric Thames (MIL)
  • Melky Cabrera (CWS)
  • Jorge Soler (KC)
  • Curtis Granderson (NYM)
  • Michael Saunders (PHI)
  • Rajai Davis (OAK)
  • Brett Gardner (NYY)
  • Jarrod Dyson (SEA)
  • Ender Enciarte (ATL)

People tend to forget about Corey Dickerson’s success in Colorado. He batted .312 and .304 in consecutive seasons. The 27-year-old has dropped 25 pounds in order to obtain the starting left field spot as opposed to being the designated hitter, which is where he spent the majority of his time in 2016.

Either way, Dickerson will be an everyday player for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2017 and is a threat for 30 home runs and solid RBI production. His current ADP on ESPN is 276, which is very low for someone with .300/80/30/80 potential.

Ender Inciarte has quietly been a career .292 hitter while averaging about 24 steals per 162 games. Inciarte will be the leadoff hitter once again for a young but talented Atlanta Braves lineup that commonly goes under the radar.

Although there is a lack of power, it isn’t out of his realm to sport a stat line of .300 100/10/50/20. The 25-year-old is currently being selected as the 196th player on ESPN, putting him just outside the top 50 outfielders, which I believe he is.

 

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Tools of the Trade: Top 5 Power Hitters

This is the second installment of our Tools of the Trade series. In our first installment, we reviewed the Top 5 Hitters in MLB.

Now we will overview the top five power hitters in MLB by using five statistical categories to evaluate their overall power. Home run total, home runs per season, slugging, isolated power and games per season will be analyzed.

Let’s look at the top five power hitters in the game using the past five seasons. Honorable mentions include Jose Bautista (TOR), Josh Donaldson (TOR), Nolan Arenado (COL), Giancarlo Stanton (MIA), Bryce Harper (WAS) and Miguel Cabrera (DET). All honorable mentions were excluded from the list due to too few games played, dip in performance or short power surges (two years or less).

5. Chris Carter – New York Yankees

Top Power Hitters

Chris Carter has one of the best power bats in the game (Brad Rempel/USA TODAY Sports).

Chris Carter has played for three teams over his seven-year career and has done nothing but mash year in and year out. Carter has always been known for his power, but he may be known more for his strikeouts.

After striking out over 200 times twice in the past five seasons, Carter had to sit and wait for a contract this past offseason. The Yankees scooped him up for what could be a steal of a deal.

Carter had the second highest isolated power of all the players analyzed for this article. His .254 ISO over the past five seasons is higher than Miguel Cabrera’s (.242 ISO). He has also put up a respectable .474 slugging percentage while smashing 147 homers over that span.

His low .221 batting average has limited his playing time to 130 games per season in the past five years, but his power is elite. He has easy power to all fields. When he does make contact, it usually goes a long ways.

4. Nelson Cruz – Seattle Mariners

After putting up solid power numbers from 2009-2013, Nelson Cruz exploded with 40 homers in his first season in Baltimore. He moved to Seattle in the 2015 season and has continued his power surge. Cruz has absolutely smashed the baseball despite playing at pitcher-friendly Safeco Field. He has increased his power numbers in each of the previous three seasons.

Cruz has hit 178 total home runs in his previous five campaigns to average 36 bombs per season. He also boasts an impressive .524 slugging percentage over that time and has averaged 147 games played per season.

Cruz has turned into a slugger since his move from Texas with a .247 ISO. His previous three seasons have vaulted Cruz into the upper echelon of power hitters, all while moving away from hitter-friendly parks in Baltimore and Texas. He has brought the thunder to the rainy northwest and doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon.

3. Mike Trout – Los Angeles Angels

Top Power Hitters

Mike Trout will launch plenty of balls over the fence this season (Huffington Post)

Again, Mike Trout makes his presence known in this series. The talented center fielder has made his presence known since his first full season in the majors in 2012.

He has averaged 33 homers per season in the past five years. His high point was in 2015 when he launched 41 bombs into orbit. He has hit 163 total home runs since 2012. While that is impressive by itself, a deeper look at his numbers show a pure slugger.

Trout’s slugging percentage has been one of the highest in the game since 2012 at a staggering .564. Even more impressive is his ISO. He is averaging 154 games played per season and has put up a .254 ISO. That is an astronomical number that proves Trout’s power is one of the strongest tools he has.

Trout has been both available and productive, given his number of games played and the numbers he has put up. He could vault up this list in no time at all at his current pace.

2. Chris Davis – Baltimore Orioles

Chris Davis is one of the best pure power hitters in the game today. The 6-foot-3 Texas native has been known to go off at any given moment with his ability to launch balls all over the yard seemingly at will.

He has the second most homers in the past five seasons of the players evaluated with 197. That is an average of 39 homers per season and a massive amount of production. Let’s look at his numbers a little closer.

His .518 slugging percentage may not be overwhelming, but his .265 ISO certainly is. He is driving the ball out of the park at an impressive rate while averaging 149 games played every season. Davis has been the power source in Baltimore for years with seasons of 53 and 47 homers. He has also been dependable and given skipper Buck Showalter a reliable source of prodigious power.

At only 30 years old, look for Davis to keep putting up the massive numbers.

1. Edwin Encarnacion – Cleveland Indians

Top Power Hitters

Edwin Encarnacion’s power will play on either side of the border (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images North America).

Edwin Encarnacion is the top slugger in the game and will provide the Indians with one of the biggest bats in all of baseball. His 193 total homers since 2012 prove him to be a legitimate power threat. He has also averaged 145 games played per season in that five year time span.

Encarnacion provides power and dependability to an already deep Indians lineup. Just how much power does EE have?

Encarnacion has averaged 39 homers per season since 2012. That insane production is only made even more outrageous by his .544 slugging percentage. With the ability to hit the ball out of the park, it’s no wonder he boasts the best ISO on this list by a fair margin. His .272 ISO bests Chris Davis’ by .07 points. That is a noticeable difference in production.

Encarnacion will look to continue his power surge on the other side of the border in 2017 with one of the strongest swings in the game today.

 

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Spring Training Spotlight

Spring Training Spotlight: Hot and Cold Starts

With Spring Training in full swing, players and fans are starting to get into the groove of things. Players are hitting their strides at the plate and on the mound. But there are some who are struggling in the early going. Even though Spring Training is just that, training in the spring, players still strive to succeed. Which players are reaching that goal and which need to put in a little more work?

Hot

1B/DH Chris Colabello- Cleveland Indians

Spring Training Spotlight

Chris Colabello is hoping a strong Spring Training will mean a return to his 2015 form (Michael Dwyer/AP Photo).

After a 2016 season that saw Colabello only play 10 major league games for the Blue Jays, he needs a strong showing in Spring Training to shake loose of his PED suspension. But luckily for him, he has made the most of Spring Training so far with the Cleveland Indians, flashing his 2015 form. Colabello slashed .321/.367/.520 good for a 138 OPS+ over 101 games in 2015. And he’s showing signs of resurgence in Spring Training, slashing .333/.474/.667. But even with a hot start, it may be all for naught.

The Cleveland Indians have two top performers at Colabello’s primary positions: first base and DH. And no matter how hot Colabello gets, there is no way he is unseating Carlos Santana at first base or Edwin Encarnacion at DH. The best he can hope for is a spot on the bench, and at worst starting in the minors if he wants to stay with the Indians. But if Colabello continues his torrid pace, don’t be surprised to see him latch onto a new club.

OF Keon Broxton- Milwaukee Brewers

Keon Broxton was somewhat of a surprise last year after coming over from division rival Pittsburgh. While batting .242/.354/.430, he was able to hit nine homers, drive in 19 RBIs and steal 23 bases in 75 games. And at only 26 years old, Broxton is trying to build off his solid 2016 to cement himself in Milwaukee’s rebuild. He’s off to a good start so far, showing off at the plate in Spring Training.

So far, Broxton is batting .412/.444/.941 in Spring Training action. Those are some absurd numbers, even in limited time. At this point in Spring Training, batters usually start catching up to pitchers in terms of preparation and performance, but Broxton is putting others to shame. Broxton certainly came to camp ready to hit the ground running, and he hasn’t stopped yet. He’s in line to start in center, and at this rate his Opening Day job is securely in the bag.

Cold

OF Giancarlo Stanton-Miami Marlins

Spring Training Spotlight

Giancarlo Stanton hopes a poor Spring Training start is just a fluke (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images).

With as much power as Giancarlo Stanton has, you would think he would never run out. But Stanton is currently experiencing a power outage. The slugging outfielder is currently batting .176/.300/.412 in Spring Training, having a difficult time getting into rhythm. But skipper Don Mattingly is hoping that the mammoth Stanton can get back on track.

Stanton has proven to be an offensive force for the Marlins in his seen years in Miami, sending 208 homers into orbit. But he has also been limited by injuries, only playing 145 games or more twice in his career. In those two seasons, he hit a combined 71 homers and drove in 192 RBIs. But at 27 years old when the season starts, Stanton needs to become a more dependable player. Hopefully he’s just scuffling at the plate, and not feeling the impact of years of multiple injuries on his body.

LF/3B Joey Gallo- Texas Rangers

Joey Gallo is a player in the same vein as Giancarlo Stanton; a massive slugger with tremendous power. Unfortunately for Gallo, he is also struggling at the plate. Gallo is batting .111/.304/.278 in Spring Training. But as bad as that sounds, it’s an improvement over his 2016 season when he slashed a horrendous .040/.200/.160 in 17 games for the Rangers. After spending years as the Rangers top prospect, Gallo finally exhausted his rookie status in 2016. It’s now or never for him to show his minor league production wasn’t his high water point.

Gallo entered the Rangers farm system with massive power, grading out on the 20-80 scale with 80 raw power. He has always been a pure slugger, never hitting over .272 in a minor league season, but also posting two seasons with at least 40 homers. It was thought with Adrian Beltre at third base that Gallo would take over left field, but he is not even listen in left field in the Rangers’ depth chart. If Gallo can turn his Spring Training performance around, he may be able to get his career back it’s former trajectory.

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TGH First Annual MLB Academy Awards

The best from the film industry were celebrated last night in the 89th Academy Awards ceremony. With the MLB’s spring training beginning this past week, we have come up with a way to honor them both. I’m proud to present The Game Haus’ First Annual MLB Academy Awards. The game’s best and brightest will be awarded for their play on the field.

Categories will include: Best Picture (Best Team), Actor in a Leading Role (Best Player), Actor in a Supporting Role (Best Secondary Player) and Director (Best Manager). Without further ado, we begin our award presentation with Best Picture.

Best Picture: Chicago Cubs

MLB Academy Awards

Kris Bryant headlined a World Series roster for the Cubs (Credit: Michael Zagaris/Getty Images).

After a season that saw them win 103 games and the World Series, the Chicago Cubs are hands-down the choice for Best Picture of 2016. The Cubs are certainly not a one-year wonder.

Chicago is loaded with a roster that will allow them to compete for years to come. The offense is fueled by third baseman Kris Bryant and first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Bryant put up a 149 OPS+ with Rizzo’s 146 OPS+. That is exceptional production, but they weren’t the only contributors.

The pitching staff is rock solid for the Cubs, led by starters Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester. Even with a “down year” by Arrieta comparatively to his 2014 and 2015 campaigns, he still pitched exceptionally. He earned 18 wins with his 3.10 ERA and surprisingly, his first All-Star appearance in 2016. Jon Lester also earned an All-Star appearance in 2016, the fourth of his career.

The Cubs are one of the best teams in the league, and are sure to be in the running for this award for years to come.

Actor in a Leading Role: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

With a career 48.5 WAR at only 25 years old, Angels center fielder Mike Trout is without a doubt the best all around player in the game. His combination of power and speed are some of the best in the bigs. Trout stole 30 bases to go along with 29 homers and 100 RBIs last season. He was one home run from joining the exclusive 30-30 club, one that hasn’t had a new member since, you guessed it, Trout in 2012.

Any player can be an offensive juggernaut. It takes a truly exceptional player to be a game changer both at the plate and in the field.

Trout played 148 games in center field for the Angels in 2016. In his time at center, he posted six defensive runs saved. While that is not a mind-blowing number, it is solid for one of the more difficult positions to play in the field.

Trout is the best player in the major leagues, and it’s really not even close. He is the leader of the Angels, and in his five years in Anaheim he already has the second best WAR of any player in Angels history.

Actor in a Supporting Role: Jason Kipnis, Cleveland Indians

MLB Academy Awards

Jason Kipnis provided a solid season for the Indians in 2016 (Credit: Tony Dejak/AP Photo).

Cleveland shows no signs of regressing from their 2016 World Series appearance after landing Edwin Encarnacion in the offseason. Even with considerable contributions from stars such as Encarnacion, Francisco Lindor, Corey Kluber and Andrew Miller, it will take solid seasons from players across the roster.

Enter Jason Kipnis. Before the emergence of Lindor and Kluber, Kipnis was one of the most reliable offensive producers for the Indians. That didn’t change in 2016.

Kipnis hit the most homers of his career in 2016, slugging 23 long balls to go along with 82 RBIs. He also continued to showcase his speed, stealing a respectable 15 bases last season. His offensive production was impressive, but his four defensive runs saved proves he is an exceptional all-around player.

Kipnis may not be the best player on the Indians, but the support he provides surely does not go unnoticed.

Director: Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians

Sticking with Cleveland, Manager Terry Francona did an excellent job directing the Indians in 2016. He brought the Indians to their first World Series appearance since 1997 and will look to do the same in 2017.

Before Francona came to Cleveland in 2013, the Indians last playoff appearance had come in 2007. He quickly turned that around, guiding the Indians to 92 wins and a Wild Card berth. While they weren’t able to get past the Wild Card round, Francona had much more in store for the Tribe.

Entering his fourth year in Cleveland and only one playoff appearance to show for it, Francona was on the hot seat entering the 2016 season. He used that hot seat to light a fire under his team, guiding them all the way to the 2016 World Series. Even with a loss to the Cubs, Francona was able to stretch the series to seven games.

Some may think that the Cubs’ Joe Maddon is more deserving of this award. However, Francona was able to guide his club to one game away from the World Series title with a less talented roster and much lower expectations. Francona should guide the Indians to another deep playoff run in 2017.

 

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2017 American League Preview: The AL Central

Last week’s preview of the AL East examined a division where it appears almost any team could see the playoffs. This week’s look at the American League Central tells a different story with far fewer teams in realistic contention. That said, there are no sure things in baseball and this division is certainly no different.

One team looks to harness last year’s postseason success. Two others will fight hard to take advantage of their limited window. The final two teams look to the future and groom this league’s next set of stars.

#5 Minnesota Twins

2017 Projected Record: 61-101

The Twins should plan for some improvement in 2017. The return of ace starting pitcher Ervin Santana should add additional stability to the rotation. Furthermore, another year of experience for Miguel Sanó and Byron Buxton should aid in the offensive campaign. Max Kepler and other developing players give hope for the future, but the upcoming season optimism stops there.

The Twins simply don’t have horsepower to compete in 2017. The likelihood of another incredible power display by Brian Dozier isn’t high and team staple Joe Mauer continues to regress. The Twins have the opportunity for player development in the coming season but should temper expectations past that.

#4 Chicago White Sox

2017 Projected Record: 70-92

2017 American League Preview: The AL Central

Lucas Giolito #27 (Courtesy Getty Images)

The well documented offseason escapades of the White Sox have been widely praised around the league. The unloading of key players Chris Sale and Adam Eaton will undoubtedly hurt the cause in 2017, but it’s hard to argue with the return.  Yoan Moncada and Lucas Giolito are just the start of the strong prospect class Chicago has accrued.

While the future looks bright, the upcoming outlook is significantly bleaker. There’s plenty of youth that will have the opportunity to earn their spot this season, but few sure things.

Todd Frazier and Melky Cabrera are solid veterans, but they alone won’t make the difference. Furthermore, touted slugger Jose Abreu has star potential, but has been inconsistent at times throughout his career.

There’s no reason for Chicago fans to be disappointed with the direction the team’s headed, but may have to wait awhile to get to the destination.

#3 Kansas City Royals

2017 Projected Record: 83-79

The Royals could be an intriguing team in 2017. While the window is rapidly closing, the core of what made Kansas City World Series champions remains.

The Royals have consistently sported a small-ball lineup and strong bullpen that sneaks up on teams late in games. The offseason additions of Jorge Soler and Brandon Moss may even add an element of pop to the lineup.

With the rotation now anchored by the volatile Danny Duffy, the real test for the Royals will be starting pitching. If the Royals can get an early lead, fans should be confident in Ned Yost’s ability to manage the win.

Chances of the Royals making a serious run in 2017 aren’t likely given their divisional opponents. Of course, that’s what everyone said the year they took it all.

#2 Detroit Tigers

2017 Projected Record: 88-74

2017 American League Preview: The AL Central

Miguel Cabrera #24 (Courtesy Getty Images)

The Tigers will get a boost to their win total over last year contingent on one factor: health. Detroit is a team that underachieved given their talent, but that could be attributed to the injury bug.

Watching Michael Fulmer emerge and Justin Verlander reclaim his Cy Young form was impressive to say the least. If the Tigers can add firepower to the bullpen, Detroit can feel good about the arms they’ve assembled.

With pitching in relatively good hands, the real strength of the team will have the opportunity to do some damage. This Tigers lineup is full of savvy veterans who can hurt you in a number of ways. At age 33, Miguel Cabrera remains one of the best hitters in baseball and he is just one of many weapons.

If the Tigers can stay off the DL, look for them to put the heat on the projected front-runners.

#1 Cleveland Indians

2017 Projected Record: 93-69

The team who fell just one game shy of World Series glory last year has not been shy about their future intentions. From players’ comments to front office investment in star slugger Edwin Encarnacion, the goal is clear. Get back and win the World Series. However, stating that goal and achieving it are two very different things, especially in the game of baseball.

That said, there is plenty to feel good about with this Indians bunch. The return of Michael Brantley and the improving health of their rotation is a good sign. Upgrading at first base, a full season of Andrew Miller, and another year of cohesion all have the Tribe in a good spot.

The AL central isn’t going to let Cleveland run away with the division, but it’s going to be an uphill battle to stop them.

 

*Team Logos Courtesy of MLB.com*

 

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2017 Fantasy Baseball First Base Rankings

Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball First Base Rankings

The Game Haus presents our 2017 fantasy baseball first base rankings.

The first base position is among the deepest in fantasy baseball. Nine first basemen had at least 25 home runs and 100 RBIs last season. 23 had at least 20 home runs, and 19 had at least 80 RBIs. First base continues to offer plenty of power and production for your fantasy team.

With the start of spring training games upon us, it is time to rank the top 25 first basemen for 2017. Players have been grouped into three tiers, with the top and bottom player of each profiled below.

Honorable mentions: Joe Mauer (MIN), Lucas Duda (NYM), Chris Carter (NYY), Yulieski Gurriel (HOU), Ryan Zimmerman (WAS), and Dan Vogelbach (SEA).

Tier 1

2017 Fantasy Baseball First Base Rankings

Paul Goldschmidt is the golden standard at first base. (Courtesy of MLB.com)

  1. Paul Goldschmidt ARI
  2. Miguel Cabrera DET
  3. Joey Votto CIN
  4. Anthony Rizzo CHC
  5. Freddie Freeman ATL
  6. Edwin Encarnacion CLE

Paul Goldschmidt is the golden standard at first base in 2017. He has completed four consecutive All-Star seasons, finishing as runner up for MVP in 2013 and 2015. He offers five-category production and will bat third for the Arizona Diamondbacks, hit for average and power, and will steal plenty of bases.

The addition of A.J. Pollock and David Peralta to the lineup should increase his value as well. Goldy was without both of them for the majority of 2016. Also, he has 99 career stolen bases with a success rate of 81 percent, which is outstanding. His floor of about 15 steals gives him an edge over other superstar first basemen.

Edwin Encarnacion will make the move from the hitter friendly Rogers Centre to one of the toughest for right handed hitters. However, he remains in the top tier of elite first basemen. He will bat clean-up for a hungry Cleveland Indians team featuring Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana.

Encarnacion remains an elite fantasy option. He has hit at least 30 home runs with 98 or more RBIs. He also has batted at least .260 in his last five seasons. Expect more of the same out of the 34-year-old.

Tier 2

2017 Fantasy Baseball First Base Rankings

Wil Myers expects a 40/40 season from himself in 2017. (Courtesy of gaslampbell.com)

  1. Wil Myers SD
  2. Jose Abreu CWS
  3. Daniel Murphy WAS
  4. Ian Desmond COL
  5. Chris Davis BAL
  6. Hanley Ramirez BOS
  7. Matt Carpenter STL
  8. Carlos Santana CLE
  9. Eric Hosmer KC
  10. Adrian Gonzalez LAD

Wil Myers’ 2016 season resembled the likes of a poor man’s Paul Goldschmidt. He finished with 28 home runs and 28 stolen bases. His atrocious second half led to his batting average dipping to an underwhelming .259, causing his value in 2017 to be fairly low. His 20/20 upside should not be overlooked, as he was among only nine players to accomplish this feat last season.

The former rookie of the year completed his first full campaign in 2016, amounting 155 hits in 676 plate appearances. Myers will continue to be a horse in the middle of the San Diego Padres lineup for many years to come.

Adrian Gonzalez has been a consistent fantasy contributor his entire career. He has amassed 600 plus plate appearances in his last 11 seasons, while sporting a career .290 average. His power numbers have dwindled, as he tied a career low of 18 home runs in 2016. However, his production has not faltered, as he has had at least 90 RBIs in 10 consecutive seasons.

The 34-year-old will bat clean-up for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2017, giving him ample RBI opportunities once again. Gonzalez looks to be a safe fantasy pick once again for the twelfth consecutive season.

Tier 3

2017 Fantasy Baseball First Base Rankings

Brandon Belt, under or over rated? (Courtesy of USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Brandon Belt SF
  2. Mike Napoli TEX
  3. Tommy Joseph PHI
  4. C.J. Cron LAA
  5. Justin Bour MIA
  6. Greg Bird NYY
  7. Josh Bell PIT
  8. Mitch Moreland BOS
  9. Eric Thames MIL

Brandon Belt is another consistent fantasy performer. However, he has limited value as he has yet to surpass the 20-home run mark in his six-year career. The career .272 hitter did have a career high 82 RBIs in 2016, which was due to him batting primarily fifth.

The 28-year-old stole zero bases last season but has managed to steal 32 bases from 2011 to 2015. There is a chance that he adds some steals back to his stat line. Belt has a higher floor than most first basemen, although his ceiling is limited.

This Eric Thames is not the same guy we saw in 2011 or 2012. He returns to the U.S. after mashing 124 home runs in three seasons in the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO). Thames will have to re-adjust to life in the MLB, but was rewarded a three-year $15 million contract with a player option for a fourth. This shows that the Brewers are fully invested in Thames being their current and future first basemen.

The 30-year-old will bat clean-up in an aggressive and youthful Milwaukee Brewers lineup that looks to do damage in 2017. Thames will be a great value pick as his current average draft position according to fantasypros.com is 231.

 

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2017 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Rankings

Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Rankings

The catcher position is arguably the toughest and most important position on the diamond. Not only is catcher the most demanding position physically, but mentally as well. Catchers must know everything about everyone at all times.

The most important responsibilities of a catcher are on the defensive side of the ball. They need to block, pick, receive, call pitches and throw out runners, among other things. The importance of defense commonly results in catchers being worse offensively than other positions.

In fantasy terms, the catcher can be compared to the tight end in football. The tight end position is focused on blocking as much as it is receiving, resulting in them having a lower average fantasy value than other skill positions.

The top 25 catchers have been grouped into five tiers. The top and bottom catcher in each tier have been profiled below.

Exceptions include Matt Wieters, who is still an unsigned free agent and Wilson Ramos, who is recovering from a torn ACL, and should return to the Tampa Bay Rays as a designated hitter at some point in May.

Honorable mentions include: Jorge Alfaro (PHI), Nick Hundley (SF), Miguel Montero (CHC), Roberto Perez (CLE), Jeff Bandy (MIL), Tucker Barnhart (CIN), Carlos Ruiz (SEA), Tom Murphy (COL), and Tyler Flowers (ATL).

Tier 1

2017 fantasy baseball catcher rankings

Buster Posey could retire right now and be inducted into the Hall of Fame. (Courtesy of MLBtraderumors.com)

Catchers in this tier are elite fantasy options. They will play every day, whether it is behind the plate or at first base, and have offered consistently great offensive value in the past.

1. Buster Posey SF

2. Jonathan Lucroy TEX

Buster Posey has been the standard of excellence at catcher for the past five seasons. The former MVP is coming off of his worst career season (disregarding his 2011 campaign). An off year for Posey included batting .288 with 14 home runs and 80 RBIs. He managed to be top-15 MVP finalist, win his first Gold Glove and was named an All-Star for the fourth time.

The 29-year-old will remain the three-hole hitter for the always competitive San Francisco Giants, and should be selected as the first catcher off the board in 2017.

A two time All-Star, Jonathan Lucroy, will play his first full season for the Texas Rangers in 2017. He projects to bat sixth in a deep Rangers lineup that features young stud stars Rougned Odor and Nomar Mazara, as well as veterans Carlos Gomez, Adrain Beltre, Shin-Soo Choo and recently acquired Mike Napoli.

Lucroy led the league in doubles while finishing fourth in MVP voting in 2014. His 2015 season was cut short to a broken toe and concussion. In 2016, Lucroy rebounded, reaching career high in home runs, walks and slugging percentage. After being traded by the Milwaukee Brewers to the Rangers in 2016, He managed to mash 11 home runs in 47 games. Lucroy is guaranteed to be a top catcher in 2017.

Tier 2

2017 fantasy baseball catcher rankings.

Gary Sanchez is no longer the future of the New York Yankees, but rather the present. (Courtesy of NJ.com)

This tier consists of catchers who will play nearly every day, hit in the heart of the order, and offer great offensive value.

3. Gary Sanchez NYY

4. Willson Contreras CHC

5. Yasmani Grandal LAD

Everybody remembers Gary Sanchez for hitting 20 home runs in 53 games in 2016, but they forget that he batted .225 in September and October. Sanchez has huge upside as he will bat third for a sneaky talented Yankees lineup featuring veteran speedsters Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner.

With the 24-year-old batting third, Sanchez is in a prime spot to rack up RBIs if he can continue to put the bat on the ball. The Sanchise should not be overlooked because of his great opportunity in 2017.

Yasmani Grandal had his best career year in 2016, finishing 22nd in MVP voting. He hit 27 bombs while slashing .228/.339/.477 in 126 games. The Dodger’s everyday catcher will bat fifth behind Adrian Gonzalez, Justin Turner and Corey Seager, which will give him ample RBI opportunities.

Grandal will be a great fantasy asset in 2017.

Tier 3

2017 Fantasy Baseball Rankings

Russell Martin’s continued success is remarkable at 34-years-old. (Courtesy of www.whatproswear.com)

Catchers in this tier offer above average fantasy value as they will play nearly every day, hit in productive spots in the order, and have proven their worth in the past.

6. Russell Martin

7. Brian McCann

8. Salvador Perez

9. Yadier Molina

10. Wellington Castillo

11. Stephen Vogt

Russell Martin, the MLB’s journey man, has found success everywhere he goes. He has reached the 20 home run, 60 run, 70 RBI plateau in his last two consecutive seasons. The 34-year-old will be entering his 12th season as the everyday catcher and six hitter of the Toronto Blue Jays.

He will have the same opportunity he has had in the past two seasons to be a key contributor in the Blue Jays offense.

Stephen Vogt has finished his second consecutive season of 500 plate appearances and over a .250 average. He has hit a total of 32 home runs in his last two seasons, suggesting that he has above average power for a catcher. The 32-year-old will be the Oakland Athletics primary catcher and two-hitter in 2017, which will give him plenty of opportunities to produce runs.

The two-time All-Star will continue to have the chance to shine as a key part of the Athletics roster.

Tier 4

2017 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Rankings

Where does Evan Gattis fit into the Houston Astros puzzle? (Courtesy of The Houston Chronicle)

Players in this tier will come at a cheap price, but will provide above average value.

12. Evan Gattis

13. J.T. Realmuto

14. Mike Zunino

15. Austin Hedges

16. Francisco Cervelli

17. Derek Norris

Evan Gattis, the former janitor, has managed to amass 20 or more home runs in all four of his MLB seasons while averaging only 122 games per season. Gattis will play a utility role for the Houston Astros in 2017, who have signed Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann this offseason.

Gattis will find time behind home plate when veteran McCann’s legs need a rest, at designated hitter when Beltran starts in the outfield or is out of the lineup, and at first base when Yulieski Gurriel sits or struggles.

The 30-year-old has too much talent to not be in the lineup, and will be a cheap source of power in the middle or late rounds of your draft.

Derek Norris, who batted .186 in 2016, was traded to the Washington Nationals in December of 2016 for a minor-league pitcher. He will hold the primary catchers position relinquishing the occasional at bat to Jose Lobaton. The 28-year-old will bat at the bottom of a loaded Nationals lineup, giving him more RBI opportunities than the average eight hitter. A lot of people forget that Derek Norris batted .250 in 2015, and .270 in 2014, showing that he has the potential to be a valuable fantasy asset for a cheap price.

Tier 5

2017 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Rankings

Travis d’Arnaud looks forward to a healthy 2017. (Courtesy of Getty Images)

These catchers all offer average levels of production but will be playing in platoon roles, so playing time may be staggered until injuries or performance dictate otherwise.

18. Travis d’Arnaud

19. Sandy Leon

20. Devin Mesoraco

21. Yan Gomes

22. Cameron Rupp

23. Tony Wolters

24. James McCann

25. Jason Castro

Travis d’Arnaud will be the primary catcher for the New York Mets, occasionally relinquishing at-bats to backups Rene Rivera and Kevin Plawecki. Although he has only totaled 100 games played once in his career (108 games played in 2014), he is healthy and confident heading into 2017.

The Mets have also hired Glenn Sherlock as their new third base coach and catching instructor which will help d’Arnaud maintain his confidence behind the plate and at the dish. He offers average value for low cost, as he is commonly going undrafted.

Jason Castro, also going undrafted, will be the starting catcher for the Minnesota Twins after signing a three year, $24.5 million contract. He will bat at the bottom of a young Twins lineup that is sure to produce its fair share of runs in 2017. Castro batted .210 with 11 home runs in 2016, although it was only four seasons ago when the 29-year-old was an All-Star who batted .270 with 18 home runs. Castro is a good sleeper for deep or two catcher leagues.

 

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Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Top 5 Setup Men for 2017

Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Top 5 Setup Men for 2017

The Game Haus presents our fantasy baseball rankings: top 5 setup men for 2017.

Setup men have become a premier aspect of baseball in the last decade as teams have begun to acquire multiple high-level relief pitchers in order to lock down the final innings of the game.

Standard fantasy baseball leagues generally do not include holds in their scoring formats, although I believe holds are integral to the game of baseball and thus belong as a stat in the fantasy version as well.

For anyone unfamiliar with a hold, it is a statistic that measures the effectiveness of relievers. A pitcher is rewarded with a hold when he enters the game with his team in the lead in a save situation, which is a lead of no more than three runs, and hands over that lead to another reliever without giving up the lead.

 

Below are the top five setup men heading into the 2017 season.

Exceptions include: Addison Reed, who will close games while Juerys Familia serves his looming suspension, and Cam Bedrosian, who could take Huston Street’s closer job.

Honorable mentions include: Will Harris, Luke Gregerson, Tyler Clippard, Darren O’Day, Kyle Barraclough, Hunter Strickland, Will Smith, and Derek Law.

 

5. Nate Jones, Chicago White Sox

Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Top 5 Setup Men for 2017

What do David Robertson trade rumors mean for Nate Jones? (Courtesy of zimbio.com)

Nate Jones commonly goes overlooked as he is on the rebuilding Chicago White Sox, although he offers great value as a setup man in 2017.

He finished 2016 with a 2.29 ERA, 10.19 K/9, and 28 holds. This was his second consecutive season of over 10 K/9 and a sub-one WHIP.

Jones had an excellent 2.93 FIP, or Fielding Independent Pitching, which measures what a pitcher’s ERA would look like if they were to receive average fielding results on balls in play.

With David Robertson trade rumors lurking, Jones may be moved to the closer role, but for the time being he is the fifth best option for holds in 2017.

 

4. Tyler Thornburg, Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox acquired the Milwaukee Brewers reliever in December of 2016 in exchange for Travis Shaw, two minor league prospects, and cash considerations.

Thornburg flourished as Milwaukee’s top setup man in 2016, finishing the season with a 2.1 ERA, 20 holds and 13 saves. His mid-90’s fastball and devastating curve helped him strikeout over 12 batters per nine innings. He also had an excellent FIP of 2.83, which suggest that he will find continued success no matter who is fielding behind him.

The 28-year-old will act as the bridge to Craig Kimbrel in 2017, giving him plenty of hold opportunities. Also, if Kimbrel were to go down, Thornburg would be the next man up.

 

3. Brad Brach, Baltimore Orioles

Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Top 5 Setup Men for 2017

Brad Brach looks to build on his 2016 All-star campaign heading to 2017. (Courtesy of The Baltimore Sun)

Brach expanded on his 2015 breakout by exploding in 2016. The first-time All-star finished the year with a 2.05 ERA, 10.48 K/9, and 24 holds.

He improved his career averages across the board, most notably cutting his walks per nine innings down by 1.46, to a very manageable 2.85 BB/9.

I do not see any signs of regression for Brach in 2017, as his BABIP (batting average on balls batted in play), ground ball percentage, and homerun to fly ball rates have remained steady over his last three seasons.

Brach is cemented in as the Orioles’ eighth inning guy, with Darren O’Day working the seventh, and closer Zach Britton shutting it down in the ninth.

 

2. Dellin Betances, New York Yankees

The New York Yankees fireman finished 2016 with 28 holds, 12 saves, and an ERA of 3.08. His ERA was his highest in three seasons, although his FIP was an astounding 1.78, suggesting that his fielding contributed largely to his struggles.

The 6 foot 8, 260-pound hurler has increased his K/9 in every consecutive season, and sports a career average of 14.28. He exhibited a career high 15.53 K/9, which lead the league among qualifying relief pitchers in 2016.

He will return to a setup role as the Yankees reacquired closer Aroldis Chapman in free agency.

Betances will continue to dominate batters with his demoralizing cutter, similar to the likes of Kenley Jansen and Mariano Rivera.

The all-world reliever will be an asset for any fantasy team in 2017, whether the league awards points for holds or not.

 

1. Andrew Miller, Cleveland Indians

Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Top 5 Setup Men for 2017

Andrew Miller is set to continue his regular season dominance in 2017. (Courtesy of Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Arguably the most dominant pitcher in the game, it is no surprise to see Andrew Miller at the top of this list. His 2016 campaign resulted in an astounding 1.45 ERA, 14.89 K/9, 25 holds and 12 saves.

Miller will remain as a late inning work horse for the Indians, offering availability in the 7th, 8th and 9th innings. The 31-year-old will remain as Cody Allen’s setup man in 2017 and will be a key contributor in the tribe’s hunt for October.

The lethal lefty offers great value to all leagues, as he will contribute elite ratios and inevitably a few rogue saves.

 

 

 

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Spring Training Fever: Baseball is Back in Business

Pitchers and catchers report. The words fans long to hear as they anxiously await the start of spring training. Unfortunately, this day always feels like much ado about nothing. The whole team has yet to assemble and the real action doesn’t really begin for another two weeks. However, baseball is back nonetheless and that is reason enough to be excited for the start of 2017 season.

While the actual importance of game results is lacking, there are certainly other areas worth analyzing this time of year. The following is a list of common spring training themes and some of the teams who may be attached to these storylines throughout camp.

“I’m in the Best Shape of My Life”

This is always a fan-favorite line players love to feed to reporters early in the season. Whether it’s shedding a few pounds (I’m looking at you Pablo), packing on muscle, or recovering from an injury, all eyes are on the general health of the team this time of year.

Team to Watch: Cleveland Indians

Spring Training Fever: Baseball is Back in Business

Danny Salazar #31 of the Cleveland Indians (Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Last year’s World Series runner-up battled through a bevy of injuries at year’s end and look to recuperate in 2017. Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar and Michael Brantley are all key pieces recovering for the Tribe. Their contribution to the upcoming campaign will be absolutely critical if Cleveland is to attempt a follow-up appearance in October.

Honorable Mentions: Mets, Tigers and Nationals

Rookie Roster Spots

This is the chance for the young guns to shine. With plenty of invites to go around, fans will see first-hand some of their organization’s rising stars. Leaving camp with only 25 roster spots means competition is fierce, and many won’t make the cut.

However, the opportunity for these minor leaguers to taste some big league action must be an experience like no other. There’s an impressive influx of young talent throughout the MLB, and spring training is the perfect chance to see it in action.

Team to Watch: Chicago White Sox

Chicago was certainly one of the more active teams this offseason. Committing fully to a rebuild, the White Sox offloaded Chris Sale and Adam Eaton for an impressive group of prospects.

There are few positions locked in for Chicago, and young stars Yoan Moncada and Lucas Giolito will undoubtedly get an opportunity. Those names added to a strong farm system should set the Sox up for an exciting spring and promising future.

Honorable Mentions: Braves, Rays and Brewers

Battle for the Bullpen

The aptly named “Closer Carousel” is always a hot topic come spring training. The pen is a perpetual source of spring intrigue for two major reasons.

First, it’s a way for managers to trial promising young arms and allow them to compete for a potential spot. Second, it provides the battle ground for the ever revolving door that is an MLB closer’s job. It’s a high stakes game with some of the hardest throwing individuals in Major League Baseball. What’s not to like?

Team to Watch: Colorado Rockies

Adam Ottavino #0 of the Colorado Rockies (Photo by Dustin Bradford via Getty Images)

This matchup represents one of the more intriguing closer battles going into spring training. Colorado improved this offseason with the addition of Ian Desmond to an already talented offense. The question hanging over Coors field is who will be the brave soul tasked with securing a home lead?

Adam Ottavino is coming off a respectable 2016 season and posted a 2.67 ERA with seven saves. The challenger will be the recently signed Greg Holland, who is coming off a season-ending Tommy John surgery in 2016. Holland holds a career 2.42 ERA and has amassed 145 career saves, including 47 in his best season.

At 31 years of age, both veterans will battle it out to earn a spot as the ninth inning man in one of baseball’s most hitter friendly parks.

Honorable Mentions: Reds, Angels, A’s, Twins, Phillies and Nationals

 

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