MLB Prospects Making the Most of Spring Training

As we move closer to Opening Day, many teams are in the process of deciding on the 25 man rosters. But there are some who are on the fringes of the rosters. MLB prospects all over the league are looking to make an impact this spring. Whether they are trying to earn a roster spot or showcase their skills, these prospects have performed above expectations so far. These four prospects are giving their teams something to think about entering the final phases of Spring Training.

MLB Prospects

Ian Happ will start in the minors, but has been impressive in major league camp (Wade Payne/Chicago Tribune).

2B Ian Happ – Chicago Cubs

After being selected ninth overall in the 2015 MLB Draft, the 22 year old is beginning to make due on the promise he showed at the University of Cincinnati. He has been laboring in the Cubs’ minor league system for the past two seasons, ending 2016 at the AA level. With a strong showing in Spring Training, Happ has given the Cubs front office plenty to think about.  But just how well has the Cubs second overall prospect done this Spring Training?

In 34 at-bats, Happ has hit a scorching .441 to give him the third best batting average in all of MLB so far this spring. Couple that with his three homers and nine RBIs, Happ has certainly produced. With a strong performance in Spring Training and his minor league pedigree, Happ could increase the timetable the Cubs have on his MLB debut. But with a loaded major league roster, Happ isn’t expected to make the 25 man roster anytime soon.

OF Bradley Zimmer – Cleveland Indians

As the 21st overall selection in the 2014 MLB Draft, Bradley Zimmer is showing that his skills are maturing. He provided the University of San Francisco plenty of power and speed. That combination of talent made Zimmer a top player in the draft, and he’s continuing to impress in Spring Training. With a hot start to Spring Training, Zimmer could make the jump from AAA to the majors this season.

Zimmer has torn the cover off the ball this Spring Training, putting up a .359/.405/.641 slash line. He has also hit two homers and driven in 11 RBIs in 39 at-bats. He has seen regular playing time this Spring Training, showing that the Indians are evaluating him heavily. While he isn’t listed on the Indian’s depth chart, he could push Lonnie Chisenhall for playing time in right field if Zimmer continues to stay hot. Zimmer will make his MLB debut this season, give his minor league track record and terrific Spring Training.

OF Mitch Haniger – Seattle Mariners

MLB Prospects

Mitch Haniger has opened some eyes in Mariners’ camp this Spring Training (Getty Images).

Mitch Haniger is on his third team since being drafted by the Brewers 38th overall in 2012. After a strong college career at Cal Poly, Haniger was able to turn his college production into major league promise. But injuries derailed his career, and at 26 years old, it’s now or never for Haniger. As the fourth best prospect in the Mariner’s farm system, he certainly has the talent to succeed. And he’s finally showing it on the field, performing well in Spring Training.

With the fourth best batting average (.425) in Spring Training, Haniger is beginning to show why he was one of the top selections in the 2012 MLB Draft. He has also hit two homers to accompany seven RBIs. In his 40 at-bats, Haniger has only struck out five times. Listed as the starter in right field for the Seattle Mariners, Mitch Haniger will finally be given a shot as a full-time major league starter in 2017.

SS Dixon Machado – Detroit Tigers

After spending the past eight seasons in the Tigers’ minor league system, the 25 year old Dixon Machado is on the doorstep to the majors. He signed with the Tigers in 2008, and has grown in both his offensive and defensive game. And in 2016, Machado made his MLB debut with the Tigers. But he wasn’t able to stick in the majors, and is now fighting to prove himself in major league camp. And so far, Machado is excelling.

With a .324/.366/.378 slash line in 37 at-bats, Machado is hitting at an impressive clip. While he may not offer much in terms of power, what Machado can do is hit. He’s proven to have an innate ability to make contact and put the ball in play. But with the major league club full of talented starters, Machado will have to wait to gain a starting role. He should break camp with the major league club, given the team’s lack of depth. But if he can continue his impressive hitting into the major league season, Machado may work his way into the regular lineup.

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Tools of the Trade: Top 5 Power Hitters

This is the second installment of our Tools of the Trade series. In our first installment, we reviewed the Top 5 Hitters in MLB.

Now we will overview the top five power hitters in MLB by using five statistical categories to evaluate their overall power. Home run total, home runs per season, slugging, isolated power and games per season will be analyzed.

Let’s look at the top five power hitters in the game using the past five seasons. Honorable mentions include Jose Bautista (TOR), Josh Donaldson (TOR), Nolan Arenado (COL), Giancarlo Stanton (MIA), Bryce Harper (WAS) and Miguel Cabrera (DET). All honorable mentions were excluded from the list due to too few games played, dip in performance or short power surges (two years or less).

5. Chris Carter – New York Yankees

Top Power Hitters

Chris Carter has one of the best power bats in the game (Brad Rempel/USA TODAY Sports).

Chris Carter has played for three teams over his seven-year career and has done nothing but mash year in and year out. Carter has always been known for his power, but he may be known more for his strikeouts.

After striking out over 200 times twice in the past five seasons, Carter had to sit and wait for a contract this past offseason. The Yankees scooped him up for what could be a steal of a deal.

Carter had the second highest isolated power of all the players analyzed for this article. His .254 ISO over the past five seasons is higher than Miguel Cabrera’s (.242 ISO). He has also put up a respectable .474 slugging percentage while smashing 147 homers over that span.

His low .221 batting average has limited his playing time to 130 games per season in the past five years, but his power is elite. He has easy power to all fields. When he does make contact, it usually goes a long ways.

4. Nelson Cruz – Seattle Mariners

After putting up solid power numbers from 2009-2013, Nelson Cruz exploded with 40 homers in his first season in Baltimore. He moved to Seattle in the 2015 season and has continued his power surge. Cruz has absolutely smashed the baseball despite playing at pitcher-friendly Safeco Field. He has increased his power numbers in each of the previous three seasons.

Cruz has hit 178 total home runs in his previous five campaigns to average 36 bombs per season. He also boasts an impressive .524 slugging percentage over that time and has averaged 147 games played per season.

Cruz has turned into a slugger since his move from Texas with a .247 ISO. His previous three seasons have vaulted Cruz into the upper echelon of power hitters, all while moving away from hitter-friendly parks in Baltimore and Texas. He has brought the thunder to the rainy northwest and doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon.

3. Mike Trout – Los Angeles Angels

Top Power Hitters

Mike Trout will launch plenty of balls over the fence this season (Huffington Post)

Again, Mike Trout makes his presence known in this series. The talented center fielder has made his presence known since his first full season in the majors in 2012.

He has averaged 33 homers per season in the past five years. His high point was in 2015 when he launched 41 bombs into orbit. He has hit 163 total home runs since 2012. While that is impressive by itself, a deeper look at his numbers show a pure slugger.

Trout’s slugging percentage has been one of the highest in the game since 2012 at a staggering .564. Even more impressive is his ISO. He is averaging 154 games played per season and has put up a .254 ISO. That is an astronomical number that proves Trout’s power is one of the strongest tools he has.

Trout has been both available and productive, given his number of games played and the numbers he has put up. He could vault up this list in no time at all at his current pace.

2. Chris Davis – Baltimore Orioles

Chris Davis is one of the best pure power hitters in the game today. The 6-foot-3 Texas native has been known to go off at any given moment with his ability to launch balls all over the yard seemingly at will.

He has the second most homers in the past five seasons of the players evaluated with 197. That is an average of 39 homers per season and a massive amount of production. Let’s look at his numbers a little closer.

His .518 slugging percentage may not be overwhelming, but his .265 ISO certainly is. He is driving the ball out of the park at an impressive rate while averaging 149 games played every season. Davis has been the power source in Baltimore for years with seasons of 53 and 47 homers. He has also been dependable and given skipper Buck Showalter a reliable source of prodigious power.

At only 30 years old, look for Davis to keep putting up the massive numbers.

1. Edwin Encarnacion – Cleveland Indians

Top Power Hitters

Edwin Encarnacion’s power will play on either side of the border (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images North America).

Edwin Encarnacion is the top slugger in the game and will provide the Indians with one of the biggest bats in all of baseball. His 193 total homers since 2012 prove him to be a legitimate power threat. He has also averaged 145 games played per season in that five year time span.

Encarnacion provides power and dependability to an already deep Indians lineup. Just how much power does EE have?

Encarnacion has averaged 39 homers per season since 2012. That insane production is only made even more outrageous by his .544 slugging percentage. With the ability to hit the ball out of the park, it’s no wonder he boasts the best ISO on this list by a fair margin. His .272 ISO bests Chris Davis’ by .07 points. That is a noticeable difference in production.

Encarnacion will look to continue his power surge on the other side of the border in 2017 with one of the strongest swings in the game today.

 

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2017 American League West Preview

Each American League division presents its own unique narrative. The East is highly competitive with several contenders and prospective Wild Card candidates. The Central appears to be a one horse race with two others fighting to take advantage of a limited window. Finally, we have the 2017 American League West Preview which may present the most compelling storylines of all.

The AL West runs the gambit of teams at varying stages of competition readiness.

The A’s are a small market team and its famous organization president continues to seek out ways to compete. The Angels will try to put the right supporting cast around the best player in baseball. The middle of the division sports the Mariners who’s active offseason has made them many analysts’ dark horse pick. Finally, the Rangers and Astros sit at the top of the division.

If you’re looking for a late season dogfight for the number one spot this September, look no further than the AL West.

 

#5 Oakland Athletics

2017 American League West Preview

2017 Projected Record: 72-90

The team that made “Moneyball” famous continues to search for ways to build its roster. Unfortunately for Oakland, it appears that approach is going to take some time. With a current lack of depth, limited free agent budget and a below average farm system, the A’s have little to work with in 2017.

Sonny Gray has been a bright spot on this A’s roster but struggled mightily in 2016 with a 5.69 ERA. At only 26, Gray has plenty of time for a recovery performance and will look to bounce back this season. Assuming all goes well and Gray’s WAR trends closer to 2015 numbers than last season, Oakland will receive minor boost in the win column.

#4 Los Angeles Angels

2017 American League West Preview

2017 Projected Record: 74-88

2017 American League West PreviewIt’s hard to project much of a difference for the Angels in 2017. The pickups of Danny Espinosa and Cameron Maybin provide a lineup boost but that’s not the Angels’ main gap. Some mix of pitching talent and consistent health will have to improve this season to give the Angels a shot.

Garrett Richards is a relatively underrated ace and as solid a starter as you can ask for in the MLB. Outside of Richards, there are a number of question marks surrounding this staff. Unfortunately, other than Tyler Skaggs, most members of the rotation are a known quantity at this point in their careers.

While it’s impossible to completely discount any team with Mike Trout on it, it’s clear the Angels aren’t well-positioned to compete with the rest of the division.

#3 Seattle Mariners

2017 American League West Preview

2017 Projected Record: 88-74

The best prediction one can make for the Seattle Mariners is that your prediction will be miserably wrong. On paper there is a ton to like about this team and this fact was bolstered by an active offseason. Seattle acquired lineup help in the form of Jean Segura and rotation assistance with addition of Drew Smyly. Both players are solid starters and add an additional element of depth to an already well rounded team.

With all of that said there is just something difficult about projecting the Mariners at the top of the division. Just look at the last 5 years:

Year W L Finish Top Player (WAR)
2016 86 76 2nd of 5 R.Cano (7.3)
2015 76 86 4th of 5 N.Cruz (5.2)
2014 87 75 3rd of 5 F.Hernandez (6.7)
2013 71 91 4th of 5 H.Iwakuma (6.9)
2012 75 87 4th of 4 F.Hernandez (4.8)

Their top players are still around, the roster’s makeup is similar and the divisional composition is largely the same with the exception of the improved Astros. The pieces are in place for Seattle to at least make a run at the Wild Card, if not more. However, getting there ahead of the next two teams is no small task.

#2 Texas Rangers

2017 American League West Preview

2017 Projected Record: 91-71

2017 American League West Preview

The Ranges and Astros present options 1 and 1A at the top of the AL West. Both have an unbelievably talented mix of pitching and hitting, power and speed and veterans and youth. The x-factor for the Rangers’ squad will be the top of the rotation combo of Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish.

The lineup more than provided the run support needed to win games but the staff lived and died with Hamels. If Darvish can reestablish himself as a top starter, Texas is looking at one of the nastier 1-2 punches in the MLB. The rest of the rotation could still use a boost, but the quiet addition of Tyson Ross may just be the boost it needs.

 

#1 Houston Astros

2017 American League West Preview

2017 Projected Record: 92-70

The Astros undoubtedly have one of the most exciting groupings of young players in baseball. George Springer and Jose Altuve have already established their excellence with Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman not far behind. Free agent acquisition of veterans like Carlos Beltran and Josh Reddick further cement the completeness of this Astros team.

Pitching remains the question of the season for the top of this division. After a Cy Young performance in 2015, Dallas Keuchel struggled in 2016, posting a 4.55 ERA. If Keuchel can reclaim some of that domination, Collin McHugh and Lance McCullers provide strong second and third options. With little doubt surrounding the Astros and Rangers lineups, the true test for these clubs will be which rotation can reclaim past dominance.

 

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2017 Fantasy Baseball Second Base Rankings

Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball Second Base Rankings

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

In the past, the second base position is where one can find steals and average, although in 2016, 15 second base eligible players hit 20 or more home runs. The steals and average have remained constant as well, as 15 second basemen had double-digit steals and nine batted over .280 (Min. 500 AB’s). Second base remains one of the deeper positions in fantasy baseball in 2017.

With spring-training officially underway, it’s time to give our second base rankings for the 2017 season.

 

Players have been grouped into four tiers, with the top and bottom player of each profiled below.

Honorable mentions include: Brandon Drury (ARI), Jedd Gyorko (STL), Howie Kendrick (PHI), Brett Lawrie (CWS), and Ryan Schimpf (SD).

 

Tier 1

2017 Fantasy Baseball Second Base Rankings

Jose Altuve is pound for pound the most talented player in the MLB. (Courtesy of MLB.com)

  1. Jose Altuve HOU
  2. Robinson Cano SEA
  3. Daniel Murphy WAS
  4. Ian Kinsler DET
  5. Brian Dozier MIN
  6. Rougned Odor TEX
  7. Matt Carpenter STL

 

Jose Altuve is pound for pound the most talented player in the MLB. He offers above average contributions in all five categories, while offering elite levels of batting average and stolen bases. Altuve will have all of the opportunity in the world, as he will bat third behind budding stars George Springer and Alex Bregman, with All-star Carlos Correa batting clean-up.

The 26-year-old managed to set a career high marks across the board; in plate appearances, home runs, runs, and RBI’s. Even if the 5-foot-7 super-star regresses in all departments, he will remain an elite option in the first round of drafts.

 

The St. Louis Cardinals lifer, Matt Carpenter, is being severely over looked in 2017. Due to an oblique injury, he finished 2016 with only 566 plate appearances, whereas he had averaged 697 per season from 2013 to 2015. Carpenter was on a tear in the first half of 2016, batting .298 with 14 home runs and 53 RBI’s.

The 31-year-old will continue have the opportunity to produce as he will bat third in a very talented young Cardinal’s lineup. I expect Carpenter to severally outperform his current ADP of 68, as I believe he will bat around .290 with a possibility to produce both 100 runs and RBI’s.

Tier 2

2017 Fantasy Baseball Second Base Rankings

Trea Turner has a bright future, but what is his ceiling? (Courtesy of Federal Baseball)

  1. Trea Turner WAS
  2. Jean Segura SEA
  3. Jonathon Villar MIL
  4. Jason Kipnis CLE
  5. J. Lemaheiu COL

 

According to FantasyPros.com, Trea Turner is currently being drafted as the 11th player off the board, which is why he will not be on any of my teams in 2017. Turner was called up in June of 2016 and exploded, batted .342 with 13 home runs, 40 RBI’s, and 33 steals in only 73 games. I understand the hype, but let’s pump the breaks.  We are talking about a player who has never hit, or has never been on pace to hit, 20 home runs in a full 162 game season. He will bat at the top half of a stacked Washington Nationals lineup, giving him plenty of value in the runs department.

His career average of .329 and stolen base floor of around 30 should translate to a great fantasy season, although I do not believe he is worth a draft pick at his current ADP.

 

D.J. Lemahieu, is currently being drafted as the 88th overall player, and 13th second basemen off the board in 2017. Lemahieu was awarded the 2016 National League batting champion after having an astounding .348 average. The 6-foot-4 second basemen has only hit 26 career home runs in 672 games, although playing at his stature, as well as at Coors Field gives him a possibility to increase those totals in 2017.

The 28-year-old will bat second in one of the most prolific offenses in the MLB, with the Colorado Rockies. Lemahieu’s floor gives makes him well worth a top 50 pick, and he is being drafted in the top 100.

Tier 3

2017 Fantasy Baseball Second Base Rankings

The aging-veteran Dustin Pedroia will continue to dominate in 2017. (Courtsey of alchetron.com)

  1. Dustin Pedroia BOS
  2. Jonathon Schoop BAL
  3. Ben Zobrist CHC
  4. Devon Travis TOR
  5. Logan Forsythe LAD
  6. Neil Walker NYM
  7. Starlin Castro NYY
  8. Javier Baez CHC
  9. Brandon Phillips ATL

 

Dustin Pedroia remains a solid fantasy option once again in 2017. The 33-year-old’s 2016 was arguably his best season since his 2008 MVP year. Pedroia had 200 hits for the second time in his career, while hitting 15 home runs with 74 RBI’s atop the Boston Red Sox order.

Health concerns have always been an issue for the 5-foot-9 (more like 5-foot-6) veteran, although after completing a full season in 2016, there is no reason to assume he cannot repeat this once again in 2017.

 

Brandon Phillips will leave Ohio for the first time in his MLB career as he heads south for Atlanta. The 35-year-old hasn’t lost a step as he has batted over .290 in his last two seasons, while averaging about 10 home runs, 70 runs, 70 RBI’s, and 16 steals.

Phillips will bat in middle of a very underrated Atlanta Braves lineup, behind the likes of Freddie Freeman and Dansby Swanson. Phillips’ talent and lineup position give him a great floor for his current ADP of 321.

Tier 4

2017 Fantasy Baseball Second Base Rankings

Josh Harrison looks to complete his first full MLB season in 2017. (Courtesy of Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Spors)

  1. Josh Harrison PIT
  2. Danny Espinosa LAA
  3. Joe Panik SFG
  4. Cesar Hernandez PHI

 

Josh Harrison has yet to play in over 145 games in a season in his MLB career, although he has shown promise to become a great fantasy asset in 2017. Harrison’s finished 2016 with a .283 average, 57 runs, 59 RBI’s, and 19 stolen bases. If Harrison played a complete season, he would have been on pace for 72 RBI’s and 22 steals, which, along with his average, would have put him in the top 15 for second basemen in 2016.

The 29-year-old will bat atop a Pittsburgh Pirates lineup that looks to redeem itself from a poor 2016 campaign. Batting ahead of Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, and Gregory Polanco will make him a great source of runs in 2017. His ADP of 322 makes him well worth a pick late in your draft.

 

Cesar Hernandez was quietly a top 20 second basemen in all formats in 2016. He offered a great source of speed and average as he stole 17 bases while batting .294. The 26-year-old also managed to lead the league in triples in 2016, which is always a good sign.

He will bat atop a young Phillies lineup, which will make him a great source of runs and steals, as the Phillies were a top 10 team in stolen bases attempted per game in 2016. Hernandez is a great low risk pick for the last rounds of your draft.

 

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2017 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Rankings

Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Rankings

The catcher position is arguably the toughest and most important position on the diamond. Not only is catcher the most demanding position physically, but mentally as well. Catchers must know everything about everyone at all times.

The most important responsibilities of a catcher are on the defensive side of the ball. They need to block, pick, receive, call pitches and throw out runners, among other things. The importance of defense commonly results in catchers being worse offensively than other positions.

In fantasy terms, the catcher can be compared to the tight end in football. The tight end position is focused on blocking as much as it is receiving, resulting in them having a lower average fantasy value than other skill positions.

The top 25 catchers have been grouped into five tiers. The top and bottom catcher in each tier have been profiled below.

Exceptions include Matt Wieters, who is still an unsigned free agent and Wilson Ramos, who is recovering from a torn ACL, and should return to the Tampa Bay Rays as a designated hitter at some point in May.

Honorable mentions include: Jorge Alfaro (PHI), Nick Hundley (SF), Miguel Montero (CHC), Roberto Perez (CLE), Jeff Bandy (MIL), Tucker Barnhart (CIN), Carlos Ruiz (SEA), Tom Murphy (COL), and Tyler Flowers (ATL).

Tier 1

2017 fantasy baseball catcher rankings

Buster Posey could retire right now and be inducted into the Hall of Fame. (Courtesy of MLBtraderumors.com)

Catchers in this tier are elite fantasy options. They will play every day, whether it is behind the plate or at first base, and have offered consistently great offensive value in the past.

1. Buster Posey SF

2. Jonathan Lucroy TEX

Buster Posey has been the standard of excellence at catcher for the past five seasons. The former MVP is coming off of his worst career season (disregarding his 2011 campaign). An off year for Posey included batting .288 with 14 home runs and 80 RBIs. He managed to be top-15 MVP finalist, win his first Gold Glove and was named an All-Star for the fourth time.

The 29-year-old will remain the three-hole hitter for the always competitive San Francisco Giants, and should be selected as the first catcher off the board in 2017.

A two time All-Star, Jonathan Lucroy, will play his first full season for the Texas Rangers in 2017. He projects to bat sixth in a deep Rangers lineup that features young stud stars Rougned Odor and Nomar Mazara, as well as veterans Carlos Gomez, Adrain Beltre, Shin-Soo Choo and recently acquired Mike Napoli.

Lucroy led the league in doubles while finishing fourth in MVP voting in 2014. His 2015 season was cut short to a broken toe and concussion. In 2016, Lucroy rebounded, reaching career high in home runs, walks and slugging percentage. After being traded by the Milwaukee Brewers to the Rangers in 2016, He managed to mash 11 home runs in 47 games. Lucroy is guaranteed to be a top catcher in 2017.

Tier 2

2017 fantasy baseball catcher rankings.

Gary Sanchez is no longer the future of the New York Yankees, but rather the present. (Courtesy of NJ.com)

This tier consists of catchers who will play nearly every day, hit in the heart of the order, and offer great offensive value.

3. Gary Sanchez NYY

4. Willson Contreras CHC

5. Yasmani Grandal LAD

Everybody remembers Gary Sanchez for hitting 20 home runs in 53 games in 2016, but they forget that he batted .225 in September and October. Sanchez has huge upside as he will bat third for a sneaky talented Yankees lineup featuring veteran speedsters Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner.

With the 24-year-old batting third, Sanchez is in a prime spot to rack up RBIs if he can continue to put the bat on the ball. The Sanchise should not be overlooked because of his great opportunity in 2017.

Yasmani Grandal had his best career year in 2016, finishing 22nd in MVP voting. He hit 27 bombs while slashing .228/.339/.477 in 126 games. The Dodger’s everyday catcher will bat fifth behind Adrian Gonzalez, Justin Turner and Corey Seager, which will give him ample RBI opportunities.

Grandal will be a great fantasy asset in 2017.

Tier 3

2017 Fantasy Baseball Rankings

Russell Martin’s continued success is remarkable at 34-years-old. (Courtesy of www.whatproswear.com)

Catchers in this tier offer above average fantasy value as they will play nearly every day, hit in productive spots in the order, and have proven their worth in the past.

6. Russell Martin

7. Brian McCann

8. Salvador Perez

9. Yadier Molina

10. Wellington Castillo

11. Stephen Vogt

Russell Martin, the MLB’s journey man, has found success everywhere he goes. He has reached the 20 home run, 60 run, 70 RBI plateau in his last two consecutive seasons. The 34-year-old will be entering his 12th season as the everyday catcher and six hitter of the Toronto Blue Jays.

He will have the same opportunity he has had in the past two seasons to be a key contributor in the Blue Jays offense.

Stephen Vogt has finished his second consecutive season of 500 plate appearances and over a .250 average. He has hit a total of 32 home runs in his last two seasons, suggesting that he has above average power for a catcher. The 32-year-old will be the Oakland Athletics primary catcher and two-hitter in 2017, which will give him plenty of opportunities to produce runs.

The two-time All-Star will continue to have the chance to shine as a key part of the Athletics roster.

Tier 4

2017 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Rankings

Where does Evan Gattis fit into the Houston Astros puzzle? (Courtesy of The Houston Chronicle)

Players in this tier will come at a cheap price, but will provide above average value.

12. Evan Gattis

13. J.T. Realmuto

14. Mike Zunino

15. Austin Hedges

16. Francisco Cervelli

17. Derek Norris

Evan Gattis, the former janitor, has managed to amass 20 or more home runs in all four of his MLB seasons while averaging only 122 games per season. Gattis will play a utility role for the Houston Astros in 2017, who have signed Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann this offseason.

Gattis will find time behind home plate when veteran McCann’s legs need a rest, at designated hitter when Beltran starts in the outfield or is out of the lineup, and at first base when Yulieski Gurriel sits or struggles.

The 30-year-old has too much talent to not be in the lineup, and will be a cheap source of power in the middle or late rounds of your draft.

Derek Norris, who batted .186 in 2016, was traded to the Washington Nationals in December of 2016 for a minor-league pitcher. He will hold the primary catchers position relinquishing the occasional at bat to Jose Lobaton. The 28-year-old will bat at the bottom of a loaded Nationals lineup, giving him more RBI opportunities than the average eight hitter. A lot of people forget that Derek Norris batted .250 in 2015, and .270 in 2014, showing that he has the potential to be a valuable fantasy asset for a cheap price.

Tier 5

2017 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Rankings

Travis d’Arnaud looks forward to a healthy 2017. (Courtesy of Getty Images)

These catchers all offer average levels of production but will be playing in platoon roles, so playing time may be staggered until injuries or performance dictate otherwise.

18. Travis d’Arnaud

19. Sandy Leon

20. Devin Mesoraco

21. Yan Gomes

22. Cameron Rupp

23. Tony Wolters

24. James McCann

25. Jason Castro

Travis d’Arnaud will be the primary catcher for the New York Mets, occasionally relinquishing at-bats to backups Rene Rivera and Kevin Plawecki. Although he has only totaled 100 games played once in his career (108 games played in 2014), he is healthy and confident heading into 2017.

The Mets have also hired Glenn Sherlock as their new third base coach and catching instructor which will help d’Arnaud maintain his confidence behind the plate and at the dish. He offers average value for low cost, as he is commonly going undrafted.

Jason Castro, also going undrafted, will be the starting catcher for the Minnesota Twins after signing a three year, $24.5 million contract. He will bat at the bottom of a young Twins lineup that is sure to produce its fair share of runs in 2017. Castro batted .210 with 11 home runs in 2016, although it was only four seasons ago when the 29-year-old was an All-Star who batted .270 with 18 home runs. Castro is a good sleeper for deep or two catcher leagues.

 

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fantasy baseball 2017 top sleeper candidates

Fantasy Baseball 2017: Top Sleepers Candidates at Each Position

The Game Haus presents our fantasy baseball 2017 top sleeper candidates at each position for the upcoming Major League Baseball season.

According to Yahoo.com, the following players average draft positions, or ADP, are in, or after round 22. Standard fantasy baseball drafts range from 23-25 rounds, so these players are low risk, high reward.

They offer greater value than other players at their position, as they are being overlooked and selected in much later rounds than players who offer similar value.

 

Mike Zunino, C, Seattle Mariners

fantasy baseball 2017 top sleeper candidates

Mike Zunino is no longer the backstop of the future for the Mariners as 2017 is his year to shine. (Courtesy of lookoutlanding.com)

The 2012 first-round pick has struggled in his time in the show, but 2017 is his year to earn his spot. Zunino is a pure power hitter who has hit fifty career home runs in 350 games.

He will bat sixth behind Kyle Seager, Nelson Cruz, and Robinson Cano. If this doesn’t get you excited, then I don’t know what will. He will have plenty of chances to rack up some RBIs.

Unfortunately for Zunino, the Seattle Mariners traded for veteran Carlos Ruiz from the Los Angeles Dodgers this offseason. This is a bit unnerving, as Ruiz will inevitably steal some at-bats from Zunino. However, I believe that it will be Zunino’s job to lose.

His ADP is currently above 260, as he is commonly going undrafted.

 

Mitch Moreland, 1B, Boston Red Sox

The Gold-Glove award winner in 2016 heads north to join Boston’s star-studded lineup lead by Dustin Pedroia and the killer B’s. Moreland will be the everyday first basemen for the Red Sox and will bat sixth or seventh in the lineup. The Red Sox are looking to make a World Series run in 2017, and Moreland will be a key contributor.

He is currently being selected in the 23rd round, after fellow first basemen Travis Shaw, Brandon Moss, and Danny Valencia. I prefer Moreland to the aforementioned options for multiple reasons.

First, he has a more proven track record, hitting twenty plus bombs three times in his career. Second, the Red Sox lineup adds immense value, as we all saw how well Travis Shaw produced in the six hole last season. Finally, Moreland’s glove will keep him on the field, so there is no need to worry about losing at-bats to Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, or Allen Craig.

Moreland should do just fine in his first season in Boston.

 

Jose Peraza, 2B, SS, OF, Cincinnati Reds

fantasy baseball 2017 top sleeper candidates

Brandon Phillips, Jose Peraza will finally have an open spot in the Cincinnati Reds lineup. (Courtesy of MLBdailydish.com)

The Cincinnati Reds have officially traded second baseman Brandon Phillips to the Atlanta Braves for two pitching prospects. This means that it is officially Jose Peraza time!

Peraza is a top 100 prospect according to MLB.com, Baseballprospectus.com, and Baseball America. The speedster has stolen 244 bases in 611 career games. Also, he has logged innings at second base, shortstop, and center field in his professional career, which will help him remain in the lineup throughout the season.

Peraza will primarily play second base, and will presumably start the season batting at the bottom of the order, but a promotion to the leadoff spot could be in order if he continues to find success at the plate. He has a career batting average of .312 at all levels.

He offers tremendous value through his speed and versatility in 2017.

 

Yangervis Solarte, 3B, 2B, San Diego Padres

Solarte, once a utility man for the Padres, will have the everyday third basemen job in 2017. He will bat in the heart of the order behind All-Star first basemen Wil Myers, allowing him to have plenty of opportunities to do damage. Solarte played in only 109  games in 2016, but managed to manufacture 71 RBIs on 15 home runs, while batting .286.

El Nino may be the most overlooked player in 2017, as he is a clean-up hitter playing an everyday role, but is being selected after utility players like Sean Rodriguez, Jurickson Profar, and Howie Kendrick.

Solarte has a great opportunity to surpass all of his career highs this upcoming season.

 

Danny Espinosa, SS, Los Angeles Angels

fantasy baseball 2017 top sleeper candidates

Danny Espinosa has escaped the platoon that held him back in Washington. (Courtesy of Zimbio.com)

New doors have been opened for Espinosa, as he heads from Washington to Los Angeles to be the Angels everyday second basemen. The slugging middle infielder hit 24 home runs with 72 RBIs in 2016, surpassing his former career highs.

He will bat towards the end of sneaky deep Angels lineup, which will give him ample RBI opportunities. Espinosa is being selected in the 23rd round, after other shortstops including Alcides Escobar, Jose Reyes, and J.J. Hardy.

The 29-year-old can still improve his approach at the plate, and I would not be surprised by a 30 home run, 70 RBI campaign.

 

Michael Saunders OF, Philadelphia Phillies

The first-time All-Star in 2016 signed a one-year deal with a team option for a second with the Philadelphia Phillies this offseason. He will be one of their everyday corner outfielders and will bat sixth behind the young Phillies core of Odubel Herrera, Maikel Franco, and Tommy Joseph.

Saunders provides great upside as he hit .298 with 16 home runs and 48 RBIs before the All-Star break in 2016. His value comes as he is being selected in the 23rd round after fellow outfielders Nick Markakis, Melvin Upton Jr., and Steve Pearce.

Saunders will have to bounce back to his first half form from 2016 if the Phillies want to have any serious success in 2017.

 

Chris Tillman SP, Baltimore Orioles

fantasy baseball 2017 top sleeper candidates

Chris Tillman looks to recover from his disastrous second half of 2016. (Courtesy of csnmidatlantic.com)

Tillman has completed four consecutive seasons with over 170 innings pitched, with an average of 147 strikeouts per year. He will be atop of the Baltimore Orioles rotation for another year as he looks to improve on his career high win total of 16 from 2016.

Tillman had a phenomenal first half last season, sporting a 3.4 ERA and 7.8 K/9. His second half was atrocious, but he has shown enough consistency in the past to not warrant any serious regression.

I suspect Tillman to make adjustments, as he did from 2015 to 2016, where he went from a 4.99 ERA to a 3.77. Also worth noting that he had a sub three ERA on the road, and a four plus at home, so take that into consideration as well.

He is being selected in the 22nd round, after other starters including Clay Buchholz and Mike Montgomery. Tillman will eat innings and have great opportunities to win games for the Orioles come 2017.

 

Fernando Rodney, CL, Arizona Diamondbacks

The veteran closer signed a one-year contract for $2.75 million with the Arizona Diamondbacks this offseason. He is coming of a 25-save season where he exhibited a K/9 of 10.2, which is well above league average. His K/9 has surpassed 10 three times in his last four seasons. This is encouraging as his K/9 have not dipped even though his velocity has.

The 39-year-old will be the closer for the Diamondbacks to start 2017. With the return of A.J. Pollock, David Peralta and others, Rodney could be in store for an abundance of save opportunities. He is being selected in the 24th round, after many set-up men, including three Chicago Cubs, Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon, and Koji Uehara.

Rodney’s value should spike as owners realize his value as a closer, so do not be afraid to “reach” for him in 20 or 21st round.

 

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2017 MLB Season

Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Second Basemen

In this fourth installment of our Position Rankings for the 2017 MLB season, we are going to take a base from first to second. Second basemen proved to be strong offensive contributors in 2016 as we saw homers, steals and batting averages that rivaled players at any positions.

With second basemen starting to emerge into the spotlight, lets take a look at the top second basemen.

5. Daniel Murphy- Washington Nationals

2017 MLB Season

The Nationals will hope Murphy can continue his offensive dominance in 2017. (Jeff Curry, USA TODAY Sports).

After Daniel Murphy’s offensive explosion in the 2015 MLB Playoffs, many questioned if he would be able to match his playoff performance over a full season. Those questions were laid to rest early in the 2016 season. Murphy posted the best slash line of his eight year career, batting .347, .390, .595. Those numbers, along with his 25 homers and 104 RBI’s vaulted him to a second place finish in the 2015 NL MVP voting. But as his offensive numbers reached new heights, his defense continued to stay well below league average.

Murphy had a horrendous -9 defensive runs saved at second base in 2016. That was easily the worst defensive performance of any player on this list. Murphy’s saving grace, as it has been throughout his career, is his offense. As the 2017 MLB season approaches, Murphy will try to continue his torrid offensive pace.

4. Brian Dozier- Minnesota Twins

Brian Dozier had a historic year for the Minnesota Twins in 2016. While the Twins fell below expectations, Dozier certainly did his part to try and propel them back to relevancy. He blasted 42 homers, besting the AL record for homers by a second baseman set by Alfonso Soriano in 2002. Just like Murphy, Dozier also put up the best slash line of his career at .268, .340, .546. Dozier was also able to couple his steadily growing power with his ever-present base running prowess. He fell just short of his career high 21 stolen bases in 2014, swiping 18 in 2016.

While Dozier was able to improve his overall offensive game, he also turned his defense around from 2015. Dozier had a respectable 3 defensive runs saved in 2016. After putting up one of the best power seasons of any second baseman in MLB history, it will remain to be seen if Dozier can come close to his historic 2016 season in 2017. Either way, he has cemented his place as one of the top second basemen in baseball.

3. Ian Kinsler- Detroit Tigers

2017 MLB Season

With a strong bat and slick glove, Ian Kinsler is the total package for the Tigers. (Leon Halip, Getty Images).

After being traded straight up in 2013 for slugger Prince Fielder, Ian Kinsler has provided a steady presence in Detroit for the past three seasons. Kinsler continued a strong career with another stellar offensive season in 2016. While batting .288, .348 and .484, Kinsler also hit 28 bombs to go along with 83 RBI’s. Kinsler wasn’t just a one-trick pony in 2016 either. After stealing 14 bases in 2016, Kinsler will enter 2017 with 211 career stolen bases and 212 career homers. That is plenty of power and speed over his career.

Kinsler has also flashed the leather throughout his time in the majors, and 2016 was no different. After having 12 defensive runs saved last season, Kinsler earned his first Gold Glove. Being one of the most balanced second basemen in all of Major League Baseball has given Kinsler a stellar reputation. The 2017 season is just another opportunity for Kinsler to continue his exceptional career.

2. Robinson Canó- Seattle Mariners

When Canó left New York for Seattle after the 2013 season, it was thought that he would be able to guide the Mariners to their first playoff appearance since 2001. Although that hasn’t come to fruition, it can’t be blamed on Canó. Canó proved why he has been widely considered the top slugger at second base, hitting a career high 39 homers to go along with 103 RBI’s in 2016. He also displayed his overall hitting ability with a slash line of .298, .350, .533. While Canó’s first two seasons in Seattle left much to be desired, he returned to vintage form in 2016. That included his defense as well.

Canó improved on his defense vastly in 2016 compared to his 2015 campaign. He had 11 defensive runs saved this past season after having a poor defensive season in 2015 in which he had -9 defensive runs saved. After struggling his first two years in Seattle, it seemed Canó was finally able to shake his jet lag. 2017 will be a big season for Canó, one in which we will find out if he has truly returned to All-Star form or if Seattle made a $240 million mistake.

1. José Altuve- Houston Astros

2017 MLB Season

José Altuve has never let his short stature keep him from reaching new offensive heights. (Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports).

Altuve is one of the reasons why baseball is the best sport in the world. At 5’7″ I am proud to say I am taller than All-Star second baseman José Altuve (5’6″). Even though Altuve’s stature is diminutive, his game has reached astronomical heights. While winning his second AL Batting Title in the past three years, Altuve was able to improve his overall hitting ability. His 2016 slash line of .338, .396, and .531 were career highs in OBP and slugging. Altuve fueled his .531 slugging percentage by blasting 24 homers to go along with 96 RBI’s. His 24 homers were more than his first four seasons combined! Altuve has also shown off his wheels throughout his career, stealing 199 bases over parts of six seasons.

Although Altuve is steadily becoming the top offensive second basemen in the majors, his glove has always trailed his bat. Altuve posted -2 defensive runs saved at second base in 2016, proving to be below league average on defense. While his defense certainly isn’t anything to write home about, Altuve’s offense is more than enough to launch him into the top spot in these rankings. Altuve will only be 26 years old when the 2017 season starts, and will just be entering his prime.

Second base has long been seen as a less than premium position. But with the emergence of some stellar players at second base in the past few seasons, the position is primed to become on of the most talented in Major League Baseball.

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Tracking the Transactions: Rating AL Deadline Trades for Contenders

With the season coming down to its final two weeks, and a little over a month on their respective new teams, I think now is as good a time as any to rate who has produced with their new teams. We’ve seen some guys bring a huge boost to the teams they ended up with, while others have proven to be more of a liability. Here, I’ll give my opinion on who falls where. I’ll give players a rating between one and five based on how they’ve done since the deadline. Teams will be sorted alphabetically.

Baltimore Orioles – Wade Miley: 2

Miley hasn’t been great since coming from Seattle. A respectable July appeared to show that Miley was on the upswing; this has clearly not been the case, however, as he is just 1-5 with a 7.14 ERA in seven starts with Baltimore. I’m not really surprised by Miley’s lack of success, his numbers were certainly better while he was in Seattle either, posting a 4.98 ERA in 19 starts with them. With what Ariel Miranda (who the Mariners got in the deal for Miley) has done on the mound, the Orioles look like they may have ended up on the wrong end of this deal.

Image result for drew pomeranz red sox

Photo courtesy of bostonherald.com

Boston Red Sox – Drew Pomeranz/Fernando Abad: 4/3

Both of these guys really follow the same storyline on their journeys to Boston. It looked pretty scary at first, with Pomeranz going 0-2 in his first three starts (and going only three innings in his debut with the Sox) and Abad shouldering a loss in two of his first four appearances.  Since then, Pomeranz has gone 2-2 with just a 2.76 ERA. He hasn’t surrendered over three runs in a start since the end of July, which is a normally a good thing considering Boston has the top offense in the MLB. His record since coming to Boston isn’t the greatest, but if he keeps having these outings, he should start racking up wins when they really matter. Abad is a part of that Sox bullpen, which is still the biggest question mark on the team. He hasn’t surrendered a run in his last eight appearances, spanning back to August 19, though.

 

 

Cleveland Indians – Andrew Miller: 4

Miller has looked great with Cleveland, only allowing two runs throughout the entirety of August. September hasn’t been as kind to him, he’s allowed three runs over four innings; luckily, the Indians have a pretty massive cushion nearing the end of the year, so it’s better for him to get the kinks out now before the postseason (the guy’s sitting at a 1.69 ERA on the year, he was due for a hiccup eventually). He hasn’t seen as many save opportunities as people thought he would but he’s still been a very strong setup man with Cody Allen seeing the bulk of the closing opportunities. It’s hard to evaluate just how much Cleveland gave up for him, since none of the four prospects dealt by Cleveland have seen Big League play. Miller has proven to be a valuable asset, for Cleveland, though, and I’m looking forward to see him in postseason play.

Image result for tyler clippard yankees

Photo courtesy of mlb.com

New York Yankees – Tyler Clippard: 5

A lot of people, myself included, were confused as to why the Yankees went and made an acquisition after selling two of the biggest names in the organization in Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller. Clippard’s performance has shut me up, however, as he’s been stellar since putting on the pinstripes. He’s allowed just one run in 17.1 innings pitched since joining the Yankees, that’s a 0.53 ERA for those keeping track. He’s the go-to guy in the pen on a Yankee team that has improbably stayed in this AL playoff race. He’s looking reminiscent of his All-Star days in Washington, which is great to see given his recent dip in performance over the past couple of seasons.

 

Seattle Mariners – Drew Storen/Ariel Miranda: 3/5

Drew Storen has received a lot of flak over the years for his performance as a closer. I think August shows that he’s still a strong arm in the bullpen, going 2-0 and only allowing one run over eight innings of work. He’s still prone to the occasional meltdown, however, surrendering four runs in his initial outing with the team. Since then, he hasn’t allowed more than one run in an outing.

Ariel Miranda looked like a young guy that was just a piece from Baltimore for Wade Miley. He’s turned into a real asset at the back of the rotation for a Mariners team that’s hanging around in the Wildcard Race. His numbers won’t blow you away, but let’s not forget that August was his first month of MLB play, and the fifth man slot isn’t known for posting overpowering stats. He was 0-1 as a starter in August, with a 4.90 ERA (he picked up one win in a relief appearance). In two starts this month, however, he’s picked up two wins and recorded his first career quality start in the Bigs.

Image result for jonathan lucroy rangers

Photo courtesy of zimbio.com

Texas Rangers – Jonathan Lucroy/Carlos Beltran: 5/4

Lucroy was one of the biggest names heading in to the deadline, and he’s proven why with his performance since coming to Texas. The Rangers have ballooned their divisional lead since their deadline acquisitions that have further bolstered their offense. Lucroy has hit ten homers in his month and a half in Texas (he had 13 in four months with Milwaukee this year) and has driven in 25 runs as well.

Beltran came to Texas as one of the big surprises of 2016. The 39 year old showed he could still rake, clobbering 22 homers and 64 RBIs while hitting .304 in New York. He’s tapered off a bit since the deadline, but he hasn’t been bad by any stretch of the mind. He’s hitting a respectable .284 with the Rangers, hit five homers, and driven in 23 RBIs. He’s certainly looked like an upgrade from Prince Fielder, who manned the DH spot before ending up on the DL and later retiring from baseball altogether. Texas is a very hot team at the moment, and I’m interested to see how far into the postseason Beltran, Lucroy, and the rest of this offense can carry the team.

 

Toronto Blue Jays – Melvin Upton Jr./Scott Feldman/Francisco Liriano: 2/1/3

Upton was meant to bring a speed aspect to an otherwise one-dimensional Blue Jays outfield. Since joining the Jays, however, he has only stolen six bases since joining Toronto. primarily because he hasn’t been providing much at the plate either, batting just .226 in August and .200 so far in September. His power numbers have also slowed down considerably, as he has just four homers since joining Toronto. There’s always time for Upton to turn it around and make a difference in these AL East and Wildcard races, but his performance so far makes me wonder whether he was a wise acquisition.

Feldman and Liriano currently both find themselves in the bullpen, after being part of the Opening Day rotations for their former teams (Liriano also started for a month with Toronto). Feldman has struggled, allowing 23 hits and 14 runs (13 earned) in 13.1 innings since joining Toronto. He just hasn’t found his comfort zone since leaving Houston, where he was already beginning to display struggles. Liriano has been what we’ve come to expect from him this year, mediocre. He had two quality starts and two not-so-great starts as a part of the Jays’ rotation in August. The same can be said for his two September bullpen performances. In one he didn’t record a single out and surrendered three runs (two earned) and in the other he went two scoreless innings and struck out three batters.

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The Legacy of Alex Rodriguez

A-Rod Cover photo

A-Rod mulling over his future legacy. Photo courtesy of Elise Amendola of the AP

 

In the present, Alex Rodriguez (A-Rod) may be an unwanted salary burden on the New York Yankees roster. Playing sparingly for the pinstripes, he has since announced he will be ending his professional career and moving to an adviser role with the Yankees.

His career was not always spent on the bench. A-Rod is a recipient of the Most Valuable Player Award three times, was a member of the American League All Star team fourteen times and even won a couple of Gold Glove awards in an era defined by great defensive shortstops, like Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra.

Drafted first overall by the Seattle Mariners in 1993 out of high school, he began the 1994 season quickly skyrocketing through the Mariners farm system before making his debut at shortstop on July 8, 1994. The expectations placed on A-Rod were enormous, much like the hype that surrounded Bryce Harper in present time. The only difference was, the Mariners already had multiple, integral pieces in place for a potential playoff run. A-Rod would be the icing on the cake for them.

A young Alex Rodriguez in Seattle. Photo courtesy of Bob Leverone Sporting News.

A young Alex Rodriguez in Seattle. Photo courtesy of Bob Leverone Sporting News.

A-Rod would go on to headline a roster that included Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez, perennially making it to the playoffs, but never sealing the deal. A-Rod used up his service time never making it past the American League Championship Series with the Mariners. By the time free agency hit, A-Rod was already a four time all-star at a vital position and would receive a lofty paycheck.

That lofty paycheck would be a 10 year, $252 million deal. Not only was the deal the most expensive in MLB history, but it was more than $50 million larger than the next closest deal. That was a deal that caught many experts by surprise because Texas had been dwelling in the cellar of the division for the last season and had multiple needs to spend money on.

Despite three strong seasons in Texas, where A-Rod hit a combined 156 home runs, won a gold glove and a MVP award, Texas looked to move him due to the financial burden it put on the team. A potential deal to the Boston Red Sox, before the start of the 2004 season, was vetoed by the player’s union due to A-Rod voluntarily reducing his salary. This led to the New York Yankees trading for A-Rod, a move that seemed like a slap in the face to Red Sox Nation (Who ended up getting the last laugh during the infamous “Four Days in October” during the playoffs that season).

A-Rod celebrating winning the World Series in 2009. Photo courtesy of Charles Wenzenburg of the N.Y. Post.

A-Rod celebrating winning the World Series in 2009. Photo courtesy of Charles Wenzenburg of the N.Y. Post.

A-Rod continued his dominance on major league pitching for much of his reign on the Yankees. A-Rod won two of his MVP awards with the Yankees, along with clubbing 30 home runs at the heart of the lineup when the Yankees won the World Series in 2009. A-Rod had often been the focal point of criticism come playoff time in New York, as his postseason numbers were never strong. All that changed in 2009 when A-Rod went on to hit for a .365 batting average and six home runs in 15 games for the Yankees in the postseason.

A-Rod’s career is not without controversy; however, much like the rest of the late 90’s and early 2000’s for baseball, A-Rod was often a focal point of talks concerning potential steroid abusers. A-Rod has come out and admitted to using steroids while in Texas from 2001-2003. He was not punished for the admission of guilt as there were no penalties for steroids at the time and he claimed to have stopped using them once he joined the Yankees.

Later, news surfaced that A-Rod would be suspended for his role in the Biogenesis scandal, which would lead to him sitting out all of 2014 after a lengthy appeals process. The DEA released notes in November of 2014 where A-Rod admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs, which painted A-Rod as a liar due to him vehemently denying using any performance enhancing supplements through much of the 2014 season.

A-Rod has consistently put up numbers that would normally paint a player as a first ballot Hall of Famer. Yet, the steroid controversies in Texas, along with Biogenesis, make the decision a lot more difficult. No known steroid user, including Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds, have cemented a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame yet. A-Rod will always be remembered as an outstanding baseball player, with his countless all-star appearances and three MVP awards. Only time will tell how badly the steroids will tarnish A-Rod’s ultimate legacy.

 

2016 American League West Preview

Courtesy of, brokenbatsingleblog.wordpress.com

Courtesy of: brokenbatsingleblog.wordpress.com

The Texas Rangers were the best team in the AL West last year. The Rangers had a solid offense with good enough pitching to back it up. They had some vets like Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre who really helped them push their way to a division title. However, they were not the team everyone talked about. That team, was the Houston Astros. They came out of nowhere and almost won the division and were good enough to make it to the Wild Card round.

The Astros finished second last year but, were a major surprise to baseball as they had been picked by many to not contend at all. Their young players stepped up and shinned. Carlos Correa has the talent and the ability to be a perennial All-Star and MVP candidate.

The Angels finished third last year and played well throughout the season, just barely missing the playoffs. They had the offense coming from their superstar Mike Trout and future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols. Their problem was, and still is, pitching.

The Seattle Mariners finished fourth last year in a disappointing 2015 campaign. They struggled in hitting as they finished in the bottom three for both runs scored, strikeouts, and batting average. Their pitching was also nothing to write home about as they finished the year with a 4.16 ERA.

Last were the Athletics who were expected to have a down year. They traded away many of the pieces they had brought in for the 2014 playoff run. Billy Beane decided it was time to rebuild. They brought in some interesting players through trades and Sonny Gray was spectacular.

That was last year though, lets move on to what should be an exciting 2016 for the AL West. I will start by giving which place I believe the team will finish in, then I will go through almost every position and tell you all what I see and lastly I will name my player or players to watch.

1st Place: Houston Astros

Courtesy of: www.sports-logos-screensavers.com

Courtesy of: www.sports-logos-screensavers.com

Last year the American League West had a surprise team, the Astros. While they did not win the division they had everyone talking. This was because they were well ahead of schedule. The Astros were a young team that many thought wouldn’t be contending this soon after they had blown everything up years before. Everything is finally coming together for a team that was the worst in the majors for almost 3 years. Their loyal fanbase will have to opportunity to watch a team that has unbelievable talent.

The outfield rotation of Rasmus, Gomez, Marisnick, Tucker and especially Springer are all solid. They can play defense well and carry some impressive bats. Springer and Gomez should have excellent seasons this year. Gomez will finally be able to play a full season with a winning team. Springer will look to continue to improve on what was a spectacular 2015 season. As long as the injury bug does not get to him he should have a monster year.

The infield, particularly the middle of it, will be amazing as well. Jose Altuve was one of the only good players on the team during their rebuilding process. His patience has paid off. With him and Carlos Correa manning the middle of the field the Astros may have the best middle infield in baseball. Correa has shown that he can be a major force. He can hit for average, power, bat with runners in scoring position, steal bases and play defense. The kid was a number one overall pick for the Astros and he has not disappointed. Look for him to have an amazing year and look for his name on the MVP ballot at the end of the year.

The starting rotation added Doug Fister to the mix which is a solid pickup. Keuchel, the reigning Cy Young Winner, McHugh, Fiers, and Feldman make up the rest of what should be a solid rotation. They have their ace and a great number 2 in McHugh. Those two should make the top of this rotation deadly. The back of their rotation is also made up of solid overall pitchers. Many of them are innings eaters who will keep you in a ballgame and give you a good chance of winning once you get to the bullpen.

The bullpen has the potential to be great. Ken Giles who was the Phillies closer was traded to Houston this offseason. He did not win the closing job, it was announced that Luke Gregerson would have that job, but, I can see Giles eventually winning it back. Pat Nesheck and Tony Sipps will also round out what will be an older but, effective bullpen.

The Astros should win this division barring any terrible injuries. Look for them to make some trade deadline deals to improve their corner infield positions and maybe add one more starter if they have the money to. They are one of my picks to make it to the World Series this year.

Player to Watch: Carlos Correa

2nd Place: Texas Rangers

Courtesy of: www.sportslogos.net

Courtesy of: www.sportslogos.net

This Rangers team came out and won the division last year, yet they were not the talk of the division. Many people outside of Texas had forgotten that they were the Division Champions, not the Astros. They will be looking to improve on their performance last year as they will have Yu Darvish back this year and an interesting piece in Ian Desmond patrolling left field. Ultimately they will finish 2nd behind an up and coming Astros team because their age will start to show and I do not think they will end the season with a healthy enough team to win the division.

The outfield will have Ian Desmond who to an extent is an experiment out in left field. He has been an infielder for his entire career but, he looked serviceable during Spring Training. They brought him in for his bat and they got him cheap. They are hoping this move will pay off. The rest of their outfield is much less exciting. Delino Deshields Jr. will be playing center field and while he is solid on defense he has a lackluster bat. Shin-Soo Choo will be playing right field and is a solid, but not all that exciting, player. He had a great season last year but, has been known to be injury prone throughout his career. Lastly is Josh Hamilton who should be back sometime in May. He has always had the potential to be a star but, his past and his age are starting to catch up to him. Sadly I do not see him playing all that well this year.

The Rangers infield will be solid. Adrian Beltre will playing solid defense and swing a mean bat. People are wondering if he is a Hall of Famer, I think he is and I think he will continue to prove that this season. Elvis Andrus will continue to bat for a decent average, steal bases, and playing great defense. Rougned Odor won the starting job at Second for now. Jurickson Profar will be called up if Odor starts to struggle at all. Mitch Moreland will be manning first base and will continue to hit. The big man has finally come into his own and deserves to be their starter. Prince Fielder will also play some first but, will mostly be their big bopper at DH. He will continue to do what he always has done, hit.

The most exciting part about this team is their starting rotation. Lets get the 3, 4, and 5 pitchers out of the way to start. Martin Perez is young and has good stuff but, he will need to prove that he deserves to stay in this rotation. Colby Lewis has been the Opening Day starter in the past and he has also dealt with health issues. If he can stay healthy he will be a solid back of the rotation guy. Derek Holland is in the exact same situation as Lewis. Now we get to the fun part, Yu Darvish who will be back in May and Cole Hamels. These two are both Aces and have been top 3 in Cy Young Voting. They are one of the best 1-2 punches in the game. Their only problem is staying healthy. If either of these two are down for too long a time the entire rotation gets significantly worse. If they are healthy for the entire year they will be fun to watch.

Here is most likely the biggest weakness for the Rangers, their bullpen. Look at these names and tell me what average fan will know them? Not one. Shawn Tolleson will be their closer and he has been solid the last two years with ERA’s of 2.76 and 2.99 respectively. He is not flashy but, he should get the job done. After him is a mix of many no name players. This will be an area they will need to improve drastically if they want a chance at winning the division.

Overall this Rangers team will be solid if they improve the bullpen and if they stay healthy. That is two too many ifs for me. I doubt they will stay healthy and I don’t think they will be able to improve the bullpen enough. I do think they will have a good year and have a chance at the wild card.

Player(s) to Watch: Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels

3rd Place: Seattle Mariners

Courtesy of: www.sportslogos.net

Courtesy of: www.sportslogos.net

This team has consistently under-performed.  Robinson Cano, King Felix, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager are their best players. These four are great but, they have never been enough to push them over the top. There are just too many holes. They will play some good baseball but, they will not be anything spectacular this year. This team outside of a few players is boring.

The outfield will consist of Nori Aoki, Leonys Martin, Seth Smith, and Franklin Gutierrez. All of these players are good, but none are great. Aoki will hit for a good average, Martin has not hit well, Smith was once a solid player but, age has caught up to him, and Gutierrez is the definition of OK. This outfield will be boring, not much more to say than that.

The infield is similar. Kyle Seager is fun but, will most likely be forgotten as his brother Corey takes over in Los Angeles. Ketel Marte is 22 and could be a fine major league player. The only problem is that he wont be a star. He, like most of this team will be good but, not great. Robinson Cano has been solid but not the Superstar Seattle wanted. His power numbers have dropped off a cliff seemingly and age is not on his side. He will be good like every year but, unless he regains that power stroke he will not be the Superstar Seattle desperately needs. Adding Adam Lind to play first adds  power and stability to the position. He is again like the rest of this team, solid, but nothing amazing. He will play well and hit 20+ homeruns this year. Nelson Cruz was a great addition to the team. He was the only really exciting hitter last year for this squad. For a time it seemed like he alone could carry this team on his back along with his 44 homeruns. Sadly that was not the case. Cruz is 35 this year and he should start slowing down, right? Chris Iannetta will be the catcher this year. He is a good defender with no bat. They are all solid but, will any of them bring the necessary boost that the Mariners need? I do not believe so.

The starting rotation is a little more interesting. Wade Miley, Taijuan Walker and Nate Karns are like the rest of this team, solid but nothing great. King Felix is well the King of Seattle. He is always in the talk for Cy Young and has been the backbone for this lackluster pitching staff. I am sure he will be in talks for the Cy Young again this year. Iwakuma won 15 games last year and proved he could be the number 2 behind the King. This was something Seattle has needed for a long time. The only problem is that he is heading into his age 35 season and will most likely not be able to put up the numbers as he has been for much longer.

The bullpen has some intriguing players but again none of them are great. Steve Cishek will be trying to get back into form as he once was in Miami. Joaquin Benoit has always been a good option in the pen and will most likely continue to be just that. Lastly the addition of Nick Vincent from the Padres is a move that will go under the radar but, should prove to be a great one for the Mariners.

The Mariners are a good team, do not get me wrong. The problem is they are boring. They do not have what it takes to push for the division or a playoff spot. Some people are picking them as a dark horse team but, until there is a spark from one of their players I do not foresee them being anything more than a .500 team.

Player to Watch: King Felix

4th Place: Oakland Athletics

Courtesy of: en.wikipedia.org

Courtesy of: en.wikipedia.org

Billy Beane has been doing Billy Beane things. He has brought together a cheap but, intriguing roster. I do have them finishing 4th just to be safe but, I think this team could make a charge at the wild card if certain things can go their way.

Their outfield consists of Khris Davis, Billy Burns, Josh Reddick, Coco Crisp, and Chris Coghlan. These 5 could be a great rotation. Davis and Reddick bring power. They could each hit 25+ homeruns this year. Burns and Crisp bring the speed and Coghlan is just solid all around. They could do great things as a group. If Davis can reach his full potential watch out, he could be a monster hitter. Billy Burns is probably the most exciting player you have never heard about. He is the typical Billy Beane player.

The infield should be interesting as well. Marcus Semien could be very good if he can bring down the strikeout numbers. The A’s received him in a trade with the White Sox last year and he has been pegged as their Shortstop of the Future. Jed Lowrie is always a solid veteran to have on your team. He is manning second because age is starting to catch up with him but, his bat should still provide solid at-bats. Yonder Alonso, Mark Cahna, and Billy Butler will all be splitting time at DH and first base. Alonso was picked up from the Padres last year and has been a solid everyday player. He can hit for contact and has gap power. If he can hit with runner is scoring position and add some more power, Alonso could finally reach the potential many thought he had. Steven Vogt was a suprise player last year. He hit 18 homeruns and drove in 71. He is a solid bat and even better behind the plate.

The rotation will be where this team will need to improve. They have a lot of injuries to deal with and not much talent to speak of. They will be the reason this team does not make the playoffs and they are why I have them fourth. Of course their is one Superstar, Sonny Gray. Everything I said before only talks about the rest of the rotation. I think Gray could win the Cy Young away this year. He has amazing stuff and is very collected for how young he is. People need to start paying attention to him. The only problem is that knowing Billy Beane he could get traded if the season completely implodes.

The bullpen will be a major strength for this team. They have the potential to be one of the best ones in the game. Sean Doolittle will be closing this year and doing his normal thing of getting outs as long as he is healthy. They brought in Ryan Madson and John Axford who were both previously All-Star type closers. If they can get back into form, watch out. These three could be what they Pirates had a few years ago with Grilli, Melancon, and Watson. Liam Hendricks and Mark Rzepczynski also have a track record of getting the job done. This bullpen could be amazing and if the starters can keep the game close and give it over to the pen the A’s could win many more games than people are predicting, including myself.

This team has potential if the moves they have made pay off. They could make the playoffs as a wild card. Sadly it is more likely that they will finish right around .500 because not every move can always pay off.

Player(s) to Watch: Sonny Gray and Billy Burns

5th Place: Los Angeles Angels

Courtesy of: en.wikipedia.org

Courtesy of: en.wikipedia.org

I know many of you have been wondering where this team would be. I can tell you right now that this team is vastly overrated because of two players, Mike Trout (he is not overrated, just the team) and Albert Pujols (he is overrated). They will have a bad year for many reasons, one being money and two being the lack of any prospects. This is normally any team’s nightmare. When you have all your money sunk into just a few players and no prospects that means rough years are heading your way and I think that starts this year.

The outfield of Daniel Nava, Craig Gentry, Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun is just not good. Left Field will be platooned by Nava and Gentry and neither of them are all that great. Trout is obviously one of the best players in baseball so no matter what else I say, much of it does not apply to him. Calhoun is solid but, it seems as though he has already reached his best. I think that last year will be the best year he ever has which again is not bad but, left much to be desired.

The infield is a train wreck outside of Andrelton Simmons. Yunel Escobar is decent but, nothing great. Johnny Giavotella is serviceable at best. CJ Cron is a similar player to Calhoun except he plays first base. Albert Pujols is one of the best players ever and he hit 40 bombs last year but, he is still a huge chunk of their payroll and he can’t carry teams like he used to. Simmons is a wizard on the field and is improving at the plate. The problem is that the Angels gave up so much to get him and for what reason? They will not be good this year. These kinds of moves are made by GM’s and Front Offices who are afraid to lose their jobs. Lastly Carlos Perez and Giovanni Soto are behind the plate and are decent at best. Perez is young and has some potential but, I would not count on him for much.

The rotation is not terrible but, there are many questions left unanswered. CJ Wilson is having shoulder problems which means it is just swollen and he isn’t out for very long or, it means surgery and he is out for quite awhile. Garret Richards has the potential to be solid but, I just do not know if he has what it takes to be the Ace for a team. 2014 was a great year for him but, 2015 was average. Alex Heaney was a top prospect for the Marlins and has been traded around a bit. If, and I really do mean if, he can pull it all together he could be a nice young player. I just have not seen enough of him to be convinced that he will be able to. Santiago and Shoemaker are not bad but, they are not playoff caliber players and Jared Weaver is in the twilight of his career.

The bullpen has even more questions than the rotation. How much longer can Street be this good? He and Joe Smith are the only good players in a very average bullpen. Will anyone step up? Does their depleted farm system have a diamond in the rough? They do not have the money to go out and get anyone and their farm system is atrocious.

The Angels are heading into what could be a long string of bad years. They will need to try and dump contracts near the trade deadline to try and revamp this team. They have no money and a bad farm system. All of this spells impending doom for a once great franchise. They may be in the hunt near the beginning of the year but, eventually I think it will all fall apart. The worst part about this is that they cannot blame it on injuries. As of now Wilson is their only injury problem. This could be the year the Angels start to fall apart.

Player to Watch: Mike Trout (Who else?)

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