2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

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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Greatest Rookie Fantasy Baseball Seasons

Greatest Rookie Fantasy Baseball Seasons Since 2000

Rookies are an anomaly in fantasy baseball, as it is difficult to predict their value due to a lack of minor and major league experience. In order to qualify as a rookie, a player must not have conceded 130 at bats or fifty innings pitched in the majors, and also must have fewer than 45 days on the active roster. Rookies tend to be undervalued in redraft leagues and over valued in keeper and dynasty formats, although in either format, they can make or break your fantasy season.

One rookie, Michael Conforto, who looked to contribute as a starting outfielder for the New York Mets in 2016, and after battling through injuries and demotions, finished the year as the 121st outfielder in fantasy. Conforto’s average draft position of 211, was much too high compared to his performance, as you could have waited and selected top 50 outfielders Odubel Herrera, Nick Markakis or Carlos Beltran.

There is always risk involved when drafting rookies, but the rewards can be plentiful.

In 2016, rookie short stops Corey Seager, Trevor Story and Aledmys Diaz exploded onto the scene, all finishing as top 10 short stops, while commonly being drafted 60th or later, occasionally going undrafted, depending on the date and number of teams in the draft.

AL Rookie of the year Michael Fulmer was another undrafted contributor, as he finished as a top 28th starting pitcher in 2016, after winning 11 games in 26 starts.

After being called up in June, Trea Turner of the Washington Nationals played in only 73 games, but managed to finish as the 10th second basemen, after batting .342 with 13 home runs and 33 stolen bases.

Many owners believe rookies are too risky to take chances on, especially in re-draft leagues, Even though the 2016 rookie class shined, many owners will continue to shy away from drafting rookies over established talent. In order to persuade owners to take a few more chances on rookies in 2017, they must understand what rookies are truly capable of.

Below are the greatest fantasy baseball seasons by a rookie at each position since the year 2000.

Notable rookies to keep your eye out for in 2017 include: Andrew Benintendi (BOS), Yoan Moncada (CWS), Dansby Swanson (ATL), Hunter Renfroe (SD), Tyler Glasnow (PIT), Aaron Judge (NYY), Yulieski Gurriel (HOU), Willson Contreras (CHC), Lucas Giolito (CWS), Bradley Zimmer (CLE), and Ozzie Albies (ATL).

 

Catcher: Geovany Soto, Chicago Cubs, 2008

Greatest Rookie Fantasy Baseball Seasons

2008 National League ROY, Geovany Soto, looks to break camp with the Los Angeles Angels in 2017. (Courtesy of Getty Images)

Honorable mentions include: Bengie Molina 2000 (ANA), Buster Posey 2010 (SFG), Wilson Ramos 2011 (WAS), Wilin Rosario 2012 (COL), and Gary Sanchez 2016 (NYY).

Geovany Soto, was selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 11th round of the 2001 MLB draft. After totaling 25 home runs in six years of minor league baseball, Soto broke out, batting .353 with 26 home runs and 109 RBI’s for the Iowa Cubs of the Pacific Coast League in 2007.

The Chicago Cubs finished first in the National League Central in 2007, unfortunately getting swept by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL Division Series. The Cubs backstop remained a question mark heading into 2008, as veterans Michael Barrett and Jason Kendall departed. This was Soto’s chance.

His transition from the minors to the majors went smoothly, as he batted .285 with 23 home runs, 66 runs, and 86 RBI’s. Soto was named the NL’s starting catcher in the All-Star game, and was also awarded the 2008 NL Rookie of the Year while finishing 13th in NL MVP voting.

Unfortunately for Soto, injuries derailed his career. He has failed to surpass his career high of 141 games, which occurred in 2008.

The 12-year veteran has gone on to bounce around the American League, having brief stints with the Texas Rangers, Oakland Athletics, Chicago White Sox, and currently the Los Angeles Angels.

We could see a rookie season similar to Soto’s soon, as young catchers Gary Sanchez and Willson Contreras begin to emerge.

 

First Base: Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox, 2014

Greatest Rookie Fantasy Baseball Seasons

Jose Abreu continues to torment pitchers in the AL Central. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Honorable mentions include: Mark Teixeira 2003 (TEX), Ryan Howard 2005 (PHI), Prince Fielder 2006 (MIL), Joey Votto 2008 (CIN), Gaby Sanchez 2010 (FLA), Eric Hosmer 2011 (KC), and Freddie Freeman 2011 (ATL).

The Cuban first basemen signed a six-year deal with the Chicago White Sox worth $68 million, in 2013, which was the largest deal in club history.

In a Cuban professional league, Abreu batted .316 with 19 home runs and 60 RBI’s over an 83-game span. The White Sox took a risk, believing that his numbers in Cuba would translate to production in the American League.

The 27-year-old took over at first base for Chicago legend Paul Konerko in 2014, becoming a new corner stone of the White Sox lineup. Abreu didn’t disappoint, batting .317 with 36 home runs and 107 RBI’s. The 2014 All-Star managed to also win the AL Rookie of the Year and Silver Slugger awards, while finishing fourth in the AL MVP voting.

Abreu has remained an elite first basemen throughout his three-year career, having a 162-game average of .299, 32 home runs, and 109 RBI’s. His rookie season remains nearly unrepeatable.

 

Second Base: Dan Uggla, Florida Marlins, 2006

Greatest Rookie Fantasy Baseball Seasons

Dan Uggla looks to make an MLB comeback in 2017. (Courtesy of Onlineathens.com)

Honorable mentions include: Robinson Cano 2005 (NYY), Dustin Pedroia 2007 (BOS), Danny Espinosa 2011 (WAS), and Trea Turner 2016 (WAS).

Dan Uggla remains one my favorite players to this day. He mashed 21 home runs in 2005 at the AA level for the Arizona Diamondbacks affiliate, the Tennessee Smokies. Fortunately for Uggla, he failed to make the Diamondbacks 40-man roster in 2005, and was drafted by the Florida Marlins in the rule-5 draft, forcing the Marlins to keep him on the 40-man roster.

The 5-foot-11, 210-pound second basemen took this opportunity and ran with it, hitting 27 home runs with 90 RBI’s while batting a very respectable .287. The 26-year-old made his first of three All-Star appearances in 2006, while finishing third in NL Rookie of the Year.

Uggla’s career remained explosive, as he managed to hit 30 or more home runs in his following five seasons, finishing 17th in NL MVP voting in 2010.

After two and half inconsistent seasons with the Atlanta Braves from 2011-2013, he has bounced around the minor leagues. The 35-year old is coming off of stints with the San Francisco Giants and Washington Nationals, as he continues to try to make an impact for a big-league club in 2017.

 

Third Base: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers, 2007

Greatest Rookie Fantasy Baseball Seasons

Ryan Braun’s rookie season remains unmatched. (Courtesy of Youtube.com)

Honorable mentions include: Eric Hinske 2002 (TOR), Garrett Atkins 2005 (COL), Ryan Zimmerman 2006 (WAS), Evan Longoria 2008 (TB), Kris Bryant 2015 (CHC), and Matt Duffy 2015 (SFG).

Ryan Braun was the 5th overall pick by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2005. From 2005-2007, he batted .313, while hitting 32 home runs in 165 minor league games. The highly touted prospect had matching expectations when he was called up to take over for veteran Jeff Cirillo in May of 2007.

The 23-yaer-old impressed, batted an astounding .324, with 34 home runs, and 97 RBI’s. Braun went on to win NL Rookie of the Year, while finishing top 25 in NL MVP voting. The fact that Braun only played in 113 games goes completely overlooked, as he was on pace to hit 41 home runs and 118 RBI’s over a 600-plate appearance season. Although there have been some stellar rookie seasons by third basemen in the last two decades, Braun’s stands alone.

 

Short Stop: Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins, 2006

Greatest Rookie Fantasy Baseball Seasons

Hanley Ramirez may be back in Boston, but no one forgets his MVP caliber days in Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

Honorable mentions include: Jimmy Rollins 2001 (PHI), Angel Berroa 2003 (KAN), Troy Tulowitzki 2007 (COL), Alexie Ramirez 2008 (CWS), Carlos Correa 2015 (HOU), Francisco Lindor 2015 (CLE), Corey Seager 2016 (LAD), Trevor Story 2016 (COL), and Aledmys Diaz 2016 (STL).

The former and current Boston Red Sox, Hanley Ramirez, signed with the team in 2000 as an amateur free agent. He began to soar up the ranks, making his way from low-A minor league ball to the majors in only three years. Ramirez was traded to the Florida Marlins in November of 2005, in a deal involving World Series champs Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell.

As a 22-year old, Ramirez won the 2006 NL Rookie of the Year, batting .292 with 17 home runs, 119 runs, 59 RBI’s, and 51 stolen bases. Hanley’s production goes unmatched, as the only other rookie to score over 115 runs in the modern era is Ichiro Suzuki.

Hanley’s career has been an interesting ride so far, as he has battled through some serious injuries that has caused him to lose his MVP form. He has transformed from a perennial .300 hitter with 20 plus steals to a .270 hitter with single-digit steals, which, along with his improved power stroke, is still a very productive player.

 

Left Field: Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals, 2001

Greatest Rookie Fantasy Baseball Seasons

Albert Pujols is the greatest player of his generation. (Courtesy of Lehighvalleylive.com)

Honorable mentions include: Hideki Matsui 2003 (NYY), Jason Bay 2004 (PIT), Chris Coghlan 2009 (FLA), Yoenis Cespedes 2012 (OAK).

Arguably the greatest player of his generation, Albert Pujols was drafted in the 13th round of the 1999 MLB draft by the St. Louis Cardinals. He accelerated up the minor-league ladder, batting .314 with 19 home runs and 96 RBI’s in 133 games at three different levels in 2000.

The Machine exploded onto the scene in 2001, batting .329 with 37 home runs, 112 runs, and 130 RBI’s. Pujols went on to become an All-Star, win Rookie of the Year and Silver Slugger awards, and finish top five in NL MVP voting. Prince Albert’s 2001 campaign sparked a hall of fame career which included three MVP’s and two World Series rings.

 

Center Field: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels, 2012

Greatest Rookie Fantasy Baseball Seasons

Mike Trout or Micky Mantle? (Courtesy of the Huffington Post)

Honorable mentions include: Terrance Long 2000 (OAK), Rocco Baldelli 2003 (TB), Scott Podsednik 2003 (MIL), Willy Tavares 2005 (HOU), Jacoby Ellsbury 2008 (BOS), Austin Jackson 2010 (DET), and Billy Hamilton 2014 (CIN).

This generations Mikey Mantle began as a first-round selection by the Los Angles Angels in 2009. In three minor league season Trout batted well over .300, but lacked the power that we are all used to seeing today, as he hit only 23 home runs in 291 games.

Trout started his rookie season after being called up in April of 2012. He went on to play 139 games, batting .326, while mashing 30 home runs, scoring 129 runs, driving in 83 RBI’s, and stealing 49 bases in 56 attempts.

The two-time MVP had the highest WAR ever by a rookie, with 10.0. It may be a long time until we see another 30/40 season by a rookie.

 

Right Field: Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners, 2001

Greatest Rookie Fantasy Baseball Seasons

Ichiro refuses to quit as he enters his 17th Major League season. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Honorable mentions include: Hunter Pence 2007 (HOU), Jason Heyward 2010 (ATL), Bryce Harper 2012 (WAS), Yasiel Puig 2013 (LAD), and Nomar Mazara 2016 (TEX).

The 27-year old rookie was purchased from the Orix BlueWave for $13 million in 2000. In nine seasons in Japan, Ichiro batted .313, with 658 runs, 118 home runs, and 508 stolen bases. After winning seven batting titles and three MVP awards in Japan, Ichiro decided to make the transition to the MLB.

In 2001, he set the record for the most hits ever by a rookie with 242. The Rookie of the Year finished the season batting .350, while scoring 127 runs, driving in 69 RBI’s, and stealing 56 bases. He was subsequently rewarded the AL MVP.

Suzuki’s career is well known as he has surpassed the 3000-hit plateau and has a career average of .313. Ichiro will remain with the Miami Marlins in 2017, where he will continue to add to his historical career.

 

Starting Pitcher: Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins, 2013

Greatest Rookie Fantasy Baseball Seasons

Jose Fernandez, what could have been?(Findagrave.com)

Honorable mentions include: Rick Ankiel 2000 (STL), Roy Oswalt 2001 (HOU), Dontrelle Willis 2003 (FLA), Francisco Liriano 2006 (MIN), Daisuke Matsuzaka 2007 (BOS), Edinson Volquez 2008 (CIN), J.A. Happ 2009 (PHI), Jaime Garcia 2010 (STL), Jeremy Hellickson 2011 (TB), Yu Darvish 2012 (TEX), Wade Miley 2012 (ARI), Shelby Miller 2013 (ATL), Hyun-Jin Ryo 2013 (LAD), Julio Teheran 2013 (ATL), Matt Shoemaker 2014 (LAA), Jacob deGrom 2014 (NYM), Noah Syndergaard 2015 (NYM), Michael Fulmer 2016 (DET), Kenta Maeda 2016 (LAD), and Jon Gray 2016 (COL).

In 2013, the late, great, Jose Fernandez, managed to out-perform all other rookie starters since the year 2000. After being selected as the 14th pick of the 2011 MLB draft, Fernandez pitched one full season in the minors, going 14-1 with a 1.75 ERA, while striking out 158 batters in 134 innings pitched.

The young hurler started 28 games in his rookie season, going 12-6 with a 2.19, while striking out 187 batters in 172.2 innings. The 20-year old lead the league in hits per nine in 2013, which helped him earn the NL Rookie of the Year award, his first All-Star appearance, and a 3rd place finish in NL Cy Young.

In 2016, Fernandez lead the league in K/9, with 12.5, as he had 253 strikeouts in only 182.1 innings. Unfortunately, Fernandez’ life was cut short in boating accident, so we can only speculate to what could have been. Rest in peace.

 

Releif Pitcher: Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves, 2011

Greatest Rookie Fantasy Baseball Seasons

Craig Kimbrel may be in a new uniform, but his antics remain as they did in Atlanta. (Courtesy of Jeffschultz.blog.myajc.com)

Honorable mentions include: Kazuhiro Sasaki 2000 (SEA), Huston Street 2005 (OAK), Jonathan Papelbon 2006 (BOS), Andrew Bailey 2009 (OAK), and Neftali Feliz 2010 (TEX), Jordan Walden 2010 (LAA), Dellin Betances 2014 (NYY), Roberto Osuna 2015 (TOR), Edwin Diaz 2016 (SEA), and Seung-hwan Oh 2016 (STL).

After being drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 33rd round of the 2007 MLB draft, Craig Kimbrel decided to forgo the MLB, and attend Wallace State Community College in Hanceville, Alabama. He finished the 2007-2008 collegiate season with a 2.89 ERA, while striking out 123 batters in 81 innings.

Kimbrel went on the be re-drafted by the Braves in the third round of the 2008 MLB draft. He had some slight struggles in the minors, sporting a 3.97 ERA in 70.1 innings pitched at four different levels in 2009, but recovered in 2010, where he had a 1.62 ERA at the AAA level.

Kimbrel received the official call up in 2010, where he recorded 46 saves, struck out 127 batters, and lead the league in games finished with 64. The 23-year old went on to win NL Rookie of the Year, make his first All-Star appearance, all while receiving votes for the Cy Young and MVP.

The flamethrower has managed to improve on his rookie season, as he has had an illustrious seven-year career with a career ERA of 1.86 and over 250 career saves.

 

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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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Fantasy Baseball Scoring: What is the Perfect Scoring Format

A common debate arises when arguing which fantasy baseball scoring format is best. One of the premier websites for fantasy baseball is ESPN.com. They offer a multitude of scoring options, including three standard scoring formats: rotisserie, season points, and head to head.

Rotisserie

In rotisserie scoring, “teams are ranked from first to last in each statistical category. Points are awarded to the order in each category, then totaled to determine an overall score and league rank” (ESPN.com). This scoring is best suited for leagues who look to avoid the flukes of head-to-head matchups. In head-to-head, you can score the second most points in a week, and lose to the team who scored the most. Rotisserie scoring creates a free for all, where all teams battle for the most total statistics in each category.

Season Points

“Standings are based on the accumulation of points covering all statistical categories and combined into one total points column” (ESPN.com). Season points leagues give point values to individual statistics. A home run may be worth four fantasy points, where a double may be worth two. The team with the most overall points at the end of the season wins.

Head-to-Head: Each Category (H2H)

Head-to-head: scoring each category individually allows the league manager “to select “X” number of statistical categories. For each scoring period, team totals are accumulated, and a win, loss, or tie is credited in each category based on the matchup results” (ESPN.com). The results of an ESPN standard H2H category matchup can look like 5-4-1, indicating that you won five categories, lost four, and tied one. This scoring system creates one on one matchups, where teams fight to cover more categories than their opponent. I believe this is the best scoring format, although the number of categories must be altered in order to be perfect.

What is the perfect scoring system?

Major league teams are split into divisions and play head-to-head matchups, so why should fantasy be any other way? I believe H2H is the best scoring format as it adds realism to fantasy leagues. Rivalries are created as teams match up against each other two to three times a season. The creation of divisions affect trades, rivalries, and the playoffs. Also, this scoring format requires more strategy than points than rotisserie leagues. It forces owners to consider a multitude of categories when drafting their team, opposed to blindly drafting the best player available.

The standard H2H scoring comprises ten categories, five hitting and five pitching. Hitting categories include runs, homeruns, runs batted in, stolen bases, and batting average. Pitching categories include strikeouts, wins, earned run average, and walk/hits per inning pitched. After researching the results of the 2016 season, I found a severe flaw in the standard five by five (5X5) format.

At first glance, you can see that Jonathan Villar and Jean Segura finished above Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado on the player rater. Although Villar and Segura impressed in 2016, Goldschmidt and Arenado finished as the eleventh and fifth respectively in the MVP voting. That was the first red flag. As I continue to scroll, the next name that jumps out is Eduardo Nunez, who finished ahead of Robinson Cano, Ryan Braun, Wil Myers, and Freddie Freeman. Nunez was an all-star for the first time in 2016, but did not have close to a better season than any of the previous names. This was strike two. Finally, I made my way to the forty-fifth overall player and sixth best shortstop, Manny Machado. Seeing a top five most valuable player candidate get disrespected like that was the last straw.

The following are the stat lines for the aforementioned batters in order from highest to lowest on the 5X5 player rater.

You be the judge on whether or not this order is correct.

Villar looks to retain steal title in 2017. (Courtesy of ESPN.com)

 

4. Jonathan Villar MIL .285 92 19 63 62

5. Jean Segura ARI .319 102 20 64 33

6. Paul Goldschmidt ARI .297 106 24 95 32

8. Nolan Arenado COL .294 116 41 133 2

17. Eduardo Nunez MIN/SFG .288 73 16 67 40

18. Robinson Cano SEA .298 107 39 103 0

19. Ryan Braun MIL .305 80 30 90 16

21. Wil Myers SD .259 99 28 94 28

Segura looks to make smooth transition to Seattle in 2017. (Courtesy of ESPN.com)

22. Freddie Freeman ATL .302 102 34 91 6

27. Manny Machado BAL .294 105 37 96 0

Clearly the 5X5 format is flawed, so what is the solution?

The solution is to dilute the steals category. In order to do this, the league manager will have to add more categories focused around batting statistics. Steals are the most overrated stat in fantasy baseball. In the 5X5 format, steals harshly inflate a player’s value. The ideal number of categories is eighteen, which is a nine by nine (9X9) format.

The added hitting categories include extra base hits, total bases, walks, and on base plus slugging percentage. The added hitting categories enhance value to players who get on base and hit with power. It weakens the worth of players who primarily get their value from steals.

Since hitting categories were added, pitching must be added as well. The new pitching categories include quality starts, batting average against, and strike outs per nine. The additional categories add value to pitchers who eat innings, strike out batters, and keep guys off base.

How the 9X9 format affects the Player Rater

Villar and Segura finished as top 5 overall hitters in 5X5, but in 9X9 they finished at eleven and sixteen respectively.

Goldschmidt looks to continue his search for an MVP in 2017. (Courtesy of ESPN.com)

Eduardo Nunez moves from seventeen in the 5X5 format, to fifty-five.

The 9X9 player rater for hitters looks as follows.

6. Paul Goldschmidt ARI .297 106 24 95 32

8. Nolan Arenado COL .294 116 41 133 2

9. Freddie Freeman ATL .302 102 34 91 6

11. Jonathan Villar MIL .285 92 19 63 62

16. Jean Segura ARI .319 102 20 64 33

20. Robinson Cano SEA .298 107 39 103 0

21. Manny Machado BAL .294 105 37 96 0

Is Arenado the games best hitter? (Courtesy of ESPN.com)

24. Ryan Braun MIL .305 80 30 90 16

27. Wil Myers SD .259 99 28 94 28

55. Eduardo Nunez SFG .288 73 16 67 40

I believe the format of H2H category leagues must be 9×9 in order to have a player rater that accurately represents the best players in the game. The more categories you add, the more diluted the steals category will become. This enhances the value of MVP caliber players whose value is lessened due to lack of steals.

 

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2017 MLB Season

Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Left Field

In this seventh installment of our Position Rankings for the 2017 MLB season, we will move from the infield to the outfield. Left field has long been known as a place to stash the slugger, but that is changing. With defense and speed changing the way the game is played, let’s see if it has spilled over into the top five left fielders.

5. Khris Davis- Oakland Athletics

2017 MLB Season

Khris Davis has mastered the third base high five during his tenure with Oakland. (Ben Margot, AP).

Khris Davis was a force in 2016. After putting up solid power numbers in Milwaukee, Davis was shipped to Oakland in 2015 and was able to tap into his power even more. He slashed .247, .307, .524 in his first season in Oakland. While his average and OBP are nothing to write home about, his .524 slugging percentage, as well as his 42 homers and 102 RBI’s certainly warrant some credence. With a newfound power stroke at the plate, Davis is the big bat the Athletics have been searching for. Although Davis has been a monster at the plate, he was a behemoth in the outfield.

Davis performed below league average on defense in 2016, putting up -1 defensive runs saved. While he was only slightly below average in the field, his bat certainly made up for it in 2016. Davis is only 28 years old and entering the prime of his career. While his defense may not improve, his bat certainly seems here to stay. If Davis can survive another season in Oakland without being traded, he will be relied upon to produce again in 2017.

4. Justin Upton- Detroit Tigers

Tigers fans were ecstatic when Justin Upton moved to Detroit last season. Upton was an established run producer and he was slotted into a deep Tigers lineup. As the season progressed, Upton’s offense stagnated. He was able to turn around an otherwise poor season with a torrid finish in 2016, putting up a slash line of .246, .310, and .465. He also hit 31 homers and drove in 87 RBI’s. Upton fits the traditional mold of a left fielder: a big slugger who will hit tanks and drive in runs. He has also proven to provide more than just power.

Upton posted 1 defensive run saved while playing 146 games in left field for the Detroit Tigers last year. That is solid, but not spectacular glove work. He was also able to swipe nine bags in 2016, a good amount for a slugger like Upton. Upton has always been known as a streaky hitter, but he has always been consistent in one category: putting up above average offensive seasons. That won’t change in 2017 as the Tigers look to regain the AL Central crown.

3. Ryan Braun- Milwaukee Brewers

2017 Season

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

Ryan Braun has been a star player in Milwaukee for almost the entirety of his time there, but his PED use has but a black mark on an otherwise stellar career. He has admitted to PED use in his NL MVP season in 2011, but has since passed all drug tests from Major League Baseball. Braun is assumed to be clean of any PEDs, and is putting up good numbers for the Brewers. He batted .305, .365, .538 in 2016 and slugged 30 homers to go along with 91 RBI’s. Braun also stole 16 bases, proving to be one of the top speed/power players in the majors.

Braun was also able to utilize his speed in the outfield. His six defensive runs saved in 2016 were second best of his career, proving him to be a more than capable fielder. Braun is the total package in left field. His power and speed make him a premier offensive player, and his defense lifts his overall game to a whole other level. If Braun can put up more clean seasons like he did in 2016, he will certainly climb this list. Until then, he remains one of the best left fielders, just not the best.

2. Starling Marte- Pittsburgh Pirates

Ever since Starling Marte was called up by Pittsburgh in 2012, he has been a spark plug for the Pirates’ lineup. He is one of the new breed of left fielders becoming more prominent in the majors, utilizing his speed and defense to become a game changer. Marte stole 47 bases in only 129 games played in 2016, proving to be an elite base stealer. He also was able to make a huge impact in the field. He also provided elite defense 19 defensive runs save. His offensive game, while trailing his base running and defense, is still better than advertised.

Marte was able to hit .311, .362, and .456 last year, all three being career highs. While his nine homers and 46 RBI’s won’t blow anyone away, it is still solid production for a limited season. Marte will always be known for his glove and base running, but don’t sleep on his bat. If he can put up a full season in 2017, look for Marte to accumulate some monster numbers.

1. Yoenis Cespedes- New York Mets

2017 MLB Season

From flipping bats over and over, to flipping balls over the fence, Yoenis Cespedes can do it all. (Brad Penner USA Today Sports).

Yoenis Cespedes was shipped from Detroit to New York at the trade deadline in 2015, and has been an offensive juggernaut for the Mets ever since. He was so good in his first full season with the Mets that he finished eighth in the NL MVP voting. Cespedes achieved this by batting .280, .354, and .530 as well as hitting 31 bombs and driving in 86 RBI’s. He has been the run producer the Mets have sorely needed since the departure of Daniel Murphy and the decline of David Wright. Cespedes has also flashed the leather and his arm during his tenure in New York.

Cespedes had four defensive runs saved while playing left field in 2016. He was helped in large part by the cannon attached to his right shoulder. Video of Cespedes firing the ball to home plate will be played for years to come. His arm strength is already legendary. Cespedes combines stellar offensive production with strong defensive skills to claim the top spot in the left field rankings. He is poised to maintain his perch with 2017 providing another chance for Cespedes to dominate.

Left field is slowly changing. No longer can you have a plodding slugger in the outfield. Players with strong defense and good speed are taking over left, and seem here to stay.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

 

Marcell Ozuna’s All-Star Case

The Marlins don’t have a single player even close to contention for this year’s All-Star game, with the deadline for voting just two days away. As we get closer and closer to seeing the rosters, opinions over players who were “snubbed” from well-earned opportunities become more prevalent.

Marcell Ozuna is a guys that I have very high on my snub list for the National League team this year. He sits in the top ten among NL outfielders in a majority of categories, but doesn’t even sit in the top 15 in the NL All-Star Vote (ASV). The current voting standings are based off of MLB.com’s latest report on them, published on June 23rd.

Marcell Ozuna (.321 BA, 16 HR, 44 RBI)

Ozuna currently leads the team in most major batting statistics, aside from OBP, so his case is certainly the strongest of anybody on Miami (aside from Jose Fernandez). Just looking statistically, Ozuna is putting up some solid numbers thus far in 2016. His .321 batting average currently ranks 4th among all outfielders in the National League, only behind Carlos Gonzalez (currently 7th in ASV), Starling Marte (9th), and Ryan Braun (5th).

He’s got a better batting average than the top four players currently in the All-Star Vote, but isn’t even within ten places of them. And it’s not like they all make up for it with a much higher walk count to beat Ozuna in OBP, either.

Ozuna ranks 7th in the NL in OBP, and only Bryce Harper (2nd in voting), and Dexter Fowler (1st) have higher OBPs than him despite having lower batting averages (in Harper’s case, .063 points lower). So even if Ozuna’s case was to be made entirely based off of batting average and on-base percentage, he should at the very least be in the top six.

But, Ozuna’s case doesn’t end with just batting average, he’s also sitting high in the RBI and homer categories as well. Ozuna sits at 44 RBIs on the year, which places him 8th in the NL among outfielders. The only two guys ahead of him in the top five in outfield voting currently are Yoenis Cespedes (3rd in ASV, 7th in RBIs) and Bryce Harper (2nd in ASV, 6th in RBIs). Ozuna sits just two RBIs behind Harper, and three behind Matt Holliday, who currently sits at #12 in the vote and is fifth in RBIs.

Honestly, a lot of outfielders in the NL aren’t being given the chances they deserve in the Vote this year, as the top three in the NL in RBIs all sit outside the top 15. Cincinnati’s Adam Duvall (playing his first full MLB season and is currently tied for the NL lead with 21 homers and tied for second in RBIs with 53) is another guy who doesn’t even make the list, much to my dismay.

As far as homers go, Ozuna is currently tied for fifth in the NL among outfielders. Of those tied with or above him Bryce Harper, Yoenis Cespedes, and Carlos Gonzalez are the only guys on the All-Star radar.  Matt Kemp, Jay Bruce, and the aforementioned Adam Duvall all sit well outside the top 15 when it comes to outfielders. Much like Ozuna, despite having seasons statistically comparable to guys at the top of the outfield vote.

There is one category where Ozuna isn’t showing up, and that’s the stolen base category, but even there, only two guys in the NL top 15 for outfielders have double-digit steals so far this year: Bryce Harper (10 steals) and Starling Marte (20).

So, no, I’m not saying that Marcell Ozuna should have been the a shoo-in for starting in the outfield for the NL in San Diego this year. What I am saying is that he (and a few other outfielders) deserves a lot more respect for his performance this year than the vote gives him.

He ranks top ten in batting average, RBIs, and home runs among outfielders in the NL this year. That’s not just a fluke in one category, or spurred on by a single hot streak at some point. Ozuna has been a consistent hitter throughout 2016, and arguably one of the best outfielders at the plate in the NL.

But he doesn’t even make the top 15 in All-Star votes, where you instead find guys like Jorge Soler (.223 BA, 5 HR, 13 RBIs) in 6th? Ozuna certainly isn’t the only snub of 2016’s All-Star Vote, but he’s definitely one of the bigger ones in my mind.

In my opinion, Marcell Ozuna is one of the biggest snubs of the 2016 All-Star vote. Photo courtesy of ESPN.com

NL Central Recap Week 2

rockies-cubs-baseball (1)

Photo Courtesy of  NY Daily News

Two weeks into the season, the NL Central is shaping up about how was expected, with the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, and Pittsburgh Pirates occupying the top three spots of the division, in that order.

In fact, outside of the Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers being flip flopped at the bottom, my preseason prediction is looking pretty on point so far. Standings two weeks into the season almost always hold up in a six month marathon, so, may as well chalk my predictions up as golden now.

All jokes aside, let’s take a brief look into how each team performed in the young seasons second week:

Chicago Cubs: 9-3, 1st place in the NL Central (4-2 last week)

The Cubs swept their first home series of the year against their division foe Reds before losing 2 of 3 to the Colorado Rockies over the weekend.

Overall it was a good week for arguably the most impressive team in baseball to date. Kris Bryant hit his first 2 HR’s of his 2016 sophomore campaign, the club got Javier Baez back from injury, and Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester combined for 3 quality starts (albeit only with 1 win).

Intriguing stat line of the week: Lester combined to go 1-2 at the plate with a double, he even drew a walk. The impressive week at the plate brings his career batting average to an above replacement level .050. The double was Lester’s first career, regular season, extra base hit.  

Player to Watch: With Kyle Schwarber now out for the season Jorge Soler logged starts in 5 of the Cubbies 6 games this week. He hit 2 HR’s and was even batted cleanup on Saturday against the Rockies.

St. Louis Cardinals: 7-5, 2nd place in the NL Central (4-2 last week)

After a rough start to the season that saw them get swept in their opening series against the Pirates, the Redbirds did what the top 3 teams in this division will do perceivably all season, beat up on the Brewers and the Reds.

The Cardinals managed to get 2 series wins against their divisional counterparts en route to finding their way back to familiar territory above the .500 mark.

Intriguing stat line of the week: Jaime Garcia logged a complete game, one-hit shutout against the Brewers on Thursday while racking up 13 K’s. The oft-injured Garcia is off to a great start to the season and could play huge if he manages to stay healthy.

Player to watch: With Jhonny Peralta currently on the shelf, Aledmys Diaz is making the most of his opportunities at SS. The 25 year old could be your classic Cardinal standout, with the chance to come seemingly out of nowhere and become a productive regular.

Pittsburgh Pirates: 7-6 3rd place in the NL Central (3-4 last week)

The Pirates had a rough go of it in a home and home series against the Detroit Tigers, winning the 1st of 4 only to lose the last three. Then the trend continued, as the superior teams in the division once again prevailed with the Pirates taking 2 of 3 from the Brewers over the weekend.

3-4 is not exactly a week that will stand out to you at the end of the season, but, treading water in stretches is important in the long baseball season. Even without a winning record it should be viewed as a solid week for the Bucs.

Intriguing stat line of the week: Josh Harrison swiped 3 bags this week without being caught. Last year Harrison only stole 10 bags, while being thrown out 8 times.  

Player to Watch: Hailed as Ray Searage’s next prodigy, Juan Nicasio struggled in his 2-start week, giving up 7 earned runs in 10 innings. The most alarming number for Nicasio was the 7 walks he issued, a problem he has battled his entire career.

Cincinnati Reds: 6-6, 4th place in the NL Central, (1-5 last week)

Coming off a promising 5-1 start to the season, the Reds mirrored that performance this week going 1-5 and falling back to .500 at 6-6. The Reds got swept by the Cubs before dropping 2 of 3 to the Cardinals.

With some veterans scattered across their lineup, if the Reds want to have some shot at contending in 2016 they are going to have to put up more of a fight against the Cubs and Cards.

Intriguing stat line of the week: Billy Hamilton hitting a HR against Jon Lester and the Cubs. This is part of the problem with Hamilton, he puts the ball in the air far too often when that isn’t the strength of his game. Hamilton’s disappointing start (.185 BA with only 1 SB) will keep him at the bottom of the Reds lineup and may even eventually cost him his starting job.

Player to watch: Devin Mesoraco was missing in action for almost all of 2015 and again missed time last week with a lower body injury. Despite it being his right leg keeping him out of action it is a situation worth monitoring as Mesoraco is struggling at the plate after returning from left hip surgery last season.

Milwaukee Brewers: 5-7, 5th place in the NL Central (2-4 last week)

Much like the Reds, the Brewers ran into trouble with the top 3 teams in the division, dropping 2 of 3 to both the Cardinals and the Pirates.

The Brewers have the look of a rebuilding team, and although anything can happen in baseball, the Brewers need to put up more of a fight in their inter-division games to have a shot.

Intriguing stat line of the week: Ryan Braun and his monstrous performance on Friday against the Pirates. The former NL MVP went 3-5 with 2 HR’s and 4 RBI’s

Player to Watch: Domingo Santana continue to hit atop the Brew Crew’s lineup and is proving serviceable so far with a .261/.370/.413 slash line. Perhaps most impressively he has drawn 8 walks through 12 games. The youngster acquired from the Astros last July flashed big power in the Major last year and could play huge for the Brewers in 2016.

NL Central Preview

Photo Courtesy of Yahoo Sports

Photo Courtesy of Yahoo Sports

The Chicago Cubs won 97 games last year, good for only 3rd place in the National League Central. The Cubbies’ 97 wins was not only the 3rd highest total in the NL Central, it was also the 3rd highest win total in all of MLB.

The NL Central was without a doubt the best division in all of baseball last year. With the St. Louis Cardinals, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the aforementioned Cubs all making the playoffs.

With a big offseason for the Cubs, the Pirates relatively standing pat, and the Cardinals being the Cardinals, the NL Central is once again set to be one of the better divisions in all of baseball.

Here’s how this interesting division will shake up, with a player to watch for each club included.

1st Place: Chicago Cubs 100-62

The Cubs are looking for their first World Series title in over a century and are coming over an impact offseason. With sabermetric superstar Jason Heyward and the dependable and versatile Ben Zobrist infused into a lineup already dripping with young talent, the north siders look poised to have one of the better lineups in the NL. Manager Joe Madden will be able to keep the clubhouse together and help the team live up to expectations, something winners of the offseason have had trouble doing in recent years.

Player to Watch: John Lackey

With all the young talent oozing from the Cubs roster it seems odd to pick a 37 year old right handed starting pitcher who isn’t even the ace of the staff. However, if Lackey can fight off father time in 2016 and repeat his 2015 season that saw him post a 2.77 ERA in 218 innings, it could result in the Cubs having the best starting rotation in the NL Central.

2nd Place: St. Louis Cardinals 95-67, 1st NL Wild Card Spot

On paper the Cardinals got worse over the offseason, losing Heyward and Lackey to their division foes. Still, the Cardinals will find a way in 2016 as they always do. Mike Leake was brought in to solidify a strong and deep rotation. Trevor Rosenthal and Kevin Siegrist anchor a bullpen that is the best in the division. An injury to everyday shortstop Jhonny Peralta in spring training definitely hurts, but, the Cardinals still have a good mix of dependable veteran performers and high upside youngsters rounding out their lineup.

Player to Watch: Randal Grichuk

Grichuk is slotted to be the Cardinals every day center fielder in 2016. In 2015 he posted one of the highest average exit velocities in all of baseball in 2015 at 92.2 mph, a testament to how often he makes hard contact. If Grichuk can continue this trend and be a respected top or middle of the lineup bat, it would go a long way toward the Cardinals having one of the better lineup in the National League to go along with their always solid pitching.

3rd Place: Pittsburgh Pirates 88-74, miss the playoffs

The Pirates will fight for a playoff spot all season long, but, come up just short in the end due to stiffened competition across the National League. Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, and Gregory Polanco make up the most athletically talented outfield in all of baseball. Meanwhile, Fransisco Liriano and Gerit Cole anchor a rotation that is good enough to keep the Pirates contending. At the end of the day the talent of the Cardinals and the Cubs along with an improvement from the NL East and West will result in the Pirates coming up just short of another trip to the NL Wild Card game.

Player to Watch: Tyler Glasnow

Glasnow could be the piece that puts the Pirates over the top and into the playoffs. His 6’8’’, 225 lb frame is hard to miss and his upper 90’s fastball jumps off the page at you. Best case scenario: Glasnow harnesses his potential in the Major Leagues early and joins Cole among the elite young starters in the game. If that’s the case it would give the Pirates an impressive trio atop the rotation. Glasnow could also possibly join Mark Melancon and Tony Watson in the bullpen to form a terrific back end of the ‘Pen.

4th Place: Milwaukee Brewers 70-92

While the top of the NL Central is talented, the bottom two teams in the division are more likely to be contenders for the no. 1 overall pick next June than a playoff spot. The Brewers get a slight edge over the Reds in this prediction because of a better bullpen and a more experienced starting rotation. Jeremy Jeffress and Will Smith form a nice duo at the back of a bullpen that will be better than your typical 90 loss team. Meanwhile Ryan Braun will be his regular self and Jonathan Lucroy will return to form after an inconsistent showing in 2015.

Player to Watch: Orlando Arcia

As anyone who has ever followed a rebuilding team knows, sometimes tracking the minor league box scores can provide more excitement than actually watching the Major League club. Jonathan Villar is around to keep SS warm until the organization deems Arcia ready (or until after the club delays his service clock another year). Arcia is the brightest prospect in the Brewers system and the 21 year old should be the Brewers’ everyday shortstop sooner rather than later.

5th place: Cincinnati Reds 65-97

The Reds should be fun for their fans to watch this year, but, it won’t result in much on field success. They will have plenty of young talent in the rotation, but, the young arms will most likely come with supreme inconsistency. Devin Mesoraco will look to rebound from a hip injury that kept him out the majority of the 2015 season and fan favorite Joey Votto will remain the anchor of what has become a feeble looking lineup.

Player to Watch: Rasiel Iglesias

The Reds will have plenty of young guns in the rotation that will be fun to watch grow as a group. Of the bunch, Rasiel Iglesias appears to be the most likely to be successful in the 2016 campaign. The 26 year old Cuban native posted 9.8 K/9 over the course of 18 appearances (16 starts) last year to go along with a 3.55 FIP. The Reds will entrust Iglesias with the Opening Day start and hope he hits the ground running as the staff ace in 2016.