MLB Rookies

The Rookie’s Rise to Stardom

In a game with one of the biggest learning curves in sports, rookies have surprisingly been doing well. Baseball has had a number of young players develop into stars in recent seasons.

To fully comprehend this shift in the game, we must first examine how players make it from being a prospect in the minor leagues to making it to the show.

From Prospect to Pro

MLB Rookies

Even top picks like Colorado’s Brendan Rodgers must pay their dues in the minors (GJ Sentinel).

Major League Baseball is vastly different from the NFL and NBA when it comes to rookies. While there is no limit to how long a player must wait to be signed professionally, baseball still averages the oldest rookies of all three of the major sports.

That is due to the way the game is played. To be successful in the majors, most players need to be at their peak of maturation, normally around 24 to 25 years old. Being fully developed allows baseball players to utilize their bodies to the fullest.

Unlike the NFL or NBA where players can rely on physical talent alone, baseball requires a honed set of skills. It doesn’t matter if you can hit a fastball 450 feet. If you can’t handle a breaking ball, you will fail in the majors.

That is why baseball has such an advanced minor league system. The combination of developing a player’s physical and mental capabilities to be successful in the majors takes time. The average rookie last year was 24 years old, giving credence to the time it takes to develop. However, what happens when players start breaking the mold, and advance beyond our wildest dreams?

2012: just the beginning

MLB Rookies

Mike Trout and Bryce Harper transformed the way rookies played in 2012 (nbcsports.com).

The Rookie of the Year award has always been the bar that rookies strive for. However, not all ROY winners are made the same.

From 2007-2011, ROY winners averaged 3.1 wins above replacement (WAR). Baseball Reference rates that as better than an average starter in the majors, proving that the ROY winners were truly something special.

Many have noted the increase of rookie production in the past few years, and the numbers certainly support that. From 2012-2016, ROY winners have averaged 5.4 WAR. That is a staggering jump in production, and evidence of a new age dawning in baseball.

This trend really began in 2012 with a pair of ROY winners: Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. Both players had been premium draft picks for their respective teams, but it was Harper that was seen as the next big thing in baseball.

Some players fold under such lofty expectations, but Harper flourished. He put up 5.2 WAR in his rookie year, topping all NL ROY winners since 2007 by at least 1.3 WAR. If Harper signaled a shift in the way rookies played, Trout was the zenith of their potential.

No one saw what Trout had in store. At 20 years old in his rookie season, he blew away the competition with a staggering 10.8 WAR. That is MVP type production, and earned him a second place finish in the 2012 AL MVP voting. While it may be unfair to compare Trout to other rookies due to his Hall of Fame trajectory, his fast start should not be diminished. Even so, Trout and Harper were only the beginning, setting the stage for other acts to follow.

continued success

MLB Rookies

Even Nolan Arenado, one of the games best young players, couldn’t take home the ROY award. (The Denver Post).

Since that fateful 2012 season, the way we view rookies has never been the same. That’s not just Trout and Harper’s doing either.

The rookies that have followed have helped carry their success into new seasons. Seemingly gone are the days when players like Dustin Pedroia could put up 3.9 WAR in 2007 and bring home the ROY award. Pedroia’s 2007 season would have been good enough for the third most WAR by a rookie in 2016. A new type of player is taking over the majors, and they are raising the bar of rookie performance.

Never before have we seen such young players perform so well so quickly. The NL has had two ROY winners in a row post seasons of 6.0 WAR or higher: Kris Bryant in 2015 (6.1 WAR) and Corey Seager in 2016 (6.0 WAR).

From 2007-2011, five of the 10 ROY winners posted WAR over 3.5 in their rookie years. From 2012-2016, eight of the 10 ROY winners have posted WAR over 3.5 in their rookie years. ROY of course is not the be all end all of the story of growing rookie dominance.

We saw 11 rookies post seasons of 2.5 WAR or higher last year, compared to the 2007 season in which only six rookies reached the 2.5 WAR milestone. Players like Nolan Arenado, Trea Turner, Francisco Lindor and Gary Sanchez all had rookie seasons of at least 3.0 WAR, and still weren’t able to bring home the ROY award. It will only become more difficult to bring home the ROY award with the rise in production of rookies.

The way the game is being played is changing. Younger, less-experienced players are taking over the game. Don’t let their lack of experience fool you. These young studs will dominate the game for years to come. The youth movement in baseball is upon us, and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down soon.

 

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Houston Texans

How The Houston Texans Can Win The Super Bowl

The AFC South has been one of the worst divisions in football for two years now. The Houston Texans have won the AFC South both seasons with back-to-back 9-7 records.

The biggest problem for the Texans is the lack of consistent quarterback play. The Texans started four different quarterbacks in 2015: Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallet, T.J. Yates, and Brandon Weeden. They started two more quarterbacks last season: Brock Osweiler and Tom Savage.

Starting six quarterbacks in two years is not the formula to winning the Super Bowl, but they are really close.

Super Bowl Defense

Houston Texans

(Photo Credit: Brett Coomer / Houston Chronicle )

Offense wins games, but defense wins championships. The Seahawks’ defense was so dominant four years ago that it led them to a 43-8 Super Bowl victory. The Patriots came up with a goal-line interception three years ago to the win the Super Bowl. The Denver Broncos had one of the best defenses in the NFL two seasons ago and shut down the top scoring offense to beat the Panthers in the Super Bowl. The Patriots came back down from 28-3 this past February to win the Super Bowl. That could not have happened if their defense didn’t shut down the high-flying Falcons offense.

The Texans have a defense capable of playing to the level of all these other defenses. Houston allowed the fewest yards in the NFL last season at 301 per game. They also allowed the second-fewest passing yards.

Houston also has the best defensive player in the NFL in J.J. Watt. He only played in three games last season, which makes what Houston’s defense did more impressive.

Watt is a four-time Pro Bowler and a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, which is tied for most all-time with Lawerence Taylor. Adding him back to the mix makes them an elite defense.

The Texans also finally saw the emergence of former number one overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, who had six sacks last season. Clowney’s amazing play doesn’t show up in the stats. He constantly received double teams without Watt in the lineup, but still made plays. In the Wild Card game against the Raiders, he made an incredible interception that took over the game.

These two great defenders will make one of the best pass rushes in the NFL. The Texans also have one of the best linebacking corps in the NFL, headlined by Brian Cushing and Whitney Mercilus. If the secondary can make up for the loss of A.J. Bouye, they could contend for the best defense in the NFL.

What Is Missing?

It is no secret that the Texans need to improve offensively. Houston’s offensive line ranked 18th in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. They must improve both guard positions if they want to improve the overall line play.

Running back is not an issue of concern. Lamar Miller finished 10th in the NFL with 1,073 yards in just 14 games. Alfred Blue is also a solid backup to Miller.

The receiving corp is solid with Jaelen Strong, Will Fuller, and Braxton Miller, but headlined by DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins has 189 receptions, 2,475 yards and 15 touchdowns in the last two seasons. Those stats are impressive with six different quarterbacks over two years.

It all comes back to quarterback play. The Texans are a quarterback away from being the biggest threat to the Patriots in the AFC. There is one quarterback perfect for the Texans that they need to get.

The Missing Piece

Houston Texans

(Photo Credit: http://boltbeat.com)

Houston threw millions at an unproven Brock Osweiler and it failed miserably. Osweiler has since been traded to the Browns and the only quarterbacks on the Texans’ roster are Tom Savage and Brandon Weeden. These quarterbacks won’t even win the division, let alone a Super Bowl. So what should the Texans do?

The Texans could find a quarterback in the draft, but most analysts feel there are no NFL-ready quarterbacks in this draft. Free agency is always an option and Houston was hoping to get Tony Romo, but he retired. Jay Cutler is available, but that option could be just as bad or worse than what they already have.

That leaves only one option, a trade. The Houston Texans should go all in for a trade with the Los Angeles Chargers for Philip Rivers. The Chargers are nowhere close to contending for a championship and Rivers is 35 years old.

Rivers has accomplished a lot in his time in the NFL. His career record is 97-79. Rivers has 314 touchdowns, 156 interceptions and 45,833 yards.

By most comparisons, he is the AFC’s Tony Romo. Everything he has done of significance has come in the regular season. His playoff record is 4-5 and couldn’t get to the Super Bowl with Hall-of-Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson and future Hall-of-Fame tight end Antonio Gates.

This narrative could change with a trade to Houston. His career would be revitalized and he would have a three to four years to win the Super Bowl. He would have the necessary weapons to succeed; such as a running game and a top 10 receiver in the NFL. The Texans would have a top five defense and an offense capable of keeping pace on the scoreboard with any team in the NFL.

Houston, if you want to win the Lombardi Trophy, trade for Phillip Rivers.

 

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Milestones Records 2017

Milestones and Records to Watch for in 2017

Opening Day is just around the corner, which means fans will be flocking to ballparks all over the country. Fans will be in store for more than what they bargained for in a season sure to be full of fun and feats.

Records and milestones are reached around the league every year, and this year will be no different. Here’s what you should be on the look out for in the 2017 MLB season.

Albert Pujols Reaches 600 Homers

Milestones Records 2017

Albert Pujols has done this plenty of times, 591 to be exact (Jae C. Hong/ Associated Press).

There is a reason Albert Pujols earned the nickname “The Machine” in St. Louis. The slugger smashed 445 homers while averaging 155 games played per season over 11 years. That massive amount of production earned him a huge free agent contract from the Los Angeles Angels. Many correctly predicted his decline while in an Angels uniform. However, the 36-year-old can still mash.

Pujols enters the 2017 season sitting at 591 home runs, just nine short of entering the illustrious 600 home run club. This isn’t just a milestone, but a historic moment for the game of baseball. Only eight players have reached 600 or more home runs in MLB history. It’s one of the most exclusive clubs in all of sports.

Pujols will certainly have earned it when he makes it. He has averaged 29 homers per season in five years with the Angels. That is a far cry from his 40-homer average in St. Louis, but respectable nonetheless.

When Pujols launches homer number 600 over the outfield fence, he will enter the pantheon of baseball legends. All we have to do is sit back and watch.

Jose Reyes Reaches 500 Stolen Bases

The skill of stealing bases is becoming a lost art in an age of power. Stolen bases have been on the decline for years. Only two players in the past five seasons,(Dee Gordon and Jonathan Villar) have stolen 60 or more bases in a season. Jose Reyes has been on the decline in recent seasons, but has been a speedster throughout his career. Reyes is sitting at 488 career stolen bases and on the verge of a historic milestone.

Reyes burned his way through the league after coming in at 20 years old. The speedy Mets shortstop amassed 290 stolen bases by age 25. He had seasons of 56, 60, 64 and 78 stolen bases.

Reyes did experience some legal troubles last season after playing for Toronto and Colorado in 2015, but was able to return home to Flushing in 2016. What better place to reach 500 stolen bases than in a Mets uniform?

Clayton Kershaw Reaches 2000 Strikeouts

Milestones Records 2017

Clayton Kershaw is on the cusp of 2000 strikeouts (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images).

This one may not be as big of a career milestone as the previous two, but it’ll be historic in its own right. Clayton Kershaw has been almost immaculate since he entered the league in 2008. After putting up a 4.26 ERA in his rookie season at 20 years old, Kershaw hasn’t had a single season ERA higher than 2.91. He’s been able to limit runs and rack up huge strikeout numbers.

He put up his best statistical season in 2015 with 301 strikeouts in 232.2 innings pitched to support his sparkling 2.13 ERA. He was on his way to an even better year in 2016 before injuries knocked him out for the season. Even with an injury-shortened 2016 season, Kershaw enters 2017 at 29 years old with 1918 career punch outs.

When he records his 2000th strikeout this season, he will be among the fastest pitchers to reach the milestone. He will join some of the games greats like Walter Johnson and Nolan Ryan as some of the fastest to reach 2000 strikeouts in MLB History.

Mike Trout Reaches 200 Home Runs

Mike Trout is widely considered the best player in baseball. He is set to solidify that reputation at the seasoned age of 25.

Trout entered the league at 19 years old in 2011 and struggled mightily. After posting a .220 batting average in 40 games, many doubted Trout entering the 2012 season. However, he quickly put those doubts to rest by smashing 30 homers in 139 games played that season. Trout has been on a Hall of Fame trajectory ever since.

Trout will need 32 homers to break the 200 mark for his career, but it isn’t far-fetched to expect that type of production from the slugging center fielder. He has one 40-homer season already under his belt (2015) and has the ability to go far beyond the 32 homer mark this season.

What’s most impressive is just how fast he could accomplish the feat. Trout will be among some of the youngest players in the history of the game to reach 200 career homers, joining the likes of Mel Ott, youngest to 200 career homers at 25 years, 266 days old. Just when it seems we are becoming used to Trout’s greatness, we can’t overlook how historic his career is becoming.

 

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Tools of the Trade: Top 5 Power Hitters

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

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

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

5. Chris Carter – New York Yankees

Top Power Hitters

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

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

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

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

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

4. Nelson Cruz – Seattle Mariners

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

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

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

3. Mike Trout – Los Angeles Angels

Top Power Hitters

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

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

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

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

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

2. Chris Davis – Baltimore Orioles

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

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

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

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

1. Edwin Encarnacion – Cleveland Indians

Top Power Hitters

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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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2017 American League West Preview

Each American League division presents its own unique narrative. The East is highly competitive with several contenders and prospective Wild Card candidates. The Central appears to be a one horse race with two others fighting to take advantage of a limited window. Finally, we have the 2017 American League West Preview which may present the most compelling storylines of all.

The AL West runs the gambit of teams at varying stages of competition readiness.

The A’s are a small market team and its famous organization president continues to seek out ways to compete. The Angels will try to put the right supporting cast around the best player in baseball. The middle of the division sports the Mariners who’s active offseason has made them many analysts’ dark horse pick. Finally, the Rangers and Astros sit at the top of the division.

If you’re looking for a late season dogfight for the number one spot this September, look no further than the AL West.

 

#5 Oakland Athletics

2017 American League West Preview

2017 Projected Record: 72-90

The team that made “Moneyball” famous continues to search for ways to build its roster. Unfortunately for Oakland, it appears that approach is going to take some time. With a current lack of depth, limited free agent budget and a below average farm system, the A’s have little to work with in 2017.

Sonny Gray has been a bright spot on this A’s roster but struggled mightily in 2016 with a 5.69 ERA. At only 26, Gray has plenty of time for a recovery performance and will look to bounce back this season. Assuming all goes well and Gray’s WAR trends closer to 2015 numbers than last season, Oakland will receive minor boost in the win column.

#4 Los Angeles Angels

2017 American League West Preview

2017 Projected Record: 74-88

2017 American League West PreviewIt’s hard to project much of a difference for the Angels in 2017. The pickups of Danny Espinosa and Cameron Maybin provide a lineup boost but that’s not the Angels’ main gap. Some mix of pitching talent and consistent health will have to improve this season to give the Angels a shot.

Garrett Richards is a relatively underrated ace and as solid a starter as you can ask for in the MLB. Outside of Richards, there are a number of question marks surrounding this staff. Unfortunately, other than Tyler Skaggs, most members of the rotation are a known quantity at this point in their careers.

While it’s impossible to completely discount any team with Mike Trout on it, it’s clear the Angels aren’t well-positioned to compete with the rest of the division.

#3 Seattle Mariners

2017 American League West Preview

2017 Projected Record: 88-74

The best prediction one can make for the Seattle Mariners is that your prediction will be miserably wrong. On paper there is a ton to like about this team and this fact was bolstered by an active offseason. Seattle acquired lineup help in the form of Jean Segura and rotation assistance with addition of Drew Smyly. Both players are solid starters and add an additional element of depth to an already well rounded team.

With all of that said there is just something difficult about projecting the Mariners at the top of the division. Just look at the last 5 years:

Year W L Finish Top Player (WAR)
2016 86 76 2nd of 5 R.Cano (7.3)
2015 76 86 4th of 5 N.Cruz (5.2)
2014 87 75 3rd of 5 F.Hernandez (6.7)
2013 71 91 4th of 5 H.Iwakuma (6.9)
2012 75 87 4th of 4 F.Hernandez (4.8)

Their top players are still around, the roster’s makeup is similar and the divisional composition is largely the same with the exception of the improved Astros. The pieces are in place for Seattle to at least make a run at the Wild Card, if not more. However, getting there ahead of the next two teams is no small task.

#2 Texas Rangers

2017 American League West Preview

2017 Projected Record: 91-71

2017 American League West Preview

The Ranges and Astros present options 1 and 1A at the top of the AL West. Both have an unbelievably talented mix of pitching and hitting, power and speed and veterans and youth. The x-factor for the Rangers’ squad will be the top of the rotation combo of Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish.

The lineup more than provided the run support needed to win games but the staff lived and died with Hamels. If Darvish can reestablish himself as a top starter, Texas is looking at one of the nastier 1-2 punches in the MLB. The rest of the rotation could still use a boost, but the quiet addition of Tyson Ross may just be the boost it needs.

 

#1 Houston Astros

2017 American League West Preview

2017 Projected Record: 92-70

The Astros undoubtedly have one of the most exciting groupings of young players in baseball. George Springer and Jose Altuve have already established their excellence with Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman not far behind. Free agent acquisition of veterans like Carlos Beltran and Josh Reddick further cement the completeness of this Astros team.

Pitching remains the question of the season for the top of this division. After a Cy Young performance in 2015, Dallas Keuchel struggled in 2016, posting a 4.55 ERA. If Keuchel can reclaim some of that domination, Collin McHugh and Lance McCullers provide strong second and third options. With little doubt surrounding the Astros and Rangers lineups, the true test for these clubs will be which rotation can reclaim past dominance.

 

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TGH First Annual MLB Academy Awards

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

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

Best Picture: Chicago Cubs

MLB Academy Awards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Actor in a Supporting Role: Jason Kipnis, Cleveland Indians

MLB Academy Awards

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

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

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

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

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

Director: Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians

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

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

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

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

 

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Credit Mike McGinnis

Spring Training Preview: Battle for the Bullpen

Spring training has always provided an opportunity for teams to sort out their top performers at every position. Without fail, the most compelling of these competition is the volatile race to secure the role of team closer.

The bullpen has seen a role of increasing importance in recent years. Its use in high leverage playoff situations has been a major factor and the hallmark of successful World Series managers. This trend continues to develop with the advent of the long reliever and setup-man roles. Managers will inevitably continue to experiment with their late inning strategy, but the decision on who holds the ball with the game on the line, remains one of the most critical.

This topic was approached briefly in the Spring Training Fever article addressing the compelling Rockies closer situation. Today, The Game Haus takes a deeper look at the battle for the bullpen taking place around the MLB.

Los Angeles Angels

Spring Training Preview: Battle for the Bullpen

(Huston Street #16 – Getty Images)

Up until last year, the Angels received respectable production out of veteran closer Huston Street. Arriving in 2014, Street managed to post 40 saves a season until 2016 saw a 6.45 ERA and nine saves. Looking to bounce back Street will compete with Cam Bedrosian and Andrew Bailey for the closer role this spring.

Cam Bedrosian will be coming off his own injury but appears next in line to challenge for the position. At only 25, Bedrosian appears to have both the skillset and the supporting statistics to be a serious contender.

Sporting a 1.12 ERA, 1.091 WHIP with 40.1 innings pitched provides the Angels with an excellent second option. It would be no surprise if manager Mike Scioscia opts for the veteran, but whomever ends up will the role will be challenged to earn it this Spring.

Milwaukee Brewers

There has been no short list of successful closers that have spent some time with the Brewers. Unfortunately for Milwaukee, none of those closers remain.

The one bright spot has been the recent free agent acquisition of Neftali Feliz. Feliz had two outstanding seasons starting back in 2010 but after undergoing Tommy John surgery hasn’t shown the same dominance. Feliz will look to reclaim some of that excellence in 2017, but will contend with Corey Knebel during camp.

Knebel is a wild card after sustaining an injury early last season and missing on a few save opportunities. That said, given his youth and the opportunity at a healthy off-season Knebel should begin spring training ready to compete. Brewers manager Craig Counsell has left the door open for all contenders at this time, but safe money will be for the veteran Feliz to come out on top.

Cincinnati Reds

Spring Training Preview: Battle for the Bullpen

(Drew Storen while with the Seattle Mariners – Getty Images)

The Reds seem to have a knack for collecting bullpen arms. Since the departure of Aroldis Chapman, there haven’t been many save opportunities in Cincinnati, and the Reds’ bullpen has struggled.

However, with the development of a few young arms, Cincinnati may be poised for a bullpen renaissance. The three names in the mix in 2017 are Raisel Iglesias, Drew Storen and Michael Lorenzen.

Raisel Iglesias finished the 2016 getting most of the save opportunities after Tony Cingrani struggled down the stretch. Iglesias posted a very respectable 2.53 ERA with six saves and appears to be the main contender against Drew Storen.

Storen had a busy 2016 bouncing between Washington, Toronto and Seattle ending that campaign with a woeful 5.23 ERA. Consensus is that Storen is the favorite heading into camp, but will need a strong Spring to secure the position.

Finally, Michael Lorenzen also appears to be a very promising long-term option. Lorenzen has pitched sparingly up to this point but appears to be the Reds developmental hope and will also contend. Overall the Reds have a few solid options heading into 2017, the question for Cincinnati is how many saves situations will their bullpen actually have a chance at?

 

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Fantasy Baseball 2017

Fantasy Baseball 2017: Top Sleepers Candidates at Each Position

The Game Haus presents our fantasy baseball 2017 top sleeper candidates at each position for the upcoming Major League Baseball season.

According to Yahoo.com, the following players average draft positions, or ADP, are in, or after round 22. Standard fantasy baseball drafts range from 23-25 rounds, so these players are low risk, high reward.

They offer greater value than other players at their position, as they are being overlooked and selected in much later rounds than players who offer similar value.

 

Mike Zunino, C, Seattle Mariners

fantasy baseball 2017 top sleeper candidates

Mike Zunino is no longer the backstop of the future for the Mariners as 2017 is his year to shine. (Courtesy of lookoutlanding.com)

The 2012 first-round pick has struggled in his time in the show, but 2017 is his year to earn his spot. Zunino is a pure power hitter who has hit fifty career home runs in 350 games.

He will bat sixth behind Kyle Seager, Nelson Cruz, and Robinson Cano. If this doesn’t get you excited, then I don’t know what will. He will have plenty of chances to rack up some RBIs.

Unfortunately for Zunino, the Seattle Mariners traded for veteran Carlos Ruiz from the Los Angeles Dodgers this offseason. This is a bit unnerving, as Ruiz will inevitably steal some at-bats from Zunino. However, I believe that it will be Zunino’s job to lose.

His ADP is currently above 260, as he is commonly going undrafted.

 

Mitch Moreland, 1B, Boston Red Sox

The Gold-Glove award winner in 2016 heads north to join Boston’s star-studded lineup lead by Dustin Pedroia and the killer B’s. Moreland will be the everyday first basemen for the Red Sox and will bat sixth or seventh in the lineup. The Red Sox are looking to make a World Series run in 2017, and Moreland will be a key contributor.

He is currently being selected in the 23rd round, after fellow first basemen Travis Shaw, Brandon Moss, and Danny Valencia. I prefer Moreland to the aforementioned options for multiple reasons.

First, he has a more proven track record, hitting twenty plus bombs three times in his career. Second, the Red Sox lineup adds immense value, as we all saw how well Travis Shaw produced in the six hole last season. Finally, Moreland’s glove will keep him on the field, so there is no need to worry about losing at-bats to Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, or Allen Craig.

Moreland should do just fine in his first season in Boston.

 

Jose Peraza, 2B, SS, OF, Cincinnati Reds

fantasy baseball 2017 top sleeper candidates

Brandon Phillips, Jose Peraza will finally have an open spot in the Cincinnati Reds lineup. (Courtesy of MLBdailydish.com)

The Cincinnati Reds have officially traded second baseman Brandon Phillips to the Atlanta Braves for two pitching prospects. This means that it is officially Jose Peraza time!

Peraza is a top 100 prospect according to MLB.com, Baseballprospectus.com, and Baseball America. The speedster has stolen 244 bases in 611 career games. Also, he has logged innings at second base, shortstop, and center field in his professional career, which will help him remain in the lineup throughout the season.

Peraza will primarily play second base, and will presumably start the season batting at the bottom of the order, but a promotion to the leadoff spot could be in order if he continues to find success at the plate. He has a career batting average of .312 at all levels.

He offers tremendous value through his speed and versatility in 2017.

 

Yangervis Solarte, 3B, 2B, San Diego Padres

Solarte, once a utility man for the Padres, will have the everyday third basemen job in 2017. He will bat in the heart of the order behind All-Star first basemen Wil Myers, allowing him to have plenty of opportunities to do damage. Solarte played in only 109  games in 2016, but managed to manufacture 71 RBIs on 15 home runs, while batting .286.

El Nino may be the most overlooked player in 2017, as he is a clean-up hitter playing an everyday role, but is being selected after utility players like Sean Rodriguez, Jurickson Profar, and Howie Kendrick.

Solarte has a great opportunity to surpass all of his career highs this upcoming season.

 

Danny Espinosa, SS, Los Angeles Angels

fantasy baseball 2017 top sleeper candidates

Danny Espinosa has escaped the platoon that held him back in Washington. (Courtesy of Zimbio.com)

New doors have been opened for Espinosa, as he heads from Washington to Los Angeles to be the Angels everyday second basemen. The slugging middle infielder hit 24 home runs with 72 RBIs in 2016, surpassing his former career highs.

He will bat towards the end of sneaky deep Angels lineup, which will give him ample RBI opportunities. Espinosa is being selected in the 23rd round, after other shortstops including Alcides Escobar, Jose Reyes, and J.J. Hardy.

The 29-year-old can still improve his approach at the plate, and I would not be surprised by a 30 home run, 70 RBI campaign.

 

Michael Saunders OF, Philadelphia Phillies

The first-time All-Star in 2016 signed a one-year deal with a team option for a second with the Philadelphia Phillies this offseason. He will be one of their everyday corner outfielders and will bat sixth behind the young Phillies core of Odubel Herrera, Maikel Franco, and Tommy Joseph.

Saunders provides great upside as he hit .298 with 16 home runs and 48 RBIs before the All-Star break in 2016. His value comes as he is being selected in the 23rd round after fellow outfielders Nick Markakis, Melvin Upton Jr., and Steve Pearce.

Saunders will have to bounce back to his first half form from 2016 if the Phillies want to have any serious success in 2017.

 

Chris Tillman SP, Baltimore Orioles

fantasy baseball 2017 top sleeper candidates

Chris Tillman looks to recover from his disastrous second half of 2016. (Courtesy of csnmidatlantic.com)

Tillman has completed four consecutive seasons with over 170 innings pitched, with an average of 147 strikeouts per year. He will be atop of the Baltimore Orioles rotation for another year as he looks to improve on his career high win total of 16 from 2016.

Tillman had a phenomenal first half last season, sporting a 3.4 ERA and 7.8 K/9. His second half was atrocious, but he has shown enough consistency in the past to not warrant any serious regression.

I suspect Tillman to make adjustments, as he did from 2015 to 2016, where he went from a 4.99 ERA to a 3.77. Also worth noting that he had a sub three ERA on the road, and a four plus at home, so take that into consideration as well.

He is being selected in the 22nd round, after other starters including Clay Buchholz and Mike Montgomery. Tillman will eat innings and have great opportunities to win games for the Orioles come 2017.

 

Fernando Rodney, CL, Arizona Diamondbacks

The veteran closer signed a one-year contract for $2.75 million with the Arizona Diamondbacks this offseason. He is coming of a 25-save season where he exhibited a K/9 of 10.2, which is well above league average. His K/9 has surpassed 10 three times in his last four seasons. This is encouraging as his K/9 have not dipped even though his velocity has.

The 39-year-old will be the closer for the Diamondbacks to start 2017. With the return of A.J. Pollock, David Peralta and others, Rodney could be in store for an abundance of save opportunities. He is being selected in the 24th round, after many set-up men, including three Chicago Cubs, Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon, and Koji Uehara.

Rodney’s value should spike as owners realize his value as a closer, so do not be afraid to “reach” for him in 20 or 21st round.

 

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Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Center Field

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

5. Dexter Fowler- St. Louis Cardinals

2017 MLB Season

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

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

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

4. Kevin Kiermaier- Tampa Bay Rays

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

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

3. Charlie Blackmon- Colorado Rockies

2017 MLB Season

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

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

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

2. Jackie Bradley Jr.- Boston Red Sox

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

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

1. Mike Trout- Los Angeles Angels

2017 MLB Season

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

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

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

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

 

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