spring training 2018

Spring training 2018 preview

In just three days, a new season of baseball will be upon us. Though Opening Day comes in April, the spring training sessions will become a test run for all 30 franchises in time for the 2018 MLB regular season. These next few practices and exhibition games will showcase how each organization’s adjustments gell and execute.

Some teams will look to build upon success from 2017. Other teams will look to bounce back from past misfortunes. Sure, some teams have a steeper mountain to climb than others, but that is what’s great about baseball. Any team with the right chemistry and momentum can create big waves around the league. On top of that, that hot streak can translate to an October appearance, and maybe even a World Series ring.

Starting Friday, Feb. 23, the states of Arizona and Florida will host the latest and greatest names to hit the diamond.

Cactus League

In Glendale, one team is looking for another shot at the World Series. The other seeks a comeback after a dismal 2017 outing.

spring training 2018

Photo from MLBShop.com

The Los Angeles Dodgers held baseball’s best regular season record last season at 104-58. The Dodgers seemingly breezed through the National League playoffs, giving up just one game in the NLCS.

With a smoother path to the World Series than that of the Houston Astros, many saw the Dodgers as the favorite to win. But Houston proved to be the hungrier team and beat Los Angeles in a thrilling seven-game series for the hardware.

Now, the blue and white are working to get that ring and end a 30-year drought.

On the other hand, the Chicago White Sox are coming off of a 67-95 season, fourth in the AL Central. The White Sox finished 10th in the American League in batting average and 13th in ERA. On top of that, the White Sox have mustered five straight losing seasons.

Over in Scottsdale, two Wild Card teams will begin to build upon their solid foundations from 2017.

The Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies earned the two National League Wild Card slots last season. The Diamondbacks hosted and beat the Rockies 11-8, but got swept by the Dodgers in the NL Division Series. Their game will commence on Friday at 3:10 p.m. Eastern time.

Grapefruit League

spring training 2018

Photo from MLBShop.com

Down to West Palm Beach, Florida, comes another anticipated matchup to kick off the spring exhibitions.

The Houston Astros are looking to defend their World Series title and bring in another ring in 2018. With a roster stacked with All-Stars, Houston will have a big target on its back come April. The Astros will begin their exhibition rounds against the Washington Nationals.

The Washington Nationals are coming off of a 97-65 season, on top of running away with the NL East Division once again.  However, the Chicago Cubs did not appear intimidated and eliminated Washington in the NLDS. The Nationals will begin their runs with a new skipper, former Chicago Cubs bench coach, Dave Martinez.

In Tampa, the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers will hope to start on a high note.

The Yankees ended 2017 with a 91-71 regular season record.  The Pinstripes gave the Astros a run for their money in the ALCS, forcing seven games. But Houston prevailed and took home the AL pennant. Now with Giancarlo Stanton in their ranks, the Bronx Bombers have established a “pitcher’s nightmare” batting order.

The Tigers, on the other hand, have arguably the steepest mountain to climb in the American League. With a dismal 64-98 season in 2017, Detroit has its work cut out for them. The Tigers pitching lineup finished last in the AL in ERA at 5.36. Holding the first pick of the upcoming MLB Draft, a pitcher should grace the stage wearing that Tigers cap.

Thank God It’s Friday

America’s pastime is almost here and ready for business. Whether with a new skipper or new players, all 30 teams will look to work in the new faces for April.  On Friday, Feb 23, baseball fans all over the world will get to hear their favorite two words once again: Play ball!

 

Featured image by Pioneer Press: John Autey

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Top 5 third basemen

Top 5 third basemen in 2018

Pitchers and catchers have reported. This is not a drill. We are so close to baseball.

As we inch closer to actual baseball, we continue our top-five lists, going with third basemen this time. This was the hardest list so far as this position is ripe with talent.

Just missed the cut

Matt Chapman: Ever since the A’s traded perennial MVP candidate Josh Donaldson for pennies on the dollar, the hot corner has been an infuriating thought for Oakland fans. Not anymore, as Matt Chapman brings some of the best defense in the AL at just 24 years old.

In just 84 games last season, Chapman had a 3.6 WAR, which was second highest on the team for the entire season. Some may question his bat, but last season, Chapman had a .785 OPS and a 110 OPS+, all above average numbers.

He has solid pop with amazing defense. If Chapman can stay consistent, he’ll find his way on this list.

Anthony Rendon: Anthony Rendon had one of the most underrated seasons in 2017. He finished the year sixth in MVP voting with 25 homers, 100 RBIs and an OPS of .937. He wasn’t even selected as an All-Star. Ask Mets’ fans if they think Rendon is an All-Star.

If Rendon is able to keep these stats up, somebody will have to put respect on his name.

Manny Machado: This is a fairly notable omission, but has to be done for two reasons.

First, Machado had a really down year last season, particularly at the plate. He had the worst batting average of his career as well as his second worst OBP. Second, he has been moved to shortstop in the hopes that the O’s will get a better deal once they inevitably trade him.

5. Adrian Beltre

Top 5 third basemen

Two legs? One leg? No legs? Beltre is still gonna hit bombs. (Photo by Eric Risberg/AP Photo)

For what seems like the past 1,000 years, Adrian Beltre has played third base at a very elite level. Last season, while the Rangers struggled, Beltre had one of his best seasons yet, posting his highest OPS since 2012.

In 2018, Beltre will be 39 years old. While he continues to chug the fountain of youth, father time is still undefeated. It’s all a question of when for Beltre, but after last season, it’s hard to say that it will happen soon.

For now, Beltre continues to dominate the AL.

4. Justin Turner

This is where the list gets really hard. Honestly, No. 1-4 are interchangeable.

Justin Turner is unfairly put at No. 4 despite his great offensive numbers and being the MVP of a team that won over 100 games. While Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager are flashier, Turner is the most consistent Dodger.

Turner had a great season at the plate, with 21 home runs and an OBP of .415. Turner’s on the field play coupled with his leadership and great beard make him a phenomenal player for LA.

Close your eyes Mets fans. Turner is the one who got away.

3. Nolan Arenado

Making this list is brutal. Nolan Arenado is a legit MVP-level player, and he’s still third on this list.

Arenado’s numbers are loud and flashy. Last season he hit 37 homers and 130 RBIs while slugging for .586. Those are amazing stats.

But what truly sets Arenado from the rest is his fantastic glove. He has won five straight Gold Gloves. His 7.2 WAR shows that he is not only a top player in the NL, but the entire MLB.

2. Josh Donaldson

A’s fans can only hope Franklin Barreto is worth something because Josh Donaldson isn’t going anywhere.

Donaldson had what some would consider a down year. He only played in 113 games, but was still able to hit 33 home runs. If you want to know how good Donaldson is, watch his 2015 MVP season. You will see one of the most transcendent hitters in all of baseball.

While his time with the Jays may be coming to an end, Donaldson will dominate anywhere he goes.

1. Kris Bryant

Ask any Cubs fan if the drought was worth getting a player like Kris Bryant and consistent shots at a World Series victory and they’ll probably tell you no. Bryant is a great consolation prize though.

At just 26 years old, Bryant put up 29 homers and an OBP of .409. He was responsible for a 6.1 WAR in 2017.

There are a thousand ways to say it, but Kris Bryant is amazing. He’s only going to get better.

 

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Top second basemen 2018

Top 5 second basemen in 2018

With the off-season fading and the sweet light of baseball brightening up, we continue our countdown of the Major League Baseball’s best players. Last week, we looked at the top First Basemen, now we shift in the infield to the top five Second Basemen in baseball.

Just missed the cut

DJ LeMahieu: If there were ever a player who would be the poster child of the “Coors Field Effect,” it would be DJ LeMahieu. His home-away splits are pretty telling. Away from home, LeMahieu’s OBP droped 44 points (.396 to .352), his OPS dropped 60 points (.813 vs .753) and his strikeouts increased (39 vs 51).

LeMahieu is still a very good player with his solid hitting and defense, but it’s hard to rank him in the top five with these splits.

Javier Baez: If you like defense from your second basemen, then Javier Baez is your guy. He has incredible skill and range, making impossible throws look easy. He’s basically the Giancarlo Stanton of fielding grounders.

Where Baez struggles is in his consistency, particularly with his hitting. Baez has flashed some serious power with his bat, especially last season with his career-high 23 home runs. However, his OBP is still fairly below average at .317. His approach at the plate is still very poor, given his 144 strikeouts last season.

Baez needs to clean up his hitting and remain consistent if he’s going to take the step forward the Cubs are expecting.

Dustin Pedroia: Pedroia is typically a mainstay on top second basemen lists. But Pedroia struggled last season, particularly with injuries.

In 2017 Pedroia missed 57 games. He also took a step back last season offensively. His home run total was cut in half from 2016 and his OBP and OPS both dropped.

If Pedroia is able to stay healthy and improve his offensive numbers while still being the defensive stable for the Sox, he’ll move back into this list.

5. Cesar Hernandez

Top second basemen 2018

Cesar Hernandez has been underrated his whole career, but not for much longer.
(Photo by Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

Cesar Hernandez has flown under the radar as a player for most of his career. It’s probably due to the fact that the Phillies have been pretty awful his entire tenure.

Regardless, he has been an extremely solid player for the team. He has seen consistent growth offensively, particularly using his speed, evidenced by his 26 doubles and six triples. He gets on base well, with an OBP of .373. His defense is very good as well.

Once the Phillies move from tanking to actually participating, maybe Hernandez will get the attention he deserves.

4. Daniel Murphy

Above Hernandez is another player from the NL East, Daniel Murphy. Murphy is one of the most gifted hitters in the MLB today. Murphy’s 2015 postseason was some of the greatest hitting ever.

His time for Nationals has been very good, with him falling just shy of a MVP in 2016. His offense has been incredible for the Nationals, knocking in at least doubles in back-to-back years, coupled with at least 20 homers both years. In 2017, he had a .384 OBP and a .543 slugging percentage.

So why the low ranking? Murphy plays pretty bad defense. Murphy will never be a good defender, and he’s not even an average defender. While his offensive stats are impressive, his defense hurts him overall.

3. Robinson Cano

When Robinson Cano signed that staggering 10-year $240 million contract in 2013, many thought there was no way Cano would be able to keep up his production by the end. Well, we are not exactly at the end, but we are getting there, and he’s still putting up the numbers.

Last season, Cano was an All-Star. His numbers were 23 homers, .338 OBP and .453 slugging percentage, and it was a down year. If he’s able to put up a season like 2016, where he finished eighth in the MVP race, he’ll put those doubters completely to rest.

2. Brian Dozier

Top second basemen 2018

You may not be able to tell by this picture, but Dozier is a great hitter. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

The Twins shocked many in the baseball world last season by making it into the last Wild Card spot only one year after finishing with over 100 loses. Many will point to the defense of Byron Buxton and the revival of Ervin Santana.

However, Brian Dozier deserves a lot of credit as well. Coming off a season with 42 homers, Dozier hit 34 more with an OBP of .359. Dozier was the heart of the offense for the Twins last season and will be for many seasons to come.

1. Jose Altuve

There’s no way this could be a surprise. Altuve is the reigning AL MVP with a ridiculous 8.3 WAR. In 2017, Altuve had a batting average of .346, which earned him the batting title. His OBP was .410, which is insane. He hit 24 homers, leading to a slugging percentage of .547 and an OPS of .957. This is all coupled with excellent speed (32 stolen bases) and defense.

It’s not even close. Sorry Dozier, Cano, Murphy and Hernandez.

 

 

Featured image by Troy Taormina / USA TODAY Sports / Reuters

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2018 MLB sleeper teams

Sleeper teams for the 2018 MLB season

With the offseason wrapping up and Spring Training on the horizon, experts are beginning to make their picks on which teams are contenders and pretenders. Even with the plethora of big name free agents still available, most rosters are set.

Teams like the Astros, Dodgers and Yankees are considered the big favorites right now, and rightfully so. Other teams like the Cubs, Brewers and Red Sox still have their eyes set on October. The thing all these teams have in common is that they are hyped up as playoff teams. Ask any baseball fan who they think is going to win the World Series and those are the teams they’ll list.

Each year, one or two teams blow up on the baseball scene. Last year, it was Minnesota and Arizona. The year before, it was the Texas Rangers.

While I won’t build myself up as a flawless fortune teller, these are two teams baseball fans should keep an eye on.

National League: Philadelphia Phillies

While everyone in Philadelphia is currently focused on winning their first Super Bowl (good luck with that), the Phillies could make a lot of noise in the NL. The Nationals have the East locked up for now baring injury, but Philly could fly in under the radar and possibly sneak into a Wild Card spot.

2018 MLB sleeper teams

Carlos Santana looks to help the Phillies achieve success in his first year with the team. (Photo by Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)

One thing the Phillies have in their favor is a weak division outside of Washington. Miami has had a fire sale to end all fire sales. Atlanta still has some rebuilding to do with their roster. The Mets can’t stay healthy past April.

 

Washington is head and shoulders the best team in the division. In the West and Central divisions, no team can truly make that claim. The Dodgers have the Diamondbacks, Rockies and the geriatric Giants to worry about. The Cubs, Cardinals and Brewers are going to fight to the death for that divisional crown. With all these teams beating each other, the Phillies could use their easy path to their advantage.

The Phillies have plenty of young talent. Pitcher Aaron Nola saw significant improvement in his wins and ERA and will continue to blossom into the ace they see him as.

If you are looking for future All-Stars, Rhys Hoskins is the real player to watch in Philly. In his first MLB action, Hoskins hit .259 with 18 homers and had a slugging percentage of .618. Those are great numbers for a young player starting out.

These young players coupled with veterans like first baseman Carlos Santana, who hit 23 homers and had a 3.4 WAR, and relief pitcher Pat Neshek, who had a sub-two ERA last season, have potential to make noise this season.

American League: Oakland Athletics  

After being bottom dwellers for the past three seasons, the Oakland Athletics have to be tired of losing.

The A’s are in a similar position as the Phillies, a losing team with young stars and a juggernaut in the lead of their division. One difference is the rest of the division. The Angels have made huge improvements and the Rangers and Mariners continue to be dangerous.

2018 MLB sleeper teams

Matt Olson looks to continue his offensive onslaught from last season. (Photo by Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports)

If the A’s are to have any success, it’ll be spearheaded by their two young Matts: Matt Olson and Matt Chapman.

 

In his first season with extended playing time, Chapman looked to be one of, if not the best defensive third baseman in baseball. In 84 games, Chapman put up a 3.6 WAR, just ahead of Manny Machado and behind former A Josh Donaldson. While he wasn’t great at the plate, he had a .785 OPS, which is above league average. For a 24-year-old, thats great.

When looking at Olson, the opposite could be said. While Olson’s glove is good, it’s his offensive firepower that makes him a superstar in the making. In just 189 at-bats, Olson hit 24 homers and had an insane OPS of 1.003, which is considered excellent. For reference, NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton had an 1.007 OPS.

These two players are stars in the making. They will be coupled with Khris Davis, who has had back-to-back 40 homer seasons.

The A’s will also have a much improved bullpen and a rotation full of potential. The A’s are set for the short-term and long-term future.

 

Featured image by Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images

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San Francisco Giants offseason

Have the Giants done enough to reach the postseason?

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

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

What went wrong in 2017?

San Francisco Giants offseason

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

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

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

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

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

What have they done this offseason?

San Francisco Giants offseason

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

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

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

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

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

The NL West: Best division in baseball?

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

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

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

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

 

Featured image from SF Chronicle

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New York Mets team profile

New York Mets team profile

The New York Mets finished in fourth place in the NL East with a 72-90 record. They were a team that dealt with a plethora of injuries, and it ended up costing them its season. David Wright has not been able to get over the injury bug, and the team’s two best hitters, Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Conforto, saw extended time on the disabled list.

It was not only at the plate, but on the mound the Mets saw its fair share of issues. Matt Harvey has not been able to break out of his rut, and Noah Syndergaard was only able to start seven times. Jacob deGrom was the only one that was able to cross the 25-start threshold in 2017, so the Mets have a fair amount to deal with before being able to compete in the near future.

Offseason moves

New York Mets team profile

Jay Bruce will reunite with the Mets in 2018 (Photo from FanRag Sports)

The New York Mets have taken strides to improve in the near future. It was reported on Wednesday that Jay Bruce would be returning to the Queens with a three-year contract. This is a solid signing that is lighting a mini spark into the hot stove. Since not many other moves have been made, the Mets look serious about improving in 2018.

So far, the only loss for them has been Jose Reyes, who did not have a great 2017 season. It was also reported that the Mets were very close to a deal with the Cleveland Indians for second baseman, Jason Kipnis. While he may not have provided the impact that the Mets need, it would have been a step in the right direction to show they are serious about improvements.

The three-year contract that Bruce signed also shows that the Mets are nowhere near thinking about a rebuilding phase despite its current place in the division. The rest of the NL East is in for some trouble with how successful the Nationals have been during the regular season. This move shows that the Mets want to try their hand though, and they may not be that far off.

The pitching

The New York Mets ranked 28th in pitching in 2017. This is nowhere near the expectations for the players they have on the team at the moment. New York has some of the best young pitching in the league, but due to injuries and underperforming, they took a step in the wrong direction.

The Mets have built a very good base in the rotation with Syndergaard, deGrom, Harvey, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler. As mentioned, due to injuries and poor performance, it does not look as solid as it once did. The top two in the rotation still look like they have a promising future, but Harvey, Matz and Wheeler will have a pivotal year in 2018. If they don’t show signs of improvement, the Mets will know it will be time to move on.

Anthony Swarzak had the best year of his career in 2017. He may have been one of the better middle relievers in all of baseball. He, along with A.J. Ramos and Addison Reed, should provide a reliable core to the bullpen.

2018 outlook

New York Mets team profile

Matt Harvey needs to get back on track in 2018 (Photo from USA Today)

As stated previously, the Nationals are still at the forefront of the NL East, and the National League as a whole. No team from the East will most likely compete with them for the division.

This is a year for the Mets to build up and see if they are ready to compete by 2019 perhaps. Washington is leaps and bounds ahead of the competition, and even the Wild Card is going to be tough to come by as it will take more than 87 wins most likely.

This is a big year for Matt Harvey as well. After stellar seasons between 2012-15, Harvey looks like he has lost his touch. This especially looked to be the case last year after finishing with a -1.1 WAR and 6.70 ERA. Something has to change in order for him to stick around the team. Whether it is mechanical or mental, the Mets can not afford to let him throw games away much longer.

With Noah Syndergaard coming off injury and deGrom looking to improve, there is a lot of room to improve. Their health is key too, as we may see a much better team in 2018 if the Mets are able to keep guys on the field.

 

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Atlanta Braves team profile

Atlanta Braves team profile

The Atlanta Braves finished third in the NL East with a record of 72-90. What makes things difficult for them is the current state of the division. The Miami Marlins have decided not to be a competitor anytime soon, so that has opened things up a bit. However, with the Phillies on the rise and nobody playing close to the same level as the Washington Nationals, the Braves don’t look close to competing for NL East supremacy.

Let’s not forget though, the Braves have some pretty solid talent coming up. They have had a pretty eventful offseason as well.

Scandal in Atlanta

Atlanta Braves team profile

John Coppolella is banned from baseball for life (Photo from SI.com)

The sanctions against the Braves came down from the commissioner’s office this offseason. It had been revealed that the Braves had been dodging some international signing bonus rules over the past few years. The league did not take kindly to the Braves reporting less money than they really paid for some of their players. As a result, they punished the organization accordingly.

The Braves were stripped of 12 prospects, and their former general manager, John Coppolella, was banned from baseball. The ban adds Coppolella to a short list of people who have been banned from baseball for life. The 12 prospects that Atlanta was stripped of will be free to sign elsewhere.

Out of the prospects Atlanta lost, 17-year old Kevin Maitan is the most notable. Maitan signed a $4.25 million contract in 2016. He was considered to be one of the best international prospects at the time. Only time will tell how big of a blow the sanctions will be on Atlanta.

The prospects are here

Atlanta Braves team profile

Ronald Acuna is one of the bright stars of the future (Photo from Baseball Reference)

Atlanta has a ripe young crop of players that are about ready to make a major impact. 23-year-old shortstop, Dansby Swanson, has been considered one of the better prospects in all of baseball. That is why the Braves traded for him and sent away the disappointing Shelby Miller. Swanson has still yet to make a big impact at the major league level in his 182 games played, but he still has lots of time to develop.

Ozzie Albies, the 11th overall prospect according to MLB.com in 2017, did make a good impression in the last three months of the season. His slash line was a solid .286/.354/.456. He is proving to be more than a reliable option at second base for the Braves, especially considering he is only 20 years old.

The duo of Swanson and Albies may be a fixture it Atlanta for years to come. 2018 may be the first time that they both get good playing time in the infield, so it is a moment for them to prove that they are as good as everyone thinks they will be.

Swanson and Albies are not all the Braves’ farm system has to offer though. Ronald Acuna, the sixth best prospect, and Kolby Allard, the 22nd best prospect, are anticipated to make their debuts in 2018.

Acuna is only 20 years old and was named the Arizona Fall League MVP in 2017. There is a chance that he could be the next great five-tool player in the majors. He may not be able to reach a 20-20 mark as he does not possess great power, but he could hit over .300 along with 30 stolen bases. One thing he could work on is his strikeout to walk ratio. However, that comes with the territory with any young prospect. It will improve in time.

2018 Outlook

The NL East is still under the Nationals reign, especially with the demise of the Marlins. The Nationals still have the best chance of winning their division in all of Major League Baseball.

2018 is a key year for the Braves as it is a year for their young prospects to learn from the pros already on the team. Several of their best young players will be joining the club in a more permanent position, so guys like Freddie Freeman will play a key role in making these guys true ball players.

Don’t expect the Braves to be buying or selling at the trade deadline. If you are to follow the team, keep an eye on the young players mentioned earlier. Once they reach their potential, they could be a very solid team in the near future.

 

Featured image by Brett Davis-USA Today

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Philadelphia Phillies

Philadelphia Phillies team profile

The Phillies turned in the third worst record in baseball in 2017. However, things don’t feel so lousy in the city of brotherly love. The Eagles are the best team in football, which is what most of the city is focusing on right now, but the Phillies don’t have such a bad outlook either.

The calvary is coming

After a couple of promising campaigns, Maikel Franco had a disappointing 2017. He still managed to knock 24 home runs, but his slash line of .230/.281/.409 is not what the Phillies wanted to see. There is definitely room to improve for the young third baseman.

Philadelphia Phillies

Maikel Franco will look to bounce back from a lackluster 2017 season. (Photo from Philly.com)

Although Franco was supposed to be breaking out as the face of the Phillies future, another man stepped in to make up for his struggles. Rhys Hoskins did not make his major league debut until August, but he did not waste any time getting acquainted with big league pitching. In 50 games, Hoskins managed to hit 18 home runs. If he kept up that pace through an entire season, he would have hit over 40.

Hoskins is only the beginning of the young prospects coming up in the Phillies system. They have six prospects in the MLB top 100, five of them being hitters. This means that Hoskins really is only the start of an offensive wave that will be coming into Citizens Bank Park. The process of all these hitters coming up will take about three seasons to develop.

What to expect this offseason

Philadelphia has been mentioned as one of the top teams in the race for Giancarlo Stanton, the hottest hitter on the trade market. The Phillies wouldn’t be trading for him for 2018 or 2019, but they would think he could be a big contributor for the 2020 season and beyond. The only catch is that they would have to be willing to give up some of their top prospects of the future.

The Phillies took Mickey Moniak with the first pick in 2016, a young outfielder with impressive plate discipline and can make solid contact. He is still developing as a ballplayer, but he is a very valuable tool for the future. He would be someone that the Phillies may have to give up in order to acquire Stanton.

Rumors have been fading away from the Phillies and Stanton though. Philadelphia does not have the pitching prospects that Miami would be interested in. The Giants, Cardinals and Red Sox have been more in the mix as of late. This makes the Phillies more of an outside contender for Stanton.

The Phillies ought to focus on pitching this offseason. They have been improving as a whole on offense and have some solid names coming up, but the pitching outlook is a little bleak. There are some intriguing names that hit free agency, such as Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb.

One name that could stand out for the Phillies is Tyler Chatwood. He has managed to put up some modest numbers while playing in the mountains, so he may be a plus pitcher if he is in a better suited park. He will come much cheaper than some of the other pitchers on the market, and could be serviceable for the future as he is only 27.

What to expect in 2018

The Phillies are still in the middle of their rebuilding process, so don’t expect them to compete with the Nationals for the NL East crown just yet. However, they are showing signs of not being the bottom dwellers of years past.

Phillies

Scott Kingery may be cementing himself as the second baseman of the future (Photo Courtesy of Yong Kim)

Their No. 3 prospect, Scott Kingery, should be making his debut next year at second base. Kingery had a stellar year in Double and Triple-A. He managed to hit 26 homers and had a slash line of .304/.359/.530. He also possess great speed as he stole 29 bases. Expect for him to make a splash in Philly next year.

 

 

Jorge Alfaro is another name that could make a big impact in 2018. Alfaro is the fifth best prospect in their system, and got some time in the big leagues in 2017. He came from Texas in the Cole Hamels deal, and is showing to be worth it thus far. In 29 games he hit .318 with five home runs. He is looking to fill the hole left at the catchers spot since Carlos Ruiz in 2016.

The Phillies may not be bottom dwellers in the East next year, seeing that the Marlins are looking to go into rebuild mode. Their offense is already looking much better, and will only be getting better as time goes on. They are hoping that Franco looks more like his 2016 self rather than last year. If he does turn things around, it could be a threatening lineup with Hoskins, Franco and Kingery.

 

Featured image by Laurence Kesterson/AP

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Washington Nationals 2018

Washington Nationals team profile

After a successful regular season, the Nationals came up short in the postseason once again. The franchise still has not won a postseason series. This year looked to be their year, as their roster had few holes in it especially after bolstering their bullpen. However, Game 5 in the NLDS slipped through their fingers, and now Washington is in a state of perplexity. What can they possibly do at this point that they have not already done?

The managerial carousal

The Washington Nationals fired another manager at the end of 2017. This time, Dusty Baker was the victim despite winning 192 games in two seasons and winning the NL East both years. He is also the third manager to be fired in five years in Washington.

Washington Nationals 2018

Dusty Baker is the latest example of how Washington is insecure at the manager role (Photo from AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

What makes the situation interesting is that they have still won their division four times in seven years. Not only that, but two of the three managers (Davey Johnson and Matt Williams) have won the NL manager of the year during their tenure in Washington.

Is the management really the problem? It is understandable why the front office points to the skipper role as the issue with their teams. This is apparent in the fact that there are no glaring issues in the roster. The bullpen was by far the weakest aspect of the team at the beginning of the season, but were able to make it an asset through trades.

Replacing the manager will not fix the Nationals’ issues. Dave Martinez has accumulated a lot of experience under the wing of Joe Maddon in Tampa Bay and Chicago. However, he still has a lot to learn as a manager seeing as this is his first gig. What it is really going to come down to is the Nationals being able to execute in the postseason.

Washington found themselves down 2-1 in the NLDS against the Cubs. They were able to win Game 4 in order to force a fifth and final game, and the offense really showed up when it needed to. The only problem was that Matt Wieters fell apart when it mattered most, and his mistakes cost the Nationals three runs in what ended up being a one run game.

The players need to be held more accountable, rather than thinking that the manager is the problem.

Bryce Harper and free agency

2018 marks the final year on superstar Bryce Harper’s contract, and oh boy will teams be coming out for him this time next year. No matter where he signs, expect for him to surpass Giancarlo Stanton for the largest contract in the sports world.

What has Nationals fans worried is that Harper has been rather aloof when it comes to his status in Washington. Harper asked Washington for a $400 million extension, which the team of course was not able to meet.

This is purely speculative, but it seems Harper made a rather high asking price just to see if the Nationals would meet it. It is hard to think that he expected Washington to pay up that kind of dough. It is very tempting for Harper to test free agency, so why not see if you can get that much?

Harper had to be ecstatic when he heard of Stanton’s record contract. That is because most teams would value Harper over Stanton at this point in time, despite the 59 home runs Stanton hit this year. The precedent of Stanton’s contract may just boost Harper’s value through the roof.

One ridiculous move that will never happen is Washington possibly trading Harper this offseason. Harper has never said out loud that he would like to stay in Washington, so his future there looks murky. With the high possibility of him chasing the money in 2018, why not see what you can get for him this offseason? One season of Harper’s services for a contender could be worth some very valuable prospects in the long run, and Washington should have an eye past 2018. This is especially the case since their current formula can’t seem to get them past the NLDS.

What is in store in 2018 for the Nationals?

Don’t expect a whole lot different in 2018. The NL East is going to be controlled by Washington once again. Brandon Kintzler, Matt Albers and Jayson Werth are some notable names leaving, but the core is still in tact. On top of that, Adam Eaton will be returning from his devastating injury he sustained early in the season.

Washington Nationals 2018

Eaton’s return to Washington will have a large impact. (Photo from MLB.com)

The Nationals ought to target an arm or two in order to bolster their bullpen. Other than that and maybe adding an arm like Jaime Garcia to the rotation, they shouldn’t be too active at the winter meetings barring any big news.

Derek Jeter and the Marlins will be taking a step back next season as the front office has expressed a desire to tear things down and build back up. Miami finished second place in the East despite being 20 games back of the Nationals. The Mets may be making moves this offseason in order to get back into their World Series form from a few years ago, but they are still far behind the Nationals.

The main questions is, who will face Washington in the NLDS? Also, will Dave Martinez make the difference that the front office hopes he can make? Either way, all of the 2018 season is already riding on whether or not they will make it past the NLDS.

The ultimate goal is the World Series obviously. However, they first need to win their first playoff series in franchise history.

 

Featured image from Sports Illustrated

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Bounce back candidates for 2018 MLB season

Bounce back candidates for the 2018 MLB season

Baseball fans were lucky to witness an incredible 2017 World Series this October, where bounce back players like Dallas Keuchel and Yasiel Puig were significant contributors. It is officially time to look ahead to the 2018 MLB season, where a new group of bounce back performers are sure to emerge.

The following players are not the only bounce back candidates, but are the ones who I believe are most likely to return to their previous form. Keep an eye out for these players heading into the 2018 season, as their price on draft day may be discounted due to their struggles in 2017.

Honorable mentions: Jose Bautista (FA), Jonathan Villar (MIL), Kyle Schwarber (ChC), Addison Russell (ChC), Ben Zobrist (ChC), Odubel Herrera (Phi), Maikel Franco (Phi), Carlos Gonzalez (FA), Kole Calhoun (LAA), Joc Pederson (LAD), Greg Bird (NYY), and Gregory Polanco (PIT).

Players who EVERYONE anticipates to bounce back, whose cases I do not feel are worth explaining: Noah Syndergaard (NYM), Yoenis Cespedes (NYM), Mookie Betts (BOS), Xander Bogaerts (BOS), Josh Donaldson (TOR), A.J. Pollock (ARI), Kyle Seager (SEA), and Jason Kipnis (CLE).

Batters

Hanley Ramirez, Designated Hitter/First Baseman, Boston Red Sox

Games BA/OBP/SLG R RBIs HR XBH SB
2017 Season 133 .242/.320/.429 58 62 23 47 1
162-game AVG 162 .291/.362/.490 103 89 26 66 28
Bounce back candidates 2018 MLB season

Hanley Ramirez had a career low batting average (.242) in 2017. (Photo by the Boston Herald)

At this stage in Hanley’s career, we obviously aren’t expecting a 20/20 MVP candidate season, but his 2017 campaign was a clear disappointment. His .242 batting average was a career low, while his 21 percent strikeout rate was at a career high.

Ramirez dealt with soreness and inflammation in his left bicep and shoulder throughout the year. According to rotoworld.com, he underwent a “relatively minor” surgery on his left shoulder on Tuesday, Oct. 17, which should allow Ramirez to return healthy for 2018 season.

The Red Sox, who finished 27th in home runs in 2017, will rely heavily on Ramirez to provide power in the heart of their order. If the Sox have any chance of returning to the playoffs next year, Ramirez will have to be a major piece to their puzzle.

 

 

 

 

Jonathan Lucroy, Catcher, Colorado Rockies

Games BA/OBP/SLG R RBIs HR XBH SB
2017 Season 123 .265/.345/.371 45 40 6 30 1
162-game AVG 162 .281/.343/.433 68 76 16 51 5

Lucroy’s 2017 campaign made people forget that he is only one year removed from being the top ranked catcher in fantasy baseball. Aside from his rookie year where he played only 75 games, he managed to set career lows in home runs, slugging percentage and runs scored.

The 31-year-old was traded for a second time in as many years, this time heading from the Texas Rangers, whose stadium ranks second in terms of runs created by park factors, to the Colorado Rockies, whose stadium ranks first. The difference in scenery may not seem like a significant change, but Lucroy’s slash line in Colorado, .310/.429/.437, was substantially better than in Texas, .242/.297/.338.

Lucroy is currently a free agent, but according to purplerow.com, “there has been a lot of mutual interest expressed by the Rockies and Lucroy in reuniting.”

In Colorado, Lucroy spent the majority of the year batting eighth, which clearly isn’t ideal for your fantasy team. However, any spot in the Rockies’ lineup is fine, as they ranked third in runs scored, fourth in RBIs and second in batting average in 2017.

Whether Lucroy were to re-sign with Colorado or not, he still promises to be a major bounce back candidate in 2018.

Troy Tulowitzki, Shortstop, Toronto Blue Jays

Games BA/OBP/SLG R RBIs HR XBH SB
2017 Season 66 .249/.300/.378 16 26      7 17 0
162-game AVG 162 .290/.361/.495 96 98 28 64 7
Bounce back candidates 2018 MLB season

According to Rotoworld.com, the Blue Jays and manager John Gibbons expect “Tulowitzki (to) be healthy come spring training in 2018”. (Photo by Zimbio.com)

Tulowitzki’s production has been on a steep decline since being traded from the Colorado Rockies to the Toronto Blue Jays in 2015. The two-time top-five National League MVP candidate slashed .299/.371/.513 in his 10 years in Colorado, while he has slashed just .250/.313/.414 in his three seasons with Toronto.

Now 33 years old, Tulowitzki was placed on the 60-day disabled list after suffering ligament damage in his right ankle in July. According to Rotoworld.com, the Blue Jays and manager John Gibbons expect “Tulowitzki (to) be healthy come spring training in 2018.”

According to Alec Gentry of Sportingnews.com, Gibbons also stated that “Tulo is our shortstop,” showing that despite his struggles, the team will continue to deploy him at shortstop for the foreseeable future.

The only real case for Tulowitzki bouncing back is his track record and opportunity. He is signed through 2020 and must be desperate to prove his worth to the city of Toronto.

 

 

 

Adam Eaton, Outfielder, Washington Nationals

Games BA/OBP/SLG R RBIs HR XBH SB
2017 Season 23 .297/.393/.462 24 13      2 23 3
162-game AVG 162 .284/.358/.416 104 57 11 52 17

There were high expectations for Eaton in 2017, as it would be his first season batting leadoff for his new club, the Washington Nationals, whose star-studded lineup ranked eighth in runs scored, 11th in home runs and seventh in RBIs just a year prior. With Eaton atop their lineup, the Nationals became that much better, as the 28-year-old was coming off of back-to-back seasons with at least a .280 batting average, 175 hits, 90 runs and 14 stolen bases.

Sadly, Eaton’s 2017 campaign was cut short after suffering a torn ACL on April 28. According to Jamal Collier of MLB.com, Eaton stated, “I’m going to work my butt off and give myself the best-case scenario to play. This year would be great, and if that is the case, that means we are playing in October, that is for sure.”

Unfortunately for Eaton, the Nationals failed to make the World Series, which was the earliest Eaton was expected to return. His clear hunger to play and prove doubters wrong inspires me to draft him in 2018. The Nationals lineup improved in 2017, ranking fifth in runs scored, third in RBIs and fourth in batting average.

If Eaton were to bat atop their lineup next season, he would likely return to his top-30 outfielder status.

Pitchers

Masahiro Tanaka, Starting Pitcher, New York Yankees

Games W-L ERA WHIP IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9
2017 Season 30 13-12 4.74 1.24 178.1 9.8 2.1 1.8
162-game AVG 34 17-9 3.56 1.10 216 8.6 1.7 1.3
Bounce back candidates 2018 MLB season

Tanaka’s 2017 regular season was an absolute disaster. (Photo by the Japanese Times)

Tanaka’s 2017 regular season was an absolute disaster. The 29-year-old once had a reputation for limiting walks, hits and home runs, but that status has officially been revoked. His 1.8 HR/9 ranked third worst among qualified pitchers, while his ERA ranked ninth worst.

One interesting stat for Tanaka is the decline in the frequency of his fastball, as it has been in decline every season since 2014, where he was throwing it about 40 percent of the time, down to 28 percent in 2017.

In turn, the frequency of his off-speed pitches has continuously risen, which may have contributed to the rise of his strikeout rate, as his 2016 strikeout rate of 7.4 increased dramatically to 9.8 this season.

A positive sign for Tanaka moving forward was his 2017 playoff performances. In his 20 innings pitched, Tanaka allowed just two earned runs, 10 hits and three walks. This was the Tanaka baseball fans expected heading into 2017.

Looking ahead to 2018, Tanaka will once again be expected to play a key role atop the Yankees rotation. If he is able to continue his postseason success into 2018, there is no reason he cannot bounce back to his top-20 fantasy starter status that he earned just a year ago.

Felix Hernandez, Starting Pitcher, Seattle Mariners

Starts W-L ERA WHIP IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9
2017 Season 16 6-5 4.36 1.29 86.2 8.1 2.7 1.8
162-game AVG 34 15-10 3.20 1.18 227 8.4 2.6 0.8

Hernandez has been in a downward spiral over the course of his last two seasons. After four straight Cy Young caliber seasons from 2012-15, the 31-year-old has thrown a total of 240 innings while posting a 4.01 ERA. Many factors could be contributing to Hernandez’s struggles, although fatigue and injuries seem to be the main causes.

King Felix has had one of the heaviest workloads among starting pitchers in the last decade, as he has recorded over 190 innings pitched over ten different seasons, most notably in 2010 where he pitched a league high 249.2 innings.

I personally refuse to believe that Hernandez, one of the best pitchers of his generation, is out of gas. Shoulder bursitis and bicep tendinitis cut his 2017 campaign short.

If a healthy Hernandez returns next season, his 2018 campaign will be a very different story.

Aaron Sanchez, Starting Pitcher, Toronto Blue Jays

Starts W-L ERA WHIP IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9
2017 Season 8 1-3 4.25 1.72 36.0 6.0 5.0 1.5
162-game AVG 22 11-6 3.01 1.21 158 7.0 3.5 0.8
Bounce back candidates 2018 MLB season

Aaron Sanchez finished seventh in American League Cy Young voting last year after tossing 192 innings that resulted in a 15-2 record, 3.00 ERA and 161 strikeouts. (Photo by Zimbio.com)

Sanchez was considered a blossoming star in 2016, as he finished the year seventh in American League Cy Young voting after tossing 192 innings that resulted in a 15-2 record, 3.00 ERA and 161 strikeouts. In 2017, his story was quite different.

Lingering blisters on his right middle finger resulted in four separate stints on the disabled list for Sanchez. Although it may seem like this season was a lost cause for the 25-year-old, he thinks otherwise.

According to Sportsnet.com, Sanchez stated that missing the majority of the year was “a benefit for (himself) honestly… (as) it gave (him) a full year to… rest,” as he had thrown over 200 innings in the regular and postseasons combined in 2016.

Sanchez won’t begin throwing until December, so we won’t know the status of his finger until then. What we do know is that Sanchez is one of the top young talents in the game and is sure to be overlooked in fantasy circles due to his “wasted” 2017 season.

 

 

 

Gerrit Cole, Starting Pitcher, Pittsburgh Pirates

Starts W-L ERA WHIP IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9
2017 Season 33 12-12 4.26 1.25 203 8.7 2.4 1.4
162-game AVG 34 16-11 3.50 1.22 209 8.4 2.3 0.8

Although Cole started a career high 33 games in 2017, he had career worsts in ERA at 4.26, hits allowed with 199 and HR/9 at 1.4. Cole ranked 10th worst in home runs allowed with 31, which is nerve-racking, although in 2015, Cole ranked fourth best in HR/9 at .48, and home runs allowed at 11.

At only 27-years-old, it is more than realistic for Cole to bounce back to his Cy Young caliber form we saw just two years ago. The former first overall pick in 2011 needs to be on your draft radar next season, as his price is sure to be discounted due to his mediocre 2017 campaign.

 

Featured image by 710 ESPN Seattle

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