Fantasy Baseball

Fantasy Baseball 2017: Weekly Update (May 21st – May 27th)

With two months of the season in the books, it is time to continue our weekly fantasy baseball update. We will continue to notify fantasy owners about eight players who are either hot, or cold, and whether they will continue to trend in that direction. Previous weekly fantasy baseball updates can be found at thegamehaus.com.

Who’s Hot

Anthony Rendon, Third Baseman, Washington Nationals

Last seven: .476 BA, 4 HR, 9 RBI, 1 SB

Rendon flew under the radar to begin the season since third base is arguably the deepest position in fantasy baseball. So far this season, he has shown flashes of greatness with two multi-homer games, including a record-setting three-homer performance in late April.

The 26-year-old is a former first-round pick by the Nationals, and officially broke out in 2014. In his sophomore season, he batted .287 with 21 home runs, 111 runs, 83 RBIs and 17 stolen bases. Rendon clearly has the ability to be a high-end fantasy producer.

However, after battling injuries in 2015, his stock dropped significantly. He rebounded with a respectable 2016 campaign and so far has exceeded expectations this year.

He is currently batting .286 with nine home runs, 24 runs, 32 RBIs and three stolen bases. Also, Rendon’s ISO has risen significantly, which would help propel high into the next tier of elite third basemen. He is currently on pace for over 30 home runs and 100 RBI.

 

Dallas Keuchel, Starting Pitcher, Houston Astros

Fantasy Baseball

Dallas Keuchel is a clear Cy Young candidate in 2017. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images).

Last three: 3-0 W-L, 1.59 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 17 IP, 21/3 K/BB

Keuchel’s success in 2017 has been immaculate. He has shown that when healthy, he is a true Cy Young caliber pitcher. He recently missed one start due to a pinched nerve in his neck, although it clearly hasn’t slowed him down whatsoever. He is currently 8-0 with a 1.81 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and 8.01 K/9.

The 29-year-old has an incredible xFIP of 2.75, which shows that he is finding success without his defense or other factors of randomness. His BABIP of .223 is bound to rise, especially because he is a ground-ball pitcher. However, this shouldn’t affect him too severely. At this pace, Keuchel looks to be pitching his way to a second career Cy Young award.

 

Devon Travis, Second Baseman, Toronto Blue Jays

Last seven: .419, 3 HR, 9 RBI, 0 SB

Travis underwent knee surgery this offseason, which clearly contributed to his extremely slow start this season. He is currently batting .252, although over the last 30 days he is batting .344.

The 26-year-old was on many fantasy owners’ radars entering this season, as he had batted .300 with 11 home runs, 54 runs and 50 RBIs in only 432 plate appearances last year. His career BABIP is an outstanding .340, but his current BABIP is only .286, suggesting some progression is in store. Travis will certainly be a top 20 second baseman, and possibly top 15 at the end of the year.

 

Robbie Ray, Starting Pitcher, Arizona Diamondbacks

Fantasy Baseball

Robbie Ray is an official strikeout machine. (Photo by The Edwardsville Intelligencer)

Last three: 2-0 W-L, 1.93 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 18 2/3 IP, 17/6 K/BB

Ray exploded onto the scene last year after striking out 218 batters in 174.1 innings. So far this year he is 4-3 with a 3.45 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 11.10 K/9. His current BABIP of .271 is sure to rise. However,  because he is generally a strikeout pitcher, it shouldn’t hurt his WHIP too much.

The 25-year-old has and will continue to be a great source of strikeouts for the foreseeable future, although he has been far from elite. His control issues will hold him back from being considered a top 20 fantasy starter this season for sure.

Who’s Cold

Eric Thames, First Baseman/Outfielder, Milwaukee Brewers

Last seven: .087 BA, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 1 SB

Former KBO star Eric Thames has been a major story this season. He is coming off of three consecutive 37-plus home run and 120 RBI campaigns, and has shown flashes of similar greatness at the MLB level.

The 30-year-old currently has 13 home runs, 26 RBIs and 39 runs scored while batting .278. Over the last 15 days, Thames is batting just .103, with zero home runs, one RBI and six runs scored. Ups and downs must be expected as pitchers are bound to adjust to his approach.

Thames’ plate discipline and isolated power make him a great source for home runs, RBIs and runs, but his 23 percent strikeout rate will prevent him from entering the elite first baseman conversation along with Joey Votto, Freddie Freeman and Paul Goldschmidt.

 

Julio Urias, Starting Pitcher, Los Angeles Dodgers

Fantasy Baseball

Julio Urias will be apart of the Dodgers rotation for the remainder of the season. (Photo by NBC Sports)

Last three: 0-2 W-L, 9.24 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, 12 2/3 IP, 6/6 K/BB

Urias, formerly the Dodgers top pitching prospect, has now made 20 starts in his major-league career. This year he is 0-2 with a 5.40 ERA, 1.59 WHIP and 4.24 K/9. So far, he has struggled to locate the ball, strike batters out and make it deep into a ball game.

The Dodgers have said they are committed to the 20-year-old staying in the majors, although his current struggles are quite alarming. His xFIP is an atrocious 5.68 and his BABIP is under .300. I would not feel comfortable starting Urias in any formats for the time being.

 

 

Manuel Margot, Outfielder, San Diego Padres

Last seven: .160 BA, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 SB

Margot had arguably been the favorite to win National League Rookie of the Year this season before entering his current slump. His stat line this year consists of a .259 batting average, four home runs, 16 runs scored, 13 RBIs and five steals.

Rookie woes are typical and should be expected, so do not give up on the 22-year-old just yet. He was recently placed on the 10-day disabled list due to a strained soleus muscl, and is without a time table for return. However, his skill level makes him too talented to drop in the majority of formats. Margot will have solid fantasy value once he returns, and should not be abandoned.

 

Amir Garrett, Starting Pitcher, Cincinnati Reds

Fantasy Baseball

Amir Garrett has succumb to some serious struggles at the major-league level. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images).

Last three: 1-1 W-L, 9.00 ERA, 1.73 WHIP, 15 IP, 9/9 K/BB

Garrett began the season with three electric performances. Since then, he has struggled with control and health issues.

He was recently placed on the 10-day disabled list with right hip inflammation. He is expected to make his next start on June 4 against the Atlanta Braves, although I would recommend benching him since he has allowed 13 earned runs in his last nine innings pitched.

The 25-year-old clearly has talent, but his current .232 BABIP suggests that he getting fairly lucky even with his current struggles. His 4.75 xFip would also be considered extremely poor, which shows that bad luck and defense are not the reasons for his poor performances. Garrett was a prime sell high candidate, although now on the DL, you will have to simply ride out the storm and hope for the best.

 

Featured Image by Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

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Fantasy Baseball 2017: Injury Update (May 17, 2017)

As we dive deeper into the 2017 fantasy baseball season, it is time to once again identify and analyze some key injuries around the league. This injury update intends to provide insight to a player’s current health status and their outlook moving forward. The following players have been listed on the disabled list as of May 17, 2017.

 

Josh Donaldson, Third Baseman, Toronto Blue Jays

Injury Update

Josh Donaldson plans to return within the week. (Photo by of Patrick Semansky of the Associated Press)

 

Injury: Right calf soreness

Status: 10-day DL

Expected return: Late May

 

Donaldson was placed on the 10-day disabled list after reaggravating his calf in which he originally injured during spring training. He has dealt with reoccurring lower half injuries his entire career, although he has still managed to play at least 155 games in four straight seasons.

The 31-year-old has been a perennial MVP candidate since 2013, and is an invaluable fantasy asset. Before the reaggravation, Donaldson was batting .310 with two home runs, five runs and four RBIs in only nine games. His toughness and mental fortitude have allowed him to succeed even when playing injured, which increases his fantasy value even more so.

 

Robinson Cano, Second Baseman, Seattle Mariners

Injury Update

Robinson Cano has unexpectedly been placed on the 10-day DL with a right quadriceps strain (Photo by MLB.com)

 

Injury: Right quadriceps strain

Status: 10-day DL

Expected return: May 23

 

Cano was placed on the 10-day disabled list after missing five consecutive games due to his strained right quadriceps. The Mariners expect Cano to return after the minimum 10-day period, as he was originally expected to forgo a stint on the disabled list entirely.

The 34-year-old’s BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of .286 suggests that his batting average will rise once he returns to the field. Also, he set a career high in home runs last season, showing that he is no-where near the end of his Hall-of-Fame career.

 

Yoenis Cespedes, Outfielder, New York Mets

Injury Update

Yoenis Cespedes eyes a return for May 23 after battling reoccurring lower body injuries. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann of Getty Images)

 

Injury: Left hamstring strain

Status: 10-day DL

Expected return: May 23

 

Cespedes has been sidelined since late April by a left hamstring injury that has been lingering since spring training. He has begun his running program and expects to be ready to return by May 23.

The 31-year-old had been on fire to start 2017, totaling six home runs, 12 runs and 10 RBIs in only 18 games. Cespedes is an elite-caliber fantasy outfielder when healthy and will resume his production in about a week.

 

Ryan Braun, Outfielder, Milwaukee Brewers

Injury Update

Ryan Braun will look to continue his strong start after he returns from his calf injury in late May. (Photo by Jeff Curry of the US Presswire).

 

Injury: Left calf strain

Status: 10-day DL

Expected return: May 23 – May 30

 

The Brewers lost a major piece of their puzzle after placing former MVP Ryan Braun on the 10-day disabled list with a calf injury. The injury has been called a grade one strain, which is the lowest grade on the spectrum. The Brewers expect Braun to be back after the minimum 10-day period, although Braun owners must be cautious of a minor forearm injury that may cause another setback.

The 33-year-old has been one of the most productive players in the last decade. An average 162-game season for Braun includes a .304 batting average, 34 home runs, 112 RBIs and 105 runs. He will remain a top-tier fantasy outfielder until the day he retires.

 

A.J. Pollock, Outfielder, Arizona Diamondbacks

Injury Update

A.J. Pollock has reinjured his groin, which held him out of almost the entire 2016 season. (Photo by MLB.com)

 

Injury: Right groin strain

Status: 10-day DL

Expected Return: Early – Mid-June

 

Pollock, who missed almost the entire 2016 season due to a left groin sprain, has been placed on the 10-day disabled list with a right groin strain. The strain was given a grade one and does not seem too serious.

However, for someone who utilizes their speed as much as Pollock, this could be very bad news. There is no exact time table for his return, but he expects to be back sometime in June.

The 29-year-old has only played one full season in the big leagues, but he has already made a name for himself as an elite fantasy commodity. In 2015, he batted .315 with 20 home runs, 111 runs, 76 RBIs and 39 steals. This may be the only time that Pollock is attainable through trade, as his fantasy potential is through the roof.

 

(Featured Image by Calltothepen.com)

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Eric Thames

Evaluating Top Performers in MLB

There are players in the majors that far exceed expectations every year. Whether it’s a young rookie blowing away the competition or a veteran player who has finally found “it,” these are the players that draw the most attention.

Let’s look at four of the most surprising performers this season and see if their success can be explained. The numbers never lie, so let’s take an in-depth look at some of the more advanced metrics on these four players and see what they tell us.

1B Yonder Alonso – Oakland Athletics

Surprise MLB Performers

Yonder Alonso has finally found “it” in Oakland (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

Yonder Alonso has been a revelation for the A’s this year after a lackluster season last year. He’s put up a .303/.389/.687 slash line in 32 games. He also has 11 home runs and 27 RBIs.

The home runs are more than he has slugged in any of his previous seven seasons. How has Alonso been so productive this season?

Numerous metrics vary widely from the norm for Alonso, and they may just be the reason for his resurgence. Alonso has a fly ball rate of 46.7 percent this season. That is much higher than his 27.5 percent last year.

What does this really mean? It means Alonso is putting the ball in the air almost 50 percent of the time he makes contact. That allows him to utilize his power and drive the ball for more doubles and homers.

He has also lowered his ground ball rate from 44.6 percent last year to 26.7 percent this year, causing him to have more opportunities to turn those hit balls into base knocks.

His improved fly ball rate has caused his home run numbers to increase, and his ability to hit the ball up the middle at a 40 percent clip has helped anchor his average. He is also making hard contact on 41.3 percent of the balls he puts into play, far outperforming his career 31.0 percent.

Alonso is having a career season, and it’s easy to see why. His 41.3 percent hard-contact rate combined with his 46.7 fly ball rate have resulted in Alonso being one of the most productive first basemen in baseball this season. If he keeps it up, don’t expect him to remain in green and gold for long.

SP Jason Vargas – Kansas City Royals

Jason Vargas has had an up and down career, but he has transformed himself into a new player in Kansas City. In his four years in a Royals uniform, he has a 3.35 ERA, a solid mark for any starter.

However, he has taken his play to a whole new level this season. He has a 1.19 ERA in six starts and is striking out 8.4 batters per nine innings. How has Vargas gone from solid to spectacular?

One way he has improved is his ability to leave runners on base. His 87.4 left-on-base percentage is much higher than his career 73.3 percent. By leaving runners on base, he has drastically lowered his ERA.

Vargas isn’t relying on smoke and mirrors to produce his minuscule ERA. Opposing hitters have a .282 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). While that is lower than the average .300 BABIP experienced by pitchers, he is still relatively close to the norm. Vargas isn’t relying on an unsustainable BABIP to produce, meaning his performance is strong and should carry on throughout the season.

Another indicator of his sustainable success is his fielding-independent pitching (FIP). FIP measures a pitcher’s ERA independent of the fielders behind him, leading to a more accurate measure of the pitchers performance. With a 2.15 FIP this season, Vargas is performing at an elite level.

Don’t expect his 1.19 ERA to last throughout the season, but he will keep putting up spectacular numbers throughout the season.

1B Ryan Zimmerman – Washington Nationals

Ryan Zimmerman has found the fountain of youth in 2017 (Photo by Cliff Owen/AP).

When you’re hitting like Ryan Zimmerman, it seems like luck is on your side. Zimmerman is having a renaissance year in Washington and is currently tied or leading in all three Triple-Crown categories.

His .393 batting average and 34 RBIs lead all of baseball. He is also tied with Aaron Judge and Eric Thames for the lead in home runs with 13. How has a player that hit .218 last season vaulted himself into contention for the Triple Crown?

The metrics are mixed on Ryan Zimmerman’s performance this season. He has an unsustainable .422 BABIP, which has helped loft his batting average to around .400. His BABIP will surely drop as the season continues, and with it his batting average.

Even so, he is getting hard contact on 45.8 percent of the balls he puts into play. He also has a medium-contact rate of 43.8 percent. His hard-contact percentage will surely drop, but it should increase his medium-contact percentage.

Zimmerman’s home-run-per-fly-ball (HR/FB) percentage is also astronomical, hovering around 36.1 percent so far. It will surely regress, but no one is taking away his league leading 13 home runs.

Even with regression imminent, Zimmerman is still performing exceptionally well this season. He has been a key cog in the Nationals lineup, and he shouldn’t experience too much of a drop off in performance.

1B Eric Thames – Milwaukee Brewers

Eric Thames is close to becoming in the U.S. what he was in Korea: a spectacle of epic proportions. His performance this season has been among the best in all of baseball.

His .331 batting average, 13 homers and 25 RBIs are close to the rate of success he experienced in Korea. Surely major league pitching will figure him out soon, right?

If they do, it won’t be any time soon. Thames is tearing the cover off the ball with a 47.1 percent hard-contact rate. His ability to produce solid hits off of the bat has allowed him to increase his batting average as well as his home run total.

However, he may be due for regression in the slugging department. His 36.1 percent HR/FB rate is astoundingly high, and will surely regress as the season moves forward.

His .351 BABIP is also pretty high, and has helped carry his batting average. Even with a regression in BABIP, HR/FB rate and a lower hard-contact percentage, Thames will still be a productive player for the Brewers. Look for Thames to be a key piece in the rebuilding Brewers’ lineup.

 

Featured Image by Sporting News

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Reviewing the National League so Far

The season is well underway and teams are starting to show who they really are. Fast starts and slow starts are beginning to even out as we begin to see separation in the standings.

If you’ve missed any of the action, don’t worry. We will go division-by-division and hit all of the high points so far in the National League.

NL East

National League Review

We haven’t seen much of this from Ryan Zimmerman this season (Alex Brandon/AP Photo).

The NL East is beginning to take form, with the Nationals (13-5) having a 3 game lead over the Marlins (10-8) for the division lead.

Leading the way for the Nationals is none other than Bryce Harper. Harper is hitting .393 with seven homers and 20 RBIs in 61 at bats this season. He seems to be showing no signs of what ailed him last season and is producing at a higher level than he did in his MVP season.

He’s not alone in driving the Nationals to the top of the division. Longtime face of the franchise Ryan Zimmerman is having a renaissance year in Washington. He has blasted five homers to go along with 14 RBIs and a .373 batting average. Zimmerman is only 32, so this could be a return to form for him.

Don’t count out the second place Marlins. They’ve relied on production from an unlikely source with catcher J.T. Realmuto leading the team in batting average (.344). Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich have also gotten off to good starts, with both posting over 10 RBIs already on the year. Even so, another NL East rival is not far behind.

Cesar Hernandez has been a revelation for Philly (9-9) so far. His .338 batting average has been a pleasant surprise for Philadelphia, as well as his four homers and three steals. He could be an interesting trade chip for the Phillies if he keeps it up.

Rounding out the division standings are the Mets (8-11) and Atlanta (6-12). The Mets are off to a rough start this season, but still two games back of Miami for the second spot in the division.

Their offense has failed to deliver this season with a team batting average of .211. The pitching staff has carried the Mets, with three starters having an ERA under 3.00. If the Mets can continue to get strong outings from Matt Harvey (2.84 ERA) and have their offense catch fire, they should overtake Miami with ease.

The Braves’ management and fans alike are hoping Dansby Swanson’s slow start (.139 batting average) is just a blip on the radar. He has struggled this season, and has been a hole in Atlanta’s lineup.

NL Central

National League Review

Amir Garrett has been a revelation for Cincinnati this season (Joe Robbins/Getty Images).

After a surprising start from Cincinnati, the Red (10-9) have been unseated atop the division by the World Series champion Chicago Cubs (10-8). The division is still a five-team race, with St. Louis (9-10) third in the division, but only 1.5 games back of first place. This division has started out a tight one, but only time will tell if it remains so.

The Cubs haven’t been world beaters recently, going 5-5 in their last 10 games. It was still good enough to earn them the top spot in the division.

Jason Heyward is finally showing signs of the player Chicago thought they were getting. He’s batting .297 with two homers and 12 RBIs. With such a stacked lineup, if Heyward can keep his production even close to what he’s done this season, Chicago could reach another offensive level.

Cincinnati has been a pleasant surprise this season. After being predicted to sink to the bottom of the division, the Reds have battled all season long.

The pitching staff has been the biggest boon for the club, lead by the young lefty Amir Garrett. He’s started three games for the Reds and posted a 1.83 ERA while striking out 21 batters over 19.2 innings pitched. Veteran Scott Feldman has also thrown well, pitching to a 2.38 ERA. Even in the midst of a rebuild, the Reds have remained competitive.

St. Louis has experienced a power outage of late, but is still third in the division at 9-10. Their 6-4 record in the past 10 games has lifted them out of the cellar of the division.

Milwaukee has also opened some eyes this season. Sitting at 9-11 on the year, the Brewers have blown away preseason predictions. That is due in large part to the hot start put up by Eric Thames. Thames leads the majors with eight home runs and also has a .359 batting average. Needless to say, the Korean import has paid off.

That leaves the Pirates (8-10) as the last team in the division. After losing Starling Marte to an 80-game PED suspension earlier in the week, the outlook is bleak for the Buccos.

NL West

National League Review

The electric rookie has provided a strong presence for the Rockies (Ron Chenoy/USA Today Sports).

The NL West has truly been wild this season. Colorado (13-6) has gotten off to a hot start this season and sits atop the division, followed by Arizona (12-8) who are 1.5 games back. The Dodgers (9-10) are four games back of the division lead, followed by San Diego (8-12) and San Francisco (6-13) at the bottom of the division.

Colorado has relied on an unexpected source of offense this season. Mark Reynolds has performed exceptionally well in Ian Desmond’s absence, hitting five homers and driving in 16 RBIs.

However, Antonio Senzatela has stolen the show in Colorado. The 22-year-old has won all three of his starts with a 2.08 ERA. Colorado has surprised everyone this season with a strong starting rotation and an exceptional offense.

Arizona has also blown away expectations this season. The offense has been the driving force behind their surge, with seven starters hitting over .250. The pitching staff has also been good for the Diamondbacks, with Zack Greinke posting a 3.28 ERA so far this season. The Diamondbacks have the opportunity to be in the thick of it all season long with a solid offense and pitching staff.

The same could be said of the Dodgers, but their slow start has them looking up at the Rockies and Diamondbacks in the division. The pitching staff has let them down, with Kenta Maeda posting a 8.05 ERA this season. The Dodgers will need to have more support for Clayton Kershaw in the rotation, or it could be a long season for the Dodgers.

San Diego is fourth in the division with a 8-12 record, besting their preseason predictions. Wil Myers has led the way so far with a .354 average and four homers to go along with 11 RBIs. Clayton Richard has also been a surprise contributor for the Padres. His 3.04 ERA is good for first in the starting rotation, and has been the ace of the starting staff.

San Francisco recently lost their staff ace to an off-the-field injury. Madison Bumgarner will be out an unknown amount of time after a dirt bike accident. That only worsens the Giants chances, as their 6-13 record already has them behind.

 

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Must Add Players in Fantasy Baseball 2017

Fantasy Baseball 2017: Must Add Players

If you’ve ever played fantasy baseball, you know that your league championship isn’t won on draft day. One key to success is staying active on the waiver wire. As draft day has come and gone, the easiest way to acquire talent is by adding free agents. Below are five players that are under 25 percent owned on ESPN.com, but should be rostered in all formats.

 

Travis Shaw, First Base/Third Base, Milwaukee Brewers, (24 Percent)

Must Add Players in Fantasy Baseball 2017

Travis Shaw will be an everyday player for the first time in his career. (Courtesy of The Tribune)

My Predicted Stat Line: .275 BA/ 80 R/ 25 HR/ 90 RBI/ 5 SB

The newly acquired corner infielder has gotten off to a hot start in 2017. He has batted in the four and five spot in the four games the Brewers have played, tallying one home run and five RBIs while batting .357.

These stats obviously don’t hold much weight, but Shaw’s opportunity does. The 26-year-old will be an everyday player for the young Brewers and bat in the heart of lineup. It will give him plenty of chances to produce RBIs and runs.

The son of former MLB player, Jeff Shaw, has been a streaky hitter his entire career, batting .270 in the first half of 2016 and .194 in the second. However, I believe Shaw’s growing confidence will make him an everyday player. He also has a lack of pressure since he is out of Boston and is no longer on a contending team. He can join the ranks as a top fantasy producer in 2017.

Lance Lynn, Starting Pitcher, St. Louis Cardinals, (22 percent)

My Predicted Stat Line: 15 W/ 170 K/ 3.4 ERA/ 1.3 WHIP

Lynn has officially re-entered the St. Louis Cardinals rotation after missing the entire 2016 season due to Tommy John surgery. He fits in behind Carlos Martinez and Adam Wainwright as their third starter.

The 29-year-old has been a great fantasy pitcher in the past. His 162-game career average of 15 wins, a 3.37 ERA and 8.71 K/9. If he can return anywhere close to this, he will have great fantasy value. He is currently owned in 22 percent of ESPN leagues, which is a travesty for someone who has won 15 games or more three times since 2012.

The Cardinals, who finished fourth in runs scored in 2016, have added lead off specialist Dexter Fowler to improve their already elite offensive. This increases Lynn’s value, who is off to a great spring. He’s pitched a total of 15 innings to result in a 1.20 ERA and a .93 WHIP.

Lynn’s first outing of the year went well. He pitched 5.1 innings with four K’s and two earned runs. The Cardinals missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 2010. If they want to make it back in 2017, Lynn will have to be a major factor.

Corey Dickerson, Left Field/Designated Hitter, Tampa Bay Rays, (22 percent)

Must Add Players in Fantasy Baseball 2017

Corey Dickerson sheds 25 pounds in the offseason, signs of good things to come? (Courtesy of Wikipedia.com)

My Predicted Stat Line: .285 BA/ 90 R/ 25 HR/ 75 RBI/ 5 SB

Dickerson had a rough transition from Colorado to Tampa Bay in 2016, as he batted a mere .245 after batting .304 and .312 in the two previous seasons. He still managed to hit 24 home runs to go along with 70 RBIs, which was productive enough to warrant him top 80 outfielder status.

The 27-year-old dropped 25 pounds this offseason, which will make him more athletic than ever before. Dickerson will be an everyday player for the Rays in 2017, batting primarily lead off. He has begun the year batting .300 through the first four games, hitting his first home run at the Trop this Wednesday.

The career .279 hitter is a lock to improve his batting average from last season, which along with his power potential and opportunity as an everyday player, warrant him a spot on your roster.

Kendall Graveman, Starting Pitcher, Oakland Athletics, (17 percent)

My Predicted Stat Line: 11 W/ 140 K/ 3.6 ERA/ 1.3 WHIP

Graveman was the Athletics opening day starter this year and started off hot. He pitched six innings with seven strikeouts while only surrendering two runs. The elite ground ball pitcher has a career groundball rate of 51.5 percent and a fly ball rate of 27.6 percent. That shows he can keep the ball on the ground opposed to in the stands.

Unfortunately, the Athletics have the worst fielding percentage in the MLB, which may hold the groundball pitcher back. A positive is his increased confidence in his fastball. He has increased his use of the pitch consistently every season and increased its velocity from 93 to 95. That may help increase his strikeout rate.

Overall, Graveman will be the most consistent pitcher and a silver lining for the underdog Athletics this season.

Mitch Haniger, Right Field, Seattle Mariners, (17 percent)

Must Add Players in Fantasy Baseball 2017

Mitch Haniger may be sleeper of the year. (Courtesy of Minor League Ball)

My Projected Stat Line: .270 BA/ 95 R/ 20 HR/ 80 RBI/ 15 SB

Haniger was sent to Seattle along with Jean Segura in exchange for Taijuan Walker in the offseason. After slashing .406/.472/.719 in 32 at bats this spring, he has earned the everyday right fielder position against American League foes. He also will be the starting left fielder during interleague play, which will give him dual eligibility in leagues with individual outfield positions.

The 26-year-old will bat second behind Segura and ahead of Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager, which makes him a likely candidate to score 100 runs. His combination of power and speed makes him a threat to be a serious producer atop one of the most talented lineups in the league, as the Mariners finished sixth in runs scored in 2016.

The rookie is currently owned in only 17 percent of leagues, which is sure to jump as he begins to produce.

 

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Injury Update

Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

I will begin my outfield rankings with one of the more intriguing positions in 2017: left field. This position hasn’t been this deep since the early and mid 2000s when we witnessed Manny Ramirez, Carl Crawford, Matt Holliday and Ryan Braun dominate fantasy as perennial top ten picks.

Many left fielders, young and old, have begun to emerge and make the position much deeper than many people originally anticipated.

The top 30 left fielders have been grouped into five tiers, with the top and bottom player of each tier profiled below.

Honorable mentions include: Alex Gordon (KC), Brandon Drury (ARI), Roman Quinn (PHI), and Matt Holliday (NYY).

Exceptions include: Ian Desmond (COL), who will miss six to eight weeks, approximately 50 games, after undergoing hand surgery, and Yasmany Tomas (ARI), who may start on DL with an oblique injury, and currently no time table for return.  

Tier 1

2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

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

  • Kris Bryant (CHC)  

Kris Bryant is the lone man in tier 1 of left fielders in 2017. He exploded onto the scene in 2015 to smash 26 home runs and drive in 99 RBIs. That was good enough to win the NL Rookie of the Year award.

Bryant continued to improve in 2016 with 39 home runs, 121 runs scored and 102 RBIs. That resulted in him winning the NL MVP award.

The 25-year-old is a career .284 hitter and has stolen 21 bases in two years. Bryant will be the first left fielder selected in 2017.

Tier 2

2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

Ryan Braun will look to continue his strong play in 2017. (Jeff Curry, US Presswire).

  • Yoenis Cespedes (NYM)
  • Ryan Braun (MIL)
  • Starling Marte (PIT)
  • Christian Yelich (MIA)

Yoenis Cespedes is once again an elite fantasy option in all formats heading into 2017. The three-time MVP candidate has been on pace for 100 RBIs per 162 games in four of his five MLB seasons.

The 31-year-old, who is batting .277 since 2014, remains an integral producer in the New York Mets lineup and is sure to be a top 25 overall hitter if healthy.

Christian Yelich had his first breakout year in 2016 with career highs of 21 home runs and 98 RBIs. The 25-year-old has a career .293 batting average and is averaging about 19 steals per 162 games.

Yelich is a perennial 20 home run and 20 steal candidate. He could be a menacing 30/30 threat for years to come should he continue to improve. The Marlins three hitter will be selected within the top 50 picks in 2017.

Tier 3

2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

Michael Brantley is poised for a bounce back in 2017. (Courtesy of TLA Worldwide)

  • Gregory Polanco (PIT)
  • Kyle Schwarber (CHC)
  • Justin Upton (DET)
  • Matt Kemp (ATL)
  • Khris Davis (OAK)
  • Michael Brantley (CLE)

Like Yelich, Gregory Polanco was another left fielder who broke out in 2016. The 24-year-old managed to reach career highs in home runs with 22 and RBIs with 86 in only 144 games.

Polanco has averaged 25 steals per 162 games, which shows his five-category potential. The 6-foot-5 230-pounder is also bound to increase his power numbers as he continues to grow into his frame. A 30/30 season isn’t out of the realm for Polanco, which warrants him as a top 60 pick in all formats.

Michael Brantley is arguably the most overlooked player in 2017. He is healthy and ready to bounce back. The 29-year-old has been battling a chronic shoulder injury since the end of 2015. He is now officially ready to go for opening day.

The third-place finisher in the AL MVP in 2014 will rejoin the most talented Cleveland Indians lineup since the late 1990s. With the emergence of Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, and the addition of Edwin Encarnacion, Michael Brantley should have no problem producing. He is currently being selected as the 140th player on ESPN according to fantasypros.com. I believe he is well worth a top 120 pick.

Tier 4

2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

Andrew Benintendi intends to take home the AL Rookie of the Year in 2017. (Photos via Getty Images)

  • Andrew Benintendi (BOS)
  • Jose Ramirez (CLE)
  • Willson Contreras (CHC)
  • Marcel Ozuna (MIA)
  • Carlos Gomez (TEX)
  • Adam Duval (CIN)
  • Ben Zobrist (CHC)
  • David Dahl (COL)
  • Nomar Mazara (TEX)

My selection for AL Rookie of the Year, Andrew Benintendi, has an uncertain potential. His MLB sample size is a mere 118 plate appearances. The former Golden Spikes award winner is a five-tool player who has batted .313, .312, and .295 in three seasons at five different levels, including the MLB.

The 22-year-old may begin the year at the bottom half of the order. However, he will find his way to the top in no time. Batting ahead or directly behind of Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Hanley Ramirez will allow him to be an extremely productive player.

He is currently being selected as the 111th player on ESPN, and certainly warrants a pick this early.

Nomar Mazara has seen his draft stock fall as of late. Word of a possible platoon against lefties has concerned owners about his at bat totals in 2017. I’m a full believer in Mazara’s ability to be an everyday player in this league, He has continuously improved his batting average throughout his minor-league career.

The 21-year-old has shown he has the potential to be a .280 hitter with 20 or more home runs over a full season. If an injury or poor performance were to occur to his platoon partner, Mazara could take the everyday spot and run with it.

He is being selected as the 260th player on ESPN, which makes him a sleeper in the majority of leagues. I wouldn’t hesitate selecting him top 200, especially in keeper leagues and dynasty leagues.

Tier 5

2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

Corey Dickerson sheds 25 pounds in the offseason, is this a sign of good things to come? (Courtesy of Wikipedia.com)

  • Corey Dickerson (TB)
  • Jayson Werth (WSH)
  • Eric Thames (MIL)
  • Melky Cabrera (CWS)
  • Jorge Soler (KC)
  • Curtis Granderson (NYM)
  • Michael Saunders (PHI)
  • Rajai Davis (OAK)
  • Brett Gardner (NYY)
  • Jarrod Dyson (SEA)
  • Ender Enciarte (ATL)

People tend to forget about Corey Dickerson’s success in Colorado. He batted .312 and .304 in consecutive seasons. The 27-year-old has dropped 25 pounds in order to obtain the starting left field spot as opposed to being the designated hitter, which is where he spent the majority of his time in 2016.

Either way, Dickerson will be an everyday player for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2017 and is a threat for 30 home runs and solid RBI production. His current ADP on ESPN is 276, which is very low for someone with .300/80/30/80 potential.

Ender Inciarte has quietly been a career .292 hitter while averaging about 24 steals per 162 games. Inciarte will be the leadoff hitter once again for a young but talented Atlanta Braves lineup that commonly goes under the radar.

Although there is a lack of power, it isn’t out of his realm to sport a stat line of .300 100/10/50/20. The 25-year-old is currently being selected as the 196th player on ESPN, putting him just outside the top 50 outfielders, which I believe he is.

 

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Spring Training Spotlight

Spring Training Spotlight: Hot and Cold Starts

With Spring Training in full swing, players and fans are starting to get into the groove of things. Players are hitting their strides at the plate and on the mound. But there are some who are struggling in the early going. Even though Spring Training is just that, training in the spring, players still strive to succeed. Which players are reaching that goal and which need to put in a little more work?

Hot

1B/DH Chris Colabello- Cleveland Indians

Spring Training Spotlight

Chris Colabello is hoping a strong Spring Training will mean a return to his 2015 form (Michael Dwyer/AP Photo).

After a 2016 season that saw Colabello only play 10 major league games for the Blue Jays, he needs a strong showing in Spring Training to shake loose of his PED suspension. But luckily for him, he has made the most of Spring Training so far with the Cleveland Indians, flashing his 2015 form. Colabello slashed .321/.367/.520 good for a 138 OPS+ over 101 games in 2015. And he’s showing signs of resurgence in Spring Training, slashing .333/.474/.667. But even with a hot start, it may be all for naught.

The Cleveland Indians have two top performers at Colabello’s primary positions: first base and DH. And no matter how hot Colabello gets, there is no way he is unseating Carlos Santana at first base or Edwin Encarnacion at DH. The best he can hope for is a spot on the bench, and at worst starting in the minors if he wants to stay with the Indians. But if Colabello continues his torrid pace, don’t be surprised to see him latch onto a new club.

OF Keon Broxton- Milwaukee Brewers

Keon Broxton was somewhat of a surprise last year after coming over from division rival Pittsburgh. While batting .242/.354/.430, he was able to hit nine homers, drive in 19 RBIs and steal 23 bases in 75 games. And at only 26 years old, Broxton is trying to build off his solid 2016 to cement himself in Milwaukee’s rebuild. He’s off to a good start so far, showing off at the plate in Spring Training.

So far, Broxton is batting .412/.444/.941 in Spring Training action. Those are some absurd numbers, even in limited time. At this point in Spring Training, batters usually start catching up to pitchers in terms of preparation and performance, but Broxton is putting others to shame. Broxton certainly came to camp ready to hit the ground running, and he hasn’t stopped yet. He’s in line to start in center, and at this rate his Opening Day job is securely in the bag.

Cold

OF Giancarlo Stanton-Miami Marlins

Spring Training Spotlight

Giancarlo Stanton hopes a poor Spring Training start is just a fluke (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images).

With as much power as Giancarlo Stanton has, you would think he would never run out. But Stanton is currently experiencing a power outage. The slugging outfielder is currently batting .176/.300/.412 in Spring Training, having a difficult time getting into rhythm. But skipper Don Mattingly is hoping that the mammoth Stanton can get back on track.

Stanton has proven to be an offensive force for the Marlins in his seen years in Miami, sending 208 homers into orbit. But he has also been limited by injuries, only playing 145 games or more twice in his career. In those two seasons, he hit a combined 71 homers and drove in 192 RBIs. But at 27 years old when the season starts, Stanton needs to become a more dependable player. Hopefully he’s just scuffling at the plate, and not feeling the impact of years of multiple injuries on his body.

LF/3B Joey Gallo- Texas Rangers

Joey Gallo is a player in the same vein as Giancarlo Stanton; a massive slugger with tremendous power. Unfortunately for Gallo, he is also struggling at the plate. Gallo is batting .111/.304/.278 in Spring Training. But as bad as that sounds, it’s an improvement over his 2016 season when he slashed a horrendous .040/.200/.160 in 17 games for the Rangers. After spending years as the Rangers top prospect, Gallo finally exhausted his rookie status in 2016. It’s now or never for him to show his minor league production wasn’t his high water point.

Gallo entered the Rangers farm system with massive power, grading out on the 20-80 scale with 80 raw power. He has always been a pure slugger, never hitting over .272 in a minor league season, but also posting two seasons with at least 40 homers. It was thought with Adrian Beltre at third base that Gallo would take over left field, but he is not even listen in left field in the Rangers’ depth chart. If Gallo can turn his Spring Training performance around, he may be able to get his career back it’s former trajectory.

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2017 Fantasy Baseball First Base Rankings

Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball First Base Rankings

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

The first base position is among the deepest in fantasy baseball. Nine first basemen had at least 25 home runs and 100 RBIs last season. 23 had at least 20 home runs, and 19 had at least 80 RBIs. First base continues to offer plenty of power and production for your fantasy team.

With the start of spring training games upon us, it is time to rank the top 25 first basemen for 2017. Players have been grouped into three tiers, with the top and bottom player of each profiled below.

Honorable mentions: Joe Mauer (MIN), Lucas Duda (NYM), Chris Carter (NYY), Yulieski Gurriel (HOU), Ryan Zimmerman (WAS), and Dan Vogelbach (SEA).

Tier 1

2017 Fantasy Baseball First Base Rankings

Paul Goldschmidt is the golden standard at first base. (Courtesy of MLB.com)

  1. Paul Goldschmidt ARI
  2. Miguel Cabrera DET
  3. Joey Votto CIN
  4. Anthony Rizzo CHC
  5. Freddie Freeman ATL
  6. Edwin Encarnacion CLE

Paul Goldschmidt is the golden standard at first base in 2017. He has completed four consecutive All-Star seasons, finishing as runner up for MVP in 2013 and 2015. He offers five-category production and will bat third for the Arizona Diamondbacks, hit for average and power, and will steal plenty of bases.

The addition of A.J. Pollock and David Peralta to the lineup should increase his value as well. Goldy was without both of them for the majority of 2016. Also, he has 99 career stolen bases with a success rate of 81 percent, which is outstanding. His floor of about 15 steals gives him an edge over other superstar first basemen.

Edwin Encarnacion will make the move from the hitter friendly Rogers Centre to one of the toughest for right handed hitters. However, he remains in the top tier of elite first basemen. He will bat clean-up for a hungry Cleveland Indians team featuring Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana.

Encarnacion remains an elite fantasy option. He has hit at least 30 home runs with 98 or more RBIs. He also has batted at least .260 in his last five seasons. Expect more of the same out of the 34-year-old.

Tier 2

2017 Fantasy Baseball First Base Rankings

Wil Myers expects a 40/40 season from himself in 2017. (Courtesy of gaslampbell.com)

  1. Wil Myers SD
  2. Jose Abreu CWS
  3. Daniel Murphy WAS
  4. Ian Desmond COL
  5. Chris Davis BAL
  6. Hanley Ramirez BOS
  7. Matt Carpenter STL
  8. Carlos Santana CLE
  9. Eric Hosmer KC
  10. Adrian Gonzalez LAD

Wil Myers’ 2016 season resembled the likes of a poor man’s Paul Goldschmidt. He finished with 28 home runs and 28 stolen bases. His atrocious second half led to his batting average dipping to an underwhelming .259, causing his value in 2017 to be fairly low. His 20/20 upside should not be overlooked, as he was among only nine players to accomplish this feat last season.

The former rookie of the year completed his first full campaign in 2016, amounting 155 hits in 676 plate appearances. Myers will continue to be a horse in the middle of the San Diego Padres lineup for many years to come.

Adrian Gonzalez has been a consistent fantasy contributor his entire career. He has amassed 600 plus plate appearances in his last 11 seasons, while sporting a career .290 average. His power numbers have dwindled, as he tied a career low of 18 home runs in 2016. However, his production has not faltered, as he has had at least 90 RBIs in 10 consecutive seasons.

The 34-year-old will bat clean-up for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2017, giving him ample RBI opportunities once again. Gonzalez looks to be a safe fantasy pick once again for the twelfth consecutive season.

Tier 3

2017 Fantasy Baseball First Base Rankings

Brandon Belt, under or over rated? (Courtesy of USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Brandon Belt SF
  2. Mike Napoli TEX
  3. Tommy Joseph PHI
  4. C.J. Cron LAA
  5. Justin Bour MIA
  6. Greg Bird NYY
  7. Josh Bell PIT
  8. Mitch Moreland BOS
  9. Eric Thames MIL

Brandon Belt is another consistent fantasy performer. However, he has limited value as he has yet to surpass the 20-home run mark in his six-year career. The career .272 hitter did have a career high 82 RBIs in 2016, which was due to him batting primarily fifth.

The 28-year-old stole zero bases last season but has managed to steal 32 bases from 2011 to 2015. There is a chance that he adds some steals back to his stat line. Belt has a higher floor than most first basemen, although his ceiling is limited.

This Eric Thames is not the same guy we saw in 2011 or 2012. He returns to the U.S. after mashing 124 home runs in three seasons in the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO). Thames will have to re-adjust to life in the MLB, but was rewarded a three-year $15 million contract with a player option for a fourth. This shows that the Brewers are fully invested in Thames being their current and future first basemen.

The 30-year-old will bat clean-up in an aggressive and youthful Milwaukee Brewers lineup that looks to do damage in 2017. Thames will be a great value pick as his current average draft position according to fantasypros.com is 231.

 

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Credit Mike McGinnis

Spring Training Preview: Battle for the Bullpen

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

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

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

Los Angeles Angels

Spring Training Preview: Battle for the Bullpen

(Huston Street #16 – Getty Images)

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

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

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

Milwaukee Brewers

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

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

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

Cincinnati Reds

Spring Training Preview: Battle for the Bullpen

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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National League Central

2017 National League Preview: National League Central

The National League Central is one of the most top-heavy divisions in the majors. With the World Series champion Chicago Cubs, perennial playoff contenders St. Louis Cardinals, and the ever competitive Pittsburgh Pirates, this division is one of the toughest in the National League. The top team in the National League Central is a no-brainer, but 2-5 are another story all together.

5th: Cincinnati Reds

Projected 2017 Record: 70-92

National League Central

Joey Votto headlines a rebuilding Cincinnati club . (Credit: Al Behrman/ AP Photo).

The Cincinnati Reds seem to be on the tail end of a long rebuild with three straight losing seasons. Reds stalwart Brandon Phillips was traded in the offseason. Accordingly, infielder Jose Peraza will be the Opening Day starter at second base. He will join Scott Schebler, Tucker Barnhart and Billy Hamilton to form a solid young core for the Reds.

Veterans Joey Votto and Adam Duvall will support the offense while the younger players come along. Those two won’t be enough to carry a weak offense and a developing pitching staff.

The Reds will use 2017 as a tryout year and will be putting out lineups that will not be competitive. They say it’s always darkest before the dawn, but the sun should come up soon in Cincinnati.

4th: Milwaukee Brewers

Projected 2017 Record: 75-87

Its been half a decade since the Brewers tasted postseason baseball. Three of the team’s top 12 players by WAR in 2016 are gone, and their roles will need to be filled. Gone are solid relievers Tyler Thornburg and Jeremy Jeffress, as well as catcher Jonathan Lucroy. The Brewers will rely on a mix of veterans and prospects to lead them.

Up the middle, shortstop Orlando Arcia will pair with second baseman Jonathan Villar to form a young infield tandem that should provide a spark at the top of the order. They will rely on Ryan Braun and former KBO star Eric Thames to drive them in.

Veterans Junior Guerra and Matt Garza bookend a young rotation. Zach Davies, Wily Peralta and Jimmy Nelson all need to improve. The offense should be around league average, but the pitching staff will need to make solid improvements to make 2017 anything more than a rebuilding year.

3rd: Pittsburgh Pirates

Projected 2017 Record: 84-78

National League Central

Andrew McCutchen should return to form in 2017 (Credit: Jim Mcisaac, Getty Images).

The Pirates are coming off a dramatic offseason in which they almost traded away their franchise player Andrew McCutchen. He will enter the 2017 season in a new frame of mind and at a new position. He will move from center to right field, accompanying a reshuffle of the outfield.

Even with a realignment in the outfield, it remains the team’s strength. McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco form a robust top of the lineup. Jung Ho Kang and Francisco Cervelli also add to Pittsburgh’s solid offense.

The rotation is filled with former top prospects. Ivan Nova is the only non-home grown starter. Gerrit Cole is the ace, and it remains to be seen if the rest of the rotation can turn its promise into prosperity.

With a solid club all around, the Pirates could finish anywhere in the top two of the National League Central.

2nd: St. Louis Cardinals

Projected 2017 Record: 87-75

After two World Series appearances in the previous five seasons, the Cardinals failed to qualify for the postseason in 2016. This year’s team is full of talent and NL All-Stars all over the diamond.

On the mound, 25-year-old Carlos Martinez will lead the rotation. He will be backed by Mike Leake, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha and veteran Adam Wainwright. All five have at least one NL-All Star appearance.

Nevertheless, the talent isn’t limited to just the mound. Matt Carpenter headlines the lineup. The addition of Dexter Fowler provides speed St. Louis has been lacking. He will be joined by outfielders Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty to give the Cardinals an excellent outfield trio. Stalwart catcher Yadier Molina will be behind the plate for his 14th season in St. Louis.

A deep pitching staff is the strength of the Cardinals, but their offense is not far behind. They will compete for one of the two National League Wild Cards in 2017.

1st: Chicago Cubs

Projected 2017 Record: 105-57

National League Central

Kris Bryant and the Cubs should easily win the National League Central (Credit: Michael Zagaris/Getty Images).

Coming off a dramatic World Series victory, the Cubs are the de facto favorite in the National League Central, if not a favorite to repeat as World Series Champions. It’s easy to see why.

Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester sit atop of a solid rotation. Young starters Kyle Hendricks and Mike Montgomery will be joined by grizzled veteran John Lackey to round it out. The talent on the mound is good, but it’s what’s off the mound that has Cubs fans drooling.

Former top prospects Addison Russell and Javier Baez form one of the elite shortstop-second base tandems in the National League. In the corners of the infield, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and third baseman Kris Bryant are some of the top producers at their respective positions.

Supported by super utility man Ben Zobrist and right fielder Jason Heyward, the Cubs are stacked in the field. That doesn’t even include uber-prospect catcher Willson Contreras, who will play his first full season in the majors in 2017.

Chicago Cubs fans have plenty to be excited about in 2017, as a repeat title is well within reach.

 

 

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