2018 MLB preview: Los Angeles Angels

 

2017: 80-82 (second place in AL West)

Last Postseason Appearance: 2014

Last World Series Title: 2002

2017 Recap

Although the Angels finished second in the AL West, they were ultimately 21 games back from first place and last led the division on April 13th. Against World Series champion Houston, the Angels went 7-12, and against the Texas Rangers, who won just 78 games, Mike Scioscia’s squad went 8-11.

The loss of Mike Trout, who played in just 114 games because of thumb surgery, obviously derailed this team from getting over the hump. Despite missing nearly 50 games, Trout, who would be a Hall of Famer if he retired today, joined Barry Bonds (1993) as the only players to have a season with at least 33 home runs, 20 steals, slugging percentage of .629 and an OPS+ of 187.

The best player in the game, Mike Trout (USA Today)

Trout also finished first in offensive win percentage and OPS, second in offensive WAR and OBP, third in slugging percentage, fifth in at bats per home run, and sixth in walks. Can you imagine the type of numbers he would have put up, had he not gotten injured?

The Angels led the league in steals, which is great, but they also finished near the bottom in a lot of other major offensive categories. As a team, Los Angeles finished 22nd in runs/game, 23rd in OBP, 24th in HR/game, 27th in SLG, 28th in batting average, and 29th in hits/game.

On the plus side, Andrelton Simmons had a career year. The shortstop finished first in defensive WAR, and eighth in overall WAR. “Simba” hit .278 with 14 home runs, 19 steals, and 77 runs scored. He, along with teammate Martin Maldonado, earned a Gold Glove Award, marking the third of Simmons’ career.

Even without Garrett Richards for essentially the whole season, the Angels pitching was not all that bad. Among the 15 American League teams, they had the third fewest walks, and the sixth best ERA. Their bullpen wasn’t too shabby as well, finishing with the fourth most strikeouts and the fifth best ERA in the AL.

2018: Around the Diamond

After finishing near the bottom in almost all the offensive categories, the Angels revamped their lineup, and head into 2018 as a serious playoff contender. This offseason, Los Angeles signed second basemen Ian Kinsler. Kinsler, who struggled last season, hitting just .236 with a .313 OBP, is out of his prime, but can still produce. 2017 was probably his worst season as a pro, yet he still hit 22 home runs and scored 90 runs for Detroit.

The Angels also welcomed in Zack Cozart to play third base. Cozart is coming off a career year with the Cincinnati Reds. He was named an NL All-Star and finished the year hitting .297 with 24 home runs and a .385 OBP. The Angels finished 27th in WAR for 3B, and 30th for 2B so bringing in Cozart and Kinsler is a huge positive.

Maldonado, who played a career high 138 games last season, will remain behind the plate, while Simmons will, of course, still be at shortstop. First base will most likely belong to CJ Cron, a former first round pick who hit 16 home runs in 2017. Luis Valbuena, who hit 22 home runs but batted just .199, will also get reps at the corner positions.

The Angels need Justin Upton to mirror his 2017 stats in order to make a run. (SI.com)

Last August, the Angels traded for Justin Upton, who, last season, hit a career high 35 home runs and had a .361 OBP, which was his highest since 2011. He hit .344 against lefties and 23 home runs against righties. The veteran outfielder also excelled with RISP, hitting .336 with 10 home runs. Because of his stellar season, the Angels signed him to a five-year, $106M deal.

Kole Calhoun, who has had four straight seasons of at least 17 home runs, will remain in right. The Angels also have the best player in the league playing center so this outfield for a full-season will be dangerous.

Unless your Tom Brady, father time catches up to everybody. Unfortunately, the Angels are seeing this with Albert Pujols. Pujols saw his OBP dip below .300 for the first time in his career and had a -2 WAR, the first time his WAR had ever been below zero. Pujols will be the primary DH, but it is assumed he will get less at-bats than previous seasons. Still, the future Hall of Famer hit 23 home runs and hit .324 in high leverage situations.

One player that could also get some time at DH is the “Japanese Babe Ruth”, Shohei Otani, but let’s give him a proper introduction as a pitcher.

On the Bump

Otani is listed as the number one prospect in all of baseball. He is the biggest story in 2018, as he hopes to pitch and occasionally hit in the MLB. His fastball has touched 102, while his splitter and hard slider are devastating strikeout pitches. He does have an elbow injury, but the Angels are not too worried.  In 2017, on the mound, Otani went 3-2 with a 3.20 ERA. The year before, in 140 innings, Otani struck out 174 batters and posted a 1.86 ERA. We will have to wait and see how Mike Scioscia will use him.

Otani has arrived. (DailyNews)

Two pitchers to keep an eye on are Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker, who both dealt with injuries in 2017. Richards has made just 12 starts over the last two seasons, but is poised for a comeback in 2018. Last season, in 27.2 innings, Richards had a 2.28 ERA and a .904 WHIP. He has shown he can be an ace when healthy, but we will have to see if he can stay on the field.

Shoemaker missed almost the entire second half of 2017 because of a forearm injury. He posted a 4.52 ERA, but is now healthy and good to go.

Tyler Skaggs could be a major sleeper in fantasy baseball for 2018. Skaggs has dealt with injuries throughout the start of his career, but the former first round pick pitched well in the minors and has the stuff to be a quality starter in this league. In 2017, Skaggs started 16 games and posted a 1.388 WHIP. Andrew Heaney, Parker Bridwell, and JC Ramirez, who won 11 games last year, will all be fighting for starts at the end of the rotation.

The Angels hope last year’s bullpen can keep the momentum going into 2018. They brought in veteran Jim Johnson, who could close out some games, but let’s not forget that the Angels had eight different relievers record a save in 2017. Cam Bedrosian looks to be the front-runner to be named the closer.

The Future

Aside from Otani, the Angels have three other members in MLB.com’s “Top 100 Prospects” list. Two outfielders, Jo Adell (No. 62), and Jahmai Jones (No. 93), as well as infielder Kevin Maitan (No. 87). Adell, the Angels first-round draft pick in 2017, had a tremendous start to his professional career. The 10th overall pick hit .325 with 5 home runs in 49 Rookie-Ball games. He is only 18 years old, so give the kid some time to grow.

Jones, whose father and brother played in the NFL, is a raw athlete who has exceptional speed on the base path. In 127 games between A/A+, Jones hit .282 with 14 home runs and 27 steals. Jones is expected to make his MLB debut in 2019.

Kevin Maitan, like Adell, is also just 18 years of age. According to MLB.com, “The Venezuelan teenager had been compared to Miguel Sano and his ceiling has been put side-by-side with the likes of Miguel Cabrera and Chipper Jones.” However, he had a poor start to his professional career in 2017, batting just .241 with 2 home runs in 42 games.

2018 Prediction: 84-78

The Angels will be right in the hunt for the second Wild Card and should get over the hump in 2018. They are in a tough division, but they have the best player in the league, and have made key additions to the lineup. Otani will be exciting, and if the rest of the rotation can stay healthy, there is no reason as to why this team will not be in the playoff hunt when all is said and done.

Featured image by MLB.com

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MLB free agency

The current state of baseball

The players union is at odds with MLB ownership over the free agent stalemate. According to super agent Scott Boras, the market is six weeks behind schedule. This is unprecedented for baseball, which typically has many exciting offseason wheelings and dealings. With this stalemate in mind, let’s look into what exactly has been going on.

Teams have had enough

MLB free agency

Albert Pujols has become the poster boy for bad contracts (Photo by SI.com)

Baseball is in a real precarious situation. For the past decade, ownership has been giving out contracts of 7-10 years to premier players with copious amounts of money.

Most notably, Albert Pujols received a 10-year, $254 million contract from the Angels in 2011. That contract has not worked out for the Angels whatsoever and is going down as one of the worst in recent memory. The contract is even starting to take away from Pujols’ legacy, which will be one of the greatest of the last century.

But I digress, as there are plenty of other players such as Josh Hamilton, Prince Fielder and Joe Mauer, who got massive contracts and didn’t play up to them. Since baseball has a rule for teams controlling players for the first six years of their career, it becomes a situation where they are paying them for what they did in the past.

A remedy for the situation would be to allow the players to have the opportunity to reach free agency earlier in their career. However, things like that would have to be negotiated over a long period of time. This is where the threat of a lockout may come into play.

The players want their fair share

MLB free agency

Martinez reports that talks with the Red Sox are going well, but no deal seems imminent (Photo by the Detroit Free Press)

This precedent that owners have set is really biting them in the rear right now. It makes sense that we are hitting a wall right now as contracts seemed to be getting bigger and bigger. What the owners have an issue with is the seven or eight-year contracts to players that are on the wrong side of 30 years old.

Reports have come that Eric Hosmer and J.D. Martinez are looking for contracts that are going to last until they are in their late 30s. Now that owners are standing up and saying enough is enough, these guys are thinking that they are getting the raw end of the deal.

On one end, it makes sense for the owners to say enough is enough and not allow these large contracts to be signed.

However, with all the money that baseball teams bring in, it also makes sense for the middle or top-tier players to want a good chunk of that revenue, especially because of the other contracts that have been given out before.

What will happen?

Pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training next week, and some of the top dogs remain unsigned. At some point you would think that at least one team would want to sign a Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta because of their excellence in the past. However, that has to tell you about how they think they will not play up to their contract in the next four to six years.

If Darvish, Arrieta, Martinez and Hosmer stay unsigned, we could be in for some real trouble. We have seen players of this caliber go unsigned as long as they have in recent memory. The first games of the spring start in just three weeks, so these are a lot of big names that need to go in order to get things moving.

The MLBPA released a letter last week showcasing their displeasure with the situation. It certainly looks like the rest of the players are willing to stand with the unsigned free agents to show solidarity. If the players stick together and support these free agents, we may have to wait for baseball longer than we expected.

 

Featured image from The Chicago Tribune

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Top MLB players

Top MLB players age 35 or older

Every year it seems that baseball is getting younger and younger. Prospects all over baseball are proving to be more than ready for the show.

But what about the guys that have put in their time and then some? Veterans seem to have never been more undervalued (e.g. the free agent market), but they are getting their due here. We will take a close look at the best players over 35 years old.

Nelson Cruz

The Spanish Conquistadors searched years for the the fountain of youth in Latin America. It seems it was in Seattle the whole time.

Nelson Cruz has mashed ever since arriving in the Pacific Northwest. In three seasons, he has hit 126 home runs, averaging 42 home runs per season. He has also driven in 317 RBIs with the Mariners, proving to be an elite run producer in his late 30s.

Cruz will be 38 years old in July and shows no signs of slowing down. With a deep Mariners roster around him, Cruz should continue to produce. He is still one of the elite power hitters in the game, proving that he can still be productive in the twilight of his career.

Robinson Cano

Top MLB players

Robinson Cano will continue to produce for Seattle in 2018 and beyond. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images North America)

It seems that the Mariners are onto something. Even though Robinson Cano struggled in his first two seasons in Seattle (by his standards), his mid 30s have been plenty productive.

He has averaged 24 home runs and 90 RBIs in his four seasons in Seattle and boasts a .295 batting average. Cano has also earned three All-Star appearances in four seasons in Seattle, proving to be a force in the Mariners lineup.

Now at age 35, Cano is well on his way to cementing himself as one of the better second basemen in baseball history. He continues to hit for solid power and average, and has played a good second base since signing with the Mariners.

If he continues to drink from Seattle’s fountain of youth, there is no telling how much longer he can be productive.

Edwin Encarnacion

Many were weary of signing an aged slugger like Edwin Encarnacion last offseason. However, all the 35-year-old did last season was mash.

Top MLB Players

Edwin Encarnacion will prove to be a great signing for the Indians. (Photo from WKYC.com)

In his first season with the Indians, Encarnacion hit 38 home runs and drove in 107 RBIs. While he did only hit .258 (his lowest since 2010), he still proved to be an elite power hitter for the Tribe. But with Encarnacion’s track record, his power should remain well into his late 30s.

 

Encarnacion has been an elite power hitter since arriving in Toronto, but his 30s have been impressive. He has averaged 38 home runs and 109 RBIs since turning 30 in 2013.

Age certainly hasn’t been a factor for Encarnacion. He was a late bloomer, not finding consistency at the plate until his age-29 season. But with his elite power and proven track record, his age shouldn’t catch up to him anytime soon.

Albert Pujols

While Albert Pujols may have fallen a long way from being the best player in baseball, he is still a productive hitter. At 38 years old, that is almost as impressive as his younger achievements.

Last season, Pujols hit .241 while mashing 23 home runs and driving in 101 RBIs. Those are solid numbers for a player of Pujols’ age. He will look to improve on those numbers in 2018, although he will have Father Time to contend with, and Shohei Ohtani.

The 2017 season was the first in Pujols’ 17-year career that he was a below average hitter. His 81 OPS+ was well below average, as his lower half began to fail him last season.

Even so, Pujols still has a chance to be a productive player for the Angels. With a career .305 batting average and 614 home runs to his credit, “The Machine” could very well flip the switch in 2018.

Fernando Rodney

As the oldest player on our list, 40-year-old Fernando Rodney proved to be a solid reliever last season for the Minnesota Twins. He went 5-4 with a 4.23 ERA for a surprisingly good Twins team, helping them to a Wild Card berth. While his surface numbers may not be that impressive, a deeper look reveals much more.

While pitching 55.1 innings last season, Rodney struck out 65 total batters. That was his second highest total since the 2014 season. He also limited batters to a 1.19 WHIP last season, his best mark since 2012.

As Rodney has aged, he has seemed to get better and better. And his numbers prove that to be true. While his ERA may have increased this past season, his WHIP and total strikeouts still bear him as one of the better relievers in the game.

And with baseball moving ever closer to the super bullpen, Rodney could stick around for a while. Don’t be surprised to see Rodney still making the trot from the pen to the mound for the next several years.

 

Feature image by Jae C. Hong/ Associated Press 

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MLB Free Agents

When will the free agent market topple?

The hot stove has been a buzz this offseason. Much of the conversation has centered around trades and international signings. Giancarlo Stanton has moved on to the Yankees, and the young phenom, Shohei Ohtani is an Angel. However, we have yet to see many big names fall off of the free agent board this winter. Why is that?

Patience a free agent’s friend

MLB free agency

Relievers like Brandon Morrow are having a good offseason thus far (Photo from FanRag)

In this day of age, free agents are paid an exuberant amount of money, especially if they are on the right side of 30 and have shown great potential. That is why it is best to wait and see what the market does before signing onto any long-term deals.

This winter has been kind to relievers thus far. Although not a lot of closers have come off the board, middle relief pitchers have been doing quite well. What this means is Wade Davis, the top reliever on the market, is going to be in for a big payday. He should be coming off the board soon as many relievers have been flying off and there are plenty of teams looking for a new closer.

What we have yet to see is many offensive players get signed to new teams. We have seen Giancarlo Stanton, Evan Longoria and Marcell Ozuna move to new ball clubs. However, the only big name hitting free agents to be signed thus far are Zack Cozart and Carlos Santana. Neither of these players signed deals that exceeded four years though, which is what some of the other free agents are looking for.

Has it always been like this?

MLB free agency

Bryce Harper will likely fetch the largest contract in baseball history next winter (Photo courtesy of ESPN)

Mike Axisa of CBS Sports wrote an article back in November about how slow the offseason was pre-thanksgiving. He stated that you are not imagining things, the hot stove is rather cool this year.

Some rumors were that teams were waiting for the Giancarlo Stanton trade to be finalized before any free agent hitters would be signed. Well, Stanton was traded two weeks ago and the winter meetings have come and gone. What is the hold up?

One theory is that next year’s free agent class is having a large influence. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will both be testing free agency, and they could be fetching figures in the $400 million range, so it would make sense that teams are saving up for those kinds of contracts to land a new franchise player.

Harper and Machado aren’t the only big names hitting the market though. Clayton Kershaw has an opt-out clause after 2018. Other big names are hitting the market such as Josh Donaldson, Charlie Blackmon, Andrew McCutchen, Brian Dozier, and A.J. Pollock. Either way though, we should be getting close to some names coming off the board. Then again, who knows anything in this tumultuous offseason.

Who will be the next to come?

Unfortunately, we still may be a ways away from any hitters being swept off the market. As mentioned earlier, Wade Davis should be picked up by someone soon, even though there have not been many rumors surrounding him. Yu Darvish has met with the Cubs and stated that he thought the meeting went well.

Pitchers are the hot commodity at the moment, partially due to the fact that power hitters are a dime a dozen these days. Major league ballplayers hit more home runs last year than any other year in history.

Perhaps teams are not sure how to value someone like J.D. Martinez. Normally, a player who hit 45 home runs and over 100 RBIs with a .300 batting average would be signed by now, at least we should have heard more about him at the winter meetings. However, teams are not sure how much to give the slugger. It has been reported that Martinez is looking for something in the range of seven years, $200 million. He has been linked to Boston, but nothing seems imminent.

We still have a way to go before pitchers and catchers report in February, so there is still plenty of time for the dominoes to fall. Once some teams figure out that they won’t be able to trade for some of the names they would like to, then they will focus their attention onto some of the available free agents.

This free agent class does not offer some of the young superstars like next year’s class will. However, players like J.D. Martinez and Lorenzo Cain both have the ability to make a difference on a contending team. Even with how things have been going, it is difficult to imagine them being available for much longer.

 

Featured image from Arizona Sports

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Mike Trout Hall of Fame

Would Mike Trout make the Hall of Fame if he retired today?

What if?

Luckily for baseball fans around the world, the 26-year-old from Millville, New Jersey is not planning on hanging up the cleats anytime soon. However, the two-time AL MVP and six-time All-Star has been so elite that if he were to go buy a farm and ride out into the sunset, he would have a legit Hall of Fame case. Let’s take a quick stroll through the illustrious start to Mike Trout’s career.

With the 25th pick in the 2009 MLB Draft, the Angels, who received this compensation pick from the New York Yankees for their signing of Mark Teixeira, selected “The Millville Meteor.”

Here is a look at Trout’s scouting report on MLB.com.

Hitting ability: Trout is a good looking offensive player who just started switch-hitting, but not in games. He is doing it with wood in BP for scouts. He does need some work with his overall approach.

Power: He should have future average power and has shown some more pop this season.

Running speed: Has plus speed and glides on the bases once he gets going, though he’s also got first-step explosion.

Base running: Runs well and should steal some bases.

Arm strength: As a pitcher, he’s touched 90 mph from the mound, so there’s arm strength there, though it’s been hard to get a read on it from the outfield.

Fielding: Is a good center fielder defensively.

Range: His speed allows him to cover plenty of ground.

Physical description: Trout doesn’t look like your typical center fielder and has more of a college running back or safety type build.

Medical update: Healthy.

Strengths: Speed, athleticism, some ability and upside with the bat.

Weaknesses: Still a bit crude at the plate; some teams may not look at him and see him as an everyday Major League center fielder.

Summary: Trout is a toolsy high school center fielder who was gaining momentum as the weather in the Northeast warmed up. He looks more like a football safety — his position in high school — than a center fielder, but has the tools to play there with plus speed. He just started switch-hitting to enhance his offensive value, and with some changes to his approach at the plate should hit for some power down the line. There is some rawness with the bat, but he has the kind of upside many teams look for in a high school position player, and was moving into first-round conversations as a result.

The Beginning

Mike Trout Hall of Fame

2012 AL Rookie of the Year winner (Photo from Pinterest.com)

Let’s look back at Trout’s first year as a full-time starter. After struggling a tad in 40 MLB games during his 2011 campaign, Trout was forced to start 2012 with the Salt Lake Bees of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. The Angels pulled up Trout to take over for Bobby Abreu, who was hitting .208 at the time, and the rest is history.

Trout went on to have the highest rookie season WAR (10.8) in the history of baseball. He was the first position player since Barry Bonds in 2004 who had a WAR above 10.0.

Trout hit .326 with 30 home runs, stole 49 bases and led the league with 129 runs. This was all done in just 139 games. He joined Albert Pujols, Hal Trosky and Ted Williams as the only rookies to hit 30 or more home runs with a batting average better than .325. He was the youngest player to win the AL Rookie of the Year Award. Had Miguel Cabrera not have won the triple crown, Trout would have locked up MVP.

PLAYERS WITH A WAR OF 10.75 OR BETTER IN A SEASON

BABE RUTH

BARRY BONDS

WILLIE MAYS

ROGERS HORNSBY

MICKEY MANTLE

CAL RIPKEN

JOE MORGAN

CARL YASTRZEMSKI

STAN MUSIAL

TED WILLIAMS

MIKE TROUT

LOU GEHRIG

TY COBB

HONUS WAGNER

2013 was more of the same for Trout. After a slow start, hitting just .261 with two home runs in April, Trout finished at .323 with 27 home runs and 33 steals. Again, his 9.3 WAR was highest in baseball. Despite his outstanding season, Miguel Cabrera was named AL MVP for the second year in a row, while Trout was runner-up.

Two MVPs in three seasons

In 2014, Trout finally got over the hump and secured his first AL MVP trophy. He hit .287 with 36 home runs and led the league in runs and RBIs. In the following season, Trout hit .299 with 41 home runs and led the league in slugging percentage, OPS and OPS+. Trout has led in OPS+ for the last three seasons.

2016 was MVP season No. 2. Just another .315, 29 home runs, 123 runs and 116 walks. Oh, and last season, despite getting hurt and playing in just 114 games, Trout joined Barry Bonds (1993) as the only players to have a season with at least 33 home runs, 20 steals, slugging percentage of .629 and an OPS+ of 187.

Mike Trout Hall of Fame

MVP SZN (Photo from SB Nation)

Trout has five seasons of at least 7.9 WAR. That is tied with Wade Boggs, Joe Morgan, Mickey Mantle, Jimmie Foxx and Mike Schmidt.  His six seasons of oWAR greater than 7 has him tied with Honus Wagner and ahead of Frank Thomas, Wade Boggs and Mel Ott to name a few. Trout is currently tied for eighth all-time in seasons with 10 WAR or better.

He is one of nine players to have multiple seasons of 10.45 WAR or higher. That list includes Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, Mickey Mantle, Ty Cobb, Carl Yastrzemski and Rogers Hornsby. Trout is one of 25 players to win multiple MVPs.

“The Millville Meteor” already has five seasons of 27 doubles, 100 runs, .285 batting average and an OPS above 167. That is the same amount of seasons as Hank Aaron and Tris Speaker and more than Hank Greenberg, Mel Ott, Honus Wagner, Carl Yastrzemski and Frank Robinson. Along the way, he has also picked up two All-Star MVP Awards.

His 55.2 career WAR would rank 82nd out of 173 Hall of Fame position players. If he retired today, Trout would be one of eight players with at least a .305 batting average, .976 OPS, .566 SLG and .410 OBP. That list includes Babe Ruth, Manny Ramirez, Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Hank Greenberg and Rogers Hornsby.

Here are four tables to exemplify how extraordinary this guy has been.

TROUT DATA

NUMBER OF SEASONS WITH BA>= .305, HR>= 25, SB>= 22, OPS+>= 168

PLAYER NUMBER OF SEASONS
MIKE TROUT 4
BARRY BONDS 4
WILLIE MAYS 2
ALEX RODRIGUEZ AND NINE OTHERS 1

 

NUMBER OF SEASONS WITH HR>=25, BA>=.285, OPS>=.935 and OPS+>=168

PLAYER NUMBER OF SEASONS
BABE RUTH 14
BARRY BONDS 13
TED WILLIAMS 11
LOU GEHRIG 10
ALBERT PUJOLS 7
MICKEY MANTLE 7
JIMMIE FOXX 7
MIKE TROUT 6
FRANK THOMAS 6
HANK AARON 6
WILLIE MAYS 6
MEL OTT 6
STAN MUSIAL 5
ROGERS HORNSBY 5

 

NUMBER OF SEASONS WITH HR>=25, SB>= 20, BA>= 300, BB>= 90

PLAYER NUMBER OF SEASONS
BARRY BONDS 5
MIKE TROUT 3
ALEX RODRIGUEZ 2
BOBBY ABREU 2
JEFF BAGWELL 2
CHIPPER JONES AND EIGHT OTHERS 1

 

PLAYERS WITH AT LEAST A .305 BA, 200 HOME RUNS, 165 STEALS AND .370 OBP
HANK AARON
VLADIMIR GUERRERO
LARRY WALKER
DEREK JETER
GOOSE GOSLIN
MIKE TROUT

Would you vote him in?

 

Featured image by SI.com

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Ohtani

Where will Shohei Ohtani land?

Shohei Ohtani is the king of the offseason at the moment. The MLB has not seen anything like him since Babe Ruth was smacking home runs nearly a century ago. Ohtani has the potential to be a two-way star, so when he was posted, every team in the majors wanted a piece of him. Right away though, Ohtani has slashed the field down to seven teams already. Out of those seven teams, where might he sign?

The only two teams that are deeper into the mainland of the United States who still remain are the Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers. The other five teams are the San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Angels and Los Angeles Dodgers.

Ohtani prefers the west coast

The west coast has a much more prevalent Japanese population compared to elsewhere in the country. On top of that, it would be closest to his homeland. Ohtani has already informed 23 teams that he would not sign with them, and they almost all are outside of the west coast.

You can’t blame Ohtani for picking the California teams as well as Seattle, as he still wants to remain close to his roots and there is nothing wrong with that. The 23-year-old has the freedom to choose whatever team he wants as he is the hottest commodity this offseason. Many people thought that his preference would have to do with money or a DH, but it always came down to geography for him.

Which teams fit?

Shohei Ohtani

Dipoto and the Mariners have been working on their pitch for Ohtani all year long (Photo Courtesy of NW Sports Beat)

The DH position may be more in Ohtani’s scope now that he has narrowed down the west coast. Money is not a huge factor at this point though. Due to rules on rookie contracts, there is only so much money he can make at first. That is, he will make the maximum salary for a rookie the first three years before he is available for arbitration.

It has also been reported by the New York Times that Ohtani prefers a smaller market. Considering Los Angeles does not fit that bill, it will be unlikely he goes to the Angels or Dodgers even though he is expected to meet with both teams.

Although it has not been reported how big of a factor the DH is, it would not be wild to assume that an American League team would make much more sense for the Japanese star. That would knock out the Padres, Cubs and Giants from the Ohtani sweepstakes. The Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers would the remaining candidates.

The Mariners have a history of Japanese ballplayers playing for them. Most notably, one of the all-time baseball greats, Ichiro Suzuki. Ichiro built up a real reputation for players across the pond, as if you were to combine his NPB and MLB hits, he would have the most in baseball history. Along with that, the Mariners fit the bill for being on the West Coast, more so than the Texas Rangers.

That is why the Mariners are the most likely destination for Ohtani. Seattle is not far off from being a contending team, so a spark from Ohtani could boost them into the playoffs.

How will Ohtani translate to the MLB?

Shohei Ohtani

MLB teams will try to figure a way to get Ohtani’s bat into the lineup (Photo courtesy of Kazuhiro Nogi–Getty Images)

There doesn’t seem to be much of a question that Ohtani’s pitching will translate to the United States. He has an impressive strikeout to walk ratio and has a career 2.52 ERA in his five seasons in the NPB.

Some wonder if his hitting will be at the same level in the major leagues. He has been able to hit over .300 the past two seasons, and has shown signs of power as well. It would be hard to believe him not getting steady opportunities throughout 2018 to prove his ability at the plate.

The one thing that Ohtani is not custom to is the grueling process of a 162-game season. Also, the month of spring training along with a month long playoff can be very physically demanding. Former NFL and MLB athlete, Brian Jordan, stated that playing a 162-game baseball season is one of the toughest things to do in sports.

Ohtani has not come too close to that mark, however he may not when he is playing in the majors anyway. In order to ensure he is an effective pitcher and hitter, it will be imperative that the coaching staff is able to manage his fatigue well in order to get maximum effectiveness from the star.

Overall, Ohtani could prove to be one of the best players that has come from Japan. Only time will tell if he will be able to make the jump to the majors, but signing with Seattle could give him the opportunity to showcase everything he has in a place he would be happy to be.

 

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Nolan Ryan record 108 mph fastball

Nolan Ryan’s record 108 mph fastball

Big league pitchers have heard the phrase “Throw him the heat!” perhaps more than any other phrase. Baseball fans have long had an infatuation with the game’s signature pitch, the fastball. There’s no doubt that for many who’ve played baseball, the pitchers that stand out the most are the ones who threw the hardest.

One of the burning questions at any one snapshot in baseball history is the question of who throws the hardest. At this snapshot in time, Aroldis Chapman is the game’s preeminent fireballer. When Chapman blistered the radar gun at 105 mph a few years back, many were calling him the fastest thrower of all time.

But this isn’t correct. Thanks to the scientific and mathematical analysis done in the documentary Fastball, we know it’s not correct. The distinction of fastest fastball belongs to Nolan Ryan’s record 108 mph fastball.

Why we love the fastball

Nolan Ryan record 108 mph fastball

Bob Feller showcasing his iconic high leg kick. (Photo from baseballheritagemuseum.org)

It’s the element of confrontation that the fastball brings to the game. The struggle between hitter and pitcher is one of the ultimate showdowns in sports, especially in those many instances where the hitters know what’s coming, and the pitcher knows exactly what he’s throwing. There’s nothing more primal in baseball than the predator-prey aspect of facing a hard fastball. It tests the very limits of what’s humanly possible.

The science of the fastball has been well studied, and Fastball does a wonderful job of putting it all together. One of the most striking comparisons made is the difference between a 92 mph fastball and 100 mph fastball. By the time a pitch thrown at 100 mph crosses home, a pitch thrown at 92 mph would still have 4.5 feet of travel left if thrown at the same time. At 100 mph, the batter has 0.396 seconds to process the pitch and make his decision to swing. Putting that in perspective, it takes a human being longer to blink.

This puts the hitter in a unique position that sets him in a situation where he must confront a cognitive dilemma of what’s humanly possible. For the pitcher, the dilemma is the same extreme, but it puts him in a unique position where it sets him at his limits of what is physically possible.

It’s even better when it’s late in the game and there are runners on the bases. Going beyond the science, there’s just something about watching a flame-throwing pitcher put the clamps down on the opposing lineup.

Debating the fastest

Discussing which pitcher is the hardest thrower in the modern game has long been settled by the radar gun. All MLB radar guns are set to record pitch speed at the 50-foot mark between the mound and the plate.

Until Nolan Ryan ushered in the “radar” age in 1974, there were only two other pitchers in history that were clocked using various devices. These pitchers are Walter “Big Train” Johnson, and Bob “The heater from Van Meter” Feller, or Rapid Robert for short. These are two of the best pitchers to ever take the mound, and arguably the best pitcher of their respective era. What’s unique about these three pitchers, however, is they were the first to have their pitches “clocked.”

Johnson’s pitch speed was calculated on a gun range, because where else would you test it? The Remington Arms Co. used a device that was normally used to measure the speed of a bullet. In summation, the calculation they arrived at, 83.2 mph, was flawed. Based on the design of the apparatus used, 83.2 mph is a calculation of how fast his pitch was travelling at 7.5 feet behind home plate. Adjusting pitch speed to meet modern standards, Johnson’s pitch was much closer to 93.8 mph.

Feller also threw a pitch through a device as did Johnson. However, this time the speed was measured right at home plate. Feller clocked in at an astonishing 98.6 mph on his fastest pitch of the test. Adjusting Feller’s pitch to align with today’s standard, he was closer to 107.6 mph. That’s 2.5 mph faster than Chapman’s officially recorded fastest pitch of 105.1 mph. Neither of these two pitchers have anything on Nolan Ryan though.

Nolan Ryan’s record 108 mph fastball

Nolan Ryan record 108 mph fastball

Nolan Ryan’s seventh no-hitter. (Photo from star-telegram.com)

The year 1974 was a watershed year of sorts for how we have come to measure the speed of a pitch. This was the year that the concept of the radar gun was established. A bunch of smart people decided that if you use an infrared beam, you can quickly get an accurate reading of how fast a pitch is moving. It can also be set to read the same point of measurement repeatedly, giving a fair assessment of the speed. Nolan Ryan became baseball’s first pitcher to ‘light up” the radar at a major league park.

On Aug. 20, 1974, in a game against the Detroit Tigers, then Angels pitcher Nolan Ryan pitched an 11-inning complete game 1-0 loss. As a quick note, Nolan Ryan’s career is marked by playing on teams that weren’t all that good offensively. He truly is a case study in why wins aren’t the best judge of a pitcher’s worth in every instance. Not wanting to stray to far off topic though, in the game against Detroit, Ryan was clocked at 100.9 mph, in the ninth inning. That means that he was getting stronger as the game wore on!

But like Feller and Johnson before him, Ryan’s measurement needs to be adjusted too. Ryan’s pitch was measured at 10 feet in front of home plate. When the proper adjustments are made, his 100.9 mph fastball becomes closer to 108.5 mph. If you are keeping score, that is about 3.5 mph faster than Chapman’s fastest pitch on record. All hail the Ryan Express!

 

 

Feature image from baseballhall.org

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Mookie Betts contract 2018

Contract expectations for Mookie Betts in 2018

Markus Lynn Betts is one of Major League Baseball’s rising stars. In 2016, Betts placed second in the American League MVP vote, while being awarded his first Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards.

Prior to the 2017 season, the Boston Red Sox raised Betts’ contract from the league minimum of just about $500,000 to $950,000 as a sign of good faith, as he clearly deserved a raise after his miraculous season, although Betts felt he deserved much more. According to ESPN.com writer Scott Lauber, the Red Sox failed to ink Betts to a long-term deal as “[they] just couldn’t come up with a number that he thought was the right number for him”.

In 2017, Betts struggled, batting just .264, compared to his .318 mark a year before, although he managed to score and drive in 100 runs, while also winning his second Gold Glove, a feat that only three former Red Sox players have accomplished: Dwight Evans, Fred Lynn and Carl Yastrzemski.

The 25-year-old Betts is entering his first year of arbitration, so it’s time to speculate over what dollar amount he will command this offseason. In order to find Mookie’s true market value, we must look at comparable players and what contracts they signed during their first arbitration eligible year.

Andrew McCutchen

McCutchen, a first-round pick in 2005 by the Pittsburgh Pirates, entered the major leagues in 2009. Through their first three years of service time, McCutchen and Betts post nearly identical stats across the board.

 

Player (ages)

PA G BA / OBP / SLG WAR HR XBH RBI SB
Andrew McCutchen (22-25) 2497 577 .290/.374/.484 18.8 82 232 295 98
Mookie Betts (21-24) 2309 508 .292/.351/.488 24.1 78 236 310 80
Mookie Betts contract 2018

(Photo by USA Today)

Also, they share a multitude of awards and accomplishments, including a top-three MVP finish, two All-Star appearances, a Silver Slugger and at least one Gold Glove.

Prior to the 2013 season, McCutchen avoided arbitration by signing a six-year, $51.5 million contract. Due to the contract being back-loaded, McCutchen made a total of $4.86 million in 2013.

With this in mind, if Betts were to go to arbitration, it would be fair to assume that Betts would command more that the $4.86 million that McCutchen agreed to play for in 2013, as you would have to account for inflation, as well as financial insurance due to the fact that it would be a one-year deal.

If he were to avoid arbitration, it is fair to assume he would command well over the $8.6 million per year that McCutchen signed for prior to 2013, as you must account for inflation, as well as the fact that Betts was just a hair more productive over the same period.

Mike Trout

Trout, a first-round pick in 2009 by the Los Angeles Angels, made his major league debut in 2011, although his first full year of service time didn’t come until 2012. Since that time, Trout is, and has been, arguably the best player in baseball. It may come as a surprise to some, and maybe not to others, but Mookie Betts and Mike Trout are very comparable players through their first three years of service time.

 

Player (ages)

PA G BA / OBP / SLG WAR HR XBH RBI SB
Mike Trout (19-22) 2195 493 .305/.395/.549 28.6 98 235 307 102
Mookie Betts (21-24) 2309 508 .292/.351/.488 24.1 78 236 310 80

In this time period, Trout won a Rookie of the Year and was a three-time All-Star, three-time Silver Slugger, two-time MVP runner-up and one-time MVP.

Mookie Betts contract 2018

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Prior to the 2015 season, Trout avoided arbitration by signing a six-year, $144.5 million contract. In the first year of this deal, Trout made a total of just $6.1 million, although at the end of the day, he would make about $24 million annually.

With this in mind, if Betts were to avoid arbitration, he would likely command a similar deal that offers upwards of $20 million annually. If Betts were to go to arbitration, it is fair to assume that he would command just as much or more than the $6.1 million that Trout agreed to play for in 2015, as once again, you must account for inflation and financial backing.

Market Value

After comparing Betts to arguably the only two comparable players in the MLB, I believe that he is entitled to a hefty raise in 2018. If he were to go to arbitration, I assume he would ask for upwards of $9 million, while the team would propose a deal closer to $7 million.

If he were to avoid arbitration and settle on a one-year deal, an $8 million figure seems appropriate for the 2018 season. If he were to sign a long-term contract, Betts could be looking at a six-year deal for upwards of $120 million, earning him a net of over $20 million a year.

Either way, Betts will be arbitration eligible until the end of the 2020 season, ensuring that at a minimum, Boston will retain the superstar until then. Whenever Betts signs his inevitable long-term deal, he will become one of MLB’ highest paid players, for good reason.

 

Featured image by Over the Monster

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Minnesota Twins

Minnesota Twins playoffs: Nobody saw this coming

Seven years ago, the Minnesota Twins headed in to the 2010 postseason as the 94-win AL Central champions. It was their last playoff appearance.

Even the most optimistic of Minnesota Twins fans could not have foreseen what this season had in store. Sure, there are probably a select few who were predicting the postseason in April, but then again, every year is a World Series year for those people. It’s adorable. And as someone who has spent the better part of 30 years rooting for Milwaukee, I get it. We had our own improbable run this year.

The Manager

Minnesota Twins

Twins Manager Paul Molitor has done a lot more smiling this year than he did in 2016. (Photo courtesy of: KARE TV)

Unlike the upstart Brewers (who cling to just the faintest of life), you have succeeded in stamping your ticket to the postseason. Although, it did require the help of a legendary Milwaukee Brewer “Igniter” piloting that ship and steadying it through turbulent waters. Obviously, this is tongue in cheek, but let’s face it, Paul Molitor has done a heckuva job with this ball club.

I’ve heard grumblings from Twins fans on social media questioning how Molly runs a pitching staff. I find that a lot of the time, however, you can’t please everyone. The differences in this year’s Twins twirlers compared to that 2016 abomination are something you should be celebrating.

Don’t misunderstand, nobody is saying the Twins staff is dominant, but improvements in team pitching are why you’re here. Last season you finished dead last in the American League in pitching and that had to be painful to watch; 59-win seasons do tend to be pretty awful.

This season however, the Twins pitching staff ranks 10th of 15 in American League total team pitching. This team has shaved close to half-a-run off their team ERA (4.63) in 2017, down from a revolting (5.08) ERA in 2016. It must be at least a little depressing to average giving up five-plus runs per game. What am I talking about? It is depressing, I’ve been there and done that with some of those fine collections of soft-tossing beach ball dealers the Brewers have collected over the years. Doug Davis anyone?

Ask yourself one question: Would you rather have another season where you endure giving up 889 runs, or would you rather give up over 100 fewer runs and play October baseball? This is more than enough reason to get behind your club and your manager in my estimation. Forget about the questionable pitching management, you’re in the playoff club!

Byron Buxton

Minnesota Twins

Byron Buxton, at age 23, already makes center field look way too simple. He should win the Gold Glove in 2017. (Photo Courtesy of: Twincities.com)

It doesn’t hurt a team’s fortunes either when one of your top youngsters flips the switch and begins to figure out the Major League game. This is exactly what Byron Buxton has done in 2017 for the Minnesota Twins.

I’m going to say this right now. Minnesota Twins centerfielder Byron Buxton is a Gold Glove winner. Should he not win the award bestowed upon the season’s best fielders in the AL this year, it will be an injustice.

He is just glove-ly. He uses that blazing speed to his advantage to become the predator lying in wait for any unsuspecting line drive looking only for clean grass to nest in. Even the best hitters regularly find the deep pocket of his cavernous glove.

And you can forget about burning this man. You’re not going to. He gets such an unbelievable jump on the ball and his read off the bat is so sharp, balls that would eat up most normal centerfielders find Buxton effortlessly tracking them down.

Long story short, he makes center field look easy. His (dWAR), or defensive wins above replacement, rating of 2.9 is second best in the majors this year to only all-world short stop, Andrelton Simmons who sits at a not too shabby 4.2 dWAR. And I do say that sarcastically by the way. Simmons is a man-god at short for Los Angeles.

Since the beginning of August, Buxton has been absolutely raking. As we have hit the dog days of summer, Buxton seems to be playing his best baseball at the right time stroking a (.303/.349/.556) line. Down the stretch, his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is a scorching (.380). This suggests he will almost certainly cool off. Twins fans however, hope that happens after the World Series.

It doesn’t matter what way you slice it, Buxton has been  great this year for the Twins. At 23 years old, the best is almost certainly yet to come. But for now, this is a young player on the rise and seemingly coming into his own. Buxton will not be a free agent until 2022, so enjoy your defensive stalwart in centerfield while he’s there.

Please, Not New York… Again

With Boston again losing to the Astros last night 3-2 and the Yankees shutting out the Blue Jays 4-0, the AL East is still in play. New York is sitting two back with a pair left to play entering Saturday.

While it is still mathematically possible the Yankees could walk away with the East, they need to win out. They also need Boston to lose out. And then they would need to win a one game playoff at Yankee Stadium to send Boston into the Wild Card matchup with the Twins. Is it possible? Sure. Is it likely? No.

The Minnesota Twins are most likely going to New York, folks.

Minnesota Twins playoffs

The 85-win Minnesota Twins record the final out in the 1987 World Series, overcoming a stacked St. Louis Cardinals team. (Photo courtesy of: Minnpost.com)

If you’re a Twins fan, you don’t need to be reminded of the tough luck in October since the 1991 dream season. The Twins successfully went from dead last in 1990 to champs in 1991. Since that season, which culminated in arguably the best World Series of all time, Minnesota’s fortunes have been much different. The New York Yankees have been a main culprit.

In four of the last seven playoff series the Twins have played, the Yankees have been their opponent. The results have been far from resembling competent baseball. In four Division Series hookups, the Minnesota Twins have played to a (2-12) record. The Twins were also swept out of October in each of the last two playoff series they played (2009 & 2010).

Over those 14 games, the Yankees have regularly out-slugged the Twins. Take Derek Jeter for instance, as he hit at a .351 clip through that stretch while also adding eight RBIs to further his team’s cause.

This type of performance wasn’t limited to just Jeter though, because the Yankees also hit 20 homers to Minnesota’s eight. That’s a lot of runs to be giving up over one swing of a bat, so it’s really not surprising they have only taken two wins in 14 games.

Although Jeter has since ascended in to baseball mythology, the Yankees have a new batch of talented players. Of course, this is including Rookie of the Year shoe-in and notorious baseball abuser Aaron Judge.

Here’s the good news though Twins fans, this is a one-off matchup. We all know that on any given day in MLB literally any team can win. This my friends, is the great equalizer. You don’t need to be consistent over a series of games. You only need one performance to pass your first test.

Granted, it’s a big test going on the road with a pitching staff that can be prone to giving up some runs. On top of that, you are facing a good slugging Yankee team.

But, there is always one of those, right? If you can get to the Yankees early and allow defenders like Byron Buxton to salt the game away in the field, you might just pull this baby out. And you might just start exercising some of those historical demons.

Just remember this, in 1987, the Minnesota Twins went 85-77 and won the whole dang thing. Anything is possible, dreamers!

 

(feature photo: KMSP TV)

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Arizona Fall League

Arizona Fall League 2017: Youngest Stars

 

The Arizona Fall League is a rite of passage for the very best of the best MLB prospects. Especially for those “kids” down on the farm.

This veritable “proving ground” for major league talent is one of the true gems of the prospect-to-pro pipeline. Every year, each of the 30 teams that make up Major League Baseball send a handful of their brightest up and comers to the desert for closer inspection versus a higher standard of opponent. So without further ado, I would like to introduce you to the youngest stars of the Arizona Fall League. You may not know them now, but you soon will!

 

Glendale Desert Dogs

Feeder Clubs: White Sox, Indians, Dodgers, Phillies, Pirates

 

Youngest Pitcher: RHP Mitch Keller, Age 21

Parent Club: Pittsburgh Pirates

2017 Finishing Level: Altoona Curve (AA)

 

Arizona Fall League

Mitch Keller has moved three levels in two seasons in the Pirates organization. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

The No. 6 RHP prospect in baseball, Mitch Keller, will be turning out for Glendale this fall in Arizona. He boasts above average control as well as three projectable major league pitches in his fastball, curveball and changeup. Keller spent most his time this season (15 games) taking the hill for the Bradenton Marauders of the Florida State League. Over 15 starts he struck out over three batters for every one that he walked. His numbers only improved after getting called up to (AA) Altoona for his final six starts. Keller uses a blistering fastball that sits low-to-mid-90s with nasty sinking action, and above average 11-5 curve to make hitters look foolish.

Promoted to (AA) Altoona to finish out the season, this 21-year-old is mature beyond his years. Judging by the caliber of his well-advanced arsenal of three plus-pitches, this kid should continue rising through the Pirates system at break neck speed. Thus far, Keller has done all that’s been asked of him at every level and he will be looking to impress again in Arizona. For 2018, Keller should be start the season with (AA) Altoona, but he may not be there long. Should this young man continue to miss an epic number of bats at (AA) level, I would expect Keller to end 2018 in (AAA). He’s getting close Pirates fans!

 

 

 

Youngest Position Player: CF Cornelius Randolph, Age 20

Parent Club: Philadelphia Phillies

2017 Finishing Level: Clearwater Thrashers (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

Randolph, age 20, will be looking to develop his fielding skills even further this fall in Arizona. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

Phillies left fielding prospect Cornelius Randolph is not the biggest of players. What Randolph lacks in size however, he makes up with a good eye at the plate working a (.338) OBP in 122 games at (Advanced A) Clearwater. Randolph is a converted infielder who worked tirelessly in 2017 to improve his fielding ability in left field. Because his focus was on improving as a defender, his batting metrics may have taken a hit, yet he still posted a respectable (.250/.338/.402) for the season.

The key to Randolph making the majors is his bat, without question. Many scouts believe his average defensive ability will be overshadowed by a bat that wants to hit, and hit a ton. Touted as the best pure high school hitter in the 2015 MLB Draft, Randolph has done little to disappoint. His 2016 was largely a throwaway season while he battled injuries that kept him from really capitalizing on an inspiring 2015. However, in his latest campaign he mashed his way to a tie for fifth most homers in the Florida State League.

Considering the tender age of the  Phillies’ No. 12 prospect, it is not likely that he will be rushed up the ladder. He could possibly open the season at (AA) Reading depending on how the Phillies see him defensively. He already has a bat good enough for the level.

 

 

Peoria Javelinas

Feeder Clubs: Braves, Red Sox, Padres, Mariners, Blue Jays

 

Youngest Pitcher: RHP Andres Munoz, Age 18

Parent Club: San Diego Padres

2017 Finishing Level: Fort Wayne TinCaps (Low A)

 

Arizona Fall League

Do not be fooled by the baby-faced Andres Munoz, he wants nothing more than to blow you away with the heater. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

Born in 1999, Munoz is easily the youngest player headed to the Arizona Fall League this October. At just 18 years of age, striking out hitters is not the issue for Munoz. No, hitting the strike zone consistently is. Blessed with electric stuff well beyond what is expect from a teenager, he has had a heck of a time reigning in his pitches and throwing consistent strikes. At 18 though, time is smiling on this young hurler.

With a clean easy motion to the plate, Munoz just needs to find his rhythm and learn to repeat his delivery time after time. Munoz has easy gas, with his fastball exploding out of his hand toward the plate with seemingly little effort. If this kid can iron out the kinks in his game, he could become a dominant pitcher in the majors sooner than later. Munoz is the youngest player on any Arizona Fall League roster in 2017 and after watching him throw you can understand why he’s there. Expect Andres to be toeing the rubber for (Low A) Fort Wayne in the Midwest League come spring 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

Youngest Position Player: CF Ronald Acuna, Age 19

Parent Club: Atlanta Braves

2017 Finishing Level: Gwinnett Braves (AAA)

 

Arizona Fall League

If you don’t yet know about Ronald Acuna, you will very soon. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

Oh, hot dog! Do I even need to talk about Acuna? I mean, really? Everyone knows this guy by now, right? Look, just the fact he’s on this list should have pitchers everywhere soiling themselves.

Ok, so considering that many of the top ten prospects have mostly graduated to the big leagues (that were ahead of Acuna), this kid should be at the top of the heap come 2018. The No. 5 prospect in all of baseball did everything in his power to make the jump to the majors in 2017. At 19 years of age and with his parent club struggling to win games, the Braves decided to halt his progression at (AAA) Gwinnett. It was a smart move, especially if you regularly attend Gwinnett Braves games. All he did there in 54 games is put up an insane (.344/.393/.548) line, sending baseballs into orbit at a regular pace.

Acuna is just latest Venezuelan to take MLB by storm, well the minors anyway. Acuna’s measurables are out of sight. This is a true 5-tool player by every sense of the word with his blazing speed, howitzer arm, and big bat. Exciting times are afoot in Hot-lanta folks! I mean, this kid did nothing but perform at each level he was at this year. What’s more is that his numbers improved at every stop along the way. Next stop for Acuna in 2018? The Show.

 

 

Scottsdale Scorpions

Feeder Clubs: Reds, Angels, Yankees, Mets, Giants

 

Youngest Pitcher: LHP Justus Sheffield, Age 21

Parent Club: New York Yankees

2017 Finishing Level: Trenton Thunder (AA)

 

Arizona Fall League

Justus Sheffield is not related to Gary Sheffield. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

The first of two LHP on the list of youngest Arizona Fall League stars, Justus Sheffield is also the No. 6 rated prospect down on the farm. Sheffield is another fireballer on this list that can reach back and grab a 96-mph comet, but will usually sit around the 92-93 mph range. Boasting a curbeball and changeup that are projectable big league pitches, the short in stature Sheffield is certainly long on talent. However, he does have work to do in Arizona. This future Yankee needs to learn to consistently get his above average repertoire over the plate for strikes. If he can master his control, the sky’s the limit for Justus.

Sheffield spent the bulk of 2017 in (AA) with the Trenton Thunder except for two rehab starts in (A) ball. In 17 starts for Trenton, the young hurler went 7-6 with a 3.18 ERA over 93.1 innings of ball. His strike out tally is fantastic at 82, and his walks, while still at 3.1 BB/9, have come down dramatically from seasons past. If Sheffield continues to progress, he should arrive in the majors before the turn of the next decade. For now though, he’ll most likely break camp as a member of the (AAA) rotation in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

 

 

 

Youngest Position Player: CF Estevan Florial, Age 19

Parent Club: New York Yankees

2017 Finishing Level: Tampa Yankees (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

Estevan Florial may strike out a ton, but he’ll happily take you yard in return. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

Florial is an intriguing 19-year-old signed from the island nation of Haiti in 2015. This kid could be the center fielder of the future for New York, and it might not be much longer before he stakes his claim to a position once held by Mantle and DiMaggio. Now, this isn’t to say Estevan Florial is in the same mold as those two legendary players, but his talent is undeniable.

At the plate Florial seemingly has all the tools to be an excellent major leaguer. He’s fast, he’s got pop, and he’s not afraid to take a walk. In his first season of Class A baseball, Florial posted a (.298/.372/.479) line across both high and lower levels. While his sample size from (Advanced A) is small at only 19 games, he sported an (.855) OPS over 91 games for (Low A) Charleston. He has some holes in his swing and does whiff a lot, but he also walks a lot (once every 8.4 AB) suggesting that, as he develops, the K’s will come down. At any rate, this young slugging center fielder is poised to start 2018 at (AA) Trenton. Only time will tell if he can grasp the strike zone better as he gets a little older.

 

 

Mesa Solar Sox

Feeder Clubs: Cubs, Tigers, Astros, Athletics, Nationals

 

Youngest Pitcher: RHP Nolan Blackwood, Age 22

Parent Club: Oakland Athletics

2017 Finishing Level: Stockton Ports (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

Nolan Blackwood shuts the light off when he leaves. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

Nolan Blackwood is a stopper. I mean, this kid can slam a door. Unlike most of the other pitchers on this list, Blackwood is one thing, a harbinger of death to your team’s chances to win. The 2016 14th round draft selection out of Memphis has a scary frame at 6-foot-5 with plenty of room left to fill it out. Oakland always seems to have a top-notch pitcher or two working their way through the farm, and Blackwood is no exception.

Blackwood spent all of 2017 in (Advanced A) ball, shutting down games for the Stockton Ports. Sure, he had a 1-5 record. Sure, he had a 3.00 ERA, but it’s what he did with the game on the line that matters most. In 20 chances to turn out the lights on the opposition, he did so successfully 19 times. As he learns more and puts on more lean muscle, his K/9 should reflect that, although his 7.58 K/9 in 2017 are nothing to sneeze at. Neither is his 1.05 WHIP. Blackwood is slated to begin 2018 at (AA) Midland, in the Texas League.

 

 

 

 

Youngest Position Player: 1B/LF Yordan Alvarez, Age 20

Parent Club: Houston Astros

2017 Finishing Level: Buies Creek Astros (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

Yordan Alvarez, monstrous young left-handed hitter with jaw dropping pop. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

Yordan Alvarez arrived in the Houston farm system via trade with the Dodgers in 2016. Alvarez is a slugger that translates to either left field or first base. While not exceptional with the leather, Alvarez does possess a very good arm in the field. He has been playing in left for much of 2017, but in the Arizona Fall League, he’s penciled in to man first base. At 6-foot-5 225 lbs. the left-handed slugger seems to be destined to play first in the majors.

Alvarez, Houston’s No. 26 ranked prospect has explosive raw power at the plate as shown by his first 32 games at the (Low A) level. Playing for the Quad Cities River Bandits, he mashed (.360/.468/.658) over 111 AB. With nothing left to prove, Houston promoted him to (Advanced A) Buies Creek where his numbers came back to earth with the step up in pitching. Despite only being 20 years old, Alvarez still managed to hack out a (.277/.329/.393) line. Not bad for a player as young as Yordan. Look for Alvarez to be back in the lineup for the Buies Creek Astros at the start of the 2018 campaign.

 

 

Salt River Rafters

Feeder Clubs: Diamondbacks, Orioles, Rockies, Marlins, Brewers

 

Youngest Pitcher: LHP Keegan Akin, Age 22

Parent Club: Baltimore Orioles

2017 Finishing Level: Frederick Keys (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

“If you blink, you will miss it.” Is what the baseball cornfield gods say about Akin’s heater. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

Keegan Akin is one half of Baltimore’s contribution to the youngest players in the Arizona Fall League. Ryan Mountcastle is the other, but more on him in just a minute.

Akin is a LHP blessed with a fastball that looks more like a vapor trail than it does a ball. The 22-year-old was a second-round pick by Baltimore in 2016 and is coming off his first full professional season at (Advanced A) Frederick. While his numbers might not jump off the page at you right away, there is still a lot to look at. First and foremost being his beastly 10 K/9 stuff. His electric fastball lit up opposing batters while his slider and changeup are both major league projectable pitches. Known for his ability to get nasty, he peppers the strike zone with ease leaving little doubts that the Orioles see him as a starting pitcher for the future.

Baltimore’s No. 8 ranked prospect is not far off getting the call to the show if he continues to improve his secondary pitches. His inability to fully harness his secondary stuff led to a 4.1 BB/9 rate, but as he learns how to pitch to better hitters his walk totals should begin to come back to earth. Orioles fans should be anxiously awaiting the arrival of this left-handed cannon. What level Akin might start at in 2018 is anyone’s guess, it could depend on how he does in the Arizona Fall League. Frederick or (AA) Bowie are his likely landing spots after camp breaks in March 2018.

 

Youngest Position Player: 2B Ryan Mountcastle, Age 20

Parent Club: Baltimore Orioles

2017 Finishing Level: Bowie Bay Sox (AA)

 

Arizona Fall League

Baltimore’s 2015 first-round pick, Ryan Mountcastle, has had a meteoric rise through the minors so far. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

Mountcastle is currently the No. 3 prospect in Baltimore’s farm system. At the moment, Baltimore is still holding out hope that this young man can overcome his below average arm strength and stick at short stop. While questions remain about Mountcastle in the field, there are little doubts in the scouting community that he will hit for both power and average at the big-league level. Ryan is a tall prospect with room left on his frame for further growth. And that is scary news for American League pitchers.

In 88 games of (Advanced A) baseball he posted an impressive (.314/.343/.542) line, while smashing 15 round trippers along the way. It was precisely this type of production that ultimately won him promotion to (AA) Bowie, finishing the season against much older competition. Though Mountcastle struggled to come to terms with Double-A pitching in his first 39 games for the Bay Sox (.222/.239/.366), he will almost certainly start 2018 there. This kid is truly one for the future. Get out there to the Arizona Fall League games and take a peek.

 

 

 

Surprise Saguaros

Feeder Clubs: Royals, Twins, Cardinals, Rays, Rangers

 

Youngest Pitcher: RHP Jordan Hicks, Age 21

Parent Club: St. Louis Cardinals

2017 Finishing Level: Springfield Cardinals (AA)

 

Arizona Fall League 2017

Hicks has eye popping velocity, and a heavy sinking action on his fastball. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

At just 21, Jordan Hicks already has a fastball that would likely leave an exit hole the size of Pluto if it hit you.On top of a fastball that sits in the lower 90’s (but can ramp up to 98 mph), this young fireballer also has an above average curveball that has a chance to be a plus pitch for him in the bigs. Jordan started 2017 with the Peoria Chiefs of the Midwest League taking the mound in 14 games and posting a healthy 8-2 record while fanning 63 batters along the way.

He has some control issues to sort out, but upon his promotion to (Advanced A) Palm Beach he saw his BB/9 shrink from (4.5) in Peoria to a respectable (2) in his first 27 innings of Florida State League ball. Though the sample is small, this youngster seems to have found another gear with his step up in competition. The Card’s No. 14 prospect posted 32 strike outs and only 21 hits in eight appearances at the (Advanced A) level. On the back of that performance the Cardinals promoted young Jordan to (AA) Springfield in August, though he didn’t log any innings due to late season injury. Expect Hicks to be a key component to Springfield’s rotation in 2018.

 

Youngest Position Player: 3B Kevin Padlo, Age 21

Parent Club: Tampa Bay Rays

2017 Finishing Level: Charlotte Stone Crabs (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

Kevin Padlo is rated as Tampa Bay’s No. 28 prospect. (photo courtesty of: MiLB.com)

Kevin was originally a fifth-round selection of the Colorado Rockies in 2014, the organization he played for in his first two minor league seasons. By January 2016 however, he found himself part of the deal that sent LF Corey Dickerson to Tampa in exchange for pitchers Jake McGee and German Marquez. Though Padlo struggled some at the plate this year posting (.215/.321/.380) across two levels of minor league ball, there is a lot to like about this young man.

While his batting average might seem low, his (.321) OBP suggests a keen eye, that with more experience should translate to a solid average and 20-homer power. At only 21 years of age, the Rays’ No. 28 prospect already possesses a defensive tool set at the hot corner you would normally expect to find on a player much older. Where he could start 2018 might depend on what he does in Arizona this fall, but as it stands now all signs point to another season in Charlotte.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(feature photo courtesy of: Colorado Rockies)

 

 

 

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