greatest world series ever played

Greatest World Series ever played

When the first pitch of the 2017 World Series is thrown out Oct. 24 at Dodger Stadium, it will mark the 113th installment of baseball’s fall classic. Only one World Series, however, can be dubbed the greatest World Series ever played.

For the fans in Houston and Los Angeles, their focus won’t be on this series being an all-time classic. Their primary focus for the immediate future will be on winning at least four of the possible seven games that remain. Right now, the glory of a championship is first and foremost.

The rest of baseball’s fandom is just looking to be enthralled. We’re looking for hotly contested games that remain up for grabs into the final innings. We’re looking for immaculate pitching, we’re looking for clutch two-out hits and we’re looking for spectacular game saving glove work in the field. In short, we’re looking for the proverbial barn burner.

With 112 World Series already on record, there have been some wild match-ups throughout time. Perhaps no match-up has offered more excitement to baseball fans of all stripes than 1991’s World Series, pitting the Atlanta Braves against the Minnesota Twins.

Minnesotans will remember 1991 for two distinct reasons. First, on Oct. 27, 1991 they saw their Minnesota Twins lift the World Series title after seven games. Second, just four days later, the Twin Cities were buried under almost two-feet of snow from an epic Halloween blizzard.

In Atlanta though, 1991 will always be remembered with mixed emotions. The 1991 Braves improved from last place in 1990, to first in 1991. This was also the first year that a World Series was played in Atlanta since the Braves moved from Milwaukee at the end of 1965.

How they arrived

greatest world series ever played

Braves legend, Tom Glavine, tries to channel a little rally hat magic on the road in Minneapolis. (Photo courtesy of: Getty Images)

Speaking of the Braves’ remarkable turnaround, Minnesota also accomplished the same feat. They too finished the season in last place in 1990, only to become AL champions in 1991. It was the first time in MLB history that any team went from “worst to first” let alone having two teams do it in the same season.

For Minnesota, 1991 was the year of the bat. This isn’t to say they couldn’t pitch, but their offense was magnificent. They led the majors in average (.280) and on-base percentage (.344) that year. They also finished second in both slugging (.420) and OPS (.764) making them one of the toughest lineups for opposing pitchers to navigate.

Atlanta’s forte though, was undoubtedly their pitching. The Braves’ pitching was phenomenal in 1991. Tom Glavine, 1991’s NL Cy Young award winner, was the unquestioned leader of the young Atlanta staff. This Braves rotation was young, hungry and devastatingly good.

For the season, Atlanta finished third in team ERA (3.49), third in fewest hits given up and fourth in total runs surrendered. Any fan can plainly see, scratching runs across the plate against this pitching staff was no small task.

The 1991 World Series was more than just excellent pitching versus excellent hitting. This series was a classic match-up of two evenly matched ball clubs. Something had to give, because we all know there can only be one team left standing. That team left standing, in the end, would be the Minnesota Twins.

Minnesota didn’t get to the summit of baseball’s highest mountain without a fight though, and what a fight it was. Atlanta and Minnesota put together a performance for the ages. Culminating in arguably the greatest World Series ever played. This was a World Series filled with spectacular pitching, clutch hitting and wild defensive plays.

The greatest world series ever played

In the pantheon of World Series match-ups, there are several that stand out. For instance, 1960’s classic Pirates and Yankees showdown featured the only walk-off Game 7 homer ever, by the Pirate’s Bill Mazeroski. Braves versus Twins in 1991 rates right up there with the lot of them.

greatest world series ever played

Bill Mazeroski sinks the Yankees with his dramatic walk-off Game 7 World Series home run. (Photo courtesy of: ESPN)

The 1991 World Series offered something for everyone, including one of the most bizarre plays in World Series history. Of course this is referring to Kent Herbek pulling Ron Gant off the bag in the third inning of Game 2. For fans of a certain age in Atlanta, this certainly must still be a sore subject.

Watch the play here!

The Twins and Braves only played two games decided by more than a single run, Game 1 and 5. Minnesota took Game 1 by a score of 5-2 and Atlanta took Game 5, blowing away the Twins 14-5. All other games in the series were one-run affairs.

Extra innings was also a common thread that tied this series together as well. Game 6 and the pivotal Game 7 were two of the three extra inning games. Minnesota would find themselves on the winning side in both of the aforementioned games. The Twins’ only extra inning loss came on a Mark Lemke 12th inning RBI single in Game 3.

For the Twins, legendary Kirby Puckett was the man of Game 6. Puckett’s glove, and then his bat, cemented the win for Minnesota and pushed the series to Game 7.

Puckett seemed to defy the laws of physics, jumping at the wall in left-center to rob Gant of extra bases. Then, in the bottom of the 11th inning, Puckett sent a Charlie Leibrandt offering into the seats for a solo homer. His clutch hit won the game for Minnesota in walk-off fashion, making Game 7 a necessity.

Watch Puckett’s series saving homer here!

Game 7

The deciding game of the 1991 World Series pitted two excellent pitchers at opposite spectrums of their careers. For the Twins, it was 15-year veteran and 1984 World Series champion, Jack Morris. The Braves countered with a future Hall of Famer, 24-year-old, John Smoltz.

greatest world series ever played

1991 World Series MVP and Game 7 winner, Jack Morris, rushes to greet Dan Gladden at home plate. (Photo courtesy of: Pioneer Press/Jean Pieri)

All these two did was lock horns to produce one of the best pitched games in World Series history. Smoltz pitched excellent in Game 7, but wily veteran Jack Morris pitched a magical Game 7. With Morris in command of all his pitches, he put together one of the greatest World Series starts this side of Don Larsen’s perfect game in 1956. Morris went the distance, all 10 innings, to pitch a complete game shutout under immense pressure.

Jack Morris, for his part, swallowed that pressure deep down and used it to breathe fire at the Braves lineup. He gave up seven hits and walked only two hitters in his 10-inning masterpiece. On the back of Morris’ Game 7 exploits, coupled with his Game 1 win and his hard luck no-decision in Game 4, he walked away as World Series MVP.

When Gene Larkin laced a one-out single to left-center in the bottom of the 10th inning, bringing Dan Gladden in for the winning run, it was only fitting that Morris was the first player to welcome him home.

If the showdown between Los Angeles and Houston is half as good as 1991’s World Series, we are in for a treat. Play ball, boys.

 

(feature photo courtesy of: twinkietown.com)

 

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Wilson Ramos 2018

Wilson Ramos fantasy: Tale of the tape

Background

Wilson Ramos fantasy

Wilson Ramos was originally signed by the Minnesota Twins as a 16-year-old international free agent in 2004. (Photo by Getty Images)

Wilson Ramos was originally signed by the Minnesota Twins as a 16-year-old international free agent in 2004, although he would not make his professional debut until 2006. A then 18-year-old Ramos spent his inaugural season in the Gulf Coast League, where he would bat .286 with 16 extra base hits and 26 RBIs in just 46 games.

In 2007, Ramos would progress to Single-A, where he would bat .291 with 36 extra base hits and 42 RBIs in 73 games. In 2008, Ramos would continue his ascension through the minor leagues, moving to the High-A Florida State League, where he would bat .288 with 38 extra base hits and 78 RBIs in 126 games.

At this point in his career, Ramos was ranked as the third prospect in the Twins farm system and 71st overall prospect among the MLB’s top 100 according to Baseball America.

In 2009, Ramos was promoted to the Double-A Eastern League. His minor league consistency and success would continue, as a then 21-year-old Ramos batted .317 with 20 extra base hits and 29 RBIs in 54 games.

His first struggles came in 2010, where in 71 games with the Twins Triple-A affiliate Rochester Red Wings, Ramos batted only .241 with just 19 base hits and 30 RBIs.

Ramos was subsequently traded to the Washington Nationals in July of 2010 for reliever Matt Capps, as the Twins were 56-46 at the time, and felt as though Capps could be a postseason contributor out of the pen.

In 20 games with the Nationals Triple-A affiliate Syracuse Chiefs, Ramos would begin to thrive once again, batting .316 with 14 runs scored, eight RBIs and seven extra base hits. His first substantial major league action came in 2011, where at 23 years old, Ramos batted .267 with 38 extra base hits and 52 RBIs in 113 games. He was successively chosen by Baseball America to represent as the catcher of the All-Rookie Team.

Ramos’ 2012 campaign was cut short after just 25 games due to a torn ACL that he suffered in May of that year. In 2013, Ramos would play in just 78 games as he was suffering from a lingering hamstring injury, although when on the field he would continue to impress, batting .272 with 16 home runs and 59 RBIs.

In 2014, Ramos broke his hand on opening day, causing him to miss almost half of the season. In 88 games, he batted .267 with 11 home runs and 47 RBIs.

In what is considered his first full season, Ramos struggled tremendously, batting just .229 in a career high 475 at-bats. The Nationals would sign Ramos to a one-year deal just shy of $5.5 million in order to avoid arbitration.

2016 was Ramos’ breakout year, as in 131 games, he would bat .307 with 22 home runs 80 RBIs. Unfortunately, his season was cut short due to another torn ACL, although he still managed win the National League Silver Slugger award.

The Nationals decided to let the injured Ramos walk in free agency, so the 29-year-old Ramos chose to sign a two-year deal with the Tampa Bay Rays.

2017 season

Ramos’ 2017 campaign didn’t begin until June 24, as he was still rehabbing from his second torn ACL. In 64 games, Ramos would bat .260 with 11 home runs and 35 RBIs. Over a 162-game sample size, Ramos would have been on pace to hit 27 home runs with 88 RBIs. I understand he has never, and may never, play in more than 135 games, although it is important to understand his offensive potential when healthy.

2018 outlook

Wilson Ramos fantasy

Wilson Ramos is a top-10 catcher offensively, and I would love to have him on my roster in 2018.  (Photo: Getty Images)

Ramos spent the majority of the season batting fifth, sixth and seventh in the Rays lineup, so we can assume he will bat primarily in the second third of the lineup in 2018. The Rays lineup is interesting, as they ranked sixth in home runs with 226 and sixth to last in batting average at .245. The Rays were also the only team in the MLB to have more home runs than doubles.

It is clear that a healthy Ramos can help balance this offense out. I expect Ramos to play in no more than 135 games, although I do anticipate him to bat above .270 with at least 40 extra base hits. When healthy, Ramos is a top-10 catcher offensively, and I would love to have him on my roster in 2018.

 

 

Featured image by RaysColoredGlasses.com

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Eddie Rosario 2018

Eddie Rosario’s outlook for the 2018 MLB season

Background

Eddie Rosario 2018

Eddie Rosario began 2015 with Triple-A Rochester, and was given a call to the majors in May. (Photo by Paul Sancya)

Eddie Rosario was drafted in the fourth round of the 2010 MLB Amateur Draft by the Minnesota Twins. The Puerto Rican international began his professional career in rookie ball, where he would spend two seasons, batting a combined .318 with 26 home runs, 105 runs scored, 86 RBIs and 39 stolen bases in 118 games.

The Twins felt no need to rush Rosario through the ranks, as he spent nearly the entire 2012 season with the Single-A Twins affiliate, the Beloit Snappers. Rosario continued to impress, batting .296 with 12 home runs, 60 runs scored, 70 RBIs and 11 stolen bases in 95 games. Rosario’s combination of speed, power and plate discipline had begun to show.

His 2013 campaign was split between High and Double-A, where he would bat a combined .302 with 10 home runs, 80 runs scored, 70 RBIs and 10 stolen bases in 122 games. Unfortunately, the then 21-year-old Rosario was suspended for 50 games after testing positive for a banned substance.

Rosario’s 2014 season began in May. After bouncing around between High and Double-A, Rosario recorded an underwhelming .243 batting average with eight home runs, 45 runs scored, 40 RBIs and nine stolen bases in 87 games. Adversity struck Rosario hard at an inopportune time, as he seemed nearly inches away from an MLB call-up before the suspension and his struggles in 2014.

Rosario began 2015 with Triple-A Rochester, and was given a call to the majors in May after batting a measly .242 with three home runs, 11 runs scored, 12 RBIs and one stolen base in 23 games. In his first major league action, the then 23-year-old Rosario batted .267 with 13 home runs, 60 runs scored, 50 RBIs and 11 stolen bases in 122 games and was voted sixth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting.

Even though he had a solid 2015 season, he struggled at the start of the 2016 season. The Twins sent him back to Triple-A, where he would bat .319 with seven home runs, 14 doubles, 26 runs scored, 25 RBIs and five stolen bases in 41 games.

Rosario was re-called to the MLB in July and remained with the team. In his second year of major league action, he batted .269 with 10 home runs, 52 runs scored, 32 RBIs and five stolen bases in 92 games. Although Rosario was already an everyday player, it was clear that at this point in his career, he had not yet fulfilled his potential just yet.

2017 season

The 2017 MLB season served as Rosario’s breakout campaign. To begin the year, Rosario was being displaced up and down the lineup, as he spent over 20 games in the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth batting positions in the order to end the year.

In the first half of the season, Rosario batted .287 with 10 home runs, 37 runs scored, 26 RBIs and four stolen bases in 81 games. To this point, Rosario was one of the Twins’ most reliable players, but his second half propelled his worth to new heights.

In 70 games after the All-Star break, Rosario batted .292 with 17 home runs, 42 runs scored, 52 RBIs and five stolen bases. Rosario became a major catalyst in the Twins lineup, finishing the year with an offensive WAR of 2.7, which was good enough for third on the team behind only Brian Dozier (4.9) and Miguel Sano (3.1).

In 2017, Rosario slashed .290/.328/.507 with 27 home runs, 79 runs scored, 78 RBIs and nine stolen bases. He failed to receive an MVP vote, but his contributions to the Minnesota Twins were duly noted.

2018 outlook

Eddie Rosario 2018

Eddie Rosario will be just 26-years-old at the start of next season. (Photo by Wikipedia.com)

Rosario’s 2018 outlook is interesting. Up until 2017, Rosario had failed to put together a complete season where he would live up to expectations, as he set the bar high for himself in the minors.

His lack of track record is nerve racking, as this was his first major league season where he would play in over 125 games, hit over 13 home runs and strikeout under 24 percent of the time. His home run to fly ball rate measured 16.4 percent, which doesn’t seem sustainable, as he has never before had a major league season with a HR/FB rate of over 12 percent.

A positive sign for Rosario moving forward is his consistent batting average on balls in play, or BABIP, which has measured in at over .312 in all three of his MLB seasons, which ranks above average in terms of MLB batters. Rosario will be given all the opportunity in the world in 2018, as he will presumably bat in the heart of the Twins lineup, surrounded by the aforementioned Dozier and Sano.

His fantasy ceiling seems to be reached. However, if he can repeat his 2017 campaign, he will be an incredibly valuable fantasy asset moving forward, as he will be just 26-years-old at the start of next season.

 

Featured Image by MinorLeagueBaseball.com

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2017 ALCS Preview: New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros

The Yankees fought to be here

2017 ALCS Preview: New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros

Didi Gregorius smacked two dingers to lift the Yankees to the ALCS on Wednesday (WKYC)

Didi Gregorius and the New York Yankees stormed back against the Indians to move on to the ALCS on Wednesday. They found themselves in a 2-0 hole without any hope. Joe Girardi’s job even seemed to be on the line. After some questionable decisions early in the series, many were expecting him to have one foot out the door.

Just like they did in the Wild Card game, New York fought its way back to find themselves in the ALCS for the first time since 2012. While there were some offensive heroes such as Greg Bird, Didi Gregorius and Brett Gardner, the Yankees won in large part thanks to outstanding pitching.

With their backs up against the wall, their starting pitchers in the last three games of the series turned in 18.1 innings with just five earned runs and 25 strikeouts. They made the Cleveland offense look foolish. On top of that, Aroldis Chapman shut down the Indians’ season for the second year in a row.

What already seems to be forgotten is how the Yankees battled their way in the Wild Card game. They were down quick to the Cinderella Twins, giving up three runs in the first 1/3 innings. They quickly responded though and Joe Girardi played a bullpen game for the ages.

Houston has New York’s number

2017 ALCS Preview: New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros

Altuve has proven why he was the best hitter in baseball in 2017 (Yahoo Sports)

The Astros managed to go an impressive 5-2 against the Yankees during the regular season. What was especially impressive was that they managed to average 6.14 runs per game this season against the Bronx Bombers.

Houston played a great series against Boston and clicked on all cylinders. Their offense looked as good as ever and will be a challenge for New York to slow down. The Yankees’ pitching staff has had to work much harder than Houston’s, so something to look for in the series is fatigue.

Justin Verlander’s presence on the Astros pitching staff makes a significant difference this time of year. This Yankees team does not have a whole lot of experience against Verlander despite him pitching in the American League. This will be the first time that Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez will ever see him.

The only starter that the Yankees seem to have success against is Charlie Morton. The team as a collective have a career .327 batting average against him with seven home runs. It will be interesting to see if A.J. Hinch will give Morton the nod this series. Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers Jr. do have more success against the Yankees, but it is still in limited appearances. Look for the Astors’ starters to have some success in this series.

The main reason Houston is here, however, is their offense, something that went missing for the Indians in the ALDS. Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa especially have good resumes against New York. Altuve is also swinging a hot bat after hitting three home runs in the first game of the ALDS.

How the series will play out

2017 ALCS Preview: New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros

Heroics from Gregorius and Gardner have led to some postseason magic for New York (ABC News)

Despite the Yankees recent success in clutch moments, the Astros are favored to win the ALCS and move on to the World Series according to Vegas odds. It won’t be a cake walk for Houston though.

A large part of the series is going to depend on the Yankees starters keeping up what they were doing against Cleveland. New York had some impressive times at the plate whether it be the two bombs from Gregorius in game five, or the 12-pitch at-bat by Brett Gardner in the ninth that led to insurance runs for the Yankees.

However, the offense as a whole was nothing to write home about.

It is hard to determine whether or not the success of the New York staff came from an Indians offense going cold or an overpowering performance by their starters. They will not be running into a cold Houston offense however. Houston has not been shutout since Aug. 17 and has scored two runs or more in all but four games since that date. Seeing that Houston had the best overall offense in all of baseball in the regular season, it will be tough for Yankees pitching to slow them down.

The postseason is unpredictable of course. Many thought it was all but a lock when the Indians went up 2-0 in the ALDS. New York wasn’t even a favorite coming out of their own division, so anything can happen this time of year.

What has been especially fun to watch with the Yankees is their ability to fight back. Brett Gardner has been a catalyst for New York. His final at-bat on Wednesday was evidence of how badly he wants that second ring. Despite the advantage the Astros have on the offensive side of the ball, the Yankees seem to have that postseason magic that every team is desperate to have.

If the Yankees pitching staff keeps it up then things could get very interesting this series. Nothing will be given in this series because each team knows what is at stake.

ALCS Prediction: Yankees in 7

 

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World Series

Five World Series match ups we want to see

Chicago Cubs vs Cleveland Indians

World Series

Cleveland is looking for redemption after their skid in the 2016 World Series (ABC Chicago)

A rematch of the 2016 World Series is on the eyes of many. Last year was one of the most successful World Series of the century in terms of viewership. The narrative of the two teams and their droughts captured the hearts of America.

The series went to extra innings in game seven, and the Indians are surely looking to redeem themselves after giving the title to the Cubs. Cleveland had a 3-1 game lead and were not able to end their drought.

The Indians look like the better and more complete team this year with all the inconsistencies that Chicago has been dealing with. Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor look stronger than ever and would be difficult to stop.

 

New York Yankees vs Los Angeles Dodgers

World Series

Kershaw would love to reverse his postseason woes (Photo Courtesy of: Gary A. Vasquez, USA TODAY Sports)

We all know the networks are pulling for this one. The two largest markets in the country battling it out in October may be what the league needs to keep the World Series ratings on pace with last year. A rematch between the Cubs and Indians is enticing, but it may not have quite the same sparkle to it as this match up of two iconic teams.
Not only will the markets be battling it out, but the two rookie sensations in Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger would be highlighted. Both of these young stars broke home run records that were thought to be near impossible to break. Both teams have well-rounded hitting and would make for a long series.
The Yankees have had much more success out of these two titans of baseball. The Dodgers have a drought they are looking to break of not going to the World Series in 20 years. A Dodgers-Yankees World Series would make for a great final hurdle for LA to get over in order to win the series.

Houston Astros vs Los Angels Dodgers

Cleveland may have ended up with one more win than Houston, but the Astros and Dodgers were the two teams that had a stronghold as the best two teams in the majors for most of the year. The Astros have the hitting edge with their three headed monster of Correa, Altuve, and Springer. However, the Dodgers have the pitching edge with Kershaw, Wood, and Hill. Not to mention Kenley Jansen, who was one of the best closers in baseball this year.
This would be the superstar match up that many would have predicted in June. Things have changed since then, but they are still 100+ win teams that are not messing around. Both teams are hungry for a World Series title. The TV networks would love this as well as Houston is looking for a win after Hurricane Harvey. A Fall Classic in Houston would bring life to a city that needs it.

Washington Nationals vs Houston Astros

World Series

Bryce Harper is looking to prove the Nationals can play in the postseason (Sports Illustrated)

The last few years we have been talking about World Series droughts. The Cubs broke their 100+ year losing streak last fall, and the Indians are prime candidates to break their drought that goes back to 1948. However, the Astros have never won a Fall Classic, and the Nationals have never even been to one!
The Nationals (formally Montreal Expos) have only been around since 1969, and the Astros were founded in 1962. They reached their first and only World Series in 2005 when they lost to the Chicago White Sox.
So who wouldn’t want to see two teams duke it out for the right to bring the title to their hometown for the first time (excluding the 1924 Washington Senators)?

Cubs vs Red Sox

A rematch of the 1918 World Series, would feature two baseball teams that have the most historic World Series droughts in the game. Both were lead by Theo Epstein, who is probably the best executive we have seen this generation. This match up would be centered around the history behind these two teams as well as the connection with Theo.

Boston and Chicago played at similar levels this season, with a little bit of edge given to Boston. The Red Sox have a solid pitching staff centered around Chris Sale and their stud closer Craig Kimbrel. The Red Sox have their own version of Andrew Miller now as well with David Price. It will be interesting to see how he is worked into a World Series.

Another intriguing similarity between the two teams is Jon Lester and John Lackey. That is just one other connection between these two teams that seems to be endless. If these two teams had met in the Fall Classic 15 years ago, it would be a whole other level of excitement. Now that they have both broken their streaks now, it doesn’t have the same pop. However, it would not be surprising for this match up to keep those ratings on par with 2016.

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The Minnesota Twins proved the MLB is the best sport

MLB> NFL, NBA

Before the start of the NFL season, we already knew a few teams that had no shot at winning the Super Bowl, never mind clinching a spot in the postseason. Once the season began, the Bears, 49ers and Browns all had virtually no chance of making the playoffs.

The NBA is even worse. Due to the super teams, only a handful of squads have an opportunity to reach the Finals. According to ESPN’s NBA Basketball Power Index, the Lakers, Kings, Suns, Pacers, Knicks, Nets, Hawks and Bulls have less than a five percent chance to make the postseason. Keep in mind the season has not even started, and eight teams are already considered irrelevant. Another 12 or so teams, who could make the playoffs, have little to no chance at winning the championship.

2016 was a year to forget for Joe Mauer and the Twins (AaronGleeman.com)

In 2016, with a record of 59-103, the Minnesota Twins finished with the worst record in baseball. Today, the Twins will be playing the New York Yankees in the AL Wild Card game. Minnesota became the second team in MLB history to have the number one pick in the MLB Draft and make the playoffs in the same year.

The 2008 Rays, who competed in the World Series, were the only other team to accomplish this outlandish feat. The Twins are also the first team to lose 100 games and then go to the playoffs the next year.

Imagine if the Nets or Browns made the playoffs this year. Except, what the Twins did is even crazier because in the NBA, 53.3 percent of teams make the postseason, and in the NFL, 37.5 percent make it. Only 33 percent of the 30 MLB teams get the chance to compete in October.

A 59-win team just made the playoffs the next year, with essentially the same exact roster. America’s pastime allows all 30 franchises to have a shot at reaching the postseason, while the other major sports can eliminate teams before the first game. So how exactly did the Twins manage to do this?

They learned how to field

At the end of the 2016 MLB season, the Minnesota Twins tallied 126 errors, which was good for worst in the league. In just 80 games on the field, Miguel Sano led the team with 18 errors. In 60 games, Jorge Polanco was right behind Sano, racking up 15.

This season, Minnesota finished first in the AL in fielding percentage. They made 48 less errors than in 2016. In 88 games, Sano cut his errors in half. Max Kepler and Byron Buxton both finished in the top five in total zone runs for their positions. According to Baseball Reference’s definition, total zone runs is “the number of runs above or below average the player was worth based on the number of plays made.”

The best defensive centerfielder, Byron Buxton (Star Tribune)

A major factor for the Twins having the opportunity to play the Cleveland Indians in the ALDS is Byron Buxton. Defensively, nobody is better in centerfield than the 23-year-old from Georgia.

The former number two overall pick in the 2012 MLB June Amateur Draft, Buxton led all centerfielders in total zone runs, and finished third in defensive runs saved (DRS), which is, “how many runs a player saved or hurt his team in the field compared to the average player at his position” (Fangraphs). Buxton’s 24 DRS was the most among centerfielders. The Twins 2016 leader in DRS was Joe Mauer, with six.

Nobody covers more ground than this kid. Buxton’s .951 Revised Zone Rating, or “the proportion of balls hit into a fielder’s zone that he successfully converted into an out” was the best in the majors (Hardball Times). He also ranked top five in out of zone plays, OOZ, which measure the number of plays a fielder makes on balls that were considered out of his zone.

Byron Buxton’s 2017 Defensive Ranks

STATISTICRANK AMONG CF’S
DEFENSIVE WAR1ST (3RD OVERALL)
DEFENSIVE RUNS SAVED1ST (3RD OVERALL)
REVIZED ZONE RATING 1ST (1ST OVERALL)
OUT OF ZONE PLAYS2ND (5TH OVERALL)
RANGE RUNS1ST (2ND OVERALL)
PLUS MINUS RUNS SAVED 1ST (3RD OVERALL)
TOTAL ZONE RUNS1ST (1ST OVERALL)

 

They hit for a better averagE

Last year’s Twins team really wasn’t that bad on offense. For all AL teams, they finished fifth in steals, fifth in walks, fourth in doubles, eighth in homers and first in triples. The problems stemmed from their averages, as well as an inability to score with runners on.

Minnesota finished 11th in batting average in and 11th in on base percentage in 2016. In 2017, the Twins finished fourth in both of those categories. Miguel Sano, who finished last year with a .236 batting average, ended the year at .264. The legend, Joe Mauer, had a rough 2016 and only hit .261. This year, Mauer led Minnesota with a .305 batting average. Buxton’s average also rose nearly 30 points.

Eddie Rosario took the biggest leap of all the Twins. In 2016, Rosario hit .269 with only 10 home runs and 32 RBIs. His breakout 2017 stat line included a .290 average, 27 home runs and 78 RBIs.

2016-2017 Minnesota Twins Offensive Ranks

 

STATISTIC2016 AL RANK2017 AL RANK
RUNS9TH 3RD
SLUGGING PERCENTGAE9TH6TH
BATTING AVERAGE11TH 4TH
OBP11TH 4TH
RUNS WITH MEN IN SCORING POSITION AND TWO OUTS14TH 3RD
BATTING AVERAGE WITH RUNNERS ON13TH 4TH
BATTING AVERAGE WITH BASED LOADED15TH 2ND

 

The Pitching improved

The 2016 Twins finished dead last in the AL in hits allowed, runs allowed, home runs allowed, earned runs, shutouts and saves. In regards to saves, the Twins only had 26 of them, and converted a save 56.6 percent of the time. It’s pretty hard to be worse than that.

5 complete games, 3 shoutouts for Ervin Santana (Sporting News)

This year’s Twins pitchers weren’t great, but they were much better. After posting a 5.08 ERA in 2016, they bounced back with a 4.59 ERA, which isn’t great, but they were able to knock off about half a run per game. The bullpen racked up 40 saves, and converted 66.7 percent of them.

Ervin Santana was the Twins’ best pitcher in 2017. He finished the year 16-8 with a 3.28 ERA. He was the only Twins pitcher to throw over 200 innings. The Twins finished second in the AL in complete games and shutouts. Santana ranked first in the league with five complete games, and also first in shutouts with three.

The Magical Run continues

With virtually the same roster, the Minnesota Twins were able to win 27 more games than they did in 2016. The MLB is the only sport in which the worst team of the previous year can make a run at the postseason with the same players. In a power surge year, the Twins only hit six more home runs this year than in 2016. The pitching was pretty similar both years, and the only thing that changed offensively was timely hitting.

Minnesota, who started the year 22nd in payroll, have a tough task going up against the New York Yankees, who currently rank second in payroll. Fortunately, this is the MLB, and anything can happen in a one game playoff. Ervin Santana will be on the bump, facing Luis Severino. Whether Minnesota wins or loses, their season was an absolute success, and proved that every team has a shot in the MLB. It is fair to say that coach Paul Molitor will be earning a few votes for AL Manager of the Year.

 

Featured image by MPR News

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MLB Postseason 2017 Wild Card Bonanza

MLB Postseason 2017 wild card bonanza

As the final chapter of MLB’s regular season comes to a close, a new chapter in baseball’s postseason lore is about to be written. Baseball fans are about to witness the MLB Postseason 2017 wild card bonanza!

The one game “play in” scenario is in its sixth season and there is no shortage of drama. We have an upstart young group in Minnesota heading in to Ruth’s house. Then we have division foes Colorado traveling to the desert to face the Diamondbacks. In the match-ups between slugger and pitcher, something’s got to give.

Before we turn the page to both the ALDS and NLDS however, we must first crown our two fully fledged members of the playoff court. When the dust settles, who will have slain the wild card dragon?

Minnesota @ New York  

Probable starters:

Minnesota: Ervin Santana (16-8) 3.28 ERA 7.1 K/9

New York: Luis Severino (14-6) 2.98 ERA 10.7 K/9

During the regular season the Yankees owned the head to head match up with four wins from six games. Each team bagged the home series as Minnesota took two of three from New York in Minneapolis, while New York swept the Twins right out of Yankee Stadium.

Why Minnesota wins:

MLB Postseason 2017 Wild Card Bonanza

The Minnesota Twins are hoping to ride another 85-win season to Wold Series glory like in 1987. (Photo courtesy of: sportslogos.net)

Minnesota, while not being world beaters by any stretch of the imagination, are a team that just finds a way to get it done. Finishing in the final wild card spot on the back of an 85-win season is a heck of a turnabout from their diabolical 59-win output a year ago. Included in those 85 wins is a (44-37) road record, which is better than how they fared at Target Field (41-40).

This is the Twins’ saving grace. They have been a slightly better road team this year than they have played at home. In a one game do or die situation on the road they will rely on their best pitcher, Ervin Santana, put together a strong outing. Last time he faced New York, Santana pitched 5.1 innings of two run ball, but the Twins found themselves on the wrong end of the box score losing 2-1.

If the Twins can get to Severino early and Santana can use his veteran guile and steady hand to silence the Yankee bats, they will win this game. The good news for the Twins is that all the pressure is off of them and lies squarely at the feet of New York.

Why New York wins:

Because… well, they are New York. They have a team that is loaded to bear and could do some tremendous damage in the postseason. They have a pitching staff anchored by the amazing young righthander, Luis Severino and a lineup bolstered by baseball bashing phenom, Aaron Judge.

Let’s face it. Most people probably expect the Yankees to walk away with this game and they might be right to think that come Wednesday.The Yankees are better in almost every category, though these teams offensively are much closer than you might expect.

MLB Postseason 2017 Wild Card Bonanza

Luis Severino will challenge any hitter brave enough to dig in against him. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)

The true difference that separates these clubs is pitching. New York has the fifth ranked pitching staff in all of MLB, and the Twins will get a taste of that when they face Severino on Tuesday. This young hurler is a strikeout artist in the making, and the Twins will most certainly be on their heels (or swinging from them).

And then there is Aaron Judge. What hasn’t already been said about this guy? He’s probably put together the greatest (arguably!) rookie season in the history of baseball. He will be looking to double down on his already growing reputation by stamping his name on Yankee postseason history like the greats that came before him.

My pick:

Look, I love an underdog and Minnesota is just that. New York will be heavy favorites but I’m taking Minnesota to win 5-4. On the back of a big day for the returning Miguel Sano, the Twins will find enough juice to do the unthinkable; break the Yankee Mystique.

 

Colorado @ Arizona

Probable Starters:

Colorado: Jon Gray (10-4) 3.67 ERA 9.1 K/9

Arizona: Zack Greinke (17-7) 3.20 ERA 9.6 K/9

Colorado edged out the Milwaukee Brewers by a slim margin to set up a fateful meeting between two teamsthat see each other often. Arizona leads the 19-game season series (11-8), but the teams split the season in Arizona winning five games each. The Rockies will be looking to turn the tables on Cy Young candidate Zack Grienke and his Diamondbacks teammates.

Why Colorado wins:

MLB Postseason 2017 Wild Card Bonanza

Charlie Blackmon runs the bases in his spare time… probably. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Their offense. Colorado has some nice young pitchers who may well bloom in to a fine staff, but the name of the game for the Rockies is scoring runs and they do it well.

It’s not often you will see a lineup that boasts not one but two candidates for league MVP, but this is exactly what Colorado has in 3B Nolan Arenado and CF Charlie Blackmon. Arenado (.309/.373/.586) mashed 37 long balls and drove in 130 runs to keep with the tradition of strong seasons he’s already compiled. While Blackmon (.331/.399/.601) sent his own set of 37 baseballs into the lucky arms of those ball-wanting bleacher bums in the outfield cheap seats.

Jon Gray has been the best pitcher in Colorado’s (shaky at times) rotation. This 25-year-old hurler is the best chance they have at beating Arizona in a one-off game at Chase Field. In his last 11 starts, Gray is (7-2) with a 2.44 ERA.

Why Arizona wins:

Zack Greinke. If Greinke has his best stuff, it’s going to take a Harvey Haddix-esque fluke to derail Arizona’s hopes in this game. Greinke dominates with a heavy heater and a knee buckling curve that, year after year, make the best look weak. Over his last 11 starts though, he’s been a tad shaky at (4-3) with a 3.95 ERA. Of course, when those competitive juices get going though, Greinke should be able to get dialed right in.

MLB Postseason 2017 Wild Card Bonanza

Few are as overpowering as the hard throwing Zack Greinke, but hey batter,
watch out for the hammer. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Also in Arizona, you will find an offense that can score at will. If they are feeling the groove at the plate, look out. Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldshchmidt has put together a MVP caliber (.297/.404/.563) season in the arid climes of Phoenix. In a crowded field though, Goldschmidt is a dark horse contender for the NL MVP. He likely won’t take home that hardware, but it doesn’t make his 120 RBI any less valuable to the fans or his team.

For those that don’t know, Arizona won it all in 2001. Backed by a pitching staff bolstered by Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. Diamondback fans will be hoping to catch a little of that lightning in a bottle once again in 2017.

My pick:

Greinke is too tough to solve for the Rockies. Zack’s recent run of performances haven’t looked that great, but giving up eight runs in a four inning outing will tend to do that. At any rate, Greinke rebounds with a dominant seven innings and the Diamnondbacks win 6-3 on a late Goldschmidt three-run tater.

 

 

(feature photo courtesy of: Boston CBS)

 

 

 

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“From our Haus to yours”

Trevor May: “Follow the money, it’s where the masses will look”

Trevor May

Courtesy of Twitch.tv

The sports and esports worlds are becoming more intertwined by the week. It was announced that Minnesota Twins pitcher Trevor May and his company Esports Lab were investing time and money to help relaunch Winstonslab.com.

This is just one of the latest examples of traditional sports individuals getting involved with esports. While many of these individuals are only investing because they see business opportunities, May, while also seeing similar opportunities, is following one of his lifelong passions.

As a child May grew up playing on a Super Nintendo with his older brother. They would play games like Super Mario and once the Nintendo 64 came out, games like “Ken Griffey Jr. Major League Baseball”. While he had his passions for traditional sports like baseball, his go to after a long day was video games.

One of his best friends growing up had a dad who built computers just for fun. May, always being a console man at this time, went over and saw the room full of computers.

“This was my first true lan experience, and I loved it,” May said in an interview with The Game Haus.

With this, May was shown another side of gaming, online gaming. He went over to his friends house to play until he finally was able to get his own laptop. Once that happened, he started playing games like the “Total War Series”, “League of Legends”, “Warcraft 3” and “World of Warcraft”. These games allowed him to immerse himself into the world of online gaming and he’s never looked back.

Competition

The one thing that intersects for May between sports and esports is the competition associated with it. As one may expect, he is a high-level competitor and always has been. Whether he is pitching for the Twins or trying to get that Chicken Dinner in PUBG, May is out there to win.

“If you are going to put any real time into something then you want to be good,” May said. “Otherwise you’re just wasting your time and I hate to waste time”.

May is dealing with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. This is a surgery that normally requires anywhere from 10-18 months to come back from. It is much quicker nowadays but that is still a long time to be off the field. For a competitor like May, it is especially hard to be off the field and since he is unable to pitch competitively, he has taken his time to jump into video games and streaming.

A few months back when May started to gain a following on Twitch, he was contacted by the esports organization Luminosity. He quickly joined their streaming team and has felt welcomed since day one. Luminosity and May are working together on a gentleman’s agreement, which means no contract is involved. This is due to May’s contract with the Minnesota Twins.

The Business Side

While he is sidelined, May hasn’t only been playing games. He is also getting involved on the business side of esports.

“I knew from a business standpoint that I wanted to get involved,” May said.

For someone who does not like to waste time, he felt that furthering himself in the business world would be a good thing to focus on. May believes that jumping into the esports scene while it is young is a great business decision.

Trevor May

Courtesy of wwg.com

During this time, he has also been working on his company Esports Lab. One of the company’s first moves was getting involved with Winstonslab.com in order to bring it back.

They had a good following but did not have the means needed to continue on. When May was contacted about the company, he realized that this website was very similar to the analytics in baseball.

He said the world is data-driven and that like advanced metrics in baseball, esports such as Overwatch should use them too. This will allow for people to have a better understanding of what is going on in the game.

He compared this to World of Warcraft. This was a game May had played for many years and spent a long time playing competitively.

“The best way to get advantages was to look for the small ones,” May said. “Whether it was slightly better armor or a better weapon you needed any advantage you could get”.

With this comes his belief in Winstonslab. Franchising for Overwatch is coming with the new OWL and teams will be doing whatever they have to in order to get that slight advantage.

Now that he is more involved with the esports scene, May realizes what esports franchising really means. There will be a lot more money put into the scene and it will continue to attract big time names and playmakers. He also believes that once players become more well-known and esports becomes mainstream, then more people will continue to watch it.

A Newer Generation of Two-Sport Athlete

Trevor May

Courtesy of twincities.com

When asked about people who either don’t understand how people could like both sports and esports, May said if you’re prestigious at something, you warrant respect.

“If you are in the top percentage of people at anything then you deserve respect,” May said.

He continued by pointing out that people who are amazing at anything deserve a chance at making a living off of it. Esports may not be there yet, but they will be. May believes that someday soon they will get their due.

 

Trevor May is showing the world that sports and esports can be interconnected and he is a big advocate for just that. You can watch his stream and hear him talking about this. While he has had the time off he has put a lot of effort into playing games consistently and yet is still able to balance his baseball life. Sadly he knows that his time streaming will decrease once he is healthy and the next season starts.

What May is doing is something that people will hear about more. The esports world is in its infancy but, it’s growing fast. More important people will continue to get involved from both worlds and the message of understanding and respect will hopefully grow along with it.


Featured image courtesy of the New York Post.

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Minnesota Twins

Minnesota Twins playoffs: Nobody saw this coming

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

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

The Manager

Minnesota Twins

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

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

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

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

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

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

Byron Buxton

Minnesota Twins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please, Not New York… Again

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

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

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

Minnesota Twins playoffs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

(feature photo: KMSP TV)

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Arizona Fall League

Arizona Fall League 2017: Youngest Stars

 

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

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

 

Glendale Desert Dogs

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

 

Youngest Pitcher: RHP Mitch Keller, Age 21

Parent Club: Pittsburgh Pirates

2017 Finishing Level: Altoona Curve (AA)

 

Arizona Fall League

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

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

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

 

 

 

Youngest Position Player: CF Cornelius Randolph, Age 20

Parent Club: Philadelphia Phillies

2017 Finishing Level: Clearwater Thrashers (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

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

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

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

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

 

 

Peoria Javelinas

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

 

Youngest Pitcher: RHP Andres Munoz, Age 18

Parent Club: San Diego Padres

2017 Finishing Level: Fort Wayne TinCaps (Low A)

 

Arizona Fall League

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Youngest Position Player: CF Ronald Acuna, Age 19

Parent Club: Atlanta Braves

2017 Finishing Level: Gwinnett Braves (AAA)

 

Arizona Fall League

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

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

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

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

 

 

Scottsdale Scorpions

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

 

Youngest Pitcher: LHP Justus Sheffield, Age 21

Parent Club: New York Yankees

2017 Finishing Level: Trenton Thunder (AA)

 

Arizona Fall League

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

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

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

 

 

 

Youngest Position Player: CF Estevan Florial, Age 19

Parent Club: New York Yankees

2017 Finishing Level: Tampa Yankees (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

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

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

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

 

 

Mesa Solar Sox

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

 

Youngest Pitcher: RHP Nolan Blackwood, Age 22

Parent Club: Oakland Athletics

2017 Finishing Level: Stockton Ports (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

Parent Club: Houston Astros

2017 Finishing Level: Buies Creek Astros (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

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

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

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

 

 

Salt River Rafters

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

 

Youngest Pitcher: LHP Keegan Akin, Age 22

Parent Club: Baltimore Orioles

2017 Finishing Level: Frederick Keys (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

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

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

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

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

 

Youngest Position Player: 2B Ryan Mountcastle, Age 20

Parent Club: Baltimore Orioles

2017 Finishing Level: Bowie Bay Sox (AA)

 

Arizona Fall League

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

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

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

 

 

 

Surprise Saguaros

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

 

Youngest Pitcher: RHP Jordan Hicks, Age 21

Parent Club: St. Louis Cardinals

2017 Finishing Level: Springfield Cardinals (AA)

 

Arizona Fall League 2017

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

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

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

 

Youngest Position Player: 3B Kevin Padlo, Age 21

Parent Club: Tampa Bay Rays

2017 Finishing Level: Charlotte Stone Crabs (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(feature photo courtesy of: Colorado Rockies)

 

 

 

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