2017 ALCS Preview: New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros

The Yankees fought to be here

2017 ALCS Preview: New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros

Didi Gregorius smacked two dingers to lift the Yankees to the ALCS on Wednesday (WKYC)

Didi Gregorius and the New York Yankees stormed back against the Indians to move on to the ALCS on Wednesday. They found themselves in a 2-0 hole without any hope. Joe Girardi’s job even seemed to be on the line. After some questionable decisions early in the series, many were expecting him to have one foot out the door.

Just like they did in the Wild Card game, New York fought its way back to find themselves in the ALCS for the first time since 2012. While there were some offensive heroes such as Greg Bird, Didi Gregorius and Brett Gardner, the Yankees won in large part thanks to outstanding pitching.

With their backs up against the wall, their starting pitchers in the last three games of the series turned in 18.1 innings with just five earned runs and 25 strikeouts. They made the Cleveland offense look foolish. On top of that, Aroldis Chapman shut down the Indians’ season for the second year in a row.

What already seems to be forgotten is how the Yankees battled their way in the Wild Card game. They were down quick to the Cinderella Twins, giving up three runs in the first 1/3 innings. They quickly responded though and Joe Girardi played a bullpen game for the ages.

Houston has New York’s number

2017 ALCS Preview: New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros

Altuve has proven why he was the best hitter in baseball in 2017 (Yahoo Sports)

The Astros managed to go an impressive 5-2 against the Yankees during the regular season. What was especially impressive was that they managed to average 6.14 runs per game this season against the Bronx Bombers.

Houston played a great series against Boston and clicked on all cylinders. Their offense looked as good as ever and will be a challenge for New York to slow down. The Yankees’ pitching staff has had to work much harder than Houston’s, so something to look for in the series is fatigue.

Justin Verlander’s presence on the Astros pitching staff makes a significant difference this time of year. This Yankees team does not have a whole lot of experience against Verlander despite him pitching in the American League. This will be the first time that Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez will ever see him.

The only starter that the Yankees seem to have success against is Charlie Morton. The team as a collective have a career .327 batting average against him with seven home runs. It will be interesting to see if A.J. Hinch will give Morton the nod this series. Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers Jr. do have more success against the Yankees, but it is still in limited appearances. Look for the Astors’ starters to have some success in this series.

The main reason Houston is here, however, is their offense, something that went missing for the Indians in the ALDS. Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa especially have good resumes against New York. Altuve is also swinging a hot bat after hitting three home runs in the first game of the ALDS.

How the series will play out

2017 ALCS Preview: New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros

Heroics from Gregorius and Gardner have led to some postseason magic for New York (ABC News)

Despite the Yankees recent success in clutch moments, the Astros are favored to win the ALCS and move on to the World Series according to Vegas odds. It won’t be a cake walk for Houston though.

A large part of the series is going to depend on the Yankees starters keeping up what they were doing against Cleveland. New York had some impressive times at the plate whether it be the two bombs from Gregorius in game five, or the 12-pitch at-bat by Brett Gardner in the ninth that led to insurance runs for the Yankees.

However, the offense as a whole was nothing to write home about.

It is hard to determine whether or not the success of the New York staff came from an Indians offense going cold or an overpowering performance by their starters. They will not be running into a cold Houston offense however. Houston has not been shutout since Aug. 17 and has scored two runs or more in all but four games since that date. Seeing that Houston had the best overall offense in all of baseball in the regular season, it will be tough for Yankees pitching to slow them down.

The postseason is unpredictable of course. Many thought it was all but a lock when the Indians went up 2-0 in the ALDS. New York wasn’t even a favorite coming out of their own division, so anything can happen this time of year.

What has been especially fun to watch with the Yankees is their ability to fight back. Brett Gardner has been a catalyst for New York. His final at-bat on Wednesday was evidence of how badly he wants that second ring. Despite the advantage the Astros have on the offensive side of the ball, the Yankees seem to have that postseason magic that every team is desperate to have.

If the Yankees pitching staff keeps it up then things could get very interesting this series. Nothing will be given in this series because each team knows what is at stake.

ALCS Prediction: Yankees in 7

 

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How the Yankees can challenge the Indians

The New York Yankees matched up against the Minnesota Twins Tuesday night in the AL Wild Card game. And boy, was it wild. After a slug-fest of a first inning that saw six total runs scored, the Yankees were able to bullpen their way to an 8-4 victory. But even with a rough outing from starter Luis Severino, the Yankees showed why they belong in these playoffs. They also showed something more; the grit and determination to give the Cleveland Indians a run for their money.

Four is better than one

Yankees starter Luis Severino was chased from the AL Wild Card game after just 1/3 IP (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images).

Playoff baseball is different animal, as Luis Severino quickly found out. He couldn’t tame the Twins, allowing three earned runs in 1/3 IP. But after ousting the startled starter, the Minnesota Twins could only muster one run for the remainder of the game. The Yankees sent four different relievers to the mound, and the Twins were baffled by each one. Chad Green, David Robertson, Tommy Khanle, and Aroldis Chapman combined to whiff 13 Twins, en route to a dominate bullpen performance.

This masterful performance by the Yankees bullpen cannot be understated. The Minnesota Twins were one of the highest scoring offenses in the late stages of the season, catching fire at the plate at the beginning of August. But after Severino’s struggles, the Yankees were able to throw out four high-quality relievers to shut the game down. The starting rotation may be the weakest link of this Yankees team, but when Girardi can rely on a bullpen as deep as his, it almost doesn’t matter.

Deeper than the long ball

Matt Holliday will provide the Yankees with clutch ABs off the bench. (sportingnews.com)

After rookie sensation Aaron Judge mashed 52 long balls to take the rookie HR crown, he began his search for a new crown Tuesday night. His quest began in style, taking Twins reliever Jose Berrios on a two-run ride to left field. But it wasn’t just Judge providing the offense, as the Yankees had contributions from the whole lineup. Only three players were held without a hit, as Starlin Castro, Jacoby Ellsbury and Todd Frazier went 0-fer on Tuesday night.

The Yankees offense also extends to it’s bench, as grizzled veterans Matt Holliday and Chase Headley ride the pine. Both players had 60-plus RBIs in the regular season, and have 30-plus homer seasons under their belts as well. With that much power on the bench, the Yankees are one of the deeper offense in the playoffs.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

The former Cy Young winner will look to continue his renaissance season in the playoffs (Kathy Willens/Associated Press).

While the starting rotation may be the weakest link of the team, having a former Cy Young winner in C.C. Sabathia can help strengthen that link. Being able to pair Sabathia with prized trade deadline acquisition Sonny Gray and Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka gives the Yankees a solid starting rotation.

But they may not even need it. With the bullpen showing its mettle in the Wild Card game and the offense being one of the deepest in the playoffs, the Yankees have multiple ways to win. And they will definitely need to employ each one to have a chance against the Cleveland Indians.

With a combination of savvy veteran starters, fire throwing relievers, and a dynamic offense, the Yankees have a collection of talent to rival any other team in these playoffs. Whether its the baby bombers Judge and Sanchez, or the dynamic duo Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances, the Yankees can score with anyone and completely shut down everyone. Needless to say, the Indians will have a challenge on their hands. The Yankees are similar to the Indians of the past; a young and hungry team with the talent to match up against anyone.

Feature image from Associated Press. 

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Big Three

Which Team has the Big 3 of Baseball?

With all the talk in the NBA about big threes and super teams, I got to wondering if there are any teams like that in baseball. Now, it is a bit different in the MLB as you don’t have as many superstars moving teams to create these unstoppable forces.

Baseball is also much more of a team game. One or two players in the NBA can carry a team far into the playoffs. In baseball, the entire team needs to be carrying their weight because each player doesn’t have the same opportunity to make a big play throughout the game.

On that note, let’s take a look and see who might have the best “big three” in their lineup in the 2017 season. This is referring to what three players contribute the most to their team as a collective.

Houston Astros: Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa

Combined WAR: 12.1

Altuve: .347/.417/.551 13 HR 50 RBI | Springer: .310/.380/.613 27 HR 65 RBI | Correa: .325/.402/.577 20 HR 65 RBI

Baseball super teams

Correa might be the best shortstop since Jeter (Bleacher Report)

The Houston Astros are proving to be one of the greatest teams in recent memory largely thanks to the work of the core hitters in their lineup. It seems though that their years with high draft picks are finally starting to pay off.

Houston has the best record in the American League and second-best in the majors behind the Dodgers, and they’re putting in a bid to win their first world series in franchise history.

All three of these young hitters are All-Stars in 2017 and it is well deserved. Correa may be the front-runner for MVP over Trout, seeing that Trout has been on the DL for the past few weeks. Not to mention, Correa is only 22 years old.

It is also hard to recall a middle infield combination that has been so threatening in recent years. The first one that comes to mind is Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano for the Yankees. Seeing how young Altuve and Correa are now, they may end up being more effective of a duo than Jeter and Cano ever were.

Springer is also really starting to come into his own now. Everyone always knew that he had some serious punch in his bat. At the All-Star break, he is already two home runs away from his single-season record. On top of that, he is hitting the ball much more effectively as his slugging percentage is at an all-time high.

Seeing as none of of these three players are going to be unrestricted free agents for another two full seasons, this powerhouse doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Even though the best player in baseball is in the same division, it seems that the Astros will be running the division for the coming years largely because of this hitting core.

Washington Nationals: Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy

Combined WAR: 8.4

Harper: .325/.431/.590 20 HR 65 RBI | Zimmerman: .330/.373/.596 19 HR 63 RBI | Murphy: .342/.393/.572 14 HR 64 RBI

Baseball super teams

Harper has continued to live up to his high expectations (Sports Illustrated)

Despite the fact that these three hitters are leading the National League in batting average, I had to think about who belonged in this big three. Anthony Rendon had a pretty good bid into this but it was just too difficult to leave the other three out.

Zimmerman has reignited his career and may be having his best year. He has only batted over .300 in his career once but now he is competing with his teammates for the best in the NL.

Harper has continued his rise to super-stardom and nobody seems to be getting in his way. After a somewhat slow 2016 he has reached new levels in 2017. He is currently on pace to break 100 RBIs for the first time in his career and could also reach 40 home runs for the second time.

Thanks to his teammates also hitting the long ball, it is not as easy to pitch around Harper either. Because of Murphy’s success with the Nationals thus far, it is giving Harper more opportunities do excel.

Daniel Murphy has far exceeded the expectations of the Nationals in his first two years with the club. He has become a power threat which he had never been before. We all know how valuable power-hitting second basemen are too. Murphy is also running for the hitting title for the second year in a row. The bottom line is that there is no break from this Nationals lineup. Every batter will be a battle, but these three especially will drive any pitcher nuts.

Cincinnati Reds: Joey Votto, Zach Cozart, Adam Duvall

Combined WAR: 8.8

Votto: .315/.427/.631 26 HR 68 RBI | Cozart: .316/.394/.547 9 HR 35 RBI | Duvall: .278/.321/.557 20 HR 61 RBI

Baseball super teams

Votto, Duvall,and Cozart have continued to be the only bright spot for the Reds (USA Today)

The Reds have not been great this year. As I mentioned in the introduction, three players cannot carry a team to greatness. The Reds are a perfect example of that.

Votto and Cozart are both All-Stars this year and along with Duvall they have been a bright spot for Cincinnati. However, their abysmal pitching keeps them in last place in perhaps the worst division in baseball. We are not here to talk about poor pitching however.

Votto has continued a spectacular career despite him being on one of the worst teams in baseball in the past few years. He leads a club that currently ranks in the top 10 in hitting in the majors.

What makes Votto so difficult to pitch against is his smarts at the plate. He is not easy to fool, as he currently has 62 walks on the season compared to 42 strikeouts. With players that hit home runs as much as he does, it is more typical to have a higher rate of strikeouts. That is something that you can see with Votto’s teammate, Duvall.

Adam Duvall broke out as a serious power threat last season. However, he is striking out in 25 percent of his at bats and only walking in five percent of them. In order for him to be an even bigger threat, he is going to take after Votto. He has improved as an overall hitter though as he is on pace to have the highest average and OPS of his career.

Cozart may be a valuable trade piece at the deadline. He has still been hitting on all cylinders despite his injury issues. He provides good pop at the top of the lineup and is a good setup man for whoever follows him. Knowing the Reds’ need for young pitching, they may deal him because of his current value. Because of this, the Cincinnati big three may not be in tact much longer.

New York Yankees: Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorious

Combined WAR: 9.3

Judge: .329/.448/.691 30 HR 66 RBI | Sanchez: .276/.360/.491 13 HR 40 RBI | Gregorius: .291/.346.458 10 HR 38 RBI

Baseball super teams

Judge has already passed Dimaggio for most home runs by a Yankees rookie (Sporting News)

Aaron Judge has come onto the scene and is already one of the best hitters in baseball. He largely carries this big three due to his ability to hit the ball out of the park as well as hit for average.

There is no getting around him and his surrounding hitters have made is especially difficult. While the Yankees are fairly banged up at the moment, his supporting cast has been coming through.

Gregorious is not typically known for his bat but rather his glove. He came onto the scene at the plate last season with 20 home runs. This year, he is picking back up where he left off and is nearly a .300 hitter. While he is just an above average hitter on the moment, he is proving to be a key part of the lineup.

Gary Sanchez is proving to be one of the better power-hitting catchers in the league. Despite only playing in 57 games at the midway point in the season, he has 13 home runs. He and Judge are bringing back the Bronx Bombers, and they will be hard to stop for the coming years.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner

Combined WAR: 10.0

Seager: .298/.395/.502 13 HR 45 RBI | Bellinger: .261/.342/.619 25 HR 58 RBI | Turner: .377/.473/.583 10 HR 37 RBI

Baseball super teams

Bellinger is the latest Dodgers rookie to make a splash in the bigs (Sports Illustrated)

These three All-Stars have led the best team in baseball to a 61-win season at the break. They are the best team in the National League while being in perhaps the best division in baseball. Cody Bellinger is a big reason for that with his breakout season at the plate.

Justin Turner won the final vote to get into his first All-Star game. The only reason he probably didn’t get in originally was because of the time he has missed. Once he gets enough at-bats to be eligible for the batting title, he may run with it.

Corey Seager is showing that he deserved to be ranked as one of the best prospects in baseball. After his Rookie of the Year campaign last year, it looks like he wants to pass the torch along to his teammate. With Turner coming onto the scene in Los Angeles at the right time, these young players are showing how the Dodgers can win their first championship in almost 30 years.

The Final Rankings

  1. Houston Astros
  2. Washington Nationals
  3. Los Angeles Dodgers
  4. New York Yankees
  5. Cincinnati Reds

Honorable Mentions:

Colorado Rockies: Nolan Arenado, Mark Renyolds, Charlie Blackmon: Each of these guys have some serious pop.

Tampa Bay Rays: Corey Dickerson, Evan Longoria, Logan Morrison: Dickerson and Morrison are having big years while Longoria continues his stellar career.

Chicago Cubs: Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber: If this was any other year, they might be at the top of the list.

 

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5 Players to Watch in the MLB Futures Game

The Futures game is set to be played this Sunday July 9th at Marlins Park in Miami. Last year’s game featured some big names including the now All-Star, Gary Sanchez. Here are some names to look for that could make an impact in the big leagues in the near future.

Yoan Moncada

Moncada has proven to be a threat on the base paths (Yahoo Sports)

Moncada made an appearance in last year’s game and left his mark winning the MVP of the game. He also made his way up to the big leagues with the Red Sox netting only four hits in 19 at bats. Over the off-season he was the cornerstone piece of the Chris Sale trade with the White Sox. He has been at the AAA level so far this season and is having a good stint with a .282/.380/.455 line. On top of that, MLB.com ranks him as the number one prospect in baseball.

Watch out for Moncada’s speed because he has the chance to be one of the next big threats on the base paths. He is not on Billy Hamilton level but he can be a threat anytime he reaches base. He also features a well-rounded bat that will grow with his experience as a pro. While his glove at second still has some work to be done, he has drawn comparisons to Robinson Cano.

Moncada is still a work in progress. However, he is ahead of schedule in terms of when he may be able to provide full-time service in Chicago. His second futures game may provide a lens to look through as to what he may be in the future.

Brendan Rodgers

Rodgers may add a big punch for the Rockies (The Daily Sentinel)

Taken 3rd overall by the Rockies in 2015, Rodgers has the opportunity to become the true heir to Troy Tulowitzki in the middle of the infield for the Rockies. MLB.com ranks him as the 10th best prospect in baseball.

While his range is something to work on, he possess a very strong arm that could make him serviceable in the majors. What makes him valuable though is his power for a middle infielder coupled with his ability to find gaps in the defense. In 48 games at A ball he recorded a .400/.419/.700 line which is eye popping. What stands out though is his lack of walks. Rodgers only recorded six walks in those 48 games, so it is important for him to develop some patience.

Look for Rodgers to make an appearance on the 40-man roster in September for Colorado. Being in the rocky mountains could really make the ball fly off his bat and show his potential. He may not be able to stay in the majors past September but it could give him some valuable experience as to what he needs to look for. Although he does not have the same glove Tulo did while he was in Colorado, he could add that same punch to the lineup.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr

The youngest star in the futures game is the son of the notorious Vladimir Guerrero. Although they are related, they are not quite the same ball players.  Guerrero Jr possesses a more bulky frame than his father. His age also suggests that he may get even bulkier. Because of this, he may have to move over to first base if his mobility slows.

Guerrero has a chance to be one of the better hitters in the league largely thanks to his eye. It is not so often that you see a young bat rack up more walks than strikeouts, but that is what you have in Guerrero. He also shows signs of being able to hit the long ball but that has yet to translate in A ball. It will be great to see what potential he has being the son of a future hall-of-famer as well as being so young.

Just like his father, he has a great ability to make contact. He also shows the maturity of a seasoned vet by spraying hits all around the field and not just swinging for the fences. It will be interesting to see if he is able to keep that maturity and sit back to wait for the right pitch, seeing that Guerrero will be on a big stage for the first time in his career. If so, we might be looking at one of the better all-around hitters of the future.

Eloy Jimenez

Jimenez has drawn comparisons to All-Star slugger Giancarlo Stanton (Baseball America)

Despite all of the young talent the Cubs have recently brought up to the big league club, they still have some studs in their farm system. MLB.com ranks Eloy Jimenez as the 8th overall prospect and the 3rd overall outfielder in the minors. He was also ranked as the number one international prospect when he signed with Chicago in 2013.

Jimenez had a very productive 2016 season. He finished with a line of .329/.369/.532. He has shown the potential to hit for extra bases while also struggling to take pitches. Jimenez also struck out 3.76 times for every walk which makes it evident that he still has some room to grow in the minors. However, he is still expected to make it to the big league club within the next couple of years.

It will be interesting to see how Jimenez fits into the Chicago organization with how crowded their roster is at the moment. There are a lot of young studs that Chicago will probably have to move around in order to make room for Jimenez, if they feel he is worth it.

 

Jack Flaherty

Futures Game

Flaherty has the tools to be a reliable major league starter (Springfield News-Leader)

Flaherty was the 34th overall pick in the 2014 draft. MLB.com ranks him as the 96th overall prospect, which may be because of his less than stellar stuff. Flaherty does not light up the gun or blow hitters away. What he is though is effective. In 10 starts in AA ball he recorded seven wins and 62 strikeouts. He also only let in 10 runs which gave him a stellar ERA of 1.42.

Don’t expect Flaherty to dazzle you in the Futures game. Do expect him to keep hitters guessing and not let any situation get taken out of control.

Flaherty has been in the Cardinals organization for three years now. It may not be another couple of years until he makes it to St. Louis though. Despite his quality performance in AA Springfield this year, he has had a rough go of things in AAA. In 6 starts he has given up 14 earned runs. However, he has given up seven long balls. What this shows is that he is still adjusting to a new environment. He will make mistakes here and there but overall, he can still control a ball game. Hitters are still missing as they only have a .237 batting average against him in AAA. It will take time for him to mature, but once he gets there he could be a solid 3rd starter in the rotation for St. Louis.

 

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2017 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Rankings

Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Rankings

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tier 1

2017 fantasy baseball catcher rankings

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

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

1. Buster Posey SF

2. Jonathan Lucroy TEX

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

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

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

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

Tier 2

2017 fantasy baseball catcher rankings.

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

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

3. Gary Sanchez NYY

4. Willson Contreras CHC

5. Yasmani Grandal LAD

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

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

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

Grandal will be a great fantasy asset in 2017.

Tier 3

2017 Fantasy Baseball Rankings

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

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

6. Russell Martin

7. Brian McCann

8. Salvador Perez

9. Yadier Molina

10. Wellington Castillo

11. Stephen Vogt

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

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

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

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

Tier 4

2017 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Rankings

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

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

12. Evan Gattis

13. J.T. Realmuto

14. Mike Zunino

15. Austin Hedges

16. Francisco Cervelli

17. Derek Norris

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

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

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

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

Tier 5

2017 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Rankings

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

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

18. Travis d’Arnaud

19. Sandy Leon

20. Devin Mesoraco

21. Yan Gomes

22. Cameron Rupp

23. Tony Wolters

24. James McCann

25. Jason Castro

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

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

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

 

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AL Regular Season Award Predictions

As the season begins to wind down, all sorts of guesses as to who will win the MVP and Cy Young awards. So many factors are taken into consideration including team record, individual statistics, and how the player has been performing as of late. Inside this article, I make some predictions for who will be the winner of each American League award as the season concludes.

 

MVP Award

Early on I thought the award would go to Houston Astros second basemen, Jose Altuve. He was on a tear the first couple of months. However, as the season progressed, Altuve has cooled off, and the award has become a tossup. The award now belongs to one of three people; either, Josh Donaldson, Mookie Betts, or Mike Trout.*

*The Angels are not contending for the playoffs, which for better or worse, eliminates Trout from the close race.

Betts has been a true five-category player, hitting 31 home runs, a .318 average, 25 stolen bases, and triple digit rbi’s and runs. Despite Donaldson displaying more power, Betts gets the nod for his substantial lead in stolen bases and batting average (RBI’s are hard for me to argue as it is dependent on people getting on in front of you.) The Red Sox moving to first in the division with a five-game lead on the Blue Jays is just the icing on the cake for Betts getting the MVP award.

 

Cy Young

The Cy Young Award is always tough to predict because people all the pitching stats differently. Rick Porcello leads the American League in wins but has 50 less strikeouts than Corey Kluber. Masahiro Tanaka has the lowest ERA in the AL, but has only amassed 14 wins. Justin Verlander accumulated a 5.5 WAR and a 1.01 WHIP in a career rebounding season but his team is currently on the outside looking in for the wild card.

 

I do not even think Kluber thought he was going to have the season he is currently having back in spring training. Photo courtesy of Chuck Crow of the Plain Dealer.

I do not even think Kluber thought he was going to have the season he is currently having back in spring training. Photo courtesy of Chuck Crow of the Plain Dealer.

In the end, I think Corey Kluber is most deserving of the award. He had a rough first couple of starts to the season, but once he settled in, produced strong numbers for the rest of the season for the Cleveland Indians. Kluber leads the American League with 224 Ks, the Indians are on top of the Central Division and is third and fourth respectively in ERA and WHIP (walks + hits per innings pitched). 18 wins, though dependent on the team, would rank him third in the AL and leads all AL pitchers in WAR. All these numbers, coupled with the Indians making the playoffs should be all the voters need to pick Kluber for the Cy Young.

 

Rookie of the Year

After the first month of the season, the award would have gone to Nomar Mazara. The MLB season is long, though, and a lot has changed. Mazara slumped, and Michael Fulmer started to rise to on the board. Fulmer has produced at an elite level for the Tigers, with a 3.03 ERA. Fulmer had the award locked up, well, until September rolled around and teams started calling up young prospects. Controversial, but the award belongs to Gary Sanchez.

Gary Sanchez is sitting at forty-three games on the season but has hit 19 home runs and is producing a .337 batting average. He has spent half of those games at the catcher spot, a position usually devoid of strong hitters. His WAR is already 2.2 (an average an MLB starter will accumulate 2-3 over the whole season) and it is not crazy to think that even if Sanchez started slumping, he could have produced a WAR hovering near five, which would be top 20 in the American League. The only thing holding back Sanchez is his lack of playing time, but I think the production over a month and a half is more than enough for Sanchez to usurp Fulmer by season’s end.

 

Mariano Rivera/Rolaids Relief Award

This award is probably the easiest to decide as there is one closer who has been heads and shoulders above the rest of the American League. Zach Britton not only leads the American League in saves, but his WHIP and ERA are both below one. Britton has only given up four earned runs all season in 61 innings, meaning every 15 appearances he makes, he gives up one lone run. To put this in perspective, Mariano Rivera’s lowest ERA in a single season was 1.38 (He gave up 12 ER’s in 78 innings), and he is considered one of, if not the best, closer of all time.

Britton has done way more than his expected workload for the season as he has been the best closer in the American League. Photo courtesy of Joy R. Absalon of USA TODAY Sports

Britton has done way more than he was expected to this season as he has been the best closer in the American League. Photo Courtesy of Joy R. Absalon of USA TODAY Sports

Britton has not blown a save all season, and three of his runs came in the first month. This means that in 52 appearances since the beginning of May, he has only given up one earned run. Britton has never been a dominant strikeout guy like Aroldis Chapman, which makes the ERA even more impressive as Britton relies on inducing groundouts. Britton is the only answer to who should win the Mariano Rivera award, regardless if the Orioles snag the last wild card spot or not.

 

Manager of the Year

This answer is not as clear-cut as the Britton one, but I believe there is still only one clear answer for Manager of the Year. Terry Francona has had playoff success in the past with the Red Sox, but nowadays, he has the MLB world buzzing about the Cleveland Indians. The Indians were not expected to win the division by a majority of baseball experts at the beginning of the season, as the Royals were the reigning World Series champs. The Indians were not even expected to make the playoffs, as the AL East was projected to lock up at least one playoff wildcard spot and the Detroit Tigers would have too hot of an offense to be slowed down for the second spot. Buster Olney, Jerry Crasnick, Tim Kurkjian, and Jon Morosi are all experts who predicted that the Indians would not even be in a playoff spot by the end of September.

As of now, however, the Indians are sitting seven games ahead of the second-place team in the AL Central. Francona has a potential Cy Young winner on the staff complemented by more young pitching.  He messed around with a lineup that led to Carlos Santana, a 210 pound first basemen, leading off for the better part of a season. All this culminated in success for a young team that may not win it all this

Francona has a potential Cy Young winner on the staff complemented by more solid, young pitching.  He messed around with a lineup that led to Carlos Santana, a 210-pound first basemen, leading off for the better part of a season. All this culminated in success for a young team that may not win it all this

All of this culminated in success for a young team that may not win it all this year. However, they have the core pieces in place long-termterm success for the better part of the future. The Manager of the Year has the second best record in the MLB, despite rather lackluster preseason expectations for the team headed into the season.

 

All stats courtesy of baseball reference

 

AL East Shenanigans: Just How Close is the Race?

By the time September rolls around, there is generally a couple of teams who have secured playoff spots and can look to rest key players sporadically during the remainder of the season. As of September 9th, Texas had a nine game lead over the 2nd place team in the AL West, the Houston Astros. Cleveland has been cruising lately, going 8-2 in their last 10 games to secure a six game lead in the AL Central. The AL East, on the otherhand, is where it get reals interesting.

What sets the AL East apart from the rest of the American League is that the division has four teams that are within four games of each other. Not only does the division hold a playoff spot for the division leader, but also has both of the wild card spots in the AL, and a fourth team just two games back for a wild card spot. The beauty of September baseball, as well, is that the majority of games that will be played by the teams will be against their division opponents. So not only is it a tight race for the division lead, but the race is nowhere near the finish line as the standings will be in constant flux.

The Boston Red Sox are the current division leaders in the AL East with a one game lead over the Toronto Blue Jays. Buoyed by the fanfare of David “Big Papi” Ortiz’s retirement tour and an MVP-worthy season from youngster Mookie Betts, the Red Sox are looking every bit like a playoff team. The pitching has come around since the beginning of the season, with David Price, Rick Porcello and deadline acquisition Drew Pomeranz (The Killer P’s?) resembling a strong rotation come playoff time.

Rick Porcello has impressed this season, throwing himself into the Cy Young conversation. Photo courtesy of Dan Hamilton of the USA Today

Rick Porcello has impressed this season, throwing himself into the Cy Young conversation. Can he keep up his dominance down the stretch and propel the Sox into the playoffs? Photo courtesy of Dan Hamilton of the USA Today

Porcello especially has impressed, reducing his BB/9 to a career low 1.35 while maintaining a K/9 near 7.5. Porcello’s off-speed pitches have come around this season, which has led to hitters not receiving as many easy pitches to hit and thus leading to more outs generated for Porcello and the Sox. Fangraphs says this season, opponents are only hitting .171 against his change and .212 against his slider, compared to .292 and .342 respectively last season. The weakness of the Red Sox is the bullpen, especially bridging the gap from starter to Kimbrel in the 9th. The Red Sox addressed the issue at the deadline, adding Ziegler from Arizona, but Ziegler has produced mixed results since the move. Look for the bullpen being the reason why the Red Sox will either keep producing efficiently, or start to move down the standings as the month rolls by.

The Toronto Blue Jays currently sit in second by a game and lead the wild card race. I profiled the team briefly in my article on the AL Division Race a week ago, so I will just give a quick rundown. Basically, Toronto has the best offense on paper, headlined by potential AL MVP Josh Donaldson and bat flipping champion Jose Bautista. A supporting cast of hitters including Russell Martin, Troy Tulowitzki, and Edwin Encarnacion rounds out the most potent lineup in the American League, if not all of baseball (I’d argue the lineup is more potent than the Cubs).

Jose Bautista has powered the Jays to the playoffs before...can he do it again? Photo courtesy of Getty Sports

Jose Bautista has powered the Jays to the playoffs before…can he do it again? Photo courtesy of Getty Sports

 

What could be the Blue Jays downfall, and my reason of hesitancy, is that pitching matters, and the Blue Jays do not have the stud pitching seen in other potential playoff team’s rotations. Just this past weekend, the Jays’ starters gave up a combined 11 earned runs in 13.2 innings (in 3 games) against the Tampa Bay Rays, a team that is twenty-one games below .500. That is not pitching a fan wants to see leading into the playoffs.

The Baltimore Orioles are the often forgotten studs in the AL East. The Orioles currently reside only two games back in the AL East standings and are perched in the second wild card spot with a one game lead over the Detroit Tigers. The Orioles also feature a potent lineup starring Manny Machado, Chris “Crush” Davis, and Adam Jones. Yet, those are not the only ones doing the heavy lifting, as the rest of the lineup has been hitting dingers all season as well. Mark Trumbo, most notably, has been a key fixture in the middle of the Orioles lineup, despite being traded for in the offseason for a backup catcher.

Mark Trumbo has been very productive for the Orioles, especially since he was traded a backup catcher. Photo courtesy of Butch Dill of the USA Today

Mark Trumbo has been very productive for the Orioles, especially since he was traded a backup catcher. Will his power be enough to get the Orioles playoff-bound? Photo courtesy of Butch Dill of the USA Today

This season, Trumbo has put up 41 homeruns while maintaining an adequate .255 batting average for the season. Another notable hitter is the underrated second basemen Jonathan Schoop, who despite only having 18 walks this year, has put up a .282 batting average and 21 homeruns for the club.

Despite all the power in the Orioles lineup, the problem comes down to the rotation once again, as the Orioles rotation is filled with veteran journeymen and super young pitchers. Keep an eye on Kevin Gausman though, who despite his record, has pitched well lately, not giving up a run in his last three starts. The rotation will be the question mark for the Orioles as the postseason looms ever closer.

The final team still battling for the AL East is the New York Yankees. The Yankees are interesting because the Yankees were sellers at the MLB Trade Deadline, moving Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman, and Carlos Beltran for a plethora of high upside prospects. Yet, a month after the deadline, the Yankees are only sitting four games back in the division and two back from the Orioles for the final wild card spot. The Yankees have been by their promoted youngsters, especially the polarizing Gary Sanchez.

Gary Sanchez has been raking for the Yankees. Can he keep up the hot hitting down the stretch? Photo courtesy of Brad Penner of the USA Today

Gary Sanchez has been raking for the Yankees. Can he keep up the hot hitting down the stretch? Photo courtesy of Brad Penner of the USA Today

Sanchez was promoted right after the deadline and has played in thirty-one games since, sporting a .336 batting average and knocking out 11 homers. Tanaka has been pitching like the ace that was expected out of his contract and the team has also received decent pitching from Michael Pineda and C.C. Sabathia over the course of the season.

The thing to watch with the Yankees will be whether the hot hitting will continue. The team is currently riding a five game winning streak (as of 9/9), but if the team strings together a couple of losses, it will be interesting to see if the veterans will be able to steer the rookies back on track or the team will fade off.

The battle has been raging all season long for the division, and yet, despite five months of baseball, there is no clear indication who will lead the division at the end of the season. Question marks surround each team as the margins are constantly fluctuating throughout the month. The Red Sox appear to be the most complete team on paper, but a shaky bullpen can turn a few wins into losses and hurt a team’s place in the standings. The Jays and Orioles face question marks surrounding their rotations, despite the electric lineups each team fields. The Yankees have been buoyed by their youngster hitters, but it will be interesting to see what happens when the team starts stringing together a couple of losses back to back instead of riding the hot streak forever. The 2016 AL East is the reason why baseball is exciting in September and will be a fun story to follow for the rest of the month.

 

Stats courtesy of fangraphs and standings according to MLB.com

Shoutout to u/twistedlogicx for pointing this out on r/baseball