the road to the big leagues

David Ledbetter: The road to the big leagues

It’s October, the best time of the year in baseball. For fans, it means watching their team fight to get to the World Series. For players, it means building a legacy and making history. The regular season is now meaningless and anything can happen.

It is truly exciting, but not everybody can be a part of it. Not every team makes the postseason. Not even every player from the postseason teams gets to participate. Then there are the guys in the minors, just dying to get even just a taste of MLB action.

It is not an easy road to the MLB. Just ask pitcher David Ledbetter. The former 2013 third-round pick just finished his fifth season in the Texas Rangers’ farm system. He completed this season with the Round Rock Express, the team’s triple-A affiliate. In triple-A, he went 3-4 with a 4.31 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 110.1 innings.

Now 25 years old, Ledbetter is still hoping he can make his dream come true. He has been working for years to get to the big leagues and is now one call-up away from making the dream a reality.

Life in the minors

Ledbetter found out he’d been promoted to triple-A while on a bus ride to his next game. It surprised him at first, but it was also fulfilling to get recognition for his performance.

“I felt like all my hard work had paid off a little bit,” Ledbetter said. “It is always nice to see an advancement in whatever you do.”

David Ledbetter: road big leagues

Ledbetter went 3-4 with a 4.31 ERA in triple-A this year. (Photo by Andy Nietupski/Round Rock Express)

Ledbetter has spent time in all levels of the farm system. He said life is basically the same in all levels of minor league baseball. With all the traveling and bus rides, you can’t really settle down in one place for too long.

“You’re pretty much homeless,” he said. “You can’t really call a single place home.”

The minor league life is a grind. You are living out of a suitcase. And if you do have an apartment, you usually don’t spend more than a few months in it. You also try to live with a lot of guys to cut rent costs and save money due to the low pay in the minor leagues.

Ledbetter is also married, and since his wife is a pharmacist, she can’t be with him all the time. Ledbetter said being away from family is tough. Why would anyone want this lifestyle?

Ledbetter said he loves the experiences you can only get from playing professional baseball.

“It is really cool because you get to meet people you never otherwise meet,” he said. “You get to experience a lot of different cultures because guys come from all over the world. That’s an experience that I would only be getting if I was in pro ball, and I’m really happy for that.”

Road to the show

In high school, Ledbetter played with his twin brother Ryan at Heritage Christian High School (Indiana), where they won back-to-back state championships. The twins went on to pitch at Cedarville University (Ohio), where they both had successful careers. Cedarville had never had a player drafted, so they went into school just looking to play the best they could and maybe bring a championship to the team.

Unfortunately, they never won that championship, but both had successful careers in college. David finished his time at Cedarville with the second lowest career ERA and second most career wins and strikeouts in school history. Ryan wasn’t bad either as he finished with the third most saves in school history and posted a 3.16 ERA.

David Ledbetter: road big leagues

Ledbetter and his brother Ryan were both drafted by the Rangers. (Photo by Andy Nietupski/Round Rock Express)

They both ended up getting drafted as well, making them the first players in school history to do so. David, as mentioned earlier, was drafted in the third round by the Rangers in the 2013 draft. Later in the 19th round, Ryan was also drafted by the Rangers. What are the odds of that happening?

“That was totally God’s favor on that draft,” Ledbetter said. “It was unbelievable. There was definitely a little bit of nervous excitement there for a little bit though in between the rounds.”

Both of them played together in single-A for a few years. Then Ryan played double-A in 2016. He is now working in the medical field.

David moved up to double-A last year and also got the call-up to triple-A. He is still going and is glad to see his work paying off.

“It’s definitely been a ride,” he said. “I never thought I’d be where I was today. I’ve worked really hard, but it’s cool to see God’s hand through everything.”

What does it take to get to the bigs?

So what does Ledbetter need to work on to get to the big leagues? He says consistency.

Ledbetter said at all levels, there are guys who are very talented. However, the ones that stick around and play in the majors are the ones that know what they do well and do it often.

“If I’m going to make it in the big leagues, I have to make sure I’m consistent with my strengths,” he said.

It hasn’t been an easy path to get here, and he still isn’t in the majors yet. But Ledbetter is glad to be chasing his dream and is working hard to get there.

“If you don’t follow your dreams as a human, it’s going to be a sad life,” Ledbetter said. “We have all these aspirations and passions in our lives, and a lot of people just want to dumb them down and not pursue those. I really think you have those for a reason. So I’m glad I really followed mine.”

 

Featured image by Andy Nietupski/Round Rock Express 

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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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“From our Haus to yours

Century

Best MLB Franchises of the 21st century

Methodology

In order to figure out who truly deserves to be one of the best MLB teams of the century, I factored in several aspects to evaluate each team. I am including every game during the regular and postseason from the beginning of the 2000 season up until the 2017 All-Star break. I created a point system that is calculated as follows:

Win-Loss Differential- 1 point per game

Playoff Appearances- 10 points

Division Title- 10 points

League Champions- 30 points

World Series Champions- 50 points

Consistency- 20 points for every three consecutive playoff appearances + 10 bonus points for each consecutive year after that

Teams should get credit for being able to sustain success for an extended period of time, rather than having one year where they played exceptional followed by several bad years. It’s also important to distinguish playoff appearances from division titles.

For example, the Phillies should get more credit for winning their division with 102 wins in 2011 than the Cardinals winning the wild card with 90 wins. It’s also important to reward playoff success, therefore teams received a lot of credit for being able to win their league and/or winning the World Series.

It’s also pivotal to give teams credit for being successful during the regular season even if they have struggled in postseason play.

With the point system out of the way, here are the 10 best MLB teams of the 21st century thus far.

10. Texas Rangers

best mlb teams 21st century

Beltre, Hamilton and Young were at the heart of the Rangers lineup when they made their runs to the World Series (Zimbio)

Win-Loss: 1,439-1,404 (.506) = 35 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 5= 50 points

Division Titles: 4= 40 points

League Champions: 2= 60 points

World Series Champions: 0= 0 points

Consistency: 2010-2012 = 20 points

Total= 205 points

The Rangers did not start to show up until about a decade into the century. They might have had a World Series championship under their belt if they did not run into hot playoff teams like the Giants and Cardinals. If Nelson Cruz would have been a few steps back and didn’t let a ball go over his head then they would definitely have a championship.

It is somewhat surprising to find the Rangers this high on the list. They did not crack 90 wins or make the playoffs in the 21st century until 2010. They did have playoff success starting that year and that is what gets them to No. 10.

9. Philadelphia Phillies

Win-Loss: 1,439-1,401 (.506) = 38 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 5= 50 points

Division Titles: 5= 50 points

League Champions: 2= 60 points

World Series Champions: 1= 50 points

Consistency: 2007-2011= 40 points

Total= 288 points

best mlb teams 21st century

The Phillies rotation was advertised to be unstoppable in 2011 (USA Today)

The Phillies seemed to be a juggernaut around the same time the Rangers were taking off. They have had some of the most talented players in the past 20 years like Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins. On top of that, they had what was thought to be the best pitching rotation in a generation.

When Philadelphia signed Cliff Lee in 2011, they were described as the best rotation in baseball hands down. This was after they had been to two consecutive World Series in 2008 and 2009.

The Lee signing made the top four in their rotation Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt. Especially with their core hitters still intact, it was hard to imagine anyone stopping them given they had an ace pitching almost every game.

Even with 102 wins in 2011, the Phillies were expecting to win more games in that season.

They ended up getting knocked out by St. Louis in the divisional round of the playoffs in 2011. They have yet to reach the playoffs again since that year largely because of their aging core. Philadelphia appeared to be close to having an uptick with some of their young prospects recently, but they have backslid as they are the worst team in baseball in 2017.

8. Oakland Athletics

Win-Loss: 1,499-1,342 (.542) = 157 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 8= 80 points

Division Titles: 6= 60 points

League Champions= 0= 0 points

World Series Champions: 0= 0 points

Consistency: 2000-2003, 2012-2014= 50 points

Total= 347 points

Thanks to Billy Beane, the Athletics were dominating baseball for the first few years of the 21st century. He found a way to revolutionize the game using “moneyball”. Through his sabermetrics and smaller salary cap, he built a rotation that rivals the Phillies one I mentioned earlier.

Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito made up a powerful rotation that led the team to 392 wins in the four-year stretch that they made the playoffs from 2000-03. They have been a great regular season team most seasons since 2000, but they have yet to translate that to playoff success. They have not made it to the World Series since 1990.

While they showed promise of possibly making a run a few years ago, they have regressed once again. It looks like it may be a while before the Athletics return to the postseason especially considering the juggernaut that is rising in Houston.

7. Atlanta Braves

Win-Loss: 1,518-1,320 (.534) = 198 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 9= 90 points

Division Titles: 7= 70 points

League Champions: 0= 0 points

World Series Champions: 0= 0 points

Consistency: 2000-2005= 50 points

Total= 408 points

best mlb teams 21st century

Freeman has taken the reigns from Jones in Atlanta (MLB)

If we included the 1990s, the Braves would shoot up this list in a hurry. Atlanta went to the playoffs 10 consecutive years that included three National League championships and one World Series championship. However, half of those seasons are not going to count towards this list. Despite that, many of their successful players carried over into the 21st century and still dominated.

While the Braves have yet to make a World Series since 2000, they still have had a good run of making the postseason and doing well in the East. Their nine playoff appearances are second most in the National League behind the Cardinals.

Bobby Cox led the club until 2010 with the likes of Chipper Jones, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Andruw Jones and John Smoltz. These players made up a Braves core that rivaled the best.

Their lack of postseason success is what keeps them from moving up the rankings. However, they are showing signs of improving as they have proven to be a team that will fight with the best of them.

6. Los Angeles Dodgers

Win-Loss: 1,540-1,303 (.541)= 237 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 8= 80 points

Division Titles: 8= 80 points

League Champions: 0= 0 points

World Series Champions: 0= 0 points

Consistency: 2013-2016= 30 points

Total= 427 points

best mlb teams 21st century

Kershaw is making a case to be one of the greatest pitchers of all-time (Baseball Essential)

The Dodgers have had a similar story to the Braves. They have managed to have regular season success and have been reaching the playoffs, however they have trouble getting past the league championship. It is still surprising to see them this high on the list, but that goes to show just how good they have been in the regular season as opposed to the postseason.

Clayton Kershaw already seems to be able to get into the Hall-of-Fame before reaching the age of 30. However, he has been part of the problem in the postseason. Kershaw is 4-7 with a 4.55 ERA in 14 starts in postseason play.

Especially with how much the Dodgers rely on him to be the ace that he is known to be, it is difficult for them to be able to make it very far in the playoffs.

This year may rewrite the script in terms of the Dodgers postseason woes. Their young lineup mixed with a spectacular pitching staff makes the Dodgers a force to be feared. If the article was to be written a year or two from now, the Dodgers may be moved up a couple spots on this list.

5. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Win-Loss: 1,535-1,311 (.539)= 224 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 7= 70 points

Division Titles: 6= 60 points

League Champions: 1= 30 points

World Series Champions: 1= 50 points

Consistency: 2007-2009= 20 points

Total= 454 points

Since 2009 the Angels have only made the playoffs once. They were successful in the regular season leading up to that, but have not been able to reach the World Series since winning it in 2002.

Anaheim currently may have the best baseball player since Willie Mays in Mike Trout. However, they have not been able to do much with him on the team despite also signing Albert Pujols. The Pujols contract may be what is keeping them back though. The amount of money they have invested in him may prevent them from being able to resign Mike Trout when that time comes. These big contracts are showing why they don’t work since it is difficult to build a good team around these mega deals.

Even with some of the legendary players on the Angels it seems that their future is at an interesting juncture. I expect them to move down this list in a few years while others rise.

4. San Francisco Giants

Win-Loss: 1,496-1,345 (.526)= 151 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 7= 70 points

Division Titles: 4= 40 points

League Champions: 4= 120 points

World Series Champions: 3= 150 points

Consistency: No consecutive playoff appearances three years in a row= 0 points

Total= 531 points

The Giants managed to gain the reputation of winning the World Series only in even years, as they won in 2010, 2012 and 2014. They have not been as good of regualr season teams as others on this list. San Francisco has only one four division titles since 2000 which is low compared to others on this list. However, there may not be much debate in saying they have had the most playoff success out of all these teams.

One of the biggest names for San Francisco since the turn of the century is Barry Bonds, who even though is tainted by the steroid era could still be one of the best hitters of all time. Much of their success has come from their pitching staff though. Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, and at one time Tim Lincecum have all been big contributes to the Giants success in the playoffs. Overall though, during their stretch of winning championships they were able to work well as a team. There were not a whole lot of big names outside of Bumgarner or Posey, but they had a supporting cast that did what they had to do and took them all the way.

Things are different this year. The Giants are currently in the midst of one of their worst years in the history of their franchise. Which is really saying a lot seeing as they are one of the oldest organizations in baseball. It is hard to see what is in store in the future for the Giants, but knowing them they will find away to make it back to the playoffs soon.

3. Boston Red Sox

Win-Loss: 1,557-1,285 (.547)= 272 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 8= 80 points

Division Titles: 3= 30 points

League Champions: 3= 90 points

World Series Champions: 3= 150 points

Consistency: 2003-2005, 2007-2009= 40 points

best mlb teams 21st century

Boston broke their World Series drought by sweeping St. Louis in 2004 (Boston Globe)

Total: 662 points

In 2004 the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years. Since then, they have won another two championships. They also had perhaps the greatest comeback in playoff history, coming back from 3-0 against the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS.

The Red Sox have also been playing in the toughest division in baseball since 2000. If you look at their division titles they only have three, which is as many World Series wins they have. This is largely because of who they have been competing with, rather than their lack of ability to perform in the regular season. It is odd to see the third place team on this list only with three AL East titles but it is the way the game goes.

Boston has had some stellar hitters including David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. They also have had some of the greatest pitchers of all-time in Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling. Their success can also be largely attributed to the supporting cast of their team. Players like Kevin Youkilis and Jacoby Ellsbury are the less well known players on these teams that are able to have a significant impact.

2. St. Louis Cardinals

Win-Loss: 1,593-1,248 (.560)= 345 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 12= 120 points

Division Titles: 9= 90 points

League Champions: 4= 40 points

World Series Champions: 2= 100 points

Consistency: 2000-2002, 2004-2006, 2011-2015= 80 points

Total= 775 points

The Cardinals have been called the Yankees of the National League. Since 2000, they have been one of the most consistently great organizations in baseball. This is because they have had a great mix of star performers and supporting players.

best mlb teams 21st century

Known as “MV3”, this legendary trio led the Cardinals to be one of the best teams of the 21st century (InsideSTL)

Albert Pujols came from the Cardinals system and had the best 10 year start to career in the history of the game. After he left the Cardinals in 2011, they have yet to figure out a way to fill the void that Pujols left in 2013. Despite the fact that they made it to the World Series in 2013, they have still been missing that spark in the lineup. Yadier Molina has been the best catcher since Ivan Rodriguez and is also a product of the Cardinals’ farm system, however he was never entrenched at the three spot in the lineup quite like Pujols was. Pujols provided the intimidation factor that has been missing and may contribute to why the Cardinals are struggling in 2017.

The 2004 Cardinals won a monstrous 105 games. This is largely thanks to the stellar middle of their lineup in Pujols, Edmonds, and Rolen. There hasn’t quite been a trio as good as them for a long time. Each one of them was the full package with offense as well as defense. They are a big reason why the Cardinals were so successful from 2004-2006.

With the combination of Hall of Fame managing in Tony La Russa as well as great upper management, the Cardinals have some of the best sustained success since the turn of the century.

1. New York Yankees

Win-Loss: 1,637-1,199 (.577)= 438 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 13= 130 points

Division Titles: 10= 100 points

League Champions: 4= 120 points

World Series Champions: 2= 100 points

Consistency: 2000-2007, 2009-2012 = 100 points

Total= 988 points

best mlb teams 21st century

Not many would debate Derek Jeter being the face of the Yankees success (MLB)

The Yankees had a reputation for a long time for spending big money to get the best players in baseball. They did this with Alex Rodriguez, Mark Texiera, and C.C Sabathia. However, that culture has been starting to get phased out and New York has been growing their own players in their farm system. The best example of this is Aaron Judge who is busting onto the scene and may be one of the greatest rookies ever. Other homegrown players such as Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, and Bernie Williams made a big impact this century as well. I haven’t even mentioned that the best closer of all-time, Mariano Rivera, racked up more saves than anyone during this time and came from the Yankees system.

Just by naming all of these players who have played in New York tells the story of how successful they have been. They have won 2 World Series titles since the turn of the century, which is low for them considering they have won 27 all together. Their heated rivals, the Red Sox, have won more championships since 2000. However, the Yankees continued success coupled with their excellent ability to get top-notch players in a variety of ways, makes them the best franchise of the 21st century…so far.

 

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Fantasy Baseball Buy Low Targets

Fantasy baseball 2017: Buy low targets

In fantasy baseball, the best time to trade for a player is when their value is at its lowest point. The buy low theory is clearly the best way to acquire top-tier talent for fairly cheap prices. Below are four players that could be considered buy low targets, as they offer immense upside despite their current levels of performance.

Manny Machado, Third Base/Shortstop, Baltimore Orioles

Fantasy Baseball 2017 Buy Low Targets

Manny Machado is on pace for 35 home runs, but his low batting average makes him a perfect buy low target. (Credit: Rob Carr/Getty Images).

Machado’s 2017 campaign has not gone as planned. After batting over .285 with at least 35 home runs in his two previous seasons, he was considered one of the top 10 fantasy hitters in the game. So far in 2017, he is batting only .224 with a raised strikeout rate by over four percent.

His career BABIP, or batting average on balls in play, is .303, although his current BABIP sits at a mere .234. BABIP tends to represent whether a hitter is getting lucky or unlucky. According to fangraphs.com, a BABIP “in the .230 range is very atypical for a major league hitter”, so for Machado, it is clear he is getting extremely unlucky.

His home run totals have sustained as he has an ISO, or isolated power, of .224 and is on pace for 35 home runs. If you have an opportunity to pick up Machado, as his value seems to be at its deepest point, now is the time.

Francisco Lindor, Shortstop, Cleveland Indians

Lindor had gotten off to a slow start in 2017. His current BABIP of .251 is quite far off from his career BABIP of .315. This is negatively affecting his batting average as he is currently batting .255, whereas he is a career .295 hitter.

The 23-year-old’s strikeout rate has continued to drop in every consecutive season which shows how he is progressing as a hitter. Also, his ISO is an amazing .227 and his HR/FB rate is a fairly sustainable 13.3 percent, showing that his power seems sustainable.

Lindor will surely set a career high in home runs this season as he is currently on pace for 32. If you can get your hands on Lindor while his value is still low, it will be an incredible steal as his performance is sure to improve.

Rougned Odor, Second Base, Texas Rangers

Fantasy Baseball 2017 Buy Low Targets

Rougned Odor had an extremely slow start in 2017. (Photo by MLB Trade Rumors)

Odor’s struggles were very real in 2017, as he had been batting under the Mendoza line for about three months. So far in June, he is batting .228, although his BABIP remains under .240, suggesting he is in line for major progression as his career BABIP sits around .281.

In 2016, Odor exploded onto the scene, hitting 33 home runs and stealing 14 bases while batting .271. Odor’s current .212 batting average is due to be on the rise because of his extremely low BABIP.

If you can pick up Odor now before his performance improves, you will have found yourself a top-tier fantasy asset, as he has the potential to be a great producer of home runs, RBIs, runs and steals.

Kyle Schwarber, Outfield, Chicago Cubs

Schwarber was recently sent down to Triple-A Iowa to clear his head and improve his approach. According to reports, the minor league stint shouldn’t be long, although it is well deserved. The 24-year-old is slashing a poor .171/.295/.378 with 12 home runs and 28 RBI.

His production has been solid even while batting well under the Mendoza line. His .193 BABIP suggests that he is getting absurdly unlucky, as he currently has the lowest BABIP in the MLB out of qualified batters.

His value has declined due to his current struggles and demotion, so now is the time to make a move for the former fourth overall pick.

 

Featured image by David Klutho

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Fantasy Baseball 2017

Fantasy Baseball 2017: Weekly Update (May 7th – May 13th)

With week six of the Major-League Baseball season in the books, it is time to resume our fantasy baseball 2017 weekly update. We will continue to notify owners about which players are hot, or cold, and whether they will remain trending in that direction. Previous weekly fantasy baseball updates can be found at thegamehaus.com/fantasy.

 

Who’s Hot

Fantasy Baseball 2017

Yonder Alonso has reinvented himself in 2017. (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

Yonder Alonso, First Baseman, Oakland Athletics

 

Last seven: .292 BA, 6 R, 6 HR, 10 RBI

 

Not many were talking about Alonso prior to the season’s start, although the former first-round pick in 2008 has completely reinvented himself. The 30-year-old has already surpassed his career high home run total in only 34 games.

Alonso’s success can be attributed to a change in his launch angle, as he has increased his fly ball rate from 34 percent to a menacing 53 percent. This modification in approach has completely changed who Alonso is as a player, as he has transformed from a mediocre offensive first basemen, to premiere power threat.

Alonso’s success in 2017 has been masterful, although his home run to fly ball ratio is at an unsustainable 29 percent. This means that his home run pace is sure to slow down, as over 1/4 of his fly balls are leaving the park. Also, the fact that Alonso plays for the struggling Athletics makes him a prime sell high candidate before his performance plateaus.

 

Fantasy Baseball 2017

A.J. Griffin has been phenomenal since undergoing Tommy John Surgery. (Photo by MLB.com)

A.J. Griffin, Starting Pitcher, Texas Rangers

 

Last three: 3-0 W-L, 0.45 ERA, 0.70 WHIP, 20 IP, 19/3 K/BB

 

Griffin had struggled to make his way back to mound after under-going Tommy John surgery in 2014, as it wasn’t until 2016 when he finally reentered a starting rotation.

The 29-year-old has won four of his first five starts for the Rangers in 2017, and has some fairly incredible ratios.

Unfortunately, Griffin’s BABIP is sitting at .200, and his xFIP at 4.25, which both suggest that his success this season will be short lived. He has only surpassed the six-inning mark once so far this season, which, in his defense, occurred in a complete game shut-out against the San Diego Padres. Like Alonso, Griffin is a prime sell high candidate, as regression must be expected.

 

Fantasy Baseball 2017

Aaron Altherr is breaking-out in 2017. (Photo by Press of Atlantic City)

Aaron Altherr, Outfielder, Philadelphia Phillies

 

Last seven: .346 BA, 5 R, 4 HR, 11 RBI, 1 SB

 

The German international has been a part of the Phillies organization since 2009. His career marks in the minor-leagues are fairly under whelming, as he sports a .263 batting average and .738 OPS.

Altherr has surprised many in 2017, as he has earned himself an everyday role in the Phillies outfield. He primarily is playing in left field, although he has also played four games in center and ten in right.

The 26-year-old is currently batting .338, with a career high seven home runs in only 26 games. Altherr’s power does not seem sustainable whatsoever, as his home run to fly ball ratio is at an insane 35 percent, which is about 15 percent higher than his career average. Also, Altherr’s groundball to fly ball ratio of 1.15 is well below his career average of 1.50, which may suggest that his ability to hit fly balls is fluky.

Even without power, Altherr will remain a solid fantasy option, as he bats in the heart of the Phillies order, and offers solid stolen base and run potential.

 

Fantasy Baseball 2017

Alex Wood has filled in great for an abundance of injured Dodger pitchers. (Photo by the Los Angeles Times)

Alex Wood, Starting Pitcher, Los Angeles Dodgers

 

Last three: 3-0 W-L, 2.25 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 16 IP, 29/3 K/BB

 

Wood began the season in the Dodgers’ bullpen, although found himself in a rotational spot after a slew of injuries occurred; including ones to Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir, and Kenta Maeda.

Wood has been masterful of late, having a 16.31 K/9 in his last three starts. The knock-on the 26-year-old is his ability to eat innings, as the Dodgers have kept him limited to six innings of work or less in every start.

He will likely be moved back to the bullpen once the Dodger’s rotation regains their health, although he will still hold value in deeper mixed leagues, as he will be able to vulture wins and earn holds.

 

Who’s Cold

Fantasy Baseball 2017

Khris Davis was off to a hot start in 2017, but has cooled off significantly. (Photo by Ben Margot, AP).

Khris Davis, Outfielder, Oakland Athletics

 

Last seven: .103 BA, 1 R, 0 HR, 1 RBI

 

The Athletics’ slugger was off to a red hot start in 2017, as he had amassed 10 home runs and 17 RBI in his first 23 games. Since then, Davis has been ice cold.

One red flag for the 29-year-old are his strikeout totals, although this is not abnormal for a power hitter. Another red flag is his declining fly ball rate, which is very discouraging for a power hitter.

These trends are worrisome, although Davis clearly still has the power potential to be an elite fantasy asset, as he mashed 42 bombs just last season. His struggles shouldn’t last long, as he currently has a .243 BABIP, which suggests that Davis’ is getting unlucky with balls batted in play. I would suggest to hold onto the slugger for the time being, as his production will resume.

 

Fantasy Baseball 2017

Matt Harvey has been a disaster so far in 2017. (Photo by MLB.com)

Matt Harvey, Starting Pitcher, New York Mets

 

Last three: 0-3 W-L, 10.43 ERA, 2.25 WHIP, 14 2/3 IP, 9/13 K/BB

 

Harvey has been surrounded by question marks since the beginning of the season, as he was originally recovering from thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) surgery that occurred in 2016.

Now, the 28-year-old faces a multitude of other obstacles, including a team suspension and off the field personal issues.

Harvey was suspended by the Mets for reportedly failing to follow team protocol. According to SI.com, he failed to notify the team about his absence after a night of drinking and a mourning of golf, which resulted in a migraine.

Also, Harvey has been dealing with rumors about his super model ex-girlfriend, Adriana Lima, reconnecting with her professional football playing ex-boyfriend, Julian Edelman, at a club in New York. Reports say that Harvey believed Lima and himself were in a serious relationship, although conflicting reports suggest that Lima never believed their relationship was serious.

As much as I may feel bad for the man, Harvey has been all over the place in 2017. He is walking batters, and allowing home runs, at almost double his career rates. Also, his strikeout rate has been cut in half compared to his career strikeout rate, which shows that he is not fully recovered from his TOS surgery.

Harvey’s potential has not dissipated yet, although his struggles have been severe and reoccurring. I would try to move Harvey as soon as possible, as I believe his best days could be behind him.

 

Fantasy Baseball 2017

Steven Souza Jr.’s recent struggles may be due to him being hit by a pitch in the hand in late April. (Photo by TBO.com)

Steven Souza Jr., Outfielder, Tampa Bay Rays

 

Last seven: .083 BA, 0 R, 0 HR, 1 RBI

 

Souza Jr. began 2017 on the right foot, as he was batting .330 after the first month. Although, he has considerably cooled off, as his batting average has dropped to .268 since May 1st.

Souza Jr. was hit in the hand by a pitch on April 28th, which may be the reason for his recent struggles, as he has zero home runs and only two RBI since.

The 28-year-old’s success in the minor-leagues has not yet transferred to the majors, as he had batted .305 and .345 in 2013 and 2014 respectively for the Washington Nationals.

After being acquired by the Rays in a monster three team deal, which included Wil Myers and Trea Turner, Souza Jr. has yet to make a significant impact.

The third-round pick has never played over 120 games in a single season and has only a career high of 17 home runs. Souza Jr. remains an average fantasy commodity because of his lineup position and power potential, although he is too inconsonant and injury prone to be penciled in as an everyday fantasy player in 2017.

 

Fantasy Baseball 2017

Robert Gsellman’s Major-League success has been short lived. (Photo by Elite Sports New York)

Robert Gsellman, Starting Pitcher, New York Mets

 

Last three: 2-1 W-L, 8.36 ERA, 1.93 WHIP, 14 IP, 5/4 K/BB

 

The Mets struggles have continued, as injuries and inconsistent pitching have riddled their clubhouse. Injuries to Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard have opened up a full-time rotation spot for Gsellman, who has struggled mightily to begin 2017.

The 23-year-old had found great success in his six minor-league seasons, as he sports a career 3.11 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and 6.5 K/9. Unfortunately for Gsellman, his success in the majors has been short lived.

In 2016, he made seven starts, which resulted in a 4-2 record, 2.42 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and 8.5 K/9. So far in 2017, the 13th-round pick has allowed 28 earned runs, 51 hits, and 13 walks in only 35 2/3 innings pitched.

The only sign that Gsellman’s struggles may continue is his poor xFIP of 4.17, which is considered well below average according to fangraphs.com. Although, I personally expect Gsellman to improve, as his BABIP is an exorbitant .368, his home run to fly ball rate is an astronomical 19 percent, and his left on base percentage is a mere 56 percent. Hold on to the young arm, as he can only go up from here.

 

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(Featured Image by Getty Images)

 

Fantasy Baseball 2017

Fantasy Baseball 2017: Free Agent Frenzy

In fantasy baseball, it is general knowledge that your league championship isn’t won on draft day. One major key to success is staying active on the waiver wire.

As we are a month into the season, the easiest way to acquire talent is by adding free agents. Below, are four players who are under ten percent owned on ESPN.com, but should be rostered in the majority of formats.

 

Delino DeShields, Outfielder, Texas Rangers, (Seven Percent)

Fantasy Baseball 2017

Delino DeShields will look to make the most of his opportunities in 2017. (Photo by: Rotoprofessor.com)

With Adrian Beltre injured, and Joey Gallo manning third base, DeShields has earned himself the everyday roll in left field. He was a former first-round pick in 2010, and has bounced between the major and minor-league levels since 2015. The 24-year-old has plenty of fantasy potential, as he is currently batting leadoff, is an elite base stealing threat, and is versatile.

DeShields can be an elite producer of runs and steals as long as he remains atop the lineup. Once Beltre returns, it will be interesting to see what the Rangers do with Gallo and DeShields, although their versatility will presumably allow them to continue to see regular playing time.

 

 

 

Michael Taylor, Outfielder, Washington Nationals, (Three Percent)

Fantasy Baseball 2017

Michael A. Taylor will replace Adam Eaton for the remainder of the 2017 season. (Photo by: Gene J. Puskar)

The Washington Nationals lost their starting center fielder, Adam Eaton, to a torn AC, which moves Michael Taylor into an everyday role. Taylor is a career .259 hitter in the minors, with 52 home runs and 140 stolen bases in 560 games played. The 26-year-old’s numbers aren’t overwhelming, although his opportunity to be productive with the Nationals is immense. Taylor will primarily bat seventh, which puts him behind some of the best hitters in the league, including Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon, which increases his opportunity to produce RBI. Also, if veteran Jayson Werth were to struggle, Taylor could sneak up to the two hole, and be an elite run producer and stolen base threat.

 

Amed Rosario, Shortstop, New York Mets, (Three Percent)

Fantasy Baseball 2017

Amed Rosario is sure to see a call to the majors sooner rather than later. (Photo by: New York Post)

The 21-year-old is currently batting .402, with one home run, 16 runs scored, 14 RBI, and seven stolen bases at the AAA level. He is in line to be the shortstop of the future for New York, although it looks like he will be called up in 2017. His major-league counter parts, Jose Reyes and Asdrubal Cabrera, are playing very poorly, as both are batting under .250, giving Rosario a possible opening to major-league at-bats.

The Mets need a spark, as they have lost many core players to injuries, such as Yoenis Cespedes, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Mats to name a few. Keep an eye out for Rosario, as he is exactly what the Mets need, and should see a call-up sooner than later.

 

Kennys Vargas, First Baseman, Minnesota Twins, (One Percent)

Fantasy Baseball 2017

Kennys Vargas will make an impact in 2017. (Photo by: Getty Images)

Vargas was called-up to the Twins in late-April, and has batted .364 with two home runs, eight runs scored and six RBI in six games played. He can hit for contact and power, as he is a career .277 hitter in the minors with 89 home runs, so as long as he continues to bat in the heart of the order, he will have the opportunity to be an elite fantasy producer.

The 26-year-old has taken over for Joe Mauer twice at first base, but is playing majorly designated hitter this season. The Twins have plenty of flexibility with their bats, as they can move Vargas or Sano to a corner outfield spot to ensure they continue to get at-bats.

 

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Intriguing Opening Day Games

April 2, 2017, is the date all baseball fans are looking forward to. Opening Day is less than two weeks away and fans and players are gearing up for the start of the season.

It may be hard to forget all of the Spring Training “news” and prepare for the regular season, but don’t worry. Here you will find every game you need to watch to start off the 2017 MLB season on the right foot. So dust off that ball cap and bust out those peanuts because the regular season is about to begin.

Opening Day

Zack Greinke will look to lead the Diamondbacks to the post season in 2017 (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Arizona Diamondbacks vs. San Francisco Giants

The battle for the NL West begins on Sunday, April 2 at 4:10 p.m. (EST). Many aren’t expecting much from the Diamondbacks this season after a disastrous 69-93 record last season.

They will return in 2017 looking to right the ship. The return of a healthy A.J. Pollock and a deep lineup could be something special in Arizona. Zack Greinke should return to form, and the already good pitching staff added Taijuan Walker. The Diamondbacks are slithering into the 2017 season under the radar.

Arizona is probably off the radar due to the San Francisco Giants. The Giants finished second in the division with a 87-75 record before they were ousted by the team of destiny: the Chicago Cubs.

Don’t think the Giants spent much time licking their wounds. They enter the 2017 season with one of the deepest pitching staffs in all of baseball, crowned by Madison Bumgarner. Pair that with a solid offense and the Giants are poised for another playoff run in 2017.

The starters haven’t been announced yet, Greinke and Bumgarner are projected to start. This marquee match up of aces will be energized by the atmosphere of Opening Day. Look for this matchup to be a defining factor in the NL West playoff race late into the season.

Cleveland Indians vs. Texas Rangers

Opening Day

Edwin Encarnacion will bring his power south of the border this season (Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports).

The Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers are both projected to be among the elite AL teams in 2017. They both had solid playoff runs, but it’s their offseason moves that help make this a must-watch game.

The Indians wasted no time improving their roster after dropping the World Series to the Chicago Cubs 4-3. The addition of slugger Edwin Encarnacion to an already potent lineup makes Cleveland an offensive juggernaut. Cleveland’s deep pitching staff also makes them a force to be reckoned with. No team is perfect, and the Texas Rangers will have the first crack at trying to expose the weaknesses in the Indian’s roster.

The Texas Rangers finished the season with a 95-67 record and earned the AL West crown. The Rangers needed to improve their club after being swept by the Blue Jays in the postseason.

Pitchers Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross were brought aboard to stabilize the rotation, and fan-favorite Mike Napoli returns to man first base. They are not as flashy as Encarnacion, but they surely boost Texas’ talent level. The Rangers are set to return to the postseason in 2017, and earning an Opening Day victory sure would help.

Cleveland’s Danny Salazar and Texas’ Yu Darvish are projected to square off on on Monday, April 3 at 7 p.m. (EST). A matchup between two of the top teams in the AL is sure to be informative. How will Encarnacion do in the Indian’s stacked line up? Will Mike Napoli be able to recreate his 2016 season? Those questions won’t be answered Opening Day, but we will be given a glimpse of the answers.

Opening Day

Adam Wainwright has been a mainstay atop the Cardinals’ rotation (Jerry Lai/USA Today Sports).

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Chicago Cubs

The Chicago Cubs are in an odd position after completing their Cinderella season and winning the World Series. Instead of being the hunters, they are now the hunted.

The St. Louis Cardinals will have the first chance to knock off the defending champions on Sunday, April 2 at 8:30 p.m. (EST). The Cardinals finished with 86 wins in 2016, but it wasn’t good enough to earn them a playoff spot. They will look to make the postseason in 2017 with the majority of their roster returning. A deep pitching staff and above average offense will define this team.

The Cubs enter 2017 with sky-high expectations. They boast one of the best cores of young talent in the majors with Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber and Javier Baez forming the nucleus of the team. Include veterans like pitcher Jon Lester, outfielder Ben Zobrist and a number of other solid players, and you have the monstrosity that is the Chicago Cubs. They will need every ounce of their talent to repeat their 2016 success due to their tough division.

Lester and St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright are expected to start the game. Both are grizzled veterans and fierce competitors and will give even more of an edge to this rivalry game. Look for both of these teams to battle for the top spot in the division throughout the season.

 

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Tools of the Trade: Top Five in Hitting

Major League Baseball is one of the most heavily scouted games in sports. Whether it be at the high school, college or the major league level, players are always under a microscope. But what do scouts use to grade these players? They are evaluated based on the five basic tools of baseball; hitting, power, speed and base running, fielding and arm strength. In this first installment of our Tools of the Trade series, we will be analyzing the top five players at each tool.

Using the last five seasons for analysis, players will be evaluated and ranked. Sticking with the traditional 20-80 scales, players have been assigned a grade and then ranked accordingly. When a tie grade is encountered, number of games played, total hits within the five year span, and batting average will be used as a tie breaker.

Hitting Tool

Joey Votto has done nothing but rake since his first day in Cincinnati (David Kohl/USA TODAY Sports).

5. 1B Joey Votto- Cincinnati Reds

Hit Tool: 75

Joey Votto has been a mainstay in Cincinnati since his call up in 2007. He wasn’t considered the top player in his draft, going in the second round to Cincinnati, but he hasn’t let that slow him down. Votto has long been known for his ability to get on base, evident by his astounding career .425 OBP. But it’s his ability to put the ball on the bat that earns him the fifth spot in these rankings.

From 2012-2016, Votto put up a .312 batting average. He also amassed 711 hits across those five seasons. Votto’s ability to put the ball in play is bolstered by is impeccable batting eye. By being able to pick and choose the perfect pitch to hit, Votto has become a premium hitter for Cincinnati. But his recent injury history hurts him in these rankings, as he has been limited to 130 games per season in the last five years. Even so, Votto is one of the top hitters in all of baseball.

4. 3B Adrian Beltre- Texas Rangers

Hit Tool: 75

Entering his age 38 season, many believed Adrian Beltre would have been on the decline long ago. But he seems to just get better with age. He was signed as an international free agent by the Dodgers and made his MLB debut way back in 1998. And ever since he has done nothing but hit. But even with a solid career .286 batting average, Beltre has somehow stepped up his game in the past five seasons.

With a .310 batting average from 2012-2016, Beltre has bested his career average by almost 30 points. And to make it even more impressive, Beltre has done all of that at 33 years old and over. He has also been a mainstay in the Rangers lineup, playing an average of 152 games per season over the previous five campaigns. In that time he has accumulated 909 hits, averaging almost 200 hits per season. Even at age 38, Beltre still possesses an elite hit tool, good enough to place him among the games best.

3. CF Mike Trout- Los Angeles Angels

Hitting Tool

Mike Trout has been locked in for years (David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

Hit Tool: 75

Mike Trout is one of the few true “five tool” players in the game, so don’t be surprised to see his name in our other installments of the Tools of the Trade series. Even as a first round pick in the 2009 MLB Draft, Trout is considered one of the greatest steals in draft history. After being selected 25th overall, Trout tore through the Angels minor league system to make his MLB debut at 19 years old. And ever since, all Trout has done is rake.

When looking at Trout’s stats from the past five seasons, they put him among some of the best pure hitters in the game. He boasts a .310 batting average from 2012-2016. Trout also has 890 hits to his credit, far surpassing Votto in that regard. And while Votto does boast a better batting average, Trout has been more reliable. Trout has averaged 154 games per season in the past five years. While Votto does have Trout beat in average, it’s not enough to make up for his lack of playing time. Trout is a mainstay in the Angels lineup that will be a top hitter in the game for years to come.

2. 2B Jose Altuve- Houston Astros

Hit Tool: 75

Jose Altuve is one of the most diminutive players in the majors. Listed at a generous five feet six inches tall, one would believe that Altuve would have no place in major league baseball. But just like some scouts, Altuve has proven them wrong as well. After debuting for the Astros in 2011, he quickly became the team’s building block. And Altuve has done some building of his own, elevating himself to elite status.

With a .314 batting average from 2012-2016 and two AL Batting Titles thrown in for good measure, Altuve has been an elite hitter for an up and coming Astros organization. During that time he has clubbed 985 hits, by far the most for players in contention for this list. He has also played in about 154 games a season since 2012, providing a reliable spark to the Astros lineup. And at only 26 years old, look for Altuve to add to his already impressive trophy case.

Hit Tool

Expect to see a ton of this from Miguel Cabrera this season (Duane Burleson/Getty Images North America).

1. 1B Miguel Cabrera- Detroit Tigers

Hit Tool: 80

Miguel Cabrera is one of the best pure hitters of his generation. After being acquired by the Tigers in a steal of a trade from the Florida Marlins, Cabrera has been terrorizing opposing pitchers. The two time AL MVP has won seven Silver Slugger awards in his career, and put up a .321 career batting average. His career average would be good enough for tops on this list, but of course, Cabrera has done even better than that in his past five seasons.

From 2012-2016, Cabrera has punished pitchers to a .328 batting average. That is insane production, and easily paces the majors in average over the past five seasons. He has also amassed 922 hits, driving the ball to all fields. While he has average 149 games per season over the past five years, that’s the second lowest amount of games on this list. Even so, that type of insane production can not go unrewarded, making Miguel Cabrera the best pure hitter in all of baseball.

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

 

Spring Training Spotlight

Spring Training Spotlight: Hot and Cold Starts

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

Hot

1B/DH Chris Colabello- Cleveland Indians

Spring Training Spotlight

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

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

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

OF Keon Broxton- Milwaukee Brewers

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

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

Cold

OF Giancarlo Stanton-Miami Marlins

Spring Training Spotlight

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

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

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

LF/3B Joey Gallo- Texas Rangers

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

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

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2017 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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