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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Spring Training Storylines

February has finally come, which means Spring Training is on the horizon. Pitchers and catchers report in less than two weeks. With roster spots up for grabs and offseason moves and contracts still being discussed, this spring training offers plenty to look forward to.

Will the Pirates and Andrew McCutchen be able to reconcile?

2017 MLB Spring Training

Andrew McCutchen will be reunited with the Pirates in Spring Training after they almost dumped him in the off-season (Jim Mcisaac, Getty Images).

Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen was the subject of trade rumors all offseason after having a down year in 2016. With the drop in his offensive production and prospects knocking on the door to the majors, moving the former all-star made perfect sense. That is, until it didn’t happen.

The Pirates decided to stand pat, and in the process alienated their franchise cornerstone. He will return in 2017, but his role with the team is still in question. Will he be the everyday center fielder? Or will young speedster Starling Marte make the move to center? What about Austin Meadows, who according to MLB.com is the ninth highest ranked prospect in baseball?

All of these questions pale in comparison to only one question: will Andrew McCutchen return to normal form? He will have the opportunity to prove it in 2017, with the team many thought had already given up on him.

How will Ian Desmond look at first base?

2017 MLB Spring Training

Ian Desmond will be making his second position change in the past three seasons (Ronald Martinez, Getty Images North America).

The Colorado Rockies made a surprising sign in the offseason, inking outfielder Ian Desmond to a five-year, $70 million deal. With a glut of outfield talent, you would think that money would’ve been better spent on the bullpen or the starting rotation. After signing Desmond, they made an even more surprising announcement.

Desmond is being penciled in as the Rockies starting first baseman for the 2017 season. Changing positions is something Desmond has experienced before. As a shortstop, he made the move to the outfield for the Texas Rangers in the 2016 season. First base is still a whole new world for Desmond.

First base, besides catcher, handles the ball on more plays than any other position. While Desmond is a terrific athlete, asking him to learn a position such as first base in one offseason may be asking too much of him. It will be interesting to watch Desmond in Spring Training, as he will certainly see the field often.

Where will Jose Reyes play?

When the Mets signed Jose Reyes during the 2016 season after his release from the Colorado Rockies, he was expected to take over third base for David Wright. That he did, albeit with poor defensive metrics. What Reyes did provide was solid offense, posting a 104 OPS+ for the Mets. With the return of David Wright in 2017, that leaves Reyes without a position.

2017 MLB Spring Training

The Mets hope Jose Reyes can fly in the outfield just as he has in the infield (Ronald Martinez, Getty Images North America).

It seems the Mets have the answer. Jose Reyes has been practicing in the outfield this offseason, leading many to believe that he will become a super utility player. His experience at shortstop, third and second base give him the ability to play all over the infield. His athletic ability should transfer to the outfield, giving him the ability to play the corner outfield spots or maybe even center field.

With a bat like Reyes’ on the bench, manager Terry Collins will look to utilize him as much as he can. Reyes will see plenty of time in the field during Spring Training. Just don’t expect him to stay in one place too long.

Will any of the remaining sluggers be signed?

Spring Training offers many players the opportunity to prove themselves and earn a starting gig. It also catches many players off guard. Some players wind up getting injured or under performing. That is where these players come in.

2017 MLB Spring Training

Plenty of power hitters remain on the free agent market, but will any of them make a team in Spring Training (Ken Blaze, USA Today Sports).

Names like Mike Napoli, Chris Carter, Pedro Alvarez and Ryan Howard are still on the market, drawing little interest. So much so that Chris Carter, who tied for the most homers in the National League last year with 41, is looking to Japan for employment. With the start of Spring Training, that could change.

These players are likely to be the first to sign during Spring Training due to injury or under performance. The question is which one(s) will it be? Will playoff hero Mike Napoli be the first off the board, or will Pedro Alvarez be able to leverage his massive power into a major league job? What about aged slugger Ryan Howard? Or will Chris Carter be able to avoid the cross-Pacific trip?

With so many questions to be answered before the season starts, Spring Training provides the perfect opportunity to answer them. These and many others will be asked and answered before the season even begins. Just like spring, baseball will burst forth anew in just a few weeks. I for one can’t wait for it to begin.

 

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Fantasy Baseball Tips

Fantasy Baseball Tips and Tricks: Who, What, When, Where, and Why?

The Game Haus presents its first installment of our fantasy baseball tips and tricks series. We intend to give fantasy baseball owners, new and old, some advice to improve their outcomes in 2017.

Fantasy baseball is complicated. Owners must adjust to the grueling 162 game season, deeper rosters, and longer drafts. To start, we have developed this quick guide to aid your difficult drafting decision. This specific guide is for re-draft leagues only, and does not discuss any keeper or dynasty league strategies.

Who do you draft?

With so many available options, it is often hard to make a selection. You will have to make a difficult decision between two or more players at some point in your upcoming draft. Before you come to a verdict, consider the following criteria.

What team do they play for?

Great teams produce great fantasy performers. The top five scoring offenses in 2016 were the Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Colorado Rockies, Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Cardinals. Players in these lineups have a greater chance of producing and scoring runs, as they have more talent around them.

An example of a possible draft dilemma could be between Edwin Encarnacion of the Cleveland Indians and Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves. Both players will be selected around the same draft position, as they are both first basemen and offer similar upside. However, I would select Encarnacion, as Cleveland had a top five scoring offense in 2016, while the Braves finished with the third worst.

For pitchers, the more runs that their offense scores, the better chance they have to accumulate wins. A third pitcher on the Red Sox or Cubs, who finished with top five offenses, may be a more attractive pick than an ace on the Oakland Athletics or Philadelphia Phillies, who finished with bottom two offenses in 2016.

When are they getting drafted?

Draft position is an imperative factor when deciding who to select. Two players may offer the same amount of value, but will be drafted three rounds apart. One key to decision making is understanding alternative options.

Ranking players in tiers is a good strategy to help decision making. Tiers allow you to identify steep drop offs in talent at specific positions. If there are multiple players left in one tier, you will be able to pass on that position until a later round. Also, if there is only one player left in a tier, it alerts you that their will soon be a steep drop off in talent at that position.

Where do they bat?

We can all agree that runs (R) and runs batted in (RBI) are lineup dependent. In other words, players batting third, fourth, and fifth will have more RBI opportunities than someone batting seventh, eighth, or ninth.

A common drafting mistake is missing out on RBI opportunities. In order to avoid this mistake, make notes of players who will be batting in the middle of lineups, as even the worst offenses have middle of the order contributors.

Why are you selecting them?

If you are in a points league, selecting the best player on your draft board is a good strategy, but do you select a pitcher or a hitter? This depends on how your roster is already filled out. Keeping your team balanced is key. Filling out your pitching rotation and starting lineup simultaneously will help keep your roster balanced.

If you are playing in a categories league, you must know which categories you are covering when selecting a player. If you finish a draft and realize that Joey Votto will lead your team in steals, you may be forced to punt that category.  In order to avoid these types of mistakes, make a list of your teams desired amount of home runs, rbi’s, runs, and steals. During your draft, add up the projections to see how your team stacks up.

 

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Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Right Field

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

2017 MLB Season

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

5. Carlos Gonzalez- Colorado Rockies

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

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

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

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

4. Giancarlo Stanton- Miami Marlins

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

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

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

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

3. George Springer- Houston Astros

2017 MLB Season

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

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

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

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

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

2. Bryce Harper- Washington Nationals

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

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

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

1. Mookie Betts- Boston Red Sox

2017 MLB Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Center Field

In this eighth installment of our Position Rankings for the 2017 MLB Season, we shift over to center field. It is one of the most difficult positions to play in all of baseball and where you can usually find the best athlete on the team.  From slugging to speed, center field has it all. Let’s kick off our rankings with the fifth best center fielder in baseball.

5. Dexter Fowler- St. Louis Cardinals

2017 MLB Season

Dexter Fowler will go from rounding the bases at Wrigley to circling them at Busch Stadium. (Gene J. Puskar, AP Photo)

After helping guide the Chicago Cubs to a World Series title in 2016, Fowler will look to repeat as a champion with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2017. Fowler provides the Cardinals with a spark at the top of the order, which is something they have been missing for a long time. He batted .276, .393 and .447 on his way to an OPS+ of 126, which is 26 percent better than league average. Fowler helped fuel his offensive onslaught by smashing 13 dingers to go along with 48 RBI’s and swiped 13 bags. He has an excellent mix of power and speed, but don’t sleep on his defense.

Fowler had long been seen as a subpar defender in center field, and the defensive metrics helped prove it. He made a small adjustment that had a big impact; he stood about 10 feet farther back in center than he had in previous seasons. That might not sound like much, but his defensive metrics speak volumes. Fowler had -12 defensive runs saved in 2015, but improved significantly to 1 defensive run saved in 2016. With a steady offensive approach and improved defense, Fowler is primed to be a big performer in 2017.

4. Kevin Kiermaier- Tampa Bay Rays

From being a 30th round draft pick to being named the best fielder in the majors, Kevin Kiermaier has seen a lot in his time with the Rays. Kiermaier has been the epitome of a draft day steal. The 2016 season was no different for Kiermaier, who batted .246, .331 and .410 while hitting 12 homers and 37 RBI’s. He also stole 21 bases in 2016, putting up an OPS+ of 104. His offense has been above league average for two of his three major league seasons, but he has had Gold Glove potential since day one.

In his past two seasons in the majors, Kiermaier has had 67 defensive runs saved in center field! That is an astronomical number, boosted by his 42 defensive runs saved in 2015. Kiermaier had a “down” year in 2016, posting a measly 25 defensive runs saved. All kidding aside, Kiermaier’s defense is truly something to behold. If he can improve his offensive game and maintain his defense, Kiermaier will be in the running for the upper echelon of elite overall players in the majors.

3. Charlie Blackmon- Colorado Rockies

2017 MLB Season

Charlie Blackmon can sometime be buried in a lineup like Colorado’s, but he shines nonetheless. (Russell Lansford, Icon SMI)

After making the move from pitcher to outfielder in his college days, it’s safe to say Blackmon made the right career move. The Rockies center fielder had his best offensive season in 2016, putting up a slash line of .324, .381 and .552. After three years of average offensive production, his 2016 slash line along with 29 homers, 82 RBI’s and 17 stolen bases were good enough to earn him an OPS+ of 130. While he has played half of his games in hitter friendly Coors Field, OPS+ takes into account the park in which a player plays, and Blackmon was still 30 percent better than league average.

Although Blackmon experienced an offensive explosion in 2016, his defense remained about the same. He posted -2 defensive runs saved in 2016, below average for a major league center fielder. His defense, albeit below league average, is still passable with his explosive offense. Blackmon will need to continue his offensive pace and improve his defense to become a regular on this list.

2. Jackie Bradley Jr.- Boston Red Sox

In his first full season in Beantown, Jackie Bradley Jr. was able to finally lay Jacoby Ellsbury’s ghost to rest. Bradley Jr. showed flashes of pure brilliance in 2016. He hit in 29 straight games and started in the All-Star game for the American League. Over the course of the season, Bradley Jr. hit .267, .349 and .486 as well as slugging 26 home runs. He also added 87 RBI’s and nine stolen bases to give him an OPS+ of 116. While Bradley Jr. was finally able to find his way at the plate, he has long been a master with the glove.

Bradley Jr. had 11 defensive runs saved in 2016, a remarkable number for a player who just played his first full season in the bigs. He has long been known as a defensive savant since his days in the minors, and he proved his reputation true in 2016.  Bradley Jr. made 156 starts in center for the Red Sox, and is entrenched at center for the foreseeable future. With the ability and opportunity finally matching, Bradley Jr. is set to have a monster year in Boston.

1. Mike Trout- Los Angeles Angels

2017 MLB Season

Mike Trout is one of, if not the, best player in the game (AP Photo, Jae C. Hong).

Could it have been anyone else? Trout has put up video game numbers since being called up by the Angles at the ripe old age of 19. Since his first full season in the majors at 20 years old, Trout has finished either second or first in the AL MVP Voting, winning two AL MVP awards in that time as well as five Silver Slugger awards. Trout put up another spectacular season in 2016, batting .315, .441 and .550. He also slugged 29 bombs, had 100 RBI’s and stole 30 bases. Trout is the best overall offensive player in the game, but his glove doesn’t trail too far behind.

Mike Trout had six defensive runs saved in 2016 while roaming center field. His high water mark for defense was in 2012 when he had 23 defensive runs saved in center. While that might be difficult even for Trout to match, he is certainly one of the top fielders at his position. Trout is on a Hall of Fame trajectory, and shows no signs of slowing down. 2017 will be what we’ve come to expect of Trout; one of the best players of his generation at the top of his game.

Center field can be considered a top heavy position; it’s Mike Trout and then everybody else. While there may not be that much depth behind Trout, there are still young players who will be looking to take the next step in their careers in 2017. With the position full of young talent, they will all be vying for number two on this list for a long time to come.

 

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2017 MLB Season

Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Third Basemen

The sixth installment of our position rankings lands us at the 2017 third basemen rankings. Third base is one of the most top-heavy positions in all of baseball. With steady veterans and young studs all around the league, let’s start our list with number five.

5. Adrian Beltre- Texas Rangers

Like a fine wine, Beltre just seems to get better with age. By the way Beltre has been playing, you wouldn’t know he’s entering his 20th season in the majors. He bested his career averages in 2016 batting (.300/.358/.521.) And while he didn’t earn an All-Star selection in 2016, Beltre was still able to finish seventh in the AL MVP voting by hitting 32 home runs with 104 RBIs. But it wasn’t just his offense that vaulted him into the MVP conversation.

Beltre’s defense has been spectacular throughout his time in Texas, and it continued in 2016. He posted 15 defensive runs saved and was a wizard with the glove down at third base. That fancy glove work and powerful offensive production makes Beltre a solid pick to make the top five. Although he will be entering 2017 in his late 30’s, don’t expect Father Time to catch up with him anytime soon.

4. Manny Machado- Baltimore Orioles

2017 Third Basemen Rankings

Many Machado will try to carry the Orioles to the playoffs in 2017. (Rob Carr, Getty Images).

At 24 years old and entering his fifth season in the majors, Manny Machado will be a mainstay on this list for years to come. Machado really came into his own in 2016, putting up career highs in batting average (.294), slugging (.533) and posting a OBP of .343. Machado was also able to continue to utilize his power in 2016, mashing 37 homers and driving in 96 RBIs.

Like Beltre, Machado was also in the 2016 AL MVP conversation, finishing fifth. Machado also proved to be pretty steady with the glove as well.

Coming up as a shortstop with the Baltimore Orioles, Machado has always been a great fielder. He has been able to utilize his defensive skills at the hot corner, posting 13 defensive runs saved in 2016.

Machado has found his power, and coupled that with an excellent ability to make contact, good batting eye, and stellar defense to up his game even more in 2016. The 2017 season should prove no different for Machado.

3. Josh Donaldson- Toronto Blue Jays

While Josh Donaldson was a great player in 2013 and 2014 with Oakland, he blossomed into a legit MVP player when he was shipped north of the border in 2015. He continued his offensive onslaught in the 2016 season, slashing .284, .404, .549 and launched 37 homers to go along with 99 RBIs.

While Donaldson did have a drop off from his 2015 MVP season to his 2016 season, it is extremely hard to improve on an MVP season. Donaldson also experienced a sight drop off in his defense as well in 2016.

Donaldson had 2 defensive runs saved in 2016, not spectacular, but solid nonetheless. As Donaldson enters the 2017 season, he will look to continue what he accomplished in 2015 and 2016. His glove and his bat are one of the best in all of the majors, and Donaldson has a chance to prove it in 2017.

2017 Third Basemen Rankings

Nolan Arenado has launched 80 plus homers in the past two seasons. (Ben Margot, AP Photo).

2. Nolan Arenado- Colorado Rockies

After two seasons of 40 plus homers, Nolan Arenado has officially cemented himself as one of the best players in the league. He put up a slash line of .294, .362, .570, career bests in average and OBP in 2016. He also earned an NL All-Star appearance, Gold Glove award and Silver Slugger award for the second year in a row.

Arenado has produced at a ridiculous rate in the past two seasons, hitting 83 homers to go along with 263 RBIs. He has certainly found his swing at the plate, but he has always had a stellar glove.

Arenado has been a Gold Glover for his entire major league career, earning the award each season he has been in the majors. And 2016 was no different. He had 20 defensive runs saved in 2016, an amazing number for a third baseman. He is without a doubt one of the best overall defenders in all of baseball, and 2017 will be no different. If Arenado can continue his torrid offensive pace and spectacular defense, he will be a perennial MVP candidate.

1. Kris Bryant- Chicago Cubs

With just two seasons in the majors under his belt, Kris Bryant has done things that many thought would never be done. He helped bring the Cubs a World Series title in 2016 and won the NL MVP in 2016 after winning the NL ROY award in 2015.

Bryant has put up monster numbers since being called up in 2015, batting .284, .377, .522 as well as blasting 65 bombs to go along with 201 RBIs in his career. He has also stole 21 bases in his time in Chicago, exceptional for a slugger like Bryant.

Bryant has also made his name with the glove. Coming up as a third baseman with the Cubs, Bryant was always a solid fielder. But his defensive prowess has grown since being called up to Chicago. He posted 4 defensive runs saved at third base in 2016, providing a solid glove at the hot corner.

But Bryant has also proven to be a solid defender all over the field. Logging time at third, the outfield and first base in 2016, Bryant has become one of the game’s most versatile player. Bryant is a once in a generation talent, and is just beginning his young career.

It is a golden age for third basemen, with multiple young players performing at a high level. From Gold Glovers to Silver Sluggers, the major league landscape is dotted with players who are set to put up monster numbers in 2017.

 

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2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Four

We’re back with the Game Haus’ fourth installment of 2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Four. In recent news, the Mariners decided to spite my previous ranking by making a plethora of moves and trades to shore up their rotation heading into the season. While Seattle undoubtedly improved it was the Braves and the Rays that both left that exchange with a promising future. In the meantime, teams all across the league continue to avoid arbitration and extend their players with a multitude of contracts being signed. Finally, with less than a month remaining before pitchers and catchers report, several worthy veterans remain on the open market.

The rankings must go on! This week takes a look at teams 15-11. Now we’re talking competition. Each one of these teams has enough pieces for a solid 2017 campaign. While most wouldn’t place these teams in the top tier, any of these organizations could make a wild card run. As we all know, if you are still in the running in October, anything can happen.

 

15. Detroit Tigers

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Four

Record: 86-75

Many pegged the Tigers as sellers this offseason, but that sale never really came. Detroit returns in 2017 sporting much of the same core it’s competed with the last several years. Last season, Justin Verlander reclaimed his ace status and Michael Fulmer emerged as an extremely promising second option. Add that to a lineup chalk full of seasoned veterans led by Miguel Cabrera, and you’ve got yourself a shot. The Tigers should find success given the largely depleted AL Central, but will it be enough to match the Indians?

 

14. New York Yankees

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Four

2016 record: 84-78

No one would accuse Yankees GM Brian Cashman of being dormant this Winter. Not only did the Yanks clean up last trade deadline, but also managed to reclaim star closer Aroldis Chapman. Blue Chip prospects like Clint Frazier and Gleyber Torres came over during the Yankees closer sale, but aren’t even part of the young core already on the field.  Didi Gregorious, Aaron Judge, and breakout star catcher Gary Sánchez have already emerged, and are expected in the 2017 lineup. The real question facing the Yankees is whether Masahiro Tanaka and company can bounce back from a tough 2016. Rotation aside, the Yankees may be a bit young for a serious run, but lookout for the pinstripes very soon.

 

13. Colorado Rockies

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Four

2016 record: 75-87

Admittedly this feels a bit high up in the rankings for a Rockies team with 87 losses in 2016. That said, one can’t help but be impressed by the lineup Colorado has assembled. The surprise signing of Ian Desmond alone gives the Rocks a sizable infield boost. Pair that with young players like Trevor Story and potential NL MVP candidate Nolan Arenado, and you’re looking at serious potential. Like many teams, the question mark hangs over a young rotation that did show promise in 2016. Coors Field will never be a pitchers dream, but if just one of those young pitchers can establish themselves as an ace, look for Colorado to do some damage in 2017.

 

12. Toronto Blue Jays

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Four

2016 record: 89-73

The Blue Jay’s had an AL leading 3.78 ERA in 2016, and that whole rotation will be returning. Tack on a presumably healthy Francisco Liriano, and you have one of the more dangerous rotations in the MLB. The rotation is set, but now Toronto must cope with the loss of star slugger Edwin Encarnacion. Further adding complexity is the loss of Michael Saunders from the lineup. Jose Bautista will be staying in Toronto. However, losing both Encarnacion and Saunders leaves a considerable gap for the Jays to fill. The offseason signing of Kendrys Morales certainly helps soften that blow by adding a solid DH. The Blue Jays may have a different dynamic than in years past, but expect them to be competitive regardless.

 

11. St. Louis Cardinals

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Four

2016 record: 86-76

The Cardinals are just solid. At this point, it’s basically their thing. The team continuously churns out seasons on the better side of 85 wins. Continue packing Busch Stadium with loyal red birds’ fans, and they continue their war against the top team in the MLB. The Cards have great depth and flexibility throughout their lineup bolstered by the poaching of center fielder Dexter Fowler. At this point, this question is the broken record of baseball, but again we’re asking, “What about that rotation?” Adam Wainwright is the perennial staple for this staff, but a slow decline the past few years is concerning. However, if Wainwright reclaims some former glory and Michael Wacha can bounce back from an injury-wrought 2016, the Cards may just have enough in the tank to cause trouble for the Cubs.

*Logos courtesy of MLB.com*

Link to Previous Rankings

Part 1: Here

Part 2: Here

Part 3: Here

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

2017 MLB Playoffs

Potential Dark Horse Teams for 2017 MLB Playoffs

Just as the leaves change each fall, so do MLB’s playoff teams. Each year there are a number of surprise contenders looking to make a run at the World Series. Whether they come out of the gate strong or turn it on late, you can almost guarantee that one team will fit the Cinderella Story narrative.

So with the season fast approaching, which teams are primed to be this year’s Cinderella? Let’s take a look at four teams who might be able to fit into the glass slipper for the 2017 MLB Playoffs.

Colorado Rockies-NL West

Nolan Arenado looks to provide the power in a deep lineup. (Photo by Ben Margot/AP Photo)

The Colorado Rockies finished 2016 at 75-87, good for third in the NL West. While they were 12 games under .500, don’t let last years results fool you. They received strong contributions from home grown starting pitchers Tyler Anderson and Jon Gray. Both were in their first full seasons in the majors, and performed well; Gray struck out 185 batters over 168 innings pitched while Anderson posted a solid 3.54 ERA. With the offseason addition of Ian Desmond to play first base and the continued growth of Gray and Anderson, the Rockies could look to turn some heads in 2017.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim- AL West

The Los Angeles Angels have one of, if not the best player on the planet. Automatic playoff berth, right? Not so much. In Mike Trout’s tenure with the Angels, they have only made the playoffs once, while Trout has won two MVPs in that time. The Angels are hoping to provide Trout with more support in 2017. With the acquisition of disgruntled second baseman Danny Espinosa from Washington, the Angels have added more pop to their lineup. Couple Espinosa with prime Trout and past-his-prime-but-still-dangerous Albert Pujols, and you have the core of a pretty good lineup. Couple in the additions of outfield speedster Ben Revere and Cameron Maybin and the Angels have a lineup that can compete with most any in baseball. If Pujols and Espinosa can take some pressure off Trout, the Angels could make a surprise run to the 2017 MLB Playoffs.

Miami Marlins- NL East

2017 MLB Playoffs

Giancarlo Stanton looks to send plenty of balls into orbit in 2017.(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

With the loss of pitcher Jose Fernandez in 2016, the Miami Marlins lost more than an ace; they lost the soul of their team. With heavy hearts, the Marlins were able to go 79-82 in 2016, finishing third in the NL East. It was an inspiring finish to the season, and one I believe will carry over to 2017. The Marlins will look for Giancarlo Stanton to improve on his lackluster 2016 season, in which he posted a slugging percentage of .489, the lowest of his career. Stanton won’t have to carry the Marlin’s offense on his own though. Dynamic second baseman Dee Gordon will be back to start the season and will be joined by steady outfielder Christian Yelich and power hitting Marcell Ozuna. If starting pitcher Adam Conley can build upon his solid 3.85 ERA and Wei-Yin Chen can get back to his career average 3.90 ERA, the Marlins will have two good starting pitchers to build their staff around. If Giancarlo Stanton can deliver on his 40+ homer potential and the pitching staff can stay near league average, this team could mash it’s way to a playoff berth.

Tampa Bay Rays- AL East

Out of the previous three teams, this team will have the most difficult time of making it to the playoffs. The Tampa Bay Rays finished the 2016 season at 68-94, 25 games back of first place in the AL East. The AL East is one of the most stacked divisions in baseball, with three out of the five teams making the postseason in 2016. But the Rays have one thing that every team covets; young, good starting pitching. The Rays have one of the deepest and youngest starting rotations in all of baseball, with five starting pitchers logging more than 100 innings pitched, and those same starters averaging 27 years old. With the addition of slugging catcher Wilson Ramos and the resurgence of third baseman Evan Longoria, the Rays will look for their offense to help carry them to the 2017 MLB Postseason.

The MLB season is full of surprises. Players and teams alike will burst onto the national stage, defying expectations. But while players look to their cleats to propel them from base to base, some teams will be looking for more dainty footwear. Maybe a glass slipper?

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The Future is Bright for the Colorado Rockies

Despite their latest slump, could the Rockies be one of the best out west in the near future?

Despite their latest slump, could the Rockies be one of the best out west in the near future?

As a fan of small market sports, it sucks when a team who is producing does not get the recognition they deserve. The Rockies fit this bill tremendously as a team who deserves more national hype, even if the team has been slumping lately. The Rockies are back 6.5 games in the wild card race while sitting four games under a .500 winning percentage. Despite the potent offense, the lack of strong pitching, especially in the rotation, has been killing the Rockies’ playoff chances. They are not out of the race yet, as there are still plenty of games to be played, but they are currently trending the wrong way. Even if 2016 isn’t the year, the Colorado Rockies future is certainly bright.

Colorado Rockies future

Arenado getting hyped about the potent offense of the Rockies. Image courtesy of MLB.com

If the 2016 season does not play out in the Rockies’ favor, there is still hope for the future. The Rockies have a good core of young studs on offense that can just flat out hit. Nolan Arenado is the centerpiece, but a healthy Carlos Gonzalez, Charlie Blackmon, and Trevor Story are just a few of the other heads of the hydra that make the team so potent. That is not including the latest hotshot rookie craze David Dahl, who started his career with a rookie record 17-game hit streak.

Of course, that is just the squad in the majors; the Rockies still have plenty of firepower waiting in the wings. Brendan Rodgers is #7 prospect in all of baseball according to MLB Pipeline. Drafted out of high school in 2015, he has been tearing the cover off the ball in Single A, hitting 18 homers with a .288/.353/.491 split this season (splits represent batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage). He still has a couple years before the majors, which will give the Rockies time to figure out where to put him with Trevor Story and DJ LeMahieu manning the middle of the Rockies infield.

Rodgers isn’t alone, as other players higher up in the farm system have been producing as well. Names like Raimel Tapia (outfielder), Tom Murphy (catcher), and Jordan Patterson (outfielder/first basemen) are a few others who have been producing at a pretty strong clip this season. These names could be up sooner, rather than later, depending on injuries or the weakness of the position at the MLB level. Patterson has been taking reps already at first base in anticipation for the potential to take over there once September rolls around.

There is a reason, however, that the Rockies are still struggling this season. The lack of quality starting pitching at the MLB level is not for a lack of trying, as the Rockies have spent numerous first round picks the past few years on pitchers. Developing pitching takes time though, and it will be interesting to see how the experiment goes for the Rockies.

Colorado Rockies future

Jon Gray and his lion’s mane could be headlining the Rockies rotation for the next half decade. Photo courtesy of Elise Amendola of the Associated Press.

Some of the first rounders are already at the MLB level and actually pitching pretty decently. Jon Gray was drafted in the first round of 2013 MLB draft. Gray has pitched really well for most of the season, before imploding a bit in August. His 9.4 K/9 has been really strong; his 3.1 BB/9 is very good for a rookie pitcher, and all this despite pitching in the hitter’s haven of Coors Field.

Gray is not alone, as Tyler Anderson has made twelve starts as a rookie this season and has held his own as well. His 3.42 ERA supports his great command of his pitches. He does not have superior strike out stuff, but if he can keep the ball on the ground, he can be successful in Coors.

Riley Pint is the latest pitcher to be drafted by the Rockies in the first round. His upside is immense, but high school pitchers are known for being very risky as the player grows and matures. The Rockies Triple-A team is also in the Pacific Coast League, which is notorious for being very difficult for pitchers and tends to inflate hitters’ numbers a little bit. The challenge will be immense for the Rockies to harness Pint and develop him into the front of the rotation pitcher he has the potential to be.

The development of the Rockies’ starters, both in the rotation now and also in the minors, will be the key to the Rockies future. Offense will draw in the fans, but every team needs an elite pitcher in the rotation to take their team all the way. The Rockies have the farm system to potentially trade for one, but the team may want to keep those pieces if the team can believe that the team can turn the prospects into gold. The team has the offensive pieces already in place to succeed in the playoffs, and will have those pieces for the next couple years. Only time will tell whether the front office can find the supplements needed to fill out the rotation and bullpen to help make the Rockies playoff bound in the near future.

Sizing up the NL Wild Card Race

As we near the home stretch of the regular season in 2016, the NL wild card race continues to heat up, with some of the divisional races beginning to look out of reach for some teams. The NL Central appears to be all but secured for Chicago, who currently sit 12 games above second place St. Louis in the division. The Nationals in the East, while not holding quite as large of a lead, are comfortably ahead of Miami by 6.5 games. The NL West is the only division that, barring a late season meltdown by a current division leader, looks like it will be a dogfight for first place between the Giants and the Dodgers.

Here, I’ll give my opinions on the teams currently in the thick of the Wildcard race in the National League. Since the NL West is currently a deadlock, I’ll look at both the Giants and the Dodgers, since they will both be competing for that wildcard spot while trying to nab the division crown. Teams are listed in the order they currently sit in the Wildcard standings, not where I think they will end up.

San Francisco Giants (64-49) +4 GB

Luckily for both the Giants and the Dodgers, they’re currently sitting pretty in the wild card standings. San Francisco had held sole position of the NL West since May 14, appearing to be in typical Giants even year form. The Dodgers have finally caught up, however, and that can be attributed primarily to a complete lack of offense from the Giants since the All-Star Break. The run production has looked bleak for them, averaging just 3.4 runs-per-game, leading to a 8-16 record in 24 games. Brandon Crawford is trying his best to carry the offense, pounding out seven hits against the Marlins on Monday and hitting a solo homer for the only run of the game on Wednesday, but he can’t be expected to keep up this performance for the rest of the season.

Their deadline acquisition of Matt Moore to replace Jake Peavy has looked like an improvement thus far (not saying a whole lot, frankly), but it’s hard to leap to any massive conclusions after just two starts. He does need to find his control on the mound again, though, as his 11 walks in two starts is just one less than he had in all of July. I’m sure he’ll look more composed as he acclimates, but my biggest concern with this team is still the offense. They didn’t go out and get a big bat at the deadline, so they’re gonna have to continue to rely on what they’ve always done and play small ball, relying heavily on pitching and defense. With that said, even small ball requires you to score some runs.

Los Angeles Dodgers (64-49) +4 GB

The Dodgers have to hope veteran pitchers Rich Hill and Clayton Kershaw can return from injuries sooner than later. Photo courtesy of cbssports.com

Even if the Giants still had a lead over the Dodgers in the division, I’d still like their odds of making the postseason with how they have looked lately.

Clayton Kershaw’s return has been further delayed, being moved to the 60-day DL a week ago, and this team already has a laundry list of players on the DL, but they’re still finding ways to win games. The Dodgers actually have the best record in baseball since losing Clayton Kershaw (23-13 since June 27), according to ESPN’s Dave Schoenfield. They’re still waiting to see what deadline acquisition Rich Hill can do on the mound, as blisters on his hand will prevent him from making his would-be debut with the Dodgers on Friday.

The Dodgers other big-name deadline pickup, Josh Reddick, is having some serious troubles at the plate since coming to LA, batting .074, but the rest of the offense is performing well enough to help Reddick through his slump. While averaging 4.4 runs-per-game on the year, the Dodgers are up an entire point from that since the All-Star Break. Corey Seager continues to have a special second year in the Bigs, leading the team with 21 homers and batting .310 in his last 30 games.

So long as the Dodgers don’t let the Yasiel Puig sideshow get out of hand, and can keep up the offensive production, I like the direction they’re headed down the home stretch, especially when they start getting more of their veteran starters healthy.

Miami Marlins (60-53) 

The Marlins would currently be the last man (fish?) into the postseason, a pleasant surprise given the struggles this team has had in past years. This team can attribute a large part of its successes to its offense, which seems to be consistent regardless of who is currently going through a slump at the plate. Marcell Ozuna has had some woes since the All-Star break, but the rest of the offense has been hot, driving in the fourth most runs in the MLB since the Break (116), and averaging 4.6 runs-per-game.

The concern for Miami in these last seven weeks will be the same as it has all year, will their pitchers not named Jose Fernandez be able to contribute enough to help this team win? The Marlins tried to get some help in that department, acquiring Andrew Cashner at the deadline, who replaces an injured Wei-Yin Chen. I wasn’t sold with his stuff in San Diego, but I won’t judge him on just two starts with the Marlins. What I will say is that Adam Conley has shown dramatic improvement from where he was at the start of the year; if the rest of the staff can hold it down for this offense, I think Miami will be a wildcard contender down to the wire.


St. Louis Cardinals (59-54) 1 GB

The Cards are the last team that I think will be hanging around in the wild card hunt through the remainder of the year. Starter Michael Wacha has ended up on the DL with shoulder inflammation, meaning Alex Reyes and potentially Luke Weaver, two of the organization’s most promising pitching prospects, will be coming to the Bigs. If they can make a splash upon arrival, it might give this pitching staff the kick in the pants it needs to get back into gear.

St. Louis is bottom-five in ERA since the All-Star Break, but they’ve made up for it in the power game, cranking 34 homers, the second most in the MLB, during that time as well. The situation in St. Louis really hasn’t changed all that much, they’ve got a respectable offense with solid enough pitching to hang in most games. If they’re able to keep that up, and maybe see an improvement in their pitching with Reyes and Weaver coming up, I think the Cardinals are in a decent spot as we near the end of the season.


Pittsburgh Pirates (56-54) 2.5 GB

I don’t like the Pirates’ odds in this wildcard race. Sure, they’re only down 2.5 games right now, and they could prove me wrong, but I think they should have just fully committed to rebuilding for next year when they traded Mark Melancon. I’m not saying that Melancon was the make-or-break guy for Pittsburgh this season, but their trying to play both sides of the buyer/seller card really just leaves them in limbo here down the stretch.

If they wanted to buy, they should have at least looked at their offense, too. Pittsburgh has the least runs scored since the All-Star Break, 76, averaging just 3.8 runs-per-game. Andrew McCutchen says he isn’t in a slump, but the numbers don’t lie, he’s hitting below the Mendoza line in his last 15 games. And now with Gregory Polanco struggling this month, the Pirates don’t have anybody to consistently look to for run support. To top it all off, the rotation lacks a real ace starter; the Buccos traded Jonathon Niese (not that he was an ace, himself) who led the team’s starters in wins (8) and ERA (4.91). I think the Pirates gave it a good run, but they’re not in an enviable position in these final two months.

New York Mets (57-55) 2.5 GB

The Mets are in the same state offensively as the Pirates, although they can contribute the bulk of those woes to a massive list of offensive players on the DL. Three quarters of the team’s Opening Day starting infield is on the DL, not to mention their offensive leader in almost every category, Yoenis Cespedes. The Mets offense saw success (relatively speaking) during the year via home runs. Now that they’ve lost the bulk of their power bats, despite adding Jay Bruce at the deadline, they just continue to struggle to bring in runs, averaging just 3.4 runs-per-game.

NL Wild Card Race

Photo: sportsinformationtraders.com

The one thing the Mets have that the Pirates don’t is pitching, but it’s incredibly difficult to win games with this little offense. I think the Mets caught several strokes of bad luck this season, which leaves them in a really bad spot as we near the home stretch. I think it would take nothing short of a small miracle to get the offense in workable enough condition to contend for this wilcard spot.

Colorado Rockies (55-58) 5.5 GB

The Rockies are trying to will themselves into wildcard contention on the back of one of the MLB’s best offenses, statistically. Colorado is top three in all major batting categories in the MLB, and they’re continuing the hot hitting in the second half of the season, averaging 5.32 runs-per-game thus far. Their pitching was looking better too, but they’re now in the midst of a three-game skid that’s proving you have to succeed in more than one category to secure these key victories late in the season. I don’t think they’ll make it, though, because their pitching still isn’t good enough, and because they’re already a bit behind in the race. I think Nolan Arenado will continue to crank in the runs, and the Rockies can still give their fans something to look forward to down the road, but they won’t be making the postseason in 2016.

 

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