New playoff teams in 2018

Every season is filled with breakout players and teams. The 2018 season will be no different. But what teams have the best chance to make that break through? The following four teams have the best chance to make a return to relevance in 2018.

Oakland Athletics

New Playoff Teams in 2018

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

After finishing in last place in the American League West last season, the Athletics are the trendy pick to make some noise this season. With a young roster littered with some veteran contributors, the A’s could definitely fight for an AL Wild Card spot. One reason for all the optimism is their young corner infield duo.

With both Matt Chapman and Matt Olson both entering the season with starting jobs all but secure, don’t be surprised to see them combine for 50+ home runs and 150+ RBIs. In only 59 games last season, Matt Olson mashed 24 home runs. He also had a .651 slugging percentage and a 164 OPS+. That combined with a strong rookie season from Matt Chapman (110 OPS+) has the A’s feeling confident entering 2018.

While the Athletics should improve in 2018, they play in one of the toughest divisions in baseball. With the World Series Champion Houston Astros, the overhauled Los Angeles Angels, and solid teams in Seattle and Texas, Oakland could struggle. But if their young talent develops, they could be a force to be reckoned with.

Atlanta Braves

While the Braves finished third in the National League East last season, they posted a paltry 72-90 record. That’s not to say it was a lost season in Atlanta though. The Braves seem to be on the tail end of their rebuild, with some of their prospects finally making it to the major leagues. And its that young talent that could push them over the top in 2018.

Led by superstar (yes, superstar) Freddie Freeman, the Braves could challenge for an NL Wild Card spot next season. Freeman has developed into an offensive force for the Braves. He hit the second most home runs of his career in 2018 (28 home runs) despite playing the fewest number of games since his rookie season (117 games). He is also likely to be joined by Baseball America’s number one prospect, Ronald Acuna, sometime this season.

With Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies already in the majors, their development and the addition of Acuna has the Braves looking dangerous in 2018. When you add stud pitchers Sean Newcomb and Luis Gohara, the Braves could have the makings of another dominant dynasty.

San Francisco Giants

New Playoff Teams in 2018

Buster Posey is the backbone of the San Francisco Giants (Courtesy of MLBtraderumors.com)

After years of postseason success, it feels odd to see a team like the Giants on this list. But a season after posting the fewest wins in the National League (64), nothing is a sure thing with the Giants. Even so, their off-season moves have made them a trendy favorite to return to the playoffs this season.

When you add star caliber players like Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria, that’ll happen. But it’s not like the Giants were a team without talent. They have arguably the best catcher in the game in Buster Posey, and a dominant ace in Madison Bumgarner. Add in solid veterans Hunter Pence, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford, and you have a playoff caliber team. It was this core that drove the Giants to their playoff success, and McCutchen and Longoria will look to help them do it again.

This team is different than the previous two teams on this list. While the Braves and Athletics look to contend with youth, the Giants are counting on a veteran core to lead them back to the World Series. While it is a long shot for them to get past the Dodgers, Diamondbacks, and Rockies (who all made the playoffs last season), it is an even year.

Milwaukee Brewers

If the Athletics and Braves are going young and the Giants are counting on experience, the Brewers are trying to have the best of both worlds. After a surprisingly strong 2018 season, the Brewers made some even more surprising moves this off-season. With the additions of Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain, the Brewers are definitely one of the better teams in the National League.

But it’s not just Yelich and Cain that have made the Brewers contenders. Korean import Eric Thames and former Astro Domingo Santana both found their power stroke in 2017, belting 30+ home runs each. The Brewers also had a breakout season from Corey Knebel, as he provided solidity for the bullpen. Factor in the production that veterans Travis Shaw and Ryan Braun provide, and the Brewers have one of the better offenses in the National League.

The one weak spot for the Brewers is their starting rotation. Having players like Jhoulys Chacin and Yovani Gallardo in the starting rotation is something to worry about. But if the Brewers can sign Jake Arrieta or even one or two of the other free agent pitchers on the market, it could push the Brewers over the top.

Feature image by Sports Illustrated. 

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Barry Bonds number retired

Does the Giants retiring Bonds’ number change anything?

The San Francisco Giants announced this week that they will be retiring the No. 25 this summer in honor of Barry Bonds. Bonds, who has one of the most complicated careers in baseball history, is still being kept out of Cooperstown by his peers.

Bonds finished eighth in the Hall of Fame voting this year, bringing in a 56.4 percent, just three percent higher than 2017. With that small of a change, it does not look like he will be getting in any time soon. His stats and accolades are there, but the hall still eludes him.

Does the Giants’ acceptance help his case?

Barry Bonds number retired

The steroids didn’t fully account for the time Bonds stole 40 bases in a season. (Photo from SI.com)

The announcement that the Giants stand with Bonds comes over a decade after he ended his career. With the accomplishments Bonds had, you would think that San Francisco would not hesitate to honor him. However, the amount of time it took to reach this point symbolizes just how iffy they were on the whole thing.

The fact that the Giants will spend a day this summer honoring Bonds’ career does mean something. It means that there are parts of the baseball community that accept the situation and still feel that he deserves to be honored, and they are right. Barry Bonds absolutely deserves his day because even before he became a juiced up version of himself, he was still playing at Hall of Fame standards.

The question at hand though is whether or not the Giants changed anything by planning to retire his No. 25. The answer is yes.

San Francisco has accepted Bonds for who he is and all the luggage and flak that comes along with supporting the all-time home run king. Yes, there are reasons to keep him away from the hall. However, they are not good enough to warrant some of the other players getting in over him.

Should the steroids matter anymore?

Many players have been thrown in with lots of guys that were users during the steroid era. Even Edgar Martinez may be feeling some of the repercussions of the steroid era as he has falling just short of reaching the hall, despite never being accused of taking performance enhancing drugs.

Many baseball fans are quick to call steroid users cheaters and disgraces to the game. Yes, many performance enhancing drugs are banned by baseball. Many of these give guys more energy, drive and an extra kick to go even harder in the gym.

All the lifting and working out is absolutely going to make it easier for players to get stronger and hit the ball a lot further away. It may not be fair to players who do not have the same access to these drugs or do not want to break the rules. However, do these drugs really warrant keeping some of the best players ever out of the hall?

Many people who are already in the Hall of Fame have had sketchy pasts. There are all sorts of cheating, immoral racists in the hall as it is today. Cap Anson is largely responsible for segregating baseball, as he would not step on the same field as an African-American player.

Of course everybody lived in different times and by different standards. But why should the writers ignore that, but focus on the performance enhancing drugs?

Steroids rejuvenated baseball

Barry Bonds number retired

The 1998 home run chase did wonders for baseball. (Photo from SI)

This is going to be an unpopular statement, but steroids helped bring baseball back.

After the 1994 strike, baseball was suffering some of its worst support in history. Before the strike, there was no doubt baseball was still towards the top in popularity in the United States. However, the strike did not help their cause as many players were deemed greedy for wanting to boost their already enormous paychecks.

Steroids, while they may have been unethical, brought a new sort of excitement to the game. Guys were hitting balls out of the park like never before, and it filled the stadiums back up again. The home run chase between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, along with Bonds’ chase to catch Hank Aaron, brought in all sorts of viewership.

The steroid era in baseball may be looked back on as controversial, but it did provide a necessary boost for the game.

This all comes back to whether or not the Giants have done something to help Bonds this week. Well, of course it is nice that he will be getting a day to be remembered. It will also serve as a signal that some of baseball is willing to let bygones be bygones though.

 

Featured image from CBS News

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San Francisco Giants offseason

Have the Giants done enough to reach the postseason?

The San Francisco Giants finished 2017 with an abysmal 64-98 record, which tied with the Detroit Tigers for the worst record in all of baseball. Funny enough, the Giants and Tigers met in the World Series in 2012, so it goes to show how quickly things can turn around. San Francisco thinks they can turn its losing ways around even quicker in 2018 though.

2018 is an even year, so you don’t know what might happen.

What went wrong in 2017?

San Francisco Giants offseason

Madison Bumgarner’s shoulder injury in April was a sign for things to come in the Bay. (Photo from MLB.com)

Not many people saw this epic collapse of a successful franchise coming. The Giants have been one of the best teams in recent memory, and nobody could have seen them finishing as one of the worst teams in all of baseball in 2017. The Giants themselves didn’t expect it as they had made the playoffs just the year before.

San Francisco had a slew of injuries in 2017. There is no doubt that the health of the team significantly impacted its performance. Madison Bumgarner hurt himself in a dirt bike accident and missed most of the season. Other players such as Brandon Belt and Michael Morse missed a lot of time due to head injuries, which are not things you want to mess around with.

The rotation underperformed as a whole with the loss of Bumgarner. Johnny Cueto did not play up to his contract, and Jeff Samardzija was nothing to write home about.

The pitching was not the main issue though. They finished middle in the road in pitching at eighth in the National League. The problem was the offense, which finished second to last in runs scored in all of baseball.

What have they done this offseason?

San Francisco Giants offseason

Andrew McCutchen is a sign that the Giants expect big things in 2018. (Photo from Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports).

Bobby Evans and the Giants have not been shy about addressing the offensive issues they faced in 2017. San Francisco has been at the forefront of all trade rumors and have been wildly aggressive on all fronts. They have garnered results by being aggressive, as they have nabbed two cornerstone players from teams on the East coast.

Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen are now a part of the Giants organization. Both of them fill up needs on the Giants offense and create a much more threatening lineup. Although both of these players are on the wrong side of 30 and have played their prime, they can still do some serious damage.

The two combined for a 6.1 WAR last year, along with 48 home runs and 174 RBIs, so there is no doubt they add some punch to the lineup. If you look at the team as a whole now, they look like a team that can compete. They reassured the outfield this week as well by adding the veteran services of Austin Jackson. Now the outfield consists of Jackson, McCutchen and Hunter Pence.

Top to bottom, the Giants look solid, which bolsters an NL West division that is going to look to brawl. The question is, can the Giants really make a run for it in the loaded West?

The NL West: Best division in baseball?

If the Giants just happened to be in any other division in baseball, they may have a better shot of returning to the postseason. However, the NL West sent three teams to the postseason last year, and none were from the Bay area, which is unusual. With the Dodgers being the best team in the National League, it is hard to imagine them making a run for the division. Do they have a shot at the Wild Card though?

With the Nationals and Cubs likely holding onto its division title spots in 2018, the main competition for the Wild Card will likely be coming from Arizona, Milwaukee, Colorado and St. Louis. The real question here is whether or not the Giants are better than three of the teams mentioned on this list.

Arizona and Colorado are both in the West, so the Giants will have a chance to prove that they can go toe to toe with postseason teams from last year. It will be an interesting race out West as San Francisco has done enough to show that they can compete. The question is whether or not it is enough to make it to October.

Only time will tell if this wild offseason for the Giants is enough for them to return to its past success. Then again, it is an even year, so is there anything to really worry about?

 

Featured image from SF Chronicle

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Top 10 MLB franchises of all time

Best baseball franchises of all time

Normally, this is the time of year when big-time moves are made. Free agents are signed, general managers are wheelin’ and dealin’ and there is a constant buzz around baseball.

This year? Not so much. The free agent market has been relatively stagnant, and trades are few and far between. So I’ve decided to actually put my history degree to use and list the top 10 baseball franchises of all time. Clubs will be ranked by World Series titles, Hall of Fame players and overall success. We will start at No. 10.

10. Detroit Tigers

Statistics: Five World Series titles, 9,235-8,979 record, nine Hall of Fame inductees

Top 10 MLB franchises of all timeAs one of the oldest teams in baseball, the Tigers have to find a way onto the list. They were a charter member of the American League and have been in Detroit since 1901.

But they don’t earn a spot on these rankings from their age alone. They have the 13th most Hall of Fame players in baseball, accumulating nine spots in Cooperstown. They also have four World Series titles to their credit, good for ninth most in baseball. But it’s the stories, myths and legends that help give this team an edge over the others.

As one of the greatest baseball players of all time, Ty Cobb was a menace in Detroit for 22 years. Stories of his aggressive demeanor are only overshadowed by his prowess on the field. He lead the American League in hitting nine years in a row and batted over .400 twice within that span. He also holds the all-time highest career batting average at .366. If that wasn’t enough, he was also an inaugural inductee into the Hall of Fame in 1936.

The Tigers never won a World Series with Cobb, but broke through in 1935 to give the city its first championship. They did it again in 1945, 1968 and 1984. Their 2012 trip to the World Series has been their most recent appearance.

The Tigers also have some greats to rely on in the 21st century, with Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera leading the way. Even in the midst of a rebuild, the Tigers can still lay claim to baseball royalty.

9. Chicago Cubs

Statistics: Three World Series titles, 10,803-10,258 record, 14 Hall of Fame inductees

Top 10 MLB franchises of all timeIf the Tigers are considered an aged franchise, the Cubs are ancient. You can trace their playing history all the way back to 1876, only 11 years after the end of the Civil War. They are a charter member of the National League, and assumed the Cubs name back in 1903.

As one of the best in baseball history, it’s not surprising to find that they hold multiple records. One of those is the modern-era single-season winning percentage of .763 in 1906 when they went 116-36. But the franchise’s history goes much deeper than the team level.

Perhaps one of the more overlooked Hall of Fame players for the Cubs is third baseman Ron Santo. Playing in the 1960s through mid-70s, he teamed with Ernie Banks to return hope to the Cubbie faithful. Even though the duo wasn’t able to bring a title home to Chicago, Santo still played at a high level. He was a nine-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove winner for the Cubs, providing stability at the hot corner.

One thing Santo couldn’t provide was a regular World Series contender, as the Cubs would have to wait until 2016 to earn their third title. With players like Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Ian Happ, Jose Quintana, Jon Lester and a multitude of others, another World Series title in the near future is not out of the question.

8. Oakland Athletics

Statistics: Nine World Series titles, 8,834-9,322 record, five Hall of Fame inductees

Top 10 MLB franchises of all timeThe Athletics are another one of the old-guard franchises, joining the Tigers as an inaugural member of the American League in 1901. Unlike the Tigers, the Athletics have had multiple homes. After starting out in Philadelphia, the team moved to Kansas City in 1955 and then to Oakland in 1968.

They are also one of the few teams on this list with a losing record, posting a .487 win percentage. However, with so many World Series titles (third most in baseball history), they easily find themselves among the top ten teams all time.

One reason for their World Series dominance is Mr. October, Reggie Jackson. Before Jackson was shining under the bright lights in New York, he was blasting away at the bay. Jackson played 10 seasons for the Athletics, leading them to back-to-back-to-back titles in 1972, 1973 and 1974. He was also a more balanced player in Oakland, hitting 269 home runs and stealing 145 bases.

Just like many of Oakland’s stars, the Athletics weren’t able to retain him. This developed into a common theme for the A’s.

That is one reason why their win percentage is so low. The Athletics experienced multiple runs of success, winning five World Series titles from 1910-30, three in the 1970s and one in 1989. With the introduction of free agency, the small-market Athletics weren’t able to compete in the bidding wars their stars warranted.

Even so, the A’s have been one of the best franchises of all time, and could be on the verge of another dominant run with a loaded farm system and young major league club.

7. Pittsburgh Pirates

Statistics: Five World Series titles, 10,394-10,233 record, 13 Hall of Fame inductees

Top 10 MLB franchises of all timeAfter joining the National League in 1887, the Pirates took baseball by storm, representing the National League in the inaugural World Series in 1903. It wasn’t until 1909 that the steel city could boast its first World Series title though.

Led by players like Honus Wagner, the Pirates of the early 20th century dominated baseball. With pennants in 1901, 1902, 1903 and 1909, the Pirates established themselves as one of the dynasties of baseball.

They continued that legacy well into the 20th century, relying on one of the greatest Pirates of all time to guide the franchise. Roberto Clemente started for the Pirates at the ripe age of 20, but didn’t establish himself until he turned 25. In the following eight seasons, Clemente earned eight All-Star appearances, seven Gold Gloves and one AL MVP award. He also led the Pirates to two World Series titles, cementing himself as a legend in Pittsburgh.

His legend ended spreading far beyond Pittsburgh or baseball, as he was an avid humanitarian. That, coupled with his skills on the diamond, makes him one of the most beloved Hall of Fame players the Pirates have had. As such, a new generation looks to carry on the legend he left behind. Players like Gregory Polanco, Starlin Marte and a cast of young Pirates will look to right the ship and return to the franchises’ former glory days.

6. Cincinnati Reds

Statistics: Five World Series titles, 10,457-10,211 record, 10 Hall of Fame inductees

Top 10 MLB franchises of all timeAs one of the charter members of the American Association in 1881, the Reds have played ball in Cincinnati for 136 seasons. In that time, some of the greatest players and teams have called the queen city home.

Unlike the other ancients of baseball, the Reds did not have much early success. They boast one World Series title in the early 20th century, winning the fall classic in 1919. Even so, their dominance in the 1970s is the stuff of legends, as only one of the greatest teams of all time can be worthy of such a title as “the Red Machine.”

At the heart of the red machine was none other than Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench. He helped propel one of the most dominant teams of the modern era, and caught one of the better pitching staffs baseball has seen. He played his full 17-year career in Cincinnati. In that time, the Reds won back-to-back World Series titles in 1975 and 1976. With a rare blend of power and defensive skills, Bench became the standard bearer for elite catching. But a machine isn’t made up of just one member.

Pete Rose, Joe Morgan and Dave Conception were all vital cogs in the big red machine and were integral parts to their two World Series titles in the 1970s. Now a new machine is being constructed in Cincinnati led by All-Star Joey Votto. With a young core and stacked farm system, the Reds will try to emulate the success of the 1970s.

5. San Francisco Giants

Statistics: Eight World Series titles, 11,015-9,513 record, five Hall of Fame inductees

Top 10 MLB franchises of all timeOne of the first things that catches your eye with the San Francisco Giants is their gaudy record. Since their inception in 1883, they have posted a .537 win percentage. That includes stints as the New York Gothams, New York Giants and San Francisco Giants. While fans may have more fond memories of New York than San Francisco (five World Series titles in New York, three in San Francisco), San Francisco does have much more recent memories to draw upon.

One of the most dominant and bizarre runs baseball has seen belongs to the San Francisco Giants. In 2010, 2012 and 2014 the Giants were able to bring San Francisco a World Series title. Led by one of the best pitcher-catcher combos in the game, Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey were vital to the Giants prolonged success.

In his rookie season, Bumgarner pitched eight shutout innings against the Texas Rangers in the World Series. Posey was also solid as a rookie in the World Series, batting an even .300. Now both grizzled veterans, they look to bring San Francisco back to its former glory.

With a strong supporting cast, they may make another run yet. Joining Bumgarner and Posey at the core of the Giants roster is Brandon Crawford, Hunter Pence, Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen. All in the prime of their respective careers, the Giants should definitely be feared. But it remains to be seen if they can make a return to their former glory atop the throne of baseball’s elite.

4. Los Angeles Dodgers

Statistics: Six World Series titles, 10,776-9,691 record, six Hall of Fame inductees

Top 10 MLB franchises of all timeAnother former New York team claims a spot on our rankings, as the Los Angeles Dodgers find themselves in baseball’s elite. After undergoing nine different name changes since their founding in 1884, the Dodgers moniker finally stuck in 1932. The team went on to win all six of its World Series titles as the Dodgers, bringing one home for Brooklyn in 1955, two years before their cross-country exodus. Even with five titles won in Los Angeles, Brooklyn will always be able to boast one of the greatest players of all time, Jackie Robinson.

Robinson broke onto the major league scene in 1947. As a 28-year-old rookie, Robinson won Rookie of the Year. He also added an MVP to his trophy case, bringing home the award in 1949.

Even as a six-time All-Star, MVP and World Series champion, Robinson’s biggest impact has come after his playing days. As one of the first African-Americans to play Major League Baseball, Robinson opened the door for thousands of African-Americans to follow in his footsteps. That distinction, coupled with his stellar career, made Robinson a slam dunk first-ballot Hall of Famer in 1962.

While the Dodgers haven’t won a World Series since 1988, they are not far off from earning another one. With a core of Corey Seager, Justin Turner, Yasiel Puig and others, the Dodgers are believed to be perennial World Series contenders. And with future Hall of Fame lefty Clayton Kershaw as the ace, the sky is the limit for these Los Angeles Dodgers. Look for their number of World Series titles and Hall of Fame players to increase in the coming seasons.

3. Boston Red Sox

Statistics: Eight World Series titles, 9,410-8,776 record, 12 Hall of Fame inductees

Top 10 MLB franchises of all timeNow we enter some rarefied air. The Boston Red Sox are one of the younger franchises on this list, debuting in 1901. Even so, they have made good use of their time. With a glut of World Series titles and Hall of Fame inductees, the Red Sox have put together a .517 win percentage. While part of that is due to their large market status that lets them spend freely in free agency, it’s also owed to some savvy drafting and player development.

One example of the Red Sox keen eye for talent is one of the best baseball players of all time, Ted Williams. Williams made his Red Sox debut at 20 years old, and led the American League in RBIs with 145. He hit .406 in 1941, while leading the league in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging. Even with a three-year hiatus in the midst of his career to fight in World War II, Williams is easily a Hall of Famer. That was proven by his first-ballot induction in 1966.

With all of Ted Williams’ heroics, he could not bring Boston a World Series title. It took 86 years for Boston to be title town again in 2004. What has followed has been a successful run. With two more World Series titles in 2007 and 2013, it seems the curse had finally been lifted. It will be up to Mookie Betts, Rafael Devers and Chris Sale to continue to prove the curse broken.

2. St. Louis Cardinals

Statistics: 11 World Series titles, 10,739-9,918 record, 17 Hall of Fame inductees

Top 10 MLB franchises of all timeVery few teams have been as good as long as the St. Louis Cardinals have. Founded in 1882 and joining the National League in 1892, the Cardinals have been one of the most dominant teams in baseball.

In a span of 20 seasons (1926-46), the Cardinals amassed six World Series titles. Their 11 total World Series titles gives them the second most in baseball history. It hasn’t just been World Series titles that has made them great though, as the Cardinals have a slew of Hall of Famers.

Perhaps the greatest was Stan “The Man” Musial. Musial entered the league in 1941, and by 1943 was a perennial MVP candidate. He won the award three times in his illustrious career and brought St. Louis three World Series titles.

Perhaps his most amazing accomplishment was his 24 All-Star selections, garnered over a 22-year career. That career includes 475 home runs and a .331 batting average, making Musial one of the best of all time.

Cardinals greats aren’t limited to just Musial though. Players like Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright have helped carry on the Cardinal’s legacy. And with players like Matt Carpenter, Marcel Ozuna and Dexter Fowler joining them, the Cardinals are set to continue their run among baseball’s best.

1. New York Yankees

Statistics: 27 World Series titles, 10,175-7,719 record, 24 Hall of Fame inductees

Top 10 MLB franchises of all timeWas their ever any doubt who No. 1 would be? The New York Yankees aren’t just one of the best franchises in all of baseball. They are perhaps the best professional sports franchise in history. With 27 World Series titles, 53 playoff appearances and 40 pennants, it’s hard to argue against it. With such a dominant history, one would believe it would be difficult to sift through all of the greats to don the pinstripes. However, one stands out among the rest.

George Herman “Babe” Ruth was the man that built the New York Yankees dynasty. Ruth wouldn’t become a full-time hitter until his move from the Red Sox to the Yankees in 1925. Prior to the move, Ruth amassed 94 wins and a 2.24 ERA as a starting pitcher with the Red Sox.

But it was at the plate that Ruth made the biggest impact. He earned seven World Series titles with the Yankees, hitting 714 home runs and batting .341 in his career. When the Yankees moved to Yankee Stadium in 1923, it was nicknamed “The House that Ruth Built.” No other man has had such an impact on baseball history. A fitting distinction for a legendary franchise.

That’s not to say that others haven’t tried. In fact, the Yankees boast two of the best power hitters currently in baseball in Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. Both have 50-homer power, and will be the driving force behind another great Yankees team.

The major league club also has a loaded farm system, something past Yankees teams haven’t had. With so much talent throughout the organization, the Yankees are primed for another dynastic run.

 

Feature image from Cool Old Photos.

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Ohtani

Where will Shohei Ohtani land?

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

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

Ohtani prefers the west coast

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

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

Which teams fit?

Shohei Ohtani

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

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

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

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

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

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

How will Ohtani translate to the MLB?

Shohei Ohtani

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Machado

Where things stand with Giancarlo Stanton

There has been no doubt that the MLB offseason has been engulfed by the rumors surrounding the 2017 NL MVP, Giancarlo Stanton. At this point, mostly all there has been is speculation. There are a lot of factors that go into a trade of this magnitude, so there are a lot of things that have to go right in order for it to go through. Here is an up to date summary of all that has been going on surrounding Stanton.

No-trade clause

Stanton

Magic Johnson and the Dodgers probably don’t have the ability to take on Stanton’s contract (Getty Images)

One of the biggest factors in Stanton’s contract at the moment is not only the large amount of money he is owed, but the fact he can reject any trade the Marlins may put in front of him.

Stanton is a SoCal native, and he reaffirmed that when he put the Los Angeles Dodgers as his preferred spot to be traded to, per MLB.com columnist, Jon Morosi. The Dodgers are the only team to be reported on that list. It has also been reported by Chad Jennings of the Boston Herald, that Stanton would reject a trade to either Boston or St. Louis. However, that report has been refuted by others.

The Jon Morosi report suggests that Stanton is keeping an open mind to where he could be traded. He will evaluate his options once there is some more light shed on them though.

This is not the first time a no-trade clause has been a factor lately. Justin Verlander told the Tigers as well that he would prefer to play for the Dodgers. However, once late August came around, Verlander realized that he would not be going to Los Angeles. He then accepted a trade to the Houston Astros, and the rest is history.

Best fits for the Marlins

Stanton

Reyes is a very attractive pitching prospect for the Marlins (ESPN)

The Boston Red Sox, San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals are the teams that appear to be pursing the Miami slugger the most. While all of them could use him in their lineup, there are some that can offer more to the Marlins than others.

The only two teams who have actually submitted an offer to the Marlins are the Giants and the Cardinals. It has been reported that Joe Panik and Tyler Beede have been mentioned in that offer. The Cardinals have a lot of pitching to give, and one name mentioned in the offer was Sandy Alcantara while other details remain unclear.

What the Marlins are looking for out of this trade are to relieve some of the financial burden of Stanton’s contract, and to acquire some young pitching. The team that has the most to offer in that department are the St. Louis Cardinals, who may have the best pitching prospect in baseball in Alex Reyes. They are also well below the luxury tax cutoff, giving them a lot of financial flexibility.

The number one priority for the Marlins right now though is speaking to the Dodgers and seeing if they can come to an agreement. Stanton will not consider any other teams without knowing that Los Angeles is out of the running. The Dodgers are already likely going to go over the luxury tax, so it would not be in their best interest to add the largest sports contract in the world to their payroll. It would not make sense for the Marlins to take on a large part of Stanton’s contract for the Dodgers either, as then there would be little point to be trading him at all.

The Marlins need tor rule them out quick though, as some reports have indicated that other teams want a resolution from Stanton by December 10th, the first day of the Winter Meetings. This is so they can move onto other options as the free agent market remains untapped.

What all this means for Stanton

Stanton has made it clear that he does not want to go through a rebuilding phase. Derek Jeter has suggested that rebuilding may be the route the Marlins take though. Stanton has been in the league for seven years now and has yet to play on a winning team. In order to avoid this, he is going to have to redefine where he would like to be traded to.

The Cardinals make sense from a baseball perspective for Stanton. They are in big need for a game changing bat in the middle of the lineup, and are looking to consolidate talent. The Cardinals have also only had one losing season since 2000, so he would be playing for a winner. St. Louis isn’t far off from competing with the Chicago Cubs, and this offseason will really define their future. Stanton would play a big part in helping them compete, and surely could make them into World Series contenders.

The case seems to be that Stanton wants to play in a more high-profile place rather than St. Louis, and who can blame him? He is a young baseball star with loads of money and wants to spend nights out on the town. Not to mention he is also from Los Angeles and has family and friends there. Stanton will have to make the decision as to what is more important to him though.

The Giants don’t seem to fit the criteria of being soon to be winners either. The fact they don’t have much to offer the Marlins on the prospect side doesn’t help either. Boston would make sense for Stanton as they seem to be perennial contenders. That is why Boston and St. Louis seem like the most likely destinations with all things considered. Which means Stanton has to reevaluate his options in order to play for a winner.

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Miami Marlins team profile

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

2017 Season

Miami Marlins team profile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The need for pitching

Miami Marlins team profile

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Stanton conundrum

Miami Marlins team profile

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

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

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

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

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

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

How it will play out

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

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

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

 

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three times pitchers went deep

Three times pitchers went deep in the World Series

Pitchers hitting home runs is something we don’t see a great deal of these days. One of the greatest plays that fans could ever hope to witness during a game is dying out. Being that we rarely talk about pitchers hitting the long ball, here are three times pitchers went deep in the World Series.

Home runs by a pitcher in the World Series is a feat that has been accomplished on 15 occasions in MLB history, by 13 players. Here are three such notable instances.

Where have all the homers gone?

Hitting a home run is the epitome of a pitcher helping his own cause. Before 1973 and the advent of the designated hitter, pitchers of both leagues were expected to hit for themselves. It’s no great coincidence that home runs by a pitcher would be more of a common occurrence in those days.

three times pitchers went deep

Warren Spahn, a veteran of 21 MLB seasons, was no stranger to knocking a few out of the park himself. (Photo Courtesy of: Atlanta Braves)

Take Warren Spahn for example. In his 21 seasons of big league ball, he went deep an astounding 35 times, good enough for third place all-time for a pitcher. Spahn, the Braves’ left-handed ace, sits behind leader Wes Ferrell’s 38 and Bob Lemon’s 37. Remarkably though, Spahn does hold the record for number of seasons (17) with a home run as a pitcher.

Pitchers certainly don’t clear the fence in 2017 at the rate they used to in those bygone eras. Admittedly, this downward trend in homers is relative to the sample size, meaning pitchers just don’t hit as often as they used to.

There is still one pitcher who hits his share of taters, and his name is Madison Bumgarner. In his nine seasons taking the hill for San Francisco, he’s also added 17 career homers to back his excellent pitching efforts. Bumgarner might not have had the 2017 season that many envisioned for him, but he became the first pitcher in MLB history to smash a pair of homers on opening day.

Bumgarner is the exception to the rule these days however. There are few pitchers going right now who even look like they have a clue at the dish. What’s more is that a lot of pitchers aren’t getting the at-bats they once did either.

With many rotations now going to the bullpens earlier and with greater frequency than ever before, the home run by a pitcher is only going to become rarer. This begs the question: is the designated hitter coming to the National League soon?

Three times pitchers went deep

Jack Bentley, 1924 World Series

New York Giants vs. Washington Senators (Game 5) off Walter Johnson

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Bentley’s homer in 1924 isn’t merely the fact he went deep. It’s noteworthy anytime a pitcher does a little yard work. To Bentley’s credit though, he’s the only pitcher to ever homer off Walter Johnson in October. This is a monumental feat no matter which way you slice it.

three times pitchers went deep

Dave McNally (left) is photographed with teammate and baseball Hall of Famer, Jim Palmer. (Photo courtesy of: classickicks.com)

In the fifth inning of Game 5 in 1924’s World Series, the Giants and Senators found themselves knotted at one apiece. Heading to the home half of the inning with both pitchers throwing well, nobody in the Polo Grounds that day could have expected what happened next.

Walter Johnson, the hard-throwing 1924 pitching triple crown winner, awaited Jack Bentley’s presence in the batter’s box. He was most likely thinking Bentley would be an easy out. He was dead wrong.

The Giants lefthander did the unthinkable. Bentley banished Johnson’s offering to the right field seats, breaking the one-run deadlock in Game 5 and powering the Giants to a 6-2 win.

This remarkable homer was not a sign of good things to come though. Washington would ultimately prevail in the series four games to three with Johnson picking up the deciding win.

Though Johnson and his Senators teammates had the last laugh, Bentley walked away with a unique bragging right no other pitcher could ever contend with.

Dave McNally, 1970 World Series

Baltimore Orioles vs. Cincinnati Reds (Game 3) off Wayne Granger

Unlike Jack Bentley before him, Dave McNally had the good fortune to both homer and walk away a champion. In 1970, the Orioles were baseball’s best team, finishing the season with a record of 108-54. Dave McNally, was one of their best pitchers.

McNally finished second in Cy Young voting in 1970, posting a league leading 24 wins.

While putting up an impressive showing in 1970, McNally also has the distinction of being one of two pitchers (Bob Gibson) with multiple World Series homers. He accomplished this in both 1969’s ill-fated matchup with the Miracle Mets and 1970’s dismantling of Cincinnati’s not-yet-completed Red Machine.

McNally’s home run in the 1970 World Series is special because it’s the only grand slam by a pitcher in the postseason. Not just the World Series, but in the entirety of MLB’s postseason.

Baltimore’s McNally started Game 3 matched by the Reds’ Tony Cloninger. In fine fashion and like he did all year, McNally pitched all nine frames, scattering nine hits and three runs. In the sixth inning with the bases jacked, McNally sent a deep drive to left field and unjacked the bases. All it took was one mighty swing of that solid ash bat.

Baltimore won Game 3 after McNally kicked the door wide open in the sixth by a score of 9-3. Ending the year on a high note, Baltimore went on to win the World Series against Cincinnati in five games. Their first ever championship.

Joe Blanton, 2008 World Series

Joe Blanton turns on an inside heater from Edwin Jackson for a solo home run. (Photo courtesy of: Boston.com)

Philadelphia Phillies vs. Tampa Bay Rays (Game 4) off Edwin Jackson

Joe Blanton’s 2008 homer isn’t the flashiest of home runs, nor was it hit by the flashiest of players. It stands out for another reason. It currently stands as the last occurrence of a pitcher going yard on the biggest stage in the sport.

Prior to Blanton, Oakland’s Ken Holtzman was the last player to homer in a World Series. He did so in 1974 and still remains the last American League pitcher to accomplish the feat.

There is nothing that will get the crowd on its feet faster than watching the pitcher go yard. Especially in a World Series game.

The Phillies faithful watched as that day’s starter, Joe Blanton, came to the plate with a 5-2 lead. With nobody on and two out, Edwin Jackson uncorked a fastball over the inner half of the plate. Blanton attacked with authority, launching a deep drive to left-center field for the 6-2 lead.

For the Rays, their fate was all but sealed. Coming in to Game 4, they were already behind the proverbial 8-ball, trailing the series two games to one. After the dust settled and the final outs were recorded in Philadelphia that night, the Rays found themselves 10-2 losers in Game 4.

For any team in the World Series, being down three games to one is like the kiss of death. Amazingly, 35 teams in history have held this lead in the World Series. In only six instances though, did the trailing team come back to win the series. The Rays were not one of those six.

 

(feature photo courtesy of: Deadspin.com)

 

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Cain

Matt Cain retirement: A look back at his career

Matt Cain, a three-time All-Star, has announced that Saturday against the San Diego Padres will be the final start of his impressive career.

Matt Cain Retirement

Cain’s clubhouse presence will be missed (Press Democrat)

While Cain has not been as strong in the past couple of years, it doesn’t take away much from what preceded it. Matt Cain played an integral part of a dynasty in San Francisco. The moment comes bittersweet for Cain. He stated to the press, “This organization has meant so much to me. It’s meant so much to my family. I’m just grateful it’s been a part of my life. I’ve enjoyed it so much”.
Cain has had some injury issues in the last few years and that has been what has slowed him down. Some thought that he would look elsewhere to play if the team did not pick up his contract. He has decided that it was time to hang it up though.
While he he may have struggled, he was easily one of the best pitchers in the league when he was on. During his span of success (2006-2012), he achieved an impressive ERA of 3.30 and ranked sixth among all starters in WAR at 30.1. Cain has left a lasting legacy through many of his achievements during this span.

Three World Series trips

While Cain was injured during the 2014 season and did not pitch in the playoffs for the Giants, he still came up big when it mattered most in 2010 and 2012. In 2012, Cain pitched 21.1 innings in the postseason and did not give up a single run. He also struck out nine in that time and only gave up 13 hits.
In his postseason career, he ended up with a 4-2 record with a stellar 2.10 ERA. Madison Bumgarner gets a lot of credit for his postseason performance, but Cain should not be ignored. His performance along with his clubhouse presence are a large part of this San Francisco dominance from 2010-14.
Cain is one of the most beloved Giants pitchers in recent memory. He spent all 13 years of his career in San Francisco, and had plenty of notable moments.

Perfect Game

Matt Cain Retirement

Cain’s perfect game may be one of the most impressive of the bunch (ESPN)

In 2010, Matt Cain pitched the only perfect game in Giants history in a 10-0 win against the Houston Astros. It was only the 22nd perfect game ever pitched.
Felix Hernandez pitched another perfect game later that summer, but those were the last two in the past five years. Cain actually tied the record for most strikeouts in a perfect game with 14. That mark tied the great Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax.
The game also was marked by great plays by Melky Cabrera and Gregor Blanco to protect the gem. The 125 pitches thrown that game were also the most in any perfect game ever. In short, it was a memorable one that Giants fans will never forget.

Legacy

Matt Cain was the 25th overall pick for the Giants in 2005. He went to three All Star games in his career, and finished in the top 10 of Cy Young voting twice in his career.
Bruce Bochy described Cain as the type of guy that will do anything for the team. This season when Cain was put in the bullpen, he did not question his position once. It is because he put the team before himself whenever he could.
He is going to finish his career with a 3.69 ERA, which is always an impressive mark for a starting pitcher. Although he has been struggling the last few years, fans will not forget all of the winning memories that he was able to provide.
Matt Cain is 32 years old which is typically somewhat young of an age to retire, especially for a pitcher with as much success as him. He may have not have been the typical ace, but San Francisco will miss him.

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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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