MLB Mock Draft 1.0

The 2017 MLB Draft is just weeks away, which means this is just one of thousands of mock drafts that will be released all over the internet in the coming weeks. Things seems to be settling down in regards to the top of the draft board but there is still a ton of uncertainty all across the draft board, which is typical at this point in the year. Here are my projected picks for the 2017 MLB Draft as of now.

1. Minnesota Twins: Brendon McKay LHP/1B, Louisville

The Twins have gone back and forth on a set of players, namely prep pitcher/shortstop Hunter Greene, Vanderbilt right hander Kyle Wright and Brendon McKay from Louisville. While many might see McKay as a hitter, his real future in the major leagues likely comes on the mound, where he features a solid 89-94 mph fastball, a plus curveball, a developing change up and plus command. He doesn’t feature Greene’s upside but he has a higher floor, likely profiling as a very reliable #3 starter.

2. Cincinnati Reds: Hunter Greene SS/RHP, Notre Dame High School(CA)

With McKay gone, the Reds would pounce on Hunter Greene, both players which the Reds would like to take. Like McKay, Greene’s future lies on the mound where he features a plus-plus 95-102 mph fastball, above average mid-high 80’s slider and athleticism that many scouts search for in pitchers now. Greene has some of the most electric stuff of any pitcher in the last few years and if he can develop his change up to be an average or better pitch, he could be a very special talent.

3. San Diego Padres: Royce Lewis SS/OF, JSerra High School(CA)

Lewis represents an obvious fit for the Padres, being a local SoCal product. Lewis likely transitions to center field at the next level but it won’t matter much. Lewis features a beautiful swing with good raw power, runs well and has the instincts to be a solid defender in the outfield. With makeup reviews off the charts, it’s hard to envision this type of talent falling outside of the top 5 picks.

4. Tampa Bay Rays: Kyle Wright RHP, Vanderbilt

Kyle Wright may be the best pick for high upside and moderate risk in this draft. Tampa Bay likely goes best available player and Wright makes perfect sense here for a team that excels at developing pitching. Wright has 4 average or better pitches along with the ability to command those pitches. This will add to an already impressive group of pitchers the Rays have at the MLB and minor league level.

5. Atlanta Braves: Austin Beck OF, North Davidson High School(NC)

The Braves could very well go prep pitcher here but Beck has been talked about going this high and Atlanta likes the toolsy and raw outfielder. Beck has the best bat speed in the class along with natural raw power but offers some uncertainty in other areas to make him going top 5 a bit of a reach. That won’t stop the Braves, who love his raw athletic ability, power potential and his demeanor on the field.

6. Oakland Athletics: J.B. Bukauskas RHP, North Carolina

Oakland loves themselves some college players and Bukauskas fits the mold. Proven college performer? Check. Undersized? Check. Much like A’s ace Sonny Gray, Bukauskas is undersized but it doesn’t show when he’s on the mound. He throws firm 93-97 mph fastballs along with a bat missing slider, although he lacks the change up that scouts want to see and many are turned off by his violent delivery. This won’t faze the A’s, who make too much sense for this type of pitcher.

7. Arizona Diamondbacks: MacKenzie Gore LHP, Whiteville High School(NC)

Every draft year, a player unexpectedly falls and in 2017, MacKenzie Gore will be that player. Gore is a monstrous talent, throwing plus fastballs and curveballs from a lean and tall left handed frame. Add in an average change up and slider along with his projectable body and there’s potential for a frontline starter. The Braves and Padres are possible landing spots for Gore as well but the Diamondbacks will reap the benefits here by adding their new number 1 prospect.

8. Philadelphia Phillies: Pavin Smith, 1B Virginia

Smith may be the most polished bat in this class, not unlike his teammate from 2016, Matt Thaiss, who was selected 16th overall by the Angels last year. Smith has an advanced approach, a good hit tool and will be a decent defender at first base. His average-ish in game power is holding back his potential but his high floor and approach means he could be up as quickly as 2019, when the Phillies may be good once again.

9. Milwaukee Brewers: Jordon Adell OF, Ballard High School(Louisville)

Jordon Adell would be the latest addition to an organization full of toolsy outfielders(Keon Broxton, Lewis Brinson, Brett Phillips). Adell has a ferocious swing and plus power that many scouts dream on but there is a lot of risk, namely a very mature current body and swing and miss issues. This is the type of high risk/high reward pick the Brewers have never been shy to make and if they hit on Adell, they have the makings of a future superstar.

10. Los Angeles Angels: RHP Alex Faedo, Florida

This is the type of value pick Billy Eppler and company are likely seeking at the 10th spot. Faedo was a consensus top 5 pick before the 2017 season but a slight regression with his stuff has bumped him back a bit but there are the makings of a mid rotation starter here. Faedo has a plus fastball and slider, relying on those 2 pitches heavily, and has the makings of an average change up and potential above average command. Many believe the Angels will take the best available player at 10 and Faedo very well may be that player.

11. Chicago White Sox: Nick Pratto 1B, Huntington Beach HS(CA)

There isn’t much certainty surrounding what the White Sox may do at #11, which means a variety of different players may be selected here. With a heavy rebuild coming for the White Sox, that may mean selecting someone who can grow into a star 4-5 years down the road. Pratto is a gifted defensive first baseman who is one of the best hitters in the class, even with his down spring in consideration. The White Sox could go a number of ways here but Pratto has a high ceiling and high enough floor that he makes sense here.

12. Pittsburgh Pirates: Jeren Kendall OF, Vanderbilt

The Pirates are always about their value picks and selecting high upside, whether that’s on the mound or in the field. Kendall is a very logical pick here, especially given the success of outfielders the Pirates have brought into the organization(Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco, Austin Meadows). Kendall has swing and miss issues that worry scouts but he’s a plus defensive center fielder who can really run and has 15-20 home run potential. This is the type of pick that either looks fantastic down the road or looks like a dud.

13. Miami Marlins: Shane Baz RHP, Concordia HS(TX)

Baz has flown up draft boards after putting in a monster spring and has made an argument to be called the best prep pitcher in this draft. The Marlins have never been shy to go for upside early on in drafts and Baz has the type of body, pitch repertoire and potential to be a very solid pick at 13. He may very well go top 10 but if not, the Marlins make a ton of sense.

14. Kansas City Royals: D.L. Hall LHP, Valdosta HS(GA)

Hall is a high upside lefty with a plus fastball/curveball combination that would add to a depleted Royals system. While there are worries about his command and lack of a 3rd pitch, he has good arm action and enough athletic ability to overcome these issues and could be a #4 starter down the road.

15. Houston Astros: Keston Hiura 2B/DH, UC Irvine

The Astros are somewhat benefitting with a down 2016 season as they’re in a perfect position to grab a big talent in the middle of the first round. With a current organization that looks downright terrifying(in a good way), the Astros can grab arguably the best hitter in the class with Hiura. While he may have Tommy John surgery to repair his injured elbow, he is the type of guy who can fly through the minor league system once he’s healthy and may stick in a corner outfield spot.

16. New York Yankees: Griffin Canning RHP, UCLA

The Yankees organization has had the biggest transformation by far in the last calendar year. After a huge 2016 trade deadline that netted them prospects galore, they have started red hot in 2017 and now have the benefit to draft in the middle of the first round. The club selected a UCLA arm in James Kaprelian in the 2015 and they may go for another UCLA arm in Canning. While he doesn’t have the same upside as Kaprelian, Canning has a solid 4 pitch mix and solid control, which leads many to think he can stick as an innings eating #4 arm.

17. Seattle Mariners: David Peterson LHP, Oregon

A quick rising pitcher among draft leader boards, Peterson makes too much sense value wise and geographically for the Mariners at 17. With a solid fastball/slider mix and big frame, he can eat innings at the end of the rotation and may be able to do it quicker than most in this draft class. General manager Jerry Dipoto generally targets higher floor players in the first round but Peterson may be more than that.

18. Detroit Tigers: Sam Carlson RHP, Burnsville HS(MN)

Carlson would be the first Minnesota prep arm selected in the 1st round and for good reason. Carlson’s stuff has ticked up this year, which has in turn led to 3 above average pitches that he can command. The lack of track record worries some scouts but the Tigers have been known to take risks and this might be a wise one at #18.

19. San Francisco Giants: Adam Haseley OF, Virginia

Haseley has leapt up draft boards after a big spring and is viewed by some as the best college outfielder. Haseley will likely be a plus contact hitter at the next level and play above average defense in left or right field, giving him a solid floor. His issues are the lack of standout tools, including limited in game power. The Giants have scored on taking high floor players such as Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford and Joe Panik and Haseley could end up fitting that mold, that is if he falls this far.

20. New York Mets: Trevor Rogers LHP, Carlsbad HS(NM)

There are many mocks out there that believe Rogers could sneak his way into the top 10 but there are likely too many talented pitchers ahead of him to make that happen. That’s no knock on him. Rogers is a 6’6″ lefty who throws a deceptive 89-93 mph fastball with 2 secondaries that could be average in the future. His frame and potential for growth are reasons why he could go higher than this but if he doesn’t, the Mets would likely want to take a chance on him.

21. Baltimore Orioles: Bubba Thompson OF, McGill-Toolin Catholic High School(AL)

Thompson seems like the kind of player who will fall in the later round of the first round but should be selected higher. While he’s a bit raw as a toolsy 2 sport high school outfielder, he profiles as an above average defender with plus speed and some feel for barreling up baseballs. The Orioles farm system has been lacking in recent years and Thompson would be the exact type of high upside selection they need in the system.

22. Toronto Blue Jays: Nate Pearson RHP, Central Florida JC

This is the first somewhat controversial pick as Pearson has injury history, lack of secondary pitches and some scouts projecting him for a relief role. With that said, Pearson is a 6’6″ right hander who sits 92-95 mph with his fastball and pounds the strike zone. There’s obvious risk with in this package but with Toronto picking later in the first round, Pearson is the type of pitcher they can take a risk on.

23. Los Angeles Dodgers: Logan Warmoth SS, North Carolina

Warmoth isn’t a prototypical 1st round Dodgers pick but he makes plenty of sense at #22. Warmoth may move to 2nd base but even if he does, he’ll provide solid contact skills with a good eye at the plate and a little bit of pop. He’s likely a quick riser in the system and can be one of the quickest in this draft class to reach the majors.

24. Boston Red Sox: Heliot Ramos OF, Leadership Christian Academy, Puerto Rico

The Red Sox are always big on upside and international talent so they acquire both with the same draft pick. Ramos is extremely toolsy with plus raw power and speed but he’s flawed in other areas of his game. Dave Dombrowski, President of Baseball Operations, tends to lean towards upside picks and Ramos represents one of the highest upside players in this draft class, albeit with a lot of risk.

25. Washington Nationals: Luke Heimlich LHP, Oregon State

A monster spring for Heimlich and his Oregon State squad has boosted him into first round consideration. While his upside is lower than some listed around him, he’s a polished pitcher with a low 90’s fastball with the ability to command that pitch and his other secondary pitches. For a team looking to draft a high floor pitcher with the chance to move quickly through your system, Heimlich is your guy.

26. Texas Rangers: Jake Burger 3B, Missouri State

Burger has some of the best raw power in this draft class, power he has been able to translate into in game power. He could stick at 3rd base but there’s a good chance he moves over to first base. Burger is a bit of a polarizing player who some scouts see as an everyday third baseman with power while others see a 1st baseman who may struggle to be more than a platoon bat at the next level. He’s likely a first rounder but there’s an outside chance he slides into the next round.

27. Chicago Cubs: Nick Allen SS, Francis Parker HS(CA)

Like Burger, Allen is a polarizing player but it’s due to his small figure, being listed at 5’8″. Allen is a fantastic defensive shortstop with above average contact abilities and he has off the charts makeup. He won’t hit more than 5-8 home runs annually at the next level and some scouts think his size makes him a long shot to be an everyday starter but there are the makings of a solid utility player at the very least. The Cubs might look past his size and draft a potential everyday shortstop.

28. Toronto Blue Jays: Drew Waters OF, Etowah High School(GA)

Waters looks like one of those players who doesn’t excel at one thing but does a solid-average job of most aspects of baseball. Waters may stick in center field, runs well and has some potential to hit for average and some power. A switch hitter, he features more power from the left side but more swing and miss, while he’ll make more contact from the right side. The Jays pick once again and land a potential everyday center fielder.

29. Texas Rangers: Matt Sauer RHP Ernest Righetti High School(CA)

One of the best arms in this class, Sauer has some serious upside with frontline stuff. Coming from a 6’4″ frame, Sauer sits 91-94 mph on his fastball and touches 96-97 while throwing sharp, bat missing sliders. He falls this far because many scouts think he has a bullpen profile with poor arm action and a change up that isn’t existent so far. If a team thinks he can stick as a starter, he may go higher than this.

30. Chicago Cubs: Tanner Houck RHP, Missouri

There is a lot of debate about what Houck is at the next level. Some nights, he’s throwing 92-96 mph sinking fastballs with the ability to command it along with his secondaries. Other nights, Houck shows fringe secondary pitches and is basically a one pitch guy, leading many to think he’s a reliever. The Cubs have done well with pitchers with good stuff but poor command and Houck has to be awfully tempting at the end of the first round.

Competitive Balance Round A

31. Tampa Bay Rays: Alex Lange RHP, LSU

You’re seeing a trend now with the big stuff pitchers with relief potential being selected. Lange was once a consensus top 10 pick but is believed to be slipping down draft boards as the draft gets closer. Lange has a power 92-96 mph fastball with a hammer curve ball that misses bats and has a big frame to maintain his stuff late into games. Lange’s issues are a high effort delivery and command issues that lead many to think he’s a reliever. The Rays are probably jumping at the opportunity to grab 2 college starters with good stuff in Kyle Wright and Alex Lange with their first 2 picks.

32. Cincinnati Reds: Blaine Enlow RHP, Saint Amont HS(LA)

After selecting the highest upside arm in Hunter Greene, the Reds would be thrilled to grab Enlow, who has serious upside but needs to fill into his frame more. Enlow owns one of the best breaking balls in this class, a filthy over the top curveball, and throws in the 88-93 mph range. A slight velocity drop this spring has him dropping a bit but with an uptick in velocity, he quickly has 2 plus pitches along with strike throwing ability.

33. Oakland Athletics: Evan White 1B, Kentucky

White may be a perfect fit for the A’s, who love their college players and especially those that are a bit quirky. White is a phenomenal defensive 1st baseman who doesn’t have a ton of power, especially for his position. A rare right handed batting-left handed throwing player, White’s profile is tough to predict going forward but there’s enough here to get him picked near the first round.

34. Milwaukee Brewers: Brian Miller OF, North Carolina

Miller is quite a bit different than the Brewers first round pick, Jordon Adell, but he makes sense as a safer pick at 35. Miller should stick in center field thanks to his good speed, he has a good eye at the plate and is a smart baseball player. His ceiling is limited but he offers the high floor teams covet after selecting high risk players.

35. Minnesota Twins: Hans Crouse RHP, Dana Hills HS(CA)

Crouse is one of the most fun players in the draft thanks to his quirky delivery and fiery persona. The So Cal right hander has an electric 92-96 mph fastball that misses plenty of bats but there is worry about his high effort delivery and curveball that is about an average pitch at present. The Twins can afford to mess around a bit in this area with another pick 2 picks later and Crouse has loads of potential that the Twins would love to take a chance on.

36. Miami Marlins: Seth Romero LHP, Houston

On talent alone, Romero is a top 10 player in this draft but his character issues got him booted off the University of Houston squad. Romero has a plus 92-95 mph fastball and sharp low-mid 80’s slider along with a solid change up, all 3 of which pitches he shows he can command. Draft day will be interesting for Romero in a somewhat weaker depth class and the Marlins might have no problem taking the talented, albeit controversial, left hander.

 

Angels Week 2 Recap

Tuesday 4/11: W 6-5 vs Texas

An almost unprecedented event, the Angels stormed back to win after trailing by 5 runs after 7 innings and trailing 5-2 entering the 9th inning. After pulling off a remarkable 7 run 9th inning to win vs Seattle on Sunday afternoon, the Angels came back to win another thriller on Tuesday. The Angels became the 1st team since the 1971 Detroit Tigers to win consecutive games after trailing 3+ runs entering the 9th inning. They also pulled off back to back wins after trailing by 5+ runs for the first time in team history(both tidbits courtesy of the wonderful Matt Birch). Sam Dyson tried closing the game down in the 9th inning but was rudely welcomed by a solo home run by Danny Espinosa. Mike Trout doubled home a run with 2 strikes and 2 outs and Albert Pujols played the hero role again, delivering a RBI single to tie the game up, sending Angel Stadium into a frenzy. Mike Trout robbed a would be Mike Napoli home run in the top of the 10th inning and Carlos Perez laid down a perfect squeeze bunt in the bottom of the inning, scoring Cameron Maybin and sealing another remarkable victory.

Wednesday 4/12: L 8-3 vs Texas

The Angels shockingly trailed by 5 runs entering the 9th inning and didn’t win the baseball game. Jesse Chavez labored through 4 1/3 innings and was undone by a 3 run 5th inning that brought his total line to 5 runs, 3 strikeouts, 2 walks and 2 home runs. Both of those home runs occurred in the 2nd inning, when Mike Napoli hit a 411 foot home run and Elvis Andrus pulverized a 436 foot home run to make it 2-0. The Angels struck back quickly to tie it up with back to back sacrifice flies, however. The Rangers big 5th inning started with a 2 run triple from Joey Gallo and Jurickson Profar’s RBI single gave the Rangers all the runs they needed to pull off the win in Anaheim Wednesday night. A.J. Griffin pitched 6 useful innings for the Rangers, allowing 4 hits and 3 runs in 6 innings while striking 4 strikeouts and 1 walk, utilizing his fastball inside on hitter and using the big curveball for swing and misses. The Rangers bullpen tossed 3 scoreless innings, striking out Angels hitters.

Thursday 4/13: L 8-3 vs Texas

Two games in a row: same result. The Angels were undone once again by a poor starting pitching performance, this time by Ricky Nolasco, who pitched 5 innings and allowed 5 runs on 8 hits. His 7 strikeouts and 0 walks look good until you realize that Nolasco has a history of posting very nice peripherals without the sparkly ERA to match it. The Rangers offense was barreling up baseballs with ease on Thursday, evidenced early by the leadoff 412 foot 97 mph lead off blast by Carlos Gomez. Nomar Mazara later drilled a 106 mph blast that landed 410 feet away in the right field pavilion, extending the lead to 5-0 and giving the Rangers all the runs they needed. Daniel Wright, who was called up the previous game, struggled in 4 innings of work, striking out zero Rangers hitters and allowing 3 hits and 3 runs. He was immediately sent down following the game, showing Wright was likely called up to give length for one period during a blowout game. Mike Trout singled twice and walked and Danny Espinosa’s 102 mph blast in the 9th inning traveled 410 feet and drove in all 3 runs that the Angels had on the day.

Friday 4/14: L 7-1 @ Kansas City

The Angels had a rough start to the beginning of their road trip, losing 7-1 and continuing their 3 game slide after winning 4 games in a row. J.C. Ramirez made his 1st career start in place for what would’ve been Garrett Richards and Ramirez struggled, which shouldn’t have came as a surprise. As a long reliever, Ramirez has shown the ability to get 6-8 batters out but nothing in his track record has screamed “starter” and he labored through 5 innings. Ramirez allowed 5 runs on 4 hits and walked 2 while only striking out 3 batters. The big damage against him came in the 1st inning when Mike Moustakas drilled a 425 foot 2 run home run and the Royals kept that lead the rest of the game. Mike Trout singled home a run in the 1st for the only Angels run and the offense only had 7 runners, including 4 singles and 3 walks. Danny Duffy completely stifled the Angels offense, allowing 1 run on 3 hits in his 7 innings of work, striking out 6 batters and walking 2.

Saturday 4/15: L 3-2 @ Kansas City

The Angels finally received a good performance from their starting pitcher on Saturday night, seeing Matt Shoemaker toss 5.1 innings of ball and striking out 7 batters wand walking 2. He allowed 5 hits and 2 runs, a good standard for Angels starters so far this season. After a 31 pitch 1st inning, things didn’t look good for Shoemaker but he battled and was able to post a solid line. The offense, however, was stifled by the Royals pitching as they were held out of the extra base department for the 2nd straight game and only saw 3 Angels regulars reach base twice. Ben Revere had 2 singles, Mike Trout singled and walked twice and Cameron Maybin singled and walked. It was a tough night for the Angels bats again as Nate Karns, Mike Minor, Joakim Soria and Kelvin Herrera held the Angels to 6 measly singles and struck out 8 batters, although they walked 5 on the night.

Sunday 4/16: L 1-0 @ Kansas City

If Matt Shoemaker’s start was considered a success Saturday, Tyler Skaggs’ encore Sunday had to deemed a masterpiece. In 7 innings of work, Skaggs absolutely crushed the Royals lineup, spinning quality curveballs and a 90-94 mph fastball en route to a scoreless outing. Skaggs punched out 9 Royals, only walked 2 and didn’t allow any extra base hits. Unfortunately, the Angels bats were completely quiet the whole game, continuing their weekend long trend of doing zero damage. C.J. Cron doubled early on for the 1st Angels extra base hit but the only other hit came from Cliff Pennington and the only other baserunners were Yunel Escobar and Albert Pujols, who both walked. Alcides Escobar’s walk off single in the 9th inning was the only run scoring action of the game, breaking a 0-0 tie as the Angels bullpen couldn’t extend the game. Ian Kennedy, like Tyler Skaggs, shoved on Sunday, striking out 10 Angels hitters.

Week Notes

Runs Scored: 15

Runs Against: 32

LVP: Yunel Escobar

After a strong 1st week, Escobar had a combined 4 hits and 2 walks in 7 games, with 3 of those hits and 1 walk coming in Tuesday’s game. When Escobar isn’t hitting or taking his walks, he’s near worthless like he was this past week.

The growing dilemma of underpaying young players

Ask any baseball fan or analyst about the one thing that sticks out about baseball in the year 2017. Some will immediately jump to the soaring strikeout rates and velocity epidemic. Others will point to the absurd amount of home runs being hit. Many, however, will point out the abundance of young players who are dominating the game like the sport has never seen. Young players like Mike Trout, Kris Bryant, Bryce Harper and Mookie Betts are not just young players with potential but they are the best in the game. Every generation has good young players but has there ever been a generation run by the young players? Unlikely. This begs the question: why is it that these young players are being paid significantly less than they should be getting paid?

Young players have always been underpaid relative to their performance, even before this upbringing of young talent. But now that we have a trend of players being called up and being better than ever, this issue looks even worse right now. The salary and club control systems are pretty straight forward. When a player is called up to the majors, he will be under club control for 6 years, sometimes 7 years if he qualifies as a Super 2 player, such as Kris Bryant. Super 2 players generally qualify for a 7th year of club control if you just call them up shortly after a season begins, rather than start them on the Opening Day roster, which the Cubs controversially did before the 2015 season. For the 1st 3 years of a player’s career, the team can pay that player the league minimum each year, which hovers around 500,000 dollars these days. The club can give a raise to these players but they have no incentive to do so, unless they want to reward a young player after a big season. From years 4-6, or 4-7 for a Super 2 player, the team and player go through the arbitration system, where both sides have to determine what a player is worth. Generally, both sides are able to agree on the set number but occasionally the 2 sides can’t agree to a number, which sends the 2 sides and the case to an official arbitrator panel, who decide which side wins the case. In year 1 of arbitration, most players will start in the 800,000-3 million dollar range, obviously dependent on how good the player is. After that, there is a 50-75% increase in the years following that if the player shows progress. Bryce Harper, a Super 2 qualifier, made 2.5 million dollars in his first year of arbitration in 2015, 5 million dollars in his second year and 13.625 million dollars in year 3. He will most likely break David Price’s arbitration record of 19.75 million dollars set in 2015, possibly going into the 22-24 million dollar range.

In real world terms, this type of money sounds perfectly fitting for a baseball player. In baseball terms, 22-24 million dollars pays for good players with a track record. Bryce Harper, however, has a generational type skill set and is being paid well below market value for a player of his caliber. As of right now, Bryce Harper has accumulated 23.4 WAR(Wins Above Replacement) in his big league career. Including his signing bonus, Harper has 30,525,000 dollars, which in baseball terms is not very much. The value of of 1 WAR on the open market, based on the 2017 offseason, is worth about 8 million dollars. If you include inflation from year to year, that number was lower when Bryce Harper first appeared in the majors. Let’s assume during Harper’s time in the big leagues, 1 WAR on the open market has been around 7 million dollars. Multiply 23.4 WAR by 7 million dollars and you come to a whopping 163.8 million dollars. He has been paid 133,275,000 dollars less than that. This is not a sob story to proclaim Bryce as a poor man, as he will make at least 300 million more dollars when he hits free agency after the 2018 season, but rather pointing out how the current MLB system doesn’t reward its’ young players based on production. Bryce is not alone here.

Kevin Kiermaier, the league’s premier defensive outfielder who also happens to be a league average hitter and good baserunner, recently signed away the remaining arbitration years, 2 free agent years and another potential free agent year by signing a 7 year 53.5 million dollar deal with a 13 million dollar option in 2023. Kiermaier was worth 13.4 WAR in his 1st 3 big league seasons, being paid the league minimum while doing so. If we assume Kiermaier is roughly a 4 WAR player for the next 4 years, then a 3 WAR player for the remaining 4 years of his contract, he will rack up 41.4 WAR in his 1st 10 years in the majors while making approximately 68 million dollars. Multiply the 41.4 WAR by approximately 8 million dollars, the open market value for 1 WAR, and you have 331.2 million dollars. Kiermaier, a young player who is also hurt by being a strong defensive player, players who are generally underrated in arbitration and free agent contracts, sold himself short potentially by hundreds of millions of dollars.

The list doesn’t end there. Paul Goldschmidt, Andrew McCutchen, Chris Sale, Jose Quintana Corey Kluber, Jason Kipnin, Michael Brantley, Ender Inciarte, Odubel Herrera, Chris Archer, Salvador Perez, Matt Moore, Carlos Martinez, Brandon Crawford and Brian Dozier are some examples of players who signed crazy cheap deals early on in their careers. Some of the best and most talented players in baseball, guys who can help win championships, are signing deals well before they reach free agency because they know the current system screws them.

To make it clear, there isn’t anything wrong with young players coming up and not being paid well right away. Earning your paycheck is not limited to jobs outside of the sports industry. However, if a player shows he is indeed elite, or even good, after 2 years in the majors, why is he not being paid appropriately? Does it seem appropriate to pay less money to the young talented players, the ones running the show, rather than an older, aging veteran on the open market? Older players who have proven themselves in the majors and reach free agency deserve to be paid well and appropriately. But young players, in this current system, are getting the short end of the stick.

To find a solution to this problem, you don’t have to look around too far by just looking at how the National Football League system is set up. The NFL is doing a lot of things poorly right now but their current set up for handling young players and their proximity to free agency would be an interesting set up for Major League baseball. I’m looking at changing the years of club control from 6-7 years to 3-4 years, or 4-5 years, like the current set up in football. For the first 2 years, you can pay the player whatever it is that you deem he deserves. After year 3, however, the team has to decide to either keep the player, at a higher price, or you risk losing that said player to another team that may want to sign him and give something back in return(compensation picks or draft picks after the 1st round perhaps). Basically, it’s just like a restricted free agent. After year 4, a player becomes an unrestricted free agent, free to sign with any team he wishes to. This is where draft pick compensation would come into play, like the way it is now, and the system can determine which players are worth picks and which ones aren’t. In this set up, you create a very quick and easy way to start paying young players their appropriate worth.

There’s a clear and obvious counterargument to this ever happening: Owners of MLB teams would have a fit, as they would be losing players prematurely and end up having to dish out more money earlier for players. However, it seems fairly logical to assume that if more young players hit free agency earlier, they’d be more attractive players than the usual aging 29-30 year old that hits free agency. To put this into perspective, if you have more Mike Trouts and Bryce Harpers, or even lesser players such as Gregory Polanco or Joc Pederson, reaching free agency at age 24 or 25, you’re creating a frenzy in the open market for these players, raising prices for the young and productive players to higher levels. At that same time, players like Alex Gordon, David Price or Yoenis Cespedes, quality players who are also entering their so called decline, are deemed as less attractive players. Instead of paying older players far too much money and handicapping teams with albatross contracts, more resources are being poured into the young players and less towards the old players, which seems like a fair system. This proposal increase salaries in baseball, without a doubt, and that is a more than fair proposition. Fans of baseball have a weird obsession by claiming the players they support make too much money but baseball is a filthy rich business, that is only being made richer by the addition of MLB Advanced Media.

Another counterargument to this set up is the rich teams would benefit while the poor, small market teams would be in trouble. Truthfully, some of these small market teams, such as the Oakland Athletics and the Kansas City Royals, will claim they can’t compete with these bigger market teams, which is somewhat true. It’s true they can’t hand out mega deals to every star player like the Yankees or Red Sox can but these small market teams generally have enough money to be able to spend on players. They just choose not to. Again, with the addition of MLBAM, there is a lot of revenue sharing going on that is benefitting all the teams, not just the big market teams, so every organization has the financial resources to be able to compete in this new system. These teams also still have the option to extend players early in their careers, such as the A’s extending Sonny Gray and the Royals extending Eric Hosmer. They just have to be willing to dish out a little more money and also get creative with how they do this. There might be a small benefit to big market teams and a negative repercussion for small market teams, only if those small market teams are unwilling to spend the available money that they have.

Going back to the NFL set up, the sport could possibly benefit from handing out non-guaranteed contracts, another fix that would limit how much older players, and even the younger ones, would be making. In the non-guaranteed contract system, players receive a “guaranteed” amount of money in their contract but have to earn the whole paycheck if they want it, a very simple and basic philosophy in life. For example, Manny Machado reaches free agency at the age of 26 and signs a 8 year 300 million dollar deal with the New York Yankees, with only 180 million dollars guaranteed. In this set up, Machado receives a huge guaranteed total but to earn his paycheck, he needs to provide his worth through the duration of the deal. If Machado earns his worth and makes more money based on incentives, it works out for him and the team. If it doesn’t work out, the Yankees probably come out a bit short on what Machado provided or he provides enough value to make the deal look fair, and Machado still makes a lot of money in the process. The MLB Players Association(MLBPA), headed by former big leaguer Tony Clark, would not be on board with this, since players aren’t being paid appropriately enough as is. But if you implement the new system to get players to free agency earlier, you’re opening up quicker chances to earn big paydays. You just have to earn those paychecks. Implementing both of these systems allows owners to be able to hand out big deals but not be totally handicapped by a bad player who is a being paid twice as much as he is worth for the back end of the contract(Albert Pujols, Zack Greinke). At the same time, the owners have to start paying young players quicker and learn how to construct the roster in a different manner. There’d be an adjustment period but changing the club control, salary system and the free agent set up could be a healthy change for baseball.

Another interesting aspect of this young generation is how we view a player’s prime window. The old adage in baseball is that players are in their “prime years” from ages 27-29. This current influx of young players, however, is showing that young players are running this game and may be doing it for the foreseeable future. Baseball players of this generation have been introduced to year round baseball, new workout regimes and healthier diets, leading to young players being good or great right off the bat. The new “prime years” may start to be ages 24-26, the same time when these players are being paid well below their worth. Instead of paying top shelf dollars for older players in their decline years, why wouldn’t teams allocate their funds to the young players smack in the middle of their prime?

By Wins Above Replacement, 8 of the top 10 position players last season were under the age of 30, including the top 3 players. Mike Trout was #1 playing in his age 25 season. Kris Bryant followed him in his age 24 season. Mookie Betts followed Bryant, playing in his age 23 season. For pitchers, 6 of the top 10 pitchers were under the age of 30, including the top 2 pitchers being 24 years old(Noah Syndergaard and the late Jose Fernandez). 12 of the top 12 pitchers were under the age of 30, too. Again, why does it seem fair to pay more money for aging veterans when the numbers show the young players are producing much of the value?

As more and more young players are signing deals early in their career, it becomes more painfully obvious that these players are selling themselves short, a result of an outdated salary system. With the young talent ruling the game, it seems inevitable that the sport will reach a tipping point at some point in the next decade. Or maybe we don’t reach that tipping point and simply see more players just decide to not sign contracts early, taking the risk by going year to year and striking gold in free agency. Carlos Correa recently came out to say he won’t sign an early career extension. He might not be the only star player, or even good young player to do this, going forward. If more young players, such as Francisco Lindor, Mookie Betts, Kris Bryant and Corey Seager, decide to go year to year, not sign early extensions and get filthy rich in free agency, it will create an interesting dilemma. Instead of just having the usual free agents above the age of 30, you’ll add a superstar or 2 here and there. That doesn’t affect the free agent spending much for the older veterans, however. If only a few young players are reaching free agency, only a few suitors are signing these players, leaving the rest of 28 teams to spend on aging veterans. If you change the current club control system, however, and have 5-6 young players reach free agency, then the need for the older players dissipates, leaving less teams battle it out for the 30+ year olds. This means less interest and less interest means less money being thrown out to the aging players, which pushes the league closer to appropriately paying the young players more money while paying older players less. Pretty simple concept, huh?

The recent Collective Bargaining Agreement(CBA) was agreed upon this past offseason so it’s unlikely that anything will change in the next few years. When the next CBA comes around, baseball could be presented with an interesting issue. More and more money will be poured into the game of baseball, more older veterans will be getting paid around their market price and the young talented players may still be getting screwed. If less young players stop signing these early career extensions, the future offseasons in free agency will get very interesting. We don’t have to look too far to a fascinating and fun offseason, the one following the 2018 season when young players such as Manny Machado and Bryce Harper hit free agency along with older stars such as Josh Donaldson. Baseball right now is doing phenomenally well and doesn’t have a ton to fix but that doesn’t mean it is a perfect sport. One of the glaring issues with the current game right now is underpaying its’ young players, the very ones driving baseball to success. It’s only a matter of time until there are tweaks made to the system.

Welcome to the Fly Ball Revolution

Hitters have been told for years and decades one thing: Don’t try hitting fly balls. Hitting a hard line drive or a ground ball right back up the middle is considered a success, said hitting coaches and people around baseball. It might be time to start reconsidering what the old adage has told us. In the year 2017, the rise of the fly ball hitters has skyrocketed and there may be some old myths about hitting debunked going forward. In the 2016 season, hitters were dropping bombs and fly balls at historic rates, thanks to a new influx of fly ball hitters. There are 3 main leaders of this so called fly ball hitting generation: J.D. Martinez, Josh Donaldson and Justin Turner. Those aren’t the only 3 hitters of this movement but they’re the prime examples that are showing what can happen with swing revamps and a different approach at the plate. Each of those 3 players ended up fixing certain aspects of their swings but they all came to the same ending conclusion: fly balls are a good thing.

J.D. Martinez

If you want to know how Martinez feels about his new swing and approach, just ask him how he feels about hitting fly balls. Here’s an excerpt from an article from Fangraphs earlier this year by the phenomenal Travis Sawchik:

“In the cage, I talk about it all the time. I’m not trying to hit a f*cking line drive or a freaking ground ball. I’m trying to hit the ball in the air. I feel like the ball in the air is my strength and has a chance to go anywhere in the park. So why am I trying to hit a ground ball? That’s what I believe in.”

Martinez was essentially floundering in the major leagues with Houston from 2011-2013, when he slugged .387 and was worth -1.1 Wins Above Replacement(WAR) across 252 games. Martinez decided a change was needed and ended up going to California after the 2013 season to work with hitting consultant Craig Wallenbrock. Notice the term used was consultant, not hitting coach. This is because Wallenbrock is by name a hitting consultant, who also had 13 years of scouting experience in baseball. Wallenbrock is a firm believer of keeping your hands back as long as possible while your hips load, creating a rubber band effect that creates as much power as possible. The hands are important for any hitter’s swing but when you take the noise out of your hands by allowing them to stay back, you create opportunity for your lower body and upper body to be in fluidity, creating optimal strength. Many coaches at the lower levels and even higher levels believe in bringing your hands and hips forward at the same time, keeping the forward momentum in unison. That may not necessarily be the best way to create torque and power and new school coaches are preaching keeping your hands back as long as possible. After not making the Opening Day roster for the Astros in 2014, the Detroit Tigers swooped in and signed J.D. Martinez and made one of the best acquisitions in their franchise history.

Here is Martinez back in his pre Tigers days, hitting with the Astros AA affiliate:

Martinez swing via bakuero(YouTube)

Here is Martinez with the Tigers, after his swing revamp.

Martinez swing via Freddie Romero(YouTube)

There is a complete night and day difference between these 2 videos. In his minor league/Astros Days, Martinez had no leg kick, no rubber band effect between his hands and hips, had no bat path geared for doing damage and essentially created no torque in his swing. With the Tigers, Martinez has the effective rubber band effect and uses a leg kick as a timing mechanism, creating the ultimate power and timing to do serious damage. The numbers don’t lie.

Martinez from 2011-2013: 33.3% Fly Ball(FB) rate, 45.8% Ground Ball(GB) rate, 34.8% pull rate, 29.2% hard hit rate, .387 SLG%, -1.1 WAR, 87 wRC+

Martinez from 2014-2016: 39.2% FB rate, 38.6% GB rate, 42% pull rate, 42.4% hard hit rate, .540 SLG%, 10.9 WAR, 143 wRC+

In the Travis Sawchik article linked above, Martinez makes it well known that he is trying to do one thing: hit the crud out of the ball in the air and in most cases, pull that baseball with authority. He has done just that since 2014.

Josh Donaldson

Josh Donaldson and J.D. Martinez are basically 1A and 1B for leaders of the fly ball movement. We can essentially call them the alternate captains. Josh Donaldson’s story about his rise to stardom is pretty well known, as he was a floundering catcher in the Cubs and A’s farm systems, then made a transition to 3rd base, then transitioned into elite MVP caliber player. Eno Sarris, another phenomenal writer at Fangraphs who does many player feature stories, documented Donaldson’s swing changes and philosophy. Here’s an excerpt from his article:

“Honestly I never really think about my hands,” laughed Donaldson as we talked before a game against the Athletics. “It more has to do with angles with your legs, your spine, your shoulders. I wouldn’t consider myself a guy who has a handsy swing, that’s more of the old-school kind of thing, or guys that slap the ball around. I use more of my entire body.”

Now we’re talking. J.D. Martinez was a little more straight forward with his thought process, talking about straight up hitting the crud out of the baseball and putting it in the air. Donaldson, meanwhile, is getting into the anatomical aspect of the human body, talking about putting certain body parts in certain spots to create the best angles for success with a swing. It may sound like he’s over thinking; that’s not the case. He simply knows his swing better than most players. Donaldson, like Martinez, sought an outside source from the main MLB community to try to fix his swing when he was a fringe AAA/MLB player. He resorted to Bobby Tewksbary, who runs his own hitting company, that does 1 on 1 instructions and is preaches a very much different style of hitting than most hitting coaches do.

Tewksbary was interviewed on MLB Now, where he explains that his philosophy is all about creating the optimal bat path. To become a successful hitter, creating the best angle through your hand load is where it all starts. This is similar to what Craig Wallenbrock is teaching in some way, with both men preaching that keeping your hands back while the hips load forward is the best way to create a fluid bat path. Bringing the knob of your bat forward too early and trying to create your own bat plane takes a lot of power out of your swing, which leads to less impact when the bat meets the ball.

Josh Donaldson ate up all of this knowledge, completely revamping his swing and is now an absolute firm believer in hitting fly balls and trying to pull them with a meaning. Just like J.D. Martinez, the numbers don’t lie.

-Donaldson from 2010-2012: 38.2% FB rate, 40.8% GB rate, 39.7% pull rate, 25.6% hard hit rate, .386 SLG%, 84 wRC+, 1.2 WAR

-Donaldson from 2013-2016: 38.8% FB rate, 43.1% GB rate, 42.1% pull rate, 35.9% hard hit rate, .518 SLG%, 146 wRC+, 30.5 WAR

Donaldson started to make these swing changes prior to the 2012 season, when he finally got some real extended time in the major leagues for the first time. He held his own in 2012, then absolutely exploded into a perennial superstar after that. Donaldson, like Martinez, creates a buggy whip action with his hands loading back all the way until his big leg front leg kick reaches the ground. Donaldson creates the unique angle with his bat path by keeping his hands completely out of the equation, essentially just doing a simple load back and then absolutely unleashing force on the baseball. Donaldson has preached keeping his front elbow above the baseball, using shoulder plane to create a clean bath path and using the rubber band effect to create a maximum effort swing geared for hard contact. Here’s a perfect swing from Donaldson:

Josh Donaldson swing via Dapose(YouTube)

I’ll let Josh Donaldson do the rest of the talking in these two epic videos he had on MLB network.

Justin Turner

Justin Turner, much like J.D. Martinez and Josh Donaldson, was a fringe MLB player when he was picked up off the scrap heap by the Dodgers. For 3 years with the New York Mets, Turner was a scrappy, hard nosed grinder who didn’t offer enough to stick at the big leagues long term.

-Turner from 2011-2013: 29.4% FB rate, 47.5% GB rate, 31.4% pull rate, 22% hard hit rate, .371 SLG%, 97 wRC+, 0.9 WAR

After the 2013 season, Justin Turner sought out Doug Latta, a hitting guru and former high school coach who does private lessons in Los Angeles. Thanks to advice from former MLB player Marlon Byrd, who worked with Latta, Turner was able to completely revamp his swing in one offseason. MLB beat writer Phil Rogers wrote a piece about the swing changes and how Byrd and Latta really helped Turner transform his swing. Said Turner about Byrd:

“He talks about gaining ground, catching the ball out in front rather than catching it deep, where I’d always been,” Turner said. “Trying to pick my foot up and put it down in the same place, stay back, back the ball up, and stay behind the ball. You’re still staying behind the ball, you’re still backing it up. You’re just moving your contact point out a little in front of you.”

Again, this is a similar principle to Martinez and Donaldson but it’s being described a bit differently. Essentially, Turner was starting his leg kick too late earlier in his career and wasn’t creating optimal power by keeping his forward momentum and hands back in unison. When Turner changed his leg kick and started keeping his hands back in a more simple manner, he created that same rubber band effect that Donaldson has preached, allowing Turner to tap into his natural strength. The Dodgers, thanks to a tip from then bench coach Tim Wallach, recommended the team signing Turner after the two of them attended an alumni game at Cal State Fullerton, as both played ball there. The signing proved to be one of the best in Dodgers history and the numbers speak for themselves.

-Turner from ’14-’16: 36% FB rate, 39% GB rate, 34.5% pull rate, 34.9% hard hit rate, .492 SLG%, 138 wRC+, 12.8 WAR

Here is video of the drastic swing change Turner made:

Justin Turner(2014) via G4MarchMadnessHD(YouTube)

Justin Turner pre 2014 via Jeffisyourhero(YouTube)

We see precisely what Turner and Byrd were discussing in regards to his leg kick. Turner gets a stronger leg kick, gets his foot down earlier, keeps his hands back and creates the optimal swing path to hit home runs. You can even see the potential with his Mets swing, as he already has a pretty clean bath path but the lack of the rubber band effect definitely sapped his potential, which finally showed up with the Dodgers.

The fly ball trend in the league

The 3 players mentioned above are the obvious leaders of this new generation but the fly ball increases are not just limited to them. The league as a whole is hitting way more fly balls and home runs than baseball has ever been accustomed to. If you go back 10 years, you can see the noticeable trend in fly balls and home runs.

2006: 1.08 ground ball/fly ball ratio, 7.8% Home Run/Fly Ball rate, 5,386 home runs

2016: 0.83 GB/FB ratio, 9.2% HR/FB rate, 5,610 home runs

The year 2000 was the most prolific home run year in baseball history, with 5,693 home runs. However, there were way more plate appearances in 2000, due to the extreme offensive environment. In 2000, there was a home run every 33.4 plate appearances. In 2016, there was a home run every 32.9 plate appearances. The stats don’t lie. The year 2016 was a home run hitting haven and it’s partially due to the influx of the fly ball hitting philosophy.

With fly balls being hit at a rapid rate and players seeing success with it, there are bound to be more players getting in on the action. Daniel Murphy, A.J. Pollock, Mark Trumbo, Mitch Haniger and Jason Castro are other examples of players who have made swing changes to try to lift the ball in the air more and have more success and all of them except for Castro have had success with doing so. Murphy himself could probably warrant a feature spot of his own, as he revamped his swing in the 2nd half of 2015, leading to a monstrous postseason and 2016 season. He had a career best FB%, hard hit rate, wRC+ and WAR in 2016 while posting a career low GB%, showing his changes to a fly ball hitter were extremely successful. With players doing all this damage on fly balls, how will the pitchers adjust back?

Pitchers Adjustment 

Just like hitters have always been told that fly balls are bad and that hitting the ball on the ground or on the line is correct, pitchers have also been told pitching down in the zone is the right approach. Leaving pitches up in the zone was a recipe for disaster for pitchers and keeping the ball down would avoid damage. This is not the case anymore as fly ball hitters have started to dominate the sport of baseball and have started to exploit pitchers with the deep ball. Most people would assume it is easy to hit the high fastball since it is left up in the zone and it’s easier to lift a ball rather than go down to get a baseball. The stats, however, don’t back up this theory right now. Below are heat maps from Fangraphs, which date back to the year 2007. I used the SLG/Pitch filter, which felt like an appropriate way of judging how much damage was done on low pitches compared to high pitches.

2016 Heat Map 

2007 Heat Map

Again, the numbers don’t lie. Back in 2007, before the fly ball revolution, hitters were doing more of their damage up in the zone compared to low in the zone. Pitchers started to adjust and just got better as a whole, as velocity started to creep up to historic levels after that. Hitters in 2016, meanwhile, started to exploit pitcher who pitched lower in the zone, using the “new school” style of hitting by keeping a flat swing path through the zone and going down to get lower pitches with lots of success. Meanwhile, the pitchers who have utilized fastballs up in the zone are seeing success, while the pitchers going low aren’t seeing the success we saw back in 2007 when these maps became public.

Just like hitters started to adjust by hitting more fly balls and hitting low pitches with success, it’s now time for the pitchers to do their adjusting. Just like a single game of baseball, the timeline of a baseball season, or several seasons, is like a cat and mouse game. It won’t be surprising to see teams and pitchers start to pitch up in the zone, using these historic velocities with more success by pitching up. Teams like the Tampa Bay Rays have already recognized this trend and have compiled a rotation of pitchers who throw hard and succeed by pitching up in the zone.

What the fly ball revolution means for baseball

With more and more success stories occurring each year by not-traditional standards, the future of baseball at all levels could change. Old school coaches who tell little league kids to not hit fly balls could have a change of heart. High school coaches, who are trying to win more games and send kids to the next level, may preach a different style of hitting the ball. More importantly for the future of the MLB, more fringe minor league players who may be struggling to reach the next level could decide to revamp their swings. The 3 prime examples, Martinez, Donaldson and Turner, were all mediocre MLB talents who turned into stars in a hurry, thanks to swing changes and hard work on their craft. If those 3 can do that, what is holding back the hundreds of minor league hitters who may never reach the major leagues? It’s not easy and not everybody can just flip the switch and start hitting home runs with success. But with examples of players being successful with this approach, there’s no doubt we will see more stories like this in the next few years. As hitters make adjustments with this fly ball revolution, the pitchers may be starting the high fastball revolution shortly thereafter. Your move, MLB pitchers.

*On Episode 7 of OBP: The Official Baseball Podcast, co-host Jared Tims and myself talked about this exact topic so this article and the podcast go hand in hand. If you want to hear more about this topic, check out the podcast here. 

Angels Recap: Week 1

Monday 4/3: L 2-4 @ Oakland

The Angels kicked off their season in Oakland and were handed an Opening Day loss as they fell to the Athletics. Ricky Nolasco, who got the surprising Opening Day nod, battled for 5 2/3 innings against A’s starter Kendall Graveman. Nolasco was probably given too much leeway, as he generally isn’t a guy you want going through the order a 3rd time. Tied at 2 entering the 6th inning, Nolasco was beaten by the home run ball for the 2nd time, as A’s outfielder Khris Davis hit a go ahead home run, jacking a 408 foot home run to left field. Stephen Vogt also homered earlier in the game, hitting a 382 foot home run to right field that just barely cleared the fence. Khris Davis homered a 2nd time in the 8th inning, hitting a 391 foot home run to left center field. After homering 42 times in 2016, Davis carried over some of that same power to start his 2017 season.

The Angels offense revolved mainly around Mike Trout, who hit an absolute laser of a 2 run home run to give the Angels a 2-1 lead in the 3rd inning. Trout’s home run left his bat at an exit velocity of 113.4 mph at a 18.9 degree launch angle, just narrowly clearing the fence in left field. Trout also doubled later in the game and even his double play he hit into his 1st at bate was squared up. Yunel Escobar was the only other Angel to have a multi hit game and C.J. Cron and Kole Calhoun both singled and walked.

Tuesday 4/4: W 7-6 @ Oakland

Danny Espinosa was acquired this past offseason mainly because of his stellar defense. He was also acquired because hit hits a lot of home runs and he did just that on Tuesday. Trailing 6-4 in the 9th inning with 2 runners on, Danny Espinosa drilled a hanging 0-2 slider from A’s reliever Ryan Dull out for a 3 run home run. Espinosa’s 400 foot home run was his first hit as an Angel and he couldn’t have picked a better time to come through.

Ryon Healy’s 1st inning home run off of Matt Shoemaker, who made his emotional return after the fractured skull he endured last year, gave Oakland a quick lead but it didn’t last long. Shoemaker had a pretty tough outing, allowing 4 hits and 2 runs in 5 innings while posting a poor 4:3 K/BB ratio and posted a decent 62.6% strike rate. His stuff looked good, with his fastball sitting 91-94 and his splitter showing serious depth, so there’s not much worry. In the top of the 2nd inning, Martin Maldonado singled home 2 runs off of Sean Manaea and Yunel Escobar singled home another run right after. Jed Lowrie’s solo home run cut the lead to 1 in the bottom of the inning, however. Mike Trout continued his hot start with a RBI triple in the 5th inning, giving the Angels a 4-2 lead. Things unraveled for the Angels in the 7th inning, when Blake Parker and Bud Norris, both newcomers to the team, allowed 5 combined hits and 4 runs. Through 2 games, the Angels bullpen allowed 7 hits and 5 runs  in 6.1 innings while striking out 7 hitters and walking 3.

Wednesday 4/5: W 5-0 @ Oakland

The Angels won their 2nd game of 2017 on Wednesday, putting them over the .500 mark for the first time since the 9th game of 2016(5-4 record through 9 games). The offense had a hit parade, cranking out 13 hits, while every single player reached base for the Angels. Mike Trout had 2 hits including a double. Kole Calhoun had a 3 hit night. Andrelton Simmons and C.J. Cron also had 2 hit nights. It was a great night for the team, except for the fact that Garrett Richards left the game early with a tight right biceps, which ended up putting him on the 10 Day DL for precautionary reasons. Considering the uncertainty surrounding Richards, this was a scary moment but all signs point to Richards being out for a short period of time. Richards pitched very well, however, striking out 4 batters and walking 1 in 4.2 innings of scoreless baseball. He generated 8 groundball outs, good for a 83.3% groundball rate(sick!) and averaged 96.5 mph on his fastball. The bullpen stifled the A’s offense after Richards was pulled, throwing 4.1 innings of scoreless ball, striking out 3 batters while walking none. Jose Alvarez, J.C. Ramirez and Yusmeiro Petit combined for a solid outing for the bullpen.

Thursday 4/6: L 5-1 @ Oakland

Tyler Skaggs made his first start of 2017 and hit outing was sunk by a poor 3rd inning where his poor command led to 4 runs being scored by the A’s. Ryon Healy’s 2 run home run was the big blow in the inning and even though Skaggs calmed down after that, his total line wasn’t too pretty. He did punch out 5 batters in his 5.1 innings of work and his 63% strike rate was fine but he allowed 5 hits and an uncharacteristic 3 walks and only generated 2 ground ball outs. Blake Parker and Yusmeiro Petit and Blake Parker followed Skaggs with 6 combined punchouts, 1 walk and zero hits in 2.2 innings pitched but the Angels offense never woke up. The Angels offense had a combined 5 hits and 3 walks against the A’s pitching, who were led by Andrew Triggs(5.2 innings and 1 run). Liam Hendriks, Santiago Casilla and Sean Doolittle combined for 3.1 innings to allow only one hit and struck out 6 batters and walked none. The Angels split their first series in Oakland and both teams scored 15 runs in the series, making for a competitive opening series.

Friday 4/7: W 5-1 vs Seattle

The Angels had their most impressive win of the season on Friday night and treated the fans to an entertaining home opener. Jesse Chavez shoved in 5.2 innings of work, allowing only 4 hits and a 1 run while striking out 6 batters and walking 1. Chavez allowed a 73.9% contact% on Friday night, utilizing his 3 different fastballs(4 seam, 2 seam, cutter) to get ahead in the count and finish guys off. The Angels bullpen built on Chavez’s success, tossing 3.1 innings of shutout ball, striking out 4 batters and walking none. Jose Alvarez, Bud Norris, Andrew Bailey and Blake Parker all pitcher very well to finish off the night. Cameron Maybin welcomed himself to Anaheim with a 101.2 mph bullet over the right center field wall and Kole Calhoun later hit a run moonshot that reached an apex of 109 feet. Mike Trout had a sac fly, walk and base knock and Martin Maldonado had a 2 hit night. Over 43,000 fans flocked to the Big A Friday night and ended up leaving as happy campers.

Saturday 4/8: W 5-4 vs Seattle

The Angels followed up a great win in their home opener with a dramatic win against Felix Hernandez and the Mariners on Saturday night. Mike Trout’s go ahead 417 foot 2 run home run in the 7th inning was the big moment the Angels needed to secure the victory. Cam Bedrosian was used in a progressive manner, throwing an inning and two thirds of scoreless baseball, securing the save and victory after punching out 4 batters. Angels starter Ricky Nolasco danced with fire the whole night, allowing 3 batted balls above 100 mph and 5 above 96+ mph, but managed to only allow 2 runs in 6 innings. Angels manager Mike Scioscia caught onto this quickly and went to J.C. Ramirez for 1 1/3 innings and made a bold and surprising move to bring Cam Bedrosian in to face the meat of the Angels order. If Mike Scioscia manages his bullpen with a purpose in 2017, the team could hypothetically sneak out a few extra victories this year. The Angels offense has a stellar night, barreling up plenty of baseballs and cranking out 13 hits and 5 runs. All 9 Angels hitters had hits on the night and Albert Pujols and Yunel Escobar each had 3 hit games, with Escobar also hitting a 411 foot home run.

Sunday 4/9: W 10-9 vs Seattle

The Angels pulled off an all time epic comeback win on Sunday afternoon, riding a 7 run 9th inning to stun the Mariners and pull off the sweep. Trailing 9-3 entering the 9th, the Angels offense absolutely exploded, seeing a home run and game tying single from Albert Pujols and a walk off double from utility man Cliff Pennington. Entering this game, teams had won 346 games while leading by 6+ runs entering the 9th inning. That all changed when the Angels pulled off a comeback of epic proportions. This outcome looked completely unlikely earlier in the game after Matt Shoemaker blew up, allowing 5 hits and 7 runs in 4.1 innings of work. The Angels bullpen managed to keep it close despite the monster day from Robinson Cano, who homered and doubles while driving in 5 runs. The Angels finished off the first week of the season in the best way possible, completing the sweep of Seattle and starting off the season 5-2.

Week Notes

Runs Scored: 35

Runs Against: 29

Week MVP: Yunel Escobar

Mike Trout and Escobar were neck and neck this week but Escobar gets the slight nod over Trout. Escobar slashed .414/.452/.586 on the week and racked up 0.5 fWAR, placing him in the top 10 for position players in the opening week. It helps that he had a monstrous weekend in clutch situations, blasting a big home run Saturday night vs King Felix and having the 2 run double in the 9th inning Sunday to bring the deficit to 2 runs.

Predicting the 2017 Angels season

If you saw my predictions for the American League this season, you know that I’m not sold on the Angels being a playoff team this season. This isn’t to say I’m not a believer in this team contending this season. There’s every reason to think this team could at least be competitive this year and maybe sneak up near a wild card spot, that is if they stay healthy and have some good fortune come their way. Being realistic and optimistic are both valid approaches to this, however, and it’s probably a stretch to see the Angels playing in the playoffs. Still, baseball does a great job of humbling the best of people so that is why these are merely predictions and not declaring doom on the 2017 season. Without further ado, here is how the Angels line up going into the 2017 season.

Offense

By runs scored, the Angels were roughly a slightly below average unit in 2016, ranking 17th in baseball with 717 runs. Looking deeper into the statistics, however, shows the Angels were much better than their run total portrays. By wRC+, the Angels ranked 9th in the majors with a 100 mark, which means they were roughly an average offensive unit. However, the NL teams face a disadvantage by having the pitcher half so if you break it up into leagues, the Angels were 7th in wRC+ in the American League, which is still a solid mark. The Angels were much different in 2016 than they had been in some time, not since their glory days when they small balled teams to death. The 2016 Angels posted the lowest strikeout percentage in baseball with a 16.4% mark, 1.3% lower than the 2nd best Giants. That mark was also 3.3% lower than the strikeout rate the team posted from 2014-2015. Their home run production also tanked from years past, as they only slugged 156 home runs in 2016, the 6th worst mark in baseball. Ironically, the team hit 155 home runs in 2014, which ranked 7th in the league, but the league saw a huge uptick in home runs in 2016, meaning the Angels have stayed afloat while other teams are cranking out more home runs. The offense in 2017 should be improved, thanks to some new additions.

Cameron Maybin(.287/.350/.390 line from 2015-2016) and Ben Revere(.273/.311/.348) were acquired mainly because they’re MLB caliber players and have a very low bar to clear to be improvements in left field. The Angels left fielders from 2015-2016 hit a putrid .214/.277/.326, so even if Maybin and Revere reach their slightly below average production marks, it’ll be an improvement. Oh, and they’re both expected to be improvements defensively(specifically Maybin) and on the bases(specifically Revere). Danny Espinosa, a local guy out of Santa Ana, returns home and also fills a gaping hole. Espinosa’s .222/.308/.391 line from the past 2 years looks uninspiring but when you consider he’s an extremely good defender, runs the bases well and isn’t a complete black hole offensively, he’s an improvement. The Angels second basemen posted a 70 wRC+ and -0.4 WAR in 2016. Espinosa should settle in as a 1.5ish win player, a 2 win swing from last year. Luis Valbuena was also brought in but will miss the 1st month of the season with a strained hamstring, the same one he had surgery on last year. If Valbuena can repeat his .238/.329/.446 line he posted over the last 2 years, he’ll be a valuable utility guy who can fill in at 1B/3B/DH.

Mike Trout is the reason why this offense will be an above average unit, as he’ll most likely post a .400+ OBP with 25+ home runs and a 165-170 wRC+. Kole Calhoun, Albert Pujols and C.J. Cron all look likely to be 110-120 wRC+ bats. Yunel Escobar might be a league average bat but will be an on base threat at the top of the order. Billy Eppler did a fine job bringing depth in this offseason, which means he’ll have the luxury of stashing Valbuena, Jefry Marte(114 wRC+ in 2016) and Revere on his bench at some point. The x factors offensively are Cameron Maybin and C.J. Cron. Can Maybin duplicate his 104 wRC+ from the past 2 years and can Cron continue his trend of trimming his strikeouts while bopping more home runs?

Baserunning

This is another area the Angels should see improvement in. While baserunning as a whole isn’t as important as offense and defense, it’s an area the Angels needed to improve upon. The team ranked 4th worst on the bases last year by Baserunning Runs(BsR), a system implemented by Fagraphs that measures the overall ability to run the bases. At -16.6 runs, the team could become an average unit this season and see a 1.6-1.7 win upswing. The team’s 73 stolen bases look fine but they made far too many outs on the bases and had numerous players rank poorly running the bases, namely Albert Pujols(-6.0 BsR) and Yunel Escobar(-5.6 BsR).

The aforementioned additions to the offense are also big adds on the bags. Cameron Maybin has 27.5 baserunning runs in his career. Ben Revere has 30.8. Danny Espinosa has 15.3. Heck, even Martin Maldonado’s -3.1 mark is better than the total Jett Bandy had(-3.5) just last year alone. Much like the concept discussed for the offense, the newcomers are replacing complete black holes speed wise and will add some value on the bases. This unit could be an average group on the bases, which is an improvement over last year.

Defense

This has been mentioned numerous times this offseason but if the Angels end up sneaking into the playoffs, it’ll most likely be due to the defense the Angels roll out. Andrelton Simmons is the best defensive infielder on this planet and is near the same level freak outfielder Kevin Kiermaier is on. Danny Espinosa has racked up 4.8 dWAR in 779 games and is coming off a very good season at shortstop. He will be playing an easier position at 2nd base in 2017. Mike Trout’s metrics haven’t loved him since his rookie season yet he has still racked up 1.3 dWAR in his career playing a tough center field position. Kole Calhoun and the Cameron Maybin/Ben Revere duo will provide above average numbers in the corners.

Even 1st base is covered now as C.J. Cron has grown defensively, as he had 3 Defensive Runs Saved(DRS) and posted a 4.0 UZR in 2016. Behind the plate, newcomer Martin Maldonado has thrown out 35% of would be base stealers in his career and is a plus pitch framer every year. Carlos Perez was just nominated as a Gold Glove finalist in 2016, showing the league values his defense and he too has a cannon arm, throwing out 38% of runners in his career. The only true weak spot defensively is at third base, with Yunel Escobar being a complete butcher defensively now after years of plus defense at shortstop. The team will likely utilize Luis Valbuena, Cliff Pennington and Jefry Marte at third base at times to negate some of Escobar’s defensive shortcomings. This group is deep defensively and even the AAA levels offer plus defenders for depth(Kaleb Cowart, Sherman Johnson, Shane Robinson, Ramon Flores, Nolan Fontana). This will be a fun defensive team to watch this season.

Rotation

If you’ve read up to this point, you’re either wondering if my prediction for the team is selling them short or if the pitching really is poor enough to drag the team down. It’s probably the latter. The sad part about this rotation is if injuries just didn’t exist, this would be a potentially great unit. In a perfect world, a healthy rotation of Garrett Richards, Matt Shoemaker, Andrew Heaney, Tyler Skaggs and Nick Tropeano would be a fun and exciting young rotation. Unfortunately, Heaney and Tropeano are out for 2017 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. The problems don’t end there, however. Garrett Richards is trying to buck the tradition of undergoing surgery after a torn Ulnar Collateral Ligament(UCL) and instead utilized Stem Cell Therapy and Platelet Rich Plasma(PRP) injections to completely heal his UCL. All signs are positive so far but with only one real case of proven success thus far(Masahiro Tanaka), it’s fair to wonder if this will work out. If Richards does stay healthy and give 150+ quality innings, it’s huge for the Angels and for baseball going forward, with Richards showing an alternative to undergoing Tommy John surgery. Next, Tyler Skaggs was no stranger to Tommy John surgery, undergoing it himself in 2014, then missing all of 2015 and only pitching 49.2 innings in 2016 after experiencing setbacks then dealing with shoulder issues. Skaggs has dealt with shoulder discomfort already this spring but is in line to be ready for his 1st regular season start. It might be fair to think Skaggs should be babied along this year, shooting for 125 or so innings and making sure he gives high quality innings while also staying healthy.

This leaves us with the rest of the rotation and depth. Matt Shoemaker exploded last year, after starting the season on a poor note. Shoemaker had a 9.15 ERA in April, earning him a demotion to the minors. After he was recalled, these were his ERAs in each following month: 3.28, 2.14, 4.31, 3.15. Shoemaker was a top 20 starter in baseball last year by WAR, tied at 3.3 WAR with guys like Carlos Martinez and Kenta Maeda. The biggest worry for Shoemaker is the horrible injury he endured, when Kyle Seager lined a bullet off his head in early September, prompting emergency brain surgery. All signs are clear for Shoemaker, however, and the hope is he can live a normal life now and continue his passion for pitching. After Shoemaker, Ricky Nolasco and Jesse Chavez fill out the rotation. Nolasco was shockingly named the Opening Day starter, the same guy who owns a 124 ERA- over the last 3 years. The rotation order doesn’t really matter much after the first week but this came as a big surprise and some questionable confidence in a starter who is basically a mediocre innings eater now. Chavez fits the same mold as a mediocre innings eater but if he can return to his 2013-2015 Oakland A’s version(101 ERA- and 97 FIP-), the team could have a cheap fill in for a year who gives 150 league average innings. The Angels would take that in a hurry.

After the 5 main guys, they have a plethora of others who may end up starting or relieving in the majors. The list: Alex Meyer, Bud Norris, Yusmeiro Petit, J.C. Ramirez, Nate Smith, Manny Banuelos, Vincente Campos, Brooks Pounders, Daniel Wright. This list is uninspiring but if 2-3 of the 9 players listed there can outperform their projections, they’ll provide some pitching depth for the MLB team. Norris and Petit at least have MLB success on their resume but they are viewed as multi inning relievers for the time being but you can envision them being used as a starter if needed. Meyer is the big wild card for the Angels pitching this year and beyond. Many are convinced he’s a reliever and that’s probably an accurate assumption but it looks like he has one more chance to have a go at starting.

Fangraphs projects the rotation to be the 14th most valuable unit in baseball in 2017, assuming that the group will remain intact. All 5 starters are projected for 130+ innings and 1.5+ WAR. If this does end up happening, the Angels may very well be playing baseball in October. This almost a best case scenario, however, and anybody should proceed with caution when evaluating this unit.

Bullpen

If the rotation looks like an issue to you, you might want to skip this next part. Disclaimer: Bullpens are often unpredictable and sometimes 1-2 arms being surprises or busts can make a unit sink or swim. With that out of the way, the Angels bullpen looks like it could really struggle to make an impact in 2017. Cam Bedrosian is the clear, top shelf arm after coming off monstrous 2016 season after posting a 1.12 ERA and 2.13 FIP. The former 1st round pick finally came into form in 2016, throwing 96-98 mph darts and filthy two plane sliders, leading to an elite 31.5 K% and 22.8 K-BB%. After him, it drops off in a hurry. Huston Street was hurt and bad in 2016 and is already on the shelf to start the 2017 season. If he can’t regain some of his 2014-2015 form, he could be a DFA candidate in the middle of the season. Andrew Bailey is slated to be a set up guy, the same guy who was the 2009 AL Rookie of the year but also the same guy that has racked up -0.2 WAR since the 2012 season. Bailey was plucked off waivers late last year and thrived in a small sample, although his strikeout rate dropped in the process in exchange for fewer walks. The good news: Bailey has the highest spin rate fastball in baseball and he might be finally healthy again, so he could be a useful arm. He could also be bad and hurt and not be on this team by the time summer rolls around.

After the “top” 3 arms, Jose Alvarez is the one lefty in the pen and may be the best arm behind Bedrosian. Alvarez has posted an above average ERA and FIP the past 2 years and thrives from a no nonsense approach that helps him miss a fair amount of bats and not walk anybody. He’s also a weak contact inducer, ranking top 5 in average exit velocity the past 2 years. He’s an underrated quality arm. J.C. Ramirez throws cheddar and has an above average slider but doesn’t miss bats and allows too many homers, although he doesn’t walk many and generates grounders. After starting some games in Spring Training, he looks like a multi inning reliever waiting to happen. Bud Norris and Yusmeiro Petit, mentioned above in the starter group, also look like multi inning relievers. Blake Parker, who has some some MLB success in the past, has seemingly struck out every batter he’s faced with the Angels and will slot in as the last reliever. He could be that one reliever that outperforms expectations, using a 93-96 mph fastball, above average curveball and filthy splitter to miss bats. Other potential MLB call ups for 2017 include changeup specialist Mike Morin, deceptive lefty Cody Ege and Kirby Yates.

Here’s where the Angels bullpen gets interesting and may be the reason why this unit could be a bit better than expected: Billy Eppler has hoarded a huge collection of starters with good stuff/bad command. The same depth starting pitchers mentioned above almost all have some outstanding pitches but don’t have the command or durability to be a true starter. Guys like Alex Meyer, Manny Banuelos and Brooks Pounders were all former highly thought of prospects and have 2 good pitches to be MLB pitchers but don’t have the command or ability to load up a bunch of innings. Billy Eppler had a fascinating interview with Fangraphs and he might be ahead of the curve on constructing a different kind of pitching staff. While moving a failed starter to the bullpen is hardly a new concept, the idea of having 5 starting pitchers in the rotation and 3 starters in the bullpen is not so common. With Ramirez, Norris and Petit in the bullpen, these guys can all give innings and bridge the gap to the top arms in the bullpen. In fact, Eppler seems to be against the idea of labeling pitchers as a starter or reliever and thinks they should be viewed as just pitchers, which is backed up with his team construction. There’s a chance Eppler uses his minor league options more than any other general manager in baseball this year, calling up his starter/reliever hybrids, or pitchers, to be used in the middle of games to give length. With injury and performance issues clouding over the rotation, using the bullpen is a non-traditional manner might be a wise choice.

Farm System/Draft/International Signings

If the 2017 MLB team doesn’t perform, there’s at least some hope in regards to other aspects dealing with the future of the Angels. First of all, the Angels own the #10 pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, a draft that is college pitching heavy and could help the Angels land a college starter who can make it to the majors soon. If Billy Eppler’s 2016 draft is any indication, he has a much better idea of how to draft compared to his predecessor, Jerry Dipoto. The team has already jumped into the #25-27 range for farm systems, a step up from the days of annually being the worst farm system. If Eppler can draft well again like he did in 2016, the farm system could make a substantial jump up in the rankings. The farm system could also improve if the Angels 2017 season doesn’t go as planned, leading to the team selling pieces like Cameron Maybin or Danny Epsinosa for some sort of talent.

Another plus for the Angels future: The team is no restricted on spending during the International Signing Period this summer. Fortunately for the Angels, the team isn’t handicapped by the Roberto Baldoquin situation going into this signing period. Unfortunately for the Angels, the new CBA agreement has set a cap on signing international talent. Teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers abused the previous system, blowing past their allotted pool funds and dealing with crazy taxes as a result. Now, the teams have no choice as they have to stay under their allotted pool, no questions asked. Still, the team now has flexibility to add international talent, something Billy Eppler was known for in his days with the Yankees. With other heavy international teams like the Padres, Astros and Braves barred from spending more than 300 K on any player this period, the Angels could be one of the top teams in this market.

With a solid draft and some new international talent, it’s possible the Angels could have the makings of a useful farm system after this year. Adding a top talent and depth in the draft and a big international signing or 2(or 3) to a group headed by Jahmai Jones, Matt Thaiss and Brandon Marsh could produce a rising farm system. With Mike Trout still around until 2020, it’s possible some of those new pieces are moved to supplement the MLB roster but the farm system could get on track this year. It’s also possible that the team adds pieces at the deadline if the MLB team is competitive but if it is for good reason, the fans might not complain too much.

Realistic Projection

Putting biases aside, the Angels look like a .500 team this season. I have them finishing 80-82, with the outside chance they make the playoffs as a 2nd Wild Card team. If the rotation can stay healthy and produce, the bullpen isn’t a complete tire fire and the new position players are better than their predecessors, this team could sneak up into that 85-90 win range. Expecting all of those things to happen, however, is a bit of foolish thinking or blinded optimism. A realistic and optimistic prediction is the team finishes in the 83-85 win range, competing until the last week of the season but not having quite enough depth and firepower to sneak into October baseball. For many, this would be a successful season, as the team was horrible last year and making this big of a jump means the team is on the fringes of making the playoffs. Going into 2018, the team would return starters Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano, the farm system could start adding to the MLB team and the Josh Hamilton contract would be up, meaning there is flexibility to add free agents. If Billy Eppler can keep this team competitive in 2017 and have a big offseason following it, the Angels could be knocking on the door of the playoffs in 2018, just in time to potentially see the Rangers and Mariners sell off some pieces and retool their rosters. The 2016 season was rough. The 2017 season will be much better, barring a catastrophe.

American League Predictions+Playoff & Award Predictions

I started with my National League predictions. Here are my predictions for the American League, playoffs and awards in 2017.

American League West

Houston Astros: 92-70

Houston had a productive offseason while also not going crazy in the process. Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran and Josh Reddick are all veteran additions who fill needs and aid an extremely impressive crop of young players. Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa are legitimate superstars under club control and head a potentially lethal offense. The starting staff doesn’t feature any aces but Dallas Keuchel leads a group of 5-7 starters who can all profile as #2-4 starters. The bullpen is also very strong, which will boast 7-8 and possibly more relievers who will be above average or good relievers. Some pundits feel the team didn’t do as much to separate themselves from the AL West pack but this is a team that could win the World Series, especially with a move or 2 near the trade deadline.

Seattle Mariners: 87-75

Jerry Dipoto went bonkers again this offseason(surprise, surprise). Jean Segura and Drew Smyly headline a huge addition of new players to a group that appears to be all in on 2017 and 2018. The Mariners are right at the fringes of playoff contention and look like they’ll be in the same spot this year. There are legitimate rotation concerns with Felix Hernandez not pitching like an ace anymore but there’s enough talent to survive, if the injury bug doesn’t bite that is. These new Mariners are going to slug once again with a rejuvenated Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz and should be a very solid offensive unit. The rotation and bullpen concerns are real and could either sink or save their season.

Texas Rangers: 82-80

Texas completely outperformed their expected win totals in 2016, winning 95 games with a +8 run differential. Regression is almost inevitable this season but there are concerns beyond that as well. After Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels, it’s a heap of questions in the rotation, with Martin Perez being the only semblance of reliability beyond the front 2. The bullpen has a lot of intriguing arms yet the group didn’t perform well last year. The Rangers should hit, field and run well again and they have just enough resources to make a deadline move if needed but a slow start could move them into a seller’s mode too. Texas should still be competitive in 2017 but it feels like their run of luck will come to an end in 2017, prompting possible trades of to be free agents Jonathan Lucroy and Yu Darvish.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: 80-82

The Angels are being viewed as a dark horse sleeper by many and there’s merit for it. Garrett Richards is all clear to give the team 150+ innings, his right elbow permitting. New additions Luis Valbuena, Cameron Maybin, Ben Revere and Danny Espinosa add depth to a roster that desperately needs it. Mike Trout is amazing, the Angels will be an elite defensive unit and the rotation should be better in 2017 but there is a lot of risk involved here. The top 3 starters all have injury concerns and there just isn’t a lot of reliable depth beyond those guys. The bullpen is also entirely underwhelming at present. If the rotation stays healthy, the Angels will be a contender for a Wild Card spot. I’m not ready to take that bet, however.

Oakland Athletics: 68-94

Outside of the San Diego Padres, the A’s might be baseball’s most boring team entering 2017. With Sonny Gray already experiencing health issues, it’s possible this team doesn’t have any players reach the 3 WAR bar this season. Marcus Semien and Khris Davis are solid role players but they represent the best position players for Oakland. The rotation and bullpen do have a collection of interesting arms, including Jharel Cotton and Andrew Triggs, but there’s very little reliability or upside in this unit. It’s almost inevitable that Oakland will sell off at the trade deadline, bringing their win total even further down.

American League Central

Cleveland Indians: 91-71

2016 was both heartbreak and a success for Cleveland, as they were a break or 2 away from winning Game 7 of the World Series at home. The Indians balled out last year, scoring plenty of runs while throwing elite arms Corey Kluber and Andrew Miller at playoff foes. This team can defend, run the bases, hit the snot out of the ball, have 3 frontline arms start and finish the game with a ridiculous bullpen. As if this team wasn’t good enough, they signed Edwin Encarnacion and Boone Logan and may see star Michael Brantley return. If there’s a concern, their outfield might not be all that great but the rest of the roster is undeniably loaded. Cleveland could very well find themselves back in the World Series in 2017.

Detroit Tigers: 83-79

Disclaimer: The AL Central isn’t very good and it’s possible the Indians win the division by 10+ games. The Tigers, however, still have one or two more good runs in them before their window closes for good. Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera are still chugging along and there’s some new young talent that has popped up to support them. Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd and 2016 Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer help form a surprisingly interesting rotation. However, the bullpen has question marks, the farm system won’t supplement any help this year and there’s big question marks at catcher and in center field. A bounce back from Justin Upton and a healthy rotation could keep the Tigers in the hunt(get it?) for a Wild Card spot.

Kansas City Royals: 76-86

For what it’s worth, I think the Royals would finish near .500 if they kept their roster together the whole year. I don’t see this happening. With numerous key players in their final years before free agency, it’s very likely that the team will sell if the team isn’t in contention in late July. There doesn’t look to be enough on the pitching side of things and offensively for this team to make one final playoff run with their World Series winning core. It’s a bit sad that this organization finally found success and now will enter another rebuilding phase but it’s inevitable being a small market team losing this much talent at one time. If the Royals start hot, this narrative could totally change.

Minnesota Twins: 71-91

Coming off an absolutely horrible season, the Twins should rebound but there’s too much uncertainty across the roster to think big things are coming this year. If Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Jose Berios all decide to break out, this team could find itself in a playoff hunt. That’s very unlikely but the team could very easily push near 80 wins, just as it’s possible they finish under 70 wins again. There might not be a ore volatile team in the American League and this prediction will probably look too light or too rosy in the end.

Chicago White Sox: 67-95

The White Sox will be very bad in 2017 and for all the right reasons. General Manager Rick Hahn finally pulled the trigger and dealt Chris Sale and Adam Eaton for a monstrous collection of young talent, headlined by Yoan Moncada and Lucas Giolito. This was done without moving other premier talents(yet) like Jose Quintana, David Robertson and Nate Jones. When teams come calling this summer, Hahn will likely pull the trigger again and reap another bundle of young talent. It’ll be an ugly couple of seasons but the White Sox could be setting themselves up for a very nice young foundation, that is if they actually strike gold with these prospects.

American League East

Boston Red Sox: 90-72

Dave Dombrowski officially hit “DGAF” mode in Boston, dumping a lot of the farm to supplement an already great roster. Chris Sale and Tyler Thornburg are big adds to a team that was already likely to win the division. As we’ve seen in the past, Dombrowski knows how to get his teams to a World Series and that could very well happen this season. David Ortiz’s retirement hurts but this team is more than capable of handling his loss, with a star studded roster making up for his loss.

Toronto Blue Jays: 87-75

After making the ALCS in back to back years, the consensus is the Blue Jays will take a step back after Edwin Encarnacion bolted for Cleveland. Don’t count on that. Josh Donaldson is still one of baseball’s elite players and the Jays have a very underrated and balanced rotation. The depth beyond the starting 5 is a real concern and the bullpen is a bit sketchy but the team should mash once again and be in the mix for a playoff spot.

New York Yankees: 83-79

It’s very easy to dislike the Yankees and 2016 was the perfect example. After trading Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and Carlos Beltran for a gigantic return of prospects, the team somehow stayed in the playoff race near the end, thanks to Gary Sanchez going full on Babe Ruth for half a season. The current MLB roster isn’t spectacular but the bullpen is good, theres upside in the rotation and there’s a good blend of young and old position players. The health concerns for the rotation and lack of high upside position players, outside of Gary Sanchez, will likely keep the Yankees out of the playoffs but this team is set up for a big run in the coming years. With a top 10 farm system, finances no team can match and an upcoming all time great free agent class afar 2018, the Yankees could be really good, really quick.

Tampa Bay Rays: 78-84

Tampa Bay is in a state of flux after Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon bolted in recent years. The Rays still boast a talented rotation, headlined by Chris Archer, and some fun position players like Kevin Kiermaier but they have the disadvantage of being a small market team competing with gigantic market teams. It’s hard to envision the Rays being a bad team any time soon but it’s just as hard to see them winning the division given the state of the Yankees, Red Sox and Jays right now.

Baltimore Orioles: 77-85

Baltimore has continued to defy expectations so this projection could look way off but the magic has to die off, right? They’ll slug home runs with the best of them and their bullpen is electric but they don’t get on base, they’re slow as molasses and their rotation looks disastrous. Buck Showalter has managed his team extremely well(2016 Wild Card Game excluded) so a few extra wins wouldn’t be surprising but it’s very difficult to see them competing for a playoff spot this year. If they continue to outperform beyond what their run differential says, then maybe there some voodoo devil magic the Orioles are performing in Baltimore.

Awards

MVP: Carlos Correa HOU

Cy Young: Chris Sale BOS

Rookie of the Year: Andrew Benintendi BOS

Manager of the Year: Scott Servais SEA

Playoff Picture

Wild Card Games: SEA>TOR, STL>SF

 Division Series: HOU>SEA, BOS>CLE, LAD>WAS, CHC>STL

Championship Series: HOU>BOS, LAD>CHC

World Series: LAD>HOU(6 games, Justin Turner WS MVP)