*Feature Image courtesy of Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea / Stringer (Getty Images)*
The regular season is so close you can almost taste that dollar hot dog promotion. That means it’s time for baseball analysts to release their “Bold” (and not so bold) predictions for the 2017 season.
The names here would hardly be considered daring, but each will need a monster year to secure the hardware. This list looks at the potential league leaders we may be discussing at the end of the 2017 season.
AL Rookie of the Year: Andrew Benintendi
Largely viewed as the consensus top prospect heading into the 2017 season, Andrew Benintendi carries some significant expectations. Slashing .292/ .364 / .905 with 2 home runs during spring training, Benintendi appears poised to exceed those projections. Batting third amidst and absolutely stacked Red Sox lineup, the opportunities will be there and the runs should be plentiful.
The questions that faces all young players is how that level of production holds up over the course of 162 games. Many, if not all of Benintendi’s AL rookie counterparts will start the 2017 in the minors. This positions him perfectly to establish an early track of success and lock up the award come year end.
AL Cy Young: Marcus Stroman
This may be the “boldest” prediction on this list given the volatile nature of Stroman’s past performances. However, fresh off an outstanding World Baseball Classic performance Marcus Stroman appears poised to make a statement in 2017.
The career statistics don’t exactly backup this assertion, but when Stroman’s locked in, his performance certainly passes the eye test. He’s currently listed as number four in the rotation, a testament to the strength of the Jay’s staff. Given his skillset, Stroman can establish himself as the team ace if he can demonstrate some consistency throughout the season.
The fiery young pitcher represented well in the WBC, and should be an absolute treat to watch in 2017.
AL Most Valuable Player: Mookie Betts
The young Red Sox star was already hot on the heels of the best player in baseball during the 2016 season. Mike Trout isn’t going anywhere anytime soon but that doesn’t mean Mookie Betts won’t be challenging for top dog every year. Betts has already established himself as a top player in the game, but where is his ceiling?
In 2016 Betts slashed .318 / .363 / .897 with 34 home runs and 26 stolen bases. Entering the Majors at age 21 Betts has already displayed incredible improvement year over year. Granted, Betts played the most games of his career in 2016, but the improvement in ratio statistics validates the jump.
Given his current performance, Betts is already incredibly close to 30/30 performance. Most players power and slugging improves as their career progresses while speed typically diminishes. Based on Betts youth, speed doesn’t appear to be in danger and his stellar OBP ensures he will have the opportunities to steal. If these factors play out in a traditional way it wouldn’t be surprising to see Betts trend even closer to a 40/30 or even 40/40 season, if health permits.
There is an amazing amount of young talent throughout the MLB today. The margin between the top players may be closer than ever. Baseball has always been a game of parity between competing teams. The fact this has extended to individual competition truly adds to the excitement and enjoyment of the game. Whether it’s witnessing the best young player or best overall, there is no doubt the 2017 season should be chalk full of amazing performances.