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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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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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?

 

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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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Shohei Ohtani and five other players with surprising starts

Although he entered the season as the number one prospect in baseball, Los Angeles Angels DH/RHP, Shohei Ohtani, had a very disappointing Spring. The two-way Japanese star not only hit just .125 (4-for-32), but he also struggled on the bump, surrendering eight earned runs, including three home runs, in just 2.2 innings of work.

Fast forward a few weeks, and Ohtani has taken the world by storm. In his first career start on the mound, Ohtani earned his first win, after allowing three runs and striking out six over six innings of work. On Sunday, while most were glued to the TV to watch the ending of the Masters, Ohtani was flirting with a no-hitter into the seventh inning against Oakland. His final line, in seven innings of work, one hit allowed, one walk, zero runs, and a total of 12 strikeouts. He got a ridiculous 25 swings and misses, which is the most by a pitcher at this point in the season.

Shohei Ruth? (Business Insider)

Oh, and, by the way, Ohtani has three home runs and is slashing .389/.421/.889. His three home runs aren’t just brazing over the fence either. They are going an average of 415 feet. Ohtani currently ranks second in the MLB in regards to highest average exit velocity (97.3 MPH), and fourth in highest average four-seam fastball velocity (97.1 MPH). He’s got more home runs this season than Aaron Judge, and more strikeouts than Max Scherzer.

Thought we were done with Ohtani facts? He is also the third player to ever homer in three consecutive games, while also recording a double-digit strikeout game in the same year. The other two were Ken Brett (1973) and some guy named Babe Ruth (1916). The last time a player earned two wins and hit three home runs in his team’s first 10 games, Woodrow Wilson was President of the United States, and the national average price of gasoline was 25 cents per gallon. That’s right, the last person to accomplish this feat was Jim Shaw in 1919.

Obviously, its only April 10, but are you not entertained by this kid’s start? Guys like Freddie Freeman and Bryce Harper are also off to hot starts, but that’s expected. Below, we will take a look at some surprising starts, and predict if these guys will stay hot throughout the season.

Didi Gregorius

Being the guy to replace Derek Jeter at shortstop is no easy task, but Gregorius has excelled since stepping foot in New York. He is coming off back-to-back 20HR-202B seasons and set career-highs in batting average, home runs, RBIs, runs, SLG, OPS, and total bases. This season, Gregorius is leading the league in runs (10), RBIs (10), walks (9), OBP, SLG, and OPS. He has also launched three home runs.

Gregorius’ scorching start may have a little to do with the players around him. He is in a lineup surrounded by Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gary Sanchez to name a few. In the home opener, the “infield captain”, a nicknamed given to Gregorius by manager Aaron Boone, became the first Yankees shortstop to drive in eight runs in one game.

While he most likely won’t finish atop the leaderboards in the statistics above, Gregorius should continue to have a very solid season, possibly his best as a pro. He may not be mentioned with guys like Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, and Francisco Lindor, but Gregorius might have a legitimate argument to be amongst the best after 2018.

Gregory Polanco

In 2016, Polanco had a breakout year. He played in 144 games and hit 22 home runs, 34 doubles, and swiped 17 bases. A year later, Polanco battled injuries last season and missed a good chunk of time. In his 108 games, The Pittsburgh outfielder slashed just .251/.305/.391.

Now healthy, although he was scratched on Saturday because of right foot discomfort, Polanco is hitting .310, with three home runs, eight runs, and an MLB-leading, 13 RBIs. With no McCutchen, Polanco is thriving in the heart of the Pirates order. While the average may dip, as he is a career .253 hitter, Polanco has a chance to hit 20+ bombs, with 100+ RBIs.

Jameson Taillon

Polanco’s teammate, Jameson Taillon, is poised for a big 2018. After fanning nine in his 2018 regular season debut, Taillon, on Sunday against the Reds, threw a complete game shutout with seven strikeouts and just one hit surrendered. He is 2-0 with a 1.26 ERA, and 0.49 WHIP.

Taillon’s story is tremendous. He underwent Tommy John Surgery in 2014, and last season, was forced to have surgery for testicular cancer in May. The second overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft, Taillon is the real deal. He stands tall at 6-5, and has a fastball which hovers around 95. At 26, Taillon looks to be the ace of the Pirates for the next five years.

Matt Chapman

A first-round pick in the 2014 MLB Draft, Chapman had a tough start to his MLB career. In 2017, in 84 games, Oakland’s third basemen hit just .234 with an OBP of .313. However, he finished seventh in defensive WAR, and hit 14 home runs.

Chapman finished seventh in defensive WAR in 2017(ESPN)

Chapman is currently slashing .375/.444/.675 with three home runs, nine runs scored, and eight RBIs. He has always had power, slugging 36 home runs in 135 games between AA/AAA in 2016, and now Chapman looks real comfortable at the plate. This guy has 35+ HR potential in the bigs, and could turn into one of the best third basemen in the AL. Chapman was a first round pick for a reason, and is thriving in the latter half of the order for Oakland.

Charlie Morton

Let’s be honest, Charlie Morton was a bit of a scrub before joining the Astros. Although he had a few decent seasons in Pittsburgh, Morton was converted to a reliever for the Phillies in 2016. Unfortunately, in April 2016, Morton tore his hamstring and missed the rest of the season. Last season, the Astros brought on Morton, at age-33, as a member of the starting rotation.  Morton went on to have his best regular season, posting a 3.62 ERA, and finishing with a record of 14-7.

Over his last five starts, including Game 7 of the ALCS, and two World Series starts, Morton has thrown 28.1 innings, allowing just two runs, seven walks, and striking out 29. In his first two 2018 starts, Morton is 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA. This is a guy, as a 26-year-old, went 2-12 with a 7.57 ERA in 17 starts. Now, a savvy veteran, Morton has found some magic in Houston. Expect the 34-year-old to have another solid season with the Astros.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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NL Central division

New Year’s Resolutions for NL Central teams

2018 is upon us, and that means it is time to look forward to the year ahead. The NL Central division proved to be one of the most lackluster divisions in 2017, with the Cubs not quite hitting their stride until September, and the Cardinals floating around .500.

With that being said, here are New Year’s resolutions for the five teams in the NL Central to make it a more exciting year.

Cincinnati Reds: Get extended work from young starters

The Reds finished in last place with a 68-94 record. That would make you think they are an all around bad team right? Well, not exactly.

The Reds had a pretty good offense. Joey Votto may have won the MVP if the Reds had more wins, and Scooter Gennett had a breakout year at the plate. They ranked 14th in runs and still have the potential to be one of baseball’s better teams.

What the Reds struggled with was pitching. They were second to last in ERA and could not get much of anything from anybody. However, 2018 is the year where many of their young pitchers should be getting a full season worth of work. Their young core is highlighted by Brandon Finnegan, Luis Castillo and Robert Stephenson.

If these three guys can start to put together a full season worth of solid work, the Reds may be closer to competing than most think.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Plan for the future

NL Central division

Andrew McCutchen may be in his final year in Pittsburgh (Photo from Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports).

Andrew McCutchen is entering the final year of his six-year, $51.5 million contract. He finished 2017 with a respectable .279/.363/.486 slash line, along with 28 home runs and 88 RBIs. Those are stats that can help any team in the majors. The reason I say that is because the Pirates ought to seriously consider moving him before he hits free agency next winter.

The Pirates have a couple good players coming up through their system, such as Austin Meadows, who is the the ninth best prospect in baseball according to MLB.com. Josh Bell also had a great rookie year, and Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte add to a solid outfield.

The only problem is that this team does not seem to be getting anywhere. Pittsburgh finished at 75-87 and fourth in the Central. Marte being suspended for half the year may have had something to do with that, but his presence for a full season alone won’t help them compete for the NL Central crown.

There have already been intense discussions about Gerrit Cole moving to New York. The move does not seem as serious as it once did, but just the fact that there are credible talks out there speaks as to what the Pirates think they can accomplish in 2018. With some of the young talent they have, this is a good opportunity for them to build up for 2019-21.

This coming year looks to be more of a year in limbo for Pittsburgh, so it would be best to get what they can for McCutchen and Cole.

St. Louis Cardinals: Add another bat and a reliever before the regular season

NL Central division

The Ozuna trade shows how serious the Cardinals are about winning now (Photo from Walsh Sports Analytics)

The Cardinals have been the center of multiple rumors this offseason. They were able to land Marcell Ozuna from the Marlins for a fairly reasonable price, so they have that to be happy about. They also signed a pitcher from from the NPB not named Shohei Ohtani in Miles Mikolas. Both acquisitions should make an immediate impact on the ball club.

With Trevor Rosenthal released from the team, the Cardinals are in search for a closer. There are still plenty of names available. Alex Colome has been brought up in multiple trade rumors with the Cardinals, and Greg Holland and Wade Davis are still on the market as well. Any of these three guys would bolster the back of a bullpen that does not have a closer at the moment.

St. Louis should also be in search for one more impact bat. Adding Ozuna was nice, but the front office knows that there is more work to be done.

With the outfield in a comfortable position at the moment, the Cardinals ought to be looking for corner infielders. Ideally, they would like to have Matt Carpenter move around the infield and have Jedd Gyorko as a utility man. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are two free agents that come to mind that fit the mold. The only problem is that these two do not provide any extra pop that the Cardinals don’t already have. It would just clutter the infield more.

The Cardinals are still looking for a team to trade with. Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson are both on their radar, but it seems they won’t be traded at least until the All-Star break.

The Cardinals may have to wait until 2018 free agency to add one of these guys, but that should not stop them for looking for a bat this offseason. They are not that far off from competing with the Cubs for the NL Central title in 2018.

Milwaukee Brewers: Build off 2017 success

NL Central division

Travis Shaw was a first time All-Star in 2017 (Photo from Pintrest)

Even though they did not make the playoffs, the Brewers were a pleasant surprise in 2017. Travis Shaw and Eric Thames emerged as above average hitters and made the Brewers a threatening lineup. Jimmy Nelson also broke out as a potential ace in the rotation. They were able to give the Cubs fits and were neck and neck with them until the end.

The organization knows that this is not the time to take any steps back. The Brewers have real potential to make the playoffs, so they are doing what they can to ensure they play at the same type of level they did last year. They have not landed any big name free agents, but the signings of Jhoulys Chacin and Yovani Gallardo show they are serious about improving their rotation and doing what it takes to stay in the thick of things.

Although it is unlikely, signing an arm like Jake Arrieta or Yu Darvsih would be tremendously helpful. The Brewers had the lowest payroll in 2017, so that says a lot about what they were able to accomplish in the NL Central. If they were able to spend a little more money, who knows what they might be able to do.

Chicago Cubs: Stay separated from the rest of the pack

After the Cubs broke their legendary drought in 2016, it looked as if it would be impossible to dethrone the Cubs for the years to come. After 2017, it is evident that is not the case. Kyle Schwarber struggled at the plate greatly and Jason Heyward is not playing up to his contract. Now that Jake Arrieta and Wade Davis have hit free agency, the Cubs look vulnerable.

It is still important to remember the Cubs have the best pieces out of anyone in the Central. There is no reason they can’t make 2018 the fourth consecutive year they make the NLCS. However, the Cardinals look like they have a decent shot at making things more difficult for the Cubs. The Brewers also may be even better next year.

The Cubs have had some solid signings thus far. They signed Tyler Chatwood and Brandon Morrow, who are two excellent pickups for their rotation.

What the Cubs are hoping for is continued growth from the 2016 MVP, Kris Bryant. He still had a great 2017, but he has the potential to be a perennial MVP contender. Along with Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs have a lot of pieces in place for success. They just need to make sure it is enough to fend off the Brewers and Cardinals.

Either way, this should be an exciting year in the Central and could lay ground for what happens in the future as well.

 

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MLB Free Agents

When will the free agent market topple?

The hot stove has been a buzz this offseason. Much of the conversation has centered around trades and international signings. Giancarlo Stanton has moved on to the Yankees, and the young phenom, Shohei Ohtani is an Angel. However, we have yet to see many big names fall off of the free agent board this winter. Why is that?

Patience a free agent’s friend

MLB free agency

Relievers like Brandon Morrow are having a good offseason thus far (Photo from FanRag)

In this day of age, free agents are paid an exuberant amount of money, especially if they are on the right side of 30 and have shown great potential. That is why it is best to wait and see what the market does before signing onto any long-term deals.

This winter has been kind to relievers thus far. Although not a lot of closers have come off the board, middle relief pitchers have been doing quite well. What this means is Wade Davis, the top reliever on the market, is going to be in for a big payday. He should be coming off the board soon as many relievers have been flying off and there are plenty of teams looking for a new closer.

What we have yet to see is many offensive players get signed to new teams. We have seen Giancarlo Stanton, Evan Longoria and Marcell Ozuna move to new ball clubs. However, the only big name hitting free agents to be signed thus far are Zack Cozart and Carlos Santana. Neither of these players signed deals that exceeded four years though, which is what some of the other free agents are looking for.

Has it always been like this?

MLB free agency

Bryce Harper will likely fetch the largest contract in baseball history next winter (Photo courtesy of ESPN)

Mike Axisa of CBS Sports wrote an article back in November about how slow the offseason was pre-thanksgiving. He stated that you are not imagining things, the hot stove is rather cool this year.

Some rumors were that teams were waiting for the Giancarlo Stanton trade to be finalized before any free agent hitters would be signed. Well, Stanton was traded two weeks ago and the winter meetings have come and gone. What is the hold up?

One theory is that next year’s free agent class is having a large influence. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will both be testing free agency, and they could be fetching figures in the $400 million range, so it would make sense that teams are saving up for those kinds of contracts to land a new franchise player.

Harper and Machado aren’t the only big names hitting the market though. Clayton Kershaw has an opt-out clause after 2018. Other big names are hitting the market such as Josh Donaldson, Charlie Blackmon, Andrew McCutchen, Brian Dozier, and A.J. Pollock. Either way though, we should be getting close to some names coming off the board. Then again, who knows anything in this tumultuous offseason.

Who will be the next to come?

Unfortunately, we still may be a ways away from any hitters being swept off the market. As mentioned earlier, Wade Davis should be picked up by someone soon, even though there have not been many rumors surrounding him. Yu Darvish has met with the Cubs and stated that he thought the meeting went well.

Pitchers are the hot commodity at the moment, partially due to the fact that power hitters are a dime a dozen these days. Major league ballplayers hit more home runs last year than any other year in history.

Perhaps teams are not sure how to value someone like J.D. Martinez. Normally, a player who hit 45 home runs and over 100 RBIs with a .300 batting average would be signed by now, at least we should have heard more about him at the winter meetings. However, teams are not sure how much to give the slugger. It has been reported that Martinez is looking for something in the range of seven years, $200 million. He has been linked to Boston, but nothing seems imminent.

We still have a way to go before pitchers and catchers report in February, so there is still plenty of time for the dominoes to fall. Once some teams figure out that they won’t be able to trade for some of the names they would like to, then they will focus their attention onto some of the available free agents.

This free agent class does not offer some of the young superstars like next year’s class will. However, players like J.D. Martinez and Lorenzo Cain both have the ability to make a difference on a contending team. Even with how things have been going, it is difficult to imagine them being available for much longer.

 

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Ohtani

Where will Shohei Ohtani land?

Shohei Ohtani is the king of the offseason at the moment. The MLB has not seen anything like him since Babe Ruth was smacking home runs nearly a century ago. Ohtani has the potential to be a two-way star, so when he was posted, every team in the majors wanted a piece of him. Right away though, Ohtani has slashed the field down to seven teams already. Out of those seven teams, where might he sign?

The only two teams that are deeper into the mainland of the United States who still remain are the Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers. The other five teams are the San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Angels and Los Angeles Dodgers.

Ohtani prefers the west coast

The west coast has a much more prevalent Japanese population compared to elsewhere in the country. On top of that, it would be closest to his homeland. Ohtani has already informed 23 teams that he would not sign with them, and they almost all are outside of the west coast.

You can’t blame Ohtani for picking the California teams as well as Seattle, as he still wants to remain close to his roots and there is nothing wrong with that. The 23-year-old has the freedom to choose whatever team he wants as he is the hottest commodity this offseason. Many people thought that his preference would have to do with money or a DH, but it always came down to geography for him.

Which teams fit?

Shohei Ohtani

Dipoto and the Mariners have been working on their pitch for Ohtani all year long (Photo Courtesy of NW Sports Beat)

The DH position may be more in Ohtani’s scope now that he has narrowed down the west coast. Money is not a huge factor at this point though. Due to rules on rookie contracts, there is only so much money he can make at first. That is, he will make the maximum salary for a rookie the first three years before he is available for arbitration.

It has also been reported by the New York Times that Ohtani prefers a smaller market. Considering Los Angeles does not fit that bill, it will be unlikely he goes to the Angels or Dodgers even though he is expected to meet with both teams.

Although it has not been reported how big of a factor the DH is, it would not be wild to assume that an American League team would make much more sense for the Japanese star. That would knock out the Padres, Cubs and Giants from the Ohtani sweepstakes. The Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers would the remaining candidates.

The Mariners have a history of Japanese ballplayers playing for them. Most notably, one of the all-time baseball greats, Ichiro Suzuki. Ichiro built up a real reputation for players across the pond, as if you were to combine his NPB and MLB hits, he would have the most in baseball history. Along with that, the Mariners fit the bill for being on the West Coast, more so than the Texas Rangers.

That is why the Mariners are the most likely destination for Ohtani. Seattle is not far off from being a contending team, so a spark from Ohtani could boost them into the playoffs.

How will Ohtani translate to the MLB?

Shohei Ohtani

MLB teams will try to figure a way to get Ohtani’s bat into the lineup (Photo courtesy of Kazuhiro Nogi–Getty Images)

There doesn’t seem to be much of a question that Ohtani’s pitching will translate to the United States. He has an impressive strikeout to walk ratio and has a career 2.52 ERA in his five seasons in the NPB.

Some wonder if his hitting will be at the same level in the major leagues. He has been able to hit over .300 the past two seasons, and has shown signs of power as well. It would be hard to believe him not getting steady opportunities throughout 2018 to prove his ability at the plate.

The one thing that Ohtani is not custom to is the grueling process of a 162-game season. Also, the month of spring training along with a month long playoff can be very physically demanding. Former NFL and MLB athlete, Brian Jordan, stated that playing a 162-game baseball season is one of the toughest things to do in sports.

Ohtani has not come too close to that mark, however he may not when he is playing in the majors anyway. In order to ensure he is an effective pitcher and hitter, it will be imperative that the coaching staff is able to manage his fatigue well in order to get maximum effectiveness from the star.

Overall, Ohtani could prove to be one of the best players that has come from Japan. Only time will tell if he will be able to make the jump to the majors, but signing with Seattle could give him the opportunity to showcase everything he has in a place he would be happy to be.

 

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