2018 MLB Preview: Houston Astros

2017: 101-61

Last Postseason Appearance: 2017

Last World Series Title: 2017

2017 Recap                       

In the past, we have seen teams like the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals (83-78) and the 2000 New York Yankees (87-74), win the World Series despite not being the best team in baseball. In 2017, the best team won the World Series. The Houston Astros were, by far, the most elite squad in 2017.

2017 AL MVP, Jose Altuve (SI.com)

Houston finished the season with 101 wins, and an incredible 53-28 record on the road. Although their second half did not mirror their 60-29 first half, Houston never had a problem. The Astros offense finished first in hits, runs, doubles, batting average, OBP, SLG, OPS, and total bases. The ringleader behind their offensive success was the 5-6, 165lb, second basemen from Venezuela, Mr. Jose Altuve.

Last year, Altuve was clearly the best player in baseball. He was named the AL MVP, and hit .346/.410/.547 with 112 runs, 24 home runs, 81 RBIs, and 32 steals. He became the first player ever to lead the AL or NL in hits for four straight seasons. 2017 marked Altuve’s fourth season with at least 200 hits, 50 extra-base hits, and 25 stolen bases, which is tied for TY Cobb for the most all-time. He is the first player to have multiple seasons of at least 200 hits, 20 home runs, and 30 steals. Here is a table to illustrate how amazing he was in 2017. 

JOSE ALTUVE IN 2017

 

STAT ALTUVE’S RANK IN MLB
WAR 1ST
BATTING AVERAGE 1ST
OBP 6TH
RUNS TIED FOR 6TH
HITS 2ND
TOTAL BASES 9TH
STEALS 6TH
ADJUSTED OPS+ 5TH
RUNS CREATED 5TH

 

Of course, Houston had plenty of other stars. Altuve, along with Carlos Correa, George Springer, Chris Devenski, Dallas Keuchel, and Lance McCullers, were all named All-Star’s. Correa, who missed a good chunk of time because of a torn thumb ligament, still managed to hit .315 with 24 home runs, 85 RBIs, and a .391 OBP. He joined Alex Rodriguez as the only two shortstops to have at least 390 hits, 80 doubles, 60 home runs, 200 runs and 240 RBIs before turning 23.

2017 was probably the best year of George Springer’s life. He finished tied for sixth in runs, and set career highs in home runs (34), RBIs (85), batting average (.283), and OPS (.889). Although he struggled in the ALCS against New York, Springer erupted in the World Series and earned World Series MVP after hitting .379, with 5 home runs (tied for most in a single World Series), 7 RBIs, and a .471 OBP.

The offense was obviously stellar, but, to bolster the pitching, the Astros added some guy named Justin Verlander at the trade deadline. The former CY Young and MVP winner went 9-1 with a 1.66 ERA in the regular and postseason with Houston. Pretty damn good if you ask me.

2018: Around the Diamond

As scary as this sounds for the other 29 teams, the Astros probably got better. They have a plethora of young talent who have yet to reach their full potential. Correa, 23, is still improving and could put up incredible numbers over a full-season, Altuve is right behind Trout as the best player in the game, and third basemen Alex Bregman is just 23 years-old and is coming off a stellar 2017.

Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa are both just 23 years-old. (Houston Chronicle)

Bregman hit .284 with 19 home runs, 17 steals, 71 RBIs, and a .352 OBP. He hit .331 against lefties, and .302 in high leverage situations. The brighter the lights, the better Bregman performs, as we saw this against the Dodgers in the World Series when he hit two home runs and drove in five.

Yuli Gurriel, first basemen, finished tied for seventh in doubles with 43, and hit .299 with 18 home runs. The most ridiculous Gurriel stat is his average in 0-1 counts. When he is down 0-1, Gurriel hit .331. As absurd as this sounds, when the count was in his favor, 1-0, Gurriel hit just .263. He actually performed better when the odds were stacked against him.

Behind the plate, for this stacked infield, will be a mix of Brian McCann and Evan Gattis, who will most likely start at DH. Gattis hit 20+ HR from 2013-2016 and was banged up last year, playing just 84 games. If Gattis struggles, Tyler White, who hit .300 with 25 home runs in AAA during his 2017 campaign, should step in. Josh Reddick, who finished 10th in batting average at .314, including .346 with men in scoring position, and had a career high .847 OPS, will start in right, while Springer will be in center.

Left field is an interesting spot for Houston in 2018. It appears Marwin Gonzalez, who finished seventh in adjusted OPS+ last season, will start there, but there is a good chance Derek Fisher will steal his job if he has a good spring. Gonzalez was great last year, but his previous best WAR season was 1.2. Fisher is a power-speed guy who hit .318 with 21 home runs and 66 RBIs in 84 games at AAA in 2017. Houston also has Jake Marisnick, who will get some playing time in the outfield.

On the Bump

Verlander, Keuchel, McCullers, and Charlie Morton were all great last year, but Houston decided to bolster up the rotation even more. In January, the Astros traded for Pittsburgh Pirates RHP Gerrit Cole. Cole won 12 games with a 1.25 WHIP in 2017. He is now 27 years of age, and is still on the rise. Don’t forget, this is a guy who went 19-8 with a 2.80 ERA in 2015. If Cole can get back to his elite self, and let up fewer long-balls, this team might be unstoppable.

Ken Giles, who had 34 saves last season, will remain the closer. Devenski, and Will Harris are still with the ball club, and Houston also brought in Hector Rondon and Joe Smith to beef up the ‘pen.

The Future

Even with arguably the best roster in baseball, Houston has three prospects ranked in the Top 100 Prospects list on MLB.com. Headlining this list is RHP, Forrest Whitley, who comes in as the ninth-best prospect, and second-best RHP. Whitley was drafted by Houston in the first round of the 2016 MLB Draft, and has yet to disappoint. In 23 games, 18 starts, between A/A+/AA, Whitley posted a 2.83 ERA and struck out 143 batters in just 92.1 innings.

Whitley is facing a 50-game suspension for violating the drug policy. (Baseball America)

He stands tall at 6’7”, and, not only has a fastball that can get up to 97 mph, but Whitley also mixes in a 12-to-6 curveball, a slider, and a changeup. He is currently facing a 50 game suspension for violating the drug policy, which will slow down his progression, but expect to see this guy on the mound for Houston in the near future.

Kyle Tucker (No.17), is someone who you should expect to see at some point in 2018. The 21-year-old OF, in 120 games, hit 25 home runs, with 90 RBIs, and 21 steals between A+/AA. Tucker was the fifth overall pick in the 2015 draft and looks like he could be an offensive beast at the MLB level.

Houston’s final member on the Top 100 Prospects list is J.B. Bukauskas (No. 76). Bukauskas was the 17th overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, and has drawn comparisons to Sonny Gray. He was a star for the UNC baseball team, going 9-1 with a 2.53 ERA.

2018 Prediction: 98-64

Because the Mariners and Angels got better, Houston may win a few less games, but this is clearly the best team in the AL. Springer, Correa, and Altuve are all MVP candidates, and if Cole can limit the home runs, there is no reason to think that this team cannot repeat as World Series champions.

Featured image by MLB.com

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Game five

World Series Game 5 perfectly summarizes baseball today

Something special happened on Sunday night in Houston. Game five of the World Series was one of the most memorable sporting events in recent memory. After game two in Los Angeles, many thought that it would be the pinnacle of the series. In the year of the home run though, nothing is safe.

Home runs

World Series Game five

Altuve has been leading the way in power this postseason despite his size (USA Today).

What has been heavily talked about this year is all of the balls that have been leaving the park in 2017. The MLB set the record for most home runs hit in a season this year. They didn’t just break it though, they demolished it.

The previous record for home runs in a year was set in 2000 when there were 5,693 home runs hit. 2000 was also around the time of peak steroid use in baseball, and it was facing an epidemic. Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Alex Rodriguez were all crushing bombs.

What is different about this season is that there were only five players who hit more than 40 home runs. In 2000, there were 16 players who hit more than 40.

What does this mean? Well it shows that there has been a league-wide surge in homers in 2017, rather than a handful of players getting more home runs. We are not here to speculate as to why this is happening though, we are here to talk about the intense fifth game of the World Series.

There were two big records broken in game five. The Dodgers and the Astros already broke the record for most homers hit in a series with 22, and they also broke the record for most hit in a single game with seven.

Second longest game ever

World Series Game five

It will be interesting to see what Manfred will do when it comes to pace of play (CBS Sports)

Game five was the second longest World Series game ever, trailing only game three of the 2005 World Series, which also included the Houston Astros. Game three of the 2005 World Series lasted 14 innings though, while game five this year was only 24 minutes shorter in four less innings. Meaning, game five averaged 31 minutes per inning while the longest World Series game ever averaged 24 minutes per inning. This shows the issue with pace of play facing baseball today.

Personally, I did not want the game on Sunday to be over though. When Brian McCann pulled a ball that looked to have walk-off distance foul, I was almost disappointed to think the game would be over. Alex Bregman ended up finishing the game two at bats later in stellar fashion which was great to see, but I was still hungry for more.

This puts Rob Manfred and the MLB in an awkward position. Manfred has expressed interest in installing new ways to shorten baseball games. However, we are getting some of the most exciting games we have seen in awhile this year thanks to the long ball and surge in offense. This is a classic case of not being able to have your cake and eat it too.

Top dogs battling it out

World Series Game five

This is the first time in a long time we have seen the two best teams from the regular season in the Fall Classic (MLB)

Besides the Minnesota Twins, there were not a whole lot of underdogs this season. Every division winner was the team that most experts picked to win at the beginning of the year, so there were not many surprises.

What this series has shown though is that there is no clear better team between the two best. Houston and Los Angeles cemented their title as the best teams in baseball with 100+ win seasons and making to the Fall Classic. If you were to ask most experts at the halfway point of the season, the most common answer you would get for who would be playing in the World Series would be these two teams.

Game five demonstrated that both teams are fighting tooth and nail for the championship, and that they are very evenly matched. Houston was down 4-0 to Clayton Kershaw in the fourth inning, a pitcher that dominated them in the first game of the series. Things were already starting to look bleak for them.

Yuli Gurriel and the Astros battled back though, tying the game at four in the bottom of the fourth. The fun didn’t last for long though as Cody Bellinger hit a three-run home run of his own in the top of the fifth. The future was looking bleak for the Astros again, but in the bottom of the inning, Altuve smashed another three-run home run. When it was all said and done there were nine lead changes/ties, which made for a heart stopping game.

One for the ages

Fivethirtyeight.com did an article about the most exciting World Series games ever based on change in win probability. The only game that tops this one is game six of the 2011 World Series between the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals. Games like this don’t come around nearly that often though, so don’t expect for your heart to race as much as it did on Sunday for sometime.

 

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2017 MLB Season

We have liftoff: The rise of the Houston Astros

No one saw what was to come of that October night in 2005. The Chicago White Sox had just swept the Houston Astros in four games to win the World Series, and the celebration that occurred in Minute Maid Park was one that left a sour taste in Astros’ fans mouths. Little did they know that it was a precursor to the next few years of Astros baseball.

But with a long rebuild finally in the rear-view mirror, fans have a winning team again. That night in 2005 seems a lot longer ago that 12 years, and that is in large part thanks to the success the franchise is experiencing. But how did a team that hadn’t finished better than 11 games back of first place average 85 wins in the past two seasons and have one of the best records in the majors this season? It took some savvy moves, and the ability to admit that change was needed.

Houston Astros

Dallas Keuchel was one of the shiniest diamonds in the rough ever, winning the 2015 AL Cy Young Award (Colin E. Bradley/AP Photo).

Cultivating the Farm

Even though the Astros lost the World Series in 2005, the core of the roster was held onto long after their glory days. With aging stars like Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt and other core components still on the roster, management made a change for the better that came to a head in 2010.

Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt were both shipped off to contending teams, but their hauls didn’t bring back any impact players for the Astros. Even so, their trades were still a key component in the rebuild process.

With the team being stripped to the bare bones, the rebuild was officially underway in 2011, as Houston lost 106 games.

But that season saw the first glimpses of the dynamic and diminutive second baseman, Jose Altuve. They also drafted center fielder George Springer in the first round of the MLB Draft that year. The duo of Springer and Altuve have become the core of the Astros, and have set the franchise up for a succesful future.

Young studs like Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers and Alex Bregman were also acquired via the draft, and have helped to lift the club back into contention.

They also found a Cy Young winner in the seventh round of the 2009 MLB Draft. After struggling in 2012 and 2013, Dallas Keuchel would go on to win the 2015 AL Cy Young award. But it wasn’t just the farm system that helped lift the Astros to relevancy

Bargain Deals and Smart Investments

Houston Astros

Will Harris has had a massive impact on a dominant Astros bullpen (Mike Carlson, Stringer).

The Astros were just as good at finding talent on the free agent market and waiver wire as they were in the MLB Draft. Right hander Collin McHugh was one of the worst starters in the league in 2012 and 2013, putting up a combined 8.94 ERA in that time.

But when he came to the Astros in 2014, he became a whole new pitcher. His 3.71 ERA in an Astros uniform is a stark contrast to his younger years, and he has developed into one of the Astros’ better starting pitchers.

But it hasn’t been just the starting rotation that has benefited from free agency. Will Harris came into Astros spring training in 2015 just trying to make the roster. Little did anyone know that he would finish the season with a 1.90 ERA out of the pen. His contributions were also joined by another relief pitcher in 2015.

Prized free agent reliever Pat Neshek made the move from St. Louis to Houston in 2015 and immediately made an impact. With a 3.36 ERA in his two seasons in Houston, Nesheck became a valuable member of a much improved bullpen.

Joined by fellow free agent additions Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran, the Astros have had excellent success in the free agent market. By not overspending on free agents and being able to exploit the bargain bin, the Astros have put together a consistent winner in Houston.

Putting it all together

The Astros have had an interesting approach to rebuilding the team. By tearing the team down to its roots, they lost in the present to win in the future. And the future has finally arrived with a 31-16 record in the AL West and a young core to build around.

The front office has proven to be more than adequate at picking up well-priced free agents and finding contributors on the waiver wire. With the ability to put solid contributors around an excellent young core, the Astros are primed to fully wipe away the taste of the 2005 World Series and replace it with a savory World Series title.

 

Featured image by Troy Taormina, USA Today.

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2017 Fantasy Baseball Third Base Rankings

Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball Third Base Rankings

From Eddie Mathews to Ron Santo, from Mike Schmidt to Wade Boggs, from Chipper Jones to Adrian Beltre; the hot corner has remained a staple of power and production for centuries. Third basemen made up ten of the top 50 fantasy hitters in 2016, including the 2015 AL and 2016 NL MVP’s. With so many options to choose from, third base is one of, if not, the deepest position in fantasy baseball.

 

The top 30 third basemen have been grouped into six tiers, with the top and bottom player of each tier profiled below.

Honorable mentions include: Brandon Drury (ARI), Yulieski Gurriel (HOU), Jose Reyes (NYM), Jedd Gyorko (STL), Ryan Schimpf (SD), Hernan Perez (MIL), Matt Duffy (TB), and Johnny Peralta (STL).

 

Tier 1

2017 Fantasy Baseball Third Base Rankings

Can Kris Bryant be the first to win back to back MVP’s since Miguel Cabrera? (Courtesy of Chicagostylesports.com)

1. Kris Bryant CHC

2. Nolan Arenado COL

3. Josh Donaldson TOR

4. Manny Machado BAL

 

The reigning NL MVP, Kris Bryant, should be the first third basemen taken in 2017. Bryant was called up in 2015 after mashing 43 home runs at the AA and AAA levels. The minor-league player of the year impressed immediately in the majors, as he hit 26 home runs and drove in 99 RBI’s, resulting in him winning the Rookie of the Year.

The 24-year-old crushed 39 bombs with over 100 runs and RBI’s, which is easily repeatable for many years to come.

Two main reasons why Bryant lands atop this list is because of his steal upside and the lineup in which he plays in. Bryant is athletic for his 6-foot-5 230-pound stature. He stole 13 bases in 2015, and eight in 2016, which gives him a good floor of steals compared to Arenado, Donaldson, and Machado, who combined for nine.

Also, batting ahead of Anthony Rizzo and other elite hitters in the Chicago Cubs offense will give Bryant a great chance to, once again, lead the league in runs. These two factors will help propel him ahead of the other elite third base options.

 

Manny Machado has all of the potential in the world. After having back to back 35 plus home run and 100 run seasons, he remains in the elite category of third basemen.

Machado has batted primarily third in 2016, and still failed to reach the 100 RBI plateau, which is unnerving, as he is set to primarily bat second in 2017. Don’t get me wrong, Machado still has elite value in the two hole, as he will bat around .300, while being a great source of runs, but if you’re looking for 100 RBI’s, Machado may fall short once again.

Machado also failed to steal a base in 2016, after stealing 20 bags in 2015. This may have been a way to limit the stress on his surgically repaired knee, or may have been due to the fact that the Baltimore Orioles were last in stolen base attempts per game, with .2.

The lack of stolen bases and RBI’s compared to Bryant, Donaldson, and Arenado forces me place Machado at the bottom of tier 1.

 

Tier 2

2017 Fantasy Baseball Third Base Rankings

Will 2017 be a breakout season for veteran Kyle Seager? (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

5. Kyle Seager SEA

6. Jonathon Villar MIL

7. Adrian Beltre TEX

8. Matt Carpenter STL

9. Todd Frazier CWS

10. Evan Longoria TB

11. Anthony Rendon WAS

12. Justin Turner LAD

 

Kyle Seager has been a consistent source of 160 hits, .270 average, and 24 home runs per season, but 2017 will be the year he breaks out.

Seager will bat behind Jean Segura, Robinson Cano, and Nelson Cruz, which will give him a great chance to finally surpass the 100 RBI mark.

The 29-year-old’s isolated power numbers have jumped from .185 to .221, showing that he has the potential to increase his power numbers as he continues through his prime years.

According to fantasypros.com, he is being selected as the 59th player off the board, and the 6th third basemen. Although Seager’s value does warrant a pick at this position, there are many other third basemen that offer similar value at a much lesser cost.

 

Justin Turner exploded onto the scene in 2016, having a career year, batting .275 with 27 home runs, 79 runs, and 90 RBI’s. The 32-year-old inked a 4-year, $64 million deal, that will lock him in as the everyday third basemen and three-hitter of the Los Angeles Dodgers for the near and distant and future.

Turner provides a great floor of value, as he has a career batting average of .282, while managing to have respectable strikeout and walk rates. I believe Turner is more than likely to repeat his power numbers, and could be a sneaky source of 100 RBI’s come 2017.

 

Tier 3

2017 Fantasy Baseball Third Base Rankings

Can Jake Lamb recover from his atrocious second half n 2016? (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

13. Jake Lamb ARI

14. Maikel Franco PHI

15. Alex Bregman HOU

16. Jose Ramirez CLE

 

Jake Lamb is currently being severally overlooked, as he is being selected as the 19th third basemen, and 165th overall player in drafts.

Lamb finished 2016 with a .249 batting average, 29 home runs, and 91 RBI’s. This stat line may seem underwhelming, but Lambs first half of .291, 20 home runs, and 61 RBI’s suggests that there is elite potential here.

The 26-year-old will join a healthy Arizona Diamondbacks lineup that includes A.J. Pollock, Paul Goldschmidt, and David Peralta, which will give him the opportunity to repeat or surpass his career high RBI total. Lamb will end up on the majority of my teams in 2017, as his ADP is much too low for his potential.

 

The sneaky top 20 MVP candidate in 2016, Jose Ramirez, will be another cheap source of production at third base in 2017. Ramirez is being selected as the 14th third basemen, which I believe is fairly high, although his ADP of 124 gives him significant value.

The 24-year-old will bat in the middle of the Cleveland Indians lineup, and depending on Michael Brantley’s health, may be behind Edwin Encarnacion, Francisco Lindor, and Jason Kipnis, which will give him an incredible opportunity to drive in runs.

Ramirez, a career .275 hitter, is continuously improving, as he batted .312 with 11 home runs, 76 RBI’s, and 22 stolen bases in 2016. Investing in the young Indian will be highly beneficial come 2017.

 

Tier 4

2017 Fantasy Baseball Third Base Rankings

Miguel Sano’s strikeout rate is a red flag heading into 2017. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

17. Miguel Sano MIN

18. Jung-Ho Kang PIT

19. Eduardo Nunez SFG

20. Ryon Healy OAK

21. Yangervis Solarte SD

 

Miguel Sano is currently being selected as the 128th player, and 15th third basemen in 2017. After hitting 18 home runs in 80 games in 2015, Sano increased his totals to 25 in 116 games in 2016. Miguel Sano’s power potential is juicy, although his 2016 strike out rate of 36% is a huge red flag.

Sano’s strikeout rates have continuously increased, which suggests that Sano may strikeout at an obnoxious rate again in 2017. Sano, who has already had a problem finding a position, may experience serious issues if his bat continues to struggle. I believe Sano is being drafted to high, as you can draft safer options in Maikel Franco or Jake Lamb later in drafts.

 

Yangervis Solarte is my sleeper of the year. The 29-year-old is primed for a breakout season, as he will have an everyday role for the first time in his career. He totaled 15 home runs and 71 RBI’s in just 109 games, which would have put him on pace for 22 home runs and 105 RBI’s.

Solarte will be the starting third basemen and cleanup hitter for the San Diego Padres in 2017. This will give him plenty of opportunity for RBI’s and runs, as this young Padres lineup could surprise people.

The ascension of young studs Wil Myers, Hunter Renfroe, and Manny Margot, can immensely improve the Friars underwhelming offense, which will positively impact Solarte’s stats.

His ADP of 319 makes him the 32nd third basemen taken off the board, which means he is currently going undrafted in majority of leagues. Solarte will make an incredible late round pick if you miss early on a third basemen.

 

Tier 5

2017 Fantasy Baseball Third Base Rankings

Nick Castellanos’ fractured hand held him back in 2016, so will he improve in 2017? (Courtesy MLive.com)

22. Nick Castellanos DET

23. Mike Moustakas KAN

24. Adonis Garcia ATL

25. Eugenio Suarez CIN

26. Pablo Sandoval BOS

27. Travis Shaw MIL

28. Martin Prado MIA

29. Danny Valencia SEA

30. Yunel Escobar LAA

 

Nick Castellanos had his 2016 cut short due to a fractured left hand, although in 110 games, he managed to hit 18 home runs, while scoring 54 runs, and driving in 58 RBI’s. The Tigers six-hitter remains a solid source of runs and RBI’s while sporting a respectable career average of .265.

Castellanos is very safe option for later in the draft, and if he continues to progress, could be a top 15 third basemen. His current ADP of 239 makes his the 25th third basemen selected, which would be a price well worth paying.

 

Yunel Escobar has quietly been a solid fantasy producer his entire career, as he has a career batting average of .283, and has batted .314 and .304 in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Escobar hasn’t managed to play over 140 games since 2013, but if he can make that happen in 2017, he will be a great fantasy asset.

The 34-year-old will bat leadoff for the Mike Trout lead Los Angeles Angels. The talent behind him along with his great batting average gives him a chance to be an above average run scorer in 2017.

His ADP of 366 makes him the 37th third basemen being selected, which in my mind is astronomical. He will go undrafted in almost all leagues, although he offers great value in deeper leagues with large rosters.

 

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World Baseball Classic Preview: Pool C

After examining eight of the 16 teams in the World Baseball Classic, we move on to the most talented pool in the tournament: Pool C. The teams included in this pool are full of major league talent, and are some of the deepest in the WBC. If you missed Pool A or Pool B, you can find them below.

World Baseball Classic Preview: Pool A

World Baseball Classic Preview: Pool B

World Baseball Classic

Ryan Dempster will provide leadership as well as pitching for team Canada (Elise Amendola/AP).

Canada

For the boys north of the border, they will rely on some big name players who have made their hay in the USA. Longtime team Canada manager Erin Whitt has a bevy of major league talent to draw upon.

On the mound team Canada will be lead by 16 year major league veteran Ryan Dempster. While Dempster hasn’t played in the majors since 2013, the 39 year old should still be a top contributor for skipper Erin Whitt. He will also be joined on the mound by current major leaguers John Axford and Jim Henderson. Axford and Henderson are quality relievers, and will be great weapons for team Canada.

While there is plenty of pitching to rely on, the true stars are found off the mound. At first base NL All-Star Freddie Freeman will provide the thump for team Canada. The 27 year old Brave hit 34 bombs in 2016, and put up an impressive 157 OPS+. Former AL MVP and current free agent Justin Morneau will also suit up, giving Whitt plenty of options at first base. Many will also recognize current Blue Jay Dalton Pompey, who will patrol the outfield.

In any other pool, Canada would be one of the top teams, if not the favorite. But playing in Pool C does not bode well for them, as it will be a struggle to get to the second round of tournament play.

Colombia

World Baseball Classic

Jose Quintana will bring a strong presence to team Colombia (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images North America).

Making their World Baseball Classic debut, Colombia has a good level of talent to rely on. Colombia advanced from the Qualifier 3 round in 2016 to become eligible for the WBC. Pitching will be their strong suit, as they have multiple major league players to toe the rubber.

Chicago White Sox pitcher Jose Quintana became the staff ace after the trade of Chris Sale, but to many he was already a top pitcher in the game. His career 3.41 ERA has been supported by his 7.4 SO/9 innings. The lefty will be the ace for Colombia, and will be joined by NL All-Star Julio Teheran. Teheran has bee the ace of the Atlanta Braves for years, and will be a nice compliment to Quintana.

Catching for team Colombia will be Phillies prospect Jorge Alfaro. After being traded from Texas to Philly, Alfaro made his major league debut in 2016. While his numbers weren’t impressive in limited at-bats, he is seen as the catcher of the future in Philadelphia. He will be joined in the infield by former top prospect Dilson Herrera. In parts of two major league seasons in Flushing, Herrera was less than impressive. But he still has plenty of tools to be a difference maker for Colombia.

Colombia has a good mix of pitching and position player talent. They will need to utilize it to the fullest if they hope to cause an upset and make it out of Pool C.

World Baseball Classic

Robinson Cano led the Dominican Republic to the championship in 2013 (Al Bello/Getty Images).

Dominican Republic

After going undefeated on their way to winning the 2013 WBC, the Dominican Republic is one of the favorites to take home the championship again in 2017. And its easy to see why. The Dominican Republic has one of the most stacked rosters in this years tournament.

With a roster that would rival even the World Series Champion Chicago Cubs in talent, manager Moises Alou will have plenty of players to rely on. On the mound, established veteran starters like Johnny Cueto, Bartolo Colon and Edinson Volquez will be joined by young studs Carlos Martinez and Luis Severino. The bullpen will be anchored by all-stars Dellin Betances, Jeurys Familia and Fernando Rodney.

With all of that talent on the mound, you might over look the position players for the Dominican Republic. Just kidding. With players like Adrian Beltre, Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Jose Bautista, Manny Machado, Starlin Marte and many others, that is almost impossible. With an ample supply of power, speed and defense, skipper Moises Alou has a manager’s dream on his hands: too much talent.

The Dominican Republic boasts one of the most stacked squads in WBC history. With stars all over the field, the Dominican Republic is set to make another deep run in the WBC.

United States

World Baseball Classic

Andrew Miller is set to continue his post season dominance in the WBC (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images).

One of the few teams in all of the WBC that can rival the DR in talent is team USA. But in the WBC’s history, the US has yet to win the championship. Will that change in 2017? Manager Jim Leyland sure hopes so.

Leyland will have a treasure trove of talent to utilize, both on the mound and in the field. He will be handing the ball to starting pitchers like Chris Archer, Sonny Gray and Michael Fulmer. The bullpen will be bolstered by some of the game’s best. Cleveland Indians’ playoff hero Andrew Miller will be joined by Sam Dyson and Luke Gregerson to form a shut-down pen. But the cup runneth over in terms of talent, from the mound to the field.

The outfield will be manned by sluggers Giancarlo Stanton, Adam Jones and Andrew McCutchen. The will also be joined by Stanton’s teammate Christian Yelich to form a star studded outfield. The infield will be led by Jonathan Lucroy and Buster Posey behind the dish, as well as all-around talent Paul Goldschmidt. Spectacular veterans Ian Kinsler, Brandon Crawford and Daniel Murphy will be joined by the young stud Alex Bregman.

Even with not every team USA player listed, this roster is one of the best in the WBC. With depth at every position, manager Jim Leyland will be able to put multiple solid lineups out on the field.

Verdict

One of the deepest pools in all of the WBC, each team has multiple major league players on their respective rosters. In any other pool, Colombia and Canada would be competitive if not the favorites to advance. But in Pool C, there is really only two teams with a chance to move on to the second round.

The Dominican Republic and the USA are some of the most stacked rosters in the WBC’s history. Both are composed of all-star level talent, making choosing a favorite difficult. But after reviewing both team’s entire rosters, team USA has a slight advantage. With a deeper roster than the Dominican Republic, team USA should be able to get out of Pool C victorious.

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