For many children that have grown up playing sports, they have all dreamed of one day making it into the pros at one point. Baseball is one of the most popular destinations for this kind of journey. The rookie class of 2018 is now living out that life-long dream on the big stage.

In this rookie watch, we will be taking a look at the rookies that are making impacts in their inaugural seasons. Establishing their commanding presences, these guys have made their cases early in the “Rookie of the Year” conversations. Whether from the pitcher’s mound or the batter’s box, these rookies are looking to command the respect of the league.

rookie watch: American League

The Boston Red Sox pitching staff has established itself as among the elite in 2018. One of many names blazing on the mound is 29-year-old righty, Hector Velazquez.

MLB rookie watch

(Photo by AP Photo/Colin E. Braley)

Do not let the age fool you. Velazquez has given no quarter this season. He boasts a 4-0 record, the best of all AL rookies. He also leads the pack with a 2.38 ERA. Though only starting his MLB career, Velazquez is a can’t miss contender for AL Rookie of the Year, and potentially a Cy Young Award. Boston’s lineup is stacked, but Velazquez has become a vital asset keeping the Red Sox on top.

Speaking of stacked lineups, The New York Yankees are slugging it out with Boston for the AL East. The Pinstripes have become a batting terror this season, and home of the next name in this rookie watch. Meet Gleyber Torres.

Though he is not a home run hitting master, Torres has nevertheless made his presence felt. The 21-year-old second baseman leads all AL rookies in batting average and on-base percentage. He has also hit 11 RBI in his 16 games in the big leagues. With New York closing in on Boston, Torres can be an x-factor if he can continue this kind of batting.

You might be asking, “How come I have not mentioned Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels yet?” Relax, he is still the leading candidate for AL Rookie of the Year in virtually everyone’s book. His 3-1 pitching record and .344 batting average have definitely put him among the brightest young stars of 2018. On top of that, Ohtani has belted 14 RBIs and only yielding a .213 batting average from opposing batters. Enough said.

Rookie Watch: National League

The first player in our NL rookie watch is starting to get his name out as a Los Angeles Dodger. Meet right-handed pitcher, Walker Buehler.

MLB rookie watch

(Photo from Sports Illustrated)

Buehler is currently boasting a 2-0 pitching record this season, along with a 1.13 ERA. He has accomplished this within the 16 innings he has pitched so far. The rest of the Dodgers, however, cannot seem to break out from their slow start to the new campaign. Not to mention their legendary ace, Clayton Kershaw, is on the disabled list. Buehler and company will have to step up to keep the Dodgers’ playoff hopes alive.

In the NL East, the Atlanta Braves hold a very thin lead in their division. One rookie that has helped Atlanta to the top is a familiar name around the league: left fielder, Ronald Acuña Jr.

Acuña currently leads all NL rookies in batting average and slugging percentage. Plus, his fielding abilities are razor sharp for his age, having yet to record an error this season. Not only will he be a contender for NL Rookie of the Year but also could be a Gold Glove winner in the not-so-distant future.

Returning to the NL West, Christian Villanueva has turned into a formidable power hitter for the San Diego Padres. However, he has entered a slump in recent games, including a .040 batting average in his last seven. Despite this, Villanueva continues to lead all rookies in both home runs and RBIs. If he can get his batting average back up, the 26-year-old third baseman can help brighten up San Diego’s offense, as well as its season.

Looking ahead

Winning the Rookie of the Year Award can push a player to stardom. It can also preview a bright future for the baseball club. But let us not forget that we have seen some of the game’s greatest not win this particular honor. Not to mention that anyone can enter a cold streak at any time. For all of the new guys, we wish nothing but the best in their baseball careers.

 

Featured image by Karl L. Moore and baseballamerica.com

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players to watch out for in May

MLB power rankings

With a new month of baseball rolling, some teams have found to jump ahead of the pack. Both the American and National Leagues have seen squads entering May red hot. While other teams are looking to improve these next few weeks, others look to continue winning like they have in April. These are the teams atop of our own MLB Power Rankings.

Some have a commanding presence on the pitcher’s mound. Others have made their marks from the batter’s box. Then there are those who let little get past their fielding. Whatever these squads have done to remain victorious has worked at say the absolute least. As of right now, these are the teams making noise and strong cases for spots in October early.

MLB Power Rankings: American League

1. Boston Red Sox (22-8)

MLB Power Rankings: Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox starter Drew Pomeranz, (AP Photo/Steve Nesius).

There are several reasons why the Boston Red Sox are the top dogs of the American League. The Boston Red Sox lead the AL in batting average as a team. At the same time, they boast one of the league’s stingiest pitching rotations and fielding corps. It doesn’t hurt that their current manager was once a Red Sox player and World Series champ himself.

2. New York Yankees (20-10)

The New York Yankees have won nine of their last 10 games, the best outing in that span. The Pinstripes owe it mostly to their thunderous batting crew, who share a lead in the American League for home runs belted, and lead alone in RBI’s. Along with a solid pitching season so far, the Yankees are looking to remain on fire in May.

3. Houston Astros (20-12)

The reigning World Series champions are looking to pick up where they left off in 2017. So far, the Astros have the AL’s best pitching unit and fielding squad at once. Houston has constantly shown why some view them as the favorite to win it all again in 2018.

4. Los Angeles Angels (18-12)

These two squads are making big splashes in 2018. For Los Angeles, the one-two punch of Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani has taken the league by storm. However, the Halos have won four of their last ten games. I do not believe this isn’t something they can’t overcome with their pitching and fielding rosters.

5. Toronto Blue Jays (17-13)

The Toronto Blue Jays have made their presence felt in the batter’s box, being tied in the AL for most home runs as a team. However, their batting average will need improvement in order to prolong their fireworks displays. Toronto’s pitching crew will need to step as well, especially when they have division rivals in the Red Sox and Yankees to compete against.

MLB Power Rankings: National League

MLB Power Rankings: National League

Diamondbacks manager, Torey Luvollo (Image courtesy of Sports Illustrated)

1. Arizona Diamondbacks (21-8)

The Arizona Diamondbacks have the most dominant pitching core in the National League, plus one of the best fielding defenses. Last season, the Diamondbacks entered October as wild card winners, in Torey Luvollo’s first season as the skipper. Now, they have the Division title and more in their sights.

2. Atlanta Braves (18-11)

With a number of rookies hungry to strike it big on board, Atlanta has entered the National League playoff conversation. Not to mention that they’ve won seven of their last ten games. Atlanta currently leads the NL in team batting average and RBI’s. Continuing their momentum should give the Braves the lead in the NL East before even they know it.

3. New York Mets (17-11)

The New York Mets are looking to turn things around from their 2017 campaign. So far, they’ve done well in doing so. Stats wise, their batting and pitching run around the middle of the pack. But to return to its 2015 days, New York will have to kick it up a few notches to get back to October.

4. Milwaukee Brewers (19-13)

The Milwaukee Brewers are duking it out with the Chicago Cubs for the NL Central. The Brewers have a merciless pitching roster, but also a fielding unit in need of improvement. Not to mention, Milwaukee leads the NL in errors. They have the lead in their division, but only a small one.

5. Chicago Cubs (16-12)

The Chicago Cubs have won seven of their last ten games. A big part of their good fortunes is their pitching lineup, whose boasts a more than solid ERA in the NL. However, the Cubs will need to clean up their fielding to keep men off base. Not to mention, the Milwaukee Brewers are not making it easy for the Cubs to take the NL Central.

Moving Forward

As the new month thunders onward, teams will be looking for improvements in lacking areas to keeps wins coming. Some will hit slumps, and some will starts winning bursts: while others will look to remain hot like they have in April. There might be new teams eager to shake up MLB Power Rankings from across the league. In the meantime, PLAY BALL!

Featured image courtesy from wikipedia.org

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MLB players of the month

2018 MLB: April’s greatest hits

The first month of the 2018 MLB season is approaching its final act. The league has seen struggling teams and players trying to find their footing. But on the flip side, we have seen several players dominating right out of the gates. Today, we will be taking a look at some of April’s greatest hits.

These greatest hits are a list of some names starting off red hot in the first few weeks of the season. It seems that the league cannot stop talking about them. Repetitive? Maybe. But these names have grabbed the attention of the entire for good reason.

Here are some of my picks of “Player of the Month,” “Rookie of the Month,” and “Manager of the Month” from both the American and National Leagues.

April’s greatest hits: American League

Player of the Month

The New York Yankees are starting to kick it up a notch, winning their last nine games. With a high-powered batting order, it is no coincidence. Leading the charge from the batter’s box is shortstop, Didi Gregorius.

MLB players of the month

(Photo from wikipedia.com)

Gregorius has caught fire with his bat in April, tallying 10 home runs and 30 RBIs, along with a .340 batting average. He currently leads the AL in RBIs and is tied for the most home runs. As a team, the Pinstripes lead the AL in home runs and RBIs. No. 18 is most certainly a big part of the Yankees offense, which is why he is my pick for “Player of the Month” for April.

Rookie of the Month

My leading candidate for AL “Rookie of the Month” is Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels. I mean, how can it not be him? Ohtani has belted four home runs to go with 12 RBIs this month. On top of that, No. 17 has a 2-1 record on the mound.

Yes, his ERA is over 4.00, but let’s be honest, even the most elite pitchers have a bad day once in a while. To call this an impressive start to Ohtani’s rookie season would be an understatement.

Manager of the Month

Returning to the AL East, the Boston Red Sox remain at the top. The Red Sox have a stingy fielding corps, a relentless batting crew and a formidable pitching rotation.

They also have my pick for “Manager of the Month” for April. In his first as skipper, Alex Cora has played almost every note perfectly in 2018. Cora has found ways to keep winning, and has adapted to most situations. Boston now boasts the best record in the AL, but with the rival Yankees on a tear, Cora will have to keep up the winning ways.

April’s greatest hits: National League

Player of the Month

My pick for “Player of the Month” comes from the pitcher’s mound. It was not an easy decision to make, but Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals takes my vote. The 33-year-old righty has tallied a 5-1 record and a 1.62 ERA. In addition, opposing teams have only managed to scrape up a .156 batting average against him. The three-time Cy Young award winner is eyeing a fourth, and it is not hard to see why.

Rookie of the Month

The San Diego Padres are struggling to find momentum in the NL West. But one Padre has stood as a one bright spot at the batter’s box. Third baseman Christian Villanueva is my pick for the National League “Rookie of the Month.”

MLB players of the month

(Photo from USA Today)

Villanueva has caught fire with his bat. So far, he has eight home runs and 18 RBIs to his name. He also boasts a .329 batting average.

The rest of the Padres, however, will need to wake up. San Diego, as a team, has put together a .228 batting average, which is 13th out of 15 NL squads.

Manager of the Month

The Arizona Diamondbacks hold a healthy lead in the NL West. Manager Torey Lovullo has steered the team in the right direction since taking over last season. Not to mention he manned the helm and took the team to the Wild Card last season.

Returning to the playoffs may not seem so difficult if Lovullo can keep it up. With the team at 19-8, the best record in the NL, Lovullo and company have substantial momentum to build off of for the next games to come.

a new month approaches

Several great players have struck it big in April. These names a few of April’s greatest hits. As May approaches, some players look to remain hot, while others look to break out of their cold streaks. But like everyone else, I cannot wait to see who kicks it into gear in May.

 

Featured image from Wikipedia

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MLB april review

MLB monthly review: April

As the first month of baseball reaches its final act, we have seen fireworks, frustrations and everything in between. For some teams, the momentum created in April becomes a foundation for 2018. For others, the first few weeks have taught valuable lessons and revealed areas of improvements. But for the remaining few franchises, it has been a month they would like to forget.

Each franchise has its own situations to deal with. Whether it is rebuilding the club or fighting to remain at the top, the league has seen a multitude of scenarios unfold and their impacts on the diamond. However, those struggling the hardest cannot give up the fight now, despite how stuck in the mud they are.

Let’s take a look at some of the good, the bad and the not there yet of the MLB.

April Review: American League

The good

The Boston Red Sox have the best record in baseball as of right now. It seems that manager, Alex Cora, has led the squad for years, when in reality this is his first year as skipper. Boston stands among the best in the league in hitting, pitching and fielding.

Over in the AL West, the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Angels are neck-and-neck for the top. Houston stands superior at the mound, but LA is not too far behind in the batter’s box.

April Review

Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Brandon Workman (Photo by Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

The bad

It is safe to say that the Kansas City Royals have seen better days. Falling far behind in the AL Central, the Royals have a lot of work to do to get back to their 2015 days, especially in their pitching. KC holds a 5.23 ERA as a unit, which ranks 27th in the league.

The Chicago White Sox are not fairing much better. The team has the honor of the highest ERA in baseball. Like the Royals, their batting prowess is not too bad, but both teams will have to turn things around quickly to keep up with the rest of the division.

The not there yet

The Toronto Blue Jays are off to a solid start that not everyone saw coming. Despite a 14-9 start and solid batting, Toronto still needs to improve its pitching department. The numbers are not too bad, but adjustments will need to made to keep up with the surging Red Sox.

Similarly, the Seattle Mariners of the AL West have pitching issues to deal with. As a unit, Seattle has recorded a 4.95 ERA. The Mariners can not solely rely on their offense to keep them in the race, especially with the competition in their division.

April Review: National League

The good

The Arizona Diamondbacks remain on top of the National League. The Diamondbacks boast the stingiest pitching staff and the second-most efficient fielding in the NL. If Arizona can clean up its batting chops, wins should remain plentiful this season.

Trailing behind them is the New York Mets. New York is solid in numerous departments and lead the NL East. But Mickey Callaway and company must make adjustments moving forward if they wish to remain at the top and play in October.

MLB april review

(Photo from wikipedia.org)

The bad

The Miami Marlins are receiving stormy weather this season, and a lot of it. Miami has the second-highest ERA in the NL, along with the second-lowest batting average. To be fair, the Marlins are in an astronomical rebuilding process. But already, morale is as scarce as victory for the fish.

Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Reds have the worst record in the MLB. That is mostly due to the fact the Reds have the highest ERA in the NL. The fact that Cincinnati is the only squad in its division with a losing record only makes the pain worse.

The not there yet

The Milwaukee Brewers have won their last eight games and find themselves on top of the NL Central. However, their fielding remains shaky as they hold the second-lowest fielding percentage in the NL, in addition to the most errors recorded. Their pitching staff will need the seven players behind them to execute to allow as few people on base as possible.

As the season continues…

With April winding down, many baseball fans are eager to see how their teams adjust for the weeks to come. Some hope their teams stay hot throughout the season, while others wish for a change in fortune. With five months of regular season baseball left to be played, there is still time. But teams will need to make adjustments as soon as possible to find success in future games.

 

Featured image from MLB.com

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Mookie Betts hot start

Mookie Betts and the Red Sox historic start

In Shohei Ohtani’s first home start, Los Angeles fans sold out Angel Stadium in anticipation of seeing more dominance from the Japanese right-hander. This was the first sellout in four years, the last one being Mike Trout bobblehead day. Against the red-hot Boston lineup, Ohtani lasted just two innings, exiting early due to a blister on a finger on his pitching hand.

While throwing 66 pitches in his two innings of work, Ohtani allowed three runs, on four hits and two walks. Ohtani appeared extremely vulnerable as the Sox swung and missed only three times. This is what happens when you don’t get to face the Oakland Athletics every time you pitch.

Mookie Betts hot start

Ohtani watching as Betts’ lead-off HR clears the fence (San Bernardino Sun)

To lead off the game, Red Sox star Mookie Betts crushed a home run to left field. He wound up finishing the game with three home runs, three runs scored and a pair of walks. This was Betts’ third three-homer game, which ties him with Ted Williams for the most three-homer games in Red Sox history. This was the second time this season that a player in the MLB went 3-for-3 with a trio of home runs, as San Diego’s Christian Villanueva did this two weeks ago against the Colorado Rockies.

Betts is now first in the league in runs (19), doubles (7), batting average (.389), OPS (1.289) and OPS+ (246). In 2016, Betts finished runner-up to Mike Trout in AL MVP voting and became the youngest player in MLB history with a season of 40 doubles, 30 home runs, 25 steals and 350 total bases. The Sox slugger was just 23 years old at the time, passing Alfonso Soriano, who was 26, and previously the youngest player to accomplish this feat.

Last season, Betts’ finished third in doubles, fourth in defensive WAR and ninth in overall WAR for position players. Coming off back-to-back All-Star Game appearances, Betts has solidified himself as one of the top players in the game, offensively and defensively. He is currently on pace for 54 home runs and 75 doubles.

Was Betts always this good? If yes, did he always have a tremendous amount of power despite being listed at just 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds?

YA BETTS BELIEVE

Coming out of high school, scouts, according to Baseball America, claimed Markus “Mookie” Betts “could be a difference-maker for his hitting ability, speed and solid athleticism.” He committed to the University of Tennessee, but decided to sign with the Red Sox after they selected him in the fifth round in the 2011 MLB Draft. His signing bonus was a lofty $750,000.

Betts played in just one Rookie Level Gulf Coast League game in 2011, and boy was it memorable. While he did hit a pair of singles, Betts committed three errors. In 2012, Betts got his first real taste of pro ball, playing in 71 games for the Lowell Spinners in Short-Season A Ball. In 251 at-bats, Betts hit a whopping zero home runs, and just nine extra-base hits. He was drawing plenty of walks and still getting on base, but it was not until mid-April of 2013 in which Betts cleared the fence for his first professional home run.

Mookie Betts hot start

Mookie Betts as a member of the Greenville Drive. (Photo from VAVEL.com)

During that 2013 season, now a member of the Single A Greenville team, Betts started the year ice-cold. In early-May, Betts had a batting average of .145. However, Carlos Febles, then coach of Greenville, saw serious potential in Betts, noting that Betts was hitting the ball extremely hard, and just getting really unlucky.

“At one point, he was hitting the ball at least three times hard during the game and not getting hits. I remember giving him an extra day off just to give him a mental break,” Febles said according to the Boston Globe.

Greenville’s hitting coach, U.L. Washington, saw a star in Betts, even though the numbers said otherwise. Former Red Sox hitting coordinator, Tim Hyers, was quoted saying “U.L. thought he (Betts) would drive the ball one day because his hands are so quick and he’s got such great body control…It was, like, ‘It’s just a matter of time. This guy is going to figure it out.’” Washington believed Betts was a bit too passive, trying to draw walks instead of being aggressive.

The talks with coaches and the time out of the lineup led to a difference in Betts’ approach. He finished that 2013 season slashing .314/.417/.506 with 15 home runs in 127 games. The following year, Betts, between Double and Triple-A, hit 11 home runs in 99 games and was called-up to the show.

Now, in 2018, the 25-year-old has had quite the start to his MLB career. Below is a table which exemplifies his numbers, based off players younger than 25.

NO. OF SEASONS WITH 18 HR, 20 SB, 40 2B, 160 H (BEFORE TURNING 25)

PLAYER NO. OF SEASONS
MOOKIE BETTS 3
DAVID WRIGHT 2
HANLEY RAMIREZ 1
GRADY SIZEMORE 1
ALEX RODRIGUEZ 1
NOMAR GARCIAPARRA 1
ROBIN YOUNT 1
VADA PINSON 1

Red Sox hot start

For the first time in franchise history, Boston has won 14 of their first 16 games. Previously, they had won 13 of 15 to start the season in 1946, and began the year 12-4 on seven separate occasions. They lead the AL in batting average, OBP, SLG, OPS and doubles. They rank second in the MLB in ERA and have allowed the fewest home runs in the AL.

Mookie Betts hot start

Does this look like the face of a coach who can lead his team to a title in his first year? YES. (Photo from The Boston Globe)

Clearly clicking on all cylinders, you have to wonder if the coaching change was exactly what the Red Sox needed. In 1912, Jake Stahl, first-year manager of Boston, coached the team to a 105-47-2 record and capped off the season by winning the 1912 World Series. In 1918, Ed Barrow’s first year as manager of the Sox, Boston again, won the World Series. After Grady Little’s inability to pull Pedro Martinez from Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, Boston brought in Terry Francona for the 2004 season, the same year that Boston ended its 86-year World Series drought.

After a miserable 2012 season, Boston fired then coach Bobby Valentine and welcomed in John Farrell. In Ferrell’s first year, Boston won the 2013 World Series. Do you see a trend here? In 2018, Alex Cora’s first year as manager of the Red Sox, Boston is one of the best teams in the league. Are they destined for a World Series title because of the “first year as manager with the Red Sox” success in the past?

 

Featured image by NESN.com

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MLB top players 2018

MLB spotlight: Impact players

As the 2018 MLB season thunders on, several players are warming up quickly on the diamond. The hot starts from these impact players have already grabbed the attention of the league, as well as fans. Of course, a team’s success cannot rely on one name’s outing alone. But these players have given their clubs plenty of help.

Here is a look at the players starting red hot in 2018. Whether at the plate, on the mound or on the diamond, they have stood out from the rest of the pack. These veterans, rookies and managers have made splashes in less than three weeks of baseball.

From familiar faces to the new kids in town, these are some of the impact players and managers so far.

American League Impact Players

In the AL West, the Oakland Athletics did not start 2018 very well. The A’s sit at 7-10 currently, but one infielder has been dominating in the batter’s box. That would be third baseman, Matt Chapman.

MLB top players 2018

(Photo from ESPN.com)

The 24-year-old has belted five home runs and 12 RBIs to go along with a .317 batting average. Two of those homers and five of those RBIs have come from his last five games. Oakland will have a lot of work to do for their 2018 season, but if Chapman keeps swinging like this, the A’s can find themselves a spark they need to bring in more wins.

Staying in the AL West, the Los Angeles Angels are on a tear with a 13-3 record. It seems that the league cannot stop talking about the one-two punch of Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, and why not? Ohtani has played up to the hype and more.

On the mound, Ohtani has a 2.08 ERA and 2-0 record. On top of that, he has tallied three home runs, 11 RBIs, and a .367 batting average. This is a pitcher we are talking about! Although he has showcased his talents as an outfielder, his cleats on the mound and the batter’s box are where he is the most dangerous.

Meanwhile, the Boston Red Sox are blazing through April and the rest of the AL East. Alex Cora seems to have found his footing in his first year as Boston’s skipper. The Red Sox are playing razor sharp on offense and defense. Cora has no doubt found winning formulas, and if this continues, taking the AL East will only be the beginning for Cora and company.

National League Impact Players

Over in the NL Central, the St. Louis Cardinals are off to a more than solid start. One of the players helping bring wins is first baseman, José Martínez.

MLB top players 2018

(Photo from St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

The 29-year-old is catching fire in the batter’s box with 15 RBIs, which is the second most in the National League. Not to mention he has belted three home runs and rocks a .364 batting average. In the National League, St. Louis has become a notable force in offensive production. Martínez is one of the biggest reasons why.

In the NL West, the San Diego Padres are still finding their footing. 7-11 is not a terrible start, but San Diego has more work to do to turn this season around. One of the growing number of bright spots for the club is rookie ace, Joey Lucchesi.

Lucchesi stands with a 2-0 record and 1.66 ERA. In addition, teams have only managed to record a .221 batting average against him. If he can keep this up, his name can pop up in the NL Rookie of the Year conversation.

Moving to the NL East, the New York Mets sit comfortably at the top with a 12-3 record. The Mets now have won eight of their last 10 games, with first-year skipper, Mickey Callaway, at the helm. Callaway, a former pitcher, served as the pitching coach of the Cleveland Indians prior to taking the Mets job. Considering that the Indians have improved as a pitching unit while he was there and the Mets have the second best ERA in the league right now, clearly something is working.

As the Season Progresses

More players are looking to strike big and get their names out there in 2018. With plenty of baseball still in store, anyone can rise to the occasion and make an impact under the lights. But with October on everyone’s minds, one man carrying the team will not stand as a winning formula forever. The whole unit must hunker down to remain ahead or turn around their misfortunes.

 

Featured image by Getty Images

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players to watch out for in May

First week recap of the 2018 MLB season

We wanted it, and we got it. The 2018 MLB season has finally arrived. At last, fans got to see their teams hit the diamond and help write the newest of America’s pastime. Last Thursday, Miami and Chicago kicked off the season with the visiting Cubs emerging victorious.

The first week of contention has already passed. Though the season has only begun, all 30 teams are starting to figure out what to keep going and what to change. The road to October will be a bumpier ride for some. For those who made the playoffs in 2017, the mark they set will be the bar they would like to surpass.

Let’s take a look at how some teams have created strides in the first few games.

2018 MLB Season: American League

Some American League squads came storming out of the gates to start the season. Only seven days of baseball have past. But these teams have grabbed attention early and are building momentum to carry on through the games to come.

2018 MLB season

(Photo from mlb.com/astros)

The first team is the defending World Series champs: the Houston Astros. Manager A.J. Hinch and company no doubt have plans to repeat their title runs. What they have been doing this first week has put them ahead of their division. As of right now, The Astros have the second highest batting average and the second lowest ERA in the MLB.

If the Astros keep having fun like they are now, we could see them in the World Series again this year.

Another team off to a great in the AL is the Boston Red Sox. So far, the Red Sox have yet to play at home in Fenway Park. But they have proven to be the ultimate road warriors these past few games. Boston’s fielding and pitching are at the top of the league right now. But if they are going to return to October, their offense needs to kick it up a notch.

Boston’s team batting average is at .240, and they have tallied just 21 runs and four home runs. Improvements at the plate can give their defense plenty of cushion and leave the rest of the AL East in the dust.

Both the Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Angeles have made strong starts too. With their batting and pitching leading the way to their hot start, the Mariners have shown they can hang with the best of them. As for the Angels, they have started on high notes at the plate, on the mound and on defense.

2018 MLB Season: National League

The National League has teams looking to hit the ground running as well. Spots in October are in short supply, and all 15 teams want in. These squads, however, have made significant bounds to get ahead early in their divisions.

2018 MLB season

(Photo from mlb.com)

Starting off, we have the NL Central’s strongest outing: the Pittsburgh Pirates. This is their first season this decade without Andrew McCutchen on their roster. But so far, Pittsburgh has adjusted nicely and managed to find success. Similar to Seattle, Pittsburgh’s plate presence has become a central point to their early success.

Their pitching rotation, however, will need to stand its ground to keep the Pirates riding high. Pittsburgh’s pitching staff has recorded a 4.96 ERA so far, which ranks just 22nd.

Over in the NL West, the Arizona Diamondbacks came out firing to start their 2018 campaign. Arizona has shown the benefits of playing at home, starting with a 5-1 record. The Diamondbacks’ strongest suites are in their pitching and fielding, both in the top 10 so far.

The Milwaukee Brewers and Washington Nationals are also making noise in the MLB early. Both teams proved to be formidable at the plate and have shown dominance on the road. However, both teams will need to tighten up on the mound and on defense to keep the wins coming.

Moving Forward

With the 2018 MLB season just beginning, there is no telling what can happen. There can be teams struggling now that will later turn up the heat. There can be teams starting hot, but hit cold streaks in the upcoming weeks. Regardless, baseball is back, and the world will be watching.

 

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MLB early takeaways

Early takeaways from the first weekend of baseball

Although all 30 MLB teams have played no more than five games, now is a perfect time to overreact to the results of the first weekend in the 2018 season. Below, we have seven early takeaways that may, or may not, matter.

1. Houston does not appear to have any World Series hangover

The Astros kept the momentum going into 2018, as they took three out of four from the Texas Rangers to kick off their season. George Springer led off the season with a home run, and Houston’s offense forced the Rangers starters to average 18.1 pitches per inning. In the four games, Houston scored 22 runs.

Carlos Correa is off to a tremendous start, hitting .438 with four runs, a home run and five RBIs. Correa showed his ability to hit both lefties and righties on Saturday, when he roped a double off Matt Moore and later homered off Jesse Chavez.

Correa’s double-play partner and 2017 AL MVP, Jose Altuve, is off to a sizzling start as well. After going hitless on Opening Day, Altuve collected two hits in Game 2, four on Saturday and three more on Easter. The second baseman is batting .563 with five runs scored.

In his Astros Debut, Gerrit Cole did not disappoint. On Sunday, he pitched seven strong innings and allowed just one run on two hits while striking out 11 batters. The 11 punch-outs is the most for Cole since 2014.

2. Washington probably has the best roster in the NL

Albeit against the Cincinnati Reds, the Nationals showed how dominate their arms are, as well as how potent their offense can be. Washington started the season with a 2-0 win, and proceeded to score 19 runs over their next two games, en route to sweeping the Reds. The Nats leads the NL with nine home runs.

MLB early takeaways

Bryce Harper slugged two home runs on Sunday. (Photo from The Washington Post)

Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez had a combined 0.98 ERA with 24 strikeouts in 18.1 innings of work. Keep in mind, these were three of the top four pitchers in terms of WAR in 2017.

A healthy Adam Eaton may be the difference maker in Washington’s lineup. Eaton is batting .615 with seven runs scored, two home runs and five RBIs. On Saturday, Eaton went 5-for-5, and became the fourth player since 2010 to have five hits, two doubles, one home run, four runs, and at least three RBIs.

Last season, in the 23 games with Eaton and Trea Turner hitting ahead of him, Bryce Harper batted .405 with 25 RBIs. On Sunday, Harper clubbed a pair of home runs and ended the series batting .400 with three runs scored and four RBIs. If this Nats team can stay healthy, there is no reason for them not to win around 100 games.

3. Are the Braves ready for a playoff run in 2018?

Most people expected Atlanta to continue to improve in 2018, but I don’t think anyone imagined them scoring 27 runs in three games, including a 15-2 romping of the Phillies on Saturday.

Atlanta’s offense was led by Freddie Freeman, who has already drawn seven walks in three games, which is good for most in the league. Freeman has scored at least one run in each of the first three games. Ryan Flaherty, a career .219 hitter, batted .538 with three doubles and five runs scored, while Nick Markakis drove in five runs and walked four times.

Obviously Flaherty will cool off, but if Atlanta can get some production out of their staff, as well as some magic from Ronald Acuna when he is called up, don’t sleep on a Wild Card berth for the Braves.

4. 2018 could be the year in which Boston’s big three all perform

In 2016, Rick Porcello won the AL Cy Young Award, going 22-4 with a 3.15 ERA. The following season, Porcello lost 17 games and gave up more home runs than anyone, allowed the second most hits and finished fifth in earned runs. After a shaky 2016, David Price was injured almost all of 2017, making just 11 starts. Chris Sale, who was acquired before the start of the 2017 season, was tremendous last season, but had no help.

The lines for Boston’s three starters against Tampa Bay:

Sale – 6 innings, 1 H, 0 ER, 9 SO

Price – 7.0 innings, 4 H, 0 ER, 0 BBs, 5 SO

Porcello – 5.1 innings, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 SO

5. Cain and Yelich look good in Milwaukee

The Brewers, who swept the Padres to start the season, have to be happy about the performance of their two new outfielders, Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich. Cain collected multiple hits in each of the first three games, including two three-hit performances. He is batting .571 with three steals. On Saturday, Yelich went a perfect 5-for-5 and scored four runs with three RBIs in the series.

With Jimmy Nelson out, the Brewers will rely heavily on Chase Anderson to carry the load. He opened the year with a wonderful start, throwing six shutout innings with six strikeouts. The Brewers bullpen, in 15.2 innings of work, posted a 1.72 ERA with a 10.91 K/9.

6. Will Ohtani and the Angels reach the postseason?

Aside from the one bad pitch to Matt Chapman, which resulted in a three-run home run, Shohei Ohtani’s highly anticipated MLB pitching debut was a success. He earned the win and struck out six batters while walking just one in six innings.

MLB early takeaways

Ohtani earned the win in his pitching debut against Oakland. (Photo from The Mercury News)

The Angels, who won three out four in Oakland, have to be ecstatic about their new infielder Zack Cozart. Cozart, through the first four games, hit .368 with four extra-base hits, three runs scored and three RBIs. Despite going 0-for-6 on Opening Day, Mike Trout finished the series batting .300 with five runs scored, one home run, one steal and four RBIs.

Tyler Skaggs looked great in his 2018 debut, tossing 6.1 shutout innings without issuing a walk. Skaggs has never thrown more than 113 innings in a season, but if he can stay healthy and perform, this team could make some noise in October.

7. The Dodgers started off 2-2 with just two runs allowed

Staying in Los Angeles, the Dodgers pitching was tremendous against the Giants. In their 36 innings, LA’s pitching staff posted a 0.50 ERA with a .192 opposing batting average. Unfortunately, it took them until the third game of the season to cross home plate. Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager went a combined 3-for-24.

 

Featured image by The Courier

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From Spring Training to Opening Day

Player spotlights: Spring Training

As a famous Chinese proverb says, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” After twelve days of spring training, some teams have made that first step a huge one. True, this is just the preseason. But momentum built by each player now can carry to the regular season.

All 30 MLB teams will have to make adjustments as they continue setting their foundations for 2018. On top of establishing the starting lineup, some spots on the 40-man rosters will have some serious competition. Whether the player is a rookie or a journeyman looking for a big break, these players look to occupy those vacant slots.

Here are some surprise names fighting for respect, and some names needing to improve.

Player Watch: Cactus League

Cactus League logo for 2018

Image courtesy of MLBShop.com

David Fletcher

The first surprise player comes courtesy of the Los Angeles Angels. But it’s not Mike Trout or Shoehi Ohtani. I’m looking at one of the names fighting for a roster spot. Meet #86, David Fletcher.

Picked by the Angles in 2015, the 23-year old is looking to make his big league debut in 2018. Throughout his spring training runs, Fletcher has posted an overall batting average of .462 and a slugging percentage of .577.

But it’s his defensive potential at both the shortstop and second baseman spots I find more impressive. In his three seasons in minor and fall leagues, he has racked up a fielding percentage of at least .980 at both positions, along with at least a .969 percentage at both positions during spring training.

A.J. Puk

Another surprise player in the Cactus League is eyeing a spot on the Oakland Athletics’ pitching rotation. His name is A.J. Puk.

Oakland drafted the former Florida Gator sixth overall in the 2016 Draft. Puk’s pitching in the minor leagues left much to be desired. In his two seasons, he posted a 6-14 record with a .382 ERA. Not to mention he tallied a .450 ERA during his spring training outing last year.

When the A’s invited him back for the 2018 exhibitions, Puk flipped the script almost completely. He got his very first spring start in this year’s outing and now boasts a 0.00 ERA. Some may say he still has ways to go before he becomes among the hottest arms in the big leagues. But he has no doubt established himself as a lead contender for a spot in the starting rotation.

Player Watch: Grapefruit League

Grapefruit League Logo 2018

Image courtesy of fansedge.com

Scott Van Slyke

Heading east to the Sunshine State, we find ourselves a veteran player making a big splash for his new team. You know him as Scott Van Slyke.

Van Slyke spent the entirety of his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Now in 2018, he is dawning a Miami Marlins uniform.

The 31 year-old outfielder started off his Miami tenure with a bang in the Marlins’ first spring game of the year. He went yard twice against the St. Louis Cardinals, one of which being a grand slam. Throughout the spring exhibitions, he has kept his batting average very high at .353, along with very solid fielding work.

Among the numerous roster changes the Marlins are infamous for, the outfield positions are looking for the next big three players to step up. Van Slyke will be a name to look out for in the outfield conversation.

Miguel Andujar

The New York Yankees, meanwhile, stand at the top of the Grapefruit League. Along with names such as Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Giancarlo Stanton, one young prospect is taking names. Meet third baseman, Miguel Andújar.

Andújar started in the minor leagues at age 17. In his six seasons, he has posted a .274 batting average, 51 home runs and 336 RBI’s. Although he only played in five games the 2017 MLB regular season, Miguel recorded a .571 batting average and drove in 4 RBI’s. Furthermore, in Spring 2018, he has posted a .421 batting, four home runs, and eight RBI’s in seven games.

The Race Continues

As the exhibitions rage on, assembling the 40-man is much harder than some might think. With so many players bringing so much brought to the table, it can be difficult finding the perfect fit. Also, certain factors and areas in need of attention must be taken into account. Who has the edge in position fielding? Is the team lacking powerful batters? Which pitcher can execute under pressure the best?

March 29 will make the beginning of a new season. For those competing for those last few vacant spots, having their names on that list could set the spark for stardom.

 

 

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Image courtesy of MLBShop.com

Image courtesy of MLBShop.com

Image courtesy of fansedge.com

2018 MLB prospects

2018 MLB prospects spotlight

Spring training 2018 is officially here. Teams have hit the practice fields and are getting their cleats in the dirt once again. With the exhibition games coming this Friday, some teams are making some last-minute moves before play begins.

Notably, pitcher Yu Darvish is starting his Chicago Cubs tenure after signing a six-year, $126 million contract. Also, the Boston Red Sox picked up outfielder J.D. Martinez on a five-year deal worth $110 million. Signing noteworthy veterans can really add some needed experience and help with some lacking elements on a roster. But equally as important is seeing which young prospects can step up and help bring victory to the team.

They surely will come in handy with any roster subtractions, and what they bring to the table can be exactly what a team needs to play in October. For these prospects, spring training will provide plenty of chances to get their names out there.

Prospects on the mound

Pitchers help set the tone for the defense. Whether a starter, reliever or closer, they are counted on to bail the team out a sticky situation. Arguably the biggest prospect is Shohei Ohtani from the Los Angeles Angels.

2018 MLB prospects

Photo from the New York Times

The 23-year-old out of Oshu, Japan, has been taking names on the mound in his five seasons playing in the Japan Pacific League. On the mound, he racked up a pitching record of 42-15 with an overall ERA of 2.52 in 543 innings pitched.

But his talents don’t stop at the mound. At the plate, he belted 48 home runs, 166 RBIs and recorded an overall batting average of .286. In the outfield, he has posted a .976 overall fielding percentage.

Ohtani signed with the Angels on Dec. 8, 2017. MLB Pipeline ranks him as the No. 1 RHP prospect, as well as the No. 4 outfield prospect.

Another pitcher eyeing a spot in the rotation is Brent Honeywell of the Tampa Bay Rays. In the minor leagues, he went 31-19 with an ERA of 2.88. Although the Rays’ pitching staff had a rock-solid outing last season, Honeywell can be another formidable name in the near future.

MLB Pipeline lists Honeywell as the No. 12 overall prospect and the No. 4 RHP prospect.

Prospects on the field

As much as the pitcher gets idolized, as well as scrutinized, the other eight starters on the field have as much to do with a team’s success. By bat and glove, these prospects are looking to make an impact right out of the gates. One such prospect is 20-year-old outfielder, Ronald Acuna.

2018 MLB prospects

Photo by Karl L. Moore

Acuna signed with the Atlanta Braves back in July of 2014. His three seasons in the minor leagues have proven to the Braves that he deserves a shot at the starting lineup. During his tenure, he has racked up a .310 batting average, 29 home runs and 119 RBIs. In addition, his feet and defense speak well for themselves. His scout grade, according to MLB Pipeline, has shown his running, throwing arm and fielding to be above average.

MLB Pipeline lists Acuna as the top outfielder prospect coming into 2018.

Another player eager to make waves in 2018 is third baseman Nick Senzel.

The Cincinnati Reds picked up the former Tennessee Volunteer as the second overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft. Much like Acuna, Senzel has plenty to offer on offense and defense. His two seasons in the minor leagues have yielded a .315 batting average, 21 home runs, 105 RBIs and a .956 overall fielding percentage.

MLB Pipeline lists the 22-year-old as the #7 overall prospect and the No. 2 prospect at third base.

Let the games begin

As the countdown ticks away for the exhibition games, many more prospects are eager for a chance to become a starter. Like in any other professional sport, baseball is no stranger to overlooked names becoming big-name stars.

But as the old saying goes, “Rome was not build in one day.” Maturity and a willingness to learn are as vital to a player’s success as a pitcher’s arsenal or a infielder’s position versatility.

For some, these characteristics can be what puts them in the starting lineup over others.

Both seasoned veterans and new faces will take to the field this to showcase their talents against other teams. For fans, it will be a welcoming sight and a preview of what exciting things may come for their favorite teams.

 

Featured image from MLB.com

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