Philadelphia Phillies

Philadelphia Phillies team profile

The Phillies turned in the third worst record in baseball in 2017. However, things don’t feel so lousy in the city of brotherly love. The Eagles are the best team in football, which is what most of the city is focusing on right now, but the Phillies don’t have such a bad outlook either.

The calvary is coming

After a couple of promising campaigns, Maikel Franco had a disappointing 2017. He still managed to knock 24 home runs, but his slash line of .230/.281/.409 is not what the Phillies wanted to see. There is definitely room to improve for the young third baseman.

Philadelphia Phillies

Maikel Franco will look to bounce back from a lackluster 2017 season. (Photo from Philly.com)

Although Franco was supposed to be breaking out as the face of the Phillies future, another man stepped in to make up for his struggles. Rhys Hoskins did not make his major league debut until August, but he did not waste any time getting acquainted with big league pitching. In 50 games, Hoskins managed to hit 18 home runs. If he kept up that pace through an entire season, he would have hit over 40.

Hoskins is only the beginning of the young prospects coming up in the Phillies system. They have six prospects in the MLB top 100, five of them being hitters. This means that Hoskins really is only the start of an offensive wave that will be coming into Citizens Bank Park. The process of all these hitters coming up will take about three seasons to develop.

What to expect this offseason

Philadelphia has been mentioned as one of the top teams in the race for Giancarlo Stanton, the hottest hitter on the trade market. The Phillies wouldn’t be trading for him for 2018 or 2019, but they would think he could be a big contributor for the 2020 season and beyond. The only catch is that they would have to be willing to give up some of their top prospects of the future.

The Phillies took Mickey Moniak with the first pick in 2016, a young outfielder with impressive plate discipline and can make solid contact. He is still developing as a ballplayer, but he is a very valuable tool for the future. He would be someone that the Phillies may have to give up in order to acquire Stanton.

Rumors have been fading away from the Phillies and Stanton though. Philadelphia does not have the pitching prospects that Miami would be interested in. The Giants, Cardinals and Red Sox have been more in the mix as of late. This makes the Phillies more of an outside contender for Stanton.

The Phillies ought to focus on pitching this offseason. They have been improving as a whole on offense and have some solid names coming up, but the pitching outlook is a little bleak. There are some intriguing names that hit free agency, such as Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb.

One name that could stand out for the Phillies is Tyler Chatwood. He has managed to put up some modest numbers while playing in the mountains, so he may be a plus pitcher if he is in a better suited park. He will come much cheaper than some of the other pitchers on the market, and could be serviceable for the future as he is only 27.

What to expect in 2018

The Phillies are still in the middle of their rebuilding process, so don’t expect them to compete with the Nationals for the NL East crown just yet. However, they are showing signs of not being the bottom dwellers of years past.

Phillies

Scott Kingery may be cementing himself as the second baseman of the future (Photo Courtesy of Yong Kim)

Their No. 3 prospect, Scott Kingery, should be making his debut next year at second base. Kingery had a stellar year in Double and Triple-A. He managed to hit 26 homers and had a slash line of .304/.359/.530. He also possess great speed as he stole 29 bases. Expect for him to make a splash in Philly next year.

 

 

Jorge Alfaro is another name that could make a big impact in 2018. Alfaro is the fifth best prospect in their system, and got some time in the big leagues in 2017. He came from Texas in the Cole Hamels deal, and is showing to be worth it thus far. In 29 games he hit .318 with five home runs. He is looking to fill the hole left at the catchers spot since Carlos Ruiz in 2016.

The Phillies may not be bottom dwellers in the East next year, seeing that the Marlins are looking to go into rebuild mode. Their offense is already looking much better, and will only be getting better as time goes on. They are hoping that Franco looks more like his 2016 self rather than last year. If he does turn things around, it could be a threatening lineup with Hoskins, Franco and Kingery.

 

Featured image by Laurence Kesterson/AP

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Andrew Knizner

How Andrew Knizner’s AFL performance impacts St. Louis

Andrew Knizner has been making waves in the Arizona Fall League. The seventh-round pick in the 2016 MLB draft for the Cardinals had a solid season in the minors. The 22-year-old catcher managed to rack up 12 homers and 51 RBIs in 95 games between Single and Double-A this past year.

Adding to the Cardinals’ catching core

The Cardinals have had the most reliable guy they could ask for behind the plate since 2004. Yadier Molina has put in more innings and excelled more than any other catcher during that time. He has established himself as a premier catcher and has come close to reaching a Pudge Rodriguez level of excellence.

Knizner

Molina has been one of the best catchers of this generation (Photo from SI.com)

Not only does St. Louis have Molina through 2020, but they have the best catching prospect in baseball, who is ready for some major league action. Carson Kelly is a converted third basemen, who has adjusted to the catching position very nicely. He has established himself as a potential Gold Glove winner, and has had his bat catch up to his glove the last couple of years.

The only problem is that Kelly is not getting younger. Molina’s contract extension through the 2020 season leaves some doubt as to how Kelly will get playing time in St. Louis. Kelly would soon be turning 27 by the time he could get consistent playing time with the Cardinals. This is what makes his future with the ball club murky.

Andrew Knizner is another name to bring some intrigue behind the plate. He is a converted third baseman, much like Kelly, and is still learning the tricks of the trade. He has not had a lot of flubs behind the plate, but his bat is what garners some attention. Knizner has shown that he can put the ball in play with solid contact, while also showing good plate discipline. Pitch selectivity is always good to see in young guys because it is an important skill to have when dealing with nasty pitching in the big leagues.

What Knizner’s success means for the offseason

It sure is a good thing that Knizner is breaking out in the AFL. He currently has a .358/.403/.537 slash line along with three home runs and 12 RBIs in 67 at-bats. That should give the Cardinals more comfort that they may have another option behind the plate after Molina hangs up his cleats.

The Cardinals are exploring trades before any free-agent signings according to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports. The Cardinals have a lot of prospects they could potentially trade away. Knizner’s performance puts him as well as Kelly in the mix of the names that could be traded away this offseason.

Knizner

Knizner or Kelly fitting into a Miami trade could make sense, it is whether or not Stanton allows it to happen (Photo by Getty Images)

The team that the Cardinals have been attached to the most is the Miami Marlins. They are looking to lose most of the salary that is guaranteed to Giancarlo Stanton, so it appears evident that they will try to move him by the end of the offseason. If the Cardinals are looking to make that move with the Marlins, either for Stanton or another outfielder, both Kelly and Knizner could be thrown in there as the Cardinals can afford to give one up.

The Marlins already have a young and successful catcher in J.T. Realmuto. Much of Realmuto’s value comes from his performance at the plate though. He has also spent some time at first base.

If the Marlins are really looking to go into rebuild mode, then their current first baseman could be on the move. Justin Bour had a career year and could get a couple solid prospects in return as he has a team-friendly contract.

Kelly’s defensive prowess and young age could play a part in this trade. As the best catching prospect in baseball, it would be hard for the Marlins to turn that away. It would be contingent on Bour being dealt as well as mentioned earlier.

St. Louis is still in very early talks with Miami. Kelly or Knizner could play a role in how things play out as they are showing to be valuable prospects.

Other possibilities

In case a Stanton trade doesn’t work out for the Cardinals, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich may be on the table as well. Not only that, but the Cardinals have showed interest in Josh Donaldson and Manny Machado. Both the Blue Jays and Orioles are in need of younger catching prospects, so Kelly or Knizner would make sense as pieces in a trade like this.

Even if these big name trades don’t happen, the Cardinals are still shopping around to see where they can improve. The front office knows they need to prove they are serious about contending with the Cubs. They have money and lots of prospects. Knizner only helps their bargaining power and gives them more flexibility for the future.

All in all, the reality to take away from his performance and potential is that Carson Kelly may not play a full season in St. Louis. With Yadier Molina blocking him, it would make sense for the Cardinals to move him somewhere else. Then they could look for Knizner to be the successor to Molina.

 

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Washington Nationals 2018

Washington Nationals team profile

After a successful regular season, the Nationals came up short in the postseason once again. The franchise still has not won a postseason series. This year looked to be their year, as their roster had few holes in it especially after bolstering their bullpen. However, Game 5 in the NLDS slipped through their fingers, and now Washington is in a state of perplexity. What can they possibly do at this point that they have not already done?

The managerial carousal

The Washington Nationals fired another manager at the end of 2017. This time, Dusty Baker was the victim despite winning 192 games in two seasons and winning the NL East both years. He is also the third manager to be fired in five years in Washington.

Washington Nationals 2018

Dusty Baker is the latest example of how Washington is insecure at the manager role (Photo from AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

What makes the situation interesting is that they have still won their division four times in seven years. Not only that, but two of the three managers (Davey Johnson and Matt Williams) have won the NL manager of the year during their tenure in Washington.

Is the management really the problem? It is understandable why the front office points to the skipper role as the issue with their teams. This is apparent in the fact that there are no glaring issues in the roster. The bullpen was by far the weakest aspect of the team at the beginning of the season, but were able to make it an asset through trades.

Replacing the manager will not fix the Nationals’ issues. Dave Martinez has accumulated a lot of experience under the wing of Joe Maddon in Tampa Bay and Chicago. However, he still has a lot to learn as a manager seeing as this is his first gig. What it is really going to come down to is the Nationals being able to execute in the postseason.

Washington found themselves down 2-1 in the NLDS against the Cubs. They were able to win Game 4 in order to force a fifth and final game, and the offense really showed up when it needed to. The only problem was that Matt Wieters fell apart when it mattered most, and his mistakes cost the Nationals three runs in what ended up being a one run game.

The players need to be held more accountable, rather than thinking that the manager is the problem.

Bryce Harper and free agency

2018 marks the final year on superstar Bryce Harper’s contract, and oh boy will teams be coming out for him this time next year. No matter where he signs, expect for him to surpass Giancarlo Stanton for the largest contract in the sports world.

What has Nationals fans worried is that Harper has been rather aloof when it comes to his status in Washington. Harper asked Washington for a $400 million extension, which the team of course was not able to meet.

This is purely speculative, but it seems Harper made a rather high asking price just to see if the Nationals would meet it. It is hard to think that he expected Washington to pay up that kind of dough. It is very tempting for Harper to test free agency, so why not see if you can get that much?

Harper had to be ecstatic when he heard of Stanton’s record contract. That is because most teams would value Harper over Stanton at this point in time, despite the 59 home runs Stanton hit this year. The precedent of Stanton’s contract may just boost Harper’s value through the roof.

One ridiculous move that will never happen is Washington possibly trading Harper this offseason. Harper has never said out loud that he would like to stay in Washington, so his future there looks murky. With the high possibility of him chasing the money in 2018, why not see what you can get for him this offseason? One season of Harper’s services for a contender could be worth some very valuable prospects in the long run, and Washington should have an eye past 2018. This is especially the case since their current formula can’t seem to get them past the NLDS.

What is in store in 2018 for the Nationals?

Don’t expect a whole lot different in 2018. The NL East is going to be controlled by Washington once again. Brandon Kintzler, Matt Albers and Jayson Werth are some notable names leaving, but the core is still in tact. On top of that, Adam Eaton will be returning from his devastating injury he sustained early in the season.

Washington Nationals 2018

Eaton’s return to Washington will have a large impact. (Photo from MLB.com)

The Nationals ought to target an arm or two in order to bolster their bullpen. Other than that and maybe adding an arm like Jaime Garcia to the rotation, they shouldn’t be too active at the winter meetings barring any big news.

Derek Jeter and the Marlins will be taking a step back next season as the front office has expressed a desire to tear things down and build back up. Miami finished second place in the East despite being 20 games back of the Nationals. The Mets may be making moves this offseason in order to get back into their World Series form from a few years ago, but they are still far behind the Nationals.

The main questions is, who will face Washington in the NLDS? Also, will Dave Martinez make the difference that the front office hopes he can make? Either way, all of the 2018 season is already riding on whether or not they will make it past the NLDS.

The ultimate goal is the World Series obviously. However, they first need to win their first playoff series in franchise history.

 

Featured image from Sports Illustrated

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Miami Marlins team profile

After a long and arduous process, the Marlins were finally sold to an ownership group that highlights future Hall of Famer, Derek Jeter. The change in ownership is going to have a very large impact on what this team will look like in the coming years. Jeter and company are not messing around, as they want to really push to turn things around. If all goes to plan, they would love to have a similar story as the Houston Astros did over the past few years.

2017 Season

Miami Marlins team profile

Urena was the one bright spot on the Marlins pitching staff in 2017 (Photo from MLB.com)

The Marlins managed to finish second in the NL East, a division where everyone knew the winner on opening day. Even though Miami finished in second place, they still were 20 games behind the Nationals with a 77-85 record.

They did manage to find some success, as they did go on a 16-8 run in August which found them with a winning record and within eye shot of the Wild Card. Those dreams were quickly put to rest however, as they followed that with a 11-16 record in September.

Where the Marlins succeeded is obvious, their outfield was tops in baseball. Miami’s outfield has the best combined WAR out of any outfield combination in baseball. Between Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich, they had 16.2 wins above replacement.

Stanton is the name that pops out of this stellar outfield. His 59 home runs were the most since Barry Bonds beat the home run record in 2001 with 73 home runs. Sammy Sosa also had 64 that year. With all of the talk of PEDs and whatnot, some argue that Stanton’s 59 only falls short of Roger Maris’ record of 61 home runs in 1961. Stanton now finds himself as a candidate for MVP.

Where the Marlins fell short was their pitching staff. They had the third worst staff ERA in the National League, and only had one starter with a sub 4.00 ERA in Jose Urena.

With the tragic death of superstar Jose Fernandez, many of the Marlins’ plans have been shaken up. His infectious personality, along with his excellent game have completely turned the Marlins future around.

One thing is for sure though, the Marlins need to find some young pitching.

The need for pitching

Miami Marlins team profile

Yelich could get the Marlins a big return of pitching prospects (Photo from CBS Sports)

Edison Volquez had the only no-hitter in 2017, which was a big plus for Miami. Other than that though, the pitching staff was one of the very worst in the league.

The pitching staff needs to be addressed because it isn’t good now, and they don’t have anyone on the way. The sad thing is that the Marlins do not have anyone in the MLB Top 100 prospects. This is the offseason where Jeter will let people know he wants to bring in some young guys for the future.

The Marlins will not be able to get a whole lot of pitching prospects for Stanton. The main goal of this offseason is give his contract to someone else, while maybe getting one or two plus prospects in return. Where the real value lies is with their other two outfielders, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich.

Unlike Stanton, Yelich and Ozuna have team-friendly contracts. This makes them much more appealing as trade prospects, and will most likely be able to garner some more young pitching. Ozuna had a breakout year in 2017 and has been serviceable otherwise. Yelich has developed into the kind of guy that will hit around .300 and will drive in runs when he needs to, along with some occasional power.

The Marlins have hinted that they are only looking to trade Stanton and want to hold on to Ozuna and Yelich, but if they want any real return in the form of prospects, they will need to part with one of these guys as well.

The Stanton conundrum

Miami Marlins team profile

Miami has made it clear that they want to move Stanton this offseason (CBS Sports)

Derek Jeter has stated that he intends to cut payroll significantly this offseason. The first thing that comes to mind in this case is the largest player contract in the world, which belongs to Giancarlo Stanton. The contract was originally signed in 2014, and was 13 years for $325 million. Much of the money is back loaded, so he is still owed $295 million.

If the Marlins do want to move Stanton, they shouldn’t expect to get a heap of prospects in return without being willing to pay a portion of Stanton’s contract. The Marlins may still be able to get one good prospect in return for giving Stanton’s contract to another team.

The Cardinals are a prime candidate as they need an impact bat and have some money to spend, while they also have attractive pitching prospects in Alex Reyes, Jack Flaherty and Luke Weaver.

Stanton has also been tied to the Giants and Phillies. His one caveat to being traded (because he can veto any trade he doesn’t like), and that is he wants to play for a winner. Stanton has never played for a winning team, so there is no way he would want to endure a Astros-esque rebuild at this point. That is why a team like the Dodgers or the Cardinals make the most sense.

The Dodgers do have talented outfielders and more on the way in Alex Verdugo and Jeren Kendall. The Cardinals are also famous for not taking on large contracts with one player. That is what will make it difficult for Jeter move the 2017 home run king. They will still have to eat a good chunk of his contract in order to get this to work.

How it will play out

Although the Marlins are shopping Stanton heavily, it is going to be difficult for them to move him and his contract anywhere. There isn’t a perfect suitor out there that wants to pay all of the $295 million that is owed to Stanton, so Miami is really going to have to incentivize a team to take him. Unless the Marlins move at least one of their outfielders, they will be stuck in a state of mediocrity next season as well.

There is too much work to be done on the mound in order to have the Marlins compete for an NL East title with the Nationals. As mentioned before, Miami is going to look to do an Astros style rebuild in order to get back into the thick of it. It would be ideal to hold onto Christian Yelich, but the Marlins just don’t have that many other appealing players.

Once the winter meetings come around, Miami will realize that they will have to part with players they don’t want to part with. I see it happening if Jeter is really serious about acquiring some young talent for the future.

 

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Knizner

Five early predictions for the National League offseason

The 2017 World Series has come to a close, and the Houston Astros are champions for the first time in franchise history. That means it is time to look forward to next season as we will be without baseball until the spring. This ought to be an exciting offseason due to a star studded free agent class, especially in the outfield.

Not only are there a lot of good free agents, but this ought to be an interesting winter on the trade market. There are some big names floating around that could shake up the whole league. With that being said, here are five early predictions for the 2017 offseason.

The Los Angeles Dodgers sign Jake Arrieta

The Dodgers are coming off a tough World Series loss against the Astros. The front office knew that 2017 was a prime year to break their 30-year drought since the start. Now that it didn’t happen and a large part of their roster still in tact, they will look to push even harder next year.

National League offseason

The Dodgers may look elsewhere for help after Darvish’s collapse in the World Series. (Photo from Newsweek)

Yu Darvish is a free agent now (which may be a relief for the Dodgers after his World Series performance), and Los Angeles is looking to bolster their rotation. Jake Arrieta may be the best starting option on the market after his proven track record in the postseason and reliable arm in the regular season.

 

He won’t come cheap though. The Dodgers already have the highest payroll in the league, but Magic Johnson and company are surely not going to remain complacent after falling short this year. The Dodgers’ starting rotation and bullpen are what separated them from the rest of the league this season, but it may have been what costed them a championship.

A Kershaw-Arrieta duo would look to accomplish what a Kershaw-Darvish pair couldn’t. Darvish was successful in the NLDS and NLCS. However, he could not manage to put much together in the World Series. Arrieta has proven himself in those situations, so it would make sense for him to give the Dodgers that final push.

The St. Louis Cardinals get a reliable bat

The Cardinals had a glaring issue all season long, and that was their lack of an impact bat in the middle of their lineup. The problem is that St. Louis already has a crowded outfield full of players that they seem dedicated to, due to their high-value in their homegrown players. However, it is time for them to make a move for a big bat.

National League offseason

Christian Yelich would be tough for the Cardinals to get as Miami highly values him. (Photo from CBS Sports)

Derek Jeter and the Miami Marlins are looking to cut payroll big time under new ownership. The one name that sticks out immediately is Giancarlo Stanton. St. Louis is not known for taking on such large contracts, even though Stanton is exactly what the Cardinals need.

If the Cardinals do end up trading with the Marlins, it would most likely be for Christian Yelich. Yelich is much more affordable and is under team control until 2022, which is very appealing. He also would provide a solid 3.0-4.0 WAR every year out.

What the Cardinals most likely will accomplish though is getting a corner infielder. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are both hitting the free agent market, and both would fit nicely into the lineup. What is important to keep in mind though is the Cardinals have an eye on the 2018 free agent market as well, and Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson will be available then. Expect the Cardinals to especially push for Machado next year, or even look to trade for him this offseason.

The Diamondbacks will retain J.D. Martinez

National League offseason

J.D. Martinez was one of the hottest hitters in the league after being traded. (Photo from Detroit Free Press)

J.D. Martinez was traded to the Diamondbacks from the Tigers during the summer. He thrived in Arizona, hitting a monstrous 29 home runs and hitting .302. The Los Angeles Angels have already announced that Justin Upton, another Detroit Tigers outfielder traded at the deadline, will be signed through the 2022 season. Now some are wondering if Martinez will do the same and stay in Arizona, or seek greener pastures elsewhere.

Martinez announced on Wednesday that he is switching to contract negotiator extraordinaire Scott Boras. At first glance, this seems like it is a move to negotiate with other teams, but he can still be very helpful in discussions with Arizona’s front office.

In a conversation with azcentralsports.com, Martinez expressed his desire in staying with Arizona long term. Being next to names like Paul Goldschmidt and AJ Pollock makes him a good fit. Martinez may also feel it is the right place to stay after such a successful two months in the desert.

The Diamondbacks will have to give Martinez a large chunk of change in order for him to stay, but it may be what they have to do in order to compete with the reigning NL Champs in the West.

The Cubs will sign RHP Alex Cobb

With Jake Arrieta most likely leaving Chicago due to his high price tag, Alex Cobb could potentially come in and provide a solid third starter role behind Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks. Cobb has spent six years in the league and has had at least 20 starts in four of those years. Other than his 2016 campaign where he was sidelined most of the year for an elbow injury, he has been an extremely reliable pitcher for Tampa Bay.

Cobb is no Arrieta, but Cobb may be one of the better affordable pitchers on the market this offseason. Lance Lynn is a similar pitcher that could fit in Chicago. However, Cobb’s relationship with Joe Maddon and new Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey could have a big impact on decisions for both sides.

Out of all the potential offseason moves that could happen, this one makes the most sense.

The Los Angeles Dodgers will trade for Giancarlo Stanton

As mentioned earlier, Derek Jeter and the Marlins are trying to cut payroll as much as possible in order to fully engage in a rebuild. Stanton has come out and said that he does not want to go through that process again. He is ready to win now.

National League offseason

Stanton may be on the Dodgers’ radar, as trading for him would make sense for all parties involved. (Photo from CBS Sports)

The Dodgers, despite having the highest payroll, have some money they can spend. Stanton has the most expensive sports contract in the world, so this would be a whole lot to take on. Even with the high payroll, the Dodgers don’t break the bank on one player too often. They are an organization that likes to spread their payroll out between many good players. However, this player is worth it.

Stanton also has the right to veto any trade he doesn’t like. The perfect fit may be in Los Angeles though. He is a California boy who grew up in the Los Angeles area. He also wants to win, as he has not done that much in his MLB career with the Marlins. It would be unlikely if a deal were to be put in front of him that he could deny such a tempting offer.

The Dodgers have a couple of solid prospects in their system with RHP Walker Buehler and Alex Verdugo, who rank 10th and 23rd in the MLB’s best prospects rankings. Those two players, along with the Dodgers taking on the daunting contract, should be plenty to acquire the 2017 home run king. The question is if the Dodgers are willing to put that high of an investment into Stanton, who only put in his third full season of work this year.

There is a lot of upside with this player though. He turns 28 next week, which means he is at the beginning of the hitter’s prime (27-32). Acquiring Stanton, along with signing Jake Arrieta, would make the Dodgers an even bigger juggernaut to fear. One thing for sure though is L.A. is hungry for a World Series after watching the Astros win it on their home turf.

 

Featured image by Getty Images  

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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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Justin Bour

Justin Bour’s outlook for the 2018 MLB season

With the 2017 MLB season winding down, it is time to assess different player’s outlooks moving forward.

In this piece, Justin Bour’s 2017 campaign and 2018 outlook will be analyzed and discussed.

Background

Justin Bour

Bour’s professional baseball career began after being drafted in the 25th round of the 2009 MLB Amateur Draft by the Chicago Cubs. (Photo by The Trading Card Data Base)

Bour’s professional baseball career began after being drafted in the 25th round of the 2009 MLB Draft by the Chicago Cubs. The first baseman spent three seasons between low, single and high-A from 2009 until 2011, hitting 39 home runs and driving in 212 RBIs in 322 games. Bour continued to find success in two seasons at the double-A level, hitting 35 home runs and driving in 174 RBIs in 221 games.

After failing to be placed on the Cubs 40-man roster, he was subsequently drafted in the 2013 rule-5 draft by the Miami Marlins. Bour then spent one season in triple-A, batting .306 with 18 home runs and 72 RBIs in 103 games. His first major league action came with the Marlins in 2014, where he appeared in only 39 games, batting .284 with a home run and 11 RBIs. In his first full season in Miami, Bour batted .262 with 23 home runs and 73 RBIs in 129 games.

In 2016, the Marlins signed corner infielder Chris Johnson to be the right-handed side of a platoon with Bour, which lessened expectations for the then 28-year-old Bour. In the first half of the season, Bour batted .268 with 15 home runs and 46 RBIs through 68 games. Unfortunately, Bour suffered a high-ankle sprain on July 2, forcing him to miss 57 games.

After returning, Bour logged 79 plate appearances, failing to hit one home run. A healthy Bour’s presence in the lineup was clearly missed, as his platoon mate and replacements Chris Johnson, Xavier Scruggs and Don Kelly failed to hit half as many home runs as Bour did in 2016.

2017 Season

Justin Bour

Bour participated in the 2017 Home Run Derby, hitting 22 home runs in his final round against New York Yankee Aaron Judge, who mashed 23. (Photo by Getty Images)

In 2017, Bour assumed more of an everyday role, ceding the occasional at bat to righty Tyler Moore and switch hitter Tomas Telis. Bour’s season began modestly, hitting only four home runs while batting .222 in April. Once May came around, Bour began to explode, batting .344 while mashing 11 home runs and driving in 21 RBIs over the course of 28 games. He ended the first half of the year with a .289 batting average, 20 home runs and 59 RBIs, putting him on pace to hit 42 bombs and drive in 124 RBIs over the course of a complete 162-game season.

Bour participated in the 2017 Home Run Derby, hitting 22 home runs in his final round against New York Yankee Aaron Judge, who mashed 23. The electric performance began to propel Bour’s popularity.

Unfortunately, he strained his right oblique on July 24, resulting in him missing all of August and early September. He has been magnificent in his 13 games since returning, batting .362 with four home runs and 15 RBIs.

2018 Outlook

Justin Bour

The 29-year-old will head into 2018 as an integral piece of a dangerous Marlins lineup. (Photo by WSBuzz.com)

First base is one of the deepest positions in fantasy baseball with 39 first base eligible players (on ESPN.com) with at least 20 home runs. Also, there are 10 first base eligible players ranked within the top-50 batters in standard ESPN fantasy leagues, making lower profile players like Bour fall by the way side in terms of average draft position and percentage owned.

The 29-year-old will head into 2018 as an integral piece of a dangerous Marlins lineup, spearheaded by Giancarlo Stanton, Marcel Ozuna, Christian Yelich and Dee Gordon. It is clear that Bour can be a serious threat to hit 40 home runs and drive in over 100 RBIs next season. I predict his 2018 campaign to mirror that of Justin Smoak, who has nearly identical isolated power, walk and strikeout rates as Bour.

It is safe to say Bour will be overlooked in 2018 due to so many bigger names, like Paul Goldschmidt, Joey Votto, Freddie Freeman, Anthony Rizzo, Eric Hosmer, Jose Abreu and Cody Bellinger. However, if healthy, there is no reason Bour cannot join this tier of elite first basemen.

 

 

 

Featured Image by ESPN.com

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Bold predictions 2017 MLB season

Results of my ten bold predictions for the 2017 MLB season

On April 3, 2017, I published an article recording my ten bold predictions for the 2017 MLB season. With fantasy baseball playoffs rapidly approaching, it is a good time to look back and assess my projections from early April.

 

Jarrett Parker becomes the everyday left fielder for the San Francisco Giants, and finishes as a top-50 outfielder.

Bold predictions 2017 MLB season

Parker suffered a broken collarbone in mid-April and didn’t return to the big leagues until August 3rd. (Patrick Tehan/Bay Area News Group)

Well, tough prediction to start to the list. Parker suffered a broken collarbone in mid-April and didn’t return to the big leagues until August 3rd.

Currently the Giants have Brandon Belt, Michael Morse and Austin Slater on the disabled list, allowing Parker to fit in as their everyday left fielder. The 28-year-old has split time in the lineup between batting third and seventh. If he can continue to get at-bats in the three-hole, he will show why I predicted him to be a top-50 outfielder this season.

 

Lance Lynn will win 16 games and finish the season as a top 50 starting pitcher.

Lynn seems to be surpassing my high expectations, as he is currently ranked 15th among starting pitchers in ESPN standard formats. He is currently 10-6 with a 3.05 ERA.

The 30-year-old has eight quality starts in his last eight appearances, making him one of the most consistent and reliable pitchers of the second half.

The former first-round pick in 2008 has career lows in batting average against, or BAA, with .211, batting average on balls in play, or BABIP, with .232 and strikeouts per nine, or K/9, with 7.47.

All of these trends suggest that his luck may be running out, although he has yet to let up all season.

 

Newly acquired Seattle Mariner, Mitch Haniger, will finish the year as a top 25 outfielder.

Although he is far from being a top-25 outfielder, Haniger still has been impressive in 2017. In his first 21 games, Haniger batted .342 with four home runs, 20 runs scored and 16 RBIs. The 26-year-old strained his oblique muscle and missed all of May.

After returning, Haniger was clearly still affected by the oblique, as the former first round pick in 2012 batted a mere .176 in July. Haniger found himself on the disabled list once again in late July after being hit in the face by a 95-MPH Jacob deGrom fastball. Haniger has since returned to the lineup, where on August 19th he went two for four with a home run and four RBIs against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Haniger’s early success was enhanced by the fact that he was batting primarily second in the Mariners order. So, now batting mainly sixth or seventh, Haniger’s fantasy ceiling has dropped significantly. We cannot forget about how successful he was in April, as he will be an integral part to the Mariners success in the future, although his lack of a track record is a bit concerning.

 

Kendall Graveman will become the unquestioned ace of the Oakland Athletics staff, after finishing the season with a sub-4 ERA and over 140 strikeouts.

Bold predictions 2017 MLB season

Kendall Graveman began the season on an incredible tear, posting a 2.25 ERA and 16 strikeouts in his first 24 innings pitched. (Photo by Zimbio.com)

Graveman has been another player plagued by injuries in 2017. He began the season on an incredible tear, posting a 2.25 ERA and 16 strikeouts in his first 24 innings pitched.

In the first half combined, he finished with a respectable 3.83 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 47 innings, and besides at-the-time Jesse Hahn, he was the Athletics most consistent and reliable arm. Unfortunately, Graveman was inflicted with a shoulder injury in mid-May which kept him out until early-August, making the 26-year-old completely irrelevant in the fantasy universe.

Next year promises to be bright for Graveman, who was formerly traded for Josh Donaldson, although his health problems are a major issue.

 

David Phelps will finish as a top 20 reliever in standard formats, and a top 10 in formats that include holds.

Phelps began the year as a part of the Miami Marlins, although he was subsequently traded to the Seattle Mariners in mid-July for three minor league prospects.

In the first half of the year, Phelps posted a fair 3.68 ERA with 48 strikeouts in 44 innings. So far in the second half, the 30-year-old has registered a 1.80 ERA with 14 strikeouts in 10 innings.

Since being moved to Seattle, Phelps has only let two earned runs in his seven appearances, both coming in the same game against the New York Mets.

Phelps is currently on the disabled list with right elbow inflammation, although he is expected to return sometime in late August according to MLB.com. When he returns, he will likely be used primarily in the 8th inning behind closer Edwin Diaz or possibly in the 7th behind set-up man Nick Vincent.

Either way, it is valid to roster him in leagues that count holds, especially due to his starting and relief pitcher eligibilities.

 

Yangervis Solarte hits 20 home runs for the first time in his professional career, and finishes as a top 100 hitter.  

Solarte missed nearly all of July as he was plagued by an oblique injury. He has batted primarily in the clean-up spot in the San Diego Padres order, giving him extra RBI and run scoring opportunities.

The 30-year-old has batted .268 and .269 respectively in each half of the year so far, so you can essentially pencil him in for a .270 average, especially as his BABIP is a career low .270.

Also, Solarte has seen a decline in his strikeout rate, as it has dropped from 14.2 percent in 2016 to 11.1 percent in 2017, which shows his progression from years past.

Over the course of a 162-game season, Solarte would be on pace for 23 home runs and 84 RBIs, which would comfortably make him a top-100 player. He has recently gained shortstop eligibility on top of his second and third base eligibilities, making him a very versatile fantasy asset.

 

Gerrit Cole will be a top-5 Cy Young candidate behind a sub-three ERA and 200 strike outs.

Bold predictions 2017 MLB season

Since the All-Star break, Gerrit Cole has recorded a 3.13 ERA with 47 strikeouts in 46 innings. (Photo by Zimbio.com)

Cole hasn’t been the same since his 2015 campaign where he finished fourth in the National League Cy Young vote.

His first half was a mess, as he recorded a 4.43 ERA and 7.86 K/9 over 107.2 innings. Although since the All-Star break, Cole has recorded a 3.13 ERA with 47 strikeouts in 46 innings.

The former first overall pick in 2011 has had serious issues giving up home runs, as his home run to fly ball rate is an astronomical 16.8 percent.

His second half so far has given fantasy owners a new-found hope that Cole can return to his 2015 form, although clearly 2017 was not the year for his resurgence.

 

Christian Yelich will put together a 25 home run/25 stolen base campaign for the first time in his career.

Myself and many others anticipated Miami Marlins star to take the next step in 2017, although we were wrong.

In 2016, the former first round pick in 2010 batted .298 with 21 home runs and 98 RBIs. There was a general assumption that Yelich would continue to progress, although he is currently on a 162-game pace to bat only .277 with 18 home runs and 13 stolen bases.

The 25-year-old has a career BABIP of .356, although this season it sits at only .328, which suggests he is getting a bit unlucky.

Yelich continues to bat third for the mighty Marlins, which bodes well for his fantasy value moving forward. He still has a very promising future, although 2017 was clearly not his MVP caliber breakout season.

 

Clayton Kershaw has the best year of his career, winning the NL Cy Young and MVP behind a sub-2 ERA and 300 plus strike outs.

This one is simple, a back injury slowed down Kershaw from continuing his domination as greatest pitcher of his generation.

Before the injury, Kershaw had thrown 141.1 innings while recording a 15-2 record with a 2.04 ERA and 168 strikeouts. The 29-year-old was on pace for 260 plus strikeouts over 220 innings pitched, which would have only been the second time in which he reached this feat.

When healthy, he remains the most reliable and elite pitcher in fantasy baseball.

 

Andrew Benintendi will not only win the Rookie of the Year, but will also be a top 25 finalist in the MVP race.

If Aaron Judge didn’t exist, Benintendi would be the favorite to win American League Rookie of the Year. He is currently batting .276 with 17 home runs, 68 RBIs, 63 runs scored and 14 stolen bases over 113 games.

The seventh overall pick in 2015 has met his expectations head on, as he is on a 162-game pace to hit 24 home runs and 97 RBIs. He has decreased his strikeout rate from 21.2 percent to 16.6 percent, while also raising his walk rate a full two percent.

Benintendi is a lock to finish top three in AL ROY, while also having a strong possibility of finishing within the top-25 in AL MVP voting.

 

Featured image by MLB.com

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5 Players to Watch in the MLB Futures Game

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

Yoan Moncada

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

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

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

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

Brendan Rodgers

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

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

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

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

Vladimir Guerrero Jr

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

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

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

Eloy Jimenez

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

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

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

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

 

Jack Flaherty

Futures Game

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

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

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

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

 

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MLB trade deadline predictions: Bour, Cueto, others could be shipped

With the trade deadline only one month away, it is time to ponder some of the rumblings going on in baseball. It is difficult to figure out some of the conversations between general managers of the league. However, it is fun to consider where some big names might be moved to. Here are a few intriguing trade possibilities we could see come July 31st.

The Houston Astros will trade for Sonny Gray

MLB trade deadline predictions

(Photo Courtesy of ESPN)

Sonny Gray hasn’t been great this year. So far he has racked up an ERA of 4.45 but does have 65 strikeouts. This might be an opportunity to get Gray at a reasonable price.

The Athletics are currently 17.5 games back of the Astros so this is a chance to get a return from Houston. The Astros still have some good prospects in their farm that the Athletics might have some interest in. Oakland is not looking great for the near future so it is important for them to move some pieces and plan for the future.

Gray is under team control through 2019 so he is more than just a rental. He also has the potential to be a top of the rotation starter despite his recent struggles. There are only a couple of blemishes on his record so far this season, so if you take those out the equation he becomes much more attractive.  

The Astros are very close to becoming a juggernaut in the American League. Adding Sonny Gray could clear a path for them come October as well as the future of the AL West.

The Giants will move Johnny Cueto to the Friendly Confines

MLB trade deadline predictions

(Photo Courtesy of Sports Illustrated)

One of the glaring issues with this possibility is swallowing Cueto’s contract. He is currently in the second year of a six-year, $130 million contract. He also is not having his best year much like some of the pitchers that are already in Chicago.

Cueto’s contract appeared to be a good investment last year as he finished at 18-5 with a 2.79 ERA, so I wouldn’t rule him out from being the ace he has been in the past. The Cubs still have some valuable prospects that they would have to sell in order to land Cueto. This year is supposed to be the year the Cubs flourish, so it’s hard to imagine them staying idle at the deadline.

Chicago doesn’t want to give away their future for Cueto. However, Cueto could make the Chicago rotation mighty threatening as well as give them their push for the division. The Cubs have been in a bit of turmoil of late and may still be suffering from the World Series hangover. They need to make some big moves in order to boost morale and take advantage of this talented roster they have been working so long for.  

The Dodgers make a deal for J.D. Martinez

Despite the fact that the Dodgers have been the most dominant team in the majors, they still only find themselves 1.5 games ahead of the Diamondbacks. The NL West is easily the best division in baseball this year, so despite their success, the Dodgers will have to make some more moves to improve their ball club.

J.D. Martinez would only be a rental if he does get moved. However, Los Angeles might be an intriguing spot for him to end up signing. It is doubtful that if Martinez stays put that he will resign with the Tigers. Detroit already has several large contracts, so it is hard to see them breaking bank for Martinez.

It might seem a bit unnecessary for the Dodgers to go after a big bat. Los Angeles needs to do everything they can to win the division though. If the Diamondbacks end up winning the division, then the Dodgers would have to play in that unpredictable wild card game. Kershaw is still one of the best pitchers in the majors but he has not been spectacular in the postseason in his career, so they wouldn’t just be able to rely on their ace due to his 4.55 postseason ERA.

The Dodgers know that this is their year to end their championship drought, so making a move for a big name like Martinez might just win them their first title since 1988.

The Marlins trade Justin Bour to the New York Yankees

The New York Yankees looked promising out of the gate this year. However, they have recently come into a rough patch as they have only won four games since June 13. On top of that, they recently put two of their best hitters on the DL in Matt Holliday and Starlin Castro.

MLB trade deadline predictions

(Photo Courtesy of The Miami Herald)

According to USA Today Sports, the Marlins are currently shopping some of their infielders. The Yankees have inquired about first baseman Justin Bour, who is having a career year. This may be the best value the Marlins could get for Bour, so the Yankees and Marlins may be able to make a match here.

Bour also has an attractive contract of only $552,500 for this year. His bat would provide some more pop in the Yankees lineup and would be a great compliment to Aaron Judge. As mentioned earlier, this also might help cope with some of their injuries.

 

 

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