Fantasy Baseball 2017

Fantasy Baseball 2017: Injury Update

As we head deeper into the first month of the baseball season, it is time to identify and analyze some key injuries across the league. This injury update will provide insight to a player’s current health status and their outlook moving forward. The following players are listed on the disabled list as of April 13th, 2017.

 

David Price, starting pitcher, Boston Red Sox, (10-day DL elbow)

Fantasy Baseball 2017

David Price is eager to make his 2017 debut. (Courtesy of Keith Allison)

  • Expected return: mid-to-late May
  • Re-injury potential: medium

 

Price was placed on the 10-day DL after feeling elbow stiffness during a spring training start. The ace-caliber arm tossed a 35-pitch bullpen session on April 12th, which ended with positive results. He felt no additional soreness, which is encouraging, as he plans to increase his pitch totals to 45 come his next bullpen. According to manager John Farrell, Price could begin to see “hitters possibly early next week”, as he will pitch in a handful of simulated games before beginning his rehab starts. Price’s next step is to continue working on his breaking pitches, as an elbow injury can severally flatten out a breaking ball.

Fantasy-wise, Price has been a proven ace, as he sports a career 3.21 ERA, while striking out 200 batters five times in his nine-year career. Although Price managed to win 17 games in 2016, it was by far his worst season in the majors since his rookie year, in 2009. The upside with Price is immense, as he is a proven ace on a championship caliber team, although the injury risk is real for the 31-year-old workhorse, as he has thrown an average of 218 innings over his last seven seasons.

 

JD Martinez, right fielder, Detroit Tigers, (10-day DL foot)

Fantasy Baseball 2017

J.D. Martinez is well ahead of schedule. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

  • Expected return: late April
  • Re-injury potential: low

 

The Tigers’ slugger sprained his foot making a catch in right field this spring, landing himself on the 10-day. Martinez is expected to make his first rehab start “within the next few days”, according to MLB Network Radio reports. This is a great sign, as it shows that Martinez is ahead of schedule, and should return before the end of April.

J.D. Martinez is a very underrated fantasy asset, as many forget about his outstanding 2015 campaign that resulted in 38 home runs, 102 RBI, and a .282 batting average. Injuries have remained a staple of his career, although a healthy Martinez can be as valuable of a fantasy asset as any outfielder, excluding Trout, Harper, or Betts.

 

Jason Kipnis, second baseman, Cleveland Indians, (10-day DL shoulder)

(Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Jason Kipnis faces yet another setback after being hit in the hand during rehab start. (Courtesy of MLB.com)

  • Expected return: mid-to-late April
  • Re-injury potential: low

 

Kipnis found himself on the disabled list after he had inflammation in his shoulder, which is fairly common among infielders, especially those who participate in deep playoffs runs the season before. He was scheduled to return within the next week, although he was hit by a pitch in the hand during a rehab start. This incident will push Kipnis’ return back about a week, as he will miss one or two rehab starts.

The Indians’ franchise second baseman has been a proven producer who will most likely see at bats in the two spot of the lineup, but also may see time batting behind newcomer, Edwin Encarnacion, as the Cleveland lineup is loaded with top tier talent. Kipnis hit 20 home runs for the first time in his career last season, showing that he has power to combine with his speed and batting average. The 30-year-old is a top 10 second baseman when healthy, and should be confidently placed in your lineup once he returns.

 

Wilson Ramos, catcher, Tampa Bay Rays, (60-day DL knee)

Fantasy Baseball 2017

Wilson Ramos is ready for an early June return. (Courtesy of Getty Images)

  • Expected return: mid-to-late June
  • Re-injury potential: low

 

The newly acquired catcher has yet to suit up for the Rays this season due to undergoing knee surgery which ended his 2016 season. He will be eligible to return as early as June 1st, although it is anticipated that he will require until mid-to-late June until he is fully recovered and game ready. The Rays also acquired catcher Derek Norris, who should remain the every-day catcher even after Ramos’ return, as it is anticipated for the Rays to ease Ramos back into his everyday role by placing him at designated hitter.

The 2016 Silver Slugger will become an essential part of the Rays lineup, and will presumably bat in the five or six position, giving him ample opportunities to produce RBI. If Ramos is not owned in your league, the time to add him may be soon approaching. Stay aware of his status come June, as you may find yourself a top three catcher for the second half of your season.

 

Sonny Gray, starting pitcher, Oakland Athletics, (10-day DL back)

Fantasy Baseball 2017

Athletics’ Ace Sonny Gray aims for March 1st return. (Courtesy of SF Gate)

  • Expected return: early April
  • Re-injury potential: high

 

Gray was placed on the 10-day DL after suffering a strain in his back, which has been causing him severe discomfort when pitching. He has begun a throwing program, which included three separate 15 pitch bullpen sessions, which all went smoothly. Coach Bob Melvin stated that his timetable is “the first of May”, which gives him about three weeks to hone his stuff before he makes his season debut.

The 27-year-old had major success in his first two full major league seasons, having a 3.08 and 2.73 ERA respectively. He also finished third in American League Cy Young voting in 2015 after winning 14 games and recording 169 strikeouts. If Gray is healthy, there is no reason he cannot return to Cy Young caliber.

 

Jean Segura, short stop/second basemen, (10-day DL hamstring)

Fantasy Baseball 2017

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

  • Expected return: late April
  • Re-injury potential: medium

 

Segura strained his hamstring diving back into first base, causing himself to be placed on the 10-day DL. Although it is a mild strain, the Mariners are taking every precaution with their starting short stop, as a lingering hamstring injury could seriously derail Segura’s season.

The 2016 top 15 NL MVP candidate has been off to a very hot start in 2017. He is currently batting .313, with six runs scored, three RBI, and three stolen bases. The Mariners leadoff man is sure to be a top fantasy producer this season once he can get back on the field. If you want to make a move for the 27-year-old, the time is now.

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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 Five in Hitting

Major League Baseball is one of the most heavily scouted games in sports. Whether it be at the high school, college or the major league level, players are always under a microscope. But what do scouts use to grade these players? They are evaluated based on the five basic tools of baseball; hitting, power, speed and base running, fielding and arm strength. In this first installment of our Tools of the Trade series, we will be analyzing the top five players at each tool.

Using the last five seasons for analysis, players will be evaluated and ranked. Sticking with the traditional 20-80 scales, players have been assigned a grade and then ranked accordingly. When a tie grade is encountered, number of games played, total hits within the five year span, and batting average will be used as a tie breaker.

Hitting Tool

Joey Votto has done nothing but rake since his first day in Cincinnati (David Kohl/USA TODAY Sports).

5. 1B Joey Votto- Cincinnati Reds

Hit Tool: 75

Joey Votto has been a mainstay in Cincinnati since his call up in 2007. He wasn’t considered the top player in his draft, going in the second round to Cincinnati, but he hasn’t let that slow him down. Votto has long been known for his ability to get on base, evident by his astounding career .425 OBP. But it’s his ability to put the ball on the bat that earns him the fifth spot in these rankings.

From 2012-2016, Votto put up a .312 batting average. He also amassed 711 hits across those five seasons. Votto’s ability to put the ball in play is bolstered by is impeccable batting eye. By being able to pick and choose the perfect pitch to hit, Votto has become a premium hitter for Cincinnati. But his recent injury history hurts him in these rankings, as he has been limited to 130 games per season in the last five years. Even so, Votto is one of the top hitters in all of baseball.

4. 3B Adrian Beltre- Texas Rangers

Hit Tool: 75

Entering his age 38 season, many believed Adrian Beltre would have been on the decline long ago. But he seems to just get better with age. He was signed as an international free agent by the Dodgers and made his MLB debut way back in 1998. And ever since he has done nothing but hit. But even with a solid career .286 batting average, Beltre has somehow stepped up his game in the past five seasons.

With a .310 batting average from 2012-2016, Beltre has bested his career average by almost 30 points. And to make it even more impressive, Beltre has done all of that at 33 years old and over. He has also been a mainstay in the Rangers lineup, playing an average of 152 games per season over the previous five campaigns. In that time he has accumulated 909 hits, averaging almost 200 hits per season. Even at age 38, Beltre still possesses an elite hit tool, good enough to place him among the games best.

3. CF Mike Trout- Los Angeles Angels

Hitting Tool

Mike Trout has been locked in for years (David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

Hit Tool: 75

Mike Trout is one of the few true “five tool” players in the game, so don’t be surprised to see his name in our other installments of the Tools of the Trade series. Even as a first round pick in the 2009 MLB Draft, Trout is considered one of the greatest steals in draft history. After being selected 25th overall, Trout tore through the Angels minor league system to make his MLB debut at 19 years old. And ever since, all Trout has done is rake.

When looking at Trout’s stats from the past five seasons, they put him among some of the best pure hitters in the game. He boasts a .310 batting average from 2012-2016. Trout also has 890 hits to his credit, far surpassing Votto in that regard. And while Votto does boast a better batting average, Trout has been more reliable. Trout has averaged 154 games per season in the past five years. While Votto does have Trout beat in average, it’s not enough to make up for his lack of playing time. Trout is a mainstay in the Angels lineup that will be a top hitter in the game for years to come.

2. 2B Jose Altuve- Houston Astros

Hit Tool: 75

Jose Altuve is one of the most diminutive players in the majors. Listed at a generous five feet six inches tall, one would believe that Altuve would have no place in major league baseball. But just like some scouts, Altuve has proven them wrong as well. After debuting for the Astros in 2011, he quickly became the team’s building block. And Altuve has done some building of his own, elevating himself to elite status.

With a .314 batting average from 2012-2016 and two AL Batting Titles thrown in for good measure, Altuve has been an elite hitter for an up and coming Astros organization. During that time he has clubbed 985 hits, by far the most for players in contention for this list. He has also played in about 154 games a season since 2012, providing a reliable spark to the Astros lineup. And at only 26 years old, look for Altuve to add to his already impressive trophy case.

Hit Tool

Expect to see a ton of this from Miguel Cabrera this season (Duane Burleson/Getty Images North America).

1. 1B Miguel Cabrera- Detroit Tigers

Hit Tool: 80

Miguel Cabrera is one of the best pure hitters of his generation. After being acquired by the Tigers in a steal of a trade from the Florida Marlins, Cabrera has been terrorizing opposing pitchers. The two time AL MVP has won seven Silver Slugger awards in his career, and put up a .321 career batting average. His career average would be good enough for tops on this list, but of course, Cabrera has done even better than that in his past five seasons.

From 2012-2016, Cabrera has punished pitchers to a .328 batting average. That is insane production, and easily paces the majors in average over the past five seasons. He has also amassed 922 hits, driving the ball to all fields. While he has average 149 games per season over the past five years, that’s the second lowest amount of games on this list. Even so, that type of insane production can not go unrewarded, making Miguel Cabrera the best pure hitter in all of baseball.

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Making the Cut: Non-Roster Invitees Who Could Make an Impact in 2017

Teams are always trying to gain an edge over their opponents. Whether its installing nutrition plans or the Red Sox building a nap room at Fenway, teams are always looking for an advantage. That is what non-roster invitees present to a club: an edge. Many non-roster invitees are players who are past their prime or prospects whose time hasn’t come yet.

Some are able to stick after a strong spring training, and this season is no different. Who could emerge from spring training with a major league roster spot?

OF Michael Bourn- Baltimore Orioles

Michael Bourn enters spring training with 11 years of major league experience. After spending the tail end of the 2016 season in Baltimore, he has a good feel for the organization. He performed well for the Orioles, slashing .283/.358/.435 in 24 games after coming over from Arizona. Bourn also brings speed as he swiped 15 bases in 113 games. Bourn still has ability, but it may be opportunity that allows him to break camp with the Orioles.

Joey Rickard is listed as the back up at all three outfield positions. The 25-year-old played in 85 games for Baltimore in 2016, slashing .268/.319/.377. Rickard has age, while Bourn has experience.

If Bourn is able to outplay Rickard in spring training, don’t be surprised to see Baltimore keep Bourn for the regular season. With a team looking to compete in a deep AL East, manager Buck Showalter may go with the veteran Bourn as the fourth outfielder.

OF Anthony Gose- Detroit Tigers

Non-roster Invitees

Anthony Gose will need to flash with the bat and glove to make the Tigers roster (Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America).

Anthony Gose was once the second overall prospect in the Blue Jays system but failed to live up to the billing north of the border. He was shipped south to Detroit for the 2015 season and played 140 games for the Tigers. That was the best offensive season of his career, albeit with a paltry 90 OPS+.

After only playing 30 games in 2016, Gose enters Tigers’ camp as a non-roster invitee this spring. He has an excellent chance to make the 25-man roster.

Center field is already a question mark, and the corner outfield spots are backed up by 6-foot-7 behemoth Steven Moya. With his immense size at 260 pounds, Moya is better served as a DH than an outfielder. That gives Gose an opportunity to swipe the backup job from Moya, and maybe even compete to start in center field.

If Gose can turn it on this spring training, he will be a key reserve in an outfield devoid of depth.

IF Omar Infante- Detroit Tigers

Omar Infante broke into the league with the Detroit Tigers in 2002. After three seasons in Kansas City, Infante is back home in the Tigers’ spring training camp. Even though he has transformed from young prospect to grizzled veteran, the goal is still the same: make the major league roster. Infante will have plenty of chances to prove he still has it in spring training.

Infante played 39 games for the Royals in 2016 and put up poor numbers. His slash line of .239/.279/.321 earned him a 60 OPS+. At age 35, Infante’s days of starting may well be behind him. However, that doesn’t mean he can’t contribute. Detroit has almost no depth at any position, slotting Andrew Romine as the backup at second base, third base and shortstop.

If Infante can put together a good spring training, he should be able to wrestle the utility infield position from Romine.

C Jarrod Saltalamacchia- Toronto Blue Jays

Non-roster Invitees MLB

Jarrod Saltalamacchia is almost a given to make the Blue Jays roster (Caylor Arnold/USA TODAY Sports).

Jarrod Saltalamacchia will be on his fourth team in the past three years entering spring training. He has largely been a starter for the majority of his career, but will be vying for the back up catcher role in Toronto this season.

Saltalamacchia has the inside track to the job, with almost no competition to speak of. The Blue Jays have so much confidence in him that he has already been listed as the backup catcher to Russel Martin.

Over the past four seasons, Saltalamacchia has averaged 12 homers and 43 RBIs in 104 games played per season. He has a career slash line of .234/.309/.413. While those numbers certainly aren’t eye popping, they are solid for a back up catcher. He will be able to provide a solid option in Toronto whenever Martin needs a day off. Saltalamacchia can also fill in at DH when needed, given his solid power.

Saltalamacchia is a solid, if not spectacular, catcher who benefits greatly from the lack of catcher depth in Toronto. He will make the 25-man roster for the Blue Jays.

 

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Position Battles

Position Battles to Watch in Spring Training

Every year, players across the majors use spring training to get their timing down and prepare for the regular season. What is seen as a time for preparation to some is a time of urgency for others. Position battles are a major part of spring training. Accordingly, let’s take a look at the most contested position battles in spring training.

Detroit Tigers: Center Field

Position Battles

Mikie Mahtook came over from the Rays in the off-season (Credit: Norm Hall/Getty Images North America).

With an aging roster and two straight seasons without postseason baseball, the Tigers were looking like a rebuilding team entering the offseason. They acted like one too, sending center fielder Cameron Maybin to the Angels for pitching prospect Victor Alcantara. Many believed this was the first of a flurry of moves to come. The Tigers stood pat the rest of the offseason with a gaping hole left in center field.

 

Even though Maybin only played 91 games in center in 2016, he was worth a 1.9 WAR. The Tigers will struggle to find that type of production from what they have on the roster.

New addition Mikie Mahtook is listed as the starter in center, but don’t count on that being set in stone. Tyler Collins and JaCoby Jones will look to make the most of their spring training at-bats, as all three are in contention for the starting job.

Houston Astros: First Base

As loaded as the Astros are, you would believe that first base, the most offensive minded position in baseball, would be a lock entering spring training. Not so much.

First base has been a hole in the Astros lineup for years. Entering 2016 they have Cuban import Yulieski Gurriel penciled in as the starter. With all of five career starts at first base, he’ll have to perform well in spring training to keep his starting spot.

First base is a five-man competition, with Gurriel leading the pack. Behind him are Colin Moran, Marwin Gonzalez, A.J. Reed and Tyler White, listed in that order on the Astros’ depth chart. Moran is the only one not to play first base in the majors. The former sixth overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft certainly has some talent.

It will be interesting to see if Gurriel will be able to hold off the competition, or if former top prospects Moran or Reed overcome him.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Second Base

Position Battles

Brandon Drury will try to fill the shoes left by Jean Segure (Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America).

After a season of disappointment in the desert, Arizona hopes that 2017 brings better fortune. The roster has talent, but underperformed in last year.

One bright spot in 2016 was the play of second baseman Jean Segura. He put up a 5.7 WAR season for Arizona, solidifying second base. With his trade to Seattle in the offseason, second base is again in question for the Diamondbacks.

The answer could be Brandon Drury. The utility man batted .282 with 16 homers and 53 RBIs in 2016. After playing five different positions for Arizona, Drury will look to stick as the full-time starter at second.

He will have competition in the form of Chris Owings. While Owings did have a below MLB average 89 OPS+ last year, his speed and defense are highly valued in the middle of the infield.

Drury is the incumbent, but could be unseated by Owings if he can turn it on this spring training.

Atlanta Braves: Fifth Starter

Two seasons of rebuilding have left fans in Atlanta longing for a return to glory. The team has 19 playoff appearances since moving to Atlanta in 1966, but don’t expect them to make it 20 in 2017. Even so, the Braves brought in three veteran starting pitchers to try and stabilize their rotation. Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey and Jaime Garcia will fill in behind ace Julio Teheran. That leaves the fifth rotation spot up for grabs.

Starter Mike Foltynewicz leads the competition, as he will go up against Matt Wisler, Lucas Sims and Aaron Blair. Foltynewicz is the most established, having logged 228.2 innings pitched in his major league career. He has also put up a 4.92 ERA in that span, so his spot in the rotation is certainly in question. Sims may give him the biggest competition. As the 21st overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft, Sims has the talent and the minor league experience to overtake Foltynewicz in the starting rotation.

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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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An Ode to Mike Ilitch

News broke over the weekend that Mike Ilitch, longtime owner of the Detroit Tigers and the Detroit Red Wings, had passed away at the age of 87. He leaves behind a wife, seven children, and millions of people in the Detroit region who will miss him dearly.

Ilitch was more than just another ultra-wealthy professional sports mogul. Yes, he was ultra-wealthy. Yes, he was a professional sports mogul. However, when all is said and done, these accomplishments will pale in comparison to everything else Mr. I managed to accomplish in his 87 years.

IN THE BEGINNING

Mike Ilitch, Detroit Red Wings, Detroit Tigers, Detroit, Joe Louis Arena, Comerica Park, Fox Theatre, Woodwar Ave, Stanley Cup, Presidents's Trophy, Charity

Photo credit: Little Caesars Pizza.

Michael Ilitch was born in Detroit in 1929 to Sotir and Sultana Ilitch. The son of two Macedonian immigrants graduated Cooley High School in Detroit and served for four years with the United States Marine Corps.

After his military career came to a close, Ilitch took to professional baseball. He played second base for a handful of teams, including his hometown Tigers.

In 1959, after his playing career had come to a close, Ilitch opened a small pizza franchise. Little Caesars Pizza Treat, a tiny pizzeria in Garden City, Michigan, would eventually grow into the multi-billion dollar, international fast food conglomerate you see today.

Marine, professional ball player, restaurateur – Mike Ilitch was truly a self-made man.

It was here at this junction in Ilitch’s life, that his sports legacy began to take shape.

HIS IMPACT ON PRO SPORTS

Mike Ilitch, Detroit Red Wings, Detroit Tigers, Detroit, Joe Louis Arena, Comerica Park, Fox Theatre, Woodwar Ave, Stanley Cup, Presidents's Trophy, Charity

Photo credit: NHL.com.

After purchasing the Red Wings in 1982, Ilitch turned the fledgling Wings into a team to be reckoned with. Under his ownership, they’ve managed to make the playoffs for 25 consecutive seasons, win six Presidents Trophies, and four Stanley Cup championships; including back-to-back titles in 1996-97 and 1997-98.

On the passing of Ilitch, ESPN analyst Craig Custance said, “The Detroit Red Wings franchise was a first-class franchise under Ilitch, one that sacrificed nothing in the pursuit of a Stanley Cup.”

To many in the hockey world, Ilitch was known as an owner who

Mike Ilitch, Detroit Red Wings, Detroit Tigers, Detroit, Joe Louis Arena, Comerica Park, Fox Theatre, Woodwar Ave, Stanley Cup, Presidents's Trophy, Charity

Photo credit: Kevin Dietsch, UPI.

truly loved the game. He would do anything for his club.

He purchased the Detroit Tigers in 1992. In a similar fashion, he restored the Tigers to their former glory, reaching the World Series twice and winning four consecutive Central Division titles from 2011 to 2014.

Forget the franchises for a moment, Ilitch would do anything for Detroit.

 

 

A GIVING MAN

What Ilitch did for his franchises was but a drop in the bucket compared to what he did for the Detroit community. While most investors were running as fast as they could out of Detroit, Ilitch never flinched. He purchased property after property in his pursuit of revitalizing the downtown core.

Aside from his financial investments in the city of Detroit, a list of Ilitch’s philanthropic efforts reads longer than most resumes. Apart from the wonderful work his franchises have undertook, his personal contributions have been enormous.

  • In 1985, Ilitch started the Little Caesars Love Kitchen, a traveling restaurant equipped to feed the hungry and assist in national disasters.
  • In 1986, he formed the Little Caesars Amateur Hockey Program, an organization which has helped literally thousands of children to play the sport.
  • In 2000, Ilitch Charities for Children was founded. As a non-profit, the charity was dedicated to improving health, education, and recreating in the lives of children. The charity was renamed Ilitch Charities in 2008 and broadened its focus. Ilitch Charities invests in communities and supports economic development and job growth to address issues like poverty and unemployment.
  • In 2006, Ilitch started the Little Caesars Veterans Program, which provides veterans with business opportunities after their life in the service.

Ilitch has been recognized for his charitable efforts by the likes of former Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. He received the Secretary’s Award from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, had the “Mike Ilitch School of Business” at Wayne State University named after him, and in February of 2008 was given the key to the City of Detroit.

In 2003, Ilitch was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and in 2004 he was inducted into the United States Hall of Fame.

HIS LAST CONTRIBUTION

Mike Ilitch, Detroit Red Wings, Detroit Tigers, Detroit, Joe Louis Arena, Comerica Park, Fox Theatre, Woodwar Ave, Stanley Cup, Presidents's Trophy, Charity

Photo credit: Olympia Development of Michigan.

Unfortunately, Ilitch passed before he had the opportunity to see his last contribution to the city of Detroit come to fruition. In 2014, it was announced that the Red Wings would soon break ground on the construction of a new arena.

Soon after, construction on the Little Caesars Arena was underway. The Wings are set to move into the new, state-of-the-art complex next season; without their enigmatic owner Mr. I.

For his commitment to the city of Detroit, for his love of sport and his fellow man, Ilitch will undoubtedly be remembered as one of sport’s most endearing franchise owners.

ARRANGEMENTS

The public is invited to share memories and condolences at a public memorial site outside of Comerica Park on Woodward Ave. Also, a public visitation will be held at the Fox Theatre Grand Lobby on Wednesday from noon to 8:00p.m. Ilitch purchased and restored the historic theatre in 1987.

In lieu of flowers, the family has asked for donations to be made in Ilitch’s memory to:

 

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2017 MLB Season

Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Left Field

In this seventh installment of our Position Rankings for the 2017 MLB season, we will move from the infield to the outfield. Left field has long been known as a place to stash the slugger, but that is changing. With defense and speed changing the way the game is played, let’s see if it has spilled over into the top five left fielders.

5. Khris Davis- Oakland Athletics

2017 MLB Season

Khris Davis has mastered the third base high five during his tenure with Oakland. (Ben Margot, AP).

Khris Davis was a force in 2016. After putting up solid power numbers in Milwaukee, Davis was shipped to Oakland in 2015 and was able to tap into his power even more. He slashed .247, .307, .524 in his first season in Oakland. While his average and OBP are nothing to write home about, his .524 slugging percentage, as well as his 42 homers and 102 RBI’s certainly warrant some credence. With a newfound power stroke at the plate, Davis is the big bat the Athletics have been searching for. Although Davis has been a monster at the plate, he was a behemoth in the outfield.

Davis performed below league average on defense in 2016, putting up -1 defensive runs saved. While he was only slightly below average in the field, his bat certainly made up for it in 2016. Davis is only 28 years old and entering the prime of his career. While his defense may not improve, his bat certainly seems here to stay. If Davis can survive another season in Oakland without being traded, he will be relied upon to produce again in 2017.

4. Justin Upton- Detroit Tigers

Tigers fans were ecstatic when Justin Upton moved to Detroit last season. Upton was an established run producer and he was slotted into a deep Tigers lineup. As the season progressed, Upton’s offense stagnated. He was able to turn around an otherwise poor season with a torrid finish in 2016, putting up a slash line of .246, .310, and .465. He also hit 31 homers and drove in 87 RBI’s. Upton fits the traditional mold of a left fielder: a big slugger who will hit tanks and drive in runs. He has also proven to provide more than just power.

Upton posted 1 defensive run saved while playing 146 games in left field for the Detroit Tigers last year. That is solid, but not spectacular glove work. He was also able to swipe nine bags in 2016, a good amount for a slugger like Upton. Upton has always been known as a streaky hitter, but he has always been consistent in one category: putting up above average offensive seasons. That won’t change in 2017 as the Tigers look to regain the AL Central crown.

3. Ryan Braun- Milwaukee Brewers

2017 Season

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

Ryan Braun has been a star player in Milwaukee for almost the entirety of his time there, but his PED use has but a black mark on an otherwise stellar career. He has admitted to PED use in his NL MVP season in 2011, but has since passed all drug tests from Major League Baseball. Braun is assumed to be clean of any PEDs, and is putting up good numbers for the Brewers. He batted .305, .365, .538 in 2016 and slugged 30 homers to go along with 91 RBI’s. Braun also stole 16 bases, proving to be one of the top speed/power players in the majors.

Braun was also able to utilize his speed in the outfield. His six defensive runs saved in 2016 were second best of his career, proving him to be a more than capable fielder. Braun is the total package in left field. His power and speed make him a premier offensive player, and his defense lifts his overall game to a whole other level. If Braun can put up more clean seasons like he did in 2016, he will certainly climb this list. Until then, he remains one of the best left fielders, just not the best.

2. Starling Marte- Pittsburgh Pirates

Ever since Starling Marte was called up by Pittsburgh in 2012, he has been a spark plug for the Pirates’ lineup. He is one of the new breed of left fielders becoming more prominent in the majors, utilizing his speed and defense to become a game changer. Marte stole 47 bases in only 129 games played in 2016, proving to be an elite base stealer. He also was able to make a huge impact in the field. He also provided elite defense 19 defensive runs save. His offensive game, while trailing his base running and defense, is still better than advertised.

Marte was able to hit .311, .362, and .456 last year, all three being career highs. While his nine homers and 46 RBI’s won’t blow anyone away, it is still solid production for a limited season. Marte will always be known for his glove and base running, but don’t sleep on his bat. If he can put up a full season in 2017, look for Marte to accumulate some monster numbers.

1. Yoenis Cespedes- New York Mets

2017 MLB Season

From flipping bats over and over, to flipping balls over the fence, Yoenis Cespedes can do it all. (Brad Penner USA Today Sports).

Yoenis Cespedes was shipped from Detroit to New York at the trade deadline in 2015, and has been an offensive juggernaut for the Mets ever since. He was so good in his first full season with the Mets that he finished eighth in the NL MVP voting. Cespedes achieved this by batting .280, .354, and .530 as well as hitting 31 bombs and driving in 86 RBI’s. He has been the run producer the Mets have sorely needed since the departure of Daniel Murphy and the decline of David Wright. Cespedes has also flashed the leather and his arm during his tenure in New York.

Cespedes had four defensive runs saved while playing left field in 2016. He was helped in large part by the cannon attached to his right shoulder. Video of Cespedes firing the ball to home plate will be played for years to come. His arm strength is already legendary. Cespedes combines stellar offensive production with strong defensive skills to claim the top spot in the left field rankings. He is poised to maintain his perch with 2017 providing another chance for Cespedes to dominate.

Left field is slowly changing. No longer can you have a plodding slugger in the outfield. Players with strong defense and good speed are taking over left, and seem here to stay.

 

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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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