Fantasy Baseball

Fantasy Baseball 2017: Heat Check

In this heat check, we will identify and analyze some of the hottest players in baseball. This segment is intended to inform fantasy baseball owners about whether these players will continue at their torrid pace, or if it’s time to sell high.

The Houston Astros’ big three

Fantasy Baseball

Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer are propelling the Houston Astros into elite company. (Courtesy of Getty Images)

As many expected, the Houston Astros lineup has emerged into one the league’s most elite offenses. They are currently ranked third in runs scored per game with 5.45. Their three-headed monster of Jose Altuve, George Springer and Carlos Correa are arguably the hottest hitters in the game. The trio is batting a combined .452 with eight home runs, 26 runs and 24 RBI in their last seven games.

Altuve is sporting a career high in both BABIP (.363) and ISO (.197), although to say regression is in store would be incorrect, as his career BABIP is a mere .28 points off of his current and his ISO nearly matches his 2016 mark of .194. Barring injury, you can pencil Altuve’s name into the MVP conversation for a fourth consecutive season.

Springer, even as their leadoff hitter, is leading the Astros in home runs, although his power surge may begin to slow down. His ISO is about .40 points higher than his career mark and his HR/FB rate is at an unsustainable 30 percent. Springer is a career .260 hitter with a current batting average of .272, although with a career BABIP of .318 and a current BABIP of .304, we can say that there is still room for progression. The only knock on Springer, who many considered to be a 30/30 candidate heading into the season, has yet to steal a base.

Former first-overall pick, Carlos Correa, had a bit of a sophomore slump in 2016. Many expected the 2015 Rookie of the Year to blossom into a top-10 MVP candidate, although he had less home runs and stolen bases in 153 games in 2016 then he did in 99 games the year before. So far in 2017, Correa is proving that he is a true MVP candidate, as he is batting a career high .310 while leading the Astros in RBIs and walks. The 22-year-old shortstop looks as though he will put together his first 30 home run campaign, which makes him an elite power threat at one of the shallower positions in fantasy baseball, as only three shortstop eligible players hit 30 or more home runs in 2016; Manny Machado (37), Jedd Gyorko (30) and Brad Miller (30).

The St. Louis Cardinals’ pitching staff

Fantasy Baseball

Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn along with the rest of the Cardinals rotation are keeping St. Louis afloat in the NL Central. (Courtesy of Getty Images)

The Cardinals always find a way compete. In 2016, their bats carried them, as they finished fourth in runs scored, although in 2017 it has been quite the opposite. Their pitching staff is now ranked fourth in ERA, whereas their offense ranks outside of the top 20 in runs scored. The Cardinals had many question marks heading into the season; including Michael Wacha’s place in the rotation and Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn’s health.

There was speculation that Wacha would begin the year in the bullpen after struggling in 2016. After the team lost Alex Reyes to season ending Tommy John surgery, Wacha’s opportunity to return to the rotation arose. Since then, he has proven himself by pitching six quality starts in his last nine appearances. His ERA sits a tad below four, although his xFIP and SIERA are both below the marks they were at in 2015, where he finished 17-7 with a 3.38 ERA. All signs point up for the 25-year-old.

Lynn missed the entire 2016 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, causing many to speculate if he could return to his All-Star form. So far in 2017, he has proven all doubters wrong, as he has a sub-three ERA to go along with a respectable 8.34 K/9 and 1.07 WHIP. Unfortunately for Lynn owners, he looks to be in line for serious regression as he has a BABIP of .204, xFIP of 4.33 and SIERA of 4.22. Now may be a prime sell high period for the 30-year-old.

One of the most underappreciated pitchers of the decade, Adam Wainwright, has a 140-79 record, winning at least 19 games in four different seasons. After rupturing his Achilles tendon in 2015, Wainwright returned for an abysmal 2016 campaign which resulted in a career worst 4.62 ERA. The questions continued to swirl heading into 2017, as many wondered if we had seen the last of the Cy Young candidate Wainwright.

He is no longer the ace caliber pitcher he once was, although he has returned to a serviceable form. He has a 3.79 ERA to go with his 6-3 record. Also, he is arguably the hottest pitcher in baseball over the last month, as he has a 0.47 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in his last four starts. His age is worrisome, although he has never experienced any serious upper body injuries and has less mileage on his arm than most 35-year-olds.

There were nearly no question marks heading into the season when it came to the Cardinals unquestioned ace, Carlos Martinez. The 2015 All-Star has a career ERA of 3.29 and K/9 of 8.7. He is currently sporting a 3.08 ERA and 9.86 K/9. His above average xFIP of 3.45 and SIERA of 3.63 suggest that his success is very sustainable.

The most interesting name on this staff is Mike Leake, who struggled severely in his inaugural season with the Cardinals. He currently has a 2.64 ERA, which is bound to regress due to his .234 BABIP and 83 percent LOB percentage, which are both unsustainable. His 2016 xFIP (3.76) and SIERA (3.92) are very similar to his current xFIP (3.62) and SIERA (3.81), suggesting that his struggles a year ago may have been a fluke. In my mind, now is the perfect time to sell high on the 29-year-old, although, even with regression, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him ranked inside the top-50 starting pitchers at years’ end.

The Miami Marlins’ power hitters

Fantasy Baseball

Marcell Ozuna and Giancarlo Stanton continue to make the Miami Marlins relevant. (Courtesy of Getty Images)

The Marlins rank just inside the top-20 in runs scored and home runs, although three men specifically are to thank for keeping their offense relevant; Justin Bour, Marcell Ozuna and Giancarlo Stanton.

Bour is arguably the hottest hitter in baseball. He has a .377 batting average and six home runs in his last 15 games. The 29-year-old is currently sporting a career high BABIP and ISO, so regression should be expected, although I would ride this hot streak out as long as possible, as first base is the deepest positon in fantasy baseball, in turn lowering Bour’s value tremendously.

Ozuna exploded onto the scene in 2016, batting .307 with 17 home runs in the first half of the season. After falling off of a cliff, not literally, his batting averaged regressed to .266 and he finished with only 23 bombs. In 2017, he is batting an astounding .322 with 14 home runs and 40 RBI. His BABIP of .361 and HR/FB rate of 28 percent suggest that regression is absolutely in his future. If you expect another fall from grace, like myself, then now would be the time move the Marlin slugger.

Stanton is having similar success to his two teammates, although his seems much more sustainable. He is batting a career high .291 with a BABIP of .326, which is very similar to his career mark of .323, suggesting that his batting average is sustainable. Also, his current HR/FB ratio of 26 percent is less than one percentage point off of his career rate, showing that his home run production is sustainable as well. Stanton seems like the one to own of the three, although because of his name, he will have the highest price.

Featured image by Laurie Robbins/Pintrest

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2017 MLB Season

We have liftoff: The rise of the Houston Astros

No one saw what was to come of that October night in 2005. The Chicago White Sox had just swept the Houston Astros in four games to win the World Series, and the celebration that occurred in Minute Maid Park was one that left a sour taste in Astros’ fans mouths. Little did they know that it was a precursor to the next few years of Astros baseball.

But with a long rebuild finally in the rear-view mirror, fans have a winning team again. That night in 2005 seems a lot longer ago that 12 years, and that is in large part thanks to the success the franchise is experiencing. But how did a team that hadn’t finished better than 11 games back of first place average 85 wins in the past two seasons and have one of the best records in the majors this season? It took some savvy moves, and the ability to admit that change was needed.

Houston Astros

Dallas Keuchel was one of the shiniest diamonds in the rough ever, winning the 2015 AL Cy Young Award (Colin E. Bradley/AP Photo).

Cultivating the Farm

Even though the Astros lost the World Series in 2005, the core of the roster was held onto long after their glory days. With aging stars like Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt and other core components still on the roster, management made a change for the better that came to a head in 2010.

Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt were both shipped off to contending teams, but their hauls didn’t bring back any impact players for the Astros. Even so, their trades were still a key component in the rebuild process.

With the team being stripped to the bare bones, the rebuild was officially underway in 2011, as Houston lost 106 games.

But that season saw the first glimpses of the dynamic and diminutive second baseman, Jose Altuve. They also drafted center fielder George Springer in the first round of the MLB Draft that year. The duo of Springer and Altuve have become the core of the Astros, and have set the franchise up for a succesful future.

Young studs like Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers and Alex Bregman were also acquired via the draft, and have helped to lift the club back into contention.

They also found a Cy Young winner in the seventh round of the 2009 MLB Draft. After struggling in 2012 and 2013, Dallas Keuchel would go on to win the 2015 AL Cy Young award. But it wasn’t just the farm system that helped lift the Astros to relevancy

Bargain Deals and Smart Investments

Houston Astros

Will Harris has had a massive impact on a dominant Astros bullpen (Mike Carlson, Stringer).

The Astros were just as good at finding talent on the free agent market and waiver wire as they were in the MLB Draft. Right hander Collin McHugh was one of the worst starters in the league in 2012 and 2013, putting up a combined 8.94 ERA in that time.

But when he came to the Astros in 2014, he became a whole new pitcher. His 3.71 ERA in an Astros uniform is a stark contrast to his younger years, and he has developed into one of the Astros’ better starting pitchers.

But it hasn’t been just the starting rotation that has benefited from free agency. Will Harris came into Astros spring training in 2015 just trying to make the roster. Little did anyone know that he would finish the season with a 1.90 ERA out of the pen. His contributions were also joined by another relief pitcher in 2015.

Prized free agent reliever Pat Neshek made the move from St. Louis to Houston in 2015 and immediately made an impact. With a 3.36 ERA in his two seasons in Houston, Nesheck became a valuable member of a much improved bullpen.

Joined by fellow free agent additions Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran, the Astros have had excellent success in the free agent market. By not overspending on free agents and being able to exploit the bargain bin, the Astros have put together a consistent winner in Houston.

Putting it all together

The Astros have had an interesting approach to rebuilding the team. By tearing the team down to its roots, they lost in the present to win in the future. And the future has finally arrived with a 31-16 record in the AL West and a young core to build around.

The front office has proven to be more than adequate at picking up well-priced free agents and finding contributors on the waiver wire. With the ability to put solid contributors around an excellent young core, the Astros are primed to fully wipe away the taste of the 2005 World Series and replace it with a savory World Series title.

 

Featured image by Troy Taormina, USA Today.

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Surprise Performances Around the MLB

The MLB season is still in its infancy with just one full week in the books. However, there are multiple players who are opening some eyes around the league. Whether it’s just a hot start or a cold spell, players and fans alike take notice. Who is making the most of the opening week of the season, and who could use a mulligan?

1B Logan Morrison – Tampa Bay Rays

Surprise Performances

Logan Morrison has been a bright spot in Tampa’s lineup (Will Vragovic/Tampa Bay Times).

The 29-year-old first baseman has turned it around so far this season after struggling last year with a .238 batting average. He has helped the Rays to a 5-3 record and been a driving force in their offense. Morrison is currently batting .333 with two homers and six RBIs through eight games.

While it is a small sample size, the Rays don’t seem to mind. The Rays could be in playoff contention if Morrison can come close to continuing this type of production throughout the season.

C Jason Castro – Minnesota Twins

Jason Castro was acquired by the Twins in the offseason as a defensive specialist. He put up uninspiring numbers in Houston and left the city with a .232 career batting average.

It seems Castro may have found something in Minnesota, evident by his hot start. He is currently batting .353 with one homer and six RBIs through six games this season. However, it’s his OBP that draws the most attention. This season’s .542 is astounding compared to his career OBP of .311. Supported by the seven walks he has already drawn, Castro is looking like a steal of a signing for Minnesota.

If he can play close to what he’s shown already, the Twins will have made one of the shrewdest moves of the offseason.

1B Mark Reynolds – Colorado Rockies

Surprising Performances

Mark Reynolds has performed exceptionally well in Ian Desmond’s stead (Denis Poroy/Getty Images).

With the signing of Ian Desmond to play first base in Denver, many thought Mark Reynolds would see few at bats this season. However, a spring training injury to Desmond opened the door for Reynolds, and he’s taking full advantage of it.

Reynolds has always been known as a slugger with 255 career home runs. This season, he has been doing so much more. He’s posted a .345 batting average to go along with four home runs and 10 RBIs. That astounding offense has also been paired with some stellar defense, as Reynolds has made some great plays at first this season.

Reynolds will be going back to the bench when Ian Desmond returns, but if he can keep it up, he just may become a top trade deadline target.

2B Jose Altuve – Houston Astros

Jose Altuve is one of the best players in the game today. His third place finish in the 2016 AL MVP voting only supports that claim. However, he certainly hasn’t shown it to start this season.

The diminutive second baseman has posted a lowly .188 batting average through his first eight games. His poor performance is seemingly out of the blue given he led the AL in hitting with a .338 batting average last season.

With a player of Altuve’s status, it’s only a matter of time before he turns it around.

1B Anthony Rizzo – Chicago Cubs

After winning the World Series in 2016, the Chicago Cubs were consensus favorites to repeat in 2017. One of the main forces for that projected repeat was first baseman Anthony Rizzo, but he has fallen far short of expectations this season.

He is batting .172 to start the year. He has struggled at the plate, but luckily it hasn’t impacted his team. With the Cubs sitting at 5-2 and atop the NL Central, the Cubs should have no worries.

Rizzo will turn it around eventually and should help carry the club back to the playoffs.

1B Edwin Encarnacion – Cleveland Indians

The Cleveland Indians were contenders in 2016 and were favorites by many entering the 2017 season. With the offseason acquisition of Edwin Encarnacion, many believed it would push the Indians over the top. However, seven games into the season, the Indians are 4-3, and Encarnacion is batting .185.

It’s not the kind of start Indians fans were hoping for. Even so, the Indians are still over .500 and treading water. When Encarnacion turns it on (not if), the Indians will be prime contenders in the AL Central. They’ll need to hurry with surprise performer Minnesota and the Tigers in front of them for the lead in the division.

 

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World Baseball Classic Bracketology: Predicting the Semi-Finals

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

Pool E

World Baseball Classic

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

Japan (5-0 WBC Record)

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

The Netherlands (3-2 WBC Record)

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

Israel (4-1 WBC Record)

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

Cuba (2-3 WBC Record)

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

Pool E Representatives in Semis: Japan and Israel

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

Pool F

Dominican Republic (3-0 WBC Record)

World Baseball Classic

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

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

Puerto Rico (3-0 WBC Record)

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

United States (2-1 WBC Record)

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

Venezuela (2-2 WBC Record)

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

Pool F Representatives in Semis: Dominican Republic and United States

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

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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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Injury Update

Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball Second Base Rankings

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

In the past, the second base position is where one can find steals and average, although in 2016, 15 second base eligible players hit 20 or more home runs. The steals and average have remained constant as well, as 15 second basemen had double-digit steals and nine batted over .280 (Min. 500 AB’s). Second base remains one of the deeper positions in fantasy baseball in 2017.

With spring-training officially underway, it’s time to give our second base rankings for the 2017 season.

 

Players have been grouped into four tiers, with the top and bottom player of each profiled below.

Honorable mentions include: Brandon Drury (ARI), Jedd Gyorko (STL), Howie Kendrick (PHI), Brett Lawrie (CWS), and Ryan Schimpf (SD).

 

Tier 1

2017 Fantasy Baseball Second Base Rankings

Jose Altuve is pound for pound the most talented player in the MLB. (Courtesy of MLB.com)

  1. Jose Altuve HOU
  2. Robinson Cano SEA
  3. Daniel Murphy WAS
  4. Ian Kinsler DET
  5. Brian Dozier MIN
  6. Rougned Odor TEX
  7. Matt Carpenter STL

 

Jose Altuve is pound for pound the most talented player in the MLB. He offers above average contributions in all five categories, while offering elite levels of batting average and stolen bases. Altuve will have all of the opportunity in the world, as he will bat third behind budding stars George Springer and Alex Bregman, with All-star Carlos Correa batting clean-up.

The 26-year-old managed to set a career high marks across the board; in plate appearances, home runs, runs, and RBI’s. Even if the 5-foot-7 super-star regresses in all departments, he will remain an elite option in the first round of drafts.

 

The St. Louis Cardinals lifer, Matt Carpenter, is being severely over looked in 2017. Due to an oblique injury, he finished 2016 with only 566 plate appearances, whereas he had averaged 697 per season from 2013 to 2015. Carpenter was on a tear in the first half of 2016, batting .298 with 14 home runs and 53 RBI’s.

The 31-year-old will continue have the opportunity to produce as he will bat third in a very talented young Cardinal’s lineup. I expect Carpenter to severally outperform his current ADP of 68, as I believe he will bat around .290 with a possibility to produce both 100 runs and RBI’s.

Tier 2

2017 Fantasy Baseball Second Base Rankings

Trea Turner has a bright future, but what is his ceiling? (Courtesy of Federal Baseball)

  1. Trea Turner WAS
  2. Jean Segura SEA
  3. Jonathon Villar MIL
  4. Jason Kipnis CLE
  5. J. Lemaheiu COL

 

According to FantasyPros.com, Trea Turner is currently being drafted as the 11th player off the board, which is why he will not be on any of my teams in 2017. Turner was called up in June of 2016 and exploded, batted .342 with 13 home runs, 40 RBI’s, and 33 steals in only 73 games. I understand the hype, but let’s pump the breaks.  We are talking about a player who has never hit, or has never been on pace to hit, 20 home runs in a full 162 game season. He will bat at the top half of a stacked Washington Nationals lineup, giving him plenty of value in the runs department.

His career average of .329 and stolen base floor of around 30 should translate to a great fantasy season, although I do not believe he is worth a draft pick at his current ADP.

 

D.J. Lemahieu, is currently being drafted as the 88th overall player, and 13th second basemen off the board in 2017. Lemahieu was awarded the 2016 National League batting champion after having an astounding .348 average. The 6-foot-4 second basemen has only hit 26 career home runs in 672 games, although playing at his stature, as well as at Coors Field gives him a possibility to increase those totals in 2017.

The 28-year-old will bat second in one of the most prolific offenses in the MLB, with the Colorado Rockies. Lemahieu’s floor gives makes him well worth a top 50 pick, and he is being drafted in the top 100.

Tier 3

2017 Fantasy Baseball Second Base Rankings

The aging-veteran Dustin Pedroia will continue to dominate in 2017. (Courtsey of alchetron.com)

  1. Dustin Pedroia BOS
  2. Jonathon Schoop BAL
  3. Ben Zobrist CHC
  4. Devon Travis TOR
  5. Logan Forsythe LAD
  6. Neil Walker NYM
  7. Starlin Castro NYY
  8. Javier Baez CHC
  9. Brandon Phillips ATL

 

Dustin Pedroia remains a solid fantasy option once again in 2017. The 33-year-old’s 2016 was arguably his best season since his 2008 MVP year. Pedroia had 200 hits for the second time in his career, while hitting 15 home runs with 74 RBI’s atop the Boston Red Sox order.

Health concerns have always been an issue for the 5-foot-9 (more like 5-foot-6) veteran, although after completing a full season in 2016, there is no reason to assume he cannot repeat this once again in 2017.

 

Brandon Phillips will leave Ohio for the first time in his MLB career as he heads south for Atlanta. The 35-year-old hasn’t lost a step as he has batted over .290 in his last two seasons, while averaging about 10 home runs, 70 runs, 70 RBI’s, and 16 steals.

Phillips will bat in middle of a very underrated Atlanta Braves lineup, behind the likes of Freddie Freeman and Dansby Swanson. Phillips’ talent and lineup position give him a great floor for his current ADP of 321.

Tier 4

2017 Fantasy Baseball Second Base Rankings

Josh Harrison looks to complete his first full MLB season in 2017. (Courtesy of Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Spors)

  1. Josh Harrison PIT
  2. Danny Espinosa LAA
  3. Joe Panik SFG
  4. Cesar Hernandez PHI

 

Josh Harrison has yet to play in over 145 games in a season in his MLB career, although he has shown promise to become a great fantasy asset in 2017. Harrison’s finished 2016 with a .283 average, 57 runs, 59 RBI’s, and 19 stolen bases. If Harrison played a complete season, he would have been on pace for 72 RBI’s and 22 steals, which, along with his average, would have put him in the top 15 for second basemen in 2016.

The 29-year-old will bat atop a Pittsburgh Pirates lineup that looks to redeem itself from a poor 2016 campaign. Batting ahead of Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, and Gregory Polanco will make him a great source of runs in 2017. His ADP of 322 makes him well worth a pick late in your draft.

 

Cesar Hernandez was quietly a top 20 second basemen in all formats in 2016. He offered a great source of speed and average as he stole 17 bases while batting .294. The 26-year-old also managed to lead the league in triples in 2016, which is always a good sign.

He will bat atop a young Phillies lineup, which will make him a great source of runs and steals, as the Phillies were a top 10 team in stolen bases attempted per game in 2016. Hernandez is a great low risk pick for the last rounds of your draft.

 

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World Baseball Classic Preview: Pool D

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

1.World Baseball Classic Preview: Pool A

2.World Baseball Classic Preview: Pool B

3.World Baseball Classic Preview: Pool C

Italy

World Baseball Classic

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Mexico

World Baseball Classic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Puerto Rico

World Baseball Classic

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Venezuela

World Baseball Classic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verdict

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

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

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2017 MLB Season

Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Second Basemen

In this fourth installment of our Position Rankings for the 2017 MLB season, we are going to take a base from first to second. Second basemen proved to be strong offensive contributors in 2016 as we saw homers, steals and batting averages that rivaled players at any positions.

With second basemen starting to emerge into the spotlight, lets take a look at the top second basemen.

5. Daniel Murphy- Washington Nationals

2017 MLB Season

The Nationals will hope Murphy can continue his offensive dominance in 2017. (Jeff Curry, USA TODAY Sports).

After Daniel Murphy’s offensive explosion in the 2015 MLB Playoffs, many questioned if he would be able to match his playoff performance over a full season. Those questions were laid to rest early in the 2016 season. Murphy posted the best slash line of his eight year career, batting .347, .390, .595. Those numbers, along with his 25 homers and 104 RBI’s vaulted him to a second place finish in the 2015 NL MVP voting. But as his offensive numbers reached new heights, his defense continued to stay well below league average.

Murphy had a horrendous -9 defensive runs saved at second base in 2016. That was easily the worst defensive performance of any player on this list. Murphy’s saving grace, as it has been throughout his career, is his offense. As the 2017 MLB season approaches, Murphy will try to continue his torrid offensive pace.

4. Brian Dozier- Minnesota Twins

Brian Dozier had a historic year for the Minnesota Twins in 2016. While the Twins fell below expectations, Dozier certainly did his part to try and propel them back to relevancy. He blasted 42 homers, besting the AL record for homers by a second baseman set by Alfonso Soriano in 2002. Just like Murphy, Dozier also put up the best slash line of his career at .268, .340, .546. Dozier was also able to couple his steadily growing power with his ever-present base running prowess. He fell just short of his career high 21 stolen bases in 2014, swiping 18 in 2016.

While Dozier was able to improve his overall offensive game, he also turned his defense around from 2015. Dozier had a respectable 3 defensive runs saved in 2016. After putting up one of the best power seasons of any second baseman in MLB history, it will remain to be seen if Dozier can come close to his historic 2016 season in 2017. Either way, he has cemented his place as one of the top second basemen in baseball.

3. Ian Kinsler- Detroit Tigers

2017 MLB Season

With a strong bat and slick glove, Ian Kinsler is the total package for the Tigers. (Leon Halip, Getty Images).

After being traded straight up in 2013 for slugger Prince Fielder, Ian Kinsler has provided a steady presence in Detroit for the past three seasons. Kinsler continued a strong career with another stellar offensive season in 2016. While batting .288, .348 and .484, Kinsler also hit 28 bombs to go along with 83 RBI’s. Kinsler wasn’t just a one-trick pony in 2016 either. After stealing 14 bases in 2016, Kinsler will enter 2017 with 211 career stolen bases and 212 career homers. That is plenty of power and speed over his career.

Kinsler has also flashed the leather throughout his time in the majors, and 2016 was no different. After having 12 defensive runs saved last season, Kinsler earned his first Gold Glove. Being one of the most balanced second basemen in all of Major League Baseball has given Kinsler a stellar reputation. The 2017 season is just another opportunity for Kinsler to continue his exceptional career.

2. Robinson Canó- Seattle Mariners

When Canó left New York for Seattle after the 2013 season, it was thought that he would be able to guide the Mariners to their first playoff appearance since 2001. Although that hasn’t come to fruition, it can’t be blamed on Canó. Canó proved why he has been widely considered the top slugger at second base, hitting a career high 39 homers to go along with 103 RBI’s in 2016. He also displayed his overall hitting ability with a slash line of .298, .350, .533. While Canó’s first two seasons in Seattle left much to be desired, he returned to vintage form in 2016. That included his defense as well.

Canó improved on his defense vastly in 2016 compared to his 2015 campaign. He had 11 defensive runs saved this past season after having a poor defensive season in 2015 in which he had -9 defensive runs saved. After struggling his first two years in Seattle, it seemed Canó was finally able to shake his jet lag. 2017 will be a big season for Canó, one in which we will find out if he has truly returned to All-Star form or if Seattle made a $240 million mistake.

1. José Altuve- Houston Astros

2017 MLB Season

José Altuve has never let his short stature keep him from reaching new offensive heights. (Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports).

Altuve is one of the reasons why baseball is the best sport in the world. At 5’7″ I am proud to say I am taller than All-Star second baseman José Altuve (5’6″). Even though Altuve’s stature is diminutive, his game has reached astronomical heights. While winning his second AL Batting Title in the past three years, Altuve was able to improve his overall hitting ability. His 2016 slash line of .338, .396, and .531 were career highs in OBP and slugging. Altuve fueled his .531 slugging percentage by blasting 24 homers to go along with 96 RBI’s. His 24 homers were more than his first four seasons combined! Altuve has also shown off his wheels throughout his career, stealing 199 bases over parts of six seasons.

Although Altuve is steadily becoming the top offensive second basemen in the majors, his glove has always trailed his bat. Altuve posted -2 defensive runs saved at second base in 2016, proving to be below league average on defense. While his defense certainly isn’t anything to write home about, Altuve’s offense is more than enough to launch him into the top spot in these rankings. Altuve will only be 26 years old when the 2017 season starts, and will just be entering his prime.

Second base has long been seen as a less than premium position. But with the emergence of some stellar players at second base in the past few seasons, the position is primed to become on of the most talented in Major League Baseball.

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How Rob Manfred Can Build on the Game 7 Hype

Game 7 of the World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians was the most viewed game in the past twenty-five years. The storyline was too good to be true for Rob Manfred, the commissioner of the MLB. The big market Cubs and the beloved Indians were facing the longest World Series droughts in the MLB. Either way, one team was going to break their curse. It was the series that everybody was talking about as the series was unorthodox, but still emotionally gripping. In the end, it was the Cubs that survived victorious.

The hype surrounding the game had even the most casual of sports fans watching. Baseball is a sport often seen as stagnating with the young audience. One of Rob Manfred’s biggest issues is how to help grow a sport often seen as stale and slow. Often referred to as America’s pastime, the game truly does not feel like it has done everything it can to keep up with modern times to help reach an audience that will need to be captivated in order for baseball to flourish over the next couple of decades. This article will provide just a couple things that could be done to help modernize the game.

First off, it is hard for millennials to watch their favorite team play without having to go to a bar. The MLB has been making strides to make the games more accessible for cord-cutters, but truthfully, their efforts have not been enough. MLB.TV was a good first step to providing the entertainment, as $85 to have the ability to watch all or your team’s 162 games is a bargain. Local blackouts, however, hinder the fans who are in their team’s regional TV coverage. For example, if a fan of Cincinnati, Cleveland, or Pittsburgh lives in Columbus, Ohio, they would not be able to watch their team play on MLB.TV due to these blackout rules unless they had a cable subscription (defeating the purpose of buying MLB.TV).

 

 

mlb_blackout_areas

Above is the blackout map for each state. Poor Iowans have up to six teams in their blackout zone, hurting cord cutters in the state. Photo courtesy of wikimedia.

Now, the reason why these blackout rules exist is because cable companies know the only chance to survive the cord cutting trend is to save their sports channels. Of course, their are ways to circumvent the blackout rules through shady means, but truthfully, the casual viewer does not want to go to that length just to watch their local team.  Team owners, Manfred, and cable companies need to come to some agreement to avoid these blackouts. Sadly, this may never be the case, as baseball owners make a ton of money off all these regional sports channel agreements . Oftentimes, these agreements make up a significant portion of the money used to fund the roster of many small market teams. If Manfred is serious about making baseball more appealing to the millennials, he needs to find a way to make baseball more accessible to the fans. He also needs to find a way for an individual to stream their local team.

The second step revolves around a debate that has been surrounding baseball for years now. On one side of the aisle is the viewpoint of baseball as a gentleman’s game, where celebrations are mild and respect is shown by a player to the opposing team. More recently, however, has been a slowly growing movement of players that are not afraid to step out of that zone and celebrate a big hit. Jose Bautista may have received the most venom for his 2015 ALCS Game 6 bat flip, but it is moments like that that resonate with the young fans. Obviously there should be limits to the celebration. I’m not talking about letting a man break dance on home plate after hitting a monster home run, but let the hitter slowly walk out of the box as he hits his moonshot. Maybe, just maybe, let the hitter flip his bat back to his dugout in excitement without being afraid of getting belted by a fastball his next time up to bat.

MLB: Spring Training-Oakland Athletics at Los Angeles Dodgers

Jose Bautista is not the only player with a legitimate bat flip. Yasiel Puig, often mired in controversy, has been flipping bats after home runs ever since he started in the majors. Photo courtesy of cbssports.com

It does not stop with the hitters. Pitchers have their fair share of celebrating already. Fist bumps are very common among relievers and closers who pitch out of a jam. The issue is that pitchers normally go unpunished for celebrating, unlike the hitters who may have to go up later in the game and get hit on purpose for celebrating a little too much. Baseball should be promoting these moments of personality, not letting hitters get crushed by both opposing pitchers and media pundits that are stuck in the “old ways” of baseball. Baseball needs personality out on the field, not robots.

Last, but not least, surrounds the World Baseball Classic. The hype machine needs to start today on getting America prepared for it. A rather new tradition, the WBC is the World Cup of Baseball, which is played every four years. Players should be honored to represent their teams, especially as the sport is strong in not just America, but Asia and the Caribbean as well. Most importantly, however, is that baseball needs the best Americans representing the United States. Manfred then needs to get the WBC accessible to all kinds of fans and not try to make people watch the games on FS1 or other weird channels very few people actually utilize.

The last WBC Team USA squad in 2013 definitely had some recognizable names, featuring a young Giancarlo Stanton, prime Ryan Braun and Adam Jones, and Captain America himself, David Wright. Frankly, the rest of the roster was full of players adored in their personal market and team fandom, but often unrecognized on the bigger stages. Think of an infield of Buster Posey, Paul Goldschmidt, Jose Altuve, Manny Machado, and Kris Bryant. Now couple that infield with an outfield of Giancarlo Stanton, Mike Trout, and Bryce Harper. Not only does that give you one of the best teams truly ever assembled in baseball (better than most fan voted all-star teams even), but also gives plenty of young personalities from many different markets all across the US that can get each area to rally around the team.

The downside of the WBC has always been the fear of overuse on the players before the season starts. An understandable fear, and one faced by many sports who have the same international competition. Injuries are avoided as much as possible, but they are also natural and going to occur regardless of players participating in this tournament, or in just regular spring training. Have MLB promote this as truly a world tournament and get people interested, even if it is 1/10th as popular as the FIFA World Cup, and that momentum could carry over into the regular season.

In the end, baseball is such a different sport for viewers than many of the other popular sports. Football, Hockey, and Basketball are all fast paced and timed. Baseball is both untimed and slower moving, with each pitch taking as long as a football play. Josh Burris outlined here why baseball is a fun sport to watch, as many casual fans experienced this World Series. Making local teams more accessible for cord-cutters in the team’s region would be a valuable first step to let younger fans enjoy the sport. Letting the players exhibit more flair and style into their play can make the game more fun and exciting for a group of fans that spend their time watching vines and memes on the internet daily. Finally, sell the crap out of the World Baseball Classic to not only expose the brand on an international market, but also help casual and new American fans meet the biggest American players on a competitive squad. Rob Manfred has a lot on his plate for the future. Only time will tell how baseball’s popularity will transition from here.

 

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2016 American League West Preview

Courtesy of, brokenbatsingleblog.wordpress.com

Courtesy of: brokenbatsingleblog.wordpress.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

1st Place: Houston Astros

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Player to Watch: Carlos Correa

2nd Place: Texas Rangers

Courtesy of: www.sportslogos.net

Courtesy of: www.sportslogos.net

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3rd Place: Seattle Mariners

Courtesy of: www.sportslogos.net

Courtesy of: www.sportslogos.net

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

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

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

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

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

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

Player to Watch: King Felix

4th Place: Oakland Athletics

Courtesy of: en.wikipedia.org

Courtesy of: en.wikipedia.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5th Place: Los Angeles Angels

Courtesy of: en.wikipedia.org

Courtesy of: en.wikipedia.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

Player to Watch: Mike Trout (Who else?)

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